Category Archives: babble

On being grateful


North America is again in the grips Old Man Winter. For the most part, this simply means that it’s cold outside and that the Northern Hemisphere is tilted away from Sol on it’s endless journey around and around. A time of ice and snow. A time of hearth and home. Time to reflect on all the plans and aspirations of the year to come. For me, this is a time to be inside and figure out exactly what I’m doing with my life. Is any of what I put into motion last year really working out for me? Or is it all for naught? Building projects are put on hold. Only the hardy venture forth to make their mark on the world. All too often I find reason to not be one of those who gets things done out there. Especially once the mercury dips below the freeze point. So I’m left with a lot of time to think. And think. And think.

During this time of seemingly perpetual twilight and snowfall, I can reflect with gratitude on the feeling of the sun on my cheek in July. The sting of sweat in my eye in August. Hearing the rustle of varmints in the tall grass and the soft click and sigh of a warm breeze disturbing the Maple leaves on a summers eve. Winter gives me time to reflect on the shocking red of the Cardinal flower and the purple stains left behind from gathering the tiny Saint John’s Wort flowers. These tiny gifts are what cary me through this bleak cold. Coming out in the morning and finding a thousand Boletus have leapt up from the lawn. Or seeing the Hummingbird’s throat flash in the sun as it drinks from the Lily.


Winter affords me time to dis-remember Summer’s sticky grasp or the mosquito’s ear whine. It affords me time to think back on the bounty of what the time of heat allows. Apple Sauce, dried greens, tomato soup, peach cobbler. Without winter, these things would be meaningless. Dry red wine and warm honey mead lubricate my ability to see another early sunset. Or the sight of another 6″ of snow to scrape off the driveway. It is the blizzard’s shriek  that allows an appreciation for the fresh scent of a warm spring breeze. The crunch of snow under boot while Orion strides the heavens informs the feeling of grass between the toes beneath the cowering Scorpion. Without winter, summer loses its nuanced flavors, its subtle tones.


Though I cower indoors, huddled near the fire in this time of darkness, I am grateful for the time allowed. Winter, at least the one’s here in in Ohio’s sharpest corner, are long enough to make Spring’s return all the more joyous.

Chasing off the Snow Giants


Tuesday night saw what I think of as the first day of a New Tradition. It’s really only new to me, not at all new to the history of humanity or to those currently living. 5 of us met out back to honor Mother’s Night and burn a Yule log in order to light the way for the Sun to return to us after it’s gradual waning. In the image above, you can see our Log nestled in the core of the fire (its bark runs horizontally while all others run towards the vertical). With its burning, we release the failures and angers and discomforts of the last year and look forward to the new year’s hopes and dreams.


As I was unfamiliar with the spirit of Yule, I had to make a few things up as I went along. Our Log was the bottom section of a Black Locust tree from our land (traditionally they are Oak). We had no Holly sprigs to carry our past year’s frustrations and no acorns to carry our hopes for the new one. This will be rectified in the future. Our Ceremony was loose and unorganized, but as Will said,”the archetypes are what truly matters, even if we aren’t as familiar with them and don’t get them exactly right.” It took me nearly 2 hours and at least 3 attempts to build the fire in a way that felt acceptable. A single attempt was made to bring the fire to light and it was a far greater success than even I had hoped. This is in alignment to my bone level KNOWING that I was never much of a Fire Fighter while I was on my local fire department. My personal history taught me that I am more of a Fireman.



noun  fire·man  \-mən\
Popularity: Bottom 30% of words
  1.  a person who tends or feeds fires:stoker

  2.  a member of a fire department :firefighter

  3.  an enlisted man in the navy who works with engineering machinery

  4.  a relief pitcher in baseball

It is in accordance with the first definition that I find guidance in my life rather than any of the others (the baseball reference is new and totally alien to me). I know that I have written before of the history of my family and how my mother’s father (Andrew Patrnchak) started his career in Warren Ohio as a Stove Tender, shoveling coal into the blast furnaces at Republic Steel. He retired as the Steel Pourer, actually controlling the Ladle as the liquid steel is poured into its forms. He would know what I’m talking about. Being able to look into the heart of a fire and tell, by color or texture or movement, the exact internal state of the Fire. My time spent at Ohio University firing their wood kilns to 2300 deg F is in line with this. Building a fire that will vent properly. Positioning the lay so that the wind works to draw the fire through the fuel rather than forcing it to choke on its own smoke. These things as as much instinct as learned. Maybe more so.


