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The Persistent and Puzzling Peterborough Penguin Problem

Started by buster, June 25, 2021, 11:17:29 AM

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The Persistent and Puzzling Peterborough Penguin Problem

The recent presence of penguins in our city, Peterborough, Ontario, was just an interesting diversion for most citizens. But for a small group there was a hugely important task to be completed. And I got to be part of that group. And this is what happened behind the scenes.

(Revised on Canada Day, 2021, just after the task was completed.)
Growing up from childhood and becoming an adult is highly overrated.


   Chapter #1: Julia Gives Me the Secret Address

I checked with neighbours and heard incomplete, insubstantial rumours that gave no indication of proven facts. Just hints. So I walked over to Julia's. She's the nurse who gave me my second shot, and she knows everything that's going on in our area. She was standing in her front garden.

"Something else is going on with the penguins other than them hanging around. I can just sense it. And if anyone knows it would be you."

"Come and sit on the porch," she said, and she turned and climbed slowly up the steps. Pretty soon I realized I shouldn't just stand there watching as she moved from one level to the next, but join her. Fortunately she wouldn't be aware of my staring, though she did have an unexplained ghost of a grin on her face when she faced me.

"I don't see you much anymore. Are you still the far too honourable man you were years ago?"

"I can keep secrets still."

"I honestly never noticed you had any need to keep secrets. If there was a competition for which man in the neighbourhood led the most boring blameless life, you would have won hands down."

"Is that praise or blame?"

"It isn't praise," she grinned. "This evening go to Metro and ask for Janet. Tell her you were sent by Julia and you need fish. She will give you a bag of fish that is being taken off the counter because of dates. Give her $10 and she'll walk you out the store."

"What am I going to do with a big bag of old fish?"

"Drive to this address just outside the city." She gave me a card from her pocket. "Your bag of fish is the entrance fee. You will recognize the woman who collects the fish. And make sure you take a lawn chair. Please keep all of this as secret as you can. Sooner of later it will come out. But for now, let my daughter finish her studies without the world descending on her."

So that's where I'll be tonight, and I may need an umbrella as well so I'd better remember. Whatever happens tonight I'll share with you tomorrow. It can't be that shocking or unusual I'm guessing. I mean this is Peterborough.

Chapter #2: I Meet a Noisy Alphabet

There were a few cars parked outside the meeting destination, but not many. The whole thing seemed exclusive and private. I was greeted on the driveway and thanked for the fish by a younger Julia!

"You're Julia's daughter!"

" And if I'm to call you by the same name as my mom did when I was a kid, you're S.A."

Well, that set me back a bit. I was quite aware of what the initials stood for. But I had been called worse. She grinned in a friendly way.

"It's odd, but mom always used the letters S.A. in a wistful way. Here's my daughter, who is the third Julia in the line." I turned and looked at a bright twelve or thirteen year old who's helping her mom. Both of them obviously like each other. And all three, grandmother, mother and daughter looked like the same person at different ages. "Julia, take S.A. and his fish to greet our little friends and feed them. Introduce them to our guest."

Young Julia and I walked through an open gate at the back of the yard. A large fenced in area had some curious penguins watching us, or probably watching the fish bag.

"Line up," she said in a soft voice, and magically they formed a line of birds facing us! Except for one. I was absolutely astonished!  "George, do you want some fish?" George looked like that one kid in the class that wanted  to be a bit rude, but wanted a treat too. He shuffled over and got at the far end of the line. "In your correct place George," she said, again in a very soft voice. George moved one over. When they were settled, she said, "This is S.A. And S.A., this is Al, Betty, Cathy, Danny, Ellie, Frank, and you know George already, and at the end Grace. Say hello to our guest." I was dumbfounded. They all waved their wing stumps gently. And stopped. And Young Julia said to me, "Well?" So run this through your brain. What do you say to a line of penguins? And Young Julia just smirked at me.

"I am very pleased to make your acquaintance," I said weakly. And I looked at my young guide. "Do they understand what I just said?"

