The Carver’s Daughter: a reading

Front cover of Kari Jo Spear's book, _The_Carver's_Daughter_. Shows carved wooden Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Blackburnian warbler.

Kari Jo Spear, daughter of Bob Spear, has recently published a new book: The Carver’s Daughter: a memoir.

Kari Jo will read excerpts of her new book on Saturday afternoon, August 22, outdoors at the Museum.

In honor of Bob Spear’s 100th year ice cream will be served. (He would have turned 100 in February, and we have celebrated his half-birthday with many a summer ice cream social since the Museum opened in 1987).

Please register, so we supply the right amount of ice cream, chairs, and power for Kari Jo’s microphone, as well as being able to reach you in case of rain. Call (802) 434-2167, email

Paperback books are available at the Museum and select local book stores. E-books will be available as well.

Saturday, August 22 • 2:00pm
Outdoors (please have your masks anyway, except for the ice cream bit)
Max: 25 • FOUR (4) Seats left

Suggested donation: $10 (at the door)

The Bird Carver’s Daughter Part 13: Daughter vs. Tractor

Bob Spear driving a red tractor at the Birds of Vermont Museum

Guest post by Kari Jo Spear, Photographer, Novelist, and Daughter of Bob Spear
This post appeared first in our Summer 2017  issue of
Chip Notes.
Reprinted by permission.

I had never been so terrified in my life.

I usually loved sugaring season and how maple permeated my life for those short, intense weeks between winter and spring. I loved the trees as they came to life, loved how the chickadees’ spring whistles would answer the gentle creak of my father’s hand awl as he tapped the trees. I loved the pinging of sap into metal buckets, loved the smell of the steam-filled sugar house, and loved the
quiet roar of the evaporator over the crackling wood fire. I even loved helping out at the famous sugar-on-snow parties at the Audubon Nature Center, endlessly explaining to tourists the route a drop of sap takes on its adventure from tree to metal can.

But I did NOT like the Nature Center’s tractor.

It was a huge, red behemoth with rear tires that were taller than I was. It had a seat on a spring that bounced up and down and a little pipe on the top where exhaust came out. I liked riding on the back of it just fine, standing behind my father and holding onto his shoulders. I also liked standing on the wooden runner boards of the gathering tank while my father towed it through the orchard. It was especially fun when my father drove through the muddy brook and the water gushed up over the boards. I had to pick my feet up and cling to the tank itself. He would always glance over his shoulder to make sure I hadn’t been swept downstream.

But the tractor itself was loud and scary.

One year on the first day of tapping, when I was about twelve, my father hitched on the wooden, flatbed trailer and loaded it with hundreds of stacked buckets. He would drive through the orchard, stopping at central locations, and we would carefully place the required number of buckets at the base of every maple. Then, over the next few days, he and volunteers would tap the trees and hang the buckets. But he was the one who made the all-important decision about how many buckets each tree would get. It was an instinct my father had—I never saw him measure a tree’s girth. After years of sugaring, each tree had become a personal friend of his.

But before we headed out that morning, he paused. “If someone drove the tractor slowly,” he said, looking right at me, “and I walked along beside it to scatter buckets, it wouldn’t take so long.”

Behind me, I felt the tractor getting taller by the second.

“You do know I’m twelve, right?” I asked. “And I can’t get my learner’s permit for three years?”

My father did that kind of shrugging thing he did. “Well, you’ve got long legs.”

I rolled my eyes and was glad he hadn’t pointed out that he had been driving tractors since he was six.

“I’ll show you how,” he said before I had agreed, and he swung himself up onto the seat. I climbed to my spot behind him. He fired up the engine and started pushing his feet on pedals I’d never really noticed before. And he did something with his right hand on some little sticky-up things near the steering wheel. All the time, he was talking very loudly over his shoulder at me.

I found myself nodding. It was kind of like when he explained my math homework. I understood it as he went, but by the time he got to the last step, the first few were long gone.

After a little while, he stopped. “Okay?” he asked.

“Yeah, I don’t know,” I said.

