Saturday, June 27, 2009

University of Puget Crows

Once again this summer on the campus of the University of Puget Sound, the sign is out. It's a small temporary sign beside a walkway that runs underneath tall fir trees. It says something like, "Caution--Crow Nesting Area."

The crows' nests have eggs and/or young crows in them; therefore, the parents are in dive-bomb mode.

I actually don't mind being dived at by crows. I have a love/hate relationship with them. I love them, and they hate me. It's nothing personal on their part. It's just business. They find it advantageous to live around humans and other animals that leave food around, but they don't like humans. You can tell by the way they look at us.

Of course, the crows live on campus all year. Occasionally I'll try to chat one up as I walk to or from a class. Usually I say, "What are you doing?" I'm actually glad the crow can't talk back (in English) because, given the crow-personality, the bird would probably say, "What does it look like I'm doing?"

To like about crows:

1. They act like they own the place, any place. And I suppose they do.
2. They're sleek and black--"like gangster cars," as I once wrote in a poem.
3. Their eyes aren't exactly on the side of their heads, as most birds' are; they're almost moved up to the predator-position.
4. They seem to view flying as a chore. They much prefer hopping or strutting. When they do take off, they seem to be enjoying flight about as much as a man with bad knees enjoys climbing stairs. They seem almost too big to fly, but they climb into the air eventually. Once up there, they do fine, but they still don't like to work at it. They prefer to glide--a short distance, and then stop, perch, and start an argument.
5. Allegedly, they can count. (I'm not kidding, but I don't know exactly how ornithologists established this.)
6. They share information. In fact, crows in this area have an enormous convention on Whidbey Island, or so I have read. No word as to whether they where small crow name-tags. Also, in one experiment, they were shown to remember a human who wore a mask. To put the matter colloquially, in the crow community, word gets around.

I don't know what word has gotten around about me, but crows like to yell and dive at me. I haven't ever been hit by one, but I keep my head (and eyes) down, just in case. Otherwise, I'm vaguely amused by the attack. One of my former professors, the late Karl Shapiro, wasn't so lucky. A crow at a university in Chicago actually attacked him--not just one dive-bomb, but an attack. A scuffle. Karl managed to ward off the bird with his black umbrella, and then of course wrote a well crafted, humorous poem about the incident.

So there's Karl's poem, and Poe's famous raven poem, but the best poetic treatment of crows may be Ted Hughes's wonderful book-length work, titled simply Crow. It captures the spirit of crows, or what humans take to be that spirit.

In summer, the University of Puget Sound is a place where some summer school classes are offered, where high-school students and their parents take tours as they go through the painstaking process of choosing a college, where professors work on their research and writing, where organizations have their conferences (Methodists, cheerleaders), where the groundskeepers must work hard to keep the flourishing vegetation in order, and where frisbee-throwers, skate-boarders, and dog-walkers take advantage of the space.

Most of all, it becomes the University of Puget Crows, where large black birds take parenting and feathered family values seriously.
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