"I doubt that. I hardly know what those words mean in any real sense. But they get the gist of it. Now let's feed them"

She gathered eight metal dishes and spread them on the ground. Into one larger dish she put the fish, quite a pile of it. "Now we step back, and keep an eye on George." I know this sounds unreal, but I was not drunk. Nor am I given to fantasy episodes in my daily life. But in front of me the penguins were spreading the fish, sometimes ripping parts in half, until all bowls had approximately the same amount. She smiled at George. "Very good George. Polite George." They all lined up with their food and she applauded and said, "Very well done." And I guess that was the signal for them to eat. Why couldn't a group of human children be that pleasant I wondered.

" You're the last one, so we can go closer to  the house and I'll point out who's here." And in a short while we stood a fair distance still from five people who were spaced out from one another. "The one over in the lawn chair on the right is Bob, our driver. His wife is a truck driver too and she sometimes helps. Both good solid people. And we'll really need them for the next step." How would a girl this young learn to speak like someone fifteen years older? "The quite young handsome man beside him is helping my mom with the scientific stuff – she gives him guidance academically and in the bedroom. And she thinks I don't know about the bedroom part. Adults can be so naive." I couldn't think of a reason to blame them. They made a handsome couple, despite the difference in ages.  "Next is the computer network guy. Very bright, but a bit awkward and strange. And his mind seems to drift off at times. But he's key to the whole production we're setting up." This apparently was going to be a 'big production'. "The next one is also one of my mom's students, but he is fussy, conceited, unconsciously rude, and, in my opinion, quite unattractive." Maybe Young Julia is actually in her twenties and just looks young? "Fortunately he works far from us, which is best for the birds, because they don't like him either. He handles numbers – statistics, and garners data from some other research around the world."

"Garners?" I asked.

"Yes. It means.."

"I know what it means. Why would you know what it means?"

"It's just an ordinary word you know. The person beside math man is going to speak tonight. He came all the way from Northern Saskatchewan by car! He has some fascinating information, and he's in on the production. Looking forward to that. And of course, my mom, who is orchestrating the whole thing, and is without doubt a genius. She taught the birds who are eating now. She'll speak after you are introduced."

I am still running all this through my head today. I'm not in shock, but I'm pretty close. I have to take some time to assimilate everything, for I got some more surprises during the talks. So tomorrow, I tell you about the rest of the meeting.

Growing up from childhood and becoming an adult is highly overrated.


   Chapter #3: Revelations

I suspect most people in our part of Ontario had visions of animals  escaping from a zoo to account for the penguins - the Madagascar movie come to life. They got away, adapted, reproduced and sort of took over some lakes. With their reproduction rates, we're pretty sure that didn't happen. The population is too large unless the escape happened maybe a century ago. Middle Julia told us something that revealed    an important insight into the whole story. She sat at the front facing us.

"Two years ago I had a call from my dear friend Mike Fox." My ears went up at this. "Because he is such a dear sweet man, he remembered my interest in penguins, and forwarded a valuable copy of a journal from one of his Paris friends."

"We are talking about Dr Michael Fox." She nodded. "I know him quite well. He is an active member of the Linux Club. 'Dear sweet' seems a little strong in my opinion. But that's OK. What I don't understand is why he gets dear sweet and I get S.A. which is short for Stupid Ass!"

Middle Julia looked at me. "But we say it with affection." And she grinned.

And Young Julia said, "And it doesn't always mean Stupid Ass," she said softly, looking almost like a child. There was a pause, and finally she said, "Sometimes it means Stupid Asshole, but we always say it kindly."

Everyone was laughing now except for yours truly. So I said, " I guess he's a dear sweet man, when he's awake at least."

Middle Julia looked at me, calculated, and said, "Yes, his dozing off is a problem. Once I was sitting beside him on a small couch, and it was getting late, and he started to fall asleep in that cute way he has. We were both very tired." At this point I knew she was out to irritate me, putting visions in my mind, not maliciously, but just for the fun of poking at me with pictures rather than a stick. "We were at at meeting in the faculty lounge, one prof from each discipline, and there he was, head back, sound asleep." Everyone in their lawn chair listened intently. "With silent agreement,  all the profs quietly got up, moved making as little noise as we could, turned the lights off and left. Not sure what he did when he woke up. We never even mentioned it to him afterwards, and he never brought the subject up. Maybe he slept there all night." That was a funny story.

