The making of "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek"
February 5, 2015 9:05 PM   Subscribe

When Annie Dillard wrote Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, she didn't think anyone would want to read a memoir by a "Virginia housewife". So she left her domestic life out of the book - and turned her surroundings into a wilderness. The Thoreau of the Suburbs.
posted by paleyellowwithorange (21 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
This was a great read. Thank you for posting it!

I like how we can so easily mythologize our own relationships to nature. Challenging the truth speaks to the subjective experience - like how I spent the night on a ranch a couple weeks ago, and didn't really think about the big farmhouse 100 feet away. What's interesting about having to qualify everything?
posted by teponaztli at 9:37 PM on February 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've never read the book; it was one of those books around the house when I was a kid (probably bought when it was winning awards) but not one that I ever gravitated to. The author sounds more interesting in the quotes than she does in the actual excerpts, though:

“It’s impossible to imagine another situation where you can’t write a book ’cause you weren’t born with a penis. Except maybe Life With My Penis.”
posted by Dip Flash at 10:28 PM on February 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

One of the first women to defy this stereotype and write her way into the male-dominated canon was Annie Dillard.

And the stereotype, like so many, is wrong to begin with. I read a book about about homesteaders in the Montana and Idaho mountains and many of them were women who came with husbands or fathers but then took over the homesteads when the men died or ran off with other women or left to make an income in civilization. Some of the best-known homesteaders were women who scratched out a living for decades alone in some of the most wild places left in the country.

This was a good read and convinced me to read some Annie Dillard, thanks!
posted by edeezy at 11:20 PM on February 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

I still remember passages from Pilgrim even though the last time I read it was probably twenty years ago.
posted by roger ackroyd at 11:53 PM on February 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

Annie Dillard is wonderful. Thanks for sharing this.
posted by frumiousb at 1:21 AM on February 6, 2015

I hated this book so much when we were assigned to read it in High School.

That is all.
posted by humboldt32 at 4:38 AM on February 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

*sigh* It looks like there's one in every thread.....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:53 AM on February 6, 2015 [7 favorites]

I never read this book in school, but picked it up when I ran away to a Northern town and was trying to find my way back to a relationship with the nature around me. I have never lived in the wilderness, but like Annie had an intimate, and solitary connection to the wildness where I was. Somehow I never assumed (like the article mentions) that she was in the wilderness, but rather that she was like me--paying attention. Will always be one of my favorite books.
posted by RedEmma at 5:49 AM on February 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is one of those books where I notice something new or take away something different every time I read it. I also like her other memoir, American Childhood, mainly b/c I'm also from Pittsburgh, and so much of it has such great detail about the city (Dillard is actually the most famous alumna of the elementary/middle school I attended and came to speak once when I was a kid--I just remember being in total awe).
posted by leesh at 6:18 AM on February 6, 2015

I love Annie Dillard so much. She is probably my favourite writer. I'd long been aware of the disconnect between the Tinker Creek one experiences in the book and the one Dillard actually inhabited, but I've never encountered a better criticism of it. Great article.

And for those looking to read Dillard for the first time, I'd advise against starting with Pilgrim only because, while it is perfect, it is not for everyone. It would be such a shame to give up on Pilgrim and then miss more accessible treasures like "An American Childhood" and "The Writing Life."
posted by 256 at 6:37 AM on February 6, 2015

Tinker Creek hits the Roanoke at (37.266164,-79.904644) which is close to downtown Roanoke and urban unless you were born in someplace like New York City. Upstream it looks like it springs up near (37.439565,-79.960999) which looks like it is almost wilderness; if there are not any bears then there surely are deer. Whether her advertised rusticity is authentic or not is an interesting speculation but it would help if somebody could post the lat-lon of her actual residence and we could see whether she woke up to the sound of birds chirping or truck axles banging potholes.

By the way the first comment in the Atlantic article remarks that Thoreau wasn't exactly a wilderness adventurer either. He was within walking distance of just about anything he might possibly need, want, buy, or mooch at Walden Pond which is only fifteen miles from downtown Boston and less than five miles outside the main ring highway there. I would be curious to know when the last deer was spotted at Walden Pond.
posted by bukvich at 6:40 AM on February 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

I saw deer at Walden pond in 2002. They let me get closer than most deer because they are so used to people tramping around.
posted by diogenes at 7:28 AM on February 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Loved Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and also this. A really impressive piece by a writer less than two years out of college.
posted by pjenks at 7:37 AM on February 6, 2015

It would be such a shame to give up on Pilgrim and then miss more accessible treasures like "An American Childhood" and "The Writing Life."

256 Harper has all three in one binding in print! (624 pp)
posted by bukvich at 8:36 AM on February 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yeah Concord was definitely suburban and almost treeless in Thoreau's time. And most of his walks were taken with a friend or his sister. Love Dillard and really liked this piece, thanks!
posted by one_bean at 8:38 AM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I also detested Pilgrim at Tinker Creek when assigned it in school. We were in a rural area and her stuff about ***NATURE*** seemed hokey and fake in ways we didn't have the vocabulary to explain. I feel like an opportunity to engage with that frustration and learn from it passed us by.

Great article, great comments, placing holds on her books as we speak.
posted by beefetish at 9:16 AM on February 6, 2015

I, too, loved Pilgrim with a fiery passion, after a rather more complicated relationship to Walden. Dillard come off as a more sincerely likeable narrator. Mostly, though, the way she didn't seem to be pretending to live somewhere totally solitary and amazing, but to Find the solitary and amazing in an otherwise tame landscape was truly inspiring for this curious kid from the suburbs.
posted by ldthomps at 11:17 AM on February 6, 2015

What a great little find.
I read "Pilgrim..." at such an impressionable age (1985? 25?)
Loved it then, and I'm sure I'd love it now.
Bonus points for photos of her journals and INDEX CARDS.
I LOVE INDEX CARDS. Can't write a book, fiction or non-fiction without them, no matter what Scrivener says.
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 1:01 PM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I love Annie Dillard, but her isolation in her books always made me think that I couldn't live that writer's life away from my partner, the hum of my city. It's oddly thrilling to realize she didn't either.

I wonder if her borrowed cat is the same as the one in Holy the Firm (a perfect book if there ever was one). I'm also glad to see her writing about marriage in The Maytrees. And her doodling in the margins! I swoon.
posted by heatherann at 4:21 PM on February 6, 2015

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek was one of my favorite books in college, along with Holy the Firm and Tickets for a Prayer Wheel, and her books inspired me to read a lot of other nature writing too.

There was a lot in this article I didn't know - it was really interesting to read about what her life was actually like while she wrote Pilgrim. Now I want to start re-reading all my Dillard books!

This article also made me happy to learn that Tickets for a Prayer Wheel is finally back in print after years and years of being unavailable. There is some gorgeous, haunting imagery in that book.
posted by jessypie at 5:49 PM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

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