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I am a New York-based writer, travel lover, and author of The Drive North and Destination Paranormal. I have several other books in the works, including fiction.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

By an odd chance I came across an excerpt from Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, the 1975 Pulitzer Prize winner in non-fiction. The selection I read, an opening section from the book, was nothing special in my opinion; to be quite frank, I didn’t like it compared to many other wonderful things I was reading at the time. But for some reason it held a curiosity for me, pushing me to pick up the book. After all, maybe I had misjudged that excerpt and should give the piece a better look on the whole.

pilgrim at dinker creek by annie dillarReading through Pilgrim at Tinker Creek gave me thought that Annie Dillard was a transcendental essayist, much along the lines of a Thoreau or an Emerson. In the afterword, though, she fights such a label, saying she has “the undeserved title of essayist.” So, if we must group it, what is the book’s genre? Thinking about it, I immediately agreed that it is not a collection of essays, although understood how it could be seen that way. It is transcendental and natural, but not quite along the same vein as the two masters. The more I thought about it the more I agreed with the thought that it is a sort of anti-travel book, as she stays and writes about her home and its surroundings in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Early in the book, Annie Dillard writes:

’The people,’ wrote Van Gogh in a letter, ‘are very sensitive to the changing seasons.’ That we are ‘very sensitive to the changing seasons’ is, incidentally, one of the few good reasons to shun travel. If I stay at home I preserve the illusion that what is happening on Tinker Creek is the very newest thing, that I’m at the very vanguard and cutting edge of each new season. I don’t want the same season twice in a row; I don’t want to know I’m getting last week’s weather, used weather, weather broadcast up and down the coast, old-hat weather.

At first I bucked that idea, instinctively pushing back at her words. Travel is great. It really is. But it’s also good to stay home and explore your more immediate surroundings. It took some coaxing, but I agreed to it, particularly since that’s already what I’ve been doing and documenting in the My Colorado section here. Her discouragement, or so I saw it, to travel did continue to bother me. And it still does. But I cannot deny the book on the whole is fantastic and well worth the Pulitzer. It truly is a timeless book, one which could have just as easily been written yesterday as in 1974.

Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is not a quick and easy read. It is thought-provoking. And it is worth the time and attention its words and pages demand, as it will likely open your eyes, as it did me, to the finer points of the more immediate world around you. By this, I don’t simply mean the great things in your state, as I previously referenced with Colorado, but all of those wonderful things in your yard, around your home, in your neighborhood. There’s a lot there, you just have to look.

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3 Comments on “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek”

  1. Claire 'Word by Word' July 17, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

    I’d call it nature writing and there are a few now doing a great job of, writing about nature in a more creative and interesting way than more traditional academic nonfiction.

    I started this and never did finish it, so must do. I think its possible to understand both sides of the argument, to travel and to stay. There’s a time and even a stage in life perhaps for both and then there are the adventurers and the observers and sometimes both exist in the same person.

    When we are in the mood for travel and new horizons we don’t worry about what is happening back at home base, but when we are there and feel no desire to be elsewhere, then we justify that as well. And when we don’t live in nature, we sometimes endlessly seek it. I think we just have to appreciate it all!

    Though provoking review Jason 🙂

  2. Jason's Travels July 17, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

    Thanks! While I still am traveling internationally, and planning other such trips, I find I’m staying more local. Well, at least in the U.S. I’m really enjoying exploring my own backyard more and more, and writing deeper pieces about such places – not just an experiential travel post. I suppose that’s why, at least in part, I started my new blog – http://www.jasonswriting.com.

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  1. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard | Lavender Turquois - July 29, 2013

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