Pilgrim at Tinker Creek | Study Guide

Annie Dillard

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Course Hero, "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek Study Guide," September 26, 2017, accessed December 15, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Pilgrim-at-Tinker-Creek/.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek | Chapter 9 : Flood | Summary



The chapter starts just after the summer solstice. After an unseasonably cool spell there is a short rain shower, and summer heat suddenly descends. Tinker Creek is high, the animals are going wild, and Dillard feels like some unknown change is around the corner for her. She feels a sense of menace as she sees a dog "thin as death" harrying rabbits and a weird fleshy growth by the sycamore log.

The rising water triggers a flashback to the previous year when the remnants of a hurricane caused a massive flood. The beloved creek is unrecognizable, like a "blacksnake caught in a kitchen drawer." In its fury the creek reminds Dillard of a dragon. The moving water that has so delighted her now makes her feel dizzy and "mauled." She wonders what happens to animals when a river floods. What about birds, insects, fish: do they all die? Although many do, others do not, and Dillard contemplates "the survivors have a field day with no competition."

The waters flood the bridge, 11 feet above the creek. Debris and garbage move along swiftly with the rushing waters; Dillard's log disappears. The chapter ends abruptly after a flash forward to a story about a giant mushroom neighbors found. Dillard admits this has nothing to do with the flood; she just likes the story and wants to share it.


Unlike the chapters in the rest of the book this one doesn't seem to have a deeper purpose. Dillard doesn't use any of the stories about the flood to make a point about God, nor does she spend time reveling in the intricacies, particularities, beauties, or cruelties that absorb her elsewhere. Perhaps that is why, in the afterword to the 25th anniversary edition, she says this is the weakest chapter of the book. It doesn't even take place within the one-year timeline of the book, most of the chapter being a recollection of a flood that occurred 12 months ago, well before the events of Chapter 1.

So why is it included? Dillard has answered this question in numerous interviews. She sees the chapter as an intermission between the first and second halves of the book. In a sense, the flood washes away what she has done until now and creates a fresh, clean approach for what she is about to do. The first half of the book is the via positiva, or positive way, where Dillard uses what she observes in nature to describe God by attributes she believes he possesses. In the second half, which begins in the next chapter, she uses the via negativa, or negative way, to describe God by attributes she believes he lacks.

This chapter is noteworthy for another reason as well. Dillard mentions few encounters with other people in the rest of the book. However, here many of her neighbors appear briefly and somewhat anonymously. For perhaps the first time, readers can confirm Dillard doesn't live in a lonely house in the woods. Tinker Creek is in the midst of a well-populated suburban neighborhood, and Dillard converses with her neighbors as well as with anyone else who is not as obsessed with the flora and fauna of Tinker Creek as she is in her role as observer and commentator.

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