Thursday, May 16, 2019

Nature


There’s a laugh we blurt out upon being surprised. And there’s a laugh we do to keep from crying. We know that one too well. But there’s even a laugh that springs unbidden from revulsion. Much of modern comedy goes for that cheap one and counts on our confused emotions to keep us from sorting the categories sufficiently to realize we’ve been had. We’re laughing, right? Must be funny then, right?

Maybe. But maybe not really.

Dar was on a trail in the woods and Breeze and I were about 20 feet away on a parallel trail when I heard her loud, “Eww!!! “…followed by an uncomfortable laugh. Then she hollered, “Come here, you gotta see this!”

So Breeze and I cut through the brush and made our way over to Dar’s side. She was looking down at what appeared for all the world to be the hind end – butt and tail – of a pine squirrel that had managed to only get halfway into a hole of safety before getting smashed flat.

That’s what it looked like.

Upon rolling that squirrel half over with my shoe, however, I realized that it was ONLY the hind end of the squirrel. Some owl or hawk had been dining on the squirrel high above and had dropped the latter half to the ground. Serendipity had arranged the optical illusion of the burrowing squirrel sticking half out of a hole.

Later this same morning, while walking three abreast on the paved portion of greenway that parallels the creek just before it flows into Winona Lake, we were startled by the loud flutter of two mallards – a drake and his missus – that cleared our heads by only a few feet as they flew past us.

And just as quickly as we saw them fly past, we watched as they pitched into the creek twenty feet away. In quick succession – one, two, they hit the water. And they did what I’ve never before seen a duck do. They hit the water diving. 

The creek was high, flowing fast, and opaque with silt as it had been raining for days. We couldn’t see the ducks as they dove beneath the muddy surface of the water, but split seconds later the drake popped to the top.

The missus didn’t.

I kept watching. Waiting.

Still the missus didn’t surface.

I reluctantly walked away. Nothing could be done. But our walk had us circling back. A half hour later there sat the drake in the same spot creekside. Waiting.

Try as we might with prose, poem, or song, we could never tell a story as desperately sad or cruel as nature herself tells.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Life's Scratch Offs


Life's worthwhile pursuits seem to come with a sufficient covering of that silver stuff that's on scratch off lottery tickets. Nobody would ever buy a losing ticket hoping for a winner if it didn't have that silver stuff covering it. And nobody would attempt to pursue an endeavor if they knew ahead of time the degree to which they might fail at it.

But we'll pursue things even if we know we won't be the "best" at it. For one thing, in the arts there is no "best". There are things like "favorite" and "successful", but not "best".


And in sports there are so many levels of satisfying achievement that even if there is another participant who is better, there still remains small victories like personal records.  There are even those times of elation when you managed to pull together a game that bested those players and courses and games you never before defeated.

In most pursuits I suspect that it's just as Tom Waits sang, "...the obsession's in the chasing and not the apprehending; the pursuit, you see, and never the arrest"

So, perhaps it's in the not knowing if we'll fail or succeed that we find the faith to plod on and practice.  We can still hope for success and we grow to understand failure as mere stepping stones that lead in new directions.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Peeking Behind The Curtain


I'm still and always mystified by how some people can see or hear or feel the world in such a way that is something beyond most people's ability, and can convey that sound, that sight, that feeling -- translate it -- back at us. It's a magician's trick, really.

And I'm at least vaguely aware that just like a magician's trick, it can be learned.

I first realized this tiered world existed when I was very young. My first instrument was the harmonica. Without anything but instinct, I could play melodies on the harmonica. I was immediately aware that I couldn't play just anything. It had to fit on the harmonica's scale. But other than that, I could play it.

But then I started to hear people who could bend notes. That's fine. Explainable, even. But then I noticed they could improvise a heretofore unheard melody. That's what I couldn't grasp, and mostly still can't.

On the other hand, when I first saw my nephew's paintings I had that same sense of someone improvising on a harmonica. How did this happen? He must have been born with this vision, right?

....and then I went to the website of his school. On the one hand, my bubble was burst. It's not that the process was de-mystified for me. But it was immediately evident that what appeared to be intuitive or inborn was actually just a skill that was taught.

And once the skill is taught and caught, the "miracle" of it gets layer upon layer. Once someone has the requisite skill, then they can take it in another direction, further from the root. So, if your first exposure to a work happens to be a leaf, you will most likely be unaware of limb, branch, trunk, root. It's easy to believe the leaf was a spontaneous generation. That's what the artist counts on.

And sometimes having the miracle de-mystified ruins it for us. Sometimes we'd prefer the magic to the look behind the curtain. But we're just still dying of curiosity.

How did he DO that?

Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Illusion of Ease


He had such an easy way with clay. Effortless. No apparent strain of muscle or countenance. Watching him at his wheel, it was almost as easy to believe that the wet clay erupted spontaneously up from the wheelhead and his hands just happened to be there as witness to the miracle. His hands appeared not to be shaping, but as the exploring hands of a blind man as he learns contours and textures the only way he can.

I continued to watch as he filled a wareboard with pottery. The illusion never resolved. I continued to see the creator and his creation in reverse order. I continued to see the potter as witness, the pottery as something foregone that had merely leapt into dimension before my very eyes.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

221B Baker Street

Everyone loves a good mystery, right?

Last year I mentioned (when it first happened) that I was experiencing a strange anomaly in my kiln: Cone 11 was melting faster than cone 10. Of course, it was then falling into cone 10 and keeping it from melting properly.
This happened in both the top and bottom cone plaques. It had never happened before, though I had fired this very kiln with that very set-up of cones for almost 30 years.

Even odder? ....it continued to happen. Since last autumn, every firing has had the same thing occur. The cones go down in reverse order.

I got by. I know this kiln, and I figured out what to watch and I got by. But I remained curious.

As any potter knows though, problems never present on only one front. They always come in multiples just to keep life interesting. And this was no exception.

At the same time the 11 and 10 started acting up, my 010 started breaking off instead of bending.

Strange, huh?

The two things can't be related, right? I mean, they're in the same firing, so you have to suppose it has to do with where I've set them, right?
Except, as I said, I've fired this same set up for 30 years. Same cones.
Now my inner Sherlock starts wondering what, if anything, changed?
Though the two cones' situations don’t seem like they could be the same factor unless it WAS the kiln placement causing one to break and one to melt early, right? And, again, that could be it.

But here’s the strange thing. Against all reason, except the elimination of all other possibilities – or in the words of Sherlock Holmes himself, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

…the one thing that changed after 30 years of doing the same thing is this: I made my last set of cone plaques out of Miller 900. When I make cone plaques, I set up my extruder and then go about making an entire box (50) of all my cone plaques at one time. I line up my high fire, my reduction, and my bisque cones and make them all in one sitting. And I’ve always used whatever stoneware I had on hand.

Well, up until last year, the stoneware I had on hand was Standard 153 or Miller 850. Last year I had Miller 900. It was the ONE thing that had changed.
So, finally realizing this, I went about experimenting to prove this unlikely phenomenon to myself. Yesterday I put two 010 plaques made with Miller900 in my bisque kiln (something I’d never done) to see If, in a different kiln, the cone would melt or break off.

They broke off.

Further, I made new kiln plaques out of Miller 850 to put in my high fire kiln.
For the first firing since last Autumn, cone 10 and 11 went down in proper order.

When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.