The Bird Carver’s Daughter (Part 3: Something’s Going On Here…)

Guest post by Kari Jo Spear, Photographer, Novelist, and Daughter of Bob Spear

I can’t remember the first time I ever heard the “M” word. The fact that we were going to have a museum in the family happened very slowly, after a great many permutations and plot twists, and by the time it was a reality, it felt like it was meant to be from the beginning.

But it didn’t start out that way.

Some time after my parents divorced and much later after that when Gale entered the picture, I began spending a day every weekend with my father. He had a wood shop now—a old cement block building he’d fixed up and moved all his tools into. It was clean and had a nice work bench and a window with bird feeders outside. I thought he’d keep making chickadees to sell to gift shops. But I was wrong. He was making “keepers” now.

Bob and Red-winged by KJS
Bob Spear and Red-winged Blackbird display in progress. Photo by Kari Jo Spear.

One late winter day when we walked into the shop, I saw a bunch of cattails with a bird nest in the middle of them standing in the center of the room. The cattails were stuck in a block of pure white plaster. My father told me he was going to carve two Red-wing Blackbirds to perch around the nest.

“I want to show the habitat,” he explained.

Well, that was cool, except that the habitat was taller than I was.

We looked at it a while, and then my father asked me, “Do you want to paint the plaster to look like mud?”

Me? Paint the mud?

Like a typical teenager, I searched for the catch. Was this his way of saying he wanted to include me in the project? That was cool. Obviously, I wasn’t going to be doing any of the carving. But was painting mud all I was good for? It also crossed my mind that the height of the cattails was going to prevent them from being placed on the workbench, so whoever painted the mud was going to have to do it sitting on the floor.

Well, I decided to take it as an honor, and pretty soon I was sitting there with a pallet of brown and green paint, happily dabbing away. There is a great variety in the color of mud, after all, especially with some algae mixed in. I threw my heart and soul into making the richest, muddiest mud that cattails ever grew out of. When I was done, my father looked down at it.

“Yup. Looks like mud.”

I chose to take that as a compliment, too.

The next week when I came up, there were two Redwing Blackbirds mounted to the cattails, the nest had eggs in it, and the whole thing was enclosed in Plexiglas and standing in the corner of the shop.

“Going to make the next ones smaller,” my father said, nodding to the case. “All that glass is kind of expensive. I’ll put them up on wooden bases. Maybe make covers with lights in them.”

Okay, that sounded good, I thought. No more sitting on the floor. But I had say, “Wait, hang on. How many of these are you going to make?”

That’s when I saw a glint in the corner of my father’s eye, and I knew something was brewing. “Well, I don’t know. I’d like to do all the birds that nest in Vermont.”

I didn’t know just how many that was, exactly, but it felt like a lot.

“And you’re going to make a pair of each of them?”

That little glint got brighter.

Math had never been my thing, but even I could figure out that we were talking about hundreds of birds here. In protective cases, with habitats. But the wood shop was the size of, well, a shop, and Gale’s house already had, well, house stuff in it.

So I asked the obvious question. “Where are they all going to go?”

There was a moment of silence. Then my father gave his normal response to any difficult question. “Hmm.” Which meant, in this case, carve first and worry later.

We went back to contemplating the Redwing Blackbirds.

I had no idea what had just begun.

Kari Jo Spear‘s young adult, urban fantasy novel about two gay teenagers, Under the Willow, is now available at Phoenix Books in Essex, and on-line at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. It is published by Prizm. Her second young adult novel, Silent One, will be available in mid-June 2012.

Previous posts in this series:
Part 1: The Early Years
Part 2: The Pre-teen Years (or, Why I’m Not a Carver)

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