Translated by: Anne Milano Appel
... he was stumbling along over the stones without paying any further attention to me,
with that breathless air of ‘I’m late, I’m late’, until he must have convinced himself that his parents had gone off into the sea leaving him behind: only then did he turn toward the water and, dejected and distraught, threw himself in. Now I knew what it was about. The family scene I had witnessed was a critical moment in his training, the point when a young penguin is forced to procure – all by himself, in the sea – the krill and plankton on which he feeds, which prior to a certain time is offered to him from his parents’ beak as regurgitated pulp. I realized that I was anthropomorphizing the penguins, something I had promised myself not to do, and I spoke with Jeremy about it; better to stick to the numerous explanations of the behavior of penguins of different species which the biologists’ expeditions observed and catalogued. The trouble with stories, when it comes to penguins, is that they are told by a sole point of view, the human one. We superimpose what has to do with us over their inexhaustible imagination and curiosity, changing its meaning.
It may be that penguins too are inclined to penguinomorphize humans, and this definitely happened a few weeks later when, during an expedition on foot, as I was accompanying an international delegation of ten biologists, we encountered a caravan of Emperors, the largest of their kind. Them, the penguins, all in a row, us, the humans, all in a row. Two colonies similarly on a trek, the penguins toward the coast in search of food, we from the coast towards the interior, to reach the coldest regions inhabited by the Emperors. They, we, were experiencing the same solitude in a sea of ice and snow, and the same concerns. When they arrived at a respectful distance, the head of the Emperor penguins, a very large, important creature of their species, stretched out his neck toward us in a deep bow and with his beak against his chest made a long, gurgling speech. When he had finished his speech, still in that deferential position, he stared up into the eyes of Jacques, the head of the delegation, to see if he had understood. Neither Jacques, the most experienced ethologist, nor anyone else could understand that discourse.