Essay Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

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Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Annie Dillard opens Pilgrim at Tinker Creek mysteriously, hinting at an unnamed presence. She toys with the longstanding epic images of battlefields and oracles, injecting an air of holiness and awe into the otherwise ordinary. In language more poetic than prosaic, she sings the beautiful into the mundane. She deifies common and trivial findings. She extracts the most high language from all the possible permutations of words to elevate and exalt the normal. Under her pen, her literary devices and her metaphors, a backyard stream becomes a shrine. Writing a prayer, Dillard becomes an instrument through which a ubiquitous spirit reveals itself. Yet in other cases, she latches on to an image
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. .lest our eyes be blasted forever" (23). She alludes here to the monotheistic concept of the taboo gaze, the forbidden direct stare into the face of God. In the preceding paragraph, she "discover[s] the mystery" (22) of the clouds. Able to perceive them only in the reflective water below, blind to the originals that cast the duplicates, she wonders if "maybe the ark of the covenant was just passing by" (22). The trunk in which Moses stored the Ten Commandments also provided the throne of God within the Tabernacle; he presides from atop the ark between two cherubim, "in unapproachable light" (I Timothy 6:16, Psalm 104:2). As they avoid pronouncing the name of God, believers must also shy away from this brightness. Dillard evokes these mystical taboos to express the irony of human love. Elsewhere she tells the story of a moth consumed by a flame, calling to mind the Sufi symbol for mortal love and the mystical path spiked with danger. The religious symbols also provoke ideas of spirituality that elevate the significance of Dillard's worldly visions. The references are vital, because her experiences in nature do not connote spiritual presence as they once did.

As GaryMcIlroy points out in "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and the Burden of Science," American nature writing used to involve pure
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