Thursday, March 25, 2010

Backstory: 34, The Firing


the stack for #34

As I gather my thoughts about the events surrounding the loading and firing of the kiln, my first thought is that you wouldn't believe me if I told you. But I guess I've decided to try to tell, anyway. Since I took a bunch of pictures of all of the calm moments, but none of the near disastrous ones, you'll just have to give me the benefit of the doubt. OK?

Tim Ayers came down from Penland to help me glaze my pots and eventually load the kiln. Tim and I worked steadily, mixing glazes and dipping pots. But I must have been in la-la-land to think we could glaze all 300 pots (usually a long days work anyway) and load the kiln (usually a ten hour job) in time for me to get a few hours sleep before starting the firing early Sunday morning! It just didn't add up, but we carried on. [Maybe this is a clue as to why I didn't make it in engineering school so many years ago??!! But, wait, this is simple math! ]

Not to dwell on long ago failures........after a couple of speed bumps during the loading (read: after stopping to glaze more pots) I found my energy lagging as I began the second tier of shelves. It was after supper and I continued to feel a kind of dread. I was thinking at the time that almost every step of the way during the past week had resulted in some minor disaster due to my poor planning. My resolve to work at all hours was getting me only so far and time was crunching down on me.

Then out of nowhere, the storm hit. My kiln shed is pretty big, but it doesn't have siding and it completely open to the weather. When the rain comes down (and horizontal) everything gets wet. And it did that night around 9 p.m. I couldn't cover the pots with tarps, because the wind would gather up the tarps and sling the pots away. I just held on and prayed that the storm would pass quickly. It didn't. Just when things seemed to calm down so I could focus back on the loading, another wave would come through. Very high winds and lashing rain continued. Like sea captain tied to the steerage of his ship, so I seemed tied to the kiln. I stayed on course to get the pots out of the rain and into the kiln!

As I worked through the storm I noticed, and was very grateful, that it was fairly balmy for this time of the year. I should have know what that might mean. shortly after this realization, of course, the thunder and lightning came! So now I'm listening to the "thrash metal band" of trees being bent over by the high winds, tin roofing that covered a wood pile flying away in the dark, and thunderous cracks exploding all around. No one should have been out in that, much less loading a kiln. But being in the state of denial that I was in, I kept telling myself, like the little engine that could, to "keep going, that the storm would pass", etc.

The storm continued for more than an hour and then the next plague: power outage! HA! Of course, just when I thought it couldn't get any worse it did! When any rational, sane person would seek shelter and say the hell with it, I thought in my own seemingly rational way, ..."well, let's see, I can get a flashlight, headlamp, kerosene lamp, etc" So I did. I retooled to finish my job.

The volunteer firemen had the road blocked down below with a powerline down from a fallen tree and the only lights were the flashing reds and my florescent battery powered lamp I was using to load my kiln. Eventually, the rains slowed and the winds moved on to terrorize the next county over. Eventually the firemen got curious to know what was happening with the back and forth moving light up on the hill. They drove up my road thinking they was some kind of arcing power line or something, but they just found a half crazed potter trying to load his kiln. What a strange sight that must have been, to walk up to this dark shed with this big shadowy hulk of a kiln and chimney and a funny looking soaking-wet guy with a hand held lamp going in and out of said kiln! I tried to explain my dire predicament. What part of deadline and loading a pottery kiln did they not understand?! Ha! They were glad that everything was "OK" and chuckled as they walked back to their truck with their flashlights. I got the kiln loaded eventually by about 2 a.m. The power company brought their cherry picker to fix the line and I sadly watched as they drove on down the road, but still no power. Damn. I guess there were more lines down. So I decided to rest a bit and wait until the power came back on to put the door up. It came back on around 4 a.m. and I woke up and went to work on bricking up the door. The door bricks are in pretty bad shape and I made a firm note to replace the bricks before next firing. Also I noticed the door of the kiln is spreading a bit. So the picture below shows how much chinking I needed to fill the gap!


After making this epic confession of poor planning and bad luck, I'll try to keep the rest brief and leave it to the captions. After all, I have a kiln to unload today!

this is how it all starts

balmy sunrise through the pines after the storm

like a dog soaked to the bone, my shed

my clay pit flooded with about three feet of water.
proof of the big rain!

later that afternoon the weather had another surprise, sleet

Lindsay Rogers stoking, notice the smile on her face and the
snow/sleet on the ground?


Lillian tooling up for her stoke!

staying warm by the kiln

Salt! Success!

I realized that our damp stack of wood was disappearing and that we needed maybe another half hour of stoking to get the temp we needed. So I used my "phone a friend/lifeline" and called Courtney and John up the road to take them up on their offer of dry wood. Courtney's kiln is just 0.8 mile up the road and it has the same firebox length, so the wood is the perfect length for my kiln, too! We barely used half of what they brought and got the kiln even all around thanks to Lindsay's great stoking. The Snow Creek Pottery Posse rides again! Thanks Lindsay, Thanks Courtney!!

By 11 p.m. the epic firing was over, and as all potters must hope in a moment like this, when all has been done that can be done, I hoped for a good firing.

Check back (if you have the time) to see pictures from the kiln!!!

If you're still reading, thanks for indulging me to recount this crazy epic.