I was first introduced to Annie Dillard’s work in a high school english class on creative writing. We were assigned to pick an author, read multiple books by that author and assemble a report on said author’s life and work. Dillard was suggested to me by my teacher; at the time, I had no previous knowledge of her work.
I was mystified from the very beginning of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Seemingly in one breath she describes intricate details about the minute life of insects, the vastness of the solar system, and ties it to the Divine. When I read her writing, even though I do not share her passion for stalking insects, I feel akin to her.
For example, in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, she writes: “I have often noticed that these things, which obsess me, neither bother nor impress other people even slightly. I am horribly apt to approach some innocent at a gathering and, like the ancient mariner, fix him with a wild, glitt’ring eye and say, ‘Do you know that in the head of the caterpillar of the ordinary goat moth there are two hundred twenty-eight separate muscles?’ The poor wretch flees. I am not making chatter; I meant to change his life. I seem to posses an organ that others lack, a sort of trivia machine.”
I, too, spit out random facts, that sometimes are timely, and other times quite random and more than the other person really wanted to know. It’s a quirk, and I absorb knowledge of all sorts, that for some reason or another are stored away until something in the present triggers the memory.
A page later in that same chapter (“Intricacy”), she writes:
The creation is not a study, a roughed-in sketch; it is supremely, meticulously created, created abundantly, extravagantly, and in fine. Along with intricacy, there is another aspect of creation that has impressed me in the course of my wanderings. Look again at the horsehair worm, a yard long and thin as a thread, whipping through the duck pond…look at the fruit of an Osage orange tree, big as grapefruit, green convoluted as any human brain…Look, in short, at practically anything—the coot’s feet, the mantis’s face, a banana, the human ear—and see that not only did the creator create everything but that he is apt to create anything. He’ll stop at nothing.
Here is a woman, living in the present and extremely fascinated and in touch with the earth around her. The winter solstice has now come, and in the great Northwestern United States it is a cold and dark season. I contemplate an intricate world teeming with life and infinite possibilities…even to be found in this winter time.