I make a big deal about carving only those objects — birds, whale and boats– with which I’ve experienced directly. I won’t carve a bird until I’ve had a direct experience with that bird….or boat…or whale. Usually these connections are direct and obvious. Narwhals? Not so much.
My fascination with narwhals is based on an experience that may — on the surface — appear trivial. To a whale-polar expedition-wooden boat obsessed six-year-old it was significant.
In my little corner of Maine, the Schooner Bowdoin and her skipper, Admiral Donald MacMillan, were our home team of polar expeditions. She was built in East Boothbay in 1921 and mounted many of her 29 polar expeditions from Boothbay Harbor.
After retirement many folks had ideas for her future. She served in various roles and a dude schooner, charter and training vessel.
Sometime, in the late 1960s, she spent a summer, or two, tied alongside a wharf on the west side of Boothbay Harbor.
One of those summers little Geoff and his father were invited aboard for a tour. I was about six at the time and remember almost nothing.
The one detail that remains crystal clear was the handrail that I gripped as I descended the companionway ladder into the main saloon — a twisted narwhal tusk.
There are things that grip a little boys mind. That narwhal tusk was just the thing. Since then — close to 50 years later — I can still feel the twist, the gnarl and the wonder of that tusk.
The Bowdoin has undergone several restorations since that day in the late 1960s. I wonder if the narwhal tusk remains. I’d love to duck below, holding on to that rail again.
Why do I carve narwhals? I carve narwhals so that I can feel the wonder and awe of the six-year-old boy again.