"The paper that Mike forwarded to me," she continued, "Was copied pages from the journal of two Hudson Bay explorers, the remnants of the Banbury-Randle exploration group of the 1840's, who lasted months, just the two of them, after most had drowned. Some others had lingered a bit but died from the cold and lack of food."

There was a sense of revelation coming. Apparently only she knew what this was about. This was new to the rest of us.

"I'm going to read a passage from the journal in a moment.  There were only two left alive after the small ship's destruction, and those two were the carpenter, and the sail-maker. We know for almost certain from these diary dates, December 27, 1842, to March 12, 1843, that both were alive. The proof is in the pages of the journal. On December 31, 1842, the passage apparently reads... I have to say 'apparently' because the writing is difficult to read at times, as malnutrition, cold and fatigue wore the carpenter down. This is what the passage says:

"The heavenly seabirds flew through the water to us from some hidden realm in the depths, skimming through the water, and jumped right out of the waves and stood before us. They waved their stubby arms, made strange noises, and from their centre, lovely fish emerged, covered in the warm slippery liquid that came right from God Almighty, for us. We had not been forsaken. And we fell upon the flesh of these wonderful fish. And felt hope for once."

Wow. There was silence. We all recognizes the regurgitation of food that penguins did to feed their young after hunting. Finally the silence was broken when the handsome student asked why this hadn't been noted before.

"It's hard to see something if you've never looked for it. Everyone seems to think that Penguins live only in Antarctica, which isn't true. So why would anyone think 'penguin' when we know that is an impossibility?"

This was difficult to imagine. A number of people were talking at once. Unbelievable was one word I heard. Middle Julia started moving around the group after making a small announcement. "This piece of paper is a copy of the journal with the words I just quoted. They must all come back to me, and this information is not to leave the group. Far too much is at stake, including the lives of our penguins. So this is important. Paper back to me. No information leaves the group. And do not get upset with me. The full revelation will be spectacular, and we will all be there. And it will change the world." Everyone nodded. They trusted her. "And my friend from Saskatchewan has agreed to wait until tomorrow to solidify our case, and that will at the same time. But let me add one more tempting morsel." We all listened carefully.

"Penguins have lived for centuries in the Galapagos, near the equator. The Spheniscus mendiculus. Our friends are similar, but not quite the same. I'm sure our friends descended, or ascended, from these penguins considering the morphology.

"The Galapagos Penquins apparently have a branch, the Galapogos Penguins of the Arctic, or Spheniscus mendiculus arctica . But that's not all. Our penguins are intelligent. Someone who is better at this can correct this please, but I think we have  Spheniscus mendiculus arctica intelligentes."

Tomorrow: What the man from Saskatchewan said.
Growing up from childhood and becoming an adult is highly overrated.


   Chapter#4: Guardian from Northern Saskachewan

The man with the strange name and the slightly dark skin sat at the front. "Young Julia, how many times did the penguins see me?"

"Once, when I introduced each of us to them."

"Would you please choose one, call out his or her name, and ask the penguin to sit with me?"

Her young face frowned a bit, she smirked and then called out, "George, would you please come out and sit with Guardian?"

Of all the choices she could have made! Time passed and nothing happened. All eyes were on the open gate leading to the penguin area. We were disappointed that this was going  to fail. No penguin appeared. Why in the world did she choose George?

We glanced at each other as a gloom settled over us, not noticing that George was coming from a different direction. He hadn't been in the pen at the bottom of the yard. That's George for you. So the first part was working. He waddled over to Young Julia and rubbed the side of his head against her thigh. He looked at her and we all thought, well he's close. And then he made his way to the front of the group, rubbed against Guardian, turned around, sat on his feet and leaned back against his legs.

We didn't know what to do, so we started clapping! George had assimilated who Guardian was, and what was expected. He answered to his name as if that was his original penguin name, if in fact they had names. This test was absolutely perfectly easy for him. Guardian would explain what it meant.

"I lived with a small group of penguins in Saskatchewan – ten of them - four weeks two summers ago, six weeks last summer. I was isolated, so no other person knew about my little friends. And here's what I learned. They learned to understand English in a matter of days. Their language, which is a mix of wing and toe movement as well as noises, is completely beyond me. They master our language in a few days, their language is beyond the power my brain after two years of trying."