In the setting of making this fire, I had the added tension of the actual lighting of the fire. Tradition stats that the head of the household needs to spark off the fire on the first attempt to ensure good fortune. This I did with seeming nonchalance (I say seeming because I was more nervous than I apparently needed to be and certainly more than I looked.) The wind at my back, the tiny spark took to the kindling and rushed through the small stuff, forced down and inward. There it found and set the core of the fire. It is this moment of kindling that the year ahead rests upon. If in spirit and attitude if nothing else. The fire took hold and began to wrap back and around our Yule log, releasing to potent magic inherent in the woods I chose to carry the fire. Red and White Oak, Wild Cherry, Aspen and Tulip Poplar, Beach and Green Ash all played their part while Hophorn Beam was doing the real heavy lifting to release the true energetic potential in the Black Locust at the fire’s heart.

We sang no songs and intoned no chants. No animals were sacrificed to slake the blood thirst of angry spirits. In their stead, stories were shared, and libations were offered, to our Ancestors, to the sun and the darkness, to Thor, and to the Spirit that Moves Through All Things. We gave thanks for what has passed. We gave thanks for the day’s lengthening. We recognized Mother Night from which all things come. As she carries and cradles the seeds underground, in darkness, that spring forth into the light and give new life.

Our tradition is new. Our celebration small. Much like the seeds we press into the soil. In time our circle will grow. As will the sun. As will our endeavors. Our hopes and dreams will also grow and spread, bringing new patterns of life to this worn out, beaten down land. A land waiting, under its icy blanket for the coming spring to show us our paths.


May the log burn,
May the wheel turn,
May evil spurn,
May the Sun return.

Winter makes my nose hairs ache

dr-beachHere we are again in the grips of winter. Most of the past weekend and for the next couple of days the Great Lakes bioregion has been in the grips of lake effect snow. For whatever reason, snow totals aren’t  nearly as easy to find as I had thought they would be. What I can tell you is that the ground temperature is sore enough to have melted the snow we got from the bottom up. A rough guess would put the total at over a foot, maybe more, with another 8-12″ incoming tomorrow (up to 18″ in snow belts). What I KNOW is the Leah and I (and a couple of good friends yesterday) have shoveled the driveway 5 times with never less than 2″ (more like 3-5″) of what turned out to be wet heavy slushy snow. The kind of snow that a snow blower can’t deal with. The kind of snow that has to be lifted off and away, one shovel load at a time. Like I said above, it’s wet and heavy because the warm ground turned the bottom layer into slush. In it’s way, this is one of the few saving graces about winter. In it’s way. By that I’m referring to the mandatory exercise it entails. If you’ve ever been here, you know the size of our driveway. For those who haven’t, it’s a long oval. More like a teardrop with a projection off one side and the bottom thickened to allow for parking. This tear drop is at least 200′ long and because it is split in fat end, the total goes close to double that. We have a decent snow blower. One that has taught me on too many occasions that it hates the wet heavy stuff. This means that after I spend 30 minutes fighting the machine, I surrender and we do it by hand. Lift with the legs, knees bent, pivot and sling. About as good a workout as it gets. Back shoulders arms abdominal core legs. To the point that the coat almost always ends up on the side of the drive after the first 30′. The dogs are NEVER any help. Not even a little. And I say this with the experience of having had 5 of them here over the past 11 years. (3 at most, 1 now) There are moments when boredom has gotten the best of them and they come by to investigate what the stupid monkeys are wasting their time on. This usually ends with them getting a face full. Panama was so devoted to me that I could get away with dumping entire shovel loads on him. He loved the snow more than any of the others. Maly won’t come near the shovels so we only get the enjoyment of watching him catch snowballs. Good times.

Once upon a time, having a clear driveway was almost mandatory as I needed to get out at a moments notice to answer ambulance/fire calls. Now we keep it clear in case Leah has someone coming by. That and I will turn into a pudgy blob if I don’t do anything all winter.  That’s pretty easy regardless. Come on. Once there is more than a dusting of snow on the ground, most everything stops.

