Cabinet of Wonder

I wrote a post about summing up A Life’s Work in one word: legacy. But there is another word that runs a close second: wonder.

The work Robert Darden, Paolo Soleri, Jill Tarter, and David and Jared Milarch do keeps them asking questions and searching for answers, and that’s what wonder is, right? Each embraces this. I don’t know if they all have an object or objects in their offices or homes that represents or reminds them of their life’s work, or inspires them, or reminds them why they do what they do. I didn’t think to ask them. But if you’re a regular reader of this blog and you’ve read the “what’s on my corkboard?” posts, you know that I do.

Cabinet of WonderBut there are many things that aren’t on my corkboard that I wished were. Actually, I’d like to get more 3D than my corkboard will allow. I’d love to have a wunderkammer, or “Cabinet of Wonder.” And what are some of the things I’d have in my fantasy cabinet of wonder? A chisel used by Michelangelo, a moon rock, a pine cone from the oldest bristlecone pine tree, one of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s electric guitars, an Etruscan vase. These are just the first things that come to mind and have some relationship to A Life’s Work. I’m sure there’d be a bunch of other stuff in there as well.

What would be in your Cabinet of Wonder?

9 Replies to “Cabinet of Wonder”

  1. My life is some strange kind of living wunderkammer, I think. My pockets are always full of small things that move me when I first see them. Lately, feathers from birds I haven’t identified. Maple tree seeds (my brother and I called them helicopters when we were kids). Berries pilfered from anonymous neighbors’ gardens, more so because they are beautiful, than because they are delicious (they are that, too). There are some things, of course, that I do not carry, but wish I did. Lost or abandoned in one of many moves are mementos from my early childhood: a piece of glittering coal fallen from the midday freight train; a branch from the “money plant” that grew along the backside of the house; perfectly round pebbles from the shore of Lake Ontario; seashell fossils dug out of the Niagara Escarpment’s limestone caprock and gifted to me by my father.

    1. Thanks for the beautiful comment, Jessica. I remember you telling me that you have a bunch of wonders that travel with you. Feathers stored in a test tube? Is that right? I liked that image a lot.

      Sorry to read about the lost ones. But you have memories of them and grasp their preciousness. That’s something. A big something, I think.

      Thanks for sharing.


  2. Yes, feathers in a test tube. And feathers in several other vessels not commonly used for feathers.

  3. I take wonder to mean the magnificence of something, but I also take it to mean thinking deeply. So a wonder cabinet should contain things like amethyst crystals, which allow you to marvel at their beauty and wonder, and to wonder about how on a tiny little planet in a huge multiverse something so beautiful can be created by just a few minerals and the passage of time.

    1. Very well put, Bill. Your amethyst reminds me of rock collections me and my friends had as kids. But maybe because I’m stuck on this idea that wonder is something we experience profoundly as children, and then, for many of us, it abandons us and/or we abandon it.

  4. Wonder never abandons us.  It is through discovering the once-mysterious mechanisms of our childhood explained that allows us to toss aside childhood wonder as an immature, ignorant burden, no longer worthy of our attention.   Only by comprehending the known can we look at the unknown and allow our dreams to advance. The danger is thinking we can comprehend everything, ignore wonder and instead turn to delusion and magical thinking.  

    Learn the difference between delusion and wonder and embrace it!

    1. You’re right. We abandon wonder, it doesn’t abandon us. I liked that construct and the personification of an idea.

      It’s late and I fear if I respond to your email with more words I may wind up sounding like Donald Rumsfeld, and no one wants that.

      Thanks for the comment.

  5. I love this idea (and the comments above). In our case it’s more our house that is the ongoing wunderkammer (which I guess is one of the origins, a whole room full of stuff). I think it might benefit us to try the cabinet approach… Soil & stones from all over. Organized collections of detritus – sweeper tines, bottle cap sculptures, bird nests, etc. The last little bit of wonder is a piece of dry grass that I picked up after watching a grass-carrying wasp ( drop it while attempting to roll it into the bee house outside. She was very meticulous and focused in her task but one wispy piece got away from here. She drifted around like she was looking for it but eventually just flew off and came back with another piece. The dropped little bit is now in a small bottle. It makes absolutely no sense without context but I really quite like it. It reminds me that these amazing little creatures are working away right outside the window.

    And, now that I think about it, it kind of fits your larger theme. Most of these bee & wasp eggs turn to larvae, then they cocoon and wait for next spring. The adult that placed them there is long gone at that point, having worked for a future that they never see.

    1. Great comment! And I love the photo on your blog of that industrious wasp, even though as we all know, I hate wasps.

      I’ve had some interesting comments from friends on my Facebook page about the things they’d keep in their Cabinets of Wonder. And the truth is, like you, my apartment contains a bunch of things that instill me with wonder from time to time, but like you, it’s all about context. I have some rocks, pine cones, seed pods, and sea shells from places that are special to me. I have a jar full of cicada shells and a hermetically sealed jar with one cicada. An antler and a vertebrae from some wild things in Wyoming. I also have a glass float used for fishing nets. I’m told it floated from Japan to Washington State, where I bought it. Most of this stuff resides on bookshelves and radiator covers.

      Anyone else care to chime in?

Comments are closed.