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From storm damage to wildlife art - Hastings man carving eagles, owls and a nest 20 feet high

Dean Williams carves a tree damaged by the June 19 storm in Hastings. The carving is taking place at the intersection of Forest and Oak streets, just off County Road 47 near Pine Street. The carving will include two eagles, a large nest, two owls, a bear cub and a raccoon head. Star Gazette photos by Chad Richardson2 / 2

One summer day, Dean Williams and his wife were out driving around in his black truck, stopping here and there at garage sales they'd stumbled across.

The Hastings couple was joined during the trip by three creatures in the back of the truck, including a big bear that Williams carved out of a tree not long ago.

As his truck came to a stop outside a residence at the corner of Oak and Forest streets here, Williams saw the home's owner had a huge grin.

"He came out with a big smile and said, 'You're going to carve my tree,'" Williams said.

"What do you want in it?" Williams asked the man.

Before long, the plan was hatched - there'd be two eagles, a big nest, a bear cub, a couple owls and a raccoon up 20 feet in the tree, which was severely damaged in the June 19 storm here.

This week, Williams expects to finish the project "unless they throw something else in there," he joked. It will take him about eight to 10 days to finish the job, one of the biggest he has ever had.

"This is the biggest I've done," he said. "I'm used to being that high up. I used to build houses for my dad. I could walk around the rafters, no problem. I don't get dizzy."

Williams, a 1986 graduate of Hastings High School, has a history of woodworkers in his family. His grandfather, Gene Coy, was handy with wood and his father, Lester Williams, is, too.

Still, it took a poor jobs climate to get Williams to take the woodworking leap. He was laid off from his job at a printing company just more than six years ago, where he worked in scheduling.

He went to work trying to find work, but couldn't land a spot.

"You put all these applications out there, and nobody gives you a chance," he said. When he would get a chance, he said, he would get passed by for a younger worker.

He started making log furniture and does work as a handyman, too. That helped make ends meet. Then, about three years ago, Williams stopped by to watch a man do carvings along Vermillion Street here.

Williams wanted to see a carving in action, and the carver obliged. Williams watched the man carve the head of a bear, and then raced home.

"That's all I needed to see," he said. "I went home and carved an eagle. I always knew I could do it. I just wanted to see someone carving. I could basically see stuff in the logs all the time."

By the end of last week, Williams had two eagles in place and over the weekend he went down to the Mississippi River to find an old set of roots he could pull out. He will turn those roots upside down and they'll act as the beginnings of a nest for the birds. He will weave some other branches in there, too.

Once Williams wraps up this job, he won't be traveling far for his next one. He'll be across the street behind an apartment complex, which had a tree damaged in the storm, too. He is going to carve at least one eagle into that tree. The eagle across the street will be looking at those up high on the other side of the road.

He's got other jobs lined up because of that storm in June, too. He said he's going to Welch, Red Wing, Prescott, Wis., and Eagan soon for more carvings.

Williams said he treats his carvings with a wood preservative, which helps prolong the life of the carvings. When asked how long they'll last, Williams answered like this: "It'll be a long time. I'll probably be dead."