Group Read- Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard

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Group Read- Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard

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Redigerat: jan 19, 2014, 7:22 pm

"Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Annie Dillard presents a series of connected essays that chronicle a year at Tinker Creek in Virginia's Blue Ridge valley. Observant, deeply contemplative, and beautifully written, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek challenges listeners to study their surroundings beyond their familiar surfaces and uncover new and refreshing milieus."

jan 19, 2014, 7:24 pm

I have just started, getting in only a few pages last night before sleep took over. My first impression was: woah! My ex-boyfriend would love this, I wonder what he's doing these days.....
Not exactly on-topic, but true nonetheless :)

It seems to be living up to my high expectations of her writing, and I look forward to getting stuck in.

jan 19, 2014, 8:35 pm

Thanks for setting up this thread, Megan. I'm hoping to get back to it tonight.

jan 19, 2014, 9:23 pm

Added this thread to the group wiki for easy reference.

jan 19, 2014, 10:24 pm

Hi Pat- me too. Although tonight is only 3 hours away, and yours is probably a little more.

Dr Jim- thanks! I hope you'd "help" with that.

jan 20, 2014, 8:12 am

Megan- Thanks for setting this up so promptly. Very professional. I will be starting it later this morning.

jan 20, 2014, 8:43 am

I'm hoping to start this one too! I'll be reading my Grandmother's copy, both she and my Mom read it and enjoyed it immensely. Off to take it off of the shelf!

jan 20, 2014, 11:21 am

It'll probably be a week until I dig out under the books I'm currently reading, but I'm looking forward to what everyone has to say!

jan 20, 2014, 11:26 am

Going to start it tonight. It's freezing cold here in Denmark, dark and the wind howling outside. I need my old couch and a book.

jan 20, 2014, 11:30 am

I may join you all on this one. I don't think I've ever read anything by Annie Dillard.

jan 20, 2014, 12:02 pm

I read this book several years ago and loved it. I'm tempted to re-read, but I'm not sure I will have time to do it in the next few weeks, but I'll keep an eye in here.

jan 20, 2014, 3:03 pm

Interest is growing! Yah!

jan 20, 2014, 4:31 pm

Goodie goodie- we have a cast!

I have decided to spend this days reading devoted to The Demon in the Freezer as it is really compelling reading and I cannot stop. Then I shall be able to devote myself fully to Dillard and better appreciate her pensive style, which is, in fact, more my style.

jan 20, 2014, 4:39 pm

I probably won't start the Dillard for a few days. I'm pushing full speed ahead on Bleak House now.

jan 20, 2014, 5:45 pm

Just realized that one of my book clubs is meeting next week and I haven't touched the book, so Dillard will have to wait until this weekend for me, I think. But still, it's on my coffee table, so it'll be up soon!

Redigerat: jan 20, 2014, 6:06 pm

"Even the simple darkness of night whispers suggestions to the mind."

"After thousands of years we're still strangers to darkness, fearful aliens in an enemy camp with our arms crossed over our chests."

-Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

^This is truly a thing of beauty. I am only 40 pages in but WOW! I quickly forgive Megan for making me pick this up so quickly.

Redigerat: jan 20, 2014, 8:36 pm

I never knew Annie Dillard was so lovely!

And I've put the book on hold at the library. What the heck, I've got nothing else to read this month.

jan 20, 2014, 11:51 pm

^that's the spirit Ellen!
(nice work Mark in hooking her in with those quotes)

jan 21, 2014, 1:33 pm

I missed whatever discussion this group read emerged from (could someone add a link?), but it happens that I just got the book, so I may as well join in. Is there a specified time frame?

Redigerat: jan 21, 2014, 2:28 pm

^hi, I think the discussion started on my thread? Or Mark's? (I will edit to add link after, once I find it)
No time frame, I have only just started, Mark/msf59 is slightly ahead of where I am, and Pat/Phebj has started too. So jump on in and join in the discussion any time.

