On a walk through the old and moldering Collins axe factory a few days ago I stopped short on hearing a rhythmic rapping punctuating an atmosphere suffused with distant traffic sounds and the whine of leaf blowers. Listening and looking around for a few moments, I at last spied a downy woodpecker banging its beak against the gable of a wooden elevator shaft rising over three stories beside a hulking stone edifice that stands like a fortress at the edge of the Farmington River. Built in the mid 1840s, it’s said to be the oldest stone factory building in the State of Connecticut.
I was fascinated. As if the bird’s cadenced thrumming was hypnotic, I stood over forty-five minutes in rapture as I watched it work. Not a car going by or people talking deterred the industrious creature from the intensity of its mission. It seemed to tap like an old-time telegraph operator and I wondered what message it was sending out to the world. Though to me it was a poetic percussion that momentarily stole my attention from the cares of daily existence, no doubt any message was an unintentional and practical dispatch to the effect: “I’m hungry and there are good eats here!” Why else would it work with such stubborn persistence unless busily earning its living?
But this was not just about a bird; it was about a battered and neglected building that’s been vacant for years. Decades ago, when the site was a center of a metal working and manufacture the sound of productive drilling and hammering was heard within the walls. Now there was only the reminiscent echo of a bird’s rapping to remind the old stones and wavy glass window panes of the activity that once went on inside.
Sadly, the bird was just another sign of the structure’s decline. Was it termites or some other lumber-devouring insect the woodpecker so avidly sought? Regardless, the bird banged and chiseled away, clinging upside down in flagrant defiance of gravity as it made best use of the opportunities at hand.