This was all obvious to us now that he put it so simply. And he grinned. "For this and some other reasons I will talk about later, I have come to the conclusion that they are smarter than us." In the dead silence that followed, George got up, did a spin with some foot stamping, sounded a 'kachaw' noise and sat down on Guardian's shoes again. Guardian got a big grin on his face. "You see, George understood everything I said, and you would have to be very simple indeed not to recognize that he is celebrating the fact that finally, someone has uncovered the very obvious truth."

There was chaos for awhile until grandmother Julia shouted, "Why don't we invite the other penguins to join us in the celebration?" And everyone called out names and they waddled out in a group, mingled, and looked at us.

George said something to them in a language that made no sense to the humans, and they all did the little celebration dance that George had done, then picked the human nearest, rubbed their head against a thigh, and mingled. It was like a cocktail party, with no cocktails, but lots of happiness.

Guardian spoke in a loud voice. "Talk to them. Say anything. Ummm..... no. That's wrong. Say good things. Calm things. Friendship words. Remember, they understand every utterance you make."

Give me a break I thought. What do you say to an intelligent penguin? Finally I spoke to the penguin in front of me. "You are Betty aren't you?" She did a hugely exaggerated up and down nodding of her head. Bizarre. And here was my question. "How many other penguins do you know that are not in your group?" I paused and immediately thought I was being stupid for leaving it up to Betty to figure out how to communicate that information. "I'm sorry Betty. I have an idea – only a human idea though, but it will have to do." I grinned, and she waved her head around,  which as you can guess could mean almost anything. "You understand that if I nod my head up and down that means yes, and side to side means no."

Yes, she nodded. And now I might need to be lucky with my guesses for the next part. I didn't know yet but I suspected the number systems between us would be different, and with a different base. I took a piece of paper and pen and drew little lines side by side, the way we might keep track of scores. One line, two lines, three lines, four lines, five lines, six lines. I stopped and watched Betty. I pointed to her toes, at least the only ones I could see, and counted, "One, two three. Four, five, six."

She nodded so vigorously I thought her head night come off. Our system has a base of ten because of our fingers, and hers had a base of six because of her toes. And here was a being who could understand marks on a piece of paper, and marks like this that would never have been part of her culture. I wish she'd been one of my students.

She lifted the piece of paper in her beak, looked at me and started nodding her head slowly, seven times. And I knew right away. So she knew approximately forty-two penguins other than this group – seven groups of six.

I wanted to hug Betty, but realized I might get my throat slashed open by that sharp beak. I smiled and looked at her, nodding up and down. She did her funny little dance. I got up and did a little dance. We danced around each other. And we had crossed the abyss between us, and celebrated together.

With a sense of humour I hadn't noticed before in Guardian, he said, "Could you all gather for the rest of this magnificent dissertation I have toiled so long to prepare. Bring your new friends if you have one, because they will want to hear about my penguin friends out west, and their adventures." The penguins I could see sitting near me were learning against legs and were obviously very interested. Betty snuggled in against me.

"Now to do this I have to start with three things – my mother, my name, and the cabin in the middle of nowhere that in some mysterious way was given to me. And then I'll tell you about the three little strangers who managed to get my cabin screen door open, wander in, sit on the floor, and look at me expectantly."

 Chapter #5: The Cabin in the Woods

Guardian had the attention of all the penguins and humans gathered around him, though it was hard to know with George as he leaned against Guardians legs facing us. He moved his head and eyes everywhere as if to say 'Listen up!'

"My mother, Eva, was and still is beautiful. She is kind, loving and caring, intelligent, witty, educated, and popular. From a young age I noticed that the animals liked her and were drawn to her. Cats would climb on her lap, dogs would nuzzle her, birds didn't fly  away when she entered any gardens we had. Chipmunks didn't beg her for food, but brought things near her and squatted and ate a short distance from her. People loved her, and this didn't change when she moved on."

He paused a moment and I could tell he was rehearsing his words in his mind. He wanted this to come out kindly in honour of the mother he loved. "She has never married. She has lived with many wonderful men. I know because I was with her. She chose wisely, and without exception, they were kind, loving and caring, intelligent, witty, popular just as she was, and also able to fall in love the way the romantic lead does in a movie or novel." He let this grassy area behind the house remain sweetly silent.

