2019

It has been over a year and a half since I last wrote on this blog. Not for lack of having things to say, or adventures to write about, but lack of time maybe? I’m not sure. Regardless, I have missed sitting down and writing at my computer. I don’t believe in new years resolutions, but I’m hoping that I’ll write more this year.

2019 is off to a wonderful, and strange start.

The last three years we have taken January off from the shop and travelled, or spent time with family. Last year we ripped all the flooring out of our little apartment, made new floorboards for the kitchen and planed the hardwood to be relayed and finished. No more squeaky floors. No more horrible vinyl tiles with fluorescent highlighter. Then we went down to visit our Southern friends for two weeks and spent our days shucking oysters on the beach and walking barefoot in the sand. This year we are saving for a trip to the Yukon in the fall, so we decided to stay put. But I still needed some time off. The shop and studio are full blown mayhem from August through to December 24, so a rest is always necessary.

The rest isn’t just to catch up on sleep, which, I needed.
It’s also not just to catch up on personal well-being, which, I needed too.
The rest is to remind myself that I like this life. That I love clay. That I love my house.
The rest reminds me that this life is good, and I have much to be thankful for.

There are days in mid November when I’ve been working 16 hour days for weeks straight, forgetting to eat lunch and surviving on granola and yogurt, that I exasperatedly say “I don’t want to be a potter anymore!” I made this bed, and I’m tired of lying in it.

But you’d be surprised what a four day retreat in the Northern woods, with no lights or water, no people or music, can do for you. It is grounding, and fulfilling, and refreshing.

And after that retreat when I’m spending my weekdays learning about sourdough, and cleaning out my attic, and updating my website, I start to want to make pots again. Life feels empty without the studio.

I’m in week two of my four weeks “off”. The first week, I planned my garden for the spring, ordered seeds and spent hours graphing and charting all our varieties. I updated the music on my computer, sorted through all the files that haphazardly got thrown on the desktop, emptied out my closet and donated half my clothes. I started cooking more elaborate meals, and read through two gardening books. I gave all my houseplants much needed haircuts, and started propogating new jades. I felt like I could live this life for good. I could be a stay at home wife who gets dinner ready on time, keeps the house clean, and always has her hair looking good.

Then enters week two. Still planning the garden. Babying along a sourdough starter for the first time, and finally making two loaves that turned out okay. Still cooking lots, updating my website, sorting through physical photographs and scanning them for digital storage. Watching a lot of online workshops on brand development, photography, and sewing your own clothing. I’ve been keeping busy.

But I’m starting to feel the studio itch, and it only took an extra few days to remind me that I don’t think I can live this life for good. I need the studio. I need my hands immersed in clay. I need to think through doing, to hear the gentle clunk of the treadle wheel, and be welcomed by the smell of rotting earth as I open a fresh bag.

I’m enjoying these quiet days of reading and reflecting. I’m enjoying making and creating in a material that is not clay.

But I miss clay.

And I’m excited to get back to it, in two weeks time.

Retreat breakfast routine - all the good fats, cooked on the woodstove.

Retreat breakfast routine - all the good fats, cooked on the woodstove.

Days of snowshoeing and reading by fireside.

Days of snowshoeing and reading by fireside.

Solo Backpacking Trip in the Bruce Peninsula

A couple weekends ago I went up to Owen Sound to deliver work for a show at the Owen Sound Artist's Co-op. It's almost a 3 hour drive each way from my house, so I figured I'd make an extended stay of the trip and take myself out on a date.

Although I love people, I am most definitely an introvert, and I find time by myself incredibly fulfilling, refreshing, and rejuvenating. After a couple busy months in the store and teaching classes three nights a week, I was really looking forward to some time alone with my thoughts, or simply some moments of silence.

 
The Bruce Trail, Tobermory ON
 

I decided it was a good time to go on my first solo backpacking trip.

I've camped by myself before, and I've backpacked before, but I've never done both, together. Our usual backpacking trips are portage excursions, so we travel most of the distance in our canoe, and other than our Grand Canyon hike, I really have not done a lot of long distance hiking. This was an opportunity for a lot of "firsts".

I picked up the Bruce Trail at the end of Crane Lake Rd, just south of Tobermory, and hiked the 8km trail to the High Dump sidetrail leading to Georgian Bay. The trail started off relatively flat and gravelly, with markers along the side of the path counting 1, 2, 3... I thought "Wow, I've gone 2km already? This is a piece of cake!"

That was until I reached "8", and there was no sidetrail to be seen. So I kept going. 9, 10, 11.... The trail became more rocky and undulating. I passed three lakes and crossed a river over a log bridge. I had to slow my pace to avoid slipping on patches of ice, and to clamber under fallen trees. By marker 13 I started to wonder if I was lost. "Did I miss the sidetrail?" "Did I even take the right trail to start with?" "Worst case scenario, I will set up my tent in the middle of this trail and sleep here."

