I have sub-consciously put off Annie Dillard since I was stumped by her essay Seeing in college. These are all kinds of moments she writes about in this personal essay from her Pulitzer Prize-winning 1974 non-fiction book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I remember it was a reading assignment for over the Labor Day weekend and it was one of the few books I threw against the wall. It wasn’t until recently that I re-read and came to appreciate its beauty. Most of us take the act of sight for granted and rarely stop to consider all the marvels we take in every day. We may not even notice what is happening around us, caught up as we are in our own affairs.
The most difficult thing about Seeing was that is not focused on plot, characters, or narrative, the way a fictional story would be. It begins with a child anecdote then meanders through evidence of scientists and naturalists to make the point about seeing. As Dillard writes, There lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises, if only we care to find them. This time around I did so much better, finally am in sync with her final epiphany of the essay—that long anticipated “aha moment.”
The re-discovery of Dillard prompted me to get her novel, The Maytrees, a grim look in family and marriage. Annie Dillard has always been at her best when considering death; the contemplation of mortality gives her writing an extraordinarily fierce and burnished quality. Her central, crucial question remains that posed in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek: “What was it, exactly—or even roughly—that we people are meant to be doing here?”