I promised you dirt, so here we go.

Prologue: The things I have (except for the Weeble Treehouse, long story) generally always tended to want most have been tools. Even before I was really able to make stuff, I always liked the idea of doing so. When I was very small, I used to turn my tricycle upside down in the driveway and pretend it was a spinning wheel. CK claims not to remember this, and probably doesn’t, because I was always kind of a secretive kid, and deep down perhaps I knew that it was maybe a little weird to have more fun with your trike upside down than rightside up, so I usually made sure nobody was paying attention when I played that stuff.

I had a little holly hobby sewing machine, and a fisher price loom. But I never had a pottery wheel. I never even had the chance to use a pottery wheel until briefly in high school (it was a disaster, but I still had the feeling I could get better if I had a chance to practice). I loved playing with clay, and I remember being ridiculously excited when I climbed a hill at a campsite one time and discovered that the soil in that spot was yellow. I couldn’t seem to convey why this was so thrilling to the rest of my family, although I think my brother was at least interested. (Probably he knew already about chrome and stuff in soils, precocious little brat.)

Anyway, I tell you all this Trivial Stuff About Me as a prelude to admitting that I now actually have a pottery wheel, have had for almost a year now, and have not yet used it. This must change. Most of the reason I haven’t played with it is that I haven’t got a place for a wheel here. The ‘messy corner’ of my studio is really not equipped to deal with more mess than some glue, paint and maybe sun printing, and I’ve already spilled over into the guest room with stash and random assorted “things that might be useful someday”, plus I dye in the kitchen. Raven hasn’t got a workshop at all yet, so it might be kind of taken the wrong way if I tried to sneak a clay studio into the kitchen as well. So the wheel lives over at The Ed’s house. It has it’s own little room (CK and I converted The Strange Little Room You Go To If You’re Bad in the basement into a messy craft workshop) and I can go and play with it whenever I want – but you know, it’s over there, and I’m over here, and sheep, and life, and… I just haven’t yet.

As I said, this must change. Step one is: Acquire Clay. There are a couple of ways to do this – the relatively simple ‘go somewhere and buy clay’ method, and the slightly more labour intensive ‘stuff I found around the house’ method. Guess which one I picked?

The soil here IS clay. In most of the area it is well tilled, well mulched yummy fertile clay-y soil. But on our property, it is uncultivated, unmolested, and trampled by 100 years of schoolchildren solid packed clay, with a light coating (very light) of topsoil. The first year we were here, we dug a pond. By which I mean I made a lot of coffee, and Raven and our friend Aaron stood around in the cold drinking coffee and watching The Ed play with a backhoe. The Ed also drank coffee, and I am told he had a pretty big grin on his face most of the time. This was probably because he had a chance to dig a really big hole, I don’t think the coffee was that exciting. It was Maxwell House.

Four years later, the reeds have moved in, the frogs have moved in and would have taken over the yard if the chickens didn’t provide a level of population control — you’ve got to see five hens fighting over a frog- or then again maybe you don’t — there are fish breeding, and now handily enough it’s a place for Phil to play and hide. It is also a really good way to dig up a bucket of sticky murky mud.

Once I had my bucket o’goo, I topped it up with water and started to mix it. This is totally mud pie territory. The goal is to dissolve as much of the mud as will dissolve into the water, so you have a thick sloppy sludge with a lot of crud in it. Once the sludge has reached the point where it’s really super oogy and you’re finding yourself tempted to declare that this is what you’re serving for dinner tonight just to make people turn green, it’s time to strain it. I poured it through a window screen (yup, found one on the porch) into a second bucket. The clay particles are really small, so even though the sludge feels thick, it will go through the screen – but all the yucky stuff that you probably don’t even want to know what some of it is, will not.

I actually poured it back several times – strain it, dump it back into the bucket and mix again, strain again – each time getting more sludge in the water, and more crud out. (Doncha love my technical terms? “Sludge”, “crud”?)

At the end, I had a big pile of clay covered vegetable matter and assorted Other Stuff on the ground, and a lovely smooth gooey slip in the bucket.  I was also covered in clay.

I also had, you should note, about a 1/3 volume reduction from the original bucket. This will go down a bit further as the water evaporates.

The bucket has been sitting outside settling for a couple of days now. Every morning I go out and dump off about 3/4 to one inch of clean clear water, and the remaining sludge is that much denser. Tomorrow I am going to spread my sludge on cafeteria trays (of which we have an inexplicably large number in our attic, we use them for all sorts of silly things) which will speed up the evaporation process. Once the clay is in the trays, keeping it wet enough will quickly become the issue. I will cover it with wet rags, and damp them down occasionally until the clay is a nice workable texture. I will then cut it, bag it, and in the case of the chunk I want to try and turn, beat the living snot out of it in order to make sure there aren’t any air bubbles or dry bits or anything at all that will, when firing, shatter my second pottery disaster finished piece.

So there’s my dirt.  All the critters are doing well, baby chickens are fledging nicely and growing fast (batteries on the charger today, no new pictures) Phil has actually been spotted flying a distance of a few yards, but hasn’t got any height yet, and Blackie has decided that actually, having to wear the halter isn’t so bad at all if it means she gets to come out of the yard and eat grass in front of the house.  (Why mow the lawn when I can knit or read and chat with a sheep?  We have a new lawn chaise and I needed to make sure it was comfortable, you know.  It is.)  Raven is in the city again because his grandmother is having an operation to remove skin cancer later today – poor lady is having a rough year, and if you felt like sending happy “please don’t have a stroke during the operation” vibes her way, that would be awesome.  Thanks.

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