Broken Bowl, Beautiful Bread

My second loaf of sourdough. It tastes as good as it looks!

I knew what had happened before I saw it.

The familiar crash, gravity precipitating a collision between ceramic tile and ceramic dish, and then a groan of disappointment from the dropper. Usually, to be honest, it’s me dropping stuff, but this time it was my daughter, a toddler who remarkably has broken only one mug in about 18 months of using very breakable dishes on a very regular basis. I wasn’t surprised—it’s not worth being surprised when small children break things—and I was fully prepared to sweep the floor calmly and cheerfully, a model of mothering grace.

That was before I saw which dish it was.

In our house, the dishes are ranked by certain unspoken rules. Store-bought plates and bowls, including those we carefully picked out before our wedding five years ago, are at the bottom, for reasons that seem clear enough to me. We know where they came from; we can get more. Those ceramics, mostly mugs, that we purchased somewhere far away—usually our village in Germany, at the annual ceramic festival—come next. Though in theory we could have someone buy a replacement for us, a recently shattered box we posted from there to here reminded me that getting it back to the West Coast in one piece is no easy matter. At the top of the pottery pecking order are items made by people we know. These came mostly from former ceramics teachers at Black Forest Academy—three wonderful artists, mothers and friends—with a few gifts from students thrown in.

Until today, I didn’t realize that at the very top of the Things Made By People We Know pile there perched one precarious bowl, which I made myself. We do have several pieces that I created over the years, but mostly they are utilitarian, large slab jars handbuilt to hold dry oatmeal, rice and popcorn. Very few of the items I labored to throw on the wheel actually survived to firing, and of those few only one made it back to Seattle in June.

I’d made the bowl at a pottery workshop in 2014, which I attended with three senior girls and their teacher. We’d taken the train to a farm a few hours north, had eaten sushi and talked about glazes with the talented German potter, had watched her spin clay teapots as if they were cotton candy, had fallen asleep dreaming of what we’d make tomorrow, when it was our turn. The students and my teacher friend made teapots of their own, and I, much less experienced, produced a family of small bowls. We each left one item with the potter, to be fired to golden-brown perfection in her wood kiln the next month. Mine was a little bowl, too small for soup and a little generous for ice cream.

It’s this bowl that I found in pieces on the kitchen floor.

And I wasn’t mad at my daughter, who stared aghast as I swept up the fragments, trying hard to hide my own distress. It could just as easily have been me, and I would have been just as sad. Because the broken bowl is another door closed behind me on a sweet chapter of life. Spun out of a season of being newly a wife, teaching students that I loved and knew well, living in a village and learning the craft of that place, the bowl was a faint echo of a place and time I loved. A place and time that—rightly, blessedly, bittersweetly—is behind me now.

Bowls before firing, February 2014

A week later, I pull a loaf of sourdough bread out of the oven. It’s my second, the first having been created under the watchful direction of my baker sister a few days before. This one wasn’t easy. The dough was wetter than I thought it should be, and my hands aren’t experienced at the art of kneading, folding and shaping it all into place. I almost threw it out at one point, unwilling to heat up the house in August for what was certain to be a sticky, messy disappointment. Buoyed by some text-messaged encouragement from the baker herself, I put it in the oven with low expectations, only to pull out, an hour later, a crispy, fragrant round loaf.

I’m sort of ridiculously pleased with this first unsupervised loaf. And not just because it represents a whole lot of cheap bread—no small circumstance in itself—but because the bread is more than bread. It’s new learning, a new life, a new door. A reminder that as one season ends, another begins, and we’re never done learning unless we want to be.

And I don’t want to be done.

So I’ll keep baking bread. And maybe, someday, I’ll make another bowl.



2 Comments Add yours

  1. Grace says:

    This is just what I needed as I get ready to head back to Korea after being away for almost nine years. Also, I will remember that ceramic field trip for the rest of my LIFE!

    1. Kristi says:

      So glad this was meaningful for you, sweet Gracie. And I too will remember it always. Truly a highlight!

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