The Bird Carver’s Daughter (Part 5: My Addiction)

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

Main Entry:1 ad*dict
1 : to devote or surrender (oneself) to something habitually or excessively

I sat in my health class, knowing I was doomed. I had all the symptoms: obsession, distraction, longing… I began to feel huge tears welling up inside me. Life as I’d known it before was over.

My teacher led me into the hall. “What’s the matter, dear?” she asked, putting her arm around me.

“I couldn’t help it!” I sobbed. “It’s not my fault! He made me do it!”

She looked very concerned. “Who did, dear?”

“My – my father!”

“What – did he do?”

“He – he gave me – binoculars!”


It happened on my birthday. We were sitting around the kitchen table, and there were two gifts from my father before me. Both were carefully wrapped in the comic pages from the newspaper—he and Gale were recycling before recycling was popular. Two innocent packages that were about to change my life forever.

Kid fashion, I opened the biggest one first. As the paper fell away–the last moments of my youthful innocence–I saw that I held a box containing a brand new pair of Nikon binoculars.

I looked up. I’d been hoping for books.

“They’re the best,” my father said excitedly. “Small and light, but with great optics. 8×24. That means they magnify eight times the naked eye. Twenty-four is the size of the objective lens. That means they have a superior light gathering ability.”

He must have registered my lack of enthusiasm. “They’re what everybody has now,” he added.

I was pretty sure none of the kids at school had Nikon 8x24s with superior light gathering ability. He must mean his birding buddies–folks who wore mud boots year round, baggy clothes with lots of pockets, dorky hats, and were always talking about their all-important life lists.

“You’ll need this, too,” my father went on, pushing the other present toward me.

It was a book, but it wasn’t fiction. It was Birds of North America.

“Wow,” I said.

He chose to interpret that as excitement. “Figured you were old enough,” he said. He dug my new binoculars out of their Styrofoam packaging as though he was dying to get his hands on them.

“This is where you focus,” he said, like I didn’t know what the knob in the middle was for. I’d played with his binoculars when I was younger. I liked looking through a lens backward—it made everything seem really far away. My father carried his binoculars with him wherever he went. I’d never seem him use them when he was actually driving, but I wouldn’t put it past him if something for his life list flew over.

He was waiting for me to do the obvious, so I picked them up. Well, I thought, this wasn’t the end of the world. I got dragged on bird walks all the time, and it would be good not to have to stand around getting cold or swatting bugs, pretending I could see what everybody was so excited about. At least the binoculars were light, so my neck wouldn’t break. I raised them and turned to the window where a bunch of chickadees swarmed like bees around a feeder.

I looked, focused, and then—holy cow! I could see their eyeballs! And all the little feathers on their heads stood out. Their sharp beaks dug into the seeds they anchored to the branches of a lilac with their feet.

My father chuckled. I lowered my binoculars quickly. Ten minutes had gone by. Huh.

Then my father pushed the bird book toward me. “This is where you mark your life list,” he said, pointing out pages and pages of bird names in the back. Each name had a little box in front of it to be filled it.

Like I was going to start a life list. The kids at school would never let me live it down. Not that anyone knew what a life list was, anyway.

“You’ve already got a bigger one than a lot of people,” my father said, tapping his finger part way down a page. “Start here. You’ve seen Common Loons when we’ve been canoeing.”

“You mean, I can count species I’ve already seen?”

“Sure.” He pushed a pen at me.

Dutifully, I filled in the box next to Common Loon. “Hey, can I count the Red-throated Loon we saw on Chincoteague?” I could remember him dragging my attention away from the wild ponies for that.

“Of course.”

I filled in that one, too, and then flipped back a few pages. “I’ve seen lots of gulls.”

“Ah, but were they Ring-billed, or Herring?”

I didn’t know gulls came in different flavors. According to the book, there were at least half a dozen in Vermont regularly!

“Burger King parking lot,” my father said. “We’ll eat there tonight and you can get two, maybe three species of gulls.”

Well, I wasn’t going to say no to French fries.

“And look! There are sparrows under the lilac. You can get two–no three–species right now!”

I had my binoculars up before I’d even realized it. When I looked down a few minutes later, my father had my book open to the sparrow section. He had a grin on his face.

Darn it, I thought. He’s done it to me again.

Consequences of Addition. Photo ©2012 Alaria Lanpher and used by permission.
Consequences of Addition. Photo ©2012 Alaria Lanpher and used by permission.

Kari Jo Spear‘s young adult, urban fantasy novels, Under the Willow, and  Silent One, are available at Phoenix Books (in Essex and Burlington, Vermont), and on-line at Amazon and Barnes and Noble

Previous posts in this series:
Part 1: The Early Years
Part 2: The Pre-teen Years (or, Why I’m Not a Carver)
Part 3: Something’s Going On Here
Part 4: The Summer of Pies

Program: Exploring Binoculars

Exploring Binoculars
Exploring Binoculars

Exploring Binoculars (School Vacation Program)

Saturday, April 21, 1:00pm – 2:30pm
Birds of Vermont Museum, 900 Sherman Hollow Road, Huntington, Vermont 05462

Ever wondered how binoculars work? Ever wanted to take some apart? Home-schooling and vacationing children are invited to join us at the Museum to find out more as we dissemble non-working binoculars, investigate optics, and consider how eagle eyes work.

Best for ages 8-16. Younger children should please bring an adult to help. Teachers welcome!

$10 members, $15 non-members. Fee includes admission for child and one accompanying adult.

Enrollment limited to number of defunct pairs of binoculars (feel free to bring your own ancient, damaged or just plain not-very-good-anymore pair). Registration is required. Register by calling (802) 434-2167 or emailing

The photo of disassembled binoculars is ©2011 Frank Lagoria (Flicker page: | email: and used by permission. Thanks, Frank!