newly hatched chicks

Everyone gathered round the incubator to watch the hatch.
observers

Around the 21st day of incubating, the pipping began. Having spent a lifetime with eggs that do not move or cheep, an egg that does is transfixing!

zipping-egg

From pipping, the chicks began to zip – to peck holes all round the flatter end of the egg, and to push with strong little feet. Some took hours; others were so quick we missed their hatch entirely!

hatching-chick

We were amazed at how they begin so delicate, so awkward, yet they get control of their movements so rapidly. One can read about this, be told about it, see pictures, videos, but witnessing it is entirely different.

hatched-chick

Little darlings. They liked to lie over the other eggs, and often bowled them right over, peeping away.

One little chick pipped, but never progressed further. This is one of those heartbreaks of life. Quite a number of the eggs weren’t fertile or were possibly so addled in the post that they had never begun to develop – we saw this when candling. The moment when you truly understand the meaning of not counting your chickens before they are hatched! Yet another did hatch, but had not yet absorbed its yolk sac and needed lots of time in an incubator. I found this process incredibly emotional, precarious somehow, and intensely joyful, not unlike my own children’s births. Responsibility for life is an enormous thing!

brooder-chicks

Within twenty-four hours, we had a flock of ten tiny chicks, cuddled under the heat lamp in the brooder, sleeping intermittently like any newborn. We gently dipped each tiny beak into water as we moved them from incubator to brooder; after that they know to drink.

fluffy-chick

In just a little while they have fluffed up into such beauties, such characters. After a day or so they’re eating, and drinking, and doing all their entertaining chicken things. We are smitten.

incubating eggs

Hatching eggs have arrived at the lakeside cottage!

hatching-eggs
With great joy we opened our post box to find a box of hatching eggs from a heritage breeder in Northern BC. These are marked with letters indicating the breeds we’d carefully researched: Lavender Orpingtons, Bielefelders, and Red Blue-Laced Wyandottes. We welcomed still more fertile eggs, hand delivered from our friend who rented us the incubator, almost a dozen blue-green Auracanas. We’re hatching so many! Though not all for us.

labeled-eggs

Thirty-one eggs settled overnight like this, point down, in a cool spot, to allow the air bubble to rise to the top where the growing chick will need it.

incubator

On May Day we set them into the egg-turner, then set the turner into the warm, humid, waiting incubator that hums in our bathroom at a steady 37 degrees C. Now they all tip to the left a little, and later when you visit you’ll see them all leaning together to the right, seeking to emulate the cosy nest and the intelligence of a mother hen turning her eggs, to keep the growing chick moving easily inside the shell. All our dreams of keeping chickens, all our conversations and research about how to keep them, are extraordinarily real now. We’ve studied hard – but now it is time to learn by doing.

Twenty-one days will bring us to hatching time – come back and see our preparations and the ideas behind them in the days ahead.

hopscotch

Peevers, peeverels, pabats, piko, bebeleche, kith-kith, laylay, potsy, pon, delech, avioncito, scotch hobbies, hop-score! Peregrina, rayuela, bebeleche, amarelinha, rrasavi, thikrya, marelle ronde, himmel und hölle, hopscotch! When a game dates back to the 17th century, and possibly to the Romans, it usually passed through cultures and played around the world, with variations in name and technique accordingly. Here’s an illustrated guide to hopscotch, one of those good old fashioned games that hasn’t wavered in popularity these four hundred years. Unlike jacks and marbles, there’s no need for revival, no generation missed – long live scotch hobbies!

hopscotch-1

First, toss the pebble into a square, not touching any scotches or scores.

hopscotch-2

Then hop, not touching a line, nor falling out, or forfeit.

hopscotch-3

Land on a pair with one foot neatly inside each square.

hopscotch-4

Leap over the square with the stone.

hopscotch-5

Hop. If one has no chalk and paving, a stick in the dirt will do. I admire a game with great simplicity of materials.

hopscotch-6

Turn at the end. Some variants have a safe square there, or a semicircle, for turning.

hopscotch-7

Pick up the marker, don’t lose your balance! And hop through. We shall have to try the variant which requires you to kick the marker along with you.

