Aspen runs pretty close. I grew up in northern New Mexico, and we'd get
occasional pieces from downed trees. Very soft, and carved quite nicely.
I have no idea if it's available commercially.
As others have mentioned basswood is a good type. I've found that air dried
clear white pine and air dried walnut carve pretty nice. I've cut thousands
of carving blanks for the Boy Scout camp out of those woods. Kiln dried
pine is generally too hard but kiln dried walnut is OK.
I'd avoid things that don't have grain and a fibrous structure if you are
interested in learning wood carving. As such, things like soap, linoleum and
the various closed cell foams should be avoided. Learning to work with grain
is a very important aspect of learning to carve.
Mary May and Rick Butz were presenters at my club's woodworking show last
spring, and Mary was on Roy's show last year. Take a look at this video for
discussion of the grain issues and how to deal with them.
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