|photo by Oriel|
Award-winning author Paty Jager and her husband raise alfalfa hay in rural eastern Oregon. On her road to publication she wrote freelance articles for two local newspapers and enjoyed her job with the County Extension service as a 4-H Program Assistant. Raising hay and cattle, riding horses, and battling rattlesnakes, she not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it. Learn more about Paty and her books at her website and blog.
Playing in the Mud
When I came up with the idea to have my amateur sleuth be a potter, I wanted to make her unique. She is not only half Nez Perce Indian, she gathers the clay for her art pieces from the earth. I didn’t know about such a thing until my brother told me about Olaf- a potter in the county where I grew up. He makes all his wares out of clay he finds in the mountains surrounding the Valley.
I visited Olaf and learned the process of gathering and purifying the clay naturally.
To find clay you have to be observant. It can be near lakes, ponds, or the seashore. If the topsoil has been removed due to construction, you could find a pocket underneath. When you head out to find the clay, take a bucket, shovel, trowel, and pocketknife with you.
Clay can be either wet, looking like mud, or dry, looking like rocks.
If you pick up a dry clump, scrape it with a knife. If fine particles crumble off, it could be clay. Add water to a small pile of the dust. If it dissolves, you have found clay.
If you’re digging in a wet area, keep digging until you get beneath the layers of leaves, sand, stones, and humus. Clay has fine particles. When you find the clay, take a small amount in your hand and work it into a ball with your fingers. Work the ball into a coil, wrap it around your finger. If it is smooth and elastic and stays together, you’ve discovered a patch of clay.
When you harvest the clay be sure not to add any debris, including dirt.
If the clay is workable you may use it as is. But most clay needs to be put through a clarifying process.
Process to clean clay:
1) Dry the clay. If wet clay, spread it out on boards to dry. If dry, skip to Step 2.
2) Use a hammer to break up dried clay into pea-sized pieces.
3) Pour as much water in a bucket as the amount of clay. Then sprinkle the clay over the water.
4) Stir, adding more water to make a liquid mass.
5) Let sit a few hours or weeks.
6) Stir well and sieve through a sieve or window screen, adding enough water to keep the mixture moving through. Leave the mixture alone to allow it to settle in the bucket.
7) Once the water and clay have separated pour off extra water. Repeat Step 6 until the mixture is mud-like.
8) Spread on a board to stiffen.
9) Wedge the clay: this is when the mixture is stiff enough to roll, fold, and knead. Do this on plaster, wood, or canvas.
Your clay is now ready to use or store for another day. To store, wrap tightly in several layers of plastic and place in a tightly sealed bag.
That is the process my character Shandra Higheagle uses to prepare clay from her mountain property to use in her art.
Double Duplicity, A Shandra Higheagle Mystery
On the eve of the biggest art event at Huckleberry Mountain Resort, potter Shandra Higheagle finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation. She’s ruled out as a suspect, but now it’s up to her to prove the friend she witnessed fleeing the scene was just as innocent. With help from her recently deceased Nez Perce grandmother, Shandra becomes more confused than ever but just as determined to discover the truth.
Detective Ryan Greer prides himself on solving crimes and refuses to ignore a single clue, including Shandra Higheagle’s visions. While Shandra is hesitant to trust her dreams, Ryan believes in them and believes in her.
Can the pair uncover enough clues for Ryan to make an arrest before one of them becomes the next victim?