Annie Dillard

Reading an essay / blog post from Essence of Wild, and Jason’s walk in nature recently made me think of Annie Dillard. I realize that her books are not new, so I thought I would share a bit about them for those of you who may not know of her. I went looking for any current information that might be on the web, and I found a website that is purportedly maintained by Ms Dillard, herself. Looking through it, I came across this tidbit from her CV page, listed under “Dubious Honors”:

Number One sexiest American nature writer of all time on a website called “Bill and Dave’s Cocktail Hour.”

This made me chuckle, and that she lists it seems totally in character with the person I imagine her to be. You know how that can be … when you read books that are so infused with spirit, they give you a sense of the mind behind the words? Her books are like that.

I love reading and re-reading through Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and Teaching a Stone to Talk. They leave me with the sense of the author being a friend I haven’t met yet. I love how she describes the world around her, and her love of nature that shines through every word. I get the sense that she doesn’t take herself too seriously. Yet, she seems to have a deep connection to her place in the world and the natural environment. In every word she writes, she is simply sharing her perceptions, sharing herself with each of us. What a gift that is!

If you have never read either of the two books I mentioned, I think you should treat yourself, or treat a few nature loving friends for the holidays, and then borrow it from them when they are done. Or buy for them AND yourself! Share the joy. Look at the world through her eyes for a bit, and see if it changes you, wakes you up or makes the world a bit more alive for you. I would not be surprised to hear that you find it does.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is probably her most famous work. My well-worn paperback copy has this quote on the back cover:

“I am an explorer, and I am also a stalker … the instrument of the hunt itself. I am the arrow shaft, carved along my length by unexpected lights and gashes from the very sky, and this book is the straying trail of blood.”

The book is so loaded with amazing imagery and connections, it is impossible to even list my favorites, so I open the book and start reading, sure that it won’t take long to find an example worth sharing. Sure enough, I haven’t even read an entire page when I hit this gem:

“Once, when Tinker Creek had frozen inches thick at the wide part near the bridge, I found a pileated woodpecker in the sky by its giant shadow flapping blue on the white ice below. It flew under the neighborhood children’s skates; it soared whole and wholly wild though they sliced its wings. I’d like a chunk of that shadow, a pane of fresh water ice to lug with me everywhere, fluttering huge under my arm, to use as the Eskimos did for a window on the world.”

She goes on to explain that the woodpecker’s shadow is an entry point into mystery, and you can feel the magic and the mysticism as tangible entities in your own mind, before her thoughts turn off to another observation, another insight.

I don’t read her books at one sitting. I like to rest with them. Like a visit from a dear friend, I don’t ever want them to end. I read a few pages, or maybe a single paragraph, and the words and images trigger a cascade of thoughts and emotions. Reading these books is a delicious treat that I savor one spoonful at a time.

I hope you find this introduction intriguing enough to merit further exploration. I would love to think that I introduced someone to her work, so that others can find inspiration there, too. If words are pointers, then hers point toward a path into mystery and connection.

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