Pilgrim at Tinker Creek | Study Guide

Annie Dillard

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Course Hero. "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek Study Guide." September 26, 2017. Accessed November 20, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Pilgrim-at-Tinker-Creek/.


Course Hero, "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek Study Guide," September 26, 2017, accessed November 20, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Pilgrim-at-Tinker-Creek/.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek | Chapter 5 : Untying the Knot | Summary



It is still February, and Dillard discovers a mystery on one of her walks: a knotted snakeskin inside a discarded aquarium. How could a snake shed its skin in a knot? But the real wonder occurs when she tries to untie it; the knot has no beginning and no end. Abruptly her thoughts shift to her not wanting to miss the exact moment winter turns to spring this year, but she realizes she can no more capture that precise instant than she can untie the knot in the snakeskin.

Then she wonders how the first man figured out the cycle of the seasons, that winter happens not just once but over and over again. She herself wants to preserve the illusion that what happens on Tinker Creek is always new, always happening for the first time because, she jokes, she doesn't want to get "used weather." But like the snakeskin, "time is the continuous loop," and so is the divine power she seeks: "The spirit seems to roll along like the mythical hoop snake." It cannot be stopped or caught.


Dillard's trademark humor is on display in this chapter when she jokes about not wanting to get somebody else's "used weather." It may also be a reference to her statement in Chapter 1 indicating she intended to keep a "meteorological journal of the mind," as Thoreau did when writing Walden.

But this short chapter is tightly focused on the central image revealed in the title, "Untying the Knot." Dillard begins with a concrete example found in nature, a shed snakeskin apparently tied in a knot. Although she does not cite this directly, this find appears to be a reference to the mythical Ouroboros, an ancient image of a serpent eating its own tail, which has always symbolized the cyclical nature of time. This concept resembles what the knotted snakeskin means for Dillard, as she explains when she discusses time as a continuous loop.

Dillard develops this notion even further. For her, the loop-like nature of time means one can never quite capture the present; it is over as soon as it begins, always lost between the then of the past and the next of the future. Time is an artificial construct humans place on top of what they actually experience. This explanation helps Dillard understand that God, the divine power she constantly stalks when she goes to Tinker Creek, also cannot be captured. Like the snakeskin it is circular, a hoop made of flame. She ends by challenging readers, "Catch it if you can."

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