The chimney sweep arrived this morning. Punctual at 9 a.m. I waited for the knock.

No knock.

I peeked out the window. A guy is sitting in his truck, smoking a cigarette and pointing his cellphone at the cabin.

I bristled. Oh great. A smoker. And what is this guy taking a picture of?

I didn’t open the door. I waited. Moments passed. He’s still pointing the phone at the cabin. I opened the door. He lifted his eyes, briefly, from the phone and mouthed, “Fox.”

Of course, it took a minute and multiple iterations for me to figure out he’d said “fox.”

I tiptoed down the stairs to look under the house. “No, no. Other side,” he mouthed.

I crept along the deck–I spotted the fox, which spotted me. He or she hesitated a moment, then trotted off toward the woods.

Patrick, the chimney sweep, jumped out of the cab and dashed over to where the fox had been digging. “Must have voles,” he said. “He’ll be back.”

My initial annoyance has passed; I like his childlike enthusiasm. And I would have missed my first fox sighting in Alaska if it weren’t for him. I’d been reading a book, tucked into a chair, oblivious to the fox right outside my window.

Patrick hauled a ladder out and climbed to the roof. “Whoa, it’s slipperier than a booger on a bobsled,” he said. “If there weren’t any snow stops up here, I’d be saying ‘see you this afternoon.'”

After he cleaned the chimney with a large steel pipe cleaner, he came inside to work. I pelted Patrick with questions about making a fire and wood stove maintenance. General questions from a curious newcomer.

“Number one, that first load of wood is to get the stove hot. Leave everything open,” Patrick said. He gave me the analogy of boiling water. “You boil water, you gotta turn it on hot. Once it’s boiling, you can turn it down to simmer and it will keep roiling. Number one problem: people turn it down too soon. Once you get that stove hot, all you gotta do is throw in a piece of wood every hour.”

He talked to me about seasoned wood vs. wet wood, the attributes of birch and spruce.

A filmmaker from New York originally, Patrick now installs stoves and sweeps chimneys. Good money. Good work. More reliable than waiting on grants for film projects.

“We all sell our souls for a certain price.”

.”

As he packed up his tools, I remarked at the irony of a chimney sweep who smokes. He said he has five a day.

“Two in the morning. One at noon. Two in the evening.”

Then he remembered the fox. “I’ll tell you that was one of the finest-looking foxes.”

I stuck out my hand. “Luck of the chimney sweep shake,” he said, as he shook my hand.

He climbed into the cab of his truck.

“You see that sky? We’ll be getting something this afternoon.”

No sooner had he pulled out of the driveway than the first white flakes fluttered from that sky.

First fox. First snow. Luck of the chimney sweep indeed.

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