Here is the “sticks in my craw” part of it all. I went down to Athens Ohio yesterday and once we got out of the county, THERE IS NO SNOW.  None at all. Along I-77 and I-71. Not really any in Cleveland either.

good times

In case you are wondering, the beach with moonlight picture is not from here. My sister took the weekend in the Dominican Republic and sent that LAST NIGHT!!! She lives in Central Ohio where it is grey and cold but not snowy.

What is seen

Today was the Farm Tour. 9 or 10 people showed up. With that many people standing around engaging is conversation, it’s tricky to just keep track of who asked what and did I actually just say that out loud and where are we going next. So I lost count. Everyone seemed to have a good time. No one fell. Which is always a concern. Viann got a bit too over stimulated while we were looking at the rocket stove. She was stationed on top of the riser barrel taking all the attention that was coming her way. On the ground among 6 or 8 pairs of legs was a bit too much so she stayed mostly on the barrel head. There is a slim chance that she was really irritated with all the touching. Her horns got swung around a good bit and she did this double gainer half back flip rail grind all the while head banging like back in the day. She caught me across the ribs on an upstroke with her horns. I have seen human children act similarly when a lot of company suddenly invades their space. Especially when a couple of them start paying particular attention to them. They tend to go bug shit crazy after a while. A while being less than 10 minutes. Any amount of time substantially longer than whatever is the norm. She rarely gets more than 10 or 15 seconds of scratching from me as she usually skitters off and back so many times it’s a piece of work to not step on her. Ann ( the mom) will get a few strokes now and again when she is still eating and I’m done milking. That’s a lot for her. It’s gotta be a little stressful being a goat in my space, so I give them plenty of room as long as they don’t cross me. Which they almost always don’t do. They are almost always out of the way. Almost. But today, Viann got herself a little lovin.

I can’t help but wonder, as I have many many times, what do people see on their first encounter with this place? Or any place I’ve inhabited for any serious length of time. They won’t see the stacks of metal billboard panels and downspouts that were just sitting there last week. This place isn’t a museum. I don’t live my life that way. I’m the type of fool that takes occasional great overlarge bites of life, gags for a moment and faster or slower digests that great mouthful into something I can make a bit of sense of. This place is my solutions. My collections of little bits of sanity. It’s like looking at a rack of cops fresh out of the kiln. If I look at each cup as an individual, I will notice the flaws and excellence in each of them, but when I step back and see them as a Set. I can see progress and promise rather than failure and frustration. The farm is the same way for me. Only, y’all can’t see the could have and wanted to. You see the IS, you see what is now. A snap shot of here. A snap of our life.

I would like to extend a thank you to everyone who came. Especially Sandy who makes pies at the farmer’s market. It is a wonder to see child-like revery in people’s eyes when they are faced with a situation that reminds them of their far past youth. There is a sparkle when white haired women talk of their grandmother’s habits. They speak of things lost. Traditions left in the dust. Till now. We are seeking out those Ways. They made sense for centuries before now. Most of them still do.

This matters?

