The Whittler: A Dedication

By Jonathan J. Bishop

I whittle away at the unshaped wood in my hands as the sun brazenly sets above. The day fades. Soon it will be dark. Hungry beasts will emerge from the woods. There’s no fence to protect me; no neighbors to assist. My cabin rests juxtaposed to a lowly dirty road that carries only the occasional car. Drivers don’t stop to see me. I’m an old man.

Long ago, I was paralyzed—an old war injury. I figured it’d do me some good to get out of the city and move to the country: Alaska. It’s what you see on all the postcards. The air and trees and rivers all sparkle with untouched purity. Nothing looks poisoned.

The people who come here are those who wish to be alone. It takes a special soul to deal with the unending chill of winter. To do this, one must realize there’s solace in the quiet.

The sun continues to slowly sink below the mountains. Consequently, I am bathed in a dull green glow. I hurry to finish. I’d like to make a bird in flight. It’s beautiful, serene, indicative of the Alaska I see every day when I go outside to collect the mail. The sun’s bright. The wind blows. The birds chirp mellifluent songs as I walk into my house. I sit and woodwork. I sell what I can and I move on to the next piece. I tinker with timber. My soul runs in the sap of the hardwoods and I can see this as I shape them.

Darker still, the sun draws deeper and I must strengthen my speed to give this bird flight. I slit my knife into the sides of the block and send shavings to and fro. Soon, feathers feel ruffled and beaks, hard. I grant the bird eyes so he can know where he travels. I give him feet to walk. I carve him a tail so he may be guided. I smooth his head into clarity in order to anchor the spirit.

Now the sun casts nothing but a dim light across the woods—like a flashlight in a dark parlor. The temperature continues to cool and, in consequence, the wind blows chilled breaths throughout the house. I shiver. A few more cuts and slices. Now, the bird is done. I make him a mantle. No paints or flamboyant colors: nothing superfluous. The act of flight is enough. I place him on a shelf right in front of my main window.

The sun rests. It is time to sleep. I’m an old man. I have no need to stay awake. I wheel myself into my room and try to pull myself from my chair. I cannot. I fall with a painful thud.

My nurse—the one who cares for me—long ago left for the night. No matter. I need my rest, for it is time for me to sleep. I shut my eyes. Yes, time to sleep.

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