6th Excerpt from The Book of Shards

This is another one with our friend Jack Troy in it, Enjoy!

Field trip

I am not used to this road. Not just this particular road but this type of road. I am used to a flat, straight, close your eyes and count to five kind of a road. Here in central Pennsylvania the road is more like an asphalt roller coaster but without the safety of being strapped in. I am sitting in the back seat, which only enhances the experience. I reach for some Canadian ginger ale to settle my stomach and I think of home.

Our pilot… err… I mean driver-guide-potter-friend, Jack Troy, is taking us to see an old abandoned pottery. These potteries were at one time all throughout PA.  This one started some time in the late 1700’s and was abandoned around the 1870’s. We turn up a couple of  switchbacks up the mountain, the road narrows again, light drizzle is falling and I am thankful that it is early morning and the rest of the U.S. air force has not made it to the tarmac yet. The road levels out and we come to an opening in the oak forest, we pull off the road and our guide proclaims that we have arrived. I peer through the rain streaked window and can make out a shooting range! “Figures.” I mutter to myself and take another shot of my ginger ale.

We pop out of the car and instead of going towards the shooting range our guides crosses the road and heads in to the bush with us in tow. As soon as I hit the bush I immediately start looking for traces of the pottery. However all I end up finding is plastic and glass peaking up from under the lush forest floor. There are no historical markers, no path one can make out and the only thing to guide us is our friend. I realize that very few people know or remember the pottery and even fewer people come here.  The pottery is not far off the road and before we knew it, we were there. With out some one to show us we surly would have walked on by.

The wood fired salt kiln would look to most as a few bricks scattered in the bush, to potters, there is a hint of what was. 

A basic shape, the chimney must have been there, oh, yes here is a fire box, and look at that. A single row of moss covered bricks still remains as an arch over one of the stoke holes. Several feet away there is a depression in the ground were they stored the clay. Jack tells us that the clay was mined across the road up on the mountain and was transported down on the “donkey railroad”. A few feet to the other side of the kiln, over grown but still visible is the shard heap. We quickly start to scavenge about looking for shards like little kids at Easter tiring to find the most, biggest and the best eggs.  While I poke about I wonder if all potters are as eager to find shards, so connected to the past.

I find a couple of shards that I am happy with, one is the side of a crock with a handle, the other is the bottom of a pot where it must have hung over an edge  leaving a record of salt and flame. We share our findings and muse over the demise of the pottery. A thriving and necessary industry, chipped away by jiggered ware, then glass and finally plastic. My mind wanders and I envision a kiln with flame and white smoke puffing up into the sky. Clay is being aged in the moist cool ground, wood is split and dried and a potter is making jugs and crocks. He is a different kind of potter than I, more pragmatic I think. I wonder if he knew what was coming.

As we make our way to the car my hands are getting used to the feel of the shards, but my eyes are still drawn to the plastic and glass that is now glaring up at me from the forest floor. I can’t help but wonder if they are the shards of our time.

Christian D Barr

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