At least it wasn’t a skunk

A fire blazes once more in the Nuthatch cabin’s woodstove Saturday night after a marathon cleanup effort.

THE SKITTERING IN MY CHIMNEY stopped midday Thursday. Friday night was cold. I lit a fire. The cabin filled with smoke.

It wasn’t good.

Whatever got into my chimney, and apparently went to its maker there, was now blocking it. Not a tiny bird, I guessed. A squirrel? A hundred bats? Damn.

Saturday was a marathon day of chimney surgery at the Nuthatch. I decided to attack the problem from the inside flue, dreading what I might find.

First I removed every treasured artifact from the mantel. The wedding photos. The ship in a bottle that my brother-in-law Roly constructed. The framed pearl from my father-in-law’s Hood Canal oyster beach. The New Guinea penis gourd from my sister-in-law Ann. All the good stuff.

Moved the wicker chairs to the far side of the room. Draped the furniture with sheets. Tacked a tarp to the wall around the woodstove and spread another across the floor. Soot can go everywhere.

Then I pulled on a white head-to-toe Tyvek painting suit, grabbed my toolchest, a respirator mask and safety glasses from the shed, strapped on my headlamp and commenced peering at the chimney’s every seam and joint to figure out how to open it up.

There were no screws holding the three sections together, just tapered ends fitting snugly into one another. I tried lifting up. I tried pushing down. No budging.

So I did what every home-maintenance wizard does. I checked YouTube.

No luck. All the online chimneys featured screws you could remove, or sliding extensions. Not what I had.

Stymied in my plan to disassemble the flue, I decided to poke and prod from inside the stove. Breathing like an astronaut, with the respirator covering my face, I discovered that the baffles at the top of the fire chamber were backed by bricks that moved when I poked them. Aha!

Fine black soot spilled from above as I moved the bricks. I was able to lift one out and open a clear passage to the chimney. More soot cascaded down. And my headlamp’s beam fell on a small gray lump wedged in one of the baffles. A lump with feathers. A sooty, lifeless sparrow.

I reached in with a gloved hand and gently pulled the limp bird from its trap. It wasn’t big. I don’t see how that small body alone would have blocked the smoke. But maybe its death struggles, all that skittering, had dislodged enough soot to clog the baffles.

With a sense of melancholy relief, I shook the soot and ash from atop each fire brick, replaced them carefully and shoveled the debris from the floor of the stove.

It took hours to get my front room stripped of its protective garments and reassembled as it was. I mixed cinnamon, cloves and orange extract in water and simmered it on the stove all afternoon to purge the cabin’s smoky smell. I buried the bird outside among soggy fallen maple leaves next to the stump looked over by Trudy, the cement garden bunny that came with us from our Bremerton home.

No squirrel, no skunk. No cloud of bats. Just a lonely sparrow who made a bad choice and complicated my Saturday. Sad to think of how its life ended. Rest in peace, you poor, dumb little bird.

5 thoughts on “At least it wasn’t a skunk

  1. Interesting. When we first moved into our cabin there was a dead Pacific wren in the woodstove, which had never been fired up. This told me I had to install a spark arrester, which not only kept the sparks in but the critters out.

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    1. There may have been a screen or some sort of spark arrester at the top of my tall chimney originally since I’ve not had this problem before. But the chimney is more than 20 years old and if there was a screen it’s obviously been compromised by age and weather. A spark arrester will definitely be on my list when I replace the whole chimney. It’s on my wish list for next summer.

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