Catching a Wave in Beach

If you’ve ever been to Beach, North Dakota you already know how much we love to wave.

We’ll wave to anybody for any reason at any time.

If we’re driving, then it’s just a one-finger wave over the top of the steering wheel (this is perhaps what we’re best known for). We even wave to each other at night – in the dark – when we’re not at all sure who’s out there.

And it’s not like we have to know each other. Tourists, bikers, backpackers, even vagabonds with cardboard signs… we wave to everybody.

We once waved to a bank robber heading out of town after pulling a stick-up.

Now, there’s nothing really wrong with all this waving. Well, okay. It’s a little obsessive-compulsive. But other than that…

The real question is: why?

One answer might be found in the almanac which puts the population of North Dakota around 600,000. That’s everybody. The whole state. And most of those live in the east, out around Fargo. By the time you get to western North Dakota, where Beach is (smack on the Montana state line), there are more fence posts than people.

It stands to reason, then, that when we do encounter one another… we get kind of excited. It’s a big deal.

“Hey, there’s Harold, my neighbor!” In fact, if Harold and I then drive in opposite directions and meet on the other side of the street, we’ll wave again.

Now, Allen Greenspan would call this kind of behavior “irrational exuberance.” But what does he know?

Besides, I think something like this can be put to practical use. What would happen, let’s say, if the next U.S. Ambassador to North Korean was someone from Beach?

Now, there’s a picture. North Korea meets North Dakota. Kim Jong Il and the Beach ambassador passing everyday on the way to work. Tell me that wouldn’t ease world tensions.


Jerry DeMartin operates Prairie Fire Pottery, a small handmade pottery shop in Beach, North Dakota.

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Throwing a Large Handmade Bowl

In this two-part video Tama demonstrates a technique for throwing a very large 20 pound bowl. The video, though very instructive, is known more for the cat fight that breaks out in part two. Be forewarned.

Nessie, our studio cat, is normally a sweet kitty. But woe be to any cat that invades her territory, as Foster finds out. In the final shot you’ll see sweet Ness, still fuming from the incursion.

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Happy Trails

I Love Lucy on Vacation When asked what I do for a living, I sometimes hesitate.

Instead of the obvious “I run a little handmade pottery shop,” I go for the broader, more full-bodied answer, “I’m in the tourism business,” a distinction that rings with a slightly happier tone.

Which is to say, if making pots is fun, which it certainly is, then mingling with tourists is a full blown hoot.

There’s good reason for this. After working your tail off all year, you finally get some vacation time (even the anticipation of a vacation can make one giddy). Then that wonderful day arrives – the day you get your life back.

You’re free from the job and its headaches. You leave nagging responsibilities behind. You load the car with lots of play things and your best funwear. Then everyone you love piles in (Toto, too!) and fights for a good window seat.

As you pull away you’ve got a wad of cash in your hip pocket, an open road, a smile on your face, and – best of all – for the next two weeks you own every minute of everyday. It all belongs to you.

I think one of the secrets of good living is to know what happiness looks like when it flops down on your lap. And that car headed down the road to adventure with those people inside trying to fold up the road map – that’s happiness!

Now, the chances that their fun-mobile and my little pottery shop will meet up somewhere down the road are pretty darn good. And when that moment occurs and they pull to the curb – noses to the window, wide-eyed and eager — something remarkable happens.

Their happiness touches my life.

I ask myself all the time: how lucky am I to work in a business where people walk in the door smiling and happy (I bet doctors and lawyers can’t say that).

This makes my job real simple.

I just enjoy their fun. Then see if I can’t give it a little spin, sending them down the road happier yet.


Jerry DeMartin operates Prairie Fire Pottery, a small handmade pottery shop in western North Dakota.

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Cone 10 Tama

Those of us close to Tama are well acquainted with one of her personalities we affectionately call Cone 10 Tama.

I’ll try to explain.

Tama is a fire potter. That’s a potter who considers all the wheel-throwing, hand-building, trimming, and glazing mere prep work for the main event: dialing opening the big two-inch gas valves and striking a lighted match.

If you were there, you’d feel the thud then hear an eruption as the kiln roars back to life. You’d also see the excitement in Tama’s face as she thinks “now I’m cooking.”

We’ll return to this idea of “cooking” in a moment. But first, a little more explanation.

Pottery can be fired to range of tempertures, each designated by a cone number. The higher the cone the hotter the kiln. Tama fires to the very top of the scale, 2400º or Cone 10. How hot is that? Well, 375º is the temperature of a pizza oven. 2400º is the temperature the space shuttle reaches on re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere.

Now, Tama’s facination with heat only becomes a problem around dinner time when the day’s work is done and she decides to warm some rolls for supper.

Scientists studying this phenomonen are still uncertain what exactly goes through Tama’s mind at this point, but they believe the normal neuro-cognitive receptors that allow most people to differentiate between a kiln and a kitchen oven are not present in Tama’s brain.

To her, everything is a kiln.

In no time thick clouds of black smoke billow from the oven door. Smoke alarms blare. Dinner guests frantically search the cupboards for baking soda. And those poor rolls? Well, let’s just say they’ve been… transformed.

Tama’s response to this is to plead the genetics defense. She insists her mother was the same way and says she has pictures to prove it. Well, maybe.

At any rate, our hope is that someday Cone 10 Tama will publish a cookbook sharing many of the delights we’ve been served over the years. Like Blackened Flatbread, Too Toasty Tortillas, Carbonated Granola Crunch, and my personal favorite, Forget-About-It-Meatloaf.

It can be safely said that this cookbook won’t win the endorsement of the American Dental Association. Although, maybe, if accompanied by this simple disclaimer: “Meals contained in this cookbook should only be consumed by persons possessing the jaw strength and bite force of a wild cannine”.


Jerry DeMartin operates Prairie Fire Pottery, a small handmade pottery shop in western North Dakota.

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