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Her universe starts in her study or at her back door and extends from there to the farthest corner of the universe . In fact, that is how some critics have viewed this work: as essays on the perplexities of nature.While the book does take up this theme again and again, it is not for the simple pleasure of holding up a quirk of nature for its thrill value.
In , although Dillard ranges further afield than her immediate “backyard” and presents essays not only about the goings-on near Tinker Creek but also about the creatures of the Galápagos Islands and the Arctic Circle, her intention remains the same: witnessing nature.
For Dillard, this witnessing is a religious act; in everything she sees and experiences, she seeks answers to primal questions.
All of Dillard’s writing displays this almost photographic evocation of place, a skill that has prompted critics to label her a naturalist.
Dillard does not agree; for her, the natural world provides the only avenue by which to contemplate the ultimate, the absolute, the divine.
In fact, those readers and critics who view her as an untutored Appalachian local who both rhapsodizes about and is horrified by the natural world of rural Virginia greatly misjudge their subject.
That Dillard can make her readers share in such small and private activities as seeking out praying mantis egg cases or sitting quietly trying not to scare a muskrat attests to both her powers of observation and her skill at descriptive narration.
In both , Dillard perhaps raises more questions than she answers, or at least so it seems to those critics who want her to tie up all the loose ends satisfactorily.
However, loose ends are precisely what interest Dillard; the world as she sees it offers even the most practiced observer more loose ends than easy answers.
In her earlier work, the person of Dillard remained behind the scenes; the reader saw what she saw, heard what she heard, and reacted.
The personality of the narrator was somehow distanced, muted.