There was a crisis at my house the other day. A bird was trapped in the chimney.
It’s one thing when birds fall down a brick chimney. Typically, the damper is closed so you never know he’s there until the poor thing languishes and dies. Only when you open the flu to make a fire will you ever know the bird had been there. This is always sad.
This time our situation was different. We could hear the bird two rooms away. It scraped and flapped, pecked and clawed, making a terrible ruckus so that there was no question as to his presence. Every movement the bird made, however small it was, reverberated up and down the stove pipe as if he were trapped in a drum.
His presence troubled me. I couldn’t help feeling for the bird in his dilemma. I felt so helpless. I didn’t know what I could do about it.
It’s a terrible thought; a bird, a creature, epitomizing the very heart of freedom itself, ‘the wings of the morning,’ had become trapped in a sooty stovepipe like a child who had wandered and fallen down a well. The stove pipe was long; it went from the woodstove straight up, a full 25 feet, through the roof and beyond. I could think of no way of accessing him. A damper was fixed to the lower part of the pipe and even to open it would offer little or no space for escape. Then, at the top there was a cap on it to keep the rain out. Between the cap and the pipe, a small space opened which was where the bird must have entered.
The problem. The bird was lodged somewhere between the woodstove itself and the top of the stovepipe. Even if we were to remove the cap at the top, there was nothing I could imagine would be long enough for me to get hold of the bird. Even if there were, I’d surely break a wing or otherwise injure the bird. And then I did not know how to disassemble the pipe. What to do?
We called an exterminator. Some offer pest control as well as annihilation. This business claimed they could get all kinds of critters out of your house. It was a Saturday, but the exterminator arrived in an hour. He could do nothing; the same problem –– no tool long enough to get at the bird. He recommended we contact a chimney sweep. Of course! Who is better qualified, and more versed in all that transpires within chimneys, but a chimney sweep? We called one. He told me he was sure he could help us. He quoted a fee and we said we’d do it. He could be there in a few hours.
In the meantime, the bird grew more active. Listening to his attempts to liberate himself was painful. It was unnerving to hear him flapping and clawing pathetically, knowing his attempts to gain freedom were in vain. It tied my stomach in knots.
Finally, the chimney sweep arrived –– actually, two of them. Why two? Did they then anticipate a hawk, I wondered? The one got to the business at hand while the other chatted amiably. “Might be a squirrel or maybe a raccoon.” He said this with a twinkle in his eye is if he was pulling my leg. I wasn’t sure. He told me some tales of birds they had extricated that turned around only to come back down the same chimney the very next day. “Some birds are dumb, really dumb,” he observed, shaking his head. He added, “Got an Osprey out of a chimney, once. He was fixin’ to nest on top.”
I grew worried that they’d find some predatory bird or animal.
The assistant then went and opened up the woodstove to gain access to the pipe. He shone a light up the pipe and with a mirror quickly determined that it was a bird. In a few minutes, he had the bird in his hand. It was a lovely bluebird. The bluebird fluttered, flapped and chirped furiously–in protest or relief I could not tell. It was a little like seeing a baby being held shortly after its struggle to be born. You can never tell whether the infant is glad to be out of there or protesting all the discomforts and indignities he’d been put through in order to get out.
The man then went out onto the porch, and raising his hand in the air, released the bird. It shot up into the sky and flew to the top of the willow oak. For all concerned it was a happy issue out of that affliction. We had indeed found, if not the bluebird of happiness, at least the bluebird of relief.
People worldwide find themselves trapped in terrible circumstances all the time. I feel so helpless when I learn about them. Even in small ways there is nothing as satisfying as knowing when a life is in jeopardy, I can do something tangible to turn things around. Now, strictly speaking, I didn’t rescue the bluebird, the chimney sweep did. Still, just knowing I helped make it happen, pleased me.
A bird in hand can make your day.
Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.