He took that as an affirmative, and before I quite knew it, we’d traded spots.

Yes, the tractor was at least six times taller when I was in the bouncy seat.

“See, your feet reach,” he said from where he stood at my shoulder.

I looked ahead of me. We were on the side of a hill. The road was just a little wider than the tractor, and it was sunken down between banks on either side. Innocent maples grew close. I glanced over my shoulder. The trailer loaded with buckets was even wider than the

“Stop before you get to the brook,” he said. “You probably don’t want to try that today.”

I shot him an incredulous glance, but he was already telling me what to do with my feet and the little sticky-up things. I drew a deep breath, held it, and tapped the thing he’d called a clutch very gently with the toe of my boot.

“Clomp on it,” he said.

I clomped.

Things happened fast. The red behemoth made a deeper-throated  growl than I’d ever heard before, a huge puff of dark smoke came out of the pipe, and then there was a lurch and a jolt and we blasted forward. I heard my normally unflappable father yell something in my ear that sounded like “Steer!” But the wind racing past me tore
his words away. I looked away from my feet and up the road, but it was gone and there wasn’t anything except maples in front of me.

I heard the word, “Brake!” but I had no clue which pedal that was, and the maples were picking up speed. So I slammed both my feet down on everything they could reach.

With the shriek of overstressed metal, the tractor flung itself to a halt and shut itself off, tilted to one side. Behind me, piles of neatly stacked buckets toppled into each other, flew off the trailer, crashed to the ground, and rolled down the hill. For a while, my father and I were silent, listening to buckets slam into trees. Then it was very quiet.

“Huh,” I said.

“Well…” my father said. “Guess that’s one way to scatter buckets.”

He kind of laughed, but I wasn’t feeling it. So he jumped down, and he had to give me a hand because my knees weren’t working any longer.

The tractor had one set of tires in the road and the other set up the bank. There was a maple about five inches in front of its nose. I thought the poor tree looked kind of pale. If it had had apples, I’m sure it would have thrown some at me.

“Did I kill it?” I asked, nodding at the tractor.

My father snorted. “It’s a Farmall.”

Still, I noticed he gave it an apologetic pat as he climbed up to the seat. While he backed onto the road, I started picking up buckets.

Hours later, when it was getting dark, we walked to the parking lot. But before we got into the car, my father stopped and looked at me. “Three years, you said?”

“Maybe longer,” I said.

He nodded fervently.

Bob Spear driving a red tractor at the Birds of Vermont Museum


Kari Jo Spear‘s young adult, urban fantasy/romance novels 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
Part 5: My Addiction
Part 6: Habitat Shots
Part 7: Growing Up
Part 8: My Dead Arm
Part 9: Remembrance: Tales of My Father
Part 10: Canoe Lessons
Part 11: Battlefields
Part 12: My Father and the Speedboat


The Bird Carver’s Daughter (Part 12: My Father and the Speedboat)

Infamous Speedboat-eating Rocks in Lake Champlain

Guest post by Kari Jo Spear, Photographer, Novelist, and Daughter of Bob Spear
This post appeared first in our Fall Spring 2016  issue of
Chip Notes.
Reprinted by permission.

One family story from before I was born has always haunted me. I could never get my head around the fact that my quiet, slow-moving father had once owned a speedboat and raced around Lake Champlain in it. But as to why he no longer owned it by the time I was old enough to remember has become part of the mists of the past.

When I asked him, all he would say was, “I hit a rock.” End of discussion. End, I assumed, of the speedboat. This helps explain why my father never had anything good to say about the smelly, gas-wasting, pollution-causing, noisemakers that went so fast you couldn’t tell a ring-billed from a herring gull.

My mother didn’t like to talk about the rock and boat incident much either, but her version was more detailed than his. According to her, it happened one summer evening in Malletts Bay, near my family’s camp. She, my father, my uncle Frank, my grandmother, and one of my great aunts were out in the boat, enjoying the sunset. The 1950’s style boat was made of dark wood and had two bench seats running across the middle with a steering wheel in the front. My father was operating it.

