This morning we had another bird in one of the chimneys. This time, I could not figure out how to let it out until I went outside and saw there was a clean-out within reach on the deck. It took a few minutes for the bird to realize it could fly free, so I was not sure right away that I had done the right thing. But then, just when I was unprepared for it, out came the bird. It flew away in a rising arc. There is still a huge mess on the deck, since about a quart’s worth of wet ashes and soot fell out when I opened the clean-out. It may not have been opened before.
The owners of this house say they cleared a field by hand, found an old barn and had it dismantled, and built a large, casual family home to suit their tastes. Many interior surfaces are wood, and a lot of that is antique. There are two wood-burning stoves in the house, and an old-fashioned oven of the kind people would have used about 100 years ago.
We are renters.
Because it is built around the frame of an old barn, the walls of this house enclose a huge interior space: four stories. From the outside, it is barn-colored and large. From within, a mix of old and new, all thoughtfully and carefully chosen like something my mother would have done. I think my mother would have really liked this house, and I can hear her voice in my head, telling her friends at work the story I am about to relate to you.
Afternoons here are long. Someone finishes school early, and even if we have to go back to hand in the forgotten Math 8 Maintenance #3 Assignment (not because the backpack was disorganized but because it was hard to find because it was not printed on the special Math 8 yellow-colored paper), we are here, doing homework or eating snacks or staring at each other or turning the pages of The New York Times by early afternoon. If we wait for the man who commutes by train to his job in The City, we might not eat dinner until 7:42 or 8:05 p.m. During the day, the Red Barn House is filled with light by design (it’s the careful fenestration, don’t you know?). Once the sun goes down, it’s pretty damned dark.
One of us is reading Tom Sawyer for school, and enjoying it quite a bit. It is an engaging read, and hard to interrupt for snacks or staring or The New York Times. I decided to give the new squeegee a try while the sun was shining and my work might yield visible results. Again the dogs did a lot of watching, and so did the cat, but there were no pet escapes this day.
At some point we were sitting near the stove snacking and turning the pages of The New York Times, and there was the distinctive sound of a live bird in the stove pipe. The curious adults of the house have already seen for themselves that birds have come down the stove pipe before, since there is a dead bird in a pan inside the stove right now. But this was our first live bird-in-the-house experience. I heard the bird scrambling in the stove pipe. I think I said aloud, “A bird just few down the chimney.” The cat came flying at the stove, but we had not yet determined how it was to be released.
I found a little clean-out hatch, but before I opened it, I locked the pets in a bathroom. I opened the hatch, and waited. After about an hour, the pets were unhappy and vocal about it. I reasoned that the bird was not smart enough to come out the way I had provided for it to come out. I got busy doing something else, and when I heard the thumps and the scrambling pets, it took me a second to realize what it was.
I summoned every bit of help I could get, locked the dogs in the bathroom again, and interrupted Tom Sawyer to get some help with the cat. The cat is pretty fat, so he was not very hard to grab. The bird had flown upstairs and was sitting, wild-eyed and panting, legs askew on the sill of a window which cannot be opened. We opened another window and using the screen as a tray and a vacuum cleaner attachment as a prod, offered the bird a chance at freedom. The offer was accepted, and suddenly all the excitement was over.
The lease of this house came with a few unusual stipulations, including the requirement that we employ a specific housekeeper. She is good-natured and pleasant and does a good job, so we are happy to pay for her services. We would have been happy to hire her had we been asked, and I am still puzzling over why it was felt to be necessary to legally compel us to do so. Another day I will write about this more, but for now I am still wondering about it. The next day when I spoke to the housekeeper about the bird in the house, and she told me that she had two birds in the house this summer, both times they came down the other chimneys, the one that caught a bird today.
I think when I see the owners, I will mention this, because from the ground the tops of all three pipes appear to have features which should prevent entry by birds, and clearly those features are disabled or not working.