The Bird Carver’s Daughter (Part 8: My Dead Arm)

Guest post by Kari Jo Spear, Photographer, Novelist, and Daughter of Bob Spear
This post appeared first in our late summer 2014 issue of
Chip Notes.

My arm was killing me. Every muscle burned, my fingers cramped, and my shoulder barely fit in its socket any longer. In other words, I was in agony, and it was all my father’s fault. I was furious with those stupid birds of his and his stupid idea about carving every freaking bird that had ever been stupid enough to set its freaking feathers in Vermont. And I was mostly mad about his stupid idea to rebuild the barn on the old foundation next to Gale’s house and keep his stupid birds in there.

I was going to be maimed for life because of this! I was never going to be able to use my right arm again. My fingers were ice cold and I could barely feel them, much less move them. Any doctor would agree this was child abuse. I should be put into foster care and live in a nice, normal apartment in a city and never have to look at another bird again as long as I lived!

And not only that, my hand was sticky, and I hated that more than anything.

But I forced my smile back on. “And what would you like?” I asked a sweet little girl standing in front of me.

“Chocolate, please,” she said with an eager light in her eyes.

“Chocolate it is, then,” I said, and bent over the cooler again, trying to hide my pain.

I had been scooping ice cream for three hours. It had seemed like a really good idea at first. My father was hosting his first open house. It had been advertised all across the media. His “project,” now officially called the Birds of Vermont Museum, was open for visitors. In reality, today’s open house was a test to see if anybody was interested. To see if anybody was insane enough to make the drive all the way out to Huntington to see a bunch of wooden birds. Of course, there was no charge. We were still ages away from having all the permits and stuff that were required to become a business, even one not for profit.

To sweeten the deal, my father was offering a free dish of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream to everybody who showed up that day. For some stupid reason, the ice cream gurus had donated a bunch of bottomless cardboard tubs of the rock hard, icy, sticky stuff for the occasion. And for some stupid reason, I’d thought that was really nice of them and volunteered to be in charge of it.

And now my right arm was totally dead. I didn’t think anything could ever make me hate chocolate. But this afternoon was doing a good job of it.

“Here you go.” I handed the little girl her dish and dragged my eyes to her mom. “And for you?”

“Vanilla, please,” she said.

I decided to hate vanilla, too. I made my poor, abused fingers close around the scoop that lived in the vanilla tub.

“And how were you lucky enough to rate this job?” the mom asked.

I looked up at her as though she were out of her freaking mind. Beyond her, the line of people reached across Gale’s kitchen, down the hall, out the front door, along the path, across the driveway, and down the side of the road all the way to the shop. Which we were now supposed to call the Freaking Birds of Vermont Museum.

“I’m his daughter,” I growled.

“Oh, how marvelous! Your father has such incredible talent! Such patience! Such vision.”

I looked at her again to see if she was sane or not.

“To create such a project! And not want to make any money at it! All that work, to educate people about nature and conservation and – oh, everything! I had to come up here the minute I heard about it. This is something that must happen. I wanted my daughter to be able to say she’d seen it in its earliest days.” She nodded at the little girl dripping chocolate all over the place, who nodded back vigorously. Then the mom looked back at me. “You are so lucky to be part of all this.”

I looked up at her, my arm suddenly feeling a little less leaden and sticky. Did she really mean she hadn’t come all this way for free Ben and Jerry’s?

“I mean, look at the turnout!” she said. “There are hundreds of people here. You must be so proud.”

“It’s amazing,” someone behind her said.

“They look alive,” someone else said.

“I’m going to start a life list,” another voice added.

No, don’t! I almost said aloud. It won’t lead to good things! But then I found myself really smiling as I handed the mom her little dish. “Here you go,” I said. “Thanks so much for visiting the Birds of Vermont Museum today. And what kind would you like, sir? We have chocolate and vanilla and suet with sunflower sprinkles. Just kidding,” I added.

He laughed. “Chocolate, please.”

“Coming right up. Don’t let it drip on your binoculars.”

Everyone laughed. What great people, I thought. What a momentous day!

