Everything is changing and yet only the fires move, undulate like snakes, like waves, like whirling leaves in a gentle wind. The clay and the glaze are all changing. Small pockets of air which were made possible by burning out dead, rotting matter from the clay in the first firing have made spaces, microscopic in the clay wall of the pottery of the kiln. That is how it works, the clay.
Microscopic bits of flaked-off stone from a raindrop-bomb on a stone in a forest flow into a stream and sink to the bottom, landing on top of a dead animal or some rotting leaves. After this happens trillions of times and after layer upon layer of silica and rotting spooge layer and layer under seismic pressure and over hundreds of thousands – voila- sticky clay.
But when the clay is fired, all the sticky death which made the sand pliable is burned out. The first firing of a kiln – the bisque ware – emits a bit of poisonous gas in the first hour or so and so potters need to leave the studio or pull the gasses with fans.
Tonight, I stood by my glaze kiln as she pushed and pushed and pushed the heat higher and higher, swirling, licking flames around red pots on red shelves. Soon yellow, then finally yellow-white and the kiln turns off – the pots begin to cool for a few days.
I like to stand by a glaze kiln as I did last night. Those are my pots in there. My face and chest is hot from the kiln and my back is cold from the desert night air. My creations. Each one was formed by my two old hands and most pots have one or two rings from my finger-tips – my tracks. As I stand by the heated rock of the kiln I sip a sake cup of scotch and pour the last drop on the kiln. I toast the pots and their kiln-womb. I remember the shapes and the colors and I imagine them emerging, sparkling and as clean as they will ever be. I thank the clay. I thank the glaze. I thank the long-ago lost water and I thank the animals and plants whose death made the clay sticky, pliable, elastic, throw-able on the potter’s wheel.
Our lives are not so different. We stand by our lives – the kiln we call “life.” We stand by the lives of those we love and even those we do not as their life-kilns rage on hotter and hotter. We toast the fires which are changing those lives – ours and theirs. We thank the dead bits which make the clay of our lives pliable and sticky – throw-able by The Potter. We hope they do not crack under the pressure of the fire or from some mis-formed aspect which can do nothing other than cause a crack. But we hope something beautiful or at least usable emerges from the kiln, placed hot on the dirt to cool. Then taken up for a cup of tea. Used for containing. For feeding. For holding something needing holding. Something warm on a cold night