Favourite Quotes: ‘ the tree with lights’…. from Annie Dillard

This  post is dedicated to Denise at http://forphilip.com/. I was so struck by the extract below – from a recent post of hers – that I was inspired to write a reply. If you visit Denise’s blog, you will discover what moves her to write so beautifully, so profoundly. 

“….Four years I’d been living on that particular block, walking past one particular tree, and that morning I witnessed its transformation. The sun lit that tree and it shimmered red and gold; it was glass on fire, and if it could have  made a sound, it would’ve been celestial. This was shock and awe, I thought, as I stood staring up at it…..If I could live in that light, I thought, if I could just not move and stay right here, I will be all right and it will all have been worth it…..”


My reply….

Dear Denise, this extract from your recent post, reproduced above, struck me as being powerfully similar to a wonderful description of the ‘tree with lights’ which Annie Dillard talked about in her Pulitzer Prize winning book “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek”. I googled it, and have found the  ‘tree with lights’ passage  for you. I hope you find this passage as moving and inspiring as I did:

“…..Then one day I was walking along Tinker Creek thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with the lights in it.  I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame.  I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed.  It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance.  The lights of the fire abated, but I’m still spending the power.  Gradually the lights went out in the cedar, the colors died, the cells unflamed and disappeared.  I was still ringing.  I had my whole life been a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.  I have since only rarely seen the tree with the lights in it.  The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it, for the moment when the mountains open and a new light roars in spate through the crack, and the mountains slam…..”

–Annie Dillard, ‘Pilgrim at Tinker Creek’ (1974).

I can still clearly recall the profound, uplifting impact many years ago of reading Annie Dillard’s account of what is, essentially, a mystical experience. She was only 27. ‘….I’m still spending the power….’ I know what she means. I was fortunate enough to have a mystical experience once, at the age of 24 – out of the blue, on a clear, starry night with Venus rising over the Perthshire hills in the Scottish Highlands. It has sustained me through many difficult experiences, and in Annie Dillard’s unforgettable words,‘…. I’m still spending the power….’


500 words copyright Denise/Anne Whitaker /2014
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

8 thoughts on “Favourite Quotes: ‘ the tree with lights’…. from Annie Dillard

  1. Denise’s passage is powerful, and clearly reminiscent of Dillard’s words. I’m not surprised you thought of the tree with the lights in it. I would have, too. There are certain Dillard passages that seem to embed themselves into the being of nearly every reader, and this is one.

    I think everyone has experiences — mystical or otherwise — that they use to interpret life going forward. Some are aware of it, others aren’t. The ones who don’t recognize those formative experiences often are driven by forces they don’t fully understand. All of us have those unconscious forces in our lives, but knowing they’re swimming around somewhere can be helpful!

    1. Thanks, Linda. I very much agree with what you say about the benefit of understanding at least partially the influence of forces we don’t fully understand….a famous scientist (James Jeans, I think) said something to the effect that the universe is not only stranger than we suppose, but stranger than we CAN suppose.

      In my limited experience, reaching for and working towards even partial understanding of those forces (which is where a working knowledge of planetary symbolism is of great value) is a worthwhile exercise in the attempt to live a life which goes WITH the grain of who we are meant to be, rather than struggling against it.

  2. Anne, I also follow Denise’s blog and I, too, was particularly struck by this excerpt from this post. What is “celestial” about Denise, expressed through her writing, is how she can reach so deeply into the depths of her soul. She walks arm in arm with her grief and so completely captures the essence of her state of being that her words literally penetrate right through our walls, so much so, that it feels as if we are right there with her, not just observing but feeling every emotion right along with her.

    Thanks, BP. That is so accurate regarding Denise’s writing – and so eloquently put.

  3. Anne, I just saw this – thank you; I don’t know what else to say. When I read what others sometimes say about me, I think, “Who the heck are they talking about?” Because really, what all else can I do about Philip’s dying except write about it?

    You’ve no idea how much it means that it’s being read – again…thank you.

    1. You are most welcome, Denise. The links bringing you and Annie Dillard together: passionate depth of feeling and experience, the transforming power of Nature, and writing which provides an eloquent medium for striking diamond sparks in the mind of the reader, are too potent not to celebrate!

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