The Bird Carver’s Daughter (Part 2: the Pre-teen Years (or, Why I’m Not a Carver)

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

One summer when I was eight or nine years old, my father decided to give carving lessons. About a dozen people signed up, mostly teachers who knew him from the Audubon Society. But there were three people there who weren’t teachers–my mother, our eleven-year-old neighbor, and me. We met every Tuesday night in my father’s den. It was supposed to be a relaxed, casual gathering of people sitting in a circle making piles of shavings on the floor while they created a thing of beauty out of basswood as my father circled among them, offering his expert and benign advice.

Instead, it turned into a pain-filled bloodbath that caused me so much trauma that I have not even carved a jack-o-lantern since.

And most of it was the fault of the weather.

Vermont is known for crazy weather, and that summer was extremely hot and humid. This led to an amazingly regular cycle of thunderstorms that built up all afternoon and let loose in the evening. It seemed that every Tuesday night, the biggest storm of the week unleashed itself, and the members of my father’s carving class would huddle in the den, away from the windows, and whittle with most of their attention on the wind, rain, and lightning outside. The result was so many nicked thumbs and fingers that my father began bringing Band-Aids to class and there were lots of jokes about everyone carving cardinals and not having to paint them.

I proudly announced that I wanted to carve a horse, and my father sawed out a block of wood with four legs for me. I was crazy about horses, and my father already had a monopoly on birds. My neighbor was carving a Common Goldeneye. I don’t remember what my mother was making –I’m not sure she even knew. I think she was going to let the wood speak to her.

Anyway, on the night I started work on my horse, the worst storm of the summer hit. I glued myself to my mother’s side and began to carve. I held the chisel the way my father showed me and carefully pushed it through the wood, aiming away from my fingers. It took a lot of strength, and the end of the chisel looked really, really sharp. I took three gouges out of my horse and stopped, not sure that I wanted to do any more. I really didn’t want Band-Aids all over my hands like everybody else. (Except for my father, of course. He was already, like, on his third chickadee for the night.)

Then there was a terrible bolt of lightning and a deafening crash of thunder, all the lights in the house went out, and my mother screamed. In the next flash, I saw that her left hand was covered with blood.

My father had a flashlight handy. In its light, he and couple of my mother’s friends whisked her upstairs
to the bathroom. I was completely forgotten in the confusion, and the next thing I knew, I was as sitting with a bunch of strangers in the dark. I got up to grope my way upstairs, but someone told me to sit still and not move. I was barefoot, and everybody had dropped their tools on the floor. So there I sat, trapped by hostile knives in the worst thunderstorm I could remember while my mother bled to death upstairs.

Well, it turned out she didn’t actually bleed to death, but she still has a scar on her thumb.

At that point, I was having some serious misgivings about my future as a carver. I made my decision the next day. I walked over to my friend’s house, where he was sitting on the front steps, wearing shorts, working on his Goldeneye. I called, “Hello!”

He looked up, saw me, and buried his chisel up to the hilt in the inside of his left leg. As his mother rushed him to the ER, I decided that my creativity would have to find another outlet.

Today, my horse with three gouges lies in comfort in my father’s cabinet. I think he still hopes I’ll get back to it someday. But I know for a fact that the Horses of Vermont Museum will never be. I have decided that pens, while they might be mightier than a sword, are a heck of a lot safer than chisels and knives.

Tools of the Trades

The Pen is mightier...

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.

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10 Comments on “The Bird Carver’s Daughter (Part 2: the Pre-teen Years (or, Why I’m Not a Carver)”


  1. Kari Jo, your piece brought a great laugh at our house. I teach wood carving to Junior High students at our school after hours. I have three children. The first would not take classes with me. Perhaps having me for Bible classes during the day was enough. The other two kids did give carving a try. They may not know it but I still have both their knives and their unfinished ducks in storage. Perhaps some day they will want to take it up again. Then again, they haven’t carved too many pumpkins since Junior High either. Thanks for the laugh. Shalom.

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  2. Kari Jo Says:

    Thank you for the comment! I’m so glad my piece is making people laugh. That’s the best part of sharing good memories. Keep those unfinished ducks — they are already treasures just as they are.

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