Man’s relation to the wilderness and the beauty that can be found in solitude are taken up in both Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek & Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. A central text of American Transcendentalism, Thoreau’s Walden, captures two years, two months, and two days through both scientific observation and philosophical inquiry. Dillard, inspired by Thoreau’s work, began writing Pilgrim at Tinker Creek in 1973 based on her own personal journals. The work is divided into four sections that embody the four seasons Dillard herself experienced at Tinker Creek in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

In addition to discussing self-reliance, simplicity, and the beauty of nature, fellows will be asked to practice these themes by regularly taking time to attend to nature in silence and solitude.

Image: Mount Monadnock, probably 1911/1914


Mary Elizabeth Halper on Dillard & Thoreau


Mary Elizabeth Halper

Mary Elizabeth Halper is Dean of the Humanities at Hertog program and a tutor at St. John’s College, Annapolis. Previously, she was Associate Director of the Hertog Foundation. She graduated with B.A.s in Philosophy and Classics from the University of Dallas and has since been devoted to liberal education in various forms.

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Observation Assignment:

  • Sit silently out of doors and in solitude for 20-30 minutes. Record your observations.


  • Reflect on your observations and put them in conversation with the reading.

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