Saturday, September 6, 2008

This is a marvelous recycling story and can be found in a wonderful book called Spinning Tales Weaving Hope
BTW, Papa Joe has generously given permission (to anyone not just myself) to use and tell this story, be sure to give appropriate credit. Enjoy!

A long time ago, before your parents were born, before your grandparents were born, even before your great great great grandparents were born, there was a village near a river. It was so far away that we would never have known of it if not for the old storytellers.

In the village, by the river, lived a family who dearly loved to play with mud. There was a large bank of gray mud behind their house. At first, the family just squished it between their fingers or patted it into pies. One day, however, they realized that this was special mud. It was different than the mud taken from other places on the river. This mud kept its shape when it dried.

What do you suppose it was? Can you imagine? That's right. It was clay.

So what do you suppose they made with it?

Well, the first thing they made was a bowl. It was a fine bowl, a little rough around the edges, but they were just starting out.

Next, they made a spoon. The bowl was great for putting soup in, but they needed a spoon to get the soup out.

Oh, boats! They made the most wonderful toy boats to sail in the river.

Jugs! The day the family learned to make jugs was a happy day for the whole village by the river. For that was the day that everyone could start storing water in their homes. Imagine that! Before that day, everyone had to walk to the spring every time they needed water.

Oh yes! They made pipes! And valves too! Pipes to carry the water from the spring into the homes.

And shirts. It became quite the fad, wearing clay mural shirts. Each little clay square stitched together to form the clothes and clicking and clacking with every step.

But mostly they made pots.

Well, the years went by and the years went on and the family made better and better pots, fancier and fancier pots. Everyone in the village bought pots from them. In fact, the villagers called them the Potters.

But the Potters didn't just sell pots. They made and sold anything you could want and they made it all from clay. They made toys and tables, tiles for walls, floors, and roofs. They made bricks for streets and buildings.

Well, the years went by and the years went on and the village by the river used more and more clay for more and more things. If you were to look at the village you might think it was all made of clay. And maybe it was. For now everyone lived in clay houses with clay roofs. They sat on clay chairs and slept on clay beds. They ate from clay plates on clay tables with clay forks.

From the beginning they found that they needed a hot fire to dry the clay hard. Each day, the Potters had to cut down trees to fire the clay. They cut the trees until the woods near the village were gone and only a few scattered trees were left. When the woods were gone the animals left. They walked, flew, or clawed until they found new woods so far away that the villagers knew nothing about them.

But the clay! Aha! Everywhere you looked, anything that could be made with clay was. And you know about clay? If you drop it, what happens?

It breaks! No one really worried about breaking anything. If something broke they would go to the Potters and have a new thing made. A new thing, a better thing, a thing with new colors and new designs, not last year's colors or scenes of trees and animals, no one wanted trees and animals any more.

And what did they do with all the bits and pieces? What did they do with all the old clay shards? They hauled them out of the village to a big hole and threw them in. As the years went by and the years went on the hole filled up with shards. As the years went by and the years went on the hole became a pile, then a hill, and finally a mountain of clay shards. The people called it Shard Mountain.

As the mountain grew bigger and bigger, the clay bank by the river grew smaller and smaller until it became a pit that grew deeper and deeper. Finally the day came when the Potters could find no more clay.

"No clay! What are we going to do?"

"I don't know. What can we do?"

What could they do? They had never bothered to learn anything but making things with clay. For generations the Potters had used this clay and now they were helpless.
At first, the villagers thought nothing of the used up clay pit. But soon everyone was thinking of it. For whenever something broke it was gone and it could not be replaced.
The day a strong wind came and tore clay tiles from the roofs, people thought of the empty clay pit.
Every time it rained, they thought of the clay pit.
The day a village elder tripped on a chair, fell on his table and broke two of its legs, he thought of the empty clay pit.
As all of his clay dishes and cups crashed to the floor, he thought of the clay pit.
Each time a thing broke people thought of the empty clay pit and knew the thing could not be replaced.

One day the villagers had a meeting.
One cried, "This is terrible! I don't have a single pot left."
The second said, "We must do something!"
A third called, "What can we do?"
Then they all began shouting ideas.
"Look for a new clay pit." "We tried that."
"Get a new Potter family." "That won't help."
"How about replacing the broken things with something else? Something different than clay?"
"Like what?"
"Wood?" "There is no more!"
"Paper?" "That's made from wood!"
"Animal skins?" "They left with the trees."
"Glass?" "Wonderful, how do you make it?"
"Sand!" "We don't have any."
"Rocks?" "None around here."
"Steel?" "Steal what."
"Plastic?" "It hasn't been invented yet."

Finally someone said, "This is all the Potters' fault. We should be making them find the answer. We wouldn't be in this mess if it wasn't for them. I vote we tell them to find the answer or get out of the village."

