Years ago, in happier times, Michael shared his thoughts about the marvelous world around him. We were about to publish our book on Shearwater Pottery and on the Andersons, and chatting with him, sharing a beer and fried fish, hearing about his special domain—the Annex--we came to enjoy his wry humor, his sense of independence and self-reliance, his love of life. I wrote about him in Dreaming in Clay, incorporating Michael’s own description of the pottery and of his family.
“Jimmy’s brother, Michael –Peter’s oldest son—admires his father’s versatility and is proud of that quality in himself. We would often find him in the Annex, or a few feet away in the little shed that houses the electric kiln, where he supervises the casting, decoration, and glazing of figurines, and the firing of the castware. Sometimes he would be feeding the squirrels peanut butter and crackers or working in the yard of his house, down the path. His father, Peter, he told us, could do anything he put his mind to, from boat-building to beekeeping to hunting to arranging flowers. Over the years, Michael himself had worked at a variety of jobs. He was a taxidermist in the Field Museum in Chicago, and after returning to Ocean Springs, he worked for two optical companies in town. At the Pottery there seems to be almost nothing he hasn’t done, except for throwing. He has always liked to read and write, and lately he had tried his hand at an essay or two. In a recent offering, he reflected on his role as “caretaker” at Shearwater. He felt himself a “shareholder” not only in a pottery business, but also in an “ecological environment” that was hard to capture in words. “ Here is part of what he wrote:
. . .The house that I share now with memories—for my mate is no longer here and my daughters have flown the nest—is in a small clearing. It is surrounded and shielded by large, virtually indestructible Live Oaks, Southern magnolia, and other magnolia, such as sweetbay, cucumber tree, umbrella magnolia and big-leaf magnolia. There are towering longleaf pine, sweetgum, hickory, cedar, dogwood, redbud, post oak, black oak and water oak.
Big blue herons, white egrets, rails, little blue and green herons and bitterns find food and refuge in the marshes or on the beach and in shallow waters. White egrets make a picturesque scene roosting in live oaks, bordering the nearby boat harbor.
Urban sprawl, superhighways, concrete and asphalt surround us. In spite of this, or perhaps, in part, because of man’s encroachment, rare visitors or transients, including white-tail deer, wild turkey, grey fox, bobcat and the eastern fox squirrel can still be seen here.
In my role as caretaker, I cut the grass quietly with my gasless push mower, pruning and watering when necessary. in return I am rewarded with a never-ending scenario of activity and drama. Territorial rights are disputed and a variety of predators keep other residents and visitors constantly on the alert.
In the early spring, buck rabbits, disputing territory with mating in mind, leap at each other like kick boxers, fur flying. A minute later they may be running and dodging for their lives from a hunting dog or fox. Hawks swoop and ground predators are always on the prowl. The cat stalks day and night, nowing when and where is the best time to catch its prey off guard. The raccoon and opossum are omnivorous hunters of the night, listening, sniffing and looking for young rabbits, fledgling birds, frogs, and of course ripe persimmons, grapes, figs from what I call my fig tree, or even an accessible garbage can. In the warmer months, turtles have learned where the kitchen is, and look for leftovers. The king snake may catch a vole off guard, or dine on a small copperhead or moccasin that was itself searching for a toad for dinner. The toad, in turn, could have been looking for a cricket to nail with its sticky tongue, which it flicks out like a dart.