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Foraging for Clay in Maine

The bus and magenta wild flowers; the moon early risen on a summer evening
The bus and magenta wild flowers; the moon early risen on a summer evening

If you grew up in the mud (rain or shine) or have an interest in ceramics to any degree, then you’ll love stumbling across pure clay in these gorgeous off-the-map places in Maine! As an environmental artist, I am either foraging for my materials or growing them myself. The Maryland clay I am accustom to requires digging from underwater stream beds and needs to go through a lengthy process of hand-straining to rid the sediment and rocks. That being said, I was in shock when I looked down on the shores of Maine and saw a stoneware clay as smooth as a fresh block from The Ceramic Shop. This foraged clay is ready-to-use, plentifully free and close to the surface (no digging necessary).

Dogs on a dirt road enjoying the view of wild flowers and the shore
Janie and Benji taking in this dreamy site

We found this clay, clam and oyster gold-mine in the same way we find most of the spots that we park the bus: by looking on Google Maps for unmarked/unclaimed tracks and roads that lead straight to the shore (See the video at the bottom to see us first arriving to this wild spot).

Foggy day with little visibility on the shore
Shore during high-tide and fog

The change in atmosphere here was incredible- at one point we were in a low cloud and could feel it passing through us; but also had clear nights and a strangely foggy day with 0 visibility (left).

Dog standing on muddy ocean floor looking at the sunrise and textured clouds
Walking along the bed of the ocean at the peak of low-tide

After the first night we spent here, we noticed the 5am clam diggers driving up to take advantage of the low-tide. Curiously so, we went out that morning to explore and ended up foraging oyster clusters off the rocks as the tide came back in. Just the idea of the water receding back and revealing the ocean floor was incredible to me (above). The next morning we were able to get out in the early 5am low-tide to dig for clams. Among our discoveries was the clay as well (more below). This was our first time experiencing the tides morning to night, continuously: a mind-blowing experience to exist in conjunction with the visual forces of the moon.

Tire tracks reveal a smooth impressionable clay exposed

The morning of clam digging, we noticed the clay peaking through the sandy rocky shore. Thanks to the 5am clam diggers whose truck tires had pushed the rocks aside just enough to reveal a slick strip of smooth gray (pictured). If you’re thinking of searching for clay, you’ll want to check the moon phase and go out during low-tide. By going out during low-tide you’ll have enough time to search, dig and retrieve before the tide comes back in. Wherever you find clay, the spot will more than likely be covered by water at high-tide. I was surprised to find clay in this rocky shored area!

Clay removing in flat layers at surface level
Clay being removed by peeling back thick layers

I didn’t realize until later that the clay was EVERYWHERE. The clay is on the surface in layers (left) and each one peels back infinitely to reveal more clay. All you need to do is look for is a beginning strip, or start digging and look for that cool blue-grey color. Keep in mind that the clay is heavy! We were able to carry 1 5 gal bucket and an 6 gal basket totaling 150lbs up the hill (about 500 ft) and that was the extent of our energy. Plan to be able to take about 100lbs (4 blocks or 2 boxes) a short distance and about 50lbs a longer distance. 50lbs is more than enough to sustain a large batch of ceramics and/or supply a small class workshop! The clay can be dried to lessen weight and reclaimed/rewedged by soaking in water to revive. I have this batch of clay below held aside for my high school ceramics class this spring!

Our loot showing the smooth texture of the pure clay

Whether a forager or a leisure adventurer, Maine will greet you with wild chamomile and blueberries, fresh seafood and an artists’ treasure. We enjoyed a 3 week trip traveling up Route 1 from Maryland to the Canadian border and spent the majority of it on the shores of Maine. The dogs adored the water and can chase rocks and swim tirelessly through the seaweed. Secondly, we were grateful to be able to take a break from using our AC and appreciate the 30 degree difference in the northern region in comparison to Maryland. This time of year (July/Aug) Maine was a stable 75-80 degrees which is a sigh of relief for us dog owners!

Steamed oysters and site-picked wild flowers

Arriving to the spot:

Author’s Note: Due to the movement to Stop Geotagging, I have chosen not to reveal the exact location of this spot. If you’d like more information on this movement, click here. However, this spot is located near Machias, Maine, and clay, clams and oysters can be found nearly anywhere along the East Maine Coast.

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