November 25, 2007

March of the Penguins

The other night I happened upon a TV special called “March of the Penguins”. I thought it was going to be that dancing penguin thing and settled in for some light entertainment.

OH, but I found SO much more.

In fact, I couldn’t stop watching, even when I found it was much different than I’d thought, and I want to tell y’all in case you see it’s on TV sometime and think it doesn’t sound all that interesting.

Oh, but it is. It IS.

The people doing this special chose one small family among the hundreds of penguin families on one breeding ground in the Antarctica and followed them over the course of several months and horrific weather changes.

After the mother and father’s baby penguin was born, the mother had to leave to replinish her system with food after her long pregnancy. It’s the custom among penguins for the father to take over care of their progeny when the mother has to leave for food, so the father swept the baby under HIS tummy, where it could be warm, and the mother took off with all the other new mothers to head for the ocean where they could eat and store food in their bodies to bring back to their babies. This is a long, long trek both ways. It takes days and sometimes more. But on they plod toward the ocean.

While the mother was gone, a horrible winter gale swept in. All the male penguins, hundreds of them, huddled together, switching places from time to time so the guys on the outside wouldn’t bear all the brunt of the wind and bitter cold. The mother was gone for a while but the fathers took great care of their little ones. In fact, it was quite touching to watch, especially when the father had to cough up a special secretion to feed the hungry baby when its mother was late getting back, because he knew the baby would die without food.

The mother eventually came back, took over her baby’s care, sweeping it under her tummy again, nourishing and keeping it warm as possible while the fathers all headed for the ocean so they could eat.

Also, the mother began at this point to teach the baby little things, just as a human mother would do. Up to this point, the baby had pretty much been a teeny blob who traveled around by walking ON its parents’ feet while still being kept protected under their stomachs, only showing its head to squeak for food, then right back under the parents’ stomach.

Now the father, having eaten after his long trek to the ocean, came back and took over the baby’s care so the mother could go eat again. The baby was growing now and beginning to explore. Unfortunately, it explored a little too much and died.

Here’s the part I thought was so profound, so agonizing, that I actually sat and cried, totally mesmerized by this panorama when the mother came back.

The breeding grounds, where they spend most of their time, is a huge, crowded place, with hundreds of penguins roiling around all the time. Still, the mother found the father and then she started looking around for her baby.

She spotted it on the outside of the mass of milling penguins, went over to it, poked it with her beak, obviously trying to make it get up. It took her a minute or so to realize the baby was dead.

The minute she did, she started to wail. There was no mistaking it. This female penguin was in deep, agonizing grief because her child was gone forever. I saw unmistakeable pain, both in her cries and her body movements. Never mind that they’d have another baby next mating season. This mother loved THIS baby.

I’ve never been so awestruck by anything in the animal world. I actually could not believe it. The love and caring in this little family was SO evident nobody watching this story unfold could possibly miss it. No script here, this was real.

One of the reasons this hit me so hard was that all through this two hour special I had been thinking, these are families, and for some reason all they DO is live to have babies and take care of them. They go to the breeding grounds to have them, then they take that tremendously long walk over ice, in terrible conditions, to jump into the ocean and eat so they can feed them. They do this over and over, and I found myself wondering, why? What’s the purpose of all this? Why were these particular animals (or mammals) even put in this terrible, cold place only to have to struggle day in and day out, only to have more baby penguins and go through terrible conditions all through their entire lives just to do this?

Well, I don’t know the answer. I guess that’s up to a Higher Power to tell us one day. But for now, to me, seeing this devotion, this caring, this deep love, I found myself thinking, wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if all humans did the same thing. Love our kids and do everything in our power to take care of them, to raise them right.

Just think. If humans ALL did this, we wouldn’t have the kind of problems we have. We wouldn’t have kids turning to gangs and drugs and murdering each other. We wouldn’t have people all over the world ignoring the inevitable results to kids, anybody’s kids, by going out and blowing up people and buildings and even entire countries.

We wouldn’t have politicians worldwide ignoring the future of today’s kids while they wrangle for centuries over money and oil and territory and ancient blood feuds. There wouldn’t be any blood feuds, because if the people feuding gave one second’s serious thought to the effect on their children instead of their own anger, they’d realize how stupid blood feuds actually are.

If only WE ALL thought long and hard about our children and everyone else’s children all over the world, before making even more mistakes than we’ve already made, there’d be a lot less bloodshed worldwide, all of it completely unnecessary.

Think grandkids, not oil and more money in your bank account. That’s what animals do. Should we not try to be at least as good to our children and grandchildren as they are?

There’s a lot to be learned from a little movie called March of the Penguins. That was my personal epiphany the other night. Not that I didn’t know all these things anyhow, but somehow, watching a two hour special about penguins brought it all home to me in a most profound way.

I hope you get to see it yourself soon if you haven’t already. I don’t see how anyone could fail to be tremendously touched by it.

Hey, y’all, thanks for stopping by, and I hope you come back again next week. You never know what’ll happen with Hotclue between now and then.

We love y’all, you KNOW we do!
Hotclue, Beth and Sarge, who just scratched on the back of my chair and said “Hey!” (Or was that “Treats!”)

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4 Responses | | Comments Feed

  1. You have completely blown me away. I’ve not seen this program and don’t know if I could take the emotional impact. Thanks for posting.

  2. I think you could, Sloane. It’s not all sad, but it is profoundly touching, watching these wonderful little families interact with such love and caring. It’s an amazing experience. I know I’ll never forget it.

    Hey, thanks for dropping by! Come back again real soon, ya hear me?

    Love, Hotclue

  3. People question the intelligence of animals when they should question their own compassion. How many penguines abuse their children?

    They have an amazing family unit in which they have compromise and more team work than most married couples I’ve ever known.

    It really is fascinating and sad but so very interesting to watch. Loved it!


  4. Hello,

    I’ve recently come across you’re blog, and I like it. I found this post interesting, because I never seen any reaction from a viewer of this film, just critics.

    But, I hope this doesn’t ruin things, there are things in the movie that weren’t made clear.

    Emperor penguins don’t mate for life – they change partners every breeding season. They have to – their high fatality rate means if they didn’t re-mate after a partner died, the species would die out.

    The male penguins only stay around long enough for the mother to return to collect the chick. If she doesn’t, the father will leave to go and feed – if he doesn’t he’ll starve.

    So you could say the Emperor penguins are great role models. That is role models for swingers and deadbeat dads…

    But I agree that we should treat our kids better and think of the welfare of the others. This kind of altruism is what makes us different from animals.

    Animals act to ensure the survival or their pack/herd/flock/whatever. Humans can act to help individuals as well as everyone around us, and in the world in general.

    Sadly, too few of us do.







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