These old red brick buildings harbor more than the history of Winona. Our building, which was erected in 1865, was once home to a John A. Latsch wholesale grocery concern, as well as hat shops and music stores. Now it houses the Winona Post—including a printing plant in four of the basements—and two retail stores, Say Cheese and the Men’s Exchange.
Friday, Julie from Say Cheese—where she manufactures decorative and promotional buttons and such, hosts ceramic making and painting classes and parties, and does some photography—came to visit me in my office. I’ve known Julie since she was the photographer for the Women of Purpose calendar featuring various Winona women, a fundraiser for cancer.
“There’s an animal of some size above my ceiling, making a racket,” she said.
“Probably a bird,” I answered, from about 40 years of experience in the building.
“It’s pretty big…” she said.
So we decided it was a squirrel. I called Animal Control, and the woman promised she would drop off a live trap.
“Do you have some crackers and peanut butter?” she asked. “To use as bait?”
I got on the intercom and asked Chris, in reception, whether we had any peanut butter around.
“I brought a peanut butter sandwich for lunch,” she said, hesitantly.
“I don’t want to take your lunch,” I said. So we thought and thought.
John from the mail room was just about to go to the grocery store for peanut butter, when we remembered that there was a vending machine on the premises where peanuts can be purchased. So we gave John fifty cents for peanuts, and sent him off to get a ladder. When the live trap was delivered, John took the ladder over to install the live trap above the ceiling tiles. No go. Off for a taller ladder. These old ceilings are about 14 feet high.
In the meantime, the creature appeared in Julie’s shop. It was a bird. A big one. Not as big as a crane, but bigger than a robin. (So don’t get excited about spring!) I guessed it was probably a pigeon.
Pigeons hang around our loading dock, no matter how many fake owls and rolls of chicken wire we put up to keep them out. On days when we print, the conveyor door right below the loading dock is open for several hours, and must seem appealing to birds. There they are out in the cold, and there is a door that goes right into a warm (comparatively speaking) room.
At least that’s my theory as to how birds now and again find their way into the building. From there, it is a simple route to the space above all the dropped ceilings, where they get trapped. (They don’t call them bird brains for nothing.) Once there, it’s not as if a person can call “Here, birdie, birdie. Here’s the way to freedom.” The poor bird gets into a panic and bangs around up there until it exhausts itself. If it does happen to find its way to a trap, or to the spot where we have slid aside the false ceiling to give it a route out, we can catch it in our handy landing net. But usually, the noise just stops and we can only guess at the bird’s fate.
Outside the window of one of the offices that face the street, there is a hole in the brick where a family of sparrows has lived for many years. It doesn’t usually bother us, until the babies are born in early spring, and the din rivals the trucks on Second St., barely silenced as mom or dad sparrow arrives with some sort of disgusting food.
I suppose if we had a brand new plant somewhere, there wouldn’t be as much wildlife, but how dull. A visit from a bird lends some excitement to the day (or the occasional bat, which really causes excitement among the women—screeching and slamming of doors—as the men bravely run around with the landing net).
For now, we are still waiting for the arrival of the pigeon. (And, as a co-worker pointed out, we’re still waiting for the arrival of the robin, too!)