fifth day of firing.

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a very misty and warm morning, but cooler on entering the wood. at least two thrushes were singing as I arrived, but not for long. the warmer weather seems to have heralded the end of the need to defend a territory.

we are burning the coppiced hazel this morning, criss-crossing it three at a time diagonally in the top firemouth and filling it; red flame and little pops of black smoke at the blowhole. the cycle of fill and burn-down takes ten minutes or so. the hazel is snakily twisted and bent; I have to turn it around to get it to lie well. it burns very cleanly, hardly any smoke, good heat, but a lot of ember. I must look up its use as fuel in Oliver Rackhams’s book when I get home. Gas says they will coppice more this year, there is quite a lot in the wood. my camper is parked under a hazel tree.

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there is hardly any crackle, but the purr is the clue; when it stops purring is the time to stoke. which consist of pushing the bundle almost all the way in; most of the time this gives another reduction. then I push it all the way in with another billet, piece by piece, each sent as far forward into a streaming river of fire over the embers as far as I can. they flare up instantly with a white flame. it is about nine hundred degrees in there this morning. I can see all the pots, buried up to their waists in ember. I love the hazel, it is beautiful, creamy wood and freckled grey-green bark, and each piece has a different shape.

we had a fright before Gas went off to his tent; a very loud explosion inside the kiln. we couldn’t quite understand this; pots should not be exploding at this heat; awful feeling of was that my pot which has possibly destroyed several others; but then we realised it must have been the wood. it was like a gun going off.

Gas is asleep now and I am enjoying my shift, listening to the kiln and the tit-mice. pigeons coo, there is that traffic noise again (it is six am). its very quiet without the thrush song. I recognise a woodpecker’s call, and a magpie family in the trees around, rattling and wheezing. the hazel burns with a rustling sound, not the snapping and crackling of soft wood. there is so much cover in these trees you hardly ever see the birds, except the robins, two juveniles, which pop down and find invertebrates on the soil surface. possibly the changes in temperature around the kiln bring a few to the surface. I found a poor snail which had unwisely chosen the hazel sticks as a hiding place; it had dropped out of the burning bundle, but it was sizzling a bit.

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giant wood wasps are fascinating us. they are laying eggs with their drill/ovipositor in the bark of larch in the wood pile; little do they know that it is not a good place to leave the next generation. normally the larvae spend three years in unhealthy trees selected by the mother wasp. they are fearsome looking creatures, hornet sized, the ovipositor protected in a large orange sheath which sticks out from under her abdomen resembling a sting, with bright orange antennae and long yellow legs. their buzzing flight is quite alarming, but they are harmless.

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last night’s enthusiastic stoking has broken the shelf which acts as a lintel between the two openings. Ko returns at nine am, I go off for a shower (at last!) and breakfast. when I get back he has the chimney puffing black smoke like an old fashioned steam engine; he has managed a steep rise in temperature.

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Belgian potters Linda and Erwin arrived at eight am, off the early ferry, and watched me stoking for a while. Linda is staying, Erwin is off to a ceramics fair in Penrith for the weekend. andlater Svend arrived. Hooray. Now we have another pair of hands/eyes/ears and a brain used to wood-firing. and the event proper starts tomorrow. Vicki has arrived and been shopping for me, and gets herself set up in the trees.

my late shift is a disaster. the cedar I am stoking with is slightly damp and won’t split to the same width stick as I am used to for the “wooden lid”, the big pieces allow too much cold air into the kiln. temperature goes down over the four hours, and I get more and more tired and depressed. its made worse by having Svend Bayer and Linda de Nil sitting there watching me. as soon as Svend takes over he finds a piece of shelf to shut the top firemouth off with! when I get back to the van to my horror I am greeted effusively by a very hot and exhausted Tilda OUTSIDE. she has been loose and hunting, and then lost for how long I have no idea. even Sal manages to squeeze out through the side door when I come into the tent. it is too hot at five to leave them securely locked in. tomorrow they will have to come with me.

I go to sleep with all the windows open, but shut them in the middle of the night. It”s cold and damp. the sky is clear with the moon at the last quarter. T wakes me too, dreaming noisily, of some hunt, I suppose.

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