It was my thread where we first talked about a GR.
After I read Dillard's An American Childhood, richardderus posted at #202 that "The Pilgrim at Tinker Creek will cement her place on your life-list." So I told him of soundly for not making me aware of this sooner, and promptly sought the book out. :) People joined in.

jan 21, 2014, 2:35 pm

20: Thanks! I just finished a book yesterday, so maybe this becomes the next in line.

jan 21, 2014, 6:48 pm

I read that as that you just finished the book today and I thought, gosh, that was quick!

jan 21, 2014, 10:45 pm

I am thinking of joining in here. I loved Tinker Creek when I read it, and was wanting to do a re-read. And I was even able to find my copy on the bookshelves!

jan 21, 2014, 10:52 pm

^ Yay- the more the merrier! I am guessing since you already owned the copy it isn't the one at the top of the thread? I love the library copy I have (from the top pic).

Redigerat: jan 24, 2014, 9:22 am

I've read the first chapter, and I agree her writing is lyrical.

But, I'm going to have to get on my soapbox and offer an alternative view.

As a landowner, I have to point out some of her actions are downright rude.

Crossing the creek on the cable fencing stretching over it? I wonder if she's ever offered to help tighten the cable - a real pain since you the cable is so stiff and you have to use a comealong to do it- or resetting the fence posts loosened by that action. There's a reason she hasn't seen anyone else cross that way except the neighborhood kids.

And intentionally spooking cows so they take off in a panicked run? It sounds to me likes she's scared to death of them. It makes her a bit dumber in my book than the beef-brained cows.

Imagine if someone asked (or didn't ask) to enjoy your back yard for a bit. They then proceed to climb over your rose trellis to avoid a wet patch (but Hey! it didn't break! so why are you complaining?) and then ran shouting at your dog who is standing along the fence because that is where the 'guest' wants to go and laughs when the dog runs off terrified.

Unfortunately, these sort of actions are why landowners and ranchers hang out the No Trespassing signs.

Off the soapbox.

jan 24, 2014, 1:55 pm

^ You are right! I of course thought that someone with so much to say about nature could do no wrong, but you have pointed out a major transgression with the cable fencing bridge. I think I just assumed it was her property....or that that was accepted behaviour.

I am up to about p125 or so. I loved chapter 6, "The Present". Maybe because I was able to read it properly, with concentration, but it seemed to really gel with me. All those times when I have had epiphanous moments in nature...just randomly when seeing a hill, or the light hitting something in a certain way. She went some way to articulating that for me.

jan 26, 2014, 11:05 am

“It has always been a happy thought to me that the creek runs on all night, new every minute, whether I wish it or know it or care, as a closed book on a shelf continues to whisper to itself its own inexhaustible tale.”

“I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wondering awed about on a splintered wreck I've come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty bats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them...”

-Tinker Creek

jan 26, 2014, 11:07 am

Janet- Those are valid points. You would think she is smart enough to know better, but I forgive her anyway. LOL.

Redigerat: jan 26, 2014, 11:10 am

25: Thanks. I'd completely missed this (I'm a city person), went back to reread.
27: One person's lyrical is another person's pretentious... :-)

jan 26, 2014, 2:11 pm

^ I went back to re-read those sections as well. And the point stands, I think, that walking over someones fence wire would surely loosen or damage it.
The cow-shooing reads more innocently to me though, which is probably why I didn't react much first time. I did note on first read that she seemed a tad hateful to the cows. I mean just because they are farmed for beef, doesn't make them any less an animal, does it?

One person's lyrical is another person's pretentious..
I fall into the "it's lyrical" category for those quotes.

jan 26, 2014, 9:59 pm

My library copy of the book arrived today (well, I walked to the library and got it) and I hope to dive into it later this week. I wonder if I'll land on the lyrical or the pretentious side of the fence.

jan 26, 2014, 10:01 pm's a fine line...

jan 27, 2014, 9:37 am

Only one chapter (or so) in -
I opened this book without knowing anything about it. I should have given myself some background - but I was reading my Kindle in bed. No covers or blurbs to read first.

>25 streamsong: Good points, Janet.
I, too, assumed this was her own property. Had no idea about the fences needing to be tightened, etc. Some people don't think about how disrespectful they are on other people's property.

She strikes me as child-like/unthinking/oblivious (not malicious) when it comes to spooking animals... like the children at the seashore that need to chase after seagulls and sandpipers. I guess you have to push the envelope to observe/explore the reality around you? Not trying to defend her actions but as long as she doesn't keep repeating these actions I don't think they are abusive.

As I read this, it was an experience of "feeling" the environment and life within it as well as just "seeing" it. Much of it was indeed poetic and lyrical - adding a dimension of being/feeling a part of it all.

