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Low Water

Rio Grande Race Course

There’s still some water in the Rio, I read in an email the other day. Want to try to get out there after work?

Sure, I said. It would be pretty late though when I can get away…

The Rio Grande is largely fed by snowmelt, at least up here, relatively close to its headwaters. That means great water, and great rapids, early in the season when Colorado’s mountains are still melting – and then usually, this time of year, mid-August, we get just a trickle coming through the Taos Box canyon and down past Pilar, the go-to place for Santa Fe paddlers, especially after work.

But this has been a big-water year. All the way to the end of the summer there’s still some water in the Rio. I forwarded the email on to a couple other people, and mentioned it to someone I knew who happened to pass by the gallery, middle of the day. There’s still some water in the Rio, I said – some of us are going up after work I think.

It was a great evening – at six thousand cubic feet per second the river level was not high but not low either, especially not by the standards of the last five or six years. The wave at the top of The Narrows was surfable and Sleeping Beauty was a deep glassy trough, smooth and fast, foam piling up on the downstream side. There were six or eight of us in kayaks, by the time the email made it all the way around, and as we approached the take-out, having taken our time on the water, catching all the eddies, making it last, it was nearly dark. Up on the highway the cars had their lights on. The cottonwood tree branches at County Line were starting to get lost in the night sky. I pulled off a layer of neoprene and stood there dripping wet on the boat ramp – just a hint of fall in the air, just a slight bite of cold, mixing with the smell of the water and the sage-filled canyon.

stoneware bowl celadon glaze

That got me thinking, as we stood around and suddenly it was really totally dark, about the summer that has just passed – or that is just now passing. It has been busy of course, and it has been eventful. Eleven kiln firings since the snow began melting back in springtime: the big summer sale, a three-day workshop, guest artists, that group of 24 Upward Bound students, some terrific thunderstorms. More this year than usual. That memorable performance of Winterreise down at the St. Francis Auditorium on the last day of July.

Santa Fe New Mexico Pottery Workshop

The one thing, as I load my wet gear back in its mesh bag and toss my kayak on a car roof, the one spot on the summer schedule that has remained a little empty and quiet, it occurs to me:

green river pottery stoneware vase with celadon glaze

My own wheel. There has been little time to just work – to float, and explore, and feel some new work flowing through my hands. Back home from the river I dump my wet gear and paddle and boat on the studio floor – a little puddle of river mixes with the dry clay under a worktable and becomes mud.

green river pottery studio workshop

There in the corner, unlit in the night, stands the wheel where I work, when I have time to work. Which this summer has not been very often.

July workshop weekend 2019

Fall is coming though. I am grateful for fantastic students this summer, and great teaching – Green River Pottery’s A3 studio is honored to have had some gifted, funny, experienced, and inspiring teachers working closely with us through some hot afternoons. We run next door for iced coffee – we reach in the fridge for cold water.

Richard Meyer at Green River Pottery in Santa Fe

Fall is coming, and though it’s always a little scary to see those blank spots open up on the calendar, and a little sad to see the river level recede & the steep mud banks appear below the cottonwood roots – still. It’s a bit of a relief too.

Esther Smith ceramic artist at Green River Pottery 2019

One of these days, soon, I’ll find myself alone in the studio, and I’ll flip the light on above the wheel where I usually stand while working. I stand there through a lot of the winter months. A new adventure will begin. You can’t have high water all year, and the creative process involves some busy days and high-output afternoons, sure – but some downtime too. Some afternoon naps, some time alone, some white space on the calendar, some wet sand that used to be under water back in June…now it’s drying in the sun, and the sun itself is moving south.

pottery class santa fe new mexico

Thanks everybody who has been a part of the studio this summer & has put something in one of the many kiln loads of this hot and thunder-filled summer season. I hope to see you back next year!