Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek sits with just a few other books as my favorites — my Mount Rushmore of books so to speak. It’s one of those books I can pick up and start reading and simultaneously feel a surge of excitement and peace. I find it a difficult book — one in which you have to mine for the gold. The gold is always there, it’s just not easy to find.
This brings me to Thanksgiving and an Annie Dillard story. She writes,
“When I was six or seven years old, growing up in Pittsburgh, I used to take a precious penny of my own and hide it for someone else to find. It was a curious compulsion; sadly, I’ve never been seized by it since. For some reason I always ‘hid’ the penny along the same stretch of sidewalk up the street. I would cradle it at the roots of a sycamore, say, or in a hole left by a chipped-off piece of sidewalk. Then I would take a piece of chalk, and, starting at either end of the block, draw huge arrows leading up to the penny from both directions. After I learned to write I labeled the arrows: SURPRISE AHEAD OR MONEY THIS WAY. I was greatly excited, during all this arrow-drawing, at the thought of the first lucky passer-by who would receive in this way, regardless of merit, a free gift from the universe. But I never lurked about. I would go straight home and not give the matter another thought, until, some months later, I would be gripped by the impulse to hide another penny.”
Dillard then goes on to make application:
“It is still the first week in January, and I’ve got great plans. I’ve been thinking about seeing. There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand. But — and this is the point — who gets excited by a mere penny? If you follow one arrow, if you crouch motionless on a bank to watch a tremulous ripple thrill on the water and are rewarded by the sight of a muskrat kit paddling from its den, will you count that sight as a chip of copper only, and go on your rueful way? It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won’t stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get.”
I almost always stop and pick up a penny now as reminder of this story. And – I need to be reminded that the world is filled with pennies. We find them in the small moments, the so-called ordinary, and in the small transitions of the day.
Have we trained ourselves to see the wonder of these “small moments” — or, have we trained ourselves not to see them? “What you see is what you get.”
Pilgrim At Tinker Creek. 1974. Annie Dillard. Harper & Row Publishers. New York, NY.