Brain Pickings

Annie Dillard on Winter and the Wonder of Life


“The wind won’t stop, but the house will hold.”

How easy it can be to lose our sense of wonder, and how tragic. On those days when we’re particularly fettered to defaults, boggled down by over-intellectualization, or enveloped in cynicism, there is hardly an antidote more potent and more welcome than Annie Dillard. In 1974, she published, and subsequently earned the Pulitzer Prize for, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (public library) — a profound series of essays blending science, philosophy, humanism, and a thinker’s thoughts on life. This particular excerpt from the essay “Footfalls In A Blue Ridge Winter”, a celebration of winter originally published in the February 1974 issue of — of all places — Sports Illustrated, manages to capture in some 200 words just about everything that’s magical and poetic about life, innocence, curiosity, presence, and even the memes that permeate the Internet, a kind of vision for the currency of the web long before the web as we know it existed.

I’m getting used to this planet and to this curious human culture which is as cheerfully enthusiastic as it it cheerfully cruel. I never cease to marvel at the newspapers. In my life I’ve seen one million pictures of a duck that has adopted a kitten, or a cat that has adopted a duckling, or a sow and a puppy, a mare and a muskrat. And for the one millionth time I’m fascinated. I wish I lived near them, in Corpus Christi or Damariscotta; I wish I had the wonderful pair before me, mooning about the yard. It’s all beginning to smack of home. The winter pictures that come in over the wire from every spot on the continent are getting to be as familiar as my own hearth. I wait for the annual aerial photograph of an enterprising fellow who has stamped in the snow a giant valentine for his girl. Here’s the annual chickadee-trying-to-drink-from-a-frozen-birdbath picture, captioned, ‘Sorry, Wait Till Spring,’ and the shot of an utterly bundled child crying piteously on a sled at the top of a snowy hill, labeled, ‘Needs a Push.’ How can an old world be so innocent?”

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is just as fantastic in its entirety. Complement it with Dillard on writing and how to live with presence.

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