ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL, Will S. wrote, and as I breathed a sigh of relief this morning I decided he was right.
But this is definitely the year I replace my chimney.
Being Daylight Savings Sunday, I was lolling in bed reading John Grisham and finishing my coffee and avocado toast at what some might call a late-ish hour of the morning. But I had that “spring ahead,” lose-an-hour-of-sleep excuse for lolling.
That’s when I heard the skittering.
For a moment I tried to convince myself it was a Nuthatch — the bird for which my cabin is named — outside messing about in my metal roof’s gutter, as they often do. Getting a sip of water, perhaps; the drainage isn’t all that great.
But then I heard it again: a sound like fingernails lightly brushing metal, and it wasn’t coming from outside. I recognized that sound.
I had another bird down my chimney.
Loyal Reefers might recall a couple Novembers ago when this happened before. That time, I got paranoid about what was in my chimney, imagining anything from a hapless bird to a squirrel or racoon (or, as several merciless readers suggested, a skunk).
At that time, try as I might I couldn’t figure out how to open up the chimney and release the creature, which had fallen into the lowest reaches of the woodstove’s metal flue, the eight feet or so that connect the stove with the cabin ceiling. The chimney has a conical cap up top and I expect it was screened when it was new, but the screen has probably disintegrated with rust and heat over the years. Rising high above my rooftop, it’s not easily inspected.
Unable to catch-and-release that first time round, I went with Undesirable Choice No. 2: Refrain from building a fire and let nature, uh, take its course. It was several days before the skittering stopped.
Eventually I discovered a way to remove the fire bricks at the top of the woodstove and was able to remove the poor dead sparrow.
As I lolled in the loft this morning, I resigned myself to another unpleasant days-long “death watch.”
But then I realized: Now I know how to open up the stove from inside. I could try to get the bird out. If I could free it from the chimney, maybe I could capture it in a large trash bag and set it free outside, hopeful that it wouldn’t be caked with soot and creosote. I had to try.
Meanwhile, Galley Cat, who usually snoozes the morning away on her heated cat bed downstairs, had come up to the loft to see me. Vocal and wide-eyed, she was clearly trying to tell me something.
Descending the stairs and crossing the living room, I saw what she was trying to communicate: “Pops!” (she calls me “Pops”)… “Pops, there’s a birdie in the woodstove, you can see it in there!”
Sure enough, this bird was no longer caught in the chimney, it had squeezed its way down past the firebricks and made it into the stove’s main chamber. There it was, clearly visible, fluttering behind the glass: a very unhappy Dark-eyed Junco. For goodness’ sake.
OK, Rescue One, suit up and respond to an avian distress call at 1366 Chinook Way.
Adrenaline flowing, I grabbed a trash bag from the pantry. Plopped the feline in the bathroom, behind a closed door. (She was certain she could help. I demurred.) I hoped to bag the victim as I cracked open the stove door, but in case it got past me I opened wide the glass slider and a side door.
Happily, the Junco wasn’t caked with creosote. It remained perfectly mobile, which it proved the moment the door was cracked. Despite my best efforts with the trash bag, I had a Junco flying around my living room.
Unfortunately, it didn’t find the open doors. It bumped against one of the big front windows, then flew through the kitchen and thumped against a window by the sink, where it decided to stay and flutter about.
Now, I have to say this for that bird. Whether or not it knew I was trying to help, it did me one huge favor. Anybody who has heard the sad tale of the duck that got into our sailboat’s V-berth, which ended with a very long afternoon at the laundromat getting our bedding de-ducked, will know these things can end badly. I’ll just say it bluntly: No matter how frightened it may have been, the Junco did not shit inside my house. Thank you. Were the roles reversed and a giant songbird was chasing me with a trash bag the size of Mount Constitution, I can’t promise I’d have been so reserved.
Anyway, I sidled over to the kitchen with my trash bag opened wide. The bird tried to take cover in a potted plant sitting behind the sink, but I swooped and scooped.
As first, I didn’t think I’d caught it. Songbirds don’t weigh much, and under the feathers there’s not a lot of bulk. I very lightly gripped the bag closed while I searched around the plant and among the dishbrushes. My home invader wasn’t there. So I carefully peeked into the plastic bag cradled in my fist and saw a pair of fragile bird feet sticking out. It wasn’t struggling, perhaps just resigned to its fate.
Keeping my grip loose, I quickly strode out onto the deck, put the bag down and opened it wide. The Junco flew away, and I don’t think it stopped until it hit Lopez Island.
All’s well that ends well. But, sheesh, it’s time to get a chimney with a screen.