Emperors of the Ice

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I remember telling a teacher in high school that I'd live in Antarctica one day. She told me I was wrong, and gosh I'd love to meet her again one day. I did an assignment on Emperor Penguins- I was a teenager, I thought they were pretty cool. Fast forward … (read more)

I remember telling a teacher in high school that I'd live in Antarctica one day. She told me I was wrong, and gosh I'd love to meet her again one day. I did an assignment on Emperor Penguins- I was a teenager, I thought they were pretty cool. Fast forward years later, I was sitting on a rock below the Antarctic station I was living at taking photos of a group of Emperor Penguins and I swear, I could not have been more chuffed.

I had a really special connection with Emperor Penguins while I was in Antarctica. The nearest colony to us was 250km away, but occasionally you would see a group of juveniles like these ones out and about, or a male who had been unsuccessful with his egg, or even some females who'd lost their way back and had hauled out onto the ice for some respite before returning to fish again. They're curious of humans. And they really are regal.

Unlike Adelie Penguins, who are short, squat creatures- rarely graceful, and when travelling in groups will often trip, fall and take out ten of their friends like skittles in a bowling alley... They stand just over a metre tall- Emperors move more slowly. They seem calculated, gentle, inquisitive. Quiet. They were really rare around our part of Antarctica. For me they were very special.

With my family's blessing I took a small portion of my dad's ashes to the ice with me. He'd passed away from cancer a year before I got my job as a Meteorologist, two years before I landed on the ice. I think he would have been really proud I was down there. I was pretty sad that he wasn't around to share it with me. It took me over a year to find the right moment to scatter them. One day, just as the sea ice was starting to move away from the mainland, in front of a glacier we loved- the wind dropped, the ocean lay flat and the moment was right to leave a piece of him in a place he would have so dearly loved to have visited.

I scattered dad's ashes. I poured him a glass of red wine. Moments later, to my right, the water stirred. An Emperor Penguin popped out of the water, onto the ice, and walked across the sea ice in what seemed like slow motion to stand directly in front of me. It felt like hours, but really it was minutes- the Empy and I. It then walked across, bowed to a friend taking photos, gave the glacier a cursory look and wandered away. I didn't need words in that moments.

Emperor Penguins are special.


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