I came home last night and unloaded my groceries on the front porch before pulling the car back to the garage. As I was getting out to open the garage door, I had the brilliant idea to feed the guineas at night instead of in the morning, when we were supposed to be experiencing a rainstorm strong enough to warrant flood warnings three days in advance. So I let myself into the outside coop door, and in through the interior coop door that separates the guineas’ living quarters from a tiny entry room where I store their food. I fed them their pellets, even adding a bit extra for good measure, and left their area. The interior door is secured by a simple hook and eye, and tonight I couldn’t get the door shut tight enough to latch it. I debated just leaving it, as it was practially pitch-black and starting to rain. But with visions of the winds to come blowing the door open and the guineas trashing the entry room, I kept at it, trying all my tricks to jimmy the hook into the eye.
It just wasn’t working, and it was dark enough that I couldn’t tell what was causing the problem. So, I opened the interior door and stepped into the guineas’ room. I pushed lightly on the bottom of the door, where it seemed to be getting stuck, and as I did, the door sucked tight into its frame, unmovable.
Now this wouldn’t be a problem except that I’d neglected to install any sort of handle on the inside of the door, which is just a smooth piece of plywood. And after listening to my entreaties for a “predator-proof coop,” my master coop builder father had made the door so well that it fit into the jam with nary a gap anywhere except for a tiny bit at the bottom which I realized, with a sinking feeling, had become stuffed with pine bedding and guinea dust in such a way that I was now effectively trapped in the coop.
In the past I’d been able to find a bit of give around the edges of the door and ease it open. But tonight nothing doing. The door was shut tight, glued in place by dust and pine.
I felt a wave of adrenaline-induced nausea. The guineas, disturbed by my unexpected presence, began to cry louder and pace back and forth, their squawks in such close quarters hurting my ears. I knew it was only a matter of minutes until they all exploded in a panic of dust and feathers, unleashing their prehistoric talons with no regard for my flesh or my soft, gelatinous eyeballs.
I switched on the light, that merciful light I’d installed a while back as a heat source during really cold nights. It sure came in handy as I scanned the inside of the coop, looking for ways to escape.
Both windows were covered with hardware cloth, which I’d thoroughtly stapled with a power stapler when I installed it to thwart even the tiniest intruder. And beyond the hardware cloth, each window was covered with a glass storm window I might have a hard time breaking through.
The poop door, though human size, was bolted closed in two places from the outside.
I eyed the chicken door. Even if I could have fit through it, which was doubtful, it too was bolted closed from the outside
I was in a tough spot. I’d pulled my car up to the garage and turned it off, so any passerby would think I’d gone inside. It was now dark and raining and my neighbors live far enough away that I doubt they would have heard me if I would have had to yell. I had the light. I could semaphore S.O.S. But would anybody see? And worst of all, my beer was on the porch.
I felt the pockets of my jacket, searching for a tool to free myself. Thank goodness, I had my keys on me. I could do anything with, keys, right? Even better, I carry a tiny knife on my keyring, just for emergencies such as this. At first I thought that if I could get the knife into the door well enough, it would create a handle that would let me pull it open. But after a few tries I realized the door was stuck too tight for that to work.
And then it came to me. One of my father’s favorite concepts: leverage! While making this farm I have seen him move all sorts of ridiculous things with the simple power of leverage, including a full-size stacked washer and dryer, and each time he told me that leverage was one of the keys to the universe. I rationalized that if I could get enough of the blade under the stuck door to lever it up, maybe I could get it to swing free.
And so I began. The door was stuck so tightly that even the tiny blade of my tiny knife was hard to wedge underneath. I kept at it, fighting panic as each attempt seemed to fail. The guineas roiled around me, screaming and churning up dust that thickened the air. I found my motions growing frantic and had to stop to remind myself that while being trapped in the coop was bad, being trapped in the coop while hemorrhaging from a knife wound to the wrist would be even worse. So I began again, more slowly, with a steadied mind, and eventually worked the blade into the stuck area between the door and the jam. I pried up with a delicate touch, so as not to snap the knife blade, and with my other hand worked my fingers around the edge of the door until I could grasp enough to swing it free.
And so I was. Free to step out of the melee of scrambling, squawling guineas. Free of the feather dust and soiled pine shavings and rising panic.
With my bare hands I clawed the door jamb free of the debris that had caused the jam, slammed the door shut, latched it, and fled. Into the dark, the fresh air, the rain. I was free.
P.S. Happy Birthday, Dad. Thanks for teaching me, among a million other things, about leverage. And you built a damn tight coop.
Image above, before adulteration, © Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment LLC. All Rights Reserved.