hopscotch-8

Sometimes we draw the spiral variation as in the French marelle ronde or escargot.

hopscotch-9

Grace, balance, aim.

hopscotch-10
We write numerals in, in contemporary fashion, but a square is all that’s needed.

hopscotch-11

There’s a good simple game. Did you grow up playing this one?

handbuilt rhubarb forcing pot

Perhaps you’ve heard me talk of the rhubarb pot, that essential of the Victorian kitchen garden, and one of those beautiful objects that functions so simply to extend the growing season. Forcing rhubarb to reach for the light, warming and protecting it to set it growing earlier, and producing a fine, sweet, early fruit – this is the purpose of a rhubarb pot. Looking elegant in a walled garden is a fine off season occupation. When I saw the other potters handbuilding giant pots, I had to try making one myself.

patting

Enormous thing. It will shrink by almost a quarter as it dries, mind. Mine is unconventional not only in being handbuilt, where most rhubarb pots are thrown or cast, but it is also singular in using white clay, where terracotta is traditional. Still, it ought to do the job, or at least be sculptural. Let me show you something of the technique I learned.

press

The trusty press.

pressed

After wedging the clay, and adjusting the height of the press to a good thickness, say, half an inch, the clay is flattened in the press.

compressing

A rib is used to compress the clay on both sides, to smooth and strengthen it.

slip

As with any handbuilt thing, scoring and slipping connects the pieces – wide slabs that we slice and stand up and curve to meet. Any repairs later can use paper slip. Wonderful fortifying stuff, just wet clay with paper soaked til fibrous, not unlike papermaking.

applying

Just a slight overlap is connected. Scored, slipped, pressed, then worked smooth. Applying the next piece to the outside makes the thing wider; to the inside curves it in. Many of the potters built the piece half way up, then flipped the entire thing and worked on it that way – but because a rhubarb pot is entirely open at the base, and only curves in at the top somewhat, I left it.

bat

Knocking the clay into shape is one of those most gratifying tasks. It is amazing how much shaping can be done with a bit of brute strength and courage, as the clay doesn’t simply move but compresses. This bat is wrapped in twine to discourage the clay from sticking to it while it is the consistency of cool butter.

dart

I still needed to remove some clay with darts, work redolent of dressmaking. By this time I was standing on a step stool to reach into the pot, turning it on a lazy susan.

muriel

Isn’t it a wonderful process? I adore the wheel and must be torn from it. Yet somehow this technique felt more compelling than a coil pot, and the proportions are fascinating to me. Consulting with my friend and mentor, Muriel, the potter at Winter Creek. I’m so lucky to study with her. She talked me through the most wonderful bit of throwing, to make a handle for the lid.

You might like to watch a Victorian thumb-sprinkler being thrown, another fascinating bit of historical pottery.

potter’s case

There’s a wonderful pottery studio deep in the highlands, down a winding road that leads through the woods. I’ve begun throwing pots on a wheel there every week. Clustering round the wood stove, sharing cups of tea with some lovely potters, is very good too. I’ve so craved this work since I studied in England. I want it to be a permanent, regular practice. So, I pulled out my beloved old travel case, battered and stained from years of art materials at school, and fixed it up as a pottery toolbox for my devotions to clay.

potter's case

Clay tools are such appealing things, and a vintage suitcase is just the thing to organise them. There’s something about claiming a spot for tools and materials that is so affirming of any endeavour. The writing desk makes the writer, and so on. I think so. Like hanging a musical instrument on the wall, it is a declaration of commitment.

potter's case

I find that I am better at keeping a thing tidy, and using it often, if I think it is beautiful. With a bit of leftover milk paint, I stained the fabric lining from a loud red to a quiet grey. No doubt it will all be pleasingly clay-spattered soon enough. The make-up mirror puts me in mind of train journeys and face powder. Perfect for checking one’s reflection after a muddy day on the wheel.

potter's case

I’ve tucked my plaster sprigs and stamps into a pocket of the new potter’s case, and a linen apron, given to me by a lovely English potter, folds neatly on top.

potter's case

Quite important to leave space for tea, and for tins filled with snacks! Look out for images of my ceramic work soon, here, on instagram and other friendly places – I’ll be stocking my own, new studio shop.