Roaring Lion FireSummer is a time that is infective in it’s presence. That deliriously exhilarating stench of pervasive fetid fecundity rocks me to me heels. Time stands on still. Some breath of a breeze carries the miasma of life . My lungs fill. My nose absorbs the cloud of bits and pieces of everything alive and breathing. Every Goldenrod Blackberry Sassafras Turk’s Cap Monkey Flower is flinging the very essence of their being into this wind. Hoping, against the odds of seemingly improbable odds, seeking to attract another. Begging yearning shrieking into void. SOME ONE FIND ME.! We’ve gotta git busy. There’s things need doin before the snow blows. The Flicker Groundhog Fox Fly Newt Grosbeak Bear Human make these same pleas to the wind. And there I stand, swimming in the sweltering viscous fug of a hot dry August. While Mantis Borer Mosquito Hornet Honey Bee zip and zoom about their obscure missions to achieve these same ends. Time hangs. The breeze dies away. The black soup mire under the reeds gently lifts and gut wrenching sniff of raw death. The sweat rolling down my nose. Falling to my boot tip with a splat. Not a cloud in a sky as blue as dreams. Helios’ steeds puking smoke and flame as they describe their arc across the heavens. My skin prickles and the sweat plays pachinko with my hair follicles. The hair burned white against my skin. I feel the Earth moving beneath my feet. This is alive. We are alive. We are all in this together. I can be standing in an ally in Baltimore or the field across the street and that same sense of HERE can be felt. Just around the corner from the rattle buzz hustle push of CITY, swimming in the Dumpster leachate, burrowed into the residue of intention is Life. The same life. All a part of The Dream call Today. Standing in a field or deep in the woods atop a mountain allows for a more simplified experience in access only. There is usually nothing to drown out at 8800′ besides the voices clamoring in my head. The alley is awash with every bit of human existence to nudge and drag my eyes from the Chicory blossoms around the telephone pole. Distraction from what is most vital to our existence seems to be the point of City. Of Civilization. The more we live ,closer and closer together, soon in our tiny houses stacked like Lego’s, the easier it will be to not notice. Not that it’s all that hard to not notice now. Breaking News: It’s Unsafe in Them There Hills!! Be afraid of ticks mosquitos rabid raccoons falling Ash trees. Stay in your homes and remain calm. Life is out to kill us all. And it will succeed. The life we live while Life is working at taking the Miracle back, can be spent with these moments of Solitude, strung like pearls along the Timeline of Life, as Oases of Calm amidst the Desert of Consensus reality. Being fully present and in the moment with bated breath allows my heart a chance to catch up to the rest of me. Silently standing in the presence of the Sacred. Humbled by it’s enormity. Forever fleeting. I cherish these times. Their value more than all the gold in the world could offer. To feel the drone of Cicada Katydid Cricket Grasshopper can set my bones to vibrate. These ephemeral instances avalanche through me. Feeding my lust for Being. If I could roar like the Niagara or wail like a Bitterroot gale, I could never express what I hold in those moments. Such simple moments. Snapshots in my mind’s eye of Yesterday’s Yesterday feed my Fire when the frigid wind of mediocrity abrades my cheek and assaults my everything. When the convoluted Societal Pressures meet the crazy-making paradigm of my Now, I have hot summer days like this one to remind me what matters most. Not the chitterlings of naked apes or the bright flashy colors and sounds of the latest latest. Zipper Jackets and Iphonepads offer less than access to anything. It’s the sittings and lookings and feelings and hearings that offer meaning. It’s in these sensations that the Face of God can be discerned. The Voice of the Spirit, in deafening silence and chaotic stillness, this is the food that feeds my soul. In these moments, my own personal ionosphere draws the energy that flows through everything that is and ever was will be. An argument about TrumpClintonPutinSaakashviliDuvalier only draws from that reserve. There is no reward in winning an argument that equals hearing a Pileated Woodpecker burrowing towards ants in a Cherry tree. We squeak and gibber at each other, vainly attempting to discern meaning from the gesticulation and ululations. Oblivious to the song of Phoebe and the creaking of crossed limbs, I am all too guilty of misapreciation and disunderstanding. These are lonely times, hollow of meaning and texture. I defy Confucius’s proclamation that there is no portent in the Bird on the wing or the leaf on the tree. There is meaning in the blade of grass that is all to obscure for a simple mind like mine to grasp. So if I can’t understand a blade of grass, how am I to discern clarity in the onslaught of Modernity?

Syrupocalypse be damned

While I am the one fully responsible for this spring’s volcanic eruption

I feel like I’m making up for it this week.


I ran the soil through the 1/4″ screen this time. Luckily I had Leah helping pound the stuff into smaller chunks. That took a minute, let me tell you. Hanging in Yaz’s timber framing shop is a quote that makes too much sense.  I’ll butcher it from memory. “Love of a craft is measured by one’s ability to revel in it’s tedium.” I see that and my back aches. I know it’s true. I am objective enough to know just how much I’m able to revel in that tedium on any given day. Luckily, the last 2 days have been one’s where the tedium is well worth it. Even shed a bit of blood.

The mix is the same proportions as before with an addition. 50% local yellow clay/ 50%sand, 2 fat flakes of hay and 2 heaping scoops of lime plaster. The plaster is to start “tightening ” the cob. Or that’s what I’m telling myself. I forced the hay through the 1/2″ screen and discarded the vast majority of the longer and thicker stems. The cob went over the bumpy scratch coat pretty easily. I left the mix a bit on the dry side. The scratch coat was fairly rough so it had plenty to grab onto. Of course the first layer was only on there a day so it hasn’t really had enough time to start drying (read shrinking) Either way, it grabbed on and hasn’t let go yet. The ‘bowties’ seem to be doing their jobs.