Understanding some of it (the superficial sensing), but wondering about some of it too (the heart of what is not seen).

jan 27, 2014, 2:08 pm

Just to add another point from the half way mark...I like how she questions and acknowledges she doesn't know it all.

^ glad you found us Cee! Good points, re: feeling the environment. A lot of us just go about oblivious to it, which is easy to do in a manufactured environment. (although I try to look up at clouds or pretty building)

jan 27, 2014, 7:35 pm

I still love this book, but then, I also love Walden. I thought she chased the cows to establish dominance, so the steers wouldn't run after her.

What about that frog eating bug? Pretty crazy!

jan 28, 2014, 8:49 pm

^ oh yeah, she does talk about Thoreau a lot, doesn't she.

I thought she chased the cows to establish dominance, so the steers wouldn't run after her.
That also makes sense.....I guess we will never know what her intentions were (unless someone asks her!).

jan 29, 2014, 1:21 pm

Well-- the steers have no reason to run after her. And if they did, she could stop them by waving her arms at them.

There are lots of times one wants to be able to have a stranger walk up to your cows in the field-- the neighbor watching them while you are on vacation, the vet, the brand inspector, the person wanting to buy one from the field instead of through an auction. Like any herbivore, (well moose are an exception!), the more often they are chased, the spookier they are.

But enough about cows. I agree she didn't have bad intentions and was just being a pilgrim--which if you've watched John Wayne movies isn't always a complement ....

I don't even have cows, although I am surrounded by them. What I have is a creek, with a popular, generations-old favorite fishing spot on it that people like to access through my private lane (ditch company right-of-way) at the back of my property. I'm happy to keep the lane open and accessible as more and more places are posted with no trespassing signs. I love when people stop by the house and tell me how they fished there as a kid and now are taking their grandkids fishing there. But sometimes I tear my hair out-- right now someone slid off my private road and took out two wooden fence posts. I'm too old to dig post holes! I'll have to hire someone (when the ground thaws ).... and so I get crabby... and so it goes. Pics of my place on my profile page of anyone's interested.

jan 29, 2014, 2:16 pm

I love when people stop by the house and tell me how they fished there as a kid and now are taking their grandkids fishing there
That is really cool. It is great of you to put up with the guff so that some can get the access and use it respectfully.

When I lived in Fremantle, Western Australia, I had a decades old fig free in my front yard, I used to watch people take one or two but once I saw someone standing on the fence walking around and filling his bag with them! They were huge and beautiful (my flatmate once sold them to a local restaurant for 80c each).
I just wished people had asked, as I would have let them.
*off to see picture of your place*

jan 29, 2014, 10:16 pm

Last night I read the chapter on Winter - one of my favorite topics. It reminded me of a really good book by Bernd Heinrich called Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival in case anyone is interested in more amazing scientific detail.
Anyway, still loving Dillard's contemplations. This is a great book to read in bed before going to sleep... at least so far.

I'm getting frustrated a bit with reading this on a Kindle. I may wind up buying this book in paper form. I want to easily navigate back and forth, mark pages, etc. I just upgraded my Kindle and have to go through the learning process again.

Redigerat: jan 30, 2014, 12:14 am

^ Cee, have you read Gretel Ehrlich? She likes winter/cold places too, and is a nature writer.
I like the scientific detail in Dillard's writing- there, but not any more detail than I am looking for. And all without interrupting the narrative.
I am very close to finishing now- it is very lovely, and best kept for when you can concentrate so that you don't miss anything.

jan 30, 2014, 3:46 am

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard (Pulitzer Prize winner 1975)

After seeing past the exceedingly ugly cover of An American Childhood I discovered that I had discovered, all by myself and against all odds, this 'new' wonderful author, Annie Dillard. Imagine my delight when I hear she has written more books. And that some of them won prestigious prizes. And, I hear there are more books yet.....

This book though, not a collection of essays as has been suggested, but recollections and observations collated while living by Tinker Creek, Virginia. The story talks of all the seasons she experienced there, and of the thoughts that struck her- and she has many of these. To me, the intensity and passion of these thoughts were very much there, but so well balanced with a shrug to fate that the story does not read like a wall-to-wall rant. She re-frames the human experience by comparing it with the harsh realities of nature, and in doing so, I think, is able to make us step back and view ourselves and our own lives in a more balanced way.

