2.27.2010

Exhausted from the Pilgrimage

I finally finished Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek this afternoon.  It was an endurance event, apparently.  But I did enjoy each enduring mile.  It wasn't perfect; it wasn't life-changing on a grand scale; however, it was inspiring.  It makes me want to sleep in the barn and walk in the woods and simply observe more than I do.  I don't feel like I see anywhere near enough of the world to be able to record it.  She made me so envious of the freedom she had (at 27) to just sit - for hours - with no discernible pressure to do anything else.  But at times, I was also put off by this same freedom.  I had to wonder at times why she didn't have anything else to do.  How could she just stop life for hours to lie on her belly in a field and watch a praying mantis lay eggs?  How did she avoid living while she was watching everything else be so alive?

The interesting thing about this book is that immediately upon finishing, I thought I would probably like to read this book again in some span of years.  It seems like one you could read at different points of life and always glean something different from your new perspective.

One final passage to inspire:

It was as if the season's color were draining away like lifeblood, as if the year were molting and shedding.  The year was rolling down, and a vital curve had been reached, the tilt which gives way to headlong rush.  And when the monarchs had passed and were gone, the skies were vacant, the air poised.  The dark night into which the year was plunging was not a sleep but an awakening, a new and necessary austerity, the sparer climate for which I longed.  The shed trees were brittle and still, the creek light and cold, and my spirit holding its breath. (260-261)

2.21.2010

Oh, the Difference a Month Makes

I just noticed that I posted 12 times in January and have only posted once in February.  Of course, this entry will bring that total to a whopping two, but the numbers they are revealing.  Revealing in what way?  Well, it probably reveals that I've been using up more of my "spare" time during the day with actual work, so I haven't been reading during daylight hours.  My reading has been confined to those few, wee moments just prior to sleep.  You can imagine how reluctant one might be to get out of one's cozy bed to return to the computer just to post some insight about whatever one had been reading in that cozy bed.  One's willingness to entertain such a notion is made even more fleeting when one is reading with a booklight whilst entirely under one's covers .  Head and all.  That's been the way I've been progressing (can I even use such a word for what I've been doing with Tinker Creek lately?) in my reading lately.  You take what you can get, I suppose, but lately what I can get is hardly worth mentioning, much less typing about. Sometimes, I grope out from under the covers for the pen and underline something particularly noteworthy, but even that takes some serious commitment.  All that to say:  I'm still being inspired and challenged by Dillard's fine work here.  Sometimes it takes itself a bit more seriously than I'm comfortable with; at others, she goes on much too long about some finer point.  Overall, though, when she hits the zinger paragraph at the end of the essay, you can guarantee there will be sparks.

Here are some of my favorite bits:

On the perseverance of plants -
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.  (164)

On fish as a symbol for Christ -
Imagine for a Mediterranean people how much easier it is to haul up free, fed fish in nets than to pasture hungry herds on these bony hills and feed them through the winter.  To say that holiness is a fish is a statement of the abundance of grace; it is the equivalent of affirming in a purely materialistic culture than money does indeed grow on trees. (188)

On looking for muskrats -
The great hurrah about wild animals is that they exist at all, and the greater hurrah is the actual moment of seeing them.  Because they have a nice dignity, and prefer to have nothing to do with me, not even as the simple objects of my vision.  They show me by their very wariness what a prize it is simply to open my eyes and behold. (195)

Like the plant, I will persevere.  I'm even eschewing work tonight in favor of book.  I'm sure I will regret it later, but for now, there are a few words I'd like to read by the light of an ordinary bedside lamp.

2.02.2010

A Semi-Accidental Pilgrimage

I started reading Pilgrim at Tinker Creek last year after my friend Dodd called it one of the pivotal books in her life.  As I've so often commented before, I'm supremely interested in those books that change a person, so this one seemed like a great choice for me.  Unfortunately, I started reading it at the precise moment I had to read several novels to make selections for class, which left it momentarily waylaid.  For one reason or another (I have no idea why), I never returned to it, so it has languished at my bedside all these long months with no apparent care or interest from me.  The other night after finishing that Lotus thing, I didn't have the energy to pick a new one, so I went to bed and just grabbed up the Dillard as an afterthought.  And what an afterthought it has been.  I'm practically swooning over her words - the seemingly effortless way she takes in and returns to us these amazingly quiet experiences.  I know - I know - it is not effortless, that craft takes time, sweat, and discipline.  But she has so successfully let us into her head that it feels as though she is merely transcribing the literal thoughts she would have in the moment.  I am humbled not only by her skill; I am also being quieted by her careful attention, reminded that I, too, have things to see and feel and experience in this wide world.  Unfortunately, I do not have much discipline, so don't count on me for the beautiful or profound.  Like this:

This afternoon I watched a chickadee swooping and dangling high in a tulip tree.  It seemed astonishingly heated and congealed, as though a giant pair of hands had scooped a skyful of molecules and squeezed it like a snowball to produce this fireball, this feeding, flying, warm solid bit. (49)

Or this:

Then one day . . . I saw the tree with the lights in it.  I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame.  I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed.  It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance. (36)

One final (although it was an early one in the reading) thought:

Mountains are giant, restful, absorbent.  You can heave your spirit into a mountain and the mountain will keep it, folded, and not throw it back as some creeks will.  The creeks are the world with all its stimulus and beauty; I live there.  But the mountains are home. (5)