Thursday, October 25, 2012

Typical Winter Days in the Pottery

It snowed again today. Sigh Open-mouthed smile. The temperature this morning was eighteen degrees and the snow was filtering softly down with a light breeze, gradually dusting everything with a deepening layer. It lasted for a few hours, but didn’t amount to much, really.  If the weather clears up, we’ll probably have a couple more projects to do with Ursula, but in the meantime we’re in the studio. I know it’s only late October, but with the snow, the cold weather and the work in the studio it feels like our typical winter schedule already.

Yesterday Ben got up, washed his face, turned on the coffee pot and started a fire in the woodstove well before dawn. I got up a few minutes later and we sat beside the woodstove drinking our first cup of coffee. After breakfast it was still cold in the apartment side of the studio so we sat by the woodstove for our second cup of coffee, watching the cloudy sky begin to lighten. We then moseyed to the bathroom to brush our teeth and then pulled on our boots, coats, hats and gloves to head out for chores: fed the barn cats and chickens, haul in firewood, and sweep snow off the deck.

Finally in the studio, Ben threw mugs and saucers for the berry bowls he threw on Monday and I threw some platters and teapots. In the afternoon we painted the pots I had dipped the day before and then loaded the kiln. We’re behind on our orders and still have to throw a bunch, but if we don’t concentrate on getting pots glazed we’ll never get enough Dano pots done for the coming holiday season shows for Joyce and Delia, so we have to keep the kiln hot even though we would both rather just throw pots. After we loaded the kiln Ben baked the bread he had been tending to all day, making the sponge and then the bread dough before baking it, and did afternoon chores: gathering eggs from the chickens, feeding the cats again, and chopping more firewood When we came back inside the whole place smelled of freshly baking bread. I don’t do so well eating either wheat or yeast, but I couldn’t resist having some warm bread and butter with dinner. After dinner Ben waxed up some more pots and rinsed them off so I could dip them this morning.

We started in the studio today by filtering our main base glaze. I had filtered it right after mixing it late last winter, but some tiny granules had formed in it over the summer. These granules make tiny hard lumps in the fired glaze and we don’t know what glaze ingredients formed the granules, but when we flick them off the pots after dipping them, they leave a small pit in the glaze. When we rub our base glaze the surface gets powdery and it’s hard to paint the designs on, so I filtered it before dipping this morning. We have to put a fan on the pots to dry them quickly, because our glaze is picky about drying time and causes problems if it dries too slowly.

We have been having more trouble with our glaze lately. A couple of years ago we decided to lower our firing temperature from cone 7 to cone 6, since it the elements we get these days burn out so quickly. It used to be that elements lasted for several hundred firings, now we get less than a hundred and replacing them is not only expensive, but takes us away from glazing or throwing for much of a workday. So, we figured if we could get the elements to last a few more firings by lowering the maturation temperature by a cone, it would be well worth the effort.

We took the easy route to lower the temperature and added a frit to our glaze. Frit, for those of you who don’t know, is an artificially manufactured flux for glazes and glass. Well the frit did what we wanted and lowered the temperature and even had a couple of nice side effects: the glaze doesn’t get quite as powdery  when you rub it as it did before and it doesn’t chip in the dried, pre-fired state so easily while we’re handling it. On the other hand, the frit has boron, which gives the mixed glaze in the barrel a thicker, almost pudding-like consistency. Which means it dries more slowly. We had, in our tests tried a non-boron-bearing frit, but the fired surface wasn’t as nice as it was before.

Now it’s back to the test circuit. I formulated the original glaze about eight or ten years ago and used it until we changed it without many surface problems, so I’ll  try to reduce the firing temp by another means, it might be just a simple change in the feldspar and increasing one or adding another flux while slightly decreasing the amount of clay in the recipe.

Then, too, our clay is getting harder to get to the studio. Our trucker doesn’t charge very much to get a ton of clay here, only $250, but also doesn’t put a priority on it, if he has room he picks it up, if not we don’t get it until the next week or the next. We’ve been waiting about a month now. We are really happy with our clay body, but another trucker would charge well over twice that much. So, we’re thinking I should revisit the clay body I was formulating several years ago before we found our current body. I nearly had it perfected, but now I can’t recall much about it. If I can get the body perfected, we can have the Archie Bray Clay Business mix it for us in Helena and we can just drive up and pick it up ourselves.

So, with this and our regular throwing and experiments for new work and my goals for writing, it’s going to be a busy winter. I hope it’s a long one.



Trimmed and handled pots drying on the shelf


Bisque ware (fired once to bisque temperature) waiting to be glazed and fired (to glaze temperature).


Pots dipped and waiting to be painted in our good old designs.


Finished Dano pots waiting to be sanded on the bottoms and boxed up to be shipped out.

(Dano is a youth camp that sells our work as a fundraiser through Joyce and Delia.)

Monday, October 22, 2012


Monday, October 22 and we have snow. This afternoon it snowed, fell wet and heavy across the landscape, piling a squishy, cozy and beautiful blanket across my world.


It is beautiful.

