How Pilgrim at Tinker Creek Broadened my Mind

Sometimes I just need to go back to the comforts of my youth, and re-reading books is a favorite way to do this. In college I discovered Anne Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I picked it up because I grew up on a Colorado farm with trees, a creek, beaver ponds -- even a great horned owl woods. I knew the birds, trees, flowers and grasses around me. An introspective child, I thought myself a deep thinker, wise beyond my years. (Which clearly proves that I wasn't.) But once I began reading Pilgrim I entered a world both more detailed and much broader than I had known. I remember thinking with astonishment "I didn't know you could look at the world that way!"

What is it that causes our minds to suddenly take leaps in new directions? While backpacking in the Rockies I'd learned to identify conifers, mushrooms, and the botanical parts of flowers. At the farm I loved to sit by our creek or under the trees, absorbing the sight, sound, feel and scent of life. The power of God and his creation surrounded me, and I savored it, drinking in my surroundings as deeply as I could. But for all that, it was Anne Dillard who showed me a new way of looking about, a new way of thinking.

Growing up I had a great need to control everything -- even my thoughts -- so I divided knowledge into individual pieces. Philosophy, science, experience--all my learning--went into separate files; mixing them would have created chaos. And chaos was what I feared most. But in her book Dillard showed me a very messy way of thinking. Information about blind people who had recovered their sight followed pages on stargazing, with van Gogh and Galileo thrown casually in. Long, flowery inner musings sat side by side with the eating habits of the praying mantis. (Did you know they can eat garter snakes, mice and hummingbirds? How do they get them to hold still long enough?) Honestly, there's not much neat or tidy about Tinker Creek.

I suppose I was nicely poised for change when I read Pilgrim. I'd left my high school class of 36 to go to a much larger university, mostly because no one else from my town was there. I chose to study engineering , clearly all wrong for my interests and personality. I was looking for a chance to be a different person, one I knew was locked inside of me. (Of course I thought this made me unique.) I wanted to discover new worlds, within and without. Instead, I stumbled on a new way to see the old one. I realized it was time to get rid of my neat categories and let my mind get messy.

If Thomas Wolfe was right when he wrote You Can't Go Home Again, maybe it's because he had tried to recreate his youth by re-reading his favorite books. Honestly, I don't want to go back to the past, I'm too curious about my future for that. But sometimes I like to stop and think about how I got where I am , and the books that helped me get here.

Read Well, Friend


Sue said...

I'm not the reader I used to be. I did read that book around 40 years ago. My memory is so bad, that I don't remember anything about it.

Thanks for your comment on my blooms.

Kelley Calvert said...

I love this idea of getting your mind messy. We too often compartmentalize, but I think the truth is some kind of jumbled up chaos! Nice post. I like your exploration of books past. I have not read "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" but I'll definitely check it out!