Rabbit the First

By Scott Harrison

It was an inglorious beginning. I glued together wooden boards for the body and head. I used 4 by 4 inch pieces of Douglas fir for the long ears. It was the first time I had tried to carve an animal and, amazingly, it began to look like a rabbit. The wood was just scrap lumber from building our house. I had been holding on to a full-size profile drawing of a rabbit that I had created a few years before when we lived in San Francisco. Our family had since moved to Nederland, Colorado, and in the new house, for the first time in my life, I had some space to try my hand at carving.

When I was done with Rabbit, I grabbed him up, all one hundred pounds of him, and carried him outside to place him here and there in the nearby woods. It was the middle of winter, and I would place him on a box, shove snow up around him to hide the box, and then run back a ways to see if he really did look like a giant hopping rabbit. I think I did a little private dance in the snow, overjoyed with myself that I could create something which, if I went way back and squinted my eyes, looked like an animal. Wow! Good for me!

For the next 25 years, I kept carving wooden animals, all kinds, and I guess I should admit that I did get a little better at it along the way. I soon started using real carving wood, basswood, the preferred wood that carousel horse carvers used a century ago. I got a better set of knives and more expensive carving tools. I watched others carve, and read what I could to teach myself how to be a better carver.

As I continued, the animals got fancier, looked more proportional, and had more detail. As people came to visit, I wouldn’t show them Rabbit first. Instead, I would show off the cat, then the lion, then the dragon boat, the gorilla, and on and on. A few years later, our house got too crowded with this menagerie and I had to rent space in a local mining equipment warehouse. The first thing I put in there was Rabbit. Soon, he was joined by others. Eventually I even carved a new rabbit, a bunny really, with a golden mouse in his tail and a paw that tells time.

Many, many years later, the carousel was finished, its house built, and after one year of operating and over 100,000 riders, the 60 wooden animals that make up the Carousel of Happiness are delighting people of all sizes and ages.

For 26 years I stored Rabbit, first at our old house, then at the warehouse, and most recently in a shed next to our new house. There he has been, sitting with grace and patience, lots of patience, on a wooden box again, facing the shed wall, closed up to the sun, the rain, the snow and the flowers, coming and going, year after year.

Last year, George Blevins and I took Rabbit out of the storage shed and carried his heavy self into my carving shop. I spent lots of time making it up to him, telling him how much I love him, have always loved him, and have never really meant him any disrespect. It is just that he was the first. A little too big for the carousel frame that I eventually found; kind of plain-looking, truth be told, since I really had no idea what I was doing when I created him.

As I again worked on Rabbit, sanding him, re-carving this and that, just a bit, and giving him a fresh coat of paint, I could feel his wooden forgiveness and understanding and felt from him just a bit of hope that he was now about to join his friends a half-mile away at the carousel. I left the shop radio on at night, not loud, just a whisper of music to keep him company.

Wednesday afternoon during a May snow shower, after being fitted with a nice new steel support cradle, Rabbit came out of his last inside place, and, in the back of a truck, he was brought home — his real home — to the carousel.  A local man walked by, under a heavy pack, beginning his westward journey from Nederland, looking for a job and new friends, life on the road, under the sky. He laid his pack down and asked if he could help us get this rabbit eight feet up on top of the large sign, looking west, a sign that says Carousel of Happiness. We were busy with our task and didn’t notice the bond that this traveler and Rabbit seemed to share. Others came out to help: friends, employees from the nearby grocery store.

The snow comes down wetter, harder. Nobody notices. We have, in one common movement, brought Rabbit up high on his perch. He becomes immediately “The Special One” after all this time. He faces west, towards the highway which brings all those who want to visit the animals at the carousel. But they see him first. He sees them first. It is Rabbit up there presenting the carousel, coaxing the first smiles from those who are looking out their car windows.

Rabbit, this collection of scrap lumber, has taught me patience and respect, and has allowed me his friendship. When you pass, give him a wave and he will return it with an ever-so-slight smile.