And what big muscles I’m going to have.


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

The Bird Carver’s Daughter (Part 7: Growing Up)

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

Things were starting to get out of hand.

My father’s carvings had been well received during their debut in the art gallery in Montpelier. People had flocked in to see them. Photos had been taken. Articles had been written. In short, Vermont was interested in his project. After their few weeks in fame and glory, my father returned his carvings to his shop in triumph.

The problem was, they seemed to have grown while they’d been gone. Or else the shop had shrunk. The first day they were back, I stood in the doorway, surveying the long, rectangular room. Or trying to survey it. I couldn’t really see it, or the bench, or the wood stove, or any of my father’s tools. Or my father, for that matter, and even in his younger days, he wasn’t hard to miss. (Meaning that he wore red shirts back then, too, of course! I don’t mean to imply anything about his general recognizable shape.)

The whole room was full, as far as I could tell, of green, leafy branches, tree trunks, and bright spots of plumage.

“I’m back here!” My father’s voice came from somewhere near the window. I turned sideways and squeezed between Plexiglas cases in his direction, stopping to glance at my favorites — the red-winged blackbirds. Yup, the mud I’d painted down at the bottom still looked good.

I finally found my father sitting on his stool, peering in my direction.

“You made it,” he said.

“Yeah, it’s getting a little tight in here. What’d they feed these guys in Montpelier, anyway? Did they put steroids in the suet, or something?”

My father didn’t laugh. “I’ve been talking to the Shelburne Farms people. And the Ethan Allen Homestead.”

“About?” I prompted.

“Housing them,” he said. “The collection.”

So he’d evidently noticed the overcrowding of the avian population in the room, too.

“What are they thinking?” As tight as it getting in here, I suddenly felt kind of funny about the carvings all going away permanently. I’d kind of missed them just while they’d been off on their maiden flight. And would strangers take good care of my mud, and everything? I mean, that mud was the first and only mud I’d ever painted! It wasn’t just any mud, after all. It was part of my childhood memories.

“No one seems to think they’ve got enough room.”

“Are you kidding me? Those barns at Shelburne Farms are huge!”

My father cleared his throat and said something that sounded like “…more cases, and a wetland diorama, and endangered species…”

I blinked. “You mean, there’s going to be lot more? A lot more?”

My father looked kind of sheepish and muttered something about investors and interested parties. I didn’t know much about that kind of thing, but I knew that he was talking about money. For the first time, I began to realize that this project might get really, really big. And not only that, it might really happen.

‘Holy cow,” I said. “Are you like going to get famous?”

My father suddenly looked horrified and leapt off his stool. “Let’s go canoeing,” he said in a rush, and he was gone as though he’d grown wings himself.

It took me a lot longer to find my way to the door of the shop. Something in the atmosphere had suddenly changed. I looked at the cases and the birds inside them in a new way. Yeah, they were bigger all right. Even my mud didn’t feel as though it was all mine any longer. Whatever was starting to happen here might get really weird, like turn into a legacy or something. And outlast my father.

And even me.


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

Wood Duck Carving Class with David Tuttle

Come to a one-day carving class with David Tuttle of the Green Mountain Woodcarvers. We will carve and paint a Wood Duck. Wood blank, eyes, snacks, and coffee provided.

No carving experience required! Beginners are as welcome as experts. Do bring your tools and gloves if you have them; if you don’t, let us know. Dave often brings some knives, gloves, etc. to sell. Please bring your lunch.

Saturday, February 15, 2014 • 9am – 3pm in the workshop at the Museum
Great for teens and adults.
$25 for Museum and GMWC members • $35 for everyone else

Please pre-register by email or phone: museum@birdsofvermont.org or (802) 434-2167

Changes and updates will be posted on our website, at http://birdsofvermont.org/events.php, when possible.

October Events! Owls and arts, carvings and crafting, and a Festival!

October is for owls and arts, sales and stories, crafts and carvings

  

Please come to our Snowy Owl program and our awesome Fall Festival. That too exciting? Take a Big Sit break, and watch birds for an hour or 12. Relax while admiring art by 3rd and 5th graders on exhibit all month long. There’s also a Bluebird Brooch Felting Class and a Gift Shop Sale.

