Interview with Jessica: Jerry’s Woodshop

We think conversation is one of the most fun parts of language learning. On Thursdays, we switch languages and ask each other questions to learn more about Tuesday’s topic. Today, Rober interviews Jessica about her visit to Jerry Covault’s woodshop. You can read Jessica’s original post about Jerry’s canoes here.

Rober: Does Jerry make different types of canoes, or are all the same?

Jessica: They’re slightly different, although I think all of the ones he’s made are strip canoes, rather than carved. The canoe he built with his friend from toastmasters is just a strip canoe, so it does not have the ribs that Jerry says he often likes to add. A couple of the canoes were painted red, so they all have a different appearance. They are also different lengths. Pointing to one of his newest, Jerry said it makes a good solo canoe at 14 feet. The 18 footers are better for two people.

Two finished canoes hang from the ceiling of Jerry’s shop, while he works on others.

R: Have you read his book or do you have any information about it?

J: Jerry gave me a copy of his book About Forests and People. I’m interested to read it in full because in scanning it, I saw glimpses of a lot of things I’ve learned about from my dad, who is also a forester and silviculturist. When I visited with Jerry, he told me how he thinks a lot about Native American narratives, and how stories from these communities often feature a harmony between humans and nature. For example, stories about a woman turning into a buffalo or a buffalo turning into a woman represent a fluidity that he feels we need to better appreciate in order to preserve nature for the next several generations. 

Jerry is almost finished with this strip canoe he’s been working on with a friend.

R: Did Jerry tell you other stories about his adventures wildlife, aside from the one about the wolves?

J: Throughout his book, Jerry intersperses his top ten wildlife experiences. On a different canoe trip, Jerry saw an alarmed mother duck trying to hustle her ducklings into a line and away from the shore, having some trouble wrangling them. Then he saw the fox in the grass. He watched as the mother duck repeatedly moved between the fox and the ducklings, screaming at the fox and trying to usher the ducklings to safety. The fox would disappear for a few minutes and then come back. Finally, the mother duck managed to get her ducklings in a line and move away from the shore and the fox disappeared into the grass. Several of his stories are small moments or anecdotes like this. One time Jerry and Lois were driving overnight with their kids through Colorado in the early morning when ducks started rising off of the lakes and prairie against the colors of the sunrise. Jerry wrote, “The sounds and sights were spellbinding. Probably the most beautiful part of any trip Lois and I have ever shared – and it was so because it was all ‘just for us.'”

R: As a wood artisan, has Jerry worked on any exhibition or something related?

J: I think the closest thing that he’s done for an exhibition is to help carve horses for the Carousel for Missoula. When the carousel was being built, Jerry took part in a class where he and other volunteer participants learned about carving parts of the horses, which are first carved in several pieces: legs, head, neck and body all separately. Before they were assembled and painted, volunteers placed memorabilia and time capsules inside the hollow bodies. Jerry said he placed a time capsule inside the horse that he made at home. 

The horses at the carousel were carved by volunteers in pieces. After taking the initial class, they would be sent home with a leg to carve, and graduated to large parts like the head and neck.

R: What stood out to you about your visit with Jerry?

J: My parents have known Jerry and Lois for the last 20 years, since we first moved to Montana, and I ate dinner at their house when I was a teenager, although I don’t remember it very well. So they have had a long connection with them. My dad and Jerry taught together at the University early on. In recent years, my mom has connected with Lois and sometimes goes to her house to work on promise stitching. At any rate, I had been hearing about Jerry and Lois for a long time and how kind and creative they both were. They are very devoted to each other and that plays a large role in their projects. It was significant to me to re-meet them, but it was also really cool to see the things that they make separately and together. 

The outside of Jerry’s wood shop on his and Lois’ property in Missoula.

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