Suddenly, according to my mother, there was a jolt. The boat’s speed and direction didn’t change. The boat just no longer had a bottom. She could see the water rushing by below her feet, as if the floor had been peeled away by a giant can opener. She said my father looked down, killed the engine, and the boat promptly sank out from under them.

Yup, hit a rock.

Fortunately, no one was hurt. Someone rescued them from the water as it was getting dark and returned them, tired and wet, to camp. The waiting relatives had become frantic, knowing that something had happened, but not what.

Recently, I emailed my uncle Frank, who now lives in Nevada, to see what he remembered about the accident. He gave me the most detailed account I’d heard about what he called The Great Boat Wreck Caper. He described a late afternoon ride in the family’s new boat along the shore of the bay, where they had slowed down to look at the trees and cliffs. (I suspect there might have been “looking for cliff swallows” too, but that’s just speculation.) Then,he said,

“Bob, who was driving, picked up speed, and as we hit full speed we hit the submerged rock or ledge. After a few seconds of bewilderment, we looked down and saw the water pouring into the boat through a large gash in the bottom. It quickly became evident that we couldn’t stay in the boat, so we abandoned ship.”

The boat sank by the stern, looking “exactly like the pictures of ships that had been torpedoed.” But it didn’t, as the other stories had implied, go straight to the bottom. It remained floating with the bow just above the surface. The survivors weren’t picked up immediately by a rescue boat. They actually swam back and stood on the guilty iceberg (I mean, rock) while someone on shore launched a boat and came out to them. (I am sorely tempted to make a comment about a flock of gulls vying for positions, but I won’t.) Once they were aboard, the rescuer towed the disabled boat to the nearest beach, where they removed the motor. Then the rescuer returned the bedraggled shipwreck survivors, along with the motor, back to camp. My uncle stayed up late disassembling and drying it.

My uncle went on to write, “The next morning, Bob woke me up early so we could take his canoe back to where we had beached the boat. We hooked a line to it and towed it back to camp.” (I sense this might have been the moment when the canoe rose to the top of my father’s list of worthwhile boats.) Then he and my uncle returned (again by canoe) to the site of the disaster one last time to dive for loose articles that had fallen out of the boat, including my uncle’s wallet, which had gone spiraling down to the bottom of the lake like the Heart of the Ocean. (Yes, he found it, along with his car keys, still in the pocket of a pair of pants he’d thrown in the boat at the last minute.)

My uncle finished with, “Over the next few days Bob worked out that we could screw a plywood patch into the hole in the bottom and cover it with fiberglass. It didn’t look great but it worked fine so we were back in business.” (Add speedboat repair to my father’s resume.) Still, I infer that the family’s interest in speedboats had ebbed, and my uncle told me that the boat was sold a few years later.

But even though my father didn’t talk about those days much, I can remember him pointing to a marker on the map of the lake that hung on the camp wall. The mark denoted a dangerous shallow spot in the middle of otherwise deep water. My father smiled a little and said, “Yep, I found that one.”

Like my father, I have chosen quiet, reflective paddling over speed. A few weeks ago, I paddled my trusty kayak deeper into Malletts Bay than I’d ever gone before. The lake level was at a near record low. As I came around a point of land, I saw a dark ledge of rock breaking the surface. Next to it was a white buoy with the word “DANGER” in red on the side. And I realized what I must be looking at. The infamous rock ledge that had torpedoed my father’s boat was actually above surface for the first time in years.

I paddled around it and photographed it with my cell phone. Then I just drifted a while and listened to the gurgle of water and the cries of the gulls, and looked deep into the reflections on the water’s surface.

Infamous Speedboat-eating Rocks in Lake Champlain

Kari Jo Spear‘s young adult, urban fantasy/romance novels 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
Part 5: My Addiction
Part 6: Habitat Shots
Part 7: Growing Up
Part 8: My Dead Arm
Part 9: Remembrance: Tales of My Father
Part 10: Canoe Lessons
Part 11: Battlefields


The Bird Carver’s Daughter (Part 11: Battlefields)

Guest post by Kari Jo Spear, Photographer, Novelist, and Daughter of Bob Spear
This post appeared first in our Spring 2016  issue of
Chip Notes.