The village elders went to the Potters and told them what had been decided. Do you know what the Potters did? They sat around and cried, "I don't want to leave."

But one little girl wasn't crying. Her name was Penny. Of all the people in the Potter family, Penny Potter was particularly perceptive. Penny Potter perceived that if no one in the village knew the answer to the problem, then she would need to go out of the village to find the answer. The only person she knew outside the village was the Witch of Shard Mountain.

In a cave on the on the far side of Shard Mountain, lived an old witch. She had lived there as long as anyone in the village could remember. She only came into the village about once a month to do her shopping. When she came the children would laugh at her and call her names. They threw clay shards at her and sang a terrible song.

Witchy, Witchy, Witchy
Lives in the ditchy.
Skin like dry clay.
Hair like dry hay
Witchy, witch, Witchy.

Penny thought of these things as she walked down the path to Shard Mountain. It was a long and hard climb around and up the far side of that mountain. She stood at last at the gaping hole that was the entrance to the witch's cave.

Penny was shaking. She thought, "Ohhh! What if she turns me into a frog."
And then, "Well, I don't remember anyone really being hurt by her."
Still shaking, she called out:
"Hello" (Hello, Hello, Hello)
"Hello" (Hello, Hello, Hello)
"Is anyone home?" (Home, Home, Home)

From the back of the cave came the sound of a boot scraping across the floor. Scrape. Thump. Scrape. Thump. Scrape. Thump.

Penny shook harder and harder. The witch stepped into the light.

"I know you. You're one of those village children. One of those children who throw shards at me. What are you doing up here? Did you come to call me names?"

Penny was still shaking. "Oh no! I never threw anything at you. I never called you names."

"Maybe you did and maybe you didn't, but you haven't answered my question: What are you doing up here? Tell me now."

Penny was almost sobbing. "I came because we need help and I was hoping you could give it to me."

The witch fixed her eyes on Penny. "What kind of help could an old one like me give to you?

"You've seen how our village is built of clay?"

"I've noticed," returned the witch bitterly.

"We've run out of clay. There isn't any more. I was hoping that if you really were a witch, then you could make more clay for us."

"Ha!" Scolded the witch. "Why should I help you, little one? Why should I help your village? After the way your people have destroyed the woods? After the way your people have treated me, I'd rather punish you than help

Penny was in tears. "But we need your help."
"Your Village never helped me! I never did anything to those children. Why do they treat me so ill?"
"Well," stammered Penny. "Perhaps because you're different."
"Is that a reason to hurt me?" Screamed the witch.
"No," Penny whispered. "I am sorry the children hurt you."

The witch looked at Penny for a long time. "Listen, Penny Potter. I do know you. You are particularly perceptive. I can help you.

"I don't like being disliked. If you can bring the children of the village here and if you can help me stop them from being so cruel, then I will help you and your village. Bring the children to me."

So Penny went back down the around the mountain. Down and around she ran as fast as she could. At last she came to the village. "Come out, come out wherever you are," she called. "Olly olly in free!"

All of the village children came running up to Penny.

"If we want to get new clay we need to get help from the witch. But the witch won't help because you've been so mean. Come up to her cave and tell her you're sorry. Come up to her cave and ask to be friends."

But the children began with "ohs!" and "No!" They were afraid to go to the witch.

"I'm not going! said one. "Nor I," said the another. "None of us will go.
She'll turn us all into polliwogs!" Claimed the third.

Penny shook her head. "I was just up there. She didn't do anything to me. She is just upset because you've been so hateful. If you don't come with me to the cave, I'll go back alone. But you'll never see another new clay toy or game or anything again."

Penny turned and headed back for the cave. At first the children watched her walk away. Then someone said, "We have been cruel. The witch never did anything to us even when we threw shards at her. I'm going."

As the first child walked forward another followed. Slowly, one by one the children headed up the path to Shard Mountain. Up and around they went until they came to the gaping black hole near the top. Now it was the children's turn to shake as Penny called into the cave.

"Hello" (Hello, Hello, Hello)
"Hello" (Hello, Hello, Hello)
"Are you home?" (Home, Home, Home)

From the back of the cave came the sound of a boot scraping across the floor. Scrape. Thump. Scrape. Thump. Scrape. Thump.

The children were shaking harder and harder.

Out came the witch. "So! You're all here, eh? All the nice children who enjoy torturing an old lady? Have you had your fun? Do you think I like it? Would you like me to treat you like that? Well? What have you got to say for yourselves?"

"We're sorry." "What? I can't hear you!"
"We're sorry." "What?"
"We're Sorry?"
"Will you think it's fun to mistreat people like that again?"
"No ma'am." "What?"
"No ma'am." "What?"
"No, Ma'am?"
"Then off you go. Penny, come with me."

