A little dirt never hurt anyone…

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erin_pottery.JPGThis morning I headed out with our students to the Bark Docks, a campsite on the shore of Lake Superior where some of the members of the Bay Mills tribe have a gathering permit. And what were we gathering? Clay! It sits under the sand at the mouth of a creek which flows into Whitefish Bay.
Wanda, one of the historians at the Bay Mills History center, canoed out to the clay deposits as the students, other instructors and I walked there along the beach. “You’ll know you’ve hit the clay when you start to sink,” she told us.
One of our students found a hole at the water’s edge and stepped in up to his calf, so we figured we were there. “No, no, keep going,” she said, “There’s more clay up ahead.” Eventually we reached the spot and started scouring the waters to find places where we might start to sink and thus would take the shovels and dig. The water was only about two feet deep, so we waded and scoped out the area with our feet. We could tell it was softer than regular sand, but no one was sinking…
… then one of our students let out a yell and we turned and saw him knee deep in sand and clay. His cousin and brother soon joined him in the sinkhole of clay that at one point had them chest deep in the water. We started digging and pulled up handfuls of clay and put them in plastic bags. Eventually I found another hole when I stepped thigh deep into it. Wanda apparently snapped a picture of me struggling to pull myself out, so if I get my hands on it, I’ll post it.
After we finished collecting clay (and I took a brisk swim in Lake Superior to wash off the clay covering my legs and arms), we sat on the beach and kneaded sand into our clay as a binder. Once the clay had the sand worked into it and had dried out a little, we proceeded to make pots and beads and figurines and whatever else people felt like making. When they dry (possibly tonight or tomorrow), Wanda and her family will fire them in the firepit they dug on the beach.
Shortly before we had to take off, I took my second swim (to wash off the clay I had smeared on my arms in a futile attempt to fend off bugs) and dove head first into the cold waters of Lake Superior. I was a little disappointed that we couldn’t stay longer — I could get used to a life like this.

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