Annie Dillard Metaphors of Winter  Term Paper

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The spider's patient web spinning during the winter shows how it is necessary for Dillard to become dependant on the natural world, rather than upon humans alone or upon chemicals and tools that tamper with nature in a human fashion. To survive the winter physically and psychologically, she must trust her instinctual place in the larger animal firmament. As she observes the spiders that keep her own home insect-free, their work becomes a metaphor for Dillard. They lead her to her spiritual musings about the perfect symmetries that exist in nature. "Because the light just happened to be such that I couldn't see the web at all. I had read that spiders lay their major straight lines with fluid that isn't sticky, and then lays a non-sticky spiral. Then they walk along" the thread, weaving until the major lines are complete, then moving on to the minor lines of their webs, bit by bit constructing beauty, as Dillard does in her writing. (53) The winter forces the 'forsythia' of a writer to a slower pace, governed by patience and solitude.

Dealing with the winter is a physical and a spiritual test. It tests one's endurance. Unlike the dying queen bees, Dillard does not have to regard the winter only with the emotion of fear and despair. She notes that only some kinds of bees are dead. The flitting honeybees can survive the winter on their stores of sugar. The workers of the colony survive, while the slower and less industrious queen does not, despite her status -- another, metaphorical reminder of the power of industry and the ability to reap one's summer and fall toil in the coldness of winter. Of the hardier insects and animals, ants, ladybugs, and bears alike hide, waiting for spring and living collectively in colonies and dens, all reaping the harvest of their labor and toil. (49)

Dillard still occasionally feels lonely her observations of the natural world such as her goldfish Ellery as she watches the fish bumping its head against the fishbowl of its own glass solitude. But Dillard knows chose her solitude, even though she may occasionally chafe at it. The animals that must cope with the excessive outdoor harshness of winter with torpor and withdrawal did not chose their location in the great, yet unsparing cruelty of the winter, even if they may lack some of Dillard's alien, forced forsythia energy. The animals must cope with a 'survival of the fittest' struggle, as the large, furry spiders that suck the blood from hummingbirds, both hiding from the elements in the barn, are contrasted with the more civilized life of the writer indoors and her small spinning spiders. Dillard reflects that she always has her carefully constructed shelter, however full of 'cabin fever' she may feel. And all of the animals, however fragile, at least attempt imperfectly to survive -- even humming birds, even the slow-moving slugs must hibernate in waterproof sacs. In winter, everything either dies or stays "mutely alive" and hidden even in the relatively warm waters of the Virginal and the fish like carp dwell beneath the ice. (48)

Thus, Dillard seems to see herself like the carp, like her fish in her home, like her friends the spiders -- all still moving and alive, but somewhat slower beneath the ice, and isolated from the busy, moving, industrious created world of mankind in artificial hothouse dwellings. And through such reflections even in the stillness of the harsh winters, "something perfect is born," is always being born, in Dillard's eyes, when one is in tune with the natural world. When one does not chafe against winter, but allows the spiders to clean one's house and when one takes the time to observe, even a naturally summery and outdoors dweller like the author can find peace and fulfillment. And even when the wind howls, "something wholly new" always "rides the wind," even in winter, "something fleet and fleeting I'm likely to miss. To sleep, spiders and fish; the wind won't stop, but the house will hold. To shelter, starlings and coot; bow to the wind," but the wind will break neither the author's spirit nor her house, she proudly notes to the reader, so long as she can find meaning and beauty in its metaphors. (54)

Works Cited (Dillard, Annie. A Pilgrim at…

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