This lovely observation was pretty much the only one of its kind, for in all actuality the relationship between the kiln and I is nowhere near as contemplative. The experience of firing a kiln has been a remarkably good one for me, I must admit, but the growth comes from the test of stress.
We've had several firings thus far this semester. Though I never outright volunteer to watch the kiln, I somehow almost always get signed up for two-hour sessions, during which I am on my own. I do not feel nearly experienced enough to be responsible for everyone's work like that, but when I'm signed up and there peering into the kiln by my lonesome, who am I going to tell that to? When I'm not checking up on Larry (the kiln), I spend my time doing other work and talking to myself.
"It could blow up. But it won't."
I have decided that if I were to be in a life-threatening situation, it's entirely up in the air as to whether I'd live or not. On the one hand, we've got the "panic" side of my personality which goes about screaming "FIRE! FIRE! OH MY GOD!" Yet balancing that is the "problem-solver" half, which goes about yelling "FIRE! OH MY GOD! I GOTTA STOP THIS!"
When we fire a kiln, we brick up the door. We leave three openings in this wall: top, middle, and bottom, into which we can slide bricks in and out. This enables us to look into the kiln when we check on it, so we can better gauge how the monster is firing. A high-fire is very hot, so we use a system of "cones" that melt at a specific temperature to judge just how toasty things are getting. In our firings, we aim for "Cone 10" to go down, but no number beyond that.
For the latest firing I participated in, I was told that should Cone 10 go down, on any level, I was to turn the kiln off (regardless of the state of the others). Since flames will escape from the openings when the kiln is in the reduction stage and everything inside is the same orange anyway, it can be a bit hard to tell if the cones are still standing. It was my most lucky experience to be there when Cone 10 decided to bend.
Panic: Oh my gosh, Cone 10 is down! I gotta shut off the kiln!! I've never done this before!!
Problem-solver: Okay, there's a checklist for how to do it. Let's verify that Cone 10 is down.
I removed the top brick to check again.
Panic: FIRE. HOT. OH SHIT.
Problem-solver: Yes. It is definitely down!
Despite wearing insulated gloves, the heat that the brick absorbs is so intense that I had to fight the urge to drop it. I knew that if I let it fall, it would shatter, and that kiln bricks are expensive. The sensation turned out to be something I got used to ... since I checked all three openings every twenty minutes, I couldn't keep on being shocked about it!
Problem-solver: First step, close the dampers!
Panic: EeeeEEeeeeee ... it's gonna blow!
Closing the dampers prevents fire, smoke, heat, and what-have-you from escaping out the chimney. Forcing everything to circulate within the kiln is the final step of reducing the wares within. Being that this was the first time I had been present for this part, however, I had no clue that this involved fire and smoke escaping from the top of the kiln!
Panic: OH MY GOD. FIRE!! AND SMOKE!!
Problem-solver: WHOA. I've gotta turn off the gas! What's the next step? Let's see ... I've gotta turn off the blue lever next.
Panic: OH MY GOD. WHERE IS THE BLUE LEVER??
Problem-solver: Oh hey, all the levers are color-coded, how cool!
Found the blue lever. As it turns out, it was the main gas line, and the flames and smoke stopped as soon as I cut off that fuel.
Panic: ;________________; OH MY GOD.
Problem-solver: Next step! Yellow levers, one on each corner!
I located the yellow ones without a hitch. The next step required gray switches, however, which blended in with the gray paint of the kiln so well I could not find them for the life of me.
Panic: I CAN'T FIND THE GODDAMNED GRAY THINGIES! WHATDOIDO??
Problem-solver: Nothing for it but to go on to the next step! Green!
The green ones were easily located. That was the last step, and as I stood back from the kiln, I noticed that with all the stuff escaping from the kiln into the air, the room had taken on a remarkably foggy appearance.
Panic: OH SHIT.
Problem-solver: I ... wonder if that's normal? I think all the vents are on, so I'll just go into the other room until the lab assistant gets here. Yeah.
I proceeded to hop around in anxiety until she showed up and assured me that all had gone well. I was immensely relieved, though the tension of the experience kept me wired for about an hour afterwards.
New icons, yo.