Magnitude 6 Earthquake

Janine and I find ourselves in Japan for a short time. Just in time to be here in Kyoto to wake up to a magnitude 6 earthquake, very exciting!
It’s the second time that I have been here and experienced an earthquake. Luckily we are staying in a 200-year-old wooden building that has survived worse than this, but it was exciting. After the 60 seconds of violent shaking and rumbling that started off slow and then increased to a maximum crescendo, the building was left rocking for another minute until the energy slowly dissipated.
We went down to the ground floor where we met our host in the corridor. I asked if we should go outside, but she said NO! We’ll go and watch it on TV and see what has happened.

I’m totally amazed that within 60 seconds of the quake dissipating the TV channel was broadcasting automated quake readings and a map showing the epicentre just to the southwest of us. It was a magnitude 6 and centred between Kyoto and Osaka. They even had live video coverage from the top of major city buildings showing the degree of  the rocking and shaking of the tower.

I’ve experienced 3 earthquakes and 2 of them have been here in Japan. We were in Mashiko just a few weeks before the big earthquake and tsunami at Sendai that caused so much devastation in that area and the ongoing radioactive problem that still isn’t fixed.
Interestingly, both times here in Japan I have been here with Janine and she has either been in the bath, or this time just returned from the bath, with only just her flimsy cotton ‘yakata’ gown. She was understandably reluctant to run out side! So I’ve learnt something, beware when Janine has a a bath, the earth can move.

The third earthquake was at home in Balmoral Village in 1976 or 77. It was short and sharp and came and went with a sudden ‘crack’ sound. It rattled the window panes but little else in the house. I rushed outside and every bird noise had stopped. It was almost totally silent – except for the sloshing sound of the water in our big water tank outside, up on the tank stand. Ten tonnes of water sloshing back and forwards in the tank. That took many minutes to slowly dissipate. It takes a lot of energy to move 10 tonnes of water so violently.

We are fine and so is everything and everyone else in this city it seems. It’s just another magnitude 6 quake. Just another day. We look forward to seeing a lot of pots, potters, pottery shops and galleries,  and eating a lot of sushi in the coming days.
Everything normal.

Nice wood fired pot

This is a nice bowl from our wood kiln firing. Wood fired porcelain bowl with pale celadon showing some light ash deposit on the fire face with a little ash glaze crystal growth build-up on the exposed clay at the foot with carbon inclusion. The celadon style glaze is limpid pale green on the inside and grey/green on the out side with a little yellow ash deposit and some grey carbon inclusion at the rim.

A very nice little pot. What more could you want from a simple rice bowl? You couls even drink tea from this little beauty.

DSC_0016 (1)

Red Risotto

We decide to make a vegetable risotto for dinner. There’s plenty in the garden to choose from, but i decide to go with a mostly red theme tonight.

DSC03141

We have beetroots a plenty, as well as red rice, red capsicum, red chillis, red cabbage as well as red tomatoes, both dried and fresh.

DSC03142 DSC03144

DSC03146 DSC03145

I de-glaze with red wine. We have some fish stock from the night before so it’s all go.

DSC03148 DSC03149

To deepen the flavour profile, I add a slice of frozen marrow bone stock and a slice of frozen basil in olive oil.

DSC03150

The dish is finished with the addition of fresh herbs and fresh picked broccoli from the garden.

DSC03151

It’s a quick and easy meal on a cold night and very warming. We are forecast to get our first frost tonight.

Another One Smites the Dust

If we are going to be saddled with extended drought into the future, we are ethically bound to respond in a creative and positive way. We try to avoid being a drain on anybody, any thing or any institution, including government. This is all part of our commitment to a philosophy of living an independent life. Possibly something akin to true philosophical anarchism. It’s not a matter of bringing down any government, but rather a case of being so independent that government atrophying due to lack of need.

So the drought continues and we have ordered 2 new water tanks. The first has already arrived and been installed on the smaller front section of the Old Railway Station roof a few weeks ago. The new, and slightly larger tank arrived today and we installed it on the back and slightly larger section of roof. With 4,500 and now 7,500 litres of added storage, the Old Railway Station building is now adding to our overall commitment to self-reliance in drinking water. Another one smites the dust.

The Old Station is not a very big building. In fact its tiny, but every bit of roof space is now important in the endeavour to catch drinking water when it rains, which isn’t very often these days. Funnily, it starts to shower as the delivery truck arrives, so Janine and I install in the rain. Tragically, it clears up just as we finish, but we are ever hopeful that it will continue over night and for the next few days.

The previous new tank is now half full from the occasional showers that we have managed to now capture. Every bit counts if we are to continue watering our garden plants with drinking water, while we wait for that big storm that must come someday and fill the dams again.

 IMG_1138

The new, larger grey tank is down the back on the right, under the bottle brush tree.

IMG_1135

IMG_1136

IMG_1139

We bake vegetables fresh from the garden for dinner, finished with a bechamel sauce. It’s delicious and uses so little water to prepare.

