My chimney is where small animals go to die.
Last year, in the late fall, something started making noise from within my chimney. It was right around the time when it was starting to get cold enough to think about using the fireplace. But then I couldn't, because I was afraid if I opened the flue, a creature would fly out at me, give me rabies, and then take up residence. I remember being up very late one night, working on our Christmas stockings and listening to the scritch-scritch-scritch of little claws on metal. I did a little research on the internet and became convinced that it was a raccoon. Some things get inside a chimney and can't get out. Raccoons get inside a chimney and set up a little home. They make a nest, have raccoon babies, and order out for pizza.
After a few days, the noises stopped. I decided that it was not a raccoon after all, but something that could not get out and was now dead. I looked up several chimney sweeps and called for price estimates. Then I put it off for a while. I did not use the fireplace all winter long. I was just about to call and set up an appointment when I started hearing more scritch-scritch-scritching. So now there was another animal in there, trapped in a deep pit with a dead body. Eventually, those noises stopped, too.
Finally, in the spring, I called the chimney sweep. I told him that I had two dead animals in my chimney and that I was interested in getting a chimney cap. He came and opened the flue, and out fell two little dried-up carcasses: a bird and a bat. It had never occurred to me that animals that could fly would get caught. But I suppose they didn't have enough room for a proper take-off or maybe they were just confused about the whole situation.
The chimney sweep told me that I already had a chimney cap, one that effectively prevented both squirrels and raccoons from getting in. In fact, it was a very nice cap, and it would be very unlikely that any kind of critter would find their way in. I felt like pointing out the obvious, but considering he was holding the obvious in a plastic grocery bag, I let it go. We agreed that if it happened again, we would look into a different type of cap. I decided that a business that tries not to sell me something expensive was probably trustworthy.
And then this week, it happened again. He may be trustworthy, but I'm not convinced that he's all that smart.
I spent an afternoon listening to the futile attempts of my new prisoner to get free. I would have liked to help. Maybe put a cardboard box under the flue and then open it. I tell you, though, that I am not a particularly graceful or charmed person. There are people who could successfully rescue an animal from a chimney with the box method, but I am not one of them. I'd just get rabies or bird flu or become some kind of comic book mutant if the creature happened to be radioactive. Then the animal would be loose in the house, where it would frantically poop all over everything before dying on the kitchen table.
When I was a kid, I used to have a job cleaning our church. Twice in the years that I did that, a bird got in the fellowship hall. I never could figure out how it happened, though I realize now that the fireplace was the likely entrance. It was not a nice or fun occasion, like when you see happy little birdies in the grocery store. I did not spend a madcap half-hour with all the doors and windows open, chasing the bird with a broom. No, I spent a miserable half-hour cleaning bird poop off of everything. Then I had to dispose of the body, wings flayed and stiff. The first time it happened, it was gruesome and sad, but sort of amazing, particularly because I didn't understand how it had happened at all. The second time, I walked in, saw all the poop and knew immediately. Then I had to go looking for the corpse.
So call me cruel, but I decided to just let the one in my chimney starve to death.
There would be some scritching, then a pause, then more scritching. I imagined these bouts of noise as individual escape attempts. As the day went on, the pauses got longer and longer. I thought about animal feelings. I'm sure it felt increasingly tired and hungry, but did it feel despair as each effort to get out brought him no closer to freedom than the last? I thought not.
This was on Sunday. I heard a couple of scritches on Monday, then silence since. I will give it another week before I open the flue myself and fish out the little body of whatever it was. Then I'll call the chimney sweep, and we will talk seriously about chimney caps. I don't care how unlikely it is that anything would get through the barrier system I have in place. I'm tired of listening to animals die, whether they go out wondering what the point of it all was or not.