jeudi 8 juillet 2010

Four and twenty birds

Bananas, avocado, citrus and


with champagne bottle from Sam's Bac result,
bread basket and nut bowl

Yes, that's right. Bird. In my fruit bowl.

Of course there's a story.

I think it was yesterday that I first heard the noise, a scrambling, beating, frantic sound that appeared to be coming from the wood stove flue. As one does with all possible problems that haven't fully gelled into a clear and immediate, I chose to ignore it. My brain very helpfully came up with several plausible possibilities, each of which released me from any responsibility to a living thing very likely caught in my 125 mm diameter metal chimney flue.

First, there was merely a nest up under the "Chinese hat" that protects the opening to the flue.

Second, well, there was no second.

Today, I was sitting in the living room, debating the real or imagined necessity of going to the shopping mall to buy something to wear to a party tomorrow evening, and a few pairs of lightweight summer pants -- it's awfully hot for jeans, and one pair has spot inside the thigh that has worn thin enough to become a hole; definitely not alright for my husband's wife --, when it started again. I got up and went to inspect the wood stove, and clear as day there were animal paw prints in the oven cleaner I hadn't bothered to clean off the inside of the glass window after applying it, oh, Sunday.

That's great for the animals to ingest when they clean their paws, said myself, with a distinct air of criticism.

My thoughts raced to Baccarat, who had refused to eat her dinner last night, and her breakfast this morning. While these were absolutely and definitely not her prints, was it possible she had licked Wisp's, and for that, wasn't it more likely Shadow, since they were quite high up? Shadow being much larger.

Look, there are white paw prints on top of the stove, too, myself pointed out. And there were. Wisp. I couldn't imagine Shadow up there, but could the animal have gotten out and gone back in? Are you completely crazy or only stupid? asked a surprised self, shaking her head. Like it could possibly get out of a flue covered with the ceiling panel of the combustion chamber and then choose to climb back in there. Oh. My. God.

I didn't like the sound of that, but there wasn't much to say, so I returned to my emails. It was quiet, for a little while. I got up and went to knock on the chimney flue. No response. I knocked again, and returned to my computer to put off deciding whether I was going to the mall and to call the vet. I got up again and headed over to get Baccarat's untouched breakfast off the dining table and offered her the bowl. She lowered her head and nosed it, then, she ate a bit. It took longer than usual, but she ate all but a last bit she left in the bowl, which Rapide finished off and then licked the floor.

Watching Rapide lick the floor, I thought about calling the Morso salesperson, a very nice ex-professional jockey, to ask him if a bird or small animal could really get into the chimney flue tubing. I mean, didn't they have screens exactly for that purpose? I returned to the sofa to think it over, and then, it started again, with even more insistence. I jumped off the sofa and knelt in front of the stove. It sounded like the trapped -- for trapped it without question was -- animal was right above the wood stove, in the bend of the tubing. I knocked, and it flapped on, a bird, possibly a squirrel; I have seen a couple of red ones around lately.

You're going to have to take it apart, said myself. There are instructions in the manual. It didn't look that hard, if you'll recall. You should clean it anyway, you know. Myself is becoming bossy and officious these days. There was no point in arguing.

"I know."

It looked straightforward enough, to a formerly-practicing and decently competent architect. Just push the top panel up, to release the side panels, remove them, and then tilt the top panel to remove it and to get to the one above it to remove that one, and I should be at the opening to the flue. If the animal were nearby, or descending the tube, it should eventually fall out, or die.

Then you'll have to call the Morso guy, said myself. We were both imagining the bad smell.

[Tho' ye subjoct be but a fart, yet will this tedious sink of learning pondrously phillosophize. Meantime did the foul and deadly stink pervade all places to that degree, yt never smelt I ye like, yet dare I not to leave ye presence, albeit I was like to suffocate.]
-- Mark Twain, 1610

[Credit to Monsieur Renard du Marais]

The top panel budged, but it wouldn't come out. The frenzy in the tubing continued and even picked up a degree. I reached for the instructions. All it said to do was precisely what I was doing.