The reading of this book requires concentration. You want to read each word in its chosen place, carefully. Consequently there are sections that went right over my head, but this did not stop me enjoying them purely for the language used and the way it sounded in my head. I feel I missed out a bit from not being local- most of the birds and plants are foreign to me so had to be imagined. But otherwise- this books flows so nicely, has many fascinating anecdotes and a tonne and a half of food for thought.

jan 30, 2014, 11:51 am

Nice review, Megan.
I got to bed kinda late last night and didn't get a full dose of Tinker Creek. I felt deprived of my bedtime treat. So, I need to go to bed earlier tonight to catch up to myself and feel satisfied.
I'm really liking Dillard's writing... and like you say - there are MORE good books by her. yay!

jan 30, 2014, 5:55 pm

This morning, about halfway through the book, I read the Afterward. I know some people don’t do this as a matter of principle, but I found it helpful. I’ve been frustrated by the meticulous observation of biology in the midst of metaphysics, ephemeral (and unindexed) tidbits (e.g. 28 muscles in the head of a caterpillar) that I want to grasp hold of and learn more about, swaths of cosmic consciousness that would’ve appealed more in my 20s than now. The afterward, written 25 years after original publication, describes what she was trying to achieve, and how she went about it.

jan 30, 2014, 7:23 pm

^ I agree. It seemed to pull the whole thing together once I had read the afterword. And interesting to read about the perspective she had gained since writing it.
I thought the unindexed tidbits were refreshing :) I find footnotes distracting in a narrative so it was nice not to have to feel compelled to flick and check a reference.

jan 30, 2014, 7:57 pm

44: The problem is finding the items of interest afterward. I wasn't marking pages for the first several chapters, so I'll have to go back and flip through. And then w/ mere mentions, I don't know where the information came from.

feb 2, 2014, 4:28 pm

I like to think that the passage of 40+ years has made enough difference that a modern-day pilgrim at Tinker Creek would avoid some of the behavioral faux pas that Dillard has made.

Note use of conditional.

Still slowly ingesting this rich dish first eaten many years ago.

feb 6, 2014, 4:03 pm

Thumbsie for your review, Iread.

Last night,I started reading again after a several day break. Thank you for mentioning the afterward. I'll read that part next and then continue.

Redigerat: feb 9, 2014, 2:28 pm

Am I the only one still reading?

My copy of the book is old enough that it didn't have the afterword, or the after-afterword, both of which are (mostly) available online at Amazon.

Annie Dillard calls this a spiritual journey using nature as metaphor. In that light, beginning the quest by chasing away what she perceives as the dull, pedestrian, beef-brained cows and even crossing the creek by the cable fencing as only the children do, work well beginning her spiritual quest.

Her habit of throwing out 'facts' that I know aren't true (she can adjust her eyes enough to see amoeba - she's not using a microscope in this passage to see something the size of a white blood cell!) as well as facts that I have no idea are true ; (as Katherine mentioned above the muscles in a caterpillar's head). As irritating as I find the 'not true' facts, I shall now take them all on as spiritual metaphor.

The image of the moth mutilated by the unwitting actions of children under the direction of their teacher is one I'll carry a long time.

feb 9, 2014, 2:21 pm

48: moth mutilated by the unwitting actions of children
That was painful to read.

Am I the only one still reading?
I'm done reading, but I went back through and scribbled notes on the bits that stood out, and began writing a review. I'm an excruciatingly slow writer, hope to finish today, but have other stuff to do while it's still light out.

feb 9, 2014, 2:43 pm

Still reading! I love the writing, but need time to savor.

feb 9, 2014, 3:01 pm

I've pretty much given up for now although I intend to read the afterward and see if I can get re-inspired.

feb 9, 2014, 10:20 pm

I finished! Here are a few of my thoughts:

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard (5 stars)

This book was intense and amazing. I loved it a LOT! And I will be re-reading this now and then. What I now realize though is - it should be read a chapter at a time. I just couldn't hold myself back and I think I overdosed ;-) It was wonderful.

The Afterward written by Dillard NEEDS to be read first.
It gives the book structure and allows the reader to understand her intention. I loved her sense of nature, humor, life, death, beauty ... reading Tinker Creek was a wonderful experience for me. This book is filled with exuberance and mysticism. Dillard's observations are incredible; her contemplations are worthy and wise.

