Posted tagged ‘carver’s daughter’

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

June 24, 2016

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)

December 31, 2015

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

 

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

March 12, 2015

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

 

 

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

September 19, 2014

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)

March 14, 2014

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

The Bird Carver’s Daughter (Part 6: Habitat Shots)

April 26, 2013

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

“Take a shot in that direction.” My father pointed down toward the brook through some hemlock trees. “Good ruffed grouse territory.”

“Okay,” I said. My job was to take an interesting photo. So I crouched down, trying to get into ruffed grouse mode, going for an eye level perspective. If I was a grouse, I’d lay my eggs right under the trees. Of course, I wasn’t a grouse, and this was another of my father’s crazy attempts to get me into his “carve all the birds in Vermont” project. He thought it would be helpful to have a plastic sleeve hanging from each display case with some facts about the bird and a photo of its nesting habitat. I thought all the leaves and flowers and stuff he was putting in the cases would be enough to clue people in, but he wanted photos, too. Wouldn’t it be nice if I took them?

Well, I liked taking photos, and my father’s fancy Nikon with interchangeable lenses was pretty cool. But nesting habitat was not exactly an exciting subject to photograph. We’d been hiking for hours, and I’d been dutifully taking shots of deciduous trees, evergreens, moss, and even dead stumps. That part wasn’t really so bad. The real problem was that habitat shots had to be taken in the spring when the birds were nesting. The birds needed to take advantage of insects, who were also doing their multiplying thing. Right now, every black fly in Huntington was taking advantage of their favorite food source—me. They didn’t care about my artistic endeavor, they didn’t care that I reeked of insect repellant, and they didn’t care that I was allergic to them. My eyes were going to be puffed shut tomorrow, I knew it.

I am a grouse, I thought. I snapped two more shots down toward the brook, even climbing into the brush to get a nice, curving limb to frame the top.

“Okay,” my father said. “Now I want to go to a farm up the road. There’s a pair of cliff swallows building under the eaves of the barn. We can get barn swallow habitat inside. And all the apple trees are in bloom. They’re real pretty, and they’d be good blue bird habitat.”

Anything to get away from the buggy brook. I swatted my way out of the woods—flies never seemed to bother my father—and scratched my way up the road to an old farm that looked as thought it had been there since the glaciers moved out. I liked the way the buildings nestled into the hillside. Sure enough, there was a small colony of cliff swallows building their funny little jug-like nests under the eaves. I didn’t even ask how my father had known they were there. While he chatted with the farmer, I photographed the eaves, then some rafters inside where some barn swallows were busy irritating the cows, and then I wandered around the apple trees in full bloom and thought about how nice a big bee sting would look right between my puffy eyes. Maybe some poison ivy to set it off. Then I tripped over a branch buried in the new spring grass and landed in a woodchuck hole, twisting my ankle.

My father got the car and drove me home. Fortunately, I wasn’t bleeding—my father was not good with blood—and the camera was okay, so there was no harm done. “An old war horse,” my father said, seeing me looking at it on the seat between us.

I didn’t think he was referring to me. A young warhorse, maybe.

“You may as well keep it,” he added.

“Until next weekend?” I asked, wondering if my ankle would be up to more traipsing around.

He kind of shrugged. “Till whenever. If I need it for something, you can bring it back.”

“Oh,” I said, it slowly sinking in that he’d just given me a really nice camera. On a kind of permanent borrow.

“Might as well take the lenses, too.” I noticed that they were in the back seat. A 300mm lens and a wide angle.

“Thanks,” I said, meaning it.

“It’s a good camera,” he said. And that was that. Then he added, “But we need to get the film developed right away.”

“What’s the rush?”

“Montpelier.”

Right, I thought. The state capital.

“Library,” he added.

“You’re going to carve books next?” I’d believe anything.

He shot me a look. “No. Going to have the carvings there next week.”

“What?”

“There’s an art gallery upstairs in the library,” he said patiently. We’re going to have a big opening. Newspapers will be there.”

I looked at him, wondering how he’d known how to set up something like this. He’d probably enlisted Gale. He didn’t even look nervous. I’d be frantic.

“We’ve got to start getting people interested in the project, you know,” he went on. “Need to find someplace to house them.”

At the rate he was carving, he wasn’t going to have room to breathe in the shop much longer.

“There’ll be a reception. With food.” He looked at me hopefully.

“Of course I’ll be there,” I said. And not just for the food.

“Good,” he said. And then he smiled, just a little. “It’s upstairs. Your ankle will be better by next weekend, right?”

Of course it would be. Who wouldn’t want to get all hot and sweaty lugging bird cases to an upstairs gallery? I heaved a sigh. I’d never figure out how he managed to talk me into getting deeper and deeper in this project of his.

The next morning, I limped into school with my eyes puffed mostly shut, my arms and legs sunburned and dotted with red spots, and my left ankle wrapped up.

“What happened to you?” my homeroom teacher asked. All around us were kids with honorable injuries, acquired by heroically sliding into home plate or after bursting through a finish line. Everyone turned to me, waiting to hear my glorious tale.

I dropped into my desk with a sigh. “Wood chuck hole.”

Everyone’s eyebrows went up.

I nodded wisely like this was a big deal. Lowering my voice, I said, “Okay. Let me tell you guys about… habitat shots.”

Author’s Note: Visitors to the museum will notice that there are no photographs hanging from any of the cases. My father finally realized, as someone had tried to tell him, that people would get the idea where the birds nested from all the leaves and flowers and stuff in the cases. The habitat shot phase passed quickly, but to this day if I take a photo with no apparent subject, my father will look at it, smile a little, and say, “Looks like a habitat shot to me.”

And I still have the camera, tucked away somewhere safe. Permanent borrow: thirty-five years and counting.

Kari Jo and Bob Spear, examining "Habitat Shots"  1981,  Photographer unknown

Kari Jo and Bob Spear, examining “Habitat Shots”
1981, Photographer unknown

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

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

February 28, 2013

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

Addict
Main Entry:1 ad*dict
Pronunciation:*a*dikt
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


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