"Not helpful," I said.

You'd better figure it out, said myself.

I looked more closely. There was quite a bit of accumulated crystallized soot on the top of the ledge that holds the ceiling panel of the combustion chamber in place. Was it enough to jam the panel, preventing me from being able to move it enough? I reached for a bit of wood and started to clear it out. More fell onto the ledge from above, and more and more until I was able to lift it and slide it out, revealing the second ceiling panel above. It came out, covered with a pile of shiny charcoal briquettes.

Probably another sign that you really should have bothered to cut the wood smaller, unnecessarily commented my better self.

"I've had enough, thank you."

Myself wisely elected not to reply, and we both sat back on our heels to listen for noise. It had stopped sometime while I was struggling with the panels, and myself and I hadn't even noticed. The noise did not return. Here, the way was open, and the animal had died? I went to wash my hands and sit on the sofa. I couldn't very well go to the mall and leave the animal, in the event that it wasn't dead yet, to my animals. Wisp or Shadow would see to that in no time flat.

I looked around. I thought about calling the vet, the Morso guy, and a friend, whose father I learned from my email had died last night. I sent a text message, and then, the noise started again, Wisp and Baccarat battled to be the first to the open door of the wood stove and before I could react, a small gray bird flew clumsily out, half falling, half flying, and careened across the living room and dining table, animals dashing along behind, crashing into chairs, as it came to light on the table.

What? The open door was just beyond, and it lands on the table? Baccarat looked confused. Wisp prepared to jump, and it took off in flight, making it less than a meter before it half fell and half flew to a halt near the radiator.

The radiator? Again? What is it with radiators and birds?

I got on my hands and knees alongside the animals, milling all around me, and hunted behind the slats, around the dust and cobweb-filled shopping bags used to carry the paper and glass recycling to the bins, stuck behind the radiator to keep them out of site, shoving Wisp out of reach, and moved the litter box. There was movement. A little ball of gray bird hopped and then flew up into the dust-filled air, back across the living room and into the entry. Wisp was far ahead of me, and heading for the rear staircase.

But there are no open windows at that end of the house, and we can't see it! said myself.

"I know. Move, Wisp. Now!" She was forcing herself between the vacuum cleaner and a fire extinguisher on the stair turn that had no business there, and struggling with her, I searched the air for the bird. Nothing.

Hop. Hop-hop.

It was there, just past Wisp's needle-like claws and teeth and the fire extinguisher, wedged into the space against the stair riser. I reached. It hopped. I reached again, using the extinguisher to body-block Wisp. It hopped, and then it flew, like a drunken pilot, back across the entry, the living room and the kitchen towards the door, only to land in --

The fruit bowl.

"Aright," I said. "If you're not in a hurry, I am going to get my camera."

It was there, nestled in between the avocado and un radis noir, covered with a bit of paper, the feathers on its head somewhat gelled by the soot from its several-hour experience in the chimney flue. It blinked and swiveled its head around. Wisp meowed in frustration, and Baccarat looked utterly perplexed, and then the bird took off again. This time it ran straight into the open panel of the kitchen casement before finding its way out through the enormous, gaping hole in the wall the open window makes, before diving dangerously and helplessly near the lawn, onto which Wisp and the ailing Baccarat had made it just as fast. I had to negotiate the table to get to the door and outside, where I joined Rapide, looking as confused as her blank expression permits.

There was no sign of the bird, and Wisp was back, inspecting the dismantled wood stove interior.


Leaving Rapide and I to wonder, "What's with me and the birds? And does it have anything to do with having been chosen to recite Four and Twenty Blackbirds in the kindergarten pageant?"

Sing a song of sixpence
AKA blackbirds in a pie

Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened the birds began to sing,
Oh wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king?
The king was in his counting house counting out his money,
The queen was in the parlour eating bread and honey
The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes,
When down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose!

Which, if you trust -- and who doesn't? --, might explain something about my taste for Patrick O'Brian novels, history and adventure.

And I'm down to what, 19 now? Just click on the "Bird" tag and start counting.

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