Reprinted by permission. Links added by K Talmage, Museum blog editor.

If birds were my father’s first passion, the Civil War was his second. (Family, he pretty much took for granted.) He could fight every battle from memory, including all the skirmishes leading up to it as well as the aftermath, and discuss the finer points of each battle’s contribution to the overall picture and its enduring legacies. He focused on the Vermonters, especially his great-grand-father and hero, Alonzo Spear. Yet he always held Robert E. Lee in the highest regard. For a long time, I could never understand why my peace-loving, crowd-hating, and squeamish father had such a fascination for battlefields. When I asked him, all he would say was, “Well, they’re kind of interesting.”

One day, my father, Gale, and I visited the Hubbardton Battle Field, where Vermont’s only Revolutionary War battle had taken place. None of us had ever been there before. In the visitor center was a diorama depicting the various movements of the troops during the engagement. I remember standing there, feeling baffled. My father silently contemplated the scenario for a few moments and then launched into a full explanation. He waved his hands over the diorama like a conductor, commenting on the initial positions of both sides, the strategic fallbacks, the flanking attempts, and the outcome. (We lost. But we Vermonters achieved our goal of halting the British in their tracks long enough to allow the main American force to get away. See, I was listening.)

Unbeknownst to us, a member of the staff had been listening, too. “You must be a scholar of this aspect of the Revolution,” he said to my father.

My father shook his head. “Not really. But it’s kind of interesting.”

When we got outside, I said, “I thought you’d never been here before.”

“I haven’t. But these battles are really simple compared to the Civil War.” In other words, he’d figured the whole thing out in about a minute.

My father really was a scholar of the Civil War. I don’t think there is any book, article, or movie he hadn’t memorized. About the only reason he’d leave the museum for a vacation was to tour a battlefield. He visited all the major ones, figuring out exactly where Alonzo would have been standing. Poor Gale would often say with a sigh, “We’re off to fight the Civil War again.” So much for tropical vacations.

This year, one of the high school classes where I assist students did an in-depth study of the Civil War. We read, watched documentaries, and listened to speakers. During class reading time, I found myself researching the 2nd Vermont. When I watched the documentaries, I tried to figure out where my great-great grandfather had been standing. (Yes, he was in the thick of things at Gettysburg, one of the heroic Vermonters who had saved the day and perhaps even turned the tide of the war.) I kept reading more and more. It was addictive. And ancestral.

We spent a lot of time focusing on the military genius of Robert E. Lee. And finally, I began to understand why my father had been so fascinated. Like Lee, my father was a man who planned ahead in a logical way, who studied the lay of the land, who had an instinct for the weather, who knew how to use the sunlight to best advantage, and who had an intuitive sense of how much men and horses could take.

General Spear. It would have been … interesting.

One day, as I headed for my next class with my students, I hesitated for a moment. I almost thought I’d heard my father’s voice echoing down the halls. “Forward, march!”

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
Part 5: My Addiction
Part 6: Habitat Shots
Part 7: Growing Up
Part 8: My Dead Arm
Part 9: Remembrance: Tales of My Father
Part 10: Canoe Lessons


The Bird Carver’s Daughter (Part 10: Canoe Lessons)

Guest post by Kari Jo Spear, Photographer, Novelist, and Daughter of Bob Spear
This post appeared first in our Late Fall 2015  issue of
Chip Notes.

Reprinted by permission.

In one thing, my father and I were always in perfect accord. He may have dragged me kicking and screaming into the world of birding, but I always loved to canoe. From the time I was old enough to reach over the gunwale, I had a paddle in my hands. My first one was a blue plastic badminton racquet attached to a thwart with a string. I paddled my little heart out with it, stirring up white water and getting soaking wet while my father paddled serenely along in the stern. I always wondered why everybody laughed when they saw us coming.

