Years ago I lived in an old stone farmhouse with two chimneys, but no fireplace. In the living room was a woodstove which we used to supplement the oil heat and to save on fuel. A stovepipe extended through the ceiling into the bedroom above, thence into a round hole in the wall that accessed the flue. That way the bedroom got to share some of the extra heat from the woodstove.
A second bedroom also had a similar hole in the wall for a stovepipe, but we had only one wood stove, so didn’t need the second chimney. This was not an uncommon situation in Victorian America, apparently; therefore you occasionally find decorative old flue covers such as this one. Round, to cover a stovepipe sized hole, and decorated with any number of different lovely ladies, or other pictures.
I didn’t always realize that I needed a flue cover. At the time, the bedroom with the hole in the wall was an extra room that I used only for books and storage. In the winter I kept the door closed, and there was minimal heat loss. One night, however, something else made the need for a flue cover evident.
A friend was visiting, and coming down from using the upstairs facility, he said, “There’s something in the book room.”
“What is it?” I asked, naively.
“I don’t know, but it makes a sound like shhhwoop, sshhhhwooop.”
Of course this bore investigation, so I went upstairs and listened at the door. Not a sound. So I opened the door slightly, enough to switch on the light. I expected to be dive-bombed by a bat or something, but I was hardly prepared for what I did see: A beautiful, pale gray, full-grown barn owl. I suspected he was hardly likely to fly back up the chimney through the small hole in the flue.
Anxious lest the owl be harmed, or that he might find some of my library rather tasty, I concocted a plan to let him out by opening the window fully. Knowing I’d have to cross the bedroom to do it, I put on a heavy jacket, gloves and a hat, in case the owl should feel threatened. He didn’t seem to mind, though, as I went to the window and began to open it. He simply watched, timidly, curiously.
I opened the window as wide as possible, then circled to approach him from the opposite side of the room. He was no dummy. He found the open window right away, and with one flap of his big wings, flew out and glided all the way across the yard to the barn.
The next day, and thereafter, I made sure that a flue cover was always in place in the book room. Today our flue covers hang on the wall, with no hole behind them, serving only a decorative function.