A River of Roses

A River of Roses

Here we are under a canopy of oaks, as old as my grandmother would be if she were still alive. There doesn’t have to be sunlight, on those days the mist touches the grasses and branches and gives it a sweet, slow release of nectar over the course of the night, but today there is sunlight. It's beaming from a distance down the wide clearing I travel with my shovel and dear friend. Whenever I bring a material “weapon” into a valley of clay, I look around, asking for any ghosts who oppose to help me see them, so I can set it down and proceed with some more humble gathering with only my hands. We have an underlying sense of sacred places. Often times its easy, because humans historically have good taste, a quiet beautiful undisrupted place with a flat rock or a wide clearing- usually sacred. What is sacred to those who know nothing of other cultures? It takes research, but even more so, listening, respecting, and tapping into your landscape. Your wisdom is hidden in there, you use it more often than you even realize. If those fail, just buy a copy of Braiding Sweetgrass. But back to the clay...

Rose Canyon runs on a fault line, named aptly “The Rose Canyon Fault.” It runs where all the money is in San Diego, just above La Jolla, making its way straight to the island of Coronado. All of this, at one time, down to Ensenada, Mexico was underwater. So many of the clays here, to my initial shock, are oceanic. This long and narrow valley has clay everywhere, in the hillsides, the lines of sediment clear as day, to those who have trained their eyes to the color “tan.” Fine white clays in precarious patches on the valley floor, easy to spot because of the bright bald spot they create in the surrounding chaparral. Gooey dark brown clay, brought down river from inland San Diego, settling in pockets with its companions of leaves, branches, and any other things caught on the sidelines when waters rage. The most sacred place here, to me, personally, is a clearing under the oaks, next to a pool where the water goes still, a deposit of clay is just downstream, but I am distracted by the crystal clear water, light beams still, straight down into the hundreds of stones a few feet below the surface. I want to lay in it, hands and feet outstretched, floating and relishing. The clay might be made out of the same materials these river rocks are, just in an earlier stage of decomposition. Clay is the elder, pebbles are the teenagers while the mountains and boulders surrounding are both in their first life to begin this clay, and in any stage of a hundred lives they’ve already lived. 

Clays are community, we call them mineral “contaminants” but to me, that’s just the friends we’ve picked up along the way. Clay molecules bond to metal ions, and they would float forever if not. Naturally, absolute purity has no root in reality, in our personal lives, and in our surroundings. It is only an illusion. Everything on this planet is a collaboration, not a team of friendly philanthropists trying to help us get there, but on an atomic level. Community is built under our fingertips every day. To what end, to what goal? Balance, attraction, enjoyment, experimentation, or is it just the dharma?

This clay by the river has so many decomposed plants, and sulfides, wedged into the layers of “pure” soils, that the result is quite stinky. Stinky in exactly the way a lake bed is stinky. We can neutralize these “contaminates." But I prefer to keep them. Not including toxic factory run-off and agricultural farming, of course. These intricacies, they are what the material is. It's not detrimental to its ability to become a vase, in the way that a rotting arm would have to be removed to save a patient. It’s just a blemish or characteristic that burns out in the kiln, maybe leaving some magical remnant behind. The greatest and most non-ironic beauty is that this organic material is what gives this particular clay the most exquisite shine after firing. Brassy, smooth, like a glaze over what one would have guessed to be a coarse, unrefined earthenware, but is instead a polished maroon stone.

In the moon jar I made, rejecting the small precious stones that were removed from the bulk material seemed awful, and ignorant. Throwing them in the trash or on the ground outside my studio felt like casting their generosity aside. If anything, I would have brought them back to their home. It’s like a snail you move far from the place it is going, or a fly that hitches a ride in your car before a long day on the road, for a rock to get back to its home... Who knows? I probably wouldn’t still be alive for it. So I used them and embedded them back in their maternal soil on top of this moon jar. Structurally, the mid-shrinkage of the wild earthenware is a necessity to keep the stones in place in a porcelain form. Porcelain being high-shrinkage, fragile throughout the process, and unforgiving, the slip of its natural clay creates a bridge between two opposing materials, so they can interact indefinitely. I think of those calendars “Unlikely Friendships” with photos of a snake whose best friend is a cottontail.