So I was at a high school volleyball tournament yesterday, enjoying finding myself an observer of an inside sport for a change, when I texted home to see how it was going there. This is what I got back:
Oh shoot, oh shoot, oh shoot!!!!
This might be a good time to explain (defend myself) that I live on the edge of a forest full of critters big and small, and in having to deal with a family of unwanted invaders of the bare-tailed variety a few years ago the only (somehow) comforting part of the experience was that pretty much everyone I talked to here had a similar story to contribute. It’s sort of a rite of passage. I know. Ew.
It might also be a time to point out that all of my panicking questions, because I never ever want to have to deal with those things again, were answered by…. one text. Uh huh. Thanks son.
And just one more point, I know he knows apostrophes. He just chooses to be apostrophe-less. It’s a lifestyle choice.
This rat news, however, was very upsetting to hear. I sat in the bleachers, picturing icky hairless tails, and tried to figure out how a rat could be in our fireplace! Had he seen it? Massive ews. Isn’t that a closed system? Had it climbed in the top of the chimney? What would I hear it doing?? While I watched this volleyball, was a rogue critter busily gnawing tunnels through my house, ready to pop up not in the fireplace??? Oh ugh ugh ugh.
This was really really bad.
So I blessed my ability to put things out of my mind, the tournament ended, I fought the urge to do a runner, and showed up at home to the updated great news that it was …… a bird! Why did this seem so much better?? Still daunting and confusing how to get it out but still…….. not a rat! Hallelujah brother!
My middlest showed me that if you opened the fireplace door you could see the poor thing crouching on a level just above the place where you put the logs (sorry for the technical lingo). There were two bowls in the fireplace and when I looked at my middlest inquiringly it was one of those moments that makes a mom of teenagers sort of mushy and buys said teenager time. “Well I didn’t want the poor thing to die.” Aw. He’d given it water and a little bowl of raisins. Still coming down from the whole rat thing I found it hard to switch gears from, “It must die!” to “We must save it!” but I was touched by the kindness while I tried to emotionally get there myself.
It was a Northern Red-Shafted Flicker, a big woodpecker bird that is very common here and very beautiful and, I’m sorry to say, very not so smart. They play chicken with cars and at certain times of the year there will always be one within the neighbourhood who seems to mistake a metal chimney pipe for a tree and tries to peck his way in. Having just once been the lucky winner I can say that it makes a funny loud sound inside, like the rat a tat of a drum reverberating through the house. I can’t imagine how they move their head so fast. When it was my turn I went out on my porch and looked up at it sitting up there and said “What the heck are you doing, buddy? It’s just not going to work.” And he looked down at me and seemed to say, “Huh?” See. Not so smart.
(That’s unfair, isn’t it? Maybe he has a story about the not so smart human making no sense and questioning his intelligent actions. And I do think I might have heard that they do it as a territorial cue, so really I was just being a bit snotty and mean, wasn’t I?)
This is what a Northern Flicker looks like when it’s not in my fireplace:
They’re pretty big. And my fireplace is pretty small. This guy was jumping around, hopping down to spill the water and turning everything black. What was really really weird and what my middlest had described but I hadn’t been able to picture was that every now and then it sent it’s astoundingly long sap-sucking tongue out the bottom of the fireplace door. Just because, I guess. Just because it can. It looked like something out of an alien movie. Had to be a good two inches and it snaked around like a …..well, like a snake.
One of the cats, being the highly intelligent specimen that she is and recognizing that something hopping around and knocking over bowls in the fireplace was not a regular event, even in our house, tiptoed up to the door. The bird inside perhaps saw a shadow outside the door and stuck it’s tongue out again to try and figure out who was there. Lucy the brilliant stuck her nose right up against the door in amazement. It was a truly bizarre stand off.
So please don’t think less of me if I tell you that after a bit of time scratching my head what to do about this guy I went and made dinner and …..lay on the couch and…. watched tv. No judgement!! I’d had a whole day in a bubble with bouncing balls, refs whistles and piercing girl squeals. This bird was freaking me out! What was I going to do about it???? It was wedged up in there, and scared, and sooty.
In my exhausted wimpy state I remembered hearing of an acquaintance who had a pet crow. Maybe I could leave the fireplace door open and a bowl of woodpecker kibble out and it would eventually creep out, decide this could work, and settle into our happy happy family life. I pictured it perched on my shoulder while I made cookies, snuggled up with us watching a movie. Riding around on a cat. Yup. Good times.
Then I had the uncomfortable image of how quirky we can be, and if we couldn’t figure out how to get it out of there would we somehow end up with a pet chimney woodpecker? Some phantom fireplace creature who we left water and snacks out for? “Did you feed the bird today?”
So I was saved by the middlest. While I still pondered and, let’s be honest, procrastinated and avoided, he came down and suggested that he would feel so bad if we didn’t get it out of there and it died, and we better get it done. The mature one.
So we talked it over, threw some ideas in the ring, assembled towels and bags and finally… gloves. Now there’s a good idea! This thing’s beak was very long and pointy. We opened the door to the outside hoping that if we could get it shifted it would know there was hope nearby in the form of the great outdoors and help us out by heading for it. Avoiding the reaching hand it eventually broke out and headed not towards the door but in the opposite direction into the kitchen, swooping over my eldest as he cringed and served himself dinner. (A cold family, obviously.) As we (I) whooped it headed back towards the door but instead smacked into the window beside it. Oh shoot. All that and I was sure the poor thing must have just broken its neck. Such a sad ending to the movie. But nope, it was OK. In the excitement cat #2 (the nice one) was heading in fast. We all moved towards the bird who jerked up and flew…. straight into the window on the other side of the door. Man! This wasn’t going well at all. Once again I was sure there must be a sad ending to the story but once again it jumped up and flew out the door…wham, into the glass railing. All this in a few hectic seconds. Somehow it survived again. I guess the ones who fly down chimneys are granted toughness to make up for other areas they may be… ahem… lacking. This time my son saw him head down towards the ground and when we looked down through the dark we couldn’t see him lying there. A hopeful sign. Thrilled to still not see him lying there this morning.
We came back in, closed the door, the hero headed to bed, the eldest wiped the soot off the kitchen ceiling, the youngest presumably brought her head out from under the covers upstairs (“So what happened with the bird?” she innocently asked this morning), and cat #2 circled and circled the room, pretty sure she’d missed out on something. Easily distracted away from the thought.
Cat #1 skipped the whole finale, pouting upstairs on my bed at the humiliation of having a bird stick its tongue (and its tongue, and its tongue) out at her.
There you go. Just a quiet Sunday.