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Great Films and Authors: "March of the Penguins"
Only rarely do I find a film that touches my heart but recently the Hallmark Channel showed a film called "The March of the Penguins". It was a documentary chronicling a year in the life of a penguin. There were thousands of penguins in it, one following the other, and all behaving exactly as the others. Nature seems to have programmed them, and strangely, the program repeats itself annually until they die.
Penguins live in the Antarctic. Other than fish and whales they are the only inhabitants. And, as I am sure you all know, they are birds even though they do not fly. They swim, they walk that strange almost Charlie Chaplinesque walk of theirs, and they propel themselves on their bellies using their wings much as paddles when they tire of walking. They do not stop, they do not eat, they do not sleep or rest but continue their trek until they have reached their breeding ground destination. They walk in a semblance of a single line and the line extends for miles and miles with new penguins joining it from time to time.
The film documents this annual pilgrimage of 70 miles to the place of their birth. It is the same place for all of them and has been their breeding place forever. The courting and mating rituals are done with exquisite delicacy and it is beautiful to watch them display their love for one another. For a bird that moves with little grace it is remarkable to see the grace they display when courting.
Shortly after the egg is laid it is left to the care of the male penguin and the female makes the 70 mile trek back to their living area to fish and acquire sufficient food to feed the infant bird. She then returns across this vast area of ice, the 70 miles traversed once again, and takes over the care and feeding of the egg. The infant bird soon breaks out of the egg and from then on she cares for it. When the infant is sufficiently grown the families then make the 70 mile trek back to their feeding grounds. Excepting for the few that die naturally while they are there, all make this return trek in exactly the same fashion as they made their earlier trek there.
To watch these birds endure the 40 and 50 degrees below zero temperatures and horrendous winter ice storms is absolutely heart rending. I sat watching and weeping for almost the entire film. A masterpiece of filming done with incredible photography and one of the most interesting films I have ever seen.
Here, a female penguin with her newborn. Notice the position of the head, exactly as they hold themselves, and notice how the infant bird is sheltered by the mother’s body. You can see the caring in the positioning of her body. One of the remarkable things is how the female wraps her young with her body -- no limbs with which to hold the infant and yet it is being held and her love is apparent. Nature is so remarkable.
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