I recently saw Brian Doyle give an uplifting, sermon-like keynote speech. He gave advice for what we should do when we can no longer stand the injustice and violence of the world. “Find a four year old, or a dog.”
Children and animals are among the things that embody and evoke our sense of wonder and awe. For this Sunday’s List, we asked Entropy contributors, “What is the greatest sense of wonder you’ve ever experienced?” What follows are quiet, gorgeous and wonder-ful moments that keep us up, or get us through the night.
Last year I visited House on the Rock in Wisconsin, which used to belong to Alex Jordan. It’s basically a house he built around a rock in a remote area and another building that houses some of the largest collections of items (totally random things) in the world. There’s a life-sized blue whale in one room. There’s the largest carousel in the world, just there, red and spinning. All of that was insane. But the thing that made me feel something indescribable was this life-sized village he built. As soon as I got into that part of the “house,” I just felt this great sense of possibility and sadness. Like he wanted to build his own world that looked just the world he already knew, but with no one in it.
Seeing Tori Amos perform for the first time, when I was 13 (Boys for Pele tour). The moment she stepped on stage and hit the first note on her piano I started crying: I’d never seen “live” art that felt so close to me before and the entire evening felt like being let into a private room where the universe understood and held me.
One day a few years ago I realized the crows who live in the huge redwood tree in the neighbor’s yard were playing a game. They sit in the tree, and one says Caw, caw, caw! and about 5 of them suddenly leave the tree, circle around it and then come back and land. Then, another Caw, caw, caw, and 5 or 6 different crows (believe me I watch this closely) will leave, circle the tree and come back. They did this for about 20 minutes. I have seen this since, and I can only think it’s a crow version of musical chairs. I can’t see exactly where they land, and of course I have no way of recognizing an individual, but I truly believe this is play.
The first time I went to Sequoia National Park, it felt like the holiest place in the world. I was standing in the middle of ancient, beautiful, glowing, alive, time-travelling monsters. My husband and I got married here, and go back nearly every year. I feel a sense of wonder every day, when I look at my daughter, when I think about the past, when I read about genetics and the universe, when I watch ants, but these giants hold a special place in my heart.
I would have to say the greatest sense of wonder I’ve had has been when getting stoned and doing witchcraft at dawn. Watching the sun come up, doing yoga sun salutations, then moving to ritual magic as the sun comes up over the horizon. Amazing spiritual experiences. I have also had visitations from my wife where she spoke to me and I felt and saw the presence of her ghost. Of course, I’m batshit crazy so all of this may be my psychotic delusions but they are certainly fun. And the other morning I saw an exquisite faerie in my bathtub. One of the most beautiful things I’ve ever hallucinated.
I feel like my sense of wonder is more reflective, after-the-fact, rather than something immediately induced by the moment: a wonder that gets into imbued into memories, which once there’s distance, once there’s time, I value more because I realize how evanescent that feeling was, a feeling not so much of “wowzers” or of “oh my,” but of the ineffable grace I’ve rubbed up against–the ocean as a child, the waves bigger than me, sand between my toes, my baba on the dunes waving to me (she’s dressed in a homemade bathing suit), such a strong sense of wonder is still held here it subsumes my daydreams.
Erin Hart Wisti
One morning in October of 2013, I slept through my alarm after a strange dream. I don’t remember the details, but there was something distinctly haunting about it and I spoke to a few deceased friends and family members. For the record, 2013 was not a good year for me – I was very depressed for the bulk of the year. I was late for a doctor’s appointment, so I showered quick and bolted out the door. I was living in Chicago at the time and I had to take the 22 bus up Clark Street, which passes by this big cemetery. While the bus was driving by, I saw a flock of geese flying into the cemetery and I was disappointed. I’m not much of a bird person, but I love ducks and geese and I wanted to get off the bus and look at them but was already running late. After my appointment, I walked back to the cemetery and went inside, hoping there was some chance the geese were still there. They weren’t, or so I thought, and I was a little disappointed. Just as I was turning to leave, I heard a fluttering in the air and then goose after goose after goose flew over the cemetery and landed between the graves. It was a perfect fall day, crisp but not too cold, and the cemetery was filled with trees and grass and colorful leaves and here were these big, beautiful birds all around me and I suddenly felt euphoric. It was the most awesome – and I mean that in the traditional sense of the word, as something that fills you with awe – moment I’ve ever experienced. For almost an entire month after that day, I had trouble experiencing feelings of sadness. I felt like I was nicer to the people around me, kinder and gentler. I think I was just so grateful that, in the midst of a prolonged depression, I was able to experience a moment of utter joy and beauty. It temporarily lifted me from a very dark place.
My brother, sister in law, Dad and I drove up the coast to scatter my mom’s ashes above the spot they fell in love back when….the sun was bright with high, thin mare’s tails clouds, with a rainbow in one as it passed the sun…my brother let the ashes go and they briefly formed a cloud…defied the gravity and hung on the wind..moved a bit towards us almost shaped like two hands then fell away….she was free after years of suffering.
The sky still provokes a sense of wonder and awe in me daily. Especially at twilight and dawn, the color of the sky seems to be different each moment, some colors that don’t seem possible infusing into other temperatures, moods, senses. It’s amazing that something that persists and is ever-present can still evoke so many feelings.
On a winter night in the NC woods, I was with two people who I was interviewing as part of an ethnography. They had me over for dinner and then we took a walk on their road. At the end was a frozen-over pond. The ice was lit by a single nearby street lamp and looked almost purple. We took turns skipping rocks and with every rock there was a ping as it bounced off the ice. That ping echoed all around us and made the most beautiful music as it bounced around in the mountains around us. It was simple and beautiful.
I hiked Havasupai falls a month after my boyfriend’s suicide. I was pretty sure I would never feel anything again. I remember the sharpness of my anger: How could all that beauty keep existing when everything was so agonizing? I also felt shame that I was a tourist on reservation land, which is in retrospect an obvious grief metaphor. In dissociating from his suicide, I was living like a tourist, sightseeing through my own life. Havasu Falls woke me.