Wed, May 23, 2018 11:47 AM
Wednesday, March 8, 2017 issue

Without A Paddle

A bucket of mud, please

01/26/2007 - I have an unusual request if anyone out there can help me out. I need a big bucket of stinky mud.

Not just any old mud, but a specific type of clay which is apparently found only in areas where you find coal. It's called "fire clay" and is apparently a substance which has caused problems for every heavy equipment operator at every coal mining operation in these mountains.

As I understand it, the best fire clays have a blue to blue-grey color. The really good stuff, I'm told, is very sticky and stinks like sewage.

Why do I want a bucket of stinky mud? Believe it or not, it will be a gift for a friend who is generally recognized as a genius when it comes to the art and chemistry of clay and glazes for pottery.

I've heard this guy talk for hours about clay. I only remember him talking about "magic clay" two times — one was a specific type found near Seagrove, N.C., and the other was the "fire clay" found in Eastern Kentucky.

While he had obvious respect for the North Carolina "magic clay," he spoke about the Kentucky clay with a tone of absolute reverence.

I told him I would try to find him a batch of the smelly stuff and he said something like, "If you can find a source of that clay, I would pay to have a dump truck load of it delivered down here."

I'm not sure what makes the local fire clay "magic," for a potter, but I believe it has something to do with the substance's ability to withstand extremely high temperatures in the kiln. That ultra-high heat apparently allows for development of glaze colors which can't be achieved at lower temperatures.

A couple of years have passed since I started looking, and I still haven't found that guy a batch of local fire clay. Honestly, I'd forgotten about it until I got my vehicle stuck in a batch of stinky, black mud last week.

If anyone knows where I can get my hands on some legitimate fire clay from the bottom side of a seam of coal, please get in touch.

I'm almost afraid to say this

After carrying some form of bug or another for the past several weeks, I have to say it felt good to get up one day this week and feel good.

It was such an unusual feeling it took me a few minutes to figure out what was wrong.

Apparently the latest round of antibiotics, nasal spray etc. have actually gained some ground and my only remaining problems are a mild cough and near-deafness in one ear. I've actually noticed a lot of people have developed ear infections with the round of bugs that have swept through the region and closed schools at least until Monday. I've heard so many people ask someone to repeat themselves, often followed with an apology and the phrase, "I'm reading lips at this point."

With a little luck, and continued medication, I'll have my hearing back soon. As to the cough, it's getting harder and harder to deny my respiratory problems are being fueled by the number of Camel cigarettes I'm inhaling every day. I smoked the last cigarette in my pack while writing this and I swear I'd like to make it the last pack I ever smoked.

Unfortunately, like so many of us, I'm addicted. Less than 30 minutes have passed and I'm already plotting a run to the store for my next fix.

I'm forcing myself to finish this before I go buy another pack and it hasn't taken too long for me to realize I really don't really take a lot of "pleasure" from smoking (unless there's beer or bourbon involved, when cigarettes seem to taste especially good). Oddly enough, I do seem to enjoy letting my smokes burn up in the ashtray on my desk when I'm writing — a trait I've noticed among many journalists.

At some point, I'm going to have to give this up. But for now, addiction calls and I have to answer.

Appalachian Regaional
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