A Sense of Place Pilgrim – Annie Dillard

A Sense of Place Pilgrim – Annie Dillard

To learn to see and write better, there are great books to inspire you.

One of the finest, an exquisite book of nature writing, is Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974), winner of a Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction, an account of a year spend looking closely at the world centered around a creek in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

As Eudora Welty (no slouch herself when it comes to sense of place), wrote in the New York Times Book Review: “The book is a form of meditation . . . about seeing.”

Here’s a brief sample, in which she describes a breezy late afternoon in a plowed field:

The wind is terrific out of the west. . . . It’s the most beautiful day of the year. At four o’clock the eastern sky is a dead stratus black flecked with low white clouds. The sun in the west illuminates the ground, the mountains, and especially the bare branches of trees, so that everywhere silver trees cut into the black sky like a photographer’s negative of a landscape. The air and the ground are dry; the mountains are going on and off like neon signs. Clouds slide east as if pulled from the horizon, like a tablecloth whipped off a table. The hemlocks by the barbed-wire fence are flinging themselves east as through their backs would break.
– Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

A page or so earlier, she wrote:

Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle, curved tunnels of leaf miners on the face of a leaf. We must somehow take a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what’s going on here.
– Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is a beautiful work, often compared to Thoreau’s Walden.

How does she do it? Dillard says that two things give birth to seeing: knowledge and love.

In another book, The Writing Life, she talks about writing, wonderfully, as climbing into a desk that floats in the air, as birds fly underneath:

Every morning you climb several flights of stairs, enter your study, open the French doors, and slide your desk and chair out into the middle of the air. (. . . ) Get to work. Your work is to keep cranking the flywheel that turns the gears that spin the belt in the engine of belief that keeps you and your desk in midair.

I strongly recommend Annie Dillard’s books, full of open eyes, open heart, and beautiful prose.

And then, seek in your own way to write descriptions of Place that share with your readers a feeling that you are in a wonderful place on “the most beautiful day of the year.”

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