9 Months of Summer has Finally Ended

We have just entered winter here and the hot spell has finally ended. Only a month ago it was still 30oC. Now the cold has at last set in and the weather has finally realised that it ought to be winter. The days are short and the nights long, we light the fire in the kitchen stove every night now. It cooks our dinner and heats the hot water tank as well as us in the kitchen.

Now that it is cooler and a lot safer, we have started holding our winter wood firing workshops each weekend.

IMG_1111 IMG_1115

IMG_1032.jpg IMG_1110

We have also done one overnight stoneware firing in the big wood kiln as well.

IMG_1067

DSC03120

This firing was absolutely average at 15 hours, We sometimes finish in 12 to 14 hours , but at other times it goes for 16 or 17. So this is smack in the middle of our range. Lots of good pots and interesting crystalline wood ash glaze surfaces, combined with a lot of grey-ish flashing effects that we don’t often see. Possibly because the damper tile broke at the end of the firing and jammed not-quite-closed. I had to get up on the roof and put a kiln shelf on top of the chimney to finish sealing it off at the end of the firing. This changed the cooling cycle a little from the usual.

It’s all part od life’s rich texture. I’ll tell myself that when I’m up to my arm-pits in Ceramic castable, making a new damper tile.

The Long Dry Continues

It has now been 1 1/4 years since the last significant rain here. Soaking rain that flowed across the ground and filled the dams. We have had only showers and light rain that we harvest on our tin roofs and then collect in our water tanks.

When is the best time to buy a new water tank?  – Last year!

We have just added a new water tank to the little railway station that we bought 40 years ago and moved here to sit next to The Old School building that we live in.

IMG_1058

The new water tank is made out of plastic. I’m not too keen on holding water in plastic, even if it is guaranteed to be virgin, food grade, plastic. All the old water tanks were made from galvanised steel and soldered at the joints with lead solder – not good! Then the later metal tanks were made from zincalume plated steel with silicon rubber sealed joints. I wasn’t too happy about that either. They rusted out very fast too. A complete waste of money. The last metal tank that we bought was made from galvanised steel sheet, but the metal surface had plastic sheeting melted onto it. A process called ‘aquaplate’ , and it was still sealed with silicon.  With these options all being less than perfect, we decided to try a plastic tank this time, as it’s no different to plastic lined steel – and the plastic tanks are half the price of the galvanised steel ones now.

I made a galvanised steel ring to hold the 100 mm. of coarse sand base in place. I cut up a small piece of 1m galvanised steel scrap sheetmetal and guillotine it into 6 long, thin strips. Then I welded them all together end to end, to make a 6 metre long strip and loop it around to join it back into a 2 metre diameter ring. It looks like it’s almost professional.

IMG_1059

I bodgie up a makeshift tap out of parts that I have in the shed. Within an hour of deleivery, the tank is installed, connected and half full of water pumped from another tank, to keep it from blowing away. Which is a distinct possibility it were to be left empty for any length of time.

If this is the future of our weather that we are experiencing. We need to get ourselves prepared. After the last long drought we installed a huge 120,000 litre water tank that collected water from the over-flows from the 3 big roofs. The pottery, the kiln shed and the barn. All that water used to just over-flow from the small tanks on each roof and was then lost onto the ground. We now collect all that excess and it is this water that we are now relying on for the house and also for watering the garden and orchard trees. This can’t last, we will eventually run out. We have so far used 1/4 of our water storage. Eventually we will have to buy drinking water, just like our neighbours on both sides are doing now. Every couple of weeks we hear the water truck grind up the dusty dirt road and then the petrol motor pump starts up and roars into life for the 30 minutes or so that it takes to discharge its precious load into their empty water tanks.

IMG_1020 IMG_1022

IMG_1023

Each time a car drives past our house along the dirt road these days, it stirs up the dust which rolls across the front of our land and settles on everything coating the whole of our land in a very fine airborne silicosis causing layer of fine dust. It’s in our hair and our lungs, you can’t filter it out. It creeps in under the doors and in through the cracks around the windows. Everything in the house slowly gets coated in it. We have to mop the floor every couple of days and wipe down the shelves. It also settles on all the leaves of the trees and particularly on the solar panels. I need to wash them down every week to keep up their performance.  I wipe the Blueberry leaves with a wet finger, and you can see the layer of dust become more apparent.

IMG_1017

IMG_1045

IMG_1047 IMG_1048

After I finish washing the panels, the water in the bucket is black.

This road didn’t used to be this bad, but recently the local council graded the dirt road and applied a thick layer of what looks like steel-works slag. It has broken down to a very fine dusty substance – whatever it is. It’s horrible. I wrote to the council and complained, but after ten days I got a phone call to say that this road isn’t on their 10 year plan for re-surfacing, so we will have to live with it for the next decade at least. The council man suggested that it might be wise to expect a wait of 15 years! As there are many other country roads ahead of us on their list.

I’m not too sure that I’ll live that long, especially with all this dust in my lungs!

Thinking Differently, Solar Power and Clay Making

I usually spend a bit of time making clay over the summer when the humidity is low and the air temperature is high. It’s a good time for drying out the clay slip after it has been ball milled.