When I was old enough to graduate to a wooden paddle, my father had me sit in the bow. I’d hardly learned the basic strokes when he put me in the stern and took the bow himself.

“Wait, this is where you steer from,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said and demonstrated the J-stroke.

Surprisingly, it was really easy to make the canoe go where I wanted it to, unlike riding a bike, or doing math. My father preferred to hug the shoreline (watching for shorebirds wasn’t enough for him—he wanted to see warblers, too.) I ran him into a few low hanging limbs at first, but he didn’t mind, even when they had spiders (which always seemed to find their way back along the length of the canoe to my bare toes).

Soon he began giving me complex directions like, “Bring us in sideways next to that log. Back up a little. Hold it right there.” It took me a while to notice he wasn’t paddling—he was looking through his binoculars into the trees. Huh.

Once I got really good at steering, he taught me how to paddle without taking the paddle out of the water. “It’s the way the Indians used to do it,” he said. “You don’t make any noise at all. Take a regular stroke and then sort of glide the paddle up ahead of you through the water, angled a little. That’s it.”

My paddle slid through the water like a silent knife, completely eliminating the plunk of the blade breaking the surface and the silvery rain of drops coming off the edge when it swept forward. I imagined Indians sneaking up on their enemies, soundless in the night.

“Works great to get close to a heron,” my father said.

That, too.

The first time I ever paddled solo was on a field trip. There were seven or eight canoes, and we spent the day making our way down Otter Creek. We had spotted a car where we planned to take out. The problem was we couldn’t see the road from the creek. By late afternoon, everyone was tired, hot, hungry, sunburned, bug bitten, sick of sitting, and had to pee (at least, I did). But we couldn’t find the car. A discussion broke out over whether we’d passed it, or if it was still ahead. My father told everybody to rest in the shade, and he’d go on downstream a ways. Since I was paddling with him, that meant me, too. So we kept going. And going. And going.

My father didn’t usually get lost (except in the mall parking lot) and pretty soon he was frowning. At last, he told me to land us on a tiny strip of sand and he’d walk across a field, find the road, and look around for the car that had to be somewhere nearby. I waited about fifteen minutes, and then I heard him shout from a long distance farther down the creek that he’d found the car, and to save time, I should paddle back and get the others.

I yelled back that I would. And then the canoe got a whole lot bigger and heavier and kind of scary. He’d told me the best place to paddle solo was kneeling in the center   with the boat facing the other way around, going stern first. That kept the canoe level. So I climbed into the center and knelt down, resting my butt on the edge of a thwart, and pushed off. I felt like I was paddling through molasses, until I remembered I was going against the current. Not to mention I was dead tired. But I was used to being the only one paddling a good deal of the time while he was birding, so soon I had some momentum going. I kept close to shore, and after a while, my heart rate settled back down.

At long last, the other canoes came into sight, nosed into shore where a collection of people who looked like they were shipwreck survivors were collapsed in the shade. They saw me coming, and someone shouted, “Oh my God, where’s your father?” They were jumping up like they thought he’d fallen overboard and had been eaten by a giant snapping turtle just because I was a kid paddling alone.

I yelled back, “He walked  He says keep coming.”

As they piled back into their canoes, someone asked if I wanted a bow paddler. I shook my head, turned the canoe on a dime, and started paddling Indian style back downstream.

I had this—no problem.


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
Part 5: My Addiction
Part 6: Habitat Shots
Part 7: Growing Up
Part 8: My Dead Arm
Part 9: Remembrance: Tales of My Father


Season’s Tweetings

Season's Tweetings from the Birds of Vermont Museum 2015
Season’s Tweetings from the Birds of Vermont Museum

Art of Birds, clockwise from upper left: needle-felted Owls (Susi Ryan’s class); Flood Birds (carved by David Tuttle from trees washed out during the 2013 flood); Eagle quilt (Carol McDowell for the Birds of a Fiber exhibit); Northern Parula (wood carving by Bob Spear); Scarlet Tanager ornaments (carved by Dick Allen and painted by Kir Talmage); Wren (carving by Elizabeth Spinney)

The Bird Carver’s Daughter (Part 9: Remembrance: Tales of my Father)

Guest post by Kari Jo Spear, Photographer, Novelist, and Daughter of Bob Spear
This post appeared first in our Winter 2015  issue of
Chip Notes.

