The confessions of an acrophobic chimney sweep

The confessions of an acrophobic chimney sweep

Some do-it-yourselfers are motivated by necessity, some by runaway frugality and some as a point of pride. Others are just plain dumb. On any given project, I may be driven by one or more of the first three categories, but it’s the fourth that consistently keeps me going back for more.

My latest foray into the world of do-it-yourself destruction sprung from a desire to stretch out in front of a nice, cozy fire in the living room as evening temperatures began to dip deeper each night of the past few weeks. Notoriously behind on my winter preparations, I’d been spending most of my free time sourcing, splitting and stacking firewood — so much so I’d forgotten to schedule a chimney cleaning.

Don’t worry. This story does not include a house fire. I may be dumb, but I’m not stupid. Even I know it’s a bad idea to fire up the fireplace without an annual cleaning and inspection.

With the earliest available chimney-cleaning appointment several weeks out and an estimate of a couple hundred bucks to have it done, I was inspired to dig out my old set of tools and get to work.

Plenty has changed in my wood-burning setup since the days when, as a new homeowner, I’d invested in a large, wire bristle brush I pulled up through the chimney flue from bottom to top. That whole operation — set 45 feet above the ground at the rim of my chimney — was a lesson in absolute terror. No previous experience in my life had even mildly suggested I might possess, deep within my psyche, a paralyzing fear of heights.

As a boy I’d scrambled at the edge of rocky ledges, swung from the thinnest reaches of the tallest pines and rode out the rumble of passing freight trains on the foot-wide girders of the railroad trestle on a regular basis. Heights never bothered me — until they did.

During the course of the chimney job, it had been the work itself that had distracted me from the idea I was perched on a spindly rung of recycled soda can material the width of a broom handle (or was it a soda straw?) 40 feet (or was it 1,000 feet?) above a patently unforgiving slab of cold concrete. Once that work was done, with bristle brush in hand, I paused for a moment to consider my situation and promptly froze like an ice sculpture of Dick Van Dyke in the cinematic masterpiece, “Mary Poppins.”

A half hour? An hour? The entire afternoon? My only clue as to the passage of time was my shadow on the ground below was actually growing longer and longer with each panting breath.

Finally, driven by the even greater fear of a lifetime of endless embarrassment should the fire department be called in to rescue me, I shakily lowered a foot to the rung below and so forth and so on until my time at the top was nothing more than a recurring nightmare that would haunt me for the remainder of my days.

Needless to say, the mission before me on a more recent November afternoon did not include even the thought of a ladder. I’d have to go in from the bottom — and that, my friends, would bring with it a whole new set of perils.

Join me next week for another exciting chapter in my life as an acrophobic chimney sweep.

Kristin and John Lorson would love to hear from you. Write Drawing Laughter, P.O. Box 170, Fredericksburg, OH 44627, or email John at