"She and every man she chose had the kind of love affair that would make poetry sing. It was profound. It is what is described in the movies as 'for ever and ever'. But you will notice that most of those movies don't do a 'ten years later'. As the fire of the passion diminished, she and her lover, now the firmest of friends, would decide that in the near future, they would gradually move apart. And the two would drift comfortably apart from each other and the cycle would repeat itself. This happened every three or four years, and was not even a little bit traumatic. I meet many of these men still and there is always affection felt between the three of us. And I forgot to mention that the wisdom of my mother generally avoided anyone who wasn't wealthy. She was not avaricious at all. But she was sensible. Practical as well a poet at heart." He took a deep breath and exhaled. "I think I got my love of living things from her. I like the outdoors as she did. I absolutely love every penguin I have ever met." Some odd squawks came from the non-human part of the audience.  Guardian smiled.

"The only time she chose an impoverished man occurred when she chose my biological father. And that's how I got my cabin and my name.

    (Continued below)

Growing up from childhood and becoming an adult is highly overrated.


And I have never met my father, but I met one grandparent when my mother surprisingly flew me to Thunder Bay. And she dragged me through some unsavoury parts of it that didn't make her nervous at all, but I felt a little uneasy. When we got close to her destination, if anyone even looked as if they were going to approach, she said we are going to see so-and-so's parents, and then she gave two more names that I figured out are native names in the original language. I apologize for not knowing the names of my father and grandparents, but they were hard names for a youngster who spoke only English." He looked at us. "I hope I'm not boring you." My god, how could he think such a thought? He had a mother who would bring any romantic novel to glowing life, and a father who was so unlike any of us sitting on these lawn chairs, and he ended up in a cabin with ten penguins all smarter than he is. How wrong could he be?

"My grandmother, a large comfortable woman swept me up and hugged me. She walked over and wrapped her arms around my mom. The two of them talked, sometimes using words I didn't understand. And they laughed with each other. I was put down and taken to a wall that had pictures and framed documents, and even though I was young, I knew they referred to my father, who was doing very well for himself. So I didn't meet my father, or my grandfather, but I did meet Grandma, and we got along famously."

Guardian moved his shoulders a bit and got himself comfortable. "It wears you down having to support someone like George while he just lounges about." George said something in their inscrutable language, and all the penguins made noises – I'm assuming laughter. "My Grandmother opened the door and talked a bit to a young man across the street. I think she explained who the two of us were, and especially how we were related to her famous son, though I couldn't understand. And this driver, who was a bit sullen but polite drove us right to the airport, with hardly a word I might add. My mother insisted he take fifty dollars, which he tried to refuse. But at this he did grin. And then, making a long jump in time to when I turned twenty, I was informed that my father, whom I have never met, had gifted me the isolated cabin where my penguin friends and I spend time together each summer. And he had gifted it to  Guardian of the Waters."

Chapter #6: The Cabin in the Woods, part Two

The non-humans in our group were communicating with each other noisily. Guardian grinned. "The penguins are wondering why the non-penguins in our group can't get on with the important part of the story – the penguins and the cabin." We laughed and agreed. "So my penguin friends, here is the part you were waiting for. And it does not reflect well on some humans, but you know already that some of us are not very good creatures." And he paused to gather his thoughts and started the story again. "Two years ago, I had driven my trusty Toyota, with lots of extra gas cans, as close to the cabin as I could, and parked across from a building that was almost a store. Locally it was referred to as The Almost. There were few people here, fewer buildings, many dogs and boats. Gus, the owner and only employee of The Almost, let me park here, and he also stored my precious thirty-eight pound canoe inside his locked shed.

"Hi Gus." Gus nodded. The afternoon sun shone on his much darker skin, darker than mine anyway.

"When do you ask the question Gus?" Which he answered with a slow grin. And finally, after a 'sitting in the sun on a lazy warm day' pause he spoke.
"Got a girl yet Guardian?"
"Not yet Gus." Which was then followed by an 'isn't this a lovely day to sit and do nothing' pause.
"Should have." He looked around. "At your age."

