Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Pilgrim At Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

pilgrim-cover The premise of this book is deceptively simple; to monitor the natural world in an area over the course of a year. The area being where the author lives near Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, partly rural, part wilderness. But this is no dry scientific paper, it’s a book more in common with Bill Bryson’s humorous travel tales with overlays of Thoreau, which the author quotes frequently, along with Einstein, the Koran, Da Vinci and Van Gogh. Most of all, it captures the feeling of adventure we experience as a child in nature, when everything is intensely fascinating.
Though it’s not an exotic locale, the commonplace deciduous forest is full of hidden dramas, from an orb spider weaving their web to a praying mantis laying her eggs. She marvels at events like hundreds of migrating red-winged blackbirds landing briefly in a tree in her backyard and makes her readers wish they were there too. As she returns to the various locations around her property through the seasons, we see the sometimes drastic differences that takes place through the year. And it’s not a sentimental view of nature, she takes note of the violence of predators. There is also the immediate effect that humans have, sometimes unintentionally, on her surroundings.
The title is a reference to anchorites, those small rooms attached to churches for devout hermits to live in. Dillard says at the beginning of the book that it feels as if her home is anchored to Tinker Creek, which is an actual place on Tinker Mountain and an offshoot of Roanoke River.The analogy is apt, as there is a strong feeling of religion interwoven in with nature running through the narrative. This has been one of my favorite books since I first read it decades ago and I still consider it to be one of the best pieces of nature writing I’ve ever read. I was pleased to learn it had won the Pulitzer Prize, happy to find others recognized it’s quality. If you’re already read this book, you probably agree with many of my points, but if it’s new to you and you love nature, you owe it to yourself to read such a splendid book.

originally published by Harper’s Magazine Press 1974 290 pp. Available in traditional and ebook formats

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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