The weekend was a blur. Friday we herded cows and calves for Val. That was another beautiful day, but on an opposing side of the weather spectrum than today: partly sunny and cool. Ben and I rode horseback while Val and Joe M. rode their Japanese quarter horses (four wheelers) and we got the cows and calves down from the upper pasture to the lower pasture much quicker than any of us thought we would. Val fed us apple pie and coffee, then we were on our way.

From Val’s Ben and I went to a memorial service for our good friend Velma. V was one of those people that made all her friends feel like we were a special part of her life – and I’m still sure we were – but we, along with everyone else, were rather shocked to see how many special friends V actually had. Over three hundred people showed up to the memorial. V was involved in several groups and circles of friends, so most of the people there were actually representing many more than showed up from all across the Western States.

The organizers of the memorial had someone from each of V’s groups speak; so, although it was nice to hear each of them tell a bit about what V meant to them, the service got to be a bit long and tedious. I find it strange that, after a person dies, we humans tend to think,”this is what V would have wanted.” Projecting our own desires on the deceased is some way of keeping them in our hearts, I suppose. But I believe, from the long and tedious service held in V’s memory, that the V Ben and I knew was either very different from the V so many others knew – V, from our perspective, wouldn’t have wanted any service at all, but would have wished that everyone would have gotten together with a few beers and some good food and gotten to know each other in a more personal way – or else she was eulogized and held up to a public standard to suit personal needs.

Much like Jesus. Jesus was all about peace and love and forgiving, but so many leaders over the time since Jesus was crucified have used his image to wage war and intolerance and hatred. In V’s case it isn’t (yet) so dramatic as the case of Jesus, but she was definitely used to let the speakers tell their own story. Don’t get me wrong, though, I appreciate everyone who spoke. It’s just that the service was for those of us left behind, not for Velma.

Anyway, after the service we went over to Sue’s place for a little get-together with Sue and Lori, since Sue’s daughter, Sonja was here last week and was leaving on Saturday. Friday night was the last chance we had to see Sonja and her four month old baby, Ginny. And what a cute baby. No pics, sorry; it hadn’t occurred to me that I would need to take a camera.

Then, on Saturday morning Ben and I got up at five o’clock to get to Val’s ranch by seven so we could help herd the cows and calves from the lower pasture to the corrals next to the ranch house. We separated the cows from the calves, loaded the calves into trailers and hauled them to town to sell them. Val treated us to a late lunch in town, then we went back to the ranch to take back the few culled calves and again medicate two that had had pneumonia, let separated off a several old cows that Val will sell at market to buy some young, bred heifers; then we let the rest of the cows back out to pasture. En and I unsaddled and brushed down the horses while  Val prepared a pot roast; finally, we sat, tired and happy, and drank a couple of glasses of wine while we caught up on each other’s lives and ate dinner. It was a very long day by the time we got home, and we were exhausted, but we’d had a great day and went to sleep that night very happy we had experienced a day of real ranching and had been so much a part of Val’s day.

Sunday we caught up around home: Ben mucked out the garden and greenhouse and I mucked out the house and did laundry. No, I’m not the domestic type, but I think I appreciate a clean house and clean clothes a little bit more than Ben does, so I took those chores on when Ben went outside.

Today we got back into the studio – threw pie plates and mugs – much to our relief, since we’re so far behind on orders and fall inventory. Then it snowed all afternoon. I grinned the whole time we were out doing chores, grateful for such a great week followed up by a beautiful snowfall.

Ben just called me to dinner. He made biscuits and gravy out of the rest of Val’s pot roast and apple salad, so I’m off and running. I hope you enjoy the snow photos half as much as I enjoyed being out taking them.




Ben sweeping off the canasphere.




The Barn Cats, probably enjoying the snow much less than I am.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Back to Reality

We’ve been home from Canada for three weeks and three days and I still think about the Canadian Rockies every day. Ben and I have been in a whirlwind since we returned, but the past week has been the busiest: we worked for Ursula five days and helped out a crew cutting and chopping firewood for Sue, who just had surgery for breast cancer.

I suppose a big part of why I can’t stop thinking about the Canadian Rockies is that vacations are a period of unreality. We lived with only the most basic needs and spent everyday hiking or traveling for two weeks and a day, but it was living on money we had earned beforehand and were not replacing. I have to keep reminding myself of that last part, the unreality part, because I would love nothing more than to live that way for the rest of my life.

But now we’re back to reality. We thought we were done working for Ursula and we’re glad for the extra paychecks, especially since we spent a lot of money in Canada, but we’re also trying to catch up on orders that came into the studio over the summer so Joyce and Delia can get them to their people before the holidays. This week Ursula and Dee Dee went to Oregon and so we will have time in the studio, but we’re also going to cut down trees burned on Nancy’s place during the Pine Creek Fire and then we’re going to help round up cattle and then separate the calves from the cows so Val can ship out the calves on Saturday morning. That’s three days we can’t spend in the studio; three days we’ll have to make up somehow. But that’s our lives right now and, truthfully,  we wouldn’t trade our lives for any others. Our schedules are hectic and I’m getting anxious and nerve rattled to get started on some new projects in the studio and tiling the studio windows, but living the lives we’ve set up for ourselves is as good as life ever gets, so I would be foolish and counterproductive to our cause and livelihood by complaining.

