Monday, June 30, 2008

Pit Firing, part two

"Unloading the pit"

This has got to be the worst part of the whole pit firing process. We were messing around in the ashes and chemical residue, digging our foil-wrapped prizes out of the muck

Sometimes, the color of the aluminum foil was prettier than the pot that came out of it.

This was one of mine. I did good at getting lots of black!

These were better. (They're not mine.)

A barrow full of pots

The next job was to scrub all the soot away.

Cleaned pots.

But, we're still not done. Now, they need a coat of floor wax or acrylic spray, or some other protective coating. More chemicals! Oh, did I mention? None of these pots is food-safe.

Stupid Dog Owners

Please, dog owners. Don't ever do this:

I followed this truck for over a mile at speeds of up to 45 mph. Not only is the dog loose in the bed of the truck, the tail gate isn't even closed.

If the driver hits the brakes hard and the dog tumbles out, who will run over him? Me.

Thanks God, they turned off before I had a heart attack.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Pit Firing, part one

I have been anticipating the pit firing party at Scarborough Fair Pottery for weeks. As often as people tried to explain this event to me, I couldn't quite comprehend what it was all about. Basically, it is a blend of primitive craft and modern chemistry, with an element of faith thrown in.

The old way to make pottery was to dig a hole in the ground, a "pit", put the raw pottery in it, start a fire in the hole, and let the clay pots bake in the coals for several days. To add interest to our projects, we used all sorts of natural and chemical additives: coffee grounds, horse hair, Miracle Grow plant fertilizer, copper sulfate, banana peels, and powdered Jello, to name a few.

I was 30 minutes late in arriving, and storm clouds were brewing. Water is the enemy of a pit fire, and I was exhorted to "Hurry up and decorate" so we could get the fire going before the rains came.

First, I decorated my bisque-fired pots:
This one, made of brown clay, has splashes of black oxide glaze, a sprinkle of Jello, and is about to be wrapped in horse hair and a rag that had been soaked in copper sulfate solution.

I painted some details on this white clay pot with a bronze metallic paint, and added coffee grounds. The hemp rope is supposed to "do something interesting," though nobody could tell me exactly what.

I filled the pot cavity with crumpled up newspaper and tied the whole thing with hemp rope. Next, it will be wrapped up tightly in aluminum foil.

Another white pot was decorated with copper metallic glaze and tied up with hemp. It was the last of the 5 or 6 pots that I did, and by this time, I was beginning to understand what I was doing. I hope this one will actually look like something.

Next, the aluminum-wrapped pots were placed in the sawdust-lined pit, looking like rows of baked potatoes.

To protect the more delicate items, clay flower pots were inverted over them, acting as a shield against heavy pieces of wood that might crash down. This is called a sauger. (Say it "sogger.")

Ken placing a flower pot sauger.

"Is that all?"

Behind every good man is a woman, supervising his work.

Or, at the studio, six women and a small boy.

Next, we added lots more crumpled newspaper and leftover scraps of dowel rods. Chemical "bombs," twists of newspaper with assorted chemicals, were scattered among the pots. When the heat strikes them, they explode, releasing who knows what into the pit. (Did I mention the element of faith involved in a pit firing?)

Everyone got to toss some wood on, even this little guy.

"Bring in the larger pieces of wood now."

Boss Peggy builds the fire just the way she wants it.

Adding smaller pieces to the top of the pile.

More wood, and some old rotted hay.
What are we creating here?

A great big brush pile, that's what.

The final touch - a good dousing with lighter fluid.

Peggy lights the first match.

Where there's smoke, there's fire. Or, is there?

Peggy, it's not looking so good.
Peggy? PEG-GY!!!!

"Let a man do it."

"Do we need more lighter fluid?"

Wait, wait - it's starting to take hold.

Me, in the background: "We need more drama. This is not a very exciting fire..."

You want drama? We got drama.

Now, THAT'S a fire!!

Once the flames died down, the smoldering pit was covered with these sheets of metal and the pots were left to bake for the weekend.

Wanna see the end results? So do I. You have to wait, just like the rest of us. Updates soon.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Day to Myself

What do you do with your Saturday when it is the only one you have had off in a month, and you have just worked 12 of the last 14 days? You indulge yourself and spend the day doing all your favorite things.