"4. A caterpillar has as many as 4,000 muscles in its body.
That's one seriously muscle-bound insect! By comparison, humans have just 629 muscles in a considerably larger body. The caterpillar's head capsule alone consists of 248 individual muscles, and about 70 muscles control each body segment. Remarkably, each of the 4,000 muscles is innervated by one or two neurons."

feb 9, 2014, 10:27 pm

52: Ooh, thanks for the caterpillar link! Now I want to see a diagram of all those muscles.

I wrote a paragraph then got tangled up in my notes, so no review today.

feb 10, 2014, 1:41 am

^ Cee, I am so glad you loved Tinker Creek! I am still thinking of tracking down my ex-bf to make sure he reads it, as I think he would love it too.

feb 10, 2014, 10:11 am

>48 streamsong: The image of the moth mutilated by the unwitting actions of children under the direction of their teacher is one I'll carry a long time.

I've dipped back in to Annie Dillard because qebo pointed me to this thread. I've read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek several times, the first time when I was about twelve, when I read it with my mother.

In those first days, what made an impression on me were the stories -- the polyphemus moth, the frog dissolving into a bag of skin. Both of which made a profound impression on me as a young girl--I think it was Dillard who taught me that nature is both amazing and awful, and also apathetic to our own human notions of what is good or bad. (As apathetic as Dillard herself, perhaps, when confronted with a barbed wire fence blocking her route across a field).

I always remembered that moth and that frog, as I also remembered the tomcat with bloody paws, the sharks swimming in the waves, the swallow diving straight down, the hundreds of birds in the Osage orange. Even today, when my reading of Dillard is more nuanced and critical, these are the things that stay with me. And I can credit Dillard and my mother for teaching me that year that miracles occur in amazing abundance, all around me, often unnoticed. Annie Dillard, and a young funny writer named Gerald Durrell, taught me the joys of looking down.

Nowadays what I find compelling in Dillard are not just the stories, but her sort of extended, exuberant paean to the quest to live in the present, to be in the moment. I don't think I would have understood that idea when I was younger, and life was always about looking forward to what comes next. But now that I've got my philosophical feet planted on the ground, so to speak, I get the exhilaration she feels when she talks about suddenly seeing the tree with the lights in it, or "patting the puppy, looking at the mountain."

feb 10, 2014, 2:00 pm

Such nice thoughts, Cee and Nicki! I am snowed in today and have been doing a little reading, came across this paragraph:

After the flood last year I found a big tulip-tree limb that had been wind-thrown into Tinker Creek. The current dragged it up on some rocks on the bank, where receding waters stranded it. A month after the flood I discovered that it was growing new leaves. Both ends of the branch were completely exposed and dried. I was amazed. It was like the old fable about the corpse's growing a beard; it was as if the woodpile in my garage were suddenly to burst greenly into leaf. The way plants persevere in the bitterest of circumstances is utterly heartening. I can barely keep from unconsciously ascribing a will to these plants, a do-or-die courage, and I have to remind myself that coded cells and mute water pressure have no idea how grandly they are flying in the teeth of it all.

feb 10, 2014, 9:43 pm

Rhonda -
I liked that part too ;-)
I love how she blends science with personal interpretation.

feb 14, 2014, 2:53 pm

Cee--that is the strength of this book, I think! I just finished and here are my concluding thoughts:

I love this book for it's amazing attention to the details of the natural world and the way in which it addresses the question of what it means to be human amidst the wonders and terrors of creation. For this reading, I was struck by how often Dillard addresses spiritual questions. For example, in discussing parasitic insects, Dillard comments:

"The creator is no puritan. A creature need not work for a living: creatures may simply steal and suck and be blessed for all that with a share--an enormous share--of the sunlight and air. There is something that profoundly fails to be exuberant about these crawling, translucent lice and white, fat-bodied grubs, but there is an almost manic exuberance about a creator who turns them out, creature after creature, and sets them buzzing and lurking and flying and swimming about. These parasites are our companions at life, wending there dim, unfathomable ways, into the tender tissues of their living hosts, searching as we are simple for food, for energy to grow and breed, to fly of creep on the planet, adding more shapes to the texture of intricacy and more life to the universal dance."