I decided to fight fire with fire.
"Do you have a girlfriend yet Gus?"
A big grin lit up his face. He analyzed the question a while.
"Is she pretty Gus?" 
His answer came oh so slowly out of his mouth. "Nope."
"Is she smart?"
I could sense an answer creeping free. "Nope."
This was going to use up my whole six weeks.
Desperation helped me to hit the one sure quality Gus could fall in love with. This would be a winner.
"So she must be a good cook."
He laughed out loud. "Nope."
In the next minute I was going to learn something about love that had been totally beyond me.
"So why is she your girlfriend?"
Gus had to think awhile about this.
"Like to be with her. Comfortable. Friends. She's real warm in winter. We share a room easy. We lean against each other when sitting. She puts up with me."

That's the most he had ever said to me. A paragraph nearly. And I think it could have gone on longer if I'd encouraged it. Lucky Gus! Even though she wasn't pretty, couldn't cook, wasn't smart, they did lean against each other when they sat. Lucky couple. It wouldn't sell a romance novel, but it seemed totally romantic.

"I brought some eggs, fresh bread, ham slices, and some tomatoes and fruit. They're for our dinner tonight. Do you want me to help cook?" As I had hoped, he said he'd cook, and I got things ready for dawn tomorrow. During dinner he did say he thought my father was putting on too much weight. How did he always know about my father? Gus's brother handled the business that docked the seaplanes that flew in down the lake, so that is a probably a partial answer.

Anyway, I slept in the shed, got up a dawn, got all my gear and food into the canoe and moved  out onto the calm waters and spent a tiring day covering a lake, an unpleasant portage, a river, an almost non-existent portage, a reedy flat area of shallow water, and finally entered what I called Waters Lake,  a good sized body that had few open wind-swept areas, but many islands, channels, and twists and bends. So this would be my home for six weeks, and I was Guardian of the Waters Lake." The humans groaned. The penguins, I think, looked puzzled at the groaning.

"Two weeks later I was sweeping out some dead beetles and filling cracks in some of the aging wood. I was tired and hungry, and sat down on the only chair. It was surprisingly easy for the penguin to slide his wing stump between the frame and the screen door, open and hold the door, and let two more penguins enter, and follow them in. The most amazing thing is that I felt no panic, or fear. Mostly just curiosity as I watched them examine the room, walk under the table, pat the bed, examine the two pictures I had hanging on the wall, and then sit down facing me. I didn't know what to do so I said 'welcome'. And I grinned. They did their little routines that we know are talking. Then silence filled the space. The penguin who opened the door got up and walked to the bookshelf and squawked. Leader, as I mentally dubbed him, picked up a book from the table by the bed in his beak and brought it to me. It was a bit damper, but undamaged. 'What do you want me to do with this?' I asked. The birds consulted. Leader looked at the book, looked at me, looked at the book and looked at me. I picked up the book and opened it. 'It's just a book' and I showed them a random page. The three of them were gesticulating and making a lot of noise. Leader came over and looked at the page. Then the other two came over and shared in the excitement.  Leader looked at me and squawked. He squawked again and jabbed at the book." Guardian looked around at us, bringing us back to the present. "Anyone know what they wanted?"

A number of people tried to speak but Grandmother Julia of the wonderful cleavage bullied her way through the chivalrous males. "I would think it's pretty obvious that they wanted you to read to them from the book, just to confirm what they suspected."

Guardian grinned. "You picked it up more quickly than I did. Congratulations. I soon learned that they knew what this was - a transcription of speech that they would be totally incapable of managing. But they understood what it was. How could they recognize something impossible for them to do, and have never seen?"

Math Man asked, "What happened when you read to them?"

Guardian smiled and delayed his answer, maybe just to annoy us, but probably more to emphasize the importance of what happened. "They were transfixed. They looked over my shoulder as I read. They talked to each other as I read. They watched my mouth move and looked at the pages. Let's be clear, I don't think they ever learned to read, and I doubt they ever will. There  would have to be some pressing need to encourage them to expend that amount of time and energy. But they understood the concept instantly. And they made me get another book. And I had to read from one, and the other, and keep switching while they listened carefully to make sure they were distinct books. And they were excited, I think, mostly with learning about this strange species – humans – that they shared the woods with."

