remarkable bits from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Correct: we are still not done with Annie Dillard. I may have to make her a tag as I have done for Abbey and Hemingway. (…Haven Kimmel, Norman Maclean…)

EDIT: here we are.

On top of my reviews, I felt the need to share some of my favorite lines and passages with just a few notes. Enjoy.

There are seven or eight categories of phenomena in the world that are worth talking about, and one of them is the weather.

One wonders very much what else would make her list!!

I want to think about trees. Trees have a curious relationship to the subject of the present moment. There are many created things in the universe that outlive us, that outlive the sun, even, but I can’t think about them. I live with trees. There are creatures under our feet, creatures that live over our heads, but trees live quite convincingly in the same filament of air we inhabit, and in addition, they extend impressively in both directions, up and down, shearing rock and fanning air, doing their real business just out of reach. A blind man’s idea of hugeness is a tree. They have their sturdy bodies and special skills; they garner fresh water; they abide. This sycamore above me, below me, by Tinker Creek, is a case in point; the sight of it crowds my brain with an assortment of diverting thoughts, all as present to me as these slivers of pressure from grass on my elbow’s skin.

I loved this because I, too, love trees; and this is a well-articulated (but still rather charmingly airy, too) explanation why. Also, I enjoy Dillard’s use of the semi-colon, my personal favorite punctuation mark. (Yes. I’m a librarian and a reader and writer. I have a favorite punctuation mark.)

My God, I look at the creek. It is the answer to Merton’s prayer, “Give us time!” It never stops. If I seek the senses and skill of children, the information of a thousand books, the innocence of puppies, even the insights of my own city past, I do so only, solely, and entirely that I might look well at the creek.

“It never stops.” Golly, I hope she’s right. Climate change has us receiving too much rain here and not enough rain there; the forests are burning; the glaciers are melting; I fear the creeks are stopping (and starting up elsewhere). But in 1974, I can understand this thinking.

I suspect that the real moral thinkers end up, wherever they may start, in botany.

This, too, is charming: a nerdy confirmation of the power of trees and other green things (and non-green things as well).

John Cowper Powys said, “We have no reason for denying to the world of plants a certain slow, dim, vague, large, leisurely semi-consciousness.” He may not be right, but I like his adjectives. The patch of bluets in the grass may not be long on brains, but they might be, at least in a very small way, awake.

Who is Dillard to say that he may not be right? Goodness, with all the time travel and metaphoric “patting the puppy” she gushes and coos, why not let trees have a certain semi-consciousness? And those complaints aside, does anyone else hear the Ents walking through those lines? Lovely.

All the green in the planted world consists of these whole, rounded chloroplasts wending their ways in water. If you analyze a molecule of chlorophyll itself, what you get is one hundred thirty-six atoms of hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen arranged in an exact and complex relationship around a central ring. At the ring’s center is a single atom of magnesium. Now: If you remove the atom of magnesium and in its exact place put an atom of iron, you get a molecule of hemoglobin. The iron atom combines with all the other atoms to make red blood, the streaming red dots in the goldfish’s tail.

And that blows my mind: a scientific, tiny-scale, real-life confirmation, like a metaphor but grounded in reality on the molecular level, of our intricate connection as living, breathing, animal things to living, breathing green things. I love that.

4 Responses

  1. nice post; we’re obviously getting down to the essence of what you love and value in her writing – and these excerpts are persuasive, I agree; I didn’t realize we shared a favorite punctuation (!);; and I’ll accept your love of trees, even if I know your secret, that it’s a recent and growing appreciation

  2. […] that this brief quotation echoes Annie Dillard strongly – you recall that I recently shared some of her passages, too. Funny how that works out. I don’t know when I’ll be joining you, Mom, but thanks […]

  3. […] and whimsical. Both poetry and science. And the oddest chunks of science, too. Do check out some here and […]

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