The top is made of regular metal roofing that I backfilled under the ribs and secured to the brick with more masonry screws. Not only is it there to hold the pot away from the riser opening, it’s acting as a rain shield for the top of the thing. Not just that, this top is also a chest level razor blade. Or head level for kids. I’m looking for some way to address the sharp horizontal edges. Hopefully the final layer of plaster will be tight enough to serve and I will be able to trim this stationary horizontal guillotine back to a reasonable length.

All the irregularity is gone, replaced with long gently swooping curves. Not so terribly simple as I thought it was. OK, to be fair, I didn’t think curve would be easy. I’ve wrecked enough drywall trying to finish it to know that this stuff is not going to give me any breaks in terms of final surface. That, and gouging the tool into the already smoothed-out cob just past the transition. That’s pretty depressing actually. Feeling the tool turn just a little too much past effective and catching the curve. Digging in just far enough to expose the pebbles and fibers just below the nearly burnished surface. Leaving a hole that it takes 15 or 20 passes to refill with finer materials and leaving no scar. I must have gone around this thing 8x, re-surfaceing again and again. Needless to say, I was dripping with sweat by the end. With all that, the weather reports (and the not so distant booming of lots of thunder) calling for thunderstorms that never unleashed here. Plastic sheet on, plastic sheet off. More disruption of the smooth surface. More strokes.

cooker decoration

Leah graciously agreed to decorate the cooker. She complained that this was only the second time 2nd time she has sculpted like this. The first time being the spiral in the Seedhouse. The question arose as to whether she should build up or cut away. The only caution I saw with cutting in too much was exposing the longer, tougher stems in the scratch coat. She said that she did a little of both. I think it’s quite fabulous. And if this is her 2nd time, I can hardly wait to see what she can do after a few more projects.

cooker with pot

This isn’t the final layer. I still need to put a thin coat of very refined clay and not fiber and a lot more lime plaster and skim it one more time. None of this will be any time soon of course. This stuff dries really slowly here. 87% humidity right now and it never did rain here. The cob, that I used to seal around the bottom of the kiln, is only just now starting to dry out. I probably should have waited for the scratch layer to dry more. Let it crack and deal with the fact that the inner bricks are a single contiguous mass that isn’t going to be shrinking at all thank you very much. The cob is already cracking horizontally, above the firebox. I kind of figured that it would crack there. With the steep transition, I was unable to apply anywhere near as much pressure at that joint. Me thinks, ‘less compression at a really thick spot floating over a 90 deg corner, let’s see what happens.’ Like the adage I picked up the other day, ‘build your barn first!’ Chickens could care less if they are living in a prototype or a finished product. {That’s WAY too abstract for their tiny little brains.} I got the message though. Actually, what I heard, way back in the once ago, was to build the SAUNA first. Instead of last like most folks do. It was 2nd and it’s 3rd incarnation only burned the barn a little bit. Lessons learned. Failure breeds innovation? So yeah, make the worst and most obvious mistakes on things that aren’t quite as important as survival.

My entire life feels like a prototype. I don’t know at what point it will start feeling like I’ve got a handle on things. Leaving public safety constituted my mid-life crisis. I never did pick up my red convertible. Had one all picked out too. Not really.



Sorry, that is an almost baseless accusation. I don’t know for sure that it was a raccoon that was trying to dig its way under/in to the barn doors. This has proved to be an exercise in futility in any case. But I do know that if the doors weren’t as well built and/or closed by dark, there would be far fewer birds in the barn this morning. I say it was a raccoon, rather than a squirrel or a skunk or a black bear, because Maly actually backed one of the little bandits up a fence post in front of the barn a couple of months ago during the night shift. He was back there screaming his fool head off, charging the fence. And there was Rocky, cool as a clam, perched on top of the 4×4 wondering how it was going to get out of this one. I have these stupid moments of compassion sometimes. I simply got a LONG stick and pushed it off the post top, INSIDE the barn yard and told Maly to come with me, which he did, reluctantly. He likes the praise that much. I call it stupid because that sucker keeps coming back. Keeps digging away at the castle wall. I’m sure it has young’uns out in the woods somewhere. Guessing. What do I know of raccoons? Besides their being micro bears. It doesn’t smell like skunk either. When they are around and messing with things, in my experience, they leave their ick, just a hint, simply to let me know they were there. Barn schmarn.