All my so-called ‘clay’, is actually ground up igneous stones. I crush the very hard ‘granitic’ rocks in the big jaw crusher first to reduce them down to 12mm. gravel size, then through the small jaw crusher to get it down to sand size and finally it goes into the big ball mill for a few hours to reduce it to a very fine slip with water and 3% of Australian white bentonite. It is the only ingredient that I buy in for this home-made, locally sourced, native porcelain body.

IMG_0942 IMG_0939 IMG_0941

After ball milling, I test the pH and adjust it if necessary, it usually needs to be reduced a little, as the ball milling breaks down the structure of some of the felspars and micas in the stone. This releases tiny amounts of alkali into solution in the slip. The effect of this is to constrain the plasticity of the porcelain and inhibit the ageing plasticisation. Once adjusted to the correct level, the slip is stirred and then put through a fine sieve to remove any oversized particles and any foreign matter that has crept in during unloading. Thick slip is very slow to pass through a very fine mesh, so I resort to using a sieve vibrating machine to shake the sieve while the slip pours through. It’s quite amazing just how fast this process becomes with a little vibrational energy to keep the larger particles moving and not sitting and blocking up the fine mesh. ‘Vibro energy’ a really great focussed use for very small amount of electrical power.

Without the rock crushers and ball mills, I couldn’t make this local ‘native’ porcelain. In the past I always used to feel a bit guilty about using electrically powered machinery, as I was brought up in a family where ‘green issues’ were openly discussed, long before the ‘greens’ were invented as a political movement and ‘green’ came into the environmental lexicon. I’m not too sure what my parents actually called their lifestyle back then. Possibly ‘environmentally conscious’? Anyway, I’m happy to be called a ‘Greeny’ now and all that early environmental awareness has stuck with me. Give me the boy till he is 7! Now I am getting used to thinking differently about electricity as we are slowly becoming a fully electrified solar-powered household.

Electricity was always made with coal here in Australia and most of it still is. You have to specifically request to be put on a green power contract, and then pay a premium tariff for the pleasure of not using coal. 25 years ago, you couldn’t buy green power. Everything was coal, coal, coal, so I decided to make an effort to use the absolute minimal amount of electricity and we were very successful. We learnt to run a very lean electrical household. We have a very modest ‘LED’ screen television. A very efficient fridge that runs on 1 kW per day and a front loader washing machine, also very efficient. All in all we average an electricity usage of around 3.5 kWh per day. Very modest. We have chosen not to buy home theatre,  a dish washer or air con.  We have had solar hot water for the past 30 years, Solar electricity for the past decade and a Tesla battery since the start of the year. To the best of my knowledge, we have completely removed ourselves from the coal economy now.

When we did buy power from the utility, up until last year, it was always a battle to buy ‘clean’ green energy. They just hadn’t thought about it and weren’t prepared for the transition. It was a dinosaur industry. People like us wanted to buy clean energy, but they hadn’t put any plans in place to create any. It was all about business as usual. As the requests grew louder, some clean energy was slowly introduced, such that you could buy just 10% of your electricity as so-called ‘green power’, but it turned out that it was only hydro power from the Snowy Mountains Scheme. This was electricity that was always being generated since the 50’s and sold into the grid as part of the usual mix. But then the bean counters and ‘The Men in Suits’ got involved and thought why don’t we sell Steve Harrison the electricity that he is already buying, but sell it to him at twice the price. If he is silly enough to pay for it!  I wasn’t, so I didn’t.

We waited a long time, until the first wind farm was built just South of here. Then there was an offer that you could buy 20% of your power bill as wind energy, so we did, and continued to increase the percentage every year or so as more clean energy was built and made available. I remember that we were early adopters and had to go on a waiting list to get a higher percentage of clean energy. However, the energy company kept sending us supposedly attractive offers to change back to a cheaper dirty black power contract. This just reinforced to me that the market for green power was stronger than that for coal power. Apparently they had too much coal power and couldn’t get rid of it all.

Then there was government intervention to support the coal industry and then privatisation that was supposed to make every thing more efficient and cheaper. And what happened? The price went up about 200% here. A complete failure of market forces and competition.

Today I check in on our power usage on my phone app. I see that we are making about 5kW of solar power, not too bad, seeing that we are just a month off the winter solstice. We are only using a few hundred watts intermittently, that’s the fridge compressor switching on and off. There is a spike at 8am. That’s the toaster and electric jug for breakfast. It’s probably hard to live any kind of normal life and use significantly less power then this on a regular basis.

IMG_0964

Back to my clay tests and I pour them out onto the drying bed to stiffen up. Again I’m using solar and wind energy in this very passive way now to remove the excess water from the slip and reduce it to a plastic state. The sun shines for free every day. The wind blows most days, slowly the water is evaporated from the slip and it becomes stiffer and plastic. It’s gentle, it’s energy neutral and it’s free!

IMG_0287

Nice.

I’m very lucky to be able to live this rewarding, creative life in carbon constrained times. We are preparing ourselves for a creative, energy passive future, but it’s funny that trying to live a simple life gets quite complicated at times.