Monday, October 10, 2011

Another Bird in the Chimney

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.  

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Oh, Deer

The house we are renting has large windows, and the windows want washing, inside and out.  First I wasted a whole bottle of Windex and a whole roll of paper towels, having poked around in the closets looking for a proper squeegee, and finding none.  The dogs watched me going at the windows the whole time. I thought I was being interesting. It was the deer in the yard, though, that was the interesting part, and as I came in, out went Captain for a long, deer-chasing romp.
Later, I made for the closest hardware store I know of, in the near-ish town of Cross River. The hardware store makes keys, sells paint, and has the parts of your running toilet that will make it stop running. Like so many of the small hardware stores you find in strip-malls, it’s packed to the rafters with merchandise. I always find that you walk in and ask the guy behind the counter. Don’t bother looking for yourself. I was shown a few options, and picked a squeegee for which one must provide a handle. The clerk found a couple of possibilities for the pole, none of them perfect, but he did secure the pole to the squeegee with a screw, charging me for neither the pole nor the screw. Along the way, I got a bit of history (the upstairs of the store used to be the screening room of the old movie theater), and some predictions for snow this winter.
In Westchester County, deer (and black bear) can be hunted only by bow, and the season is from October 15th to December 31st. I have already met one man who has permission to hunt on this land.  The deer here are certainly plentiful, and a danger to motorists. I see them every morning when I walk the dogs to get the paper, all day when I look out the windows, every afternoon when I walk the dogs on the road, and every day when I am out driving.  There was a large doe killed recently on Cat Ridge Road, where I walk.  One of its hind legs was broken in the accident, and stuck out from its body at a disturbing angle. It happened on Friday night, and the carcass had been removed by Monday midday. Scavengers had only just started to make progress on it.
The deer here in Westchester seem well adapted to seeing people and cars and trucks, and give everything a good, long, dumb stare before walking or running away.  There is a group that I have seen grazing dully at the margins of the Taconic Thruway near Lagrangeville. The speed limit is 50 mph, but many people seem to take that as a polite suggestion, like flossing daily or changing your smoke-detector batteries twice a year. The one thing that seems to make deer try to leap high and run fast is my knuckleheaded dogs; they charge at deer, barking furiously in frustration, running as fast as they can with no plan for maneuvering over the stone walls that the deer hop over without much visible effort.  Maybe if deer made more noise I would respect them more.
My landlord informs me that he likes seeing the crows and ravens and vultures and eagles that come if the bow hunters leave the entrails after gutting a deer.  As a dog owner, the possibility of my dogs getting into rotting deer entrails is pretty scary, but it is not nearly as scary as the prospect of preventing any and all Vizsla escapes from October 15th to December 31st, from dawn to dusk.  I am pretty sure that Vizslas look as much like white-tail deer as any dog can.  

Friday, October 7, 2011

Safety Patrol

I try to get out for a walk every day.  There is an almost-three-mile loop from my front door on a country road with neither stripes nor shoulder.  The town speed limit is posted as 30 mph. This is loosely interpreted as whatever speed you will go.  Most cars seem to be aware of me and my leashed dogs, slow a bit (though never a lot), and give us room.  I have only had two scary encounters so far, the first happening during the first week of school.  It was a woman with a blond ponytail who drives a black BMW SUV and since she was on the phone she never did see me or my dogs. The second was this week, when the FedEx ground truck went by so fast Captain dove into the drainage ditch at the side of the road and cowered there, crouching.   
I do see other walkers, mostly women, sometimes with dogs and sometimes chatting and walking vigorously in pairs. There is one young woman who walks down the middle of the road, and who was not wearing shoes the first two times I saw her.  She has long, straight brown hair and bangs and large eyes that don’t look at you.  She wears clothes I can only describe as completely ordinary. But then she doesn’t have shoes on. With her is a dog that I would call a tan and white pit-bull mix. It wears no collar, and she carries no leash.  We saw them the very first time we went for a walk. The dog is out of control but friendly. The woman doesn’t really talk, not even about the dogs.  I gave her a nickname: Gandhi, pronounced “Candy.”
Two days ago, the dogs and I headed off to check the road-kill (which is another story completely), but found the road was blocked for repairs.  Yesterday, I passed the repair crew, and we exchanged smiles and nods. Cherry sneezed at the smell of the hot asphalt, and I got a chuckle out of that. But that day, we headed down the road past the stable with the intention of turning back at the half-way point.  I was thinking about the Haves and the Have-Nots on this road (which is also another story completely), when the vet pulled out onto the road next to me after a call to the stable.  He pulled up alongside of me and warned me, with concern in his voice, to look out for a pit-bull which is being walked loose and has been allowed to chase horses. “Don’t want it to be a problem for you.”