Guardian paused, and looked a bit disappointed. "The next part was scary. Our little paradise was being invaded. A fourth penguin ran up on the porch and made noises and gestures through the screen. There were quick exchanges. Leader was screaming meaningless sound at me but I could only interpret fear and pleading. At least in retrospect I could. Whether at the time...... Two birds ran down to the small beach and were walking backwards   scraping off their foot pints. Leader looked at me and at the deck, and I got the broom from inside when I saw the fourth penguin's wet footprints. I threw sand and dirt on the deck and sweep it over the prints. It looked good. The birds had run through the trees on the right and made their way to the water. I could see three heads in the water, and knew Leader had stayed in the woods to watch."

Growing up from childhood and becoming an adult is highly overrated.


 You can't believe how tense both our groups were, silently sitting and listening to Guardian's story. He  smiled. "Please don't worry. Everything will be fine in the history I'm telling. But at that time a few years ago, both yours truly, and my new friend Leader, were afraid. We didn't know what might happen." He looked at his audience, probably happy with our attention. "And then, as I stood and waited nervously, a canoe came around the island, with two men, and with a rifle barrel sticking up."

 Chapter #7: Crisis Averted, Friendships Develop

The canoe grounded gently in the sand, got pulled up a bit, and then two men and a rifle walked toward me. Friendly words were exchanged, but that couldn't last long.

"Why the rifle?"

"Hoped I might get to shoot something interesting out here. Not much on Pike Lake. Nothing unusual anyway."

"For food?"

"No. Sport."

I hated people like this. "I can dig up some worms for you. You could use you boots to squash them to death. Or shoot them if you wanted. You came out here to kill something right? Worms are easy to get."

"That's not sport," and I could sense some anger.

"Killing things isn't sport. It's just killing things. Hunting for food I can understand. Squashing worms or shooting birds out of the sky isn't sport, especially for the worms and birds. Be interesting what we would think of visitors from other galaxies who arrived in space ships with weapons because hunting humans is so much fun." This was stupid of me. I shouldn't annoy a man with a rifle. Pretty sure his name was Josh – a vague memory.

"All the land around the lake is yours, right? And you'd like if we didn't camp here, right? And.."

"Josh," said his partner. "Leave it be. And I sort of agree with him." I noticed there was only one rifle. "Let's go back to Pike Lake. Find some place to camp before it gets too dark. Nice place you have here Guardian."

And within 30 minutes my fear metre was back in the normal range, Leader was waddling back with one other pelican, and all was right with the world - very probably the danger was past. Even I, with my less than pelican brain, could figure out that the two missing penguins were following the canoe just to make sure. But I think both Leader and his friend politely spent a lot of time explaining to me, with squawks, toe taps, and wing stamps, why we were now safe. I suppose, anyway. Which shows that they may have good brains, but since I didn't understand a blind word the two penguins were saying, not perfect brains.

Sitting in my lawn chair with Betty resting against my legs, it was easy to notice that this amused the penguins far more than the humans. Their sense of humour let them make fun of themselves, an indication of sophistication.

Guardian was ready to speak, and sitting on his feet, leaning on his legs, was George, glowering at all of us, swinging his head slowly back and forth. We became very quiet. George would make a good army sergeant in a penguin army, though I doubt they would have such an army – they are very intelligent creatures after all. They would find other ways. And Guardian continued with his narrative.

"The next day, Leader showed up at the cabin. After staying with my new friends here in Peterborough, and having penguins with names, I now know that Leader is female, or a girl, or a lady, or whatever you wish to be called my new acquaintances. And looking around, it appears you are happy with any synonyms. No anger, no conversation. As long as we don't call you late for fish dinner, right?"

Most of us looked at the ground, or off in another direction. That was such an old, stale, terrible joke. Grace was making gestures and noises I recognized as laughter. Maybe Grace was still young. Or maybe she would never grow up to be a connoisseur of Oscar Wilde. Guardian had one fan for his joke, so maybe his career as a comic could be revived. Though that was doubtful.

"Thank you Grace. And back to the exciting tale at the cabin."