feb 14, 2014, 3:19 pm

I've found myself wondering, as I read through again, if Annie Dillard believes in "God," or if her language about "the creator" is more metaphor than solid belief.

feb 14, 2014, 3:24 pm

I feel certain she believes in "a Creator" and leaves it unspecified so it will appeal to a wider segment of the population.

feb 14, 2014, 3:32 pm

59: I took it as metaphorical or highly abstract, kind of panentheistic. There's a bit I liked (though I'm essentially apatheistic):

"But the question of who is thinking the thought is more fruitful than the question of who made the machine, for a machinist can of course wipe his hands and leave, and his simple machine still hums; but if the thinker's attention strays for a minute, his simplest thought ceases altogether."

In the afterward, she says the intent was a theodicy, which suggests she was interested in the question if not committed to the answer.

feb 14, 2014, 3:44 pm

I liked that quote, too, Katherine.

That's right. I'd forgotten about that part of her intent in the Afterward. See? The Afterward is important!

"...interested in the question if not committed to the answer. "
That, I think, covers a lot of us. For how are we to know? But it doesn't stop us from wondering...

feb 14, 2014, 4:08 pm

>61 qebo: I took it as metaphorical or highly abstract, kind of panentheistic.

As do I, but that is possibly my personal biases coming to the fore. In fact, I took the exact opposite away from @bahzah, I thought she did not believe, but left it ambiguous so as to appeal to those who do.

feb 14, 2014, 4:42 pm

>59 southernbooklady: ...her language about "the creator" is more metaphor than solid belief.
I think this is the case. I feel that if she were a believer in God she would talk freely about that, rather than make it more abstract just to please 'everyone'. I would, anyway :)

feb 14, 2014, 5:38 pm

60, 63: Well, that'd raise questions about what is meant by "belief"... Also “so as to appeal”, in either direction, has a deceptive/manipulative connotation, which I don't see at all.

feb 15, 2014, 12:37 pm

I have just found my copy of this book, and plan to re-read it in the coming week. I've been reading all your views with interest.

feb 15, 2014, 4:54 pm

I am happy to have you reading Dillard, Caroline, and I look forward to your thoughts.

I assume that Dillard believes in God at some level, because I can't imagine she would devote so much time and thought to the Creator's intentions if she thought otherwise. I didn't have the afterword, I will have to look for it.

feb 15, 2014, 5:43 pm

>65 qebo: “so as to appeal”, in either direction, has a deceptive/manipulative connotation

I didn't intend to imply that. Perhaps "speak to" instead of "appeal to" would have been a better choice of words.

I enjoyed her extended rumination on what possible evolutionary advantage we could have in being cursed with emotions.

feb 15, 2014, 5:55 pm

68: I don't remember / didn't mark that one. What chapter?

feb 15, 2014, 5:56 pm

68: Yeah. Though I suspect the language is more for herself than an intended audience.

feb 15, 2014, 6:20 pm

>69 qebo: "Fecundity" -- the part where she's thinking about the great wastefulness and anything goes approach to life making more life:

We value the individual supremely, and nature values him not a whit. It looks for a moment as though I might have to reject this creek life unless I want to be utterly brutalized.

And she goes on to think about the purpose of our ability to "care" about ourselves and mourn when we encounter death:

Do the barnacle larvae care? Does the lacewing who eats her eggs care? If they do not care, then why am I making all this fuss? If I am a freak, then why don't I hush?

Our excessive emotions are so patently painful and harmful to us as a species that I can hardly believe that they evolved. Other creatures manage to have effective matings and even stable societies without great emotions, and they have a bonus in that they need not ever mourn. (But some higher animals have emotions that we think our similar to ours: dogs, elephants, otters, and the sea mammals mourn their dead. Why do that to an otter? What creator could be so cruel, not to kill otters, but to let them care?) It would seem that emotions are the curse, not death.

It's a slow exploration into the dilemmas that everywhere confront us when we not only anthropomorphize nature, but try to overlay it with our own ideas of what is "moral" or "right."

feb 15, 2014, 7:45 pm

71: the dilemmas that everywhere confront us
I tend now to shrug and say well there’s a simple resolution to this dilemma, but even with an intellectual resolution I admit to a “WTF, universe?” Does it have to be this way? What might alternatives be?

How does one define “care”, and measure it objectively?

