March of penguins

{Reflection on March of penguins based on the film of the same name. Written for my daughter when she was 4 years old}

Dearest Malu,
We all live on this earth and as you have seen in pictures it is almost like a ball. It has oceans and land. This is not a small ball, but a very big one. It is almost like the beach ball you have, with both ends little flattened. At two ends of this ball are poles, North Pole and South Pole. And both places are full of ice. The South Pole is called Antarctica.

Antarctica is full of ice. In Antarctica you can see vast mountains and sheets of ice there. Most of it is actually an ocean (with lots of water). But almost all the time this ocean is frozen to ice.
Antarctica – That is where Emperor Penguin lives. There are many kinds of penguins. The penguins we saw in Monterrey Bay, when we all went to see big fishes were from South Africa. But Antarctica has one special penguin and it is Emperor penguins. They live in the ocean. They are birds, but can not fly. The small little wings that you see them having can not make them fly. But they can swim very well. They catch fishes in the ocean and eat them as and when they like. They, with friends, swim in the ocean, play in the ocean and live in the ocean.

An emperor penguin baby (chick) is born out of a big egg that mummy Penguin lays. From the egg, a small chick will come out. Mummy and Pappa feeds the baby and it grows and become real emperor penguin. The story of that egg, chick and the baby becoming a grown up penguin is a beautiful story and that is the story the Pappa is going to tell you now.

Antarctica is very cold. Very very cold. Even the big ocean, most part will become ice on the surface. It is ice every where. White ice, where ever you look. It is the coldest (you take a cup of water and pour outside, it will become ice then and there), driest (all water is ice, so you will not even get water to drink), windiest (wind blows so fast, it can beat pappa’s car even in the freeway) and darkest (sun does not come for full day here at Antarctica, it will be there for only very small time and it is night almost always) place on our earth. That is where Emperor penguin lives. Can you image how difficult it will be living there? Of course they have a kind of fur coat all over them, but even that is not enough to ward off the cold and wind.

But every year, in the month of February, when real winter season is about to start, emperor penguins will come out of sea and will start marching to a place where they can lay egg. Not one or two penguins, but many, hundreds and hundreds of them will come out of sea. The place they have to go is far away. They will not take a bus or car since there are no roads to that place. They will not take train, since there are no rail roads to that place. They can not take planes, since they do not have one. All these seven thousand penguins will have to walk to reach a place where they can lay egg. They will walk day and night, sometimes seven days or sometimes even more, to a place where they can safely lay egg and bring up their babies. The place they are going to is a vast icy place where there is no ocean. They will walk. When their little feet get tied, they walk on their belly.

The place they go is not an ocean, so they will not get any food there. So before they started walking, they will catch fishes for three months and keep all those fishes in their tummy so that they can eat them one by one when they reach the place where they can lay eggs. The place they are going is the place they themselves were born. That was the same place their papa and mummy were born and their grandpa and grandma were born. And after long long march, day and night, in the very very cold, they all, thousands of them, will reach their birth place almost same day every year.

After reaching there, after some weeks of “pennukannal”, a Pappa penguin will marry a mummy penguin and they will dance for sometime. During that time Pappa will teach mummy penguin a special song which she will memorize. And then they will wait for egg to form in mummy’s tummy and for it to come out. While they wait winter will grow harsh and huge wind will blow to destroy them. All penguins, thousands of them will huddle together to heat up their body and looking at them far, you will see a large mass of penguins huddled together and icy winds blowing over them.

Now it is May and it is dark almost all time. During all these tough times, an egg is forming in mummy penguin’s tummy and in June she will lay a big egg. She can not keep it on the ice, because it is so cold that it will freeze and break the egg. So she will keep the egg on her feet, under her fur coat. Because egg is on her feet and she must never show it, she will not even able to walk properly. But now three months are over, all the fishes mummy caught and kept in the tummy are also over. Mummy is now very hungry and she has to go to ocean to catch fish again. So she will ask Pappa penguin to take care of egg while she is away to ocean to catch fishes. The handing over the egg from mummy to Pappa is very difficult one. You can try it by passing a ball balanced on your feet to Akkuchechi to her feet. Those mummy penguins who has handed over the eggs to Pappa penguins will go back to ocean. She will walk again weeks to reach ocean. This time more ocean has become ice so they have to walk more and more to get near to the ocean. And she will be back after 3 months to Pappa penguin.

Meanwhile Pappa penguin will tend the egg balancing it on his feet, protecting against harsh winds and standing there on the icy ground. He will do this for 3 months. Without blinking eyes, without eating anything for 3 months, while winter grow violent and wind blows over them every day and night.

Days and weeks will pass. And one day sun will start coming up in the sky, ending long nights. Papa penguin has not eaten for 4 months now and he has been keeping the egg between his feet. And then one day, a crack will appear on the egg and you will see a small beak coming out of it. Slowly the egg will crack open, and there will come a little chick. Pappa penguin is so happy. But he is hungry too. Pappa is waiting for mummy to come back from sea with food for the new baby. He has kept a small food in his throat all these months to feed the baby until mummy comes home. And they together will wait.

And one day soon mummy penguin will arrive with her tummy full of fishes, krill and squids, after walking again many days from sea to this home. When mummy penguins reaches where Pappa penguins and babies live, mummy has to find the Pappa penguin. All penguins looks same: same color, same beaks, and same coats. So how can mummy find Pappa? Remember the special song Pappa taught mummy penguin before mummy went to sea for food. All Pappa penguins will be singing aloud when mummy penguins come marching to them. And each mummy penguins will find its Pappa penguins based on this song. And mummy will see her baby’s face first time he was born. And first time, family is together.

Now mummy is back, Pappa has to go back to sea for food. It is difficult for him to go away, but he has not eaten for four months and he also has to bring back food for baby. Before going away, Pappa will teach a special song to his baby. You now know why, because by the time he is back, baby will have grown up. This song will be the only way, by which he can find his baby.
Now baby penguin is having real fun. They are growing up too. He is getting stomach full food from mummy. Mummy will keep him between her feet and show him the world around. She will clean him up and when the wind blows hard protect him with her fur coat. But she will not allow him to touch the ice below her feet. After teaching him walking, keeping his tiny feet on her feet, one day baby will take his first steps on ice with mummy’s help. Then he will make friends. A lots of baby penguins will start running around and toppling about and learn many tricks under the watchful eyes of their mothers.

Mummy penguin will now have to go back to sea to gather food and eat. Now babies are old enough, mummy will leave the baby alone and will start back to sea. Now babies are alone. But before long Pappa penguin will be back with his tummy full of food. All babies will gather together and welcome their Pappas back home, all singing that song each of their Pappas taught before they went to sea. And now it will be Pappa who will feed grown-up child. After some days, Pappa will leave to sea, but child will not be alone for long because his mummy is back. This cycle will happen many times.

Sun is hot and it is summer too. Ice starts melting making sea to come closer and closer to the home. Now children are big and now they have coats like Pappa and mummy. And in September, Pappa and mummy will decide to go away. They will leave their grown-up children in the home and will go away for ever. The child penguin will grow more and grow stronger without his Pappa and mummy around. In December, the sea will reach almost near to their home.

All boys and girls will stand at the edge of sea. They have never seen ocean in their lives. They will stand at the edge of sea and they will look into the clean blue water of sea. And one day, one by one, they will take a plunge into sea. And first time they will be in their true home. Ocean.
They will live in the water for four years and after that they too will repeat the story that I have been telling you so far.
Take care,

Lots of Love