Continue reading “October Events! Owls and arts, carvings and crafting, and a Festival!”

Special Carving Exhibit: Birds by Peter Padua

The Museum is showing the work of Peter Padua, a 90-year old Middlebury resident and woodcarver. An article by John Flowers (for the Addison Independent last November) paints a picture of a dedicated woodcarver with a passion for natural inspiration and materials and an eagerness for new challenges.

Carvings by Peter Padua on Exhibit at the Birds of Vermont Museum in Huntington, Vermont
Carvings by Peter Padua on exhibit at the Birds of Vermont Museum in Huntington, Vermont

Sounds a bit like Bob Spear don’t you think? These life-long carvers have followed similar paths at times too, brightening many homes and outlooks through their talent and efforts.

Padua was a New Jersey high school senior in wood shop class when he felt moved by a photograph of a deer  to try his hand at carving its image. His instructor encouraged Padua’s interest.  After a few months of careful work, he produced his first piece: a small, expressive deer.

Padua’s future lay in work as an engineering draftsman, but he made time during lunch breaks and off hours to add to his growing collection of fish, bears, Christmas holiday ornaments for his three children, and  birds, including representations of all of the state birds.

Padua’s workshop occupies a portion of his basement where his  tools suggest an evolution of technique, style, and technology over the years. Basswood is his medium of choice. Padua officially retired twenty-five years ago, yet allows very few days to go by without spending time on or with his carvings. He is very excited about sharing his work with the Birds of Vermont Museum’s visitors and we are delighted to bring it to you. Please come and enjoy!

Exhibit dates are May 1–October 31, 2013.

Nuthatch Carving Class

Carving Class: White-breasted nuthatch with David Tuttle
Carving Class: White-breasted nuthatch with David Tuttle of the Green Mountain Woodcarvers

Nuthatch Carving Class with David Tuttle
Saturday, November 10 • 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Come to a one-day carving class with David Tuttle of the Green Mountain Woodcarvers. We will carve and paint a White-breasted Nuthatch. Wood blank, eyes, snacks, and coffee provided.

No carving experience required! Beginners are as welcome as experts. Do bring your tools and gloves if you have them; if you don’t, let us know. Dave often brings some knives, gloves, etc. to sell.

Great for teens and adults. $25 for Museum and GMWC members • $35 for everyone else. Call 802 434-2167 to pre-register.

Chip Carving Class (with David Tuttle and a Great Blue Heron)

Chip Carving Class with David Tuttle

Chip Carving Class (with David Tuttle and a Great Blue Heron)
Saturday, September 29, 9am – 4pm

Try your hand at chip carving! We will be doing a heron and possibly some decorative bits under the expert tutelage of David Tuttle of the Green Mountain Woodcarvers.

Pre-register, please! Blank wood, morning coffee and pastries provided. Please bring tools (including chip carving knives), gloves*, and your lunch. The class will be at the Birds of Vermont Museum, in the workshop.

$35 (Members of GMWC or the Museum get $10 off!)

*Call us if you need help ordering knives or other tools.

The Bird Carver’s Daughter (Part 4: The Summer of Pies)

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

One summer day when I was in my early teens, my father greeted me in the doorway of his shop with two aluminum pie pans in his hands. He was looking really excited. Since the pie pans were empty, I got a feeling that this had something to do with The Birds in Their Habitats thing that he had going.

As soon as I got inside, he asked, “Want to make some leaves?”

He sounded exactly the same way he’d sounded when he’d asked me a few months ago if I wanted to paint some mud. Here we go again, I thought. I was a teenager, and I had, quite frankly, a lot more important things on my mind than birds. Like the novel I was writing, and my friends, and well, boys. But I knew that “No,” would not be the right answer.

