Saturday, January 16, 2010

I’m Not the Girl with the Power Tools

I’m not much good at a construction site. I don’t have the inclination or stamina for it. So, like my grandfather’s brother, Carol Wentzell, who cooked for a lumber camp in Nova Scotia, I signed up to feed the workers helping my son Josh raise the roof over his kiln this past weekend.

Mostly I used an oversized cast iron skillet that took up more than one burner space on our Palomino camper stove. I scrambled eggs, cooked chili, and sautéed onions and green peppers using it. I refer to this skillet as a cannon because whenever I pull it out from the camp drawer, I feel like I’m pulling out the big guns, as opposed to the small Teflon omelet pan (also in the camper drawer), which is like a pop gun in comparison.

I cooked three meals a day for anywhere from three to seven people for the nearly four days that my husband Joe and I were there. Josh, like a Hobbit, loves a second breakfast when he’s working hard, and sometimes snacks in between meals were in order, especially if it was a box of Cheez-its, his favorite. When the food was ready, I drove it up to the kiln site in Josh’s old Subaru. One afternoon, the workers showed up at the back door of my camper. Wild lamb’s quarters soaked in olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic was served with venison and brown rice that day.

Before I left home in Virginia, I harvested lettuce, kale, arugula, basil, and cilantro from my garden and brought it with me, which added a gourmet touch to the camp fare. I sliced up naval oranges from Ingles grocery store, four miles from Josh’s property, and filled water jugs from the spring on a wooded hill. I discovered that it takes five full minutes to collect enough spring water to fill a gallon jug, which was okay because it was cool up there on the hill and I had a good view of the construction progress.

Sometimes in the heat of the day, I would retreat into Josh’s Land Yacht Airstream (I’m sure the workers would have liked to do that) tucked into the woods by a creek. There, I’d charge up my lap top, write some notes, or download the photos and videos I was taking; for that was my other self-proclaimed responsibility: documenting the roof raising progress.

I didn’t just cook and take pictures. Beer is sometimes a friend to construction workers and many empty bottles had collected from before we arrived. I put them in a garbage bag but never did find a recycling center or even a green box in town where I could dump them. I staked up Josh’s tomatoes using tobacco stakes lying around that Josh pointed out to me when he saw I was breaking up tree branches for stakes. I mulched the tomatoes using grass clippings from when the garden plot was plowed, but I forgot to get someone to hammer them in with the sledge hammer. I wonder if they’re still standing.

My muscles are still sore from hauling three loads of Josh’s laundry to the laundry mat, which, besides cooking, was my most successful activity and one I was happy to do. A potter’s clothes can get purty dirty and so many had piled up since the constant work of kiln building began. Add a building site and a few afternoon sprinkles that turn dirt into mud to a potter’s already dirty clothes and you’ll need one of those jumbo washers (which I happen to know takes 16 quarters) to get them clean.

Always the collector, I learned some new words hanging out at the building site. I wrote down “hurricane clips,” “collar ties” and “purlins” in my notebook. Nobrigama is the Japanese name for the type of climbing chamber kiln Josh is building. At one point Joe referred to a saw cut as a bird’s mouth cut. I wrote that down too.

In the few days I was there a couple of Josh’s art collectors, a couple of people from the neighboring farm community, and a woman doing a pottery tour stopped by to witness the kiln’s beginnings. One of the three nights we took showers up a Rob’s. Rob, a member of the community that borders Josh’s place and the man Josh bought his property from, is also a ceramics artist. He was cutting clay slab pieces in his workshop as Leonard Cohen played on the stereo when we arrived. Not only did we get hot showers, but Rob fed us hot soup, and so the camp cook got the night off.

The morning of our first day back home, I called Josh on the phone. He answered from the building site and I could hear him and Sean putting up the salvaged tin from the house they tore down. I knew by the end of the day the kiln shed that was framed over the weekend would likely be covered. So now the rain that’s been badly needed but only threatened to come down all weekend could hopefully let loose, I thought. And maybe the cosmos seeds I planted in Josh’s garden will be standing tall in bloom by the time the kiln is finished.

Post Notes: Photo #2 (left to right) is my husband Joe, fellow potters Matt and Sean, Josh, and his girlfriend Anna. Photo #4 is of Josh and I just before Joe and I headed back to Virginia. You can read more about Josh on the Asheville Potter Son category on my sidebar HERE. Scroll down for older posts. A collection of video clips from the long work weekend can be seen HERE. Origninally posted on on June 8, 2007.

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