Emperor penguins are known for their curious nature. On a recent trip
from McMurdo Station to Cape Royds, friends and I drove by a red flag
planted in the ice. Flags are planted all over the ice near McMurdo,
marking safe routes along the sea ice. This flag happened to be in the
middle of almost nowhere, and it seemed as if the penguins had simply
walked over from the ice edge to see what it was doing there. There
were three of them, and they stood there at the flag, in the sun,
looking as if they were waiting for a bus.
penguins, which are found only in Antarctica, stand about three feet
tall. But it isn't just their size that distinguishes them. They are
the only animal (not counting protozoa and other microscopic marine
creatures) to spend winters in Antarctica. The male emperors sit all
winter, braving storms of the worst kind, with an egg balanced on their
gray, leathery feet. The egg is insulated by a flap of fat and
feathers. Emperors are also distinguished by their incredible coloring
and their grace. They are mostly black and white, but have brilliant
creamy yellow breasts, which turn deep yellow and gold at their
throats. Even when they waddle from side to side, they are graceful.
Even when they get down on their bellies and push themselves along with
their feet and their "wings" (really much more like flippers) they are
elegant. They leave intricate patterns in the snow when they glide on
their bellies-a wide path where their feathery breasts have dragged in
the snow, and beside that, soft snaky curls where they've pushed
along with their wings.
When we saw the emperors we stopped and got out of our spryte and
walked to within a safe distance from them. The Antarctic Treaty
prohibits anyone from harassing animals here. But the funny thing about
emperors is that they will come to you. We sat down in the snow and
waited and sure enough, within moments, two of the penguins were
walking toward us. They came to within five feet, then stopped and
began to talk. Emperors gesture with their heads and beaks-sometimes
pointing their beaks straight up in the air and wagging their heads
from side to side, other times bowing their heads in graceful curves so
their beaks rest against their breasts. When they call out with their
beaks up in the air it's called "trumpeting," and the sound is both
comical and forlorn, like the sound of loons on a quiet lake.
Analysis:What I've tried to do here is simply write about
one animal that is unique to Antarctica and give a sense of some of the
special characteristics of this animal. I wrote about how the penguins
are curious, about their beautiful coloring, I included the sound that
they make, and some of the ways they fit into the landscape (their
tracks in the snow).
Writing Assignment:Think of an animal that is special to your
place. In Alaska you might think about mosquitoes, salmon, caribou,
loons, grizzly bears. Take some time to think about what makes that
animal so special to that particular place, then write about an
interaction you've had with that animal.