If you think Penny was brave to come to the witch's cave, can you imagine how brave she was to walk into its dark entrance?" Deeper and deeper they walked through the dark tunnel until they came to a small room lit by one red candle with a green flame.

"Let's see. It's around here somewhere." The witch began tossing books off the shelves.

"No, not that one.
Not that one.
Nor that one.
Or that one
No, no, no?

"Here it is. Now which page? Hmm, hmm, hmm. Yes, that's right. Yes! Just as I thought."

The witch turned to Penny. "Now you start by taking the old clay..."

"What?" Penny was confused. "I thought you were going to make new clay. I thought you'd say a spell and the clay pit would be full again."

"Ha! A spell to refill the old pit. You want something from nothing? You've been wasting clay and wood for years. Do you want to do it all again? Penny, your village needs to start recycling. You need to start saving things like clay and reusing them. You have a whole mountain of clay here and a whole village below. you'll never run out of clay again if you just stop throwing it all away.

"As I was saying," the witch continued. "Take the old clay and grind it into a fine powder. Add a little of this and a little of that and here you go: new soft pliable clay!"

Penny began to leap with joy. "Oh! Thank you! Thank you!"

"Wait, you silly goose! What good is the new clay now? You've used up nearly every tree for the fires that baked your clay."

Penny sat down. She had been so worried about the clay she had forgotten about the wood. Ah well. So had everyone else in the village.

The witch continued, "If your people will promise to leave the trees alone and, more than that, if you will help replant the woods, I will help you build a new kiln to bake your clay. A kiln that doesn't burn wood."

Penny's eyes went wide and her mouth dropped open. "You really are magic!"

"Maybe I am and maybe I'm not, but the sun has all the power you need to fire your pots. The sun will heat the new kiln we'll build."

"The sun?" Penny was amazed. "That's wonderful!" And with one last "thank you and good-bye," she was gone. She was running down and around the mountain back to her home.

"Mother! Father Everyone! Potters, one and all! Look what the witch has given to us. We can make new pots from old. Just take the old shards and grind them up. Add this and that and look: new clay. But that's not all. The witch is coming to help us build a new kiln, a kiln that is heated by the sun instead of burning all the wood."

The Potters were so pleased that they invited the witch to stay and live with them. And since they were so pleased with what she could do with all her strangeness, she was glad to become part of their family.

From that day on and from that day since, the Potters have wheeled their wagons through the streets collected old shards to make new clay. And every year they go to the woods, plant young trees, and pray that the animals come back.

Now in the streets of the village you can hear the children sing:

New pots from old,
New pots from old,
The witch and Penny Potter
Gave us new pots from old.

New Pots from Old - a recycling tale by Papa Joe © 1991

A Great activity to use with this story is recycling paper to make Paper Clay.
The following is a very simple set of directions.

Paper Clay
2 cups construction paper scraps (sorted by color)
4 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup flour

Tear construction paper into small pieces. Pour water and paper scraps into a blender. Blend 20 seconds or until the mixture turns into pulp. Drain and squeeze excess water from the mixture. Mix flour and the remaining 1/2 cup of water in a small bowl until blended. Slowly add the flour and water mixture to paper pulp. Knead until it forms a dough. Mold paper clay as you would any clay or dough. Let finished creations dry 1 to 2 days.

Paper clay can be used to create 3-D greeting cards, pictures, package ties or tree ornaments. Try adding glitter or bits of confetti. Press paper clay into candy molds, cookie cutters or gelatin molds to create interesting shapes.

Crepe Paper cut into thin strips (any colors you wish).
1 cup flour
1 cup salt
Large container and water
Place crepe paper into a large container and add enough water to cover the paper. Let that soak for about one hour until most of the water is absorbed into the paper. Pour off the excess water and add small amounts of flour and salt until you have a clay-like mixture. Create sculptures by forming the crepe paper clay with your hands. Let dry and apply either a varnish or a glue and water mixture to seal.

Here are a few good sites with directions and information about Paper Clay.
Construction Paper Clay @
Paper Clay Directions @
Expert Vids showing how to recycle scrap pottery clay


Michael said...

I really liked this one, La...Thank You! Simply sitting and "crying over spilt milk" never has solved the problem of "replacing it"...has it?

Michael Lockridge said...

Wow! Powerful story! It is like a song, and such strong visual cues. Fabulous!

Thank you for sharing this.

La, Storyteller/Storysinger said...

For both Michaels:
So glad you like this story!
I found this many years ago and have always liked it.
Yes, it definitely sends a that children and adults can relate too.

Anonymous said...

I love this story & craft! We are Waldorf homeschoolers. Stories & crafts are central to our learning. This is perfect. Thanks for sharing.I will certainly post this on our blog when we do it & link back to you. Other homeschoolers need to know about all of the terrific resources you have on your blog.