Pilgrim at Tinker Creek | Study Guide

Annie Dillard

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Course Hero, "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek Study Guide," September 26, 2017, accessed May 24, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Pilgrim-at-Tinker-Creek/.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek | Chapter 12 : Nightwatch | Summary

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Summary

One hot night in early September, Dillard decides to sleep outdoors. She walks through a meadow and stirs up a barrage of grasshoppers in "a blast of bodies like shrapnel," noting grasshoppers morph into locusts like a gang of Jekylls devolving into Hydes. In fact, "locusts are grasshoppers ... Swarms of locusts are ordinary grasshoppers gone berserk." The touch of the insects against her skin makes her feel "up to her knees in the world," simultaneously both the king and the serf of the meadow.

She crosses a dam over Tinker Creek, reveling in the knowledge she might fall, the danger exciting her. Finally she reaches the Lucas cottage. She considers the abandoned one-room shack with broken windows luxurious. She gazes out of the window and sees bumblebees, butterflies, a young rabbit, and then a goldfinch tearing apart a seedpod and strewing thistle down in the air. She realizes the "same fixity" that destroys stars and drives mantises to eat their mates has produced this beauty. "How could anything be amiss?" she asks.

Later she describes lying in her sleeping bag under the stars. She hears the cicadas tuning up like a rusty "orchestra." She cannot sleep but is happy about it, wondering what weight of starlight is falling upon her and what nocturnal creatures are sharing her wakefulness. Her mind meanders, and she thinks of eels that migrate for a mile over wetlands to reach streams that will carry them to the sea. She wonders if she saw a mass migration of eels whether she would she be frightened—or tempted to join them.

Analysis

Dillard seamlessly weaves together her experience of nature with her metaphysical musings, focusing once again on the idea of theodicy. She seems to find it easier now to reconcile the beauty and violence intertwined in nature. The horror of "fixity" she expresses earlier in the book is absent here. Instead, when she thinks about the grotesqueries of insect life or the inevitable collapse and death of stars, she shrugs off these phenomena. Intoxicated by the night around her, she fully accepts suffering and death as part of the same creative process that brings beauty as well. At the end of the chapter, she even says she is willing to pay in her own blood (the image is from the story of the man she mentions who fell asleep in a horde of flying locusts) to be part of this world rather than an uncomprehending observer.

This chapter also emphasizes Dillard's passionate belief in the importance of being focused on the present moment. Suffused with joy, she writes, "Is this where we live, in this place at this moment?" She thinks everyone should pay full attention to nature, to the specific plants and animals surrounding them. This natural world is where she feels most alive, not the human realm of cities. It is worth a little suffering, she writes, to be "rapt and enwrapped in the rising and falling real world."

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