Bruce Trail, Tobermory ON

Turns out those numbers were 1/2 km markers, and the trail was not quite the "piece of cake" I had thought. But I still made it, albeit with a couple blisters on the bottom of my left foot.

By the time I got to the side trail (a steep, ice covered scramble down a rocky cliff) and made it to my site, I was beat, and ready for some dinner. I set up camp, sat on the beautifully white stone beach, and listened to the waves while my dinner cooked on the campstove. I sat there watching the sunset, reading my all time favourite book "THE ROAD", and then zipped myself up into my tent with my raincoat on. (Note to self: buy a one person tent for the next solo hike - the two man tent loses too much heat). I slept relatively soundly through the night, listening to the crash of the waves on the smooth rocks. I wondered about bears, but I had my hunting knife and bear horn next to my head if needed.

Bruce Trail, Tobermory ON
Georgian Bay, High Dump
Bruce Trail, Tobermory ON

It's a really interesting feeling - to be a little nervous, a little scared. I've felt this way before, on many occasions walking alone through the city at night. It's not like watching a scary movie, where you know something is going to pop around the corner but you just don't know when. It's less knowing than that. It's quiet. You know the likelihood is that all will be well, and you'll wake up in the morning and pack up and watch the squirrels and birds and walk back to your car without seeing a soul.

But there is a sense of vulnerability being out in the woods by yourself. And I kind of love it.

Georgian Bay, Tobermory ON

At 7am I was up, packing up my tent, sleeping bag and ground pad, and setting out for my car. It was a beautiful weekend for a hike, and just 2 hours later I was back at my little Toyota, stripping off my stinky sweaty clothes and tending to my blistered feet.

It was a successful first solo backpacking excursion, and the only thing I forgot was my toothbrush.

Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend

Page AZ is a wee little city with an incredible number of places to visit. Between the lakes, canyons and hiking spots, you could spend several days in this one city and keep yourself entertained. We only had the morning to explore, so we decided to splurge and take a tour of Upper Antelope Canyon.

 
Upper Antelope Canyon | Emma Smith Ceramics
 

Both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon are exclusively visited through tour guides, for a number of reasons. Located on the Navajo Reservation, the canyon (sometimes called "Corkscrew Canyon") is a quarter mile long and 130ft deep. Like Jesse mentioned in his blog post about Spooky Gulch - slot canyons are Dangerous with a capital D, in rainstorms. With the volume of visitors that Antelope Canyon gets every year, you wouldn't want to be trapped in a 130ft deep canyon with dozens of people when a flash flood hits.

Upper Antelope Canyon | Emma Smith Ceramics
Upper Antelope Canyon | Emma Smith Ceramics

Visiting in the winter time meant that we didn't get the same bright colours or light beams that a summer visit would provide - but there were fewer people, and for a cold January morning there were still more people than I really preferred.

Upper Antelope Canyon | Emma Smith Ceramics
Upper Antelope Canyon | Emma Smith Ceramics

Antelope Canyon is the most photographed slot canyon in Arizona - photographers travel from all over the world to spend time in this canyon and capture its beauty. And for good reason - it makes for remarkable photographs! National Geographic once asked to capture the flash flooding in the canyon and secretly bolted their cameras to the (millions of years to carve out) canyon walls. When the flash flood came through, it ripped their equipment off the walls and carried it away - the cameras (and footage!) were never seen again. (Karma's a bitch, National Geographic.)

Upper Antelope Canyon | Emma Smith Ceramics

We got some spectacular photographs, but to be honest, the atmosphere was a let down. I can imagine the canyon would be a very spiritual, serene, and moving place to be - if you were alone. But we weren't. We were shepherded along in a group of 6 (we were told this was a small group) with a tour guide chattering on about all the different rock formations, where exactly we should aim our cameras, and what filters to use. We got some great photos, but the photos are much more incredible than the experience was. There was no time to quietly enjoy, reflect, or wander off on your own.

If you're going to visit Arizona, Antelope Canyon is worth visiting - but only if you have extra time. There are so many other sites to see that (for an adventurer) would be more rewarding.

On our way to the Grand Canyon, we stopped at Horseshoe Bend - another famous landmark where the Colorado River (the same river that carved out the Grand Canyon) makes a sharp horseshoe curve. The short hike to the bend brings you to the cliff's edge where you can look down and see the river wrapping like a snake around the rocks below.

Horseshoe Bend

And then we were off to the Grand Canyon - the highlight of the trip (for me) and a place I will go back to, MANY more times.
That's up next, and until then, thanks for reading!