Today was one of those days. It started off with an 8am bird walk at the Cincinnati Nature Center. A group of about 18 intrepid souls gathered in the parking lot bright and early, undeterred by the threat of rain, to see what we could find.

Trip Leader Mike Kravitz, in the center of the photo, with the black pack, strategizes with fellow birder, Bill Stanley.

Bill, blue ball cap and mustache, denies being responsible for any birds we miss. (To his credit, Bill had most of the good finds of the morning.) Don't let Lola, red & white print shirt on the right, fool you. She is a good birder, despite her assertion that she was "only the paper-pusher."

Notice that Susan is not in any of these photos. I would say that it was too early in the morning for her, but in truth, she had another birding commitment, as you will see below.

We had a celebrity in our midst. Dave Jackson, webmaster for the Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society, and his wife were visiting friends and came out with us. Being a bad blogger, I failed to get his photograph.

It was very humid as we started out, and I was soon dripping with sweat. To add to the moisture issue, we got rained on for about 10 minutes. My eyeglasses, binoculars, and camera lens all got steamed up. I came back from the hike with only one photo worth anything. (The next bird photo is not it.)

Our best bird of the day was a KENTUCKY WARBLER.
image courtesy of Mike McDowell's
Birding and Digiscoping Blog

Of course, this notorious skulker was heard only, not seen, but it was still a great find, thanks to Bill Stanley's ears. While in search of the elusive Kentucky Warbler, we practically stepped on this beautiful Eastern Box Turtle.

What a fine specimen! This brings my total box turtle count to 6 this year.

Trip List: (HO = Heard Only)

Wood Duck, with young
Yellow-billed Cuckoo (HO)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-bellied Woodpecker (HO)
Downy Woodpecker
Eastern Phoebe
Acadian Flycatcher
Chimney Swift
Carolina Chickadee (HO)
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren (HO)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Wood Thrush (HO)
Red-eyed Vireo (HO)
Common Yellowthroat
Red-winged Blackbid
Brown-headed Cowbird
Scarlet Tanager (HO)
Northern Cardinal (HO)
House Finch
American Goldfinch
Indigo Bunting
Eastern Towhee
Field Sparrow

After birding, I went on to the pottery studio for the pit firing. I give you one taste of what went on there. Susan: There was no naked dancing around the fire. Sorry.

More pit firing stories and photos in a later post.

At Scarborough Fair, I added House Wren, Eastern Meadowlark, Gray Catbird, Barn Swallow, Song Sparrow and European Starling to my list for the day.

I had intended on leaving the pottery studio and driving straight to Chilo for my next birding adventure, but I was filthy, so I made a quick pit stop at home, let the dogs out, took a shower, and changed. Then, it was on to Chilo Lock #34 park and a presentation of raptors by our favorite bird lady, Susan. Here, I added American Robin and Warbling Vireo (HO) to my list. The demo birds don't count if you are a law-abiding lister.

Susan and her BBFF, "Best Bird Friend Forever," Lucy the Peregrine Falcon.

Lucy shows off her damaged wing, the reason she could not be released after she was found at the airport at 6 months old. Lucy is five this year, and could live another 10 years or more.

You know how they say that people and their pets grow to look like each other? Is it also true about bird educators and their raptors?

You tell me who looks more disapproving in this photo,
Susan, or Sylvester the Great Horned Owl.

If you ever have a chance to see Susan do a program, you should take it. She puts on a damn fine dog and pony show. Er, make that "falcon and owl" show.

After leaving the park, I made the traditional "post-birding" stop at the Chilo Dairy Bar. Either they have changed hands or the owners have come into some money, because it has undergone some major renovations this year, all of them badly needed.

Then, it was on to Lakeside Winery for their weekend festival. I give the owners credit. They are working hard to establish their business. While it lacks the atmosphere of Harmony Hill, work on the property continues. There still is no lake at Lakeside, but I hear they will be creating one in the future.

The tasting room is open, though unfinished, and features round tables and real tablecloths.

A band was setting up outside, and there were vendors with soy candles, garden ornaments, bird houses, and assorted other crafts.
There was plenty of outdoor seating, and the strings of lights overhead hinted that the party would go on all night.

I sat outside sipping a glass of their off-dry white, "Vidal," watching the black clouds roll in. When thunder started to rumble, I headed for home. I made it before it rained, and settled down on the couch to end my day with a well-deserved nap.

Aahh, this is the life.