The Last Firing

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It’s only when Kevin muds up the door of the anagama that I get teary-eyed. For all that has passed in front of this stoke hole. For all that we’ve been given. For everything and everyone that has wandered in and out of our lives.

For all the prayers that have been stoked along with the wood. For the hopes, the disappointments, the heartbreaks, the unions, the births, the funerals. The moving-ons, the staying-puts. The hellos and good-byes. The escapes. The rescues. The tears, the hurt, the gratitude, the healing.

All against the soundtrack of birdsong at dawn, music jams at night, raucous bursts of laughter, low hum of conversation. The crackling of the fire, the roar and whisper of the draft.

The first firing of this kiln took place scant hours after planes sent towers crashing to the ground—potters on our first crew had watched a column of smoke rise from the Pentagon. Here in the woods amidst songs of the whippoorwill and the wood thrush, we mourned and healed in turns as we sent smoke of another kind skyward with our prayers.

We emerged from that firing a family where four days earlier we had been only acquaintances. I wanted to hold them here as one by one they headed back into a world that for all we knew might still be under attack. As I think back on all this, Mary Oliver’s words speak to me most clearly:

There is only one question: how to love this world.

Fourteen years later, the make-up of the kiln crew has changed. Some moved, some simply moved on, always new potters ready to step up to the stoke hole and keep the fire burning. I no longer fear what comes next. It’s just so hard to let them go.

Now Kevin seals up this anagama for the last time. By this time next year, a new kiln will take its place. Though smudged with soot and smoke, I can still make out Jane Hirshfield’s words stenciled around the arch:

Everything’s connected. Everything changes. Pay attention.

Old kiln, thank you. New kiln, here we come. Eyes wide open.

While You Were Away

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Dear Cicadas,

On a walk the other day, Kevin and I saw your exit holes in the ground, and your empty shells clinging to the trunks of trees, and we realized you’d surfaced. Welcome back.

Much has happened while you were away.

By now you’ve probably heard that some of your kin have bumped into a sad new monument on the drill field at VA Tech. And what I wouldn’t give to have seen the look on your little bug faces when you first saw the picture of the current president of the United States.

He’s been working hard to pass gun control legislation in order to pre-empt the need for new memorials. And while 90% of Americans agree with his position, our Congress, it seems, does not. The only silver lining here is that for every weapon or round of ammunition purchased, a portion of the proceeds (let’s just call it a tax) goes to the states to protect habitat for creatures such as you, my winged friends. And guess what – both times that he won the election, gun sales spiked. If the president can’t sign a gun control law, at least he’ll get some conservation done.

It’s easy to get discouraged looking through the global lens. But narrow that focus and you soon realize that for each horror, each catastrophe, every depraved act of a madman, there are countless acts of kindness and charity. So many more instances of people reaching out to help people. Infinite ways of finding beauty.

I thought I’d update you on what’s been going on around this property while you were underground.

Those two young boys —the ones you cicadas distracted and amazed seventeen years ago while they mourned for their mother who’d died the previous year? They’re out in the world now. Kai is 29, and a videographer who works part of the time for a film producer and part time for himself. Bram is 26 and works for a community housing project. In light of their kindness to you, it should be no surprise that both of them, in their own way, are enriching the lives of others.

Just about the time you went underground, Kevin and I got married. Only a few months earlier I had told a friend that I expected to live my life as a childless single woman. Less than a year later, I was married with two kids. My philosophy as a stepmother was “First Do No Harm.” I think I was mostly successful. The boys seem to enjoy coming home, and doing things with us out in the world. As when they were young, their antics make everything more fun.

My philosophy as Kevin’s wife was (and still is) “How Lucky Can I Get?” Seventeen years later, we’re still in love, still making plans for the future, still thankful at the end of each day.

The shaggy white dog, Nilla, and the little brown dog, Marta, have moved on. as have the 3 cats that lived here when your parents were buzzing around. Tem, the hound dog who now tries to greet each and every one of you as you emerge from your underworld, is our rescue dog. His mission and his heart’s desire are to keep Kevin company in the pottery studio and on walks to the river.

Watch out for that new anagama while you’re flying about the property. Kevin took a year in 2000-2001 to tear down the old wood kiln and build a much larger one. Now instead of a 24-hour firing, it takes four days to fire pots, with a crew of potters that stoke wood around the clock.

We fired it for the first time during the week of September 11, 2001. Most of the crew came from the DC area where they witnessed smoke pouring from the Pentagon. Two days later they watched a different kind of smoke rise from the chimney here, healing together as we stoked the kiln with wood and prayers for peace. Our family is much the richer for the help and companionship of these potters and friends.

The whirring of the alien spaceship that seems to accompany you is in high gear now, and Kevin and I are savoring the sound while we can. We’ve done the math. If our luck holds out, we’ll live to see you all another time or two before our souls move on to whatever lies ahead, and our bodies join you underground. Until then, we hope to live our lives like you do – making the most of every moment we have in this life.

Enjoy the summer. We look forward to your return in 2030.