This morning it seemed as if the world had swollen into a raging river, surrounded by a landscape sodden as oatmeal, soaked to the marrow after days of pelting rain.
We turn east at Hebo and snake along the Nestucca River, our mission clear: to procure a cord of dry madrone wood for the spring bowls firing at an anagama kiln. We seek escape in the promise of sunshine.
We drive and talk. Who better to explore the world of art than with Mr. Richard Rowland? He is a teacher and artist who seems to run on high alert, constantly seeking answers. For in the search comes a particular enlightenment. We talk about concentration, the extension of one’s eyes and ears, and the revelation of smell and touch.
“Richard, you have taught me to use my eyes; to study a glazed pot until I can discover a deeper nuance, some fundamental truth that, so frequently, we miss as we dash hither and yon,” I tell him. “You have taught me about community; about the richness of unselfish giving. You have taught me to delve deeper into this short life, a planet that seems to press upon us lessons, both pleasant and unpleasant.”
For 20 years, Richard and the pottery community have gathered wood: cut, split and stacked hundreds of cords of dried alder, fir and oak. An average firing in the anagama takes close to a week, and that’s after preparing and loading the kiln with hundreds of clay bowls, each hand-thrown by this small community of potters.
The bowls are sold at The Harbor’s annual soup bowl event. All donations, including the kiln’s materials and the homemade soup, go to The Harbor, a safety net for survivors of domestic violence.
The river has cut a path though woods and hollow; has forged this water trail for many miles from highlands to sea level. This is timber country, though the great virgin woods of the past are long gone. But the silver-cloaked alder, the gangly spruce and flat-boughed cedar still rise each day. Sword ferns cloak steep hillsides like a thick green garment. The hum of raging water seems to silence the luxurious bird song and abdicate to a greater force.
We talk about ancient potters, their practical application of clay into vessels for eating, serving and gathering of vegetables and water. I recently traveled to the southwest, and studied the hand-shaped and painted pots of the Anasazi. Richard and his wife Patti recently visited Mexico City and marveled at the Meso-American clay vessels. Each of us explored the nuance of these pre-Columbian creations, asking who we are and who they were.
Clay is the product of fine particles when water rushes over rock, or from the weathering of rock and soil. It’s simple but is a decay as ancient as the moon.
Today, winter overcomes the landscape. The season grinds rock and earth into the very product that potters shape.
We buy madrone wood with the expectation that this hard wood will color our pots with a rich natural glaze. The wood will be split into side-wood, kindling that is fed into the bowels of the kiln. Six cords of wood and rigid concentration—it’s all about feeding firewood into the belly of the dragon.
So let the rains fall and the winds blow. The river will tear away riverbanks, and therein waits the rich viscous story of clay and a primal beauty that will be shaped by a group of dedicated potters.