One aspect of the native clay project has taken a HUMONGOUS leap forward. When I was at the gravel supplier looking at their pile of “blue clay,” I pulled a good sized chunk of what appeared to be very clean clay out. About the size of a watermelon, the lump only had about 6 or 8 stones about the size of a chick pea. The rest went through a 1/4″ screen. I just got the sense that it would work. The clay feels right. So, I thumped some down on the wheel and PRESTO. Pottery. Rather than conduct a really accurate test, I didn’t change my water so the pots have a white scum on them. This is the fine clay that was suspended in the water. I don’t think it’s all that big a deal. These cups and bowls have some rocks and chunks in them. Not terrible. the kind of thing that seems manageable as long as the supply is consistent.IMG_0631

The bits and chunks are more apparent here. Also, notice how the right bowl isn’t round at all. It was when it went into the kiln. Same with the one resting on it. They went through the firing stacked lip to lip and the left one (smaller and on top) actually sank into the larger lower one. The clay was soft enough to move with little pressure (gravity) but not so soft it actually slumped and melted into a pool. A side effect of it having gotten so soft, it has moved into the land of vitrified clay. Flick it with a finger nail and it rings like a bell. A lot higher of a tone than the earthenware (red or white) that was in the kiln with it. These guys were on the top shelf of the kiln, so they were undoubtedly hotter than everything else in there. Not a lot lot hotter, but some. the kiln is set to turn off around 1950 F. That is what the bottom looks like. I think the top went to closer to 2000 F. Doesn’t matter as long as I can get the same results and more, a lot more, of the same clay.


I have a lot on my mind lately so I’m doing many things at once in an effort to get back to only a few things. Yesterday I made my first insulate bricks. At least, they are something along those lines. A different clay than the stuff used to make the cups and bowls, this clay is from under the pond across the street. These bricks are made of the same stuff that the Seed House inside walls are made of. Only, these things will get heated through quartz inversion (1000 C /1832 F).

The Work is heading into a more practical direction at the moment. I’m realistic enough to know that pottery is a luxury. Especially in what passes for our current local/global economy. If I can sell a few of these things this year, awesome. I feel confident that those who purchase them will be very happy with the improvement to their daily rituals. Most folks could really care less. I remember one of my Officers at the FD that refused to drink his coffee at the station out of anything but a styrofoam cup. New cup every time. A line of ceramic cups hanging from hooks right next to the coffee maker. Only styrofoam. It’s easier to toss it than to return to the kitchen, wash the cup and set it to dry. Ridiculous. He is someone who would never think about bringing something like my pottery into his day. This, to me, is an all too common state of mind. The difference between the garbage choked river in St. Marc, Haiti and Conneaut Creek is that we have curb-side garbage pick up. All those cups would be hammered into a plastic slurry on the beaches if it weren’t for that.

With the world seemingly, once again on the brink, I gotta find a way to bring something into the world that people will use. To get them to use it, they need to need it. We need to eat. We can eat soup from cupped hands if we have to. But we, as a North American 21st Century Society, have to heat the vast majority of our food. I’m looking for a way to make food preparation more do-able. Our time in Haiti showed me what cooking is like for most folks alive, RIGHT NOW. Smoky, smelly and dirty. I’ve read many times that lung compromise from breathing cooking fire smoke is a leading cause of death in women world wide. Lots of folks are traveling around the poor parts of Earth teaching people how to make Rocket Cookers and Rocket Ovens. That’s great. It’s awesome. I don’t happen to live in East Timor or Nepal or Burundi so I can’t sit in on what they are doing. I’ve chatted a tiny bit with one of those who goes. He’s busy busy and most of it comes down to experimentation with local materials so I’m on my own for the most part. The few tests I’ve done on the shallower clay look very promising. Same clay as the bricks. This is all very preliminary. Most of what I’ve come up with so far has left a lot to be desired. There is just so much iron in all the local clay that it melts at a much lower temperature than commercial earthenware. In addition to the 25 year hiatus, I only thought “using local clay” was a neat idea back then so I didn’t learn much about processing it. Learning it now though.