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Perspective: The worst fall chore

I have a list of worst fall chores, and sweeping the chimney clocks in at number two.


I close the woodstove on the last fire in May and don’t open it again until the chimney must be swept in dreaded October. I cart a ladder onto the roof, lean it against my stove pipe, and use the eight-foot pole with the wire brush to steel bristle the creosote down the stovepipe into the firebox. I wear an old blue Covid mask to keep the black soot from my throat, and I can be heard grumbling under the mask about what I think of this job.


Once down from the roof, I shovel and sweep and bucket the black creosote from the firebox. Living somehow in the powdery black soot are the zombie stink bugs that came down the chimney in September just to make this job worse. This year I wore a miner’s headlamp as I swabbed out the soot, and when I shined the headlamp into the pit of the firebox and saw a pale ridge of blue, I first thought it was a surgical mask -- we all know the kind. But shoveling the soot away I saw feathers, and I had to sit down.


Beneath the mound of soot was a male bluebird. In my years of choring I’ve never had a bird sneak past my chimney cap and down my flue. And of course it had to be the one bird I love the most, the one for whom I plant little cedar houses in my yard so he’ll choose my yard to raise his family. You bluebird, had to be the one to fly down my chimney to meet me here?

Chris Fink is a professor of English and Environmental Studies at Beloit College. He is the author of Farmer's Almanac, A Work of Fiction.