Until recently, I never really thought all that much about cleaning. A chore, an activity, play some music and make some headway. I’ve been in filthy houses, spick ‘n span abodes, the whole gray gamut of in-between. I once participated in an extremely late night board meeting in a school my children never attended, and towards the end of the evening I looked around the room, noted the chaotic clutter, and wondered how anyone worked in that classroom.
Today, as the cold weather begins digging in, I swept the ashes from my wood stove and readied my beloved stove for the months ahead when I will never allow the fire to burn out. The chimney, too–from basement to roof over three stories tall–needs cleaning. I pulled out the stovepipe and thrust my arm into its chimney’s cold center. I found thick layers of creosote, crumbly and pitch-sticky, two strange opposite and simultaneous qualities.
In the sooty, dirty basement I’ve knelt before the opened clean-out door and shoveled bucket after bucket of creosote scabs, then held a mirror flat in my hand and showed my little child the daytime stars in the heavens, visible only through that extended canal of darkness.
I’ve never cleaned this chimney before, but I feel certain my teenage daughter and I, with our strong backs and gritty muscles, could force that sharp-edged wire brush down that channel, scrape free the debris of last year’s long winter’s cold, and shove that brush, pole length by pole length, down to the chimney’s very root. This chimney is the lungs of our house, the passage of air and smoke that allows our hearth to burn, hot and truly. My teenage daughter is determined to begin this heating season with a scrubbed right chimney, and no fears of our house engulfed in nighttime flames.
Writing is a kind of revenge against circumstance too: bad luck, loss, pain. If you make something out of it, then you’ve no longer been bested by these events.
–– Louise Gluck