I returned home after 1 a.m. having completed my second 6-hr shift at the anagama (or climbing) kiln just north of Madrid. The kiln reached temperature (about 2300 F) throughout most of the chambers and so, for the first time ever, we ended the firing on Saturday night instead of Sunday. After it cools this week, the kiln will be unloaded (public invited) on Saturday, May 1 from 9am-12pm. To see a slide show of the night's events, visit www.liveclay.wordpress.com.  And if these aren't enough, click here to check out the live-action video compiled from the day beforeā€¦

What the pictures don't capture, besides the incredible leg- and face-burning heat coming off the kiln, is the relationships: between ourselves and the fire, the kiln, one another. There's something really special about a group of people coming together for a common purpose around a fire, as people have done for thousands of years whether for food, protection, comfort, ritual, or the creation of art. Fires of destruction and fires of purification. Just like water. Or tears. I've learned a lot about the nature of fire through working with clay: the colors of heat, red, light red, dark yellow, light yellow and finally white, not so unlike the colors of the sky at certain times. But even after the thousands of hours our group have collectively invested in the study of fire through this kiln, we still find it mysterious and unpredictable and prone to moments of utter disaster or devastating beauty. Like the island on Lost, the kiln is a character in itself, participating in our firings with its own will and intentions.  Which, of course, is probably why we continue the journey. What the pictures don't show is the way the kiln "breathes" fire back and forth through the chambers, the way it tells us where the heat is when flames peek out of the cracks, the way it sometimes won't gain heat no matter how much wood we throw in the firebox or how tired we are.

What I've learned about fire is what I've learned about everything: if you study it long enough to really learn it, I mean really learn it, you can begin to understand and respect, rather than fear, all that is Not You, whether mouse, kiln, or person. Maybe fire fighters should be called fire understanders, or fire controllers. How can you "fight" something that doesn't fight back? (Perhaps this fits in somewhere with MLK's 5 Principles of Non-Violence, but that's a difference discussion.) When a genuine connection through understanding and openness is made, invariably the black and white world of we vs. them dissolves and becomes a beautiful, mysterious, breathing world of I and Thou. The fire is in between.