Into the Book


Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is a strange book (I mean that in an entirely good, Pulitzer-prize winning sort of way). Your sense of nature around you will be not only sharpened but also simultaneously destroyed: Annie Dillard brings so much to your attention that any ordinary walk now seems like an adventure, filled with tiny events of huge importance that you are doubtless missing. This is a book about nature, and someone who loves nature and takes time to observe it.

This book is, at its core, not so much a book as a journal: a journal written by someone who has learned to see all of life in the small things. Rather than being disconnected essays, as some have claimed, this book is an entire, living story. Annie Dillard writes about seeing with a sense of urgency, as if when you blink the entire, elaborate picture will have vanished. There is an ambition in this book to feel.

You will be sucked in with no choice. There is no other writer who is so well able to tie tiny strands into a beautiful tapestry: especially when the tiny strands range from mountains to cicadas and locusts. This book is written in the revelry of experiencing creation bit by bit, leaf by leaf, muskrat by muskrat, mountain by mountain, galaxy by galaxy. But the writing is far from tedious. Rather, the sense of wonder — which you feel for an instant upon seeing something beautiful — is prolonged throughout the entire book.

The book is balanced in two halves: a Yin-Yang sort of perspective on the world. The author calls these the via positiva and the via negativa: two routes to seeing God in creation: one in the world’s grand intricacy and beauty, and the other in the raw power that kills billions of insects each year. Both halves have a chapter which forms the high-water mark, each of which counterbalance the other. The chapter named “Seeing” is the mark of the via positiva, which is all wiped out in “Flood,” to begin the via negativa, which climaxes in “Northing.”

You will never be able to take a ‘simple’ walk again (as if there is such a thing!). For both halves — the marvelous and the hideous — direct you to the glory of God’s creation. What is so exciting about this book is that it is not written from a ‘Christian’ perspective: faced with the glory of creation, Annie Dillard has no choice but to revel in the Creator and in His world. I highly recommend Pilgrim from Tinker Creek without reserve. It will challenge you. You will have a sharpened to the little things in creation. You will close the back cover and care a little bit more, which is absolutely a good thing.

Published on 4 October, 2012. Last updated on


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