Web Exclusives: Inky Dinky Do
a PAW web exclusive column by Hugh O'Bleary

November 7, 2001:
A bird above all
With anxiety all around, one campus resident commands respect

By Hugh O’Bleary

Your kingbird doesn’t give a damn—
his royal warcry is I AM

I remember that much of the e. e. cummings poem right away — as soon as I see the hawk. It is a crisp, bright Sunday morning. Fall in full splendor.

I’m headed to the 8:15 Dinky, evidently the only person up and about on campus. My mind wandering from anthrax to the Yankees, to caves in Afghanistan (the usual mournful and muddling menu of late), I have just passed under Blair Arch and am trotting down the steps when I see the bird — a red-tailed hawk, Buteo jamaicensis. Big, startlingly big, he emerges from the branches of a still leafy oak tree, there behind the U-Store, his wings spread to about the width of your average two-car garage, and drops smoothly, noiselessly to the grass.

I say, “Wow,” out loud. His head swivels in my direction, and before I can reach the foot of the stairs he turns and, with two slow flaps of those wide, rust-colored wings, lifts back into the oak, where he settles onto a branch, staring down at me with two shiny black eyes.
your kingbird doesn’t give a damn...

I can absolutely believe that as I get closer and see the sharp, hooked beak and the talons gripping the branch, the sheer size of him, more like a dog sitting up there than a bird. On a campus populated by squirrels and pigeons and robins, this is a helluva animal. He clearly rules. I actually get a little nervous as I draw closer. I picture some Hitchcockian scene: being torn to shreds as I try to run back up the stairs, or perhaps being carried off, dangling from those awful talons, to be dropped upon Nassau Hall. (Such is the apocalyptic tenor of my thoughts these days.) But then the hawk takes flight, swooping gracefully, thrillingly, across the open courtyard and up to land on the corner of Blair Hall. He sits there, burnished in the morning sun, an ornamental carving at first glance, until his head swivels and his black eyes flash.
I remember more of the cummings poem:

your kingbird doesn’t give a damn
for murderers of high estate
whose mongrel cry is Might Makes Right
—his royal warcry is I AM
I stand for a moment longer, gazing up at the bird, this big, surprising resident of the campus — this other in our midst, who isn’t thinking about bombings or airplanes or about the Yankees or anthrax, and certainly not about making the 8:15 Dinky — and I think this is a good gift for a Sunday morning. And I remember the last part of the poem:
true to his mate his chicks his friends
he loves because he cannot fear
(you see it in the way he stands
and looks and leaps upon the air)

You can reach Hugh O'Bleary at "Hugh O'Bleary" paw@princeton.edu