In place of a regular Carver’s Daughter installment, I want to offer a few tidbits of information about my father that most people probably don’t know. Bear in mind that these are family stories and may have
been embellished through the years. (But not by me, of course!)

Our name shouldn’t be Spear. My great-grandmother, Julia Spear, eloped with a man from Canada named Ovitt, and disappeared for an entire year. One day she reappeared on her parents’ doorstep with a newborn baby and moved back in, simply saying that she was divorced. She took back the name Spear for herself and her baby, who was my grandfather, the first Robert Newell Spear.

My father did not grow up in Vermont, though he was born here. He was raised until he was about sixteen in Wyben, Massachusetts, where his family moved so that his mother could continue teaching after she got married. Vermont then had a law that only single women could teach school.

My father was kidnapped when he was a baby. One day his mother was sitting on a train platform, with my father in a basket at her feet. A woman passing by suddenly snatched him, basket and all, and raced off into the crowd. His mother tore after them, screaming. Fortunately, some people farther down the platform were able to stop the woman. The woman was, as they said back then, “mentally deranged,” and had stolen my father because he was such a cute baby. He slept through the entire experience.

My grandmother was my father’s early teacher, in a one-room schoolhouse. After her death, my grandfather moved to Colchester with his son and daughter. My father became friends with Charles Smith, and the two boys explored Lake Champlain together. Their role model was Yan, the hero of Ernest Thompson Seton’s Two Little Savages, a popular boy’s book of the time. They pitched a tent halfway between their houses and slept in it all summer. They were avid skaters in the winter and built their own iceboat, which, my father said, “went like a bat out of hell.” I’m sure they had no safety equipment.

One winter a Model T broke through the lake ice and sank near their fishing shanty. A man struggled to the surface, and the boys shoved their sled out to him. He grabbed on and they pulled him to safety—but he had a heart attack and died before they could get him into the warmth of their shanty. My father made me promise never to ride in a car on the ice. I never will.

My father claimed to have paddled the first canoe on Malletts Bay since the Indians left. It was made of black canvas stretched over a wooden frame. It weighed about a thousand pounds when dry and twice that wet, and he claimed it was the best paddling canoe he ever had. Drivers on Lakeshore Drive used to stop and stare at him in his funny boat with points at both ends.

As a young man, my father frequented a roller-skating rink at Clarey’s Bayside in Colchester. Years later, when Gale accepted an invitation to a roller-skating party for herself and my father, she was afraid he
would be in for a miserable afternoon. But when she looked up from lacing her skates, my father was already on the floor, weaving in and out between people, skating backward on one foot. With a huge grin on his face, of course.

My father had a horse named Ned. He also had a cat he loved dearly, so much that after it died, he vowed he would never have another pet. He never did. (Though he was known to cuddle Gale’s cat Hussy quite a bit.)

He built himself a darkroom, learned taxidermy and astronomy from books, made two guitars and a mandolin, played them all, and could cut down a tree with an ax, dropping it exactly where he wanted it every time.

My father as a boy smoked everything he could get hold of. When cigarettes were too expensive, he smoked corn silk, which was all right, or rolled-up wild grapevine, which was pretty awful. Perhaps that was what cured him of the smoking habit before he became an adult.

My father was bullied in high school. He was young for his grade, small, shy, and smart, and therefore a target for tough Winooski boys. After he graduated, he vowed he would never set foot in another school as a student, and he pretty much didn’t, aside from a few night classes in math at UVM and his training in the Navy later.

He worked in a sawmill and on the Blakely Farm in Colchester, plowing and haying with a team of horses. He cut ice with a crosscut saw on the lake. He preferred the end on top of the ice when he could get it.

