A kiln lies at the center of this story, a brick arch built on a concrete slab next to a needing-to-be-painted red barn. On the gable end of the barn, alert passers-by will notice the large-letter sign fashioned of assorted pieces of abandoned metal announcing the enterprise at work here: Dogbar Pottery. All of it — kiln, barn, Sam Taylor’s pottery business — sits at the bottom of a little hollow that the tumbling north branch of the Manhan River has carved out of these western Massachusetts hills. The place and the people — it’s all so familiar. And yet, I arrive on an early-September afternoon, one member of a long-standing crew gathering to help mark the eighty-sixth and final time Sam will fire his kiln, bearing the unease of unanswered questions.
I think I know the rhythm and specifics of this place: How the river water filling the cool seat of the Captain’s Chair — the dipping hole across the gravel road from Sam’s front porch — runs muddy and overflows the rock cavity soon after a hard rain. Come a warm spring day, I’m sure Sam will head up the east-facing hillside that forms one vee of this hollow, where there’s a small brook running hard toward the river. On a flat near the brook, under red oaks and maples, Sam will find a spread of wild onion shoots. He’ll use the ramps he cuts in salad or sauce. Either way, I count myself lucky to eat what he cooks.
The years of coming here do not help me with my questions.
I approach a bearded group working near the cracked and splitting kiln. These potters, landscapers, electricians, teachers, and artists have assembled here to bid good-bye to a kiln that has been fired regularly since 1998. When pressed, they say they’ve also come because of an enduring friendship with Sam and his wife, Carol, but also for the gathered community, and their interest in wood-fired pottery. I believe them — but I know there’s more, questions buried and hidden in the layers of years Sam has fired his kiln. I understand their answers, like my understanding of these firings, as incomplete, the shallow crust capping something deeper. I’m certain that assembling community and throwing a party with jolly and creative people does not adequately explain what has been going on around this kiln....