“Okay,” I said as non-enthusiastically as I could. The next thing I knew, I was sitting on a stool beside him at his workbench. He handed me a cutting board covered with a thin piece of black rubber. What that had to do with leaves, I had no idea. Then I noticed a pile of silvery, oblong shapes on the bench between us. Each one was slightly different, but in general, they were about three inches long and maybe half an inch across. One end of each was pointed, and the other end was rounded. They reminded me of long fake fingernails, except they had delicately jagged edges.

“Watch,” my father said. He laid down the rubber-covered board, put a fingernail on it, then picked up a long, narrow tool like an oversized pencil with a very sharp tip. He pressed the tip gently to one end of the fingernail and drew a fine line all the way up the middle to the other end. Then he drew in a lot of little lines running from the center line out to the jagged edges. And when he held it up, the fingernail looked like a pretty, silver leaf.

“I’ll paint it green,” he said, as though that would explain everything.

I just looked at him. The word “habitat” formed in my mind. This had to do with habitats, I knew it!

“I’ve got some more nests,” he said, “and the limbs they were built on. But the leaves have all dried up and fallen off, and besides, they have to look like spring, if I’m going to carve eggs to go in the nests.”

I guess that made sense. “But how are you going to get the leaves to stick onto the branch?”

“Glue,” he said, as though he’d already got it all figured out. Then he added, “But it’s all got to look real, so I’ll make some more branches out of wire and wrap them with cotton and coat them with glue, too, and paint them to look like bark, and then glue on more leaves.”

I think I might have been staring at him.

“I’ll cut the leaves out,” he went on as though I was really thrilled about this, “and you can press in the veins. Here.” He handed me the sharp tool and pushed the pile of fingernails toward me. There were maybe three dozen there.

“That’s a lot,” I said.

He was busy picking up the pie pans and pretended he hadn’t heard me the way that people who are hard of hearing are really good at doing. In a minute, he was carefully cutting out more leaves from the bottom of the pan.

I gave into peer pressure and got to work. My first center vein came out a little crooked, but hey, nature’s not perfect. After my fifth leaf, I had the technique down. I was creating some pretty awesome looking leaves that any nest with wooden eggs ought to be proud of.

The problem was that my father was cutting out more leaves faster than I could press veins into them, so my pile was getting bigger, not smaller. And then he bent down and pulled out a couple more empty pans from beneath the bench.

“Hey, where’d you get all those?” I asked.

He smiled. “Gale’s been buying one of every brand she can find. Some pans are a lot better than others. They don’t have so much writing and stuff on the bottom, so I’ve got more space to cut. I think we’ve got it figured out now.”

I just stared at him. Most people bought pies based on how luscious they looked. Gale was buying pies based on what the bottom of the pan looked like?

Then he grinned. “There’s a blueberry pie we’ve got to eat up for lunch.”

The day suddenly got a whole lot better.

“Hold on,” he said as I was about to jump up. “We’ve got to get another dozen leaves done first. But then there’s a cherry pie for dinner.”

I gaped at him.

“And maybe you’d like to have some of your friends come up next weekend? I’ve got plenty of sharp tools. Tell them there’ll be lots of pie.”

I decided that leaves might be okay after all.

The days became a blur of eating pies and making leaves with my friends and eating more pies. Soon pairs of warblers began to perch proudly around their nests surrounded by lush green habitats, and I got to buy new clothes because none of my old ones fit any longer.

The glorious summer of pies ended very abruptly one day when the UPS truck pulled up in front of the shop, and a delivery man staggered in. In his arms was the end of an era — a roll of aluminum sheeting the same thickness as what pie pans were made from. It was all shiny and pristine, unmarked with any lettering. It looked like it was five feet long and weighed a couple hundred pounds.

“I found it in a catalogue and Gale made me order it,” my father said very glumly.

I could tell that even he could never make enough leaves to use it all up.

“Oh, well,” he said. “There’s still a few pies left in the house. Can’t let them go to waste, can we?”

We laughed, and then went back to that day’s quota of leaves before lunch.

I had no idea that we were getting closer and closer to having a museum in the family.

Kari Jo Spear‘s young adult, urban fantasy novels, Under the Willow, and  Silent One, are available at Phoenix Books in Essex, 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