During WWII, he enlisted in the Navy against his father’s wishes. The results of his math tests landed him in Chicago for the duration of the war, putting his creative skills into the desperate need for radar development to detect German U-boats. It wasn’t what he’d hoped for; he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his great-grandfather and hero, Alonzo Spear, who fought in every major battle of the Civil War. But in time, he realized the importance of his work and reflected on the American lives he’d helped to save. Though I’m sure he always regretted that he hadn’t had a chance to take out Hitler with a well-thrown ax.

The need for radar experts on board ships grew desperate, though, by the end of war. My father had just been assigned to a ship in the South Pacific when the United States dropped the atomic bombs. Once, self-righteously, I criticized our country for causing such violence. My father quietly told me that if the United States hadn’t dropped the bombs, I probably would not exist. Neither would the Birds of Vermont Museum. I kept my mouth shut about that afterward.

My father used to have his own Boy Scout troop. He was like a magnet for troubled teenagers. When a parent thanked him from the bottom of her heart for turning her child’s life around, he’d shrug and say, “Well, I just had him help me clear a trail or dig a pond.”

My father almost blew up a man once. When he wanted to create a way down to the lakeshore from the property where he and my mother were building a camp, he got hold of dynamite somehow. He drilled into the ledge, planted the charge, and set it off. Rock rained down into the lake. And a man fishing in a rowboat shot out from behind a small island just offshore. My father said he was all right, but he was madder than a hornet.

My father was married twice before he met Gale—first to a woman named Eileen, then to my mother, Sally Stalker Spear. I am his only child. He wanted to name me Robin, whether I was a boy or a girl. They settled on Karen Joelle, but when he saw me for the first time, he said, “That’s not a Karen Joelle. That’s a Kari Jo.” It stuck. And I was never quite sure what he’d meant. My parents separated when I was ten and later divorced. I only saw my father on weekends or school vacations while he was the director of the Green Mountain Aubudon Nature Center.

My father hunted deer until, as he put it, he grew out of it.

My father voted Republican until, as he put it, he wised up.

He worked as a salesman at Sears for a short time before moving on to a career at General Electric doing further work with radar.

He disliked coffee and alcohol, except for an occasional beer.

He could hardly swim a stroke and hated to get even his big toe wet.

He was a lousy cook. Aside from frying hamburgers, all he ever fixed himself for dinner was a can of Dinty Moore beef stew. And ice cream, of course.

He was so squeamish that he used to leave movies during gory parts. Once when I cut my finger, he had to go sit in the shade while I put on a Band-Aid.

He could mentally fight every battle of the Civil War and tell you where all the Vermont troops had stood in each one. He was also an expert on the American Revolution, which was far simpler and lacking in brilliant generals.

He designed and built a house, a camp, a museum, Gale’s retreat, countless bird blinds, and a bridge that withstood a flood that took out all the ground around it.

He sat through The Nutcracker ballet at least fifteen times, doing grandfather duty. And honestly said he liked it.

He occasionally liked to travel, driving across the country from one National Park to the next, giving all cities a wide berth. He went to the South American tropics several times, but never farther from home than that. I did hear him
say once that he’d like to go to Africa.

He had a unique sense of humor and delivered all his lines as a straight, deadpan part of his normal conversation. To a group of volunteers he was training to work in the nature center’s sugar orchard, I heard him say, “Audubon only allows us to run over three kids with the tractor per year. Choose them wisely.”

And to a student who pointed to a fat, furry woodchuck under the feeders and asked what it was, he said, “That’s a chipmunk. They lose their stripes when they get that big.”

He never went anywhere without his binoculars, even in an ambulance to the hospital. They see peregrine falcons around there, you know.

I asked him, when I was a child and first grappling with the idea of death, if he would ever die. He told me yes, but not for a long, long time. He was right.