And my head begins to hurt. This is why I am a computer programmer and not a philosopher.

I marked a paragraph a few pages before that (177 in my edition) because it made me laugh; what happens when one tries to get into the "design" business:
"Say you are the manager of the Southern Railroad. You figure that you need three engines for a stretch of track between Lynchburg and Danville. It's a mighty steep grade. So at fantastic effort and expense you have your shops make nine thousand engines. Each engine must be fashioned just so, every rivet and bolt secure, every wire twisted and wrapped, every needle on every indicator sensitive and accurate. You send all nine thousand of them out on the runs. Although there are engineers at the throttles, no one is manning the switches. The engines crash, collide, derail, jump, jam, burn... At the end of the massacre you have three engines, which is what the run could support in the first place. There are few enough of them that they can stay out of each others' paths. You go to your board of directors and show them what you've done."

feb 15, 2014, 7:56 pm

>72 qebo: “WTF, universe?”

Dillard seems to vascillate continuously between "WTF?" and "Oh, WOW!"

I get it. The fig tree in my back yard is apparently pollinated by a very specific kind of tiny wasp that must somehow crawl up into the fruit:

And I end up thinking "THIS is what you all came up with as the best evolutionary strategy? WTF?"

feb 16, 2014, 10:04 am

Review as done as it's going to get; over on my thread or on the work page.

feb 16, 2014, 10:06 am

73: Along with the insane but awesome convolutions of the process itself, I wonder at the scientific effort involved in figuring out each step.

feb 16, 2014, 10:17 am

>74 qebo:, 75 That was a nice review. I posted to your thread, but I'll post here as well since this is the "discussion" thread:

It would be interesting to see how Dillard's perspective on what it means to be "efficient" in nature -- what in fact it means to be "an individual" in nature -- would change in the wake of Richard Dawkins' suggestion that it is not about the individual, it's all about the gene.

feb 16, 2014, 10:50 am

Banjo, most of the text of the Afterword, the More Afterword and the 'About the Author' are available on Amazon's 'Look Inside' feature. (Although I just looked back at what I had read so easily a few weeks ago and now Amazon wants me to sign into my account to read it).

It's interesting that the afterword was written twenty five years after the book. I wonder how those twenty five years affected her viewpoint?

I don't see her vagueness as manipulative - I see it as her own searching. Sometimes one writes a book to help clarify one's thoughts on the journey, not to espouse a given viewpoint.

According to the 'About the author' mentioned above, it says that her first book, a book of poetry entitled Tickets for a Prayer Wheel, was published just months before APATC and explored 'desperately searching for the hidden God."

There are a multitude of Christian references in the book, but overall, I think, a strong Buddhist flavor. It would be interesting to read Teaching a Stone to Talk which is billed as continuing the journey begun on Tinker Creek.

feb 16, 2014, 3:15 pm

qebo, I appreciated your thoughtful review. Very nice.
I was able to look at the afterward, Streamsong, and it was interesting, though I don't think it would have changed the way I looked at the book.

This has been an interesting discussion, so far. I would like to read more of Dillard in the future--would anyone be interested in a group-read of An American Childhood sometime in the future?

feb 16, 2014, 3:20 pm

78: Thanks. And yes; I'd already added An American Childhood to my wishlist.

feb 16, 2014, 3:22 pm

I really liked her novel, The Living.

feb 16, 2014, 3:25 pm

80: Oh, I didn't know about that one. I lived in Bellingham for a bit, which adds to the interest.

Redigerat: feb 16, 2014, 5:55 pm

I have An American Childhood living on Planet TBR.

I loved the Bellingham area when I was there for Booktopia last year. I bought several books more or less local to the area, but not that one. It would be interesting to read some of her fiction.

I'm definitely interested in joining in, but I am feeling a bit buried in group & challenge reads right now.

feb 16, 2014, 5:50 pm

82: I am feeling a bit buried in group & challenge reads right now.
Me too, but I hope to be somewhat up for air in March.

feb 16, 2014, 7:54 pm

>68 southernbooklady: I enjoyed her extended rumination on what possible evolutionary advantage we could have in being cursed with emotions.
Oh, me too. I loved that section.

>78 banjo123: I have just read An American Childhood this year, and loved it. I hope you get a few to join in, as I actually enjoyed it more than Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.