Yesterday was the Vernal Equinox, the first day of spring, and as it happens, the day we had our chimney cleaned. “Equinox” in Finnish is päiväntasaus, which means something like “day equalization”, a phrase that sounds so awkward in English I’m glad we stuck with the Latin.
As “equal” (tasa) denotes, this day, halfway between the longest and shortest days of the year, is almost equally divided between daytime and night – believe me, a fleeting moment this far north. And it’s a welcome sign that the end of wintery weather is only a month or so away.
|A German chimney sweep. |
Photo: Konrad Lackerbeck
Another reliable sign of spring at our house is the appearance of the chimney sweep. By law, every house in Finland with a fireplace must have its chimney cleaned once a year. In our neighborhood, that happens in spring, though I imagine the men in black who balance along on rooftops (without, as far as I know, a Dick Van Dyke song and dance) must also be employed other times of the year. There must be a system for deciding when it’s your turn. As homeowners, we don’t have much say about it. Or any, in fact. The city contracts with different chimney sweep firms to cover different neighborhoods, presumably according to some schedule.
|Our ladder cleared |
Yesterday it was a different outfit from past years. Typically, a week or so before the sweep shows up we get a notice in the mail to ensure someone will be home. Even with the prior warning, I found myself, just like last year, clambering up the roof with a shovel to dig a path through the snow covering the access ladder just before the sweep’s arrival.
Instead of the sweep who has brushed out our soot for at least ten years -- a lanky old fellow with a fierce mustache that somehow seems perfect for a chimney sweep -- it was two young guys who showed up yesterday. The uniform is the same, however: black overalls, with a wide black belt, and a Boy Scout style hat a matching shade of, well, black.
They first checked out our fireplace, then one went up the freshly cleared ladder to lower a large brush down the chimney on a black rope, while his colleague wrote out a receipt smudged with soot. As we didn’t shake hands, I can’t say for sure whether good luck rubs off along with the soot. But it does make for a catchy song.