Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek: Quotes and (Marginally-Related) Nature-ish Photo Illustrations

 Pilgrim at Tinker Creek: Quotes and (Marginally-Related) Nature-ish Photo Illustrations

We wake, if we ever wake at all, to mystery, rumors of death, beauty, violence. . . . “Seem like we’re just set down here,” a woman said to me recently, “and don’t nobody know why.”

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (p. 4). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

The creeks—Tinker and Carvin’s—are an active mystery, fresh every minute. Theirs is the mystery of the continuous creation and all that providence implies: the uncertainty of vision, the horror of the fixed, the dissolution of the present, the intricacy of beauty, the pressure of fecundity, the elusiveness of the free, and the flawed nature of perfection. The mountains—Tinker and Brushy, McAfee’s Knob and Dead Man—are a passive mystery, the oldest of all. Theirs is the one simple mystery of creation from nothing, of matter itself, anything at all, the given. 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.

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (pp. 4-5). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

That it’s rough out there and chancy is no surprise. Every live thing is a survivor on a kind of extended emergency bivouac. But at the same time we are also created. In the Koran, Allah asks, “The heaven and the earth and all in between, thinkest thou I made them in jest?” It’s a good question. What do we think of the created universe, spanning an unthinkable void with an unthinkable profusion of forms? Or what do we think of nothingness, those sickening reaches of time in either direction?

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (p. 9). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

“God is subtle,” Einstein said, “but not malicious.” Again, Einstein said that “nature conceals her mystery by means of her essential grandeur, not by her cunning.” It could be that God has not absconded but spread, as our vision and understanding of the universe have spread, to a fabric of spirit and sense so grand and subtle, so powerful in a new way, that we can only feel blindly of its hem. In making the thick darkness a swaddling band for the sea, God “set bars and doors” and said, “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further.” But have we come even that far? Have we rowed out to the thick darkness, or are we all playing pinochle in the bottom of the boat?

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (p. 9). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get.

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (p. 17). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

“Still,” wrote van Gogh in a letter, “a great deal of light falls on everything.”

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (p. 24). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam.

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (p. 35). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

“Nature,” said Thoreau in his journal, “is mythical and mystical always, and spends her whole genius on the least work.” The creator, I would add, churns out the intricate texture of least works that is the world with a spendthrift genius and an extravagance of care. This is the point.

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (p. 128). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

What we know, at least for starters, is: here we—so incontrovertibly—are. This is our life, these are our lighted seasons, and then we die. (You die, you die; first you go wet, and then you go dry.) In the meantime, in between time, we can see. The scales are fallen from our eyes, the cataracts are cut away, and we can work at making sense of the color-patches we see in an effort to discover where we so incontrovertibly are. It’s common sense: when you move in, you try to learn the neighborhood.

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (p. 129). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

And it occurs to me more and more that everything I have seen is wholly gratuitous. The giant water bug’s predations, the frog’s croak, the tree with the lights in it are not in any real sense necessary per se to the world or to its creator. Nor am I. The creation in the first place, being itself, is the only necessity, for which I would die, and I shall.

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (p. 130). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery. The surface of mystery is not smooth, any more than the planet is smooth; not even a single hydrogen atom is smooth, let alone a pine. Nor does it fit together; not even the chlorophyll and hemoglobin molecules are a perfect match, for, even after the atom of iron replaces the magnesium, long streamers of disparate atoms trail disjointedly from the rims of the molecules’ loops. Freedom cuts both ways. Mystery itself is as fringed and intricate as the shape of the air in time. Forays into mystery cut bays and fine fiords, but the forested mainland itself is implacable both in its bulk and in its most filigreed fringe of detail. “Every religion that does not affirm that God is hidden,” said Pascal flatly, “is not true.”

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (pp. 145-146). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

The question from agnosticism is, Who turned on the lights? The question from faith is, Whatever for?

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (p. 146). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

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. And, as I have stressed, the place where we so incontrovertibly find ourselves, whether thought or machine, is at least not in any way simple.

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (pp. 146-147). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Anything can happen, and anything does; what’s it all about?

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (p. 170). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

We value the individual supremely, and nature values him not a whit.

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (p. 178). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

We have not yet encountered any god who is as merciful as a man who flicks a beetle over on its feet. There is not a people in the world who behaves as badly as praying mantises.

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (p. 179). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

...we are moral creatures, then, in an amoral world. The universe that suckled us is a monster that does not care if we live or die—does not care if it itself grinds to a halt.

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (p. 179). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

So much is amiss that I must consider the second fork in the road, that creation itself is blamelessly, benevolently askew by its very free nature, and that it is only human feeling that is freakishly amiss.

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (p. 180). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

The world has signed a pact with the devil; it had to. It is a covenant to which every thing, even every hydrogen atom, is bound. The terms are clear: if you want to live, you have to die; you cannot have mountains and creeks without space, and space is a beauty married to a blind man. The blind man is Freedom, or Time, and he does not go anywhere without his great dog Death. The world came into being with the signing of the contract. A scientist calls it the Second Law of Thermodynamics. A poet says, “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower/Drives my green age.” This is what we know. The rest is gravy.

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (p. 183). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Here was a new light on the intricate texture of things in the world, the actual plot of the present moment in time after the fall: the way we the living are nibbled and nibbling—not held aloft on a cloud in the air but bumbling pitted and scarred and broken through a frayed and beautiful land.

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (p. 230). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

In another book I learn that ten percent of all the world’s species are parasitic insects. It is hard to believe. What if you were an inventor, and you made ten percent of your inventions in such a way that they could only work by harassing, disfiguring, or totally destroying the other ninety percent? These things are not well enough known.

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (p. 232). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

It is the thorn in the flesh of the world, another sign, if any be needed, that the world is actual and fringed, pierced here and there, and through and through, with the toothed conditions of time and the mysterious, coiled spring of death.

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (p. 237). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

“In nature,” wrote Huston Smith, “the emphasis is in what is rather than what ought to be.” I learn this lesson in a new way every day.

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (p. 241). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

The world “Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,/Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain.” I’ve been there, seen it, done it, I suddenly think, and the world is old, a hungry old man, fatigued and broken past mending.

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (p. 241). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

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 wandering 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 beats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them, under the wind-rent clouds, upstream and down.

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (p. 245). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Thomas Merton wrote, “There is always a temptation to diddle around in the contemplative life, making itsy-bitsy statues.” There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end. It is so self-conscious, so apparently moral, simply to step aside from the gaps where the creeks and winds pour down, saying, I never merited this grace, quite rightly, and then to sulk along the rest of your days on the edge of rage. I won’t have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (p. 274). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Ezekiel excoriates false prophets as those who have “not gone up into the gaps.” The gaps are the thing. The gaps are the spirit’s one home, the altitudes and latitudes so dazzlingly spare and clean that the spirit can discover itself for the first time like a once-blind man unbound. The gaps are the cliffs in the rock where you cower to see the back parts of God; they are the fissures between mountains and cells the wind lances through, the icy narrowing fiords splitting the cliffs of mystery. Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock—more than a maple—a universe. This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (p. 274). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. the plainest, truest words: knock; seek; ask. But you must read the fine print. “Not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” That’s the catch. If you can catch it will catch you up, aloft, up to any gap at all, and you’ll come back, for you will come back, transformed in a way you may not have bargained for—dribbling and crazed.

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (p. 275). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. 

Quotes are all from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard.

The photos are all my own.

For more photos, link up at Wordless WednesdayComedy PlusMessymimi's MeanderingsKeith's RamblingsCreate With JoyWild Bird Wednesday, and My Corner of the World.

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