I had to lean the ladder against the eaves and stand upon the third step up to drive its ladderfeet down through snow. Had to take the pushbroom up to clear a way along the roofpitch to the flue, which had to be—the chore that ought to have been done before but was not—swept likewise clear. Or almost, in a blizzard. Had to wear a headlamp, had to thread the four thirtysix-inch extension rods to the brush and haul the twelve-plus feet of bouncing apparatus up the ladder to the flue. Had to pull the chimney cap and see the throat of the stove choked on creosote and fly-ash. Had to drive the seven-inch brush down the six-inch hole twice and pull it back up freckling the roofsnow with black in the night. Had to go inside and undo the flue pipe and vacuum out the black and shining dust with the shopvac then reconnect the flue. Had to crumple newspaper and grid kindling and light the fire. Had to dump the shopvac’s black ghost behind the shed, had to watch as snowfall freckled the ash. Had to stand a while plastered with snow and ash, smelling wood smoke. Had to take the ladder down and put it away, had to unthread the plungerod into four pieces again and rap the wire brush against a tree. Had to leave boots in the garage and blackened coat and pants in the laundry. Went ahead and undressed entirely and walked upstairs naked with fly-ash smeared face and sootified hands, and had to wave at her while she sautéed some garlic. Had to smile at her smile, had to shower. Had to admit it was good to be home.
Robert Wrigley’s most recent book is Box (Penguin, 2017). He lives in the woods of northern Idaho with his wife, the writer Kim Barnes.