So, with one last longing look back at our time in Canada, it’s time to move on.


Morning Shadows

Morning shadows as we headed out on an early hike

And here are a few more photos we took from the highways as we drove to and from places along our route:

Hiway 7

Hiway 14


Hiway 18

Goodbye for now, Canadian Rockies.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Canada Vacation–Post 7

The last few days of our vacation slipped away far too quickly. On Thursday, September 20th we awoke in Waterton National Park, on the border of Glacier Nat’l Park in Montana, and drove to the trailhead to Bertha Lake. Just as we started up the trail a couple from Wisconsin was scurrying toward us. They said a young black bear was coming down the trail and despite all the clatter they created, the bear wouldn’t leave the trail but continued toward them, so they came back down. We decided not to press our up-to-now great fortune and headed down to Montana.

We ended up camping in the Lewis and Clark Nat’l Forest campground, Cave Mountain, near Choteau and stayed two nights. We hiked on Friday up to the pass into the Bob Marshall Wilderness, a steep and somewhat arduous six mile hike, which we enjoyed immensely because we were lengthening our vacation with an extra day and knowing we would be home the next day. But while we were in Cave Mountain Campground we met up with someone we knew from Rec Lab back in ‘95; in the same group of friends gathered from Conrad we also met a man who was married to the niece of a good friend of ours from the Livingston area. Small world: coincidence? We just don’t know.

The following day we loitered in Augusta on our way home to have a cup of coffee and were home by late afternoon. Not too many days passed before the time we had spent in the Canadian Rockies seemed more like a fantasy than an actual event; had it not been for our pictures, the time we spent in Canada would have been more difficult to believe had actually happened. It has now been two weeks since we returned, a time equal to the time we spend camping and hiking, and the wonder and beauty we experienced and remember seems too fantastic to be real, but isn’t that the way all great and wonderful events and periods of our lives seem when we return to our regular schedules? It always seems that way for me. But because of our pictures, the time we spent in Canada will always have a connection to our fantastic reality.



On the trail above Cave Mountain Campground


We saw a group of eight mountain goats across the ravine grazing around this cave, stopped a few times and watched them for several minutes through binoculars. The picture is fuzzy because of the distance. All eight goats are here, but one of them almost blends into the rocks and one is partially hidden by the trees.

CMH 12

The end of our hike


The following pictures, our final reminiscence, are of the Canadian Rockies we experienced just driving down the highways of the national parks.

Highway 2

Hiway 2

Hiway 4

Hiway 5

Hiway 6

Hiway 9

Hiway 10

I, too, wish they could have continued on indefinitely.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Canada Vacation–Post 6

On Tuesday, September 18, we hiked to Helen Lake. The trail started just across the highway from Crow’s Foot Glacier. We had awakened that morning with a sense of the dread, since this was the last day before heading south, toward home. I began to realize, too, that I had been utterly overwhelmed by the spectacular beauty of the mountains here and was only now beginning to absorb them. As if to compound the problem, the leaves of trees and shrubbery were, each day, displaying more and more of their wondrous autumn colors.

Sleep had, the entire time in Canada, been disrupted by that sense of being overwhelmed and trying to put all we had seen into some semblance of understanding. I had seen pictures of places – Alaska and the Himalayas – that had seemed to be what I was experiencing, but I’d had no physical experience to base understanding and realization of what we were experiencing upon. We decided that, indeed, we would have to return and spend even more time in these Canadian Rockies to more fully experience the majesty of the mountains.


Helen Lake Trail

Fall Colors along the trail

Crowfoot Glacier

Crowfoot Glacier


Helen Lake

HLT 13

Water tumbles from the lake

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Canada Vacation–Post 5

On Sunday, the 16th of September we drove further into Yoho and up to Emerald Lake. As we were strolling around the lake we found a trail up to Emerald Basin and, so, got in a much better hike than we had anticipated. Emerald Lake was a truly beautiful lake and we enjoyed the walk around it, but because we love hiking so much the trail up into the basin made the day feel like a great success. The hike was wonderful and the basin was, in its own right, just as beautiful as the lake.

EL 1

EL 9

Emerald Lake


Hiking up the Basin trail


Hiking down from the Basin

We packed up our camp the next morning, Monday the 17th, and drove up the Icefield Parkway in Jasper National Park. The Parkway had too many fun and interesting stops along the way to list, but we finally made our way up to the Icefield Centre, which had extensive information on glaciers. After heading out to set up camp at Wilcox Creek, we drove back up to the Icefield Centre and hiked up a paved walkway to the roped-off edge of Athabasca Glacier, which was the closest we got to a glacier our whole vacation.The Glacier was huge and came off a humongous icefield atop the mountains, but it seemed amazing to us how the air temperature dropped as we walked closer to the glacier. It had been downright hot in the parking lot of the Icefield Centre by the time we left to hike, but was quite chilly up near the glacier.

Icefield Center Athabasca Glacier

Athabasca Glacier from the Icefield Centre


Athabasca Glacier from the roped-off end of the trail