With Spring approaching and the dawn chorus getting earlier and louder, belatrova, lying in bed and thinking belatrovian thoughts, has started to wonder about birds and what they get up to throughout the day. On the way down to the workshop along the disused railway line that is now a cycle path the birds one usually sees are blackbirds, dunnocks, robins and sparrows, as well as the rooks high above in their nests cawing and talking to each other.
If there is a puddle it will often have a bird splashing around in it. Why do they do that? Probably because it helps them to keep their feathers in good condition. After bathing some birds protect their feathers using special waterproof oil that comes out of a gland under their tail. And presumably, during the summer, bathing in water also helps the bird to keep cool. In dry area birds will bathe in sand in order to remove lice and other organisms that gather in their feathers. This also helps to remove old feathers so that new ones can grow.
However, belatrova suspects that they also simply enjoy it. With that in mind, we decided to make our first birdbath.
We mixed porcelain with a little red iron oxide – Thelonius was not best pleased at this messing up of his internal workings – and molded and coiled it into a large platter over which we attached a shallower one, leaving a gap of about 1 1/2 inches between both surfaces and so ensuring an extra robustness for the outdoors. It took about a week to dry, after which we fired it very slowly to 1275 degrees in the kiln. It was a long firing and we were all a little apprehensive when the time came to open the kiln. Would it be cracked? Would it be in pieces? Will it be twisted out of shape? belatrova now understands why all potters are so calm and measured when so much of their work is in the lap of the gods.
We decided the base would be of oak. Oak wood is strong, hard and very resistant to moisture and the elements. Builders and carpenters prefer it for building support beams and foundations of buildings because of its durability. The assortment and complexity of patterns on the wood give it an appearance other hardwoods can’t match, displaying prominent rings, vertical stripes, wavy figures, intermittent flecks, ray-like projections or any combination of these patterns. It is also resistant to fungal and insect attack.
Where to get the finest piece of cut oak? An hour’s drive from belatrova, in the English/Welsh border country near Hay-on-Wye, are the Whitney Sawmills – founded by Will Bullough thirty years ago. It is committed to replanting trees as they are felled. In addition, Will himself has planted a sixty-acre wood of mixed native hardwood at the site. But the main point is that one gets a quality product and a personal approach that is professional and caring; there is very little that Will does not know about wood.
We drove to collect our oak, two pieces had been cut for us, and started sanding them as soon as we arrived back at the workshop.
After the lengthy firing we allowed the birdbath to cool down and took it to the garden where we attached it securely to its base after we had placed the oak on a concrete foundation as a safety measure. A beautiful sixtieth birthday present surprise for a certain person, though, so far, reports state that the birds are eyeing it with suspicion. They’ll get the idea, and as evidence we’ll post a photo of a bird splashing around in it in the next blog.