Transcript for Where's Wonder?


Jim Fleming: This hour we are all about wonder. Where do you find it? Producer Sara Nics went looking for wonder just down the road.


Sara Nics: While I was working on this show about wonder, people in Madison kept suggesting that I visit a place called "The House on the Rock." It's a kind of cabinet of wonders, they said. It's awesome in its way. So, one cold November Sunday I drove out to Spring Green, Wisconsin, up the hill to the Rock where a wealthy eccentric named Alex Jordan built a 'Flintstone meets Frank Lloyd Wright' house. Inside it feels a bit like Hugh Hefner on magic mushrooms. Jordan was a compulsive collector. There's a whole town dedicated to his dolls. His sprawl of maritime memorabilia surrounds a three storey model of a toothed whale battling a giant squid.


In another room, hundreds of wooden carousel horses hang on the walls around an enormous carousel which is hovered over by an army of mannequin angels with hand painted wings. And then, there are the calliopes. One after another, I walked through room-size music machines. This one plays a ragtime tune; that one looks like a (Persian???) ballroom - plays a Viennese waltz; this one burns with Chinese lanterns. Drop in a quarter and a mustached automaton picks up his mallet and beats the drum while figures all around him chime bells and toot flutes.


I have been a self-proclaimed wonder junkie for years. I believe in wonders somehow. But, for all that The House on the Rock is the American equivalent of a cabinet of curiosities, I didn't find much awe or wonder there. A friend says that awe is our response to something surprising from which we want to move away, maybe to see it better, maybe to get some space to stay safe, whereas, wonder compels us. We want to move toward it. Not "whoa" but "wow!" For me, wonder merges mind and body. It's a sense of place in the overwhelming, unknowable universe. It's feeling fully present and connected to something large, complex, mysterious and benevolent.


There's no wonder at The House on the Rock because it's all a little mechanical and cramped. The pinging springs and the hissing bellows aren't mysterious. The plethora of collections are just an eccentric imagination made manifest. But, standing in front of an old cabinet-sized calliope, I realized it's not the objects of creation that are wonderful for me, it's the act of creation - our capacity to take in the world, try to understand it, translate it and share it. Wonder comes when I'm reminded that, unlikely as it is, we are somehow manifest as creative beings on a generous planet with five senses and the consciousness to contain them all. From an unknowable source, the Big Bang, the gurgling primordial soup, the hand of some god, we get to be here and reflect on being here and that is the wonder.


Fleming: I'm Jim Fleming. It's To the Best of our Knowledge from Wisconsin Public Radio and PRI (Public Radio International).

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