After a few years of heating the house with wood, it’s past time to clean the chimney. This chore has been on your to-do list all summer, and it’s finally time to git-‘er-done.
You head to the hardware store and buy the wire brush and necessary extension poles to scrub the stovepipe. Except that, after unloading the horse feed, you inadvertently leave the tailgate open, drive to a stockdog-training session, and the wire brush, still in its cardboard box with red and black lettering, falls out somewhere along the highway.
Teeth grinding, you make another 38-mile round trip to the hardware store the next day and buy another wire brush in a cardboard box with red and black lettering. Now, you should be good to go.
As the hot afternoon turns breezy, you bring the ladder from behind the garage, heft it to the roofline, and pursue this task in earnest.
By law, chimneys need to top off at least 2 feet above the roof peak. Because the stove is situated in the corner of the house, that means the pipe extends some 12 feet up from its low and humble origin point. Three galvanized sections are supported by two long galvanized rods that extend from the middle of this mighty pipe tower and are secured to the roof. The roof, by the way, climbs at 40 degrees, also known as a 10/12 pitch.
The pipe sections and rods are diligently unscrewed and unbolted, with all the screws and bolts and associated sockets and wrenches stashed in front and back jean pockets.
At 5 feet off the roof, the top two pipe sections are now ready to be removed. Leaning into the lower section, with feet on each side of the pipe, you grip with your thighs and feel the breeze gusting. The now unbolted, unscrewed, 50-pound pipe tower shifts and shakes with the wind.
It’s a moment of contemplative pause and decision-making:
- Time the pipe removal with a let-up in the breeze?
- Leave the unbolted, unscrewed pipe unattended and wait for an additional hand, say, from the boyfriend or the son?
- Rebolt and rescrew the pipe tower, and further assess safety aspects and risk management?
Opting for the first option, for two satisfying seconds, all is well. The pipe comes free and you can briefly glimpse the task completed, with pipe sections scrubbed and resecured. Self-congratulatory beer practically in hand. But the wind pulls the section one way, then the other, then out of your hands. It tumbles onto the roof and rolls downward. Please don’t let it be damaged, you implore the chimney sweeping gods. It lands on the ground without dents – Hooray! But it took the ladder with it.
And there you are.
Cell phones are electronic leashes and much has been written about the pitfalls of our reliance on, and some say addiction to, these dismal gadgets. But they are especially useful when you’re stuck on a roof, with no one home and no neighbors. Even drivers by, way down on the county road, would never notice your remonstrations. The dogs and horses look up and then carry on with being dogs and horses. The sprinkler sprinkles. The ducks, momentarily unsettled by the tumbling ladder, quack contentedly in the shade of a tree.
Apologizing to the phone for all your disparaging remarks over two decades, you call your son.
Before he arrives, there is self-talk:
C’mon. Be resourceful. Be brave. Make like you didn’t have a phone stuffed in your back pocket, with all those screws and bolts. This is the kind of moment you should cherish as it offers a chance to show off some god-dang rugged individualism.
With one of the support rods, you fetch a lariat off the side of the house, where it hung for roping practice. The ladder, like a prostrate calf, refuses to be roped. But the picnic table is upright and willing. You swing and miss. You rebuild your loop and swing again. The far leg is caught. With calculated hefts, you pull it close enough to jump — or, say, fall onto.
This plucky plan is interrupted when the good son arrives. Dogs and horses perk up their ears as if to say, “to what do we owe this pleasure?”
He snaps an image for posterity (or proof of tomfoolery) and props up the ladder.
Upon inspection, the pipe is pretty darn creosote-free and doesn’t need to be cleaned.
Upon inspection, the twice-bought wire brush is for larger stove pipes and won’t fit anyhow.
One aspect of working alone is that there tends to be room in your mind for contemplations of all kinds. Not just, how long until beer thirty? But how is time best spent? How can one manage a day with efficiency and grace? Are most projects just means to ends, or is there satisfaction and meaning in the meanwhile? Or, in this particular case, is it all just a giant, effortful waste of time?
As the sun dips toward the horizon and the wind calms, the boyfriend returns from work and graciously helps reinstall the pipe tower. The ladder goes back behind the garage and the tools find their rightful storage spots.
The unused wire brush will go back to the hardware store, along with the other unused wire brush that was found unharmed, along the highway, on the way to the brewery.
Maddy Butcher lives in Montezuma County.
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