At the end, when we were told he had only months to live, he did things his own way and wrapped everything up in three days. I was with him when he passed. He did it with the least amount of fuss possible, a recording of birdsongs playing quietly in the background. A few days later, Gale and I scattered his ashes at his favorite places around the museum grounds, as he’d requested. Then I sprinkled the rest into the brook, knowing they would wash down through the nature center and eventually into the lake, where he’d once paddled his odd boat with the points at both ends and raced an iceboat into the stars.

And one other thing I know for certain: as a friend said, he will have already added a Labrador Duck and a Passenger Pigeon to his lifelist.


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
Part 5: My Addiction
Part 6: Habitat Shots
Part 7: Growing Up
Part 8: My Dead Arm



To all who shared our celebration of Bob Spear

We’d like to thank all those who came to our celebration of the life of Bob Spear on Saturday, October 24.

Some 200 or so friends, family, neighbors, and visitors stopped by the Birds of Vermont Museum to share conversation, memories, cards, carvings, and more.

Ben and Jerry’s kindly donated ice cream, including Cherry Garcia, Bob’s favorite flavor.

Lavigne Funeral Home provided efficient and gracious service, especially with our limited parking.

Audubon Vermont generously allowed us to use their parking lot.

Beaudry’s Store prepared platters of tasty snacks for the early, family service, so much so that we had to rely on later visitors to help enjoy them.

The US Navy sent two representatives to honor Bob’s wartime service; an honorary United States flag was ceremonially folded and presented to Bob’s partner, Gale Lawrence, and Bob’s daughter, Kari Jo Spear.  They kindly placed it within our permanent exhibit about Bob, his life, and his work.

And, last but never least, no event happens at the Museum without our beloved volunteers, who helped ensure all went smoothly.

Thank you all. May your lives also be full of birds, craft, conservation, and community.

List in morning mist over the Museum, October 25, 2014 (photo by Erin Talmage)
Light in morning mist over the Museum, October 25, 2014 (photo by Erin Talmage)

Join us to remember Bob Spear, October 25, 1-4 pm

Bob Spear, Woodcarver, and his Bald Eagle carving

Remembering Bob Spear

Naturalist, Birder, Carver, Teacher and More

 Loon mother and chicks, carved by Bob Spear Bob Spear. Photo by Caleb Kenna and used by permission. Black-capped chickadee on feeder; photo by Erin Talmage, 2010

On Saturday, October 25, the Birds of Vermont Museum will be open from 1pm – 4pm in the afternoon, in order to celebrate the life and legacy of Bob Spear. Please come and join us.

Bob Spear, our Founding Director, combined his lifelong love of birds and woodcarving into one of the most unusual conservation and education opportunities possible. We will have a chance to share memories, photos, conversation, and — because Bob loved it so — ice cream. The tree house and trails will be open also, and there are several places you might rest, contemplate, and observe birds.

Parking is limited, please carpool as much as possible. Audubon Vermont is graciously allowing visitors to use their parking lots as well.

Regular hours will resume on Sunday the 26th.

The family and the Museum are grateful and honored to read some of the comments and essays about Bob that have been published recently. A special thanks to Bryan Pfeiffer ( and WCAX ( for their kind words.

The Museum and staff can be reached by phone (802 434-2167), email (, and online (

Photos courtesy of Birds of Vermont Museum, Caleb Kenna Photography, and Erin Talmage.

Bob Spear, 1920 – 2014

Bob Spear: carver, naturalist, teracher, friend

Bob Spear: carver, naturalist, teracher, friendWe are saddened to announce that Bob Spear, friend, teacher, carver, naturalist, father, partner, and so much more, passed away on Sunday, October 19, 2014, surrounded by family and friends.

We at the Birds of Vermont Museum extend our deep condolences to everyone who knew him. We are and always will be grateful for all Bob shared with us: his passion for birds, his gift with wood, his constancy, persistence, dry humor, and deep knowledge.

We will pass on information about further arrangements when we learn of them.

You are welcome to call or write to us; we will pass messages to his family as well. Please stay in touch.

Erin Talmage, Executive Director
Shirley Johnson, Board of Trustees Chair
and the Museum Staff and Board members