Grandmother Julia, who could be soft and lovable one moment, could also be direct and rude at others. She spoke up. "Honestly Guardian, I do like you. But could you please just get on with the damn story? We've been sitting here a long time. Your brand of comedy will bring tears before it brings laughter." The humans stared off in various directions again, embarrassed. The penguins looked at her as a new discovery, a strange unpredictable creature that they had never seen before. Most of us weren't pleased with what she did, but had seen it before. She was often described as 'blunt' by friends. Other people used stronger terms. The penguins thought this outburst very intriguing, except for Danny, who was sitting on her feet. He didn't care one way or another.

Guardian gathered his thoughts bravely. "Leader, fairly early in the morning, came up on the front porch. We nodded to each other. And then out of the bushes came nine others, and they lined up on the deck beside leader. Twenty eyes were analyzing me. And we stared at each first, and then the wing wobbling began, so I waved my arms a bit, and everyone seemed contented. And from that moment on for the next four weeks we shared part of every day, though never again did all ten show up together. There were always scouts watching the waterways, ready to come back with warnings. No warnings arrived  that first summer, or the second. And I hope never. But they are vigilant."

Guardian sipped his delicious looking beer, and I was envious. "We often ate dinner together, though I cooked my pike. No raw sushi for me. And we didn't carry on conversations, unless I was explaining something, because English they picked up easily, but probably penguin is beyond humans. We were, in some way, comfortable together, sitting in the same area, sometimes with a penguin leaning against me. It reminded me of Gus and his not-pretty, not-smart, not-a-chef girlfriend. The two of them liked to sit side by side quietly, and happily. And this was much more restful than being with humans. We were at peace there. Wonderful days." Idyllic I thought. Something we all of us look for, but leave if we ever find it, trying to find something a little more exciting.

"To conclude, and thank you for being so patient. Especially you Julia." That caused a roar of laughter from the humans. Grandmother Julia just smirked. Guardian should prepare for the next salvo from Julia that will arrive when he least expects it.

"With some research and thinking and watching, I think there are some wonderful research topics for scientists.

"Why are they so much larger than the Galapagos Penguins, and was that from natural selection, or penguin selection? I'm guessing they live a long time because there is no apparent urgency to reproduce. What's their average lifespan? And how long have they been in the arctic, and I'm guessing it's not centuries we're talking, but millennia?" He had another sip of beer.

Guardian's mind had wandered to the implications of the facts he already knew. We know only a few things about the penguins actually. The rest had to be conjecture.

"Is their intelligence a result of natural selection or penguin selection? How do they survive the proximity of large predators such as wolves and the polar bears farther north? Do they use group defences like the musk ox?"

Lots to think about. This search for understanding  will probably be Young Julia's life from now on.

"How do they manage, unlike humans, to use resources like fish, and not empty out the lakes? How do they get under the ice when lakes freeze? Do they hibernate. Do they eat other animals, or fish exclusively? And I'm sure Professor Julia, daughter of the charming Grandmother Julia,  has already got some of these questions ready for study."

He was going to pay big for this. So big. Though at the moment his adversary was laughing as hard as anyone.

"And one final question. Why have they begun tentatively, to reveal their existence to us? It seems a dangerous gamble, knowing what we know of humans."

So readers, that moves us into a bit of a break before the rehearsal, and then the finale that will blow up the news channels, the Internet, and the coffee chat. You will be so aware of that when it occurs I wont have to tell you. And Mike Fox will be with the penguins, because of the need for a Linux expert during the rehearsal, and the final news explosion, and also, it seems, helping Professor Julia. And when this is over, you'll be able to talk to either of us about "what really happened". Maybe we'll do a joint Club presentation.

I'll post in a few day about the Rehearsal and the Migration

Note: I must apologized for not being entirely truthful. Honesty when I write on our computer site is, as you know, guaranteed. But in this case I have fudged the time when this chapter actually occurred. I did not  want it to be known what we were doing until all danger had passed. Sufficient time has now gone by so I can let you in on our plan.
Growing up from childhood and becoming an adult is highly overrated.


Chapter #8: The Rehearsal and the Migration

I arrived a little later than I had hoped to the rehearsal, parked at the side of the driveway, and walked into a chaos of activity. There were penguins and people everywhere, all moving in different directions, with the penguins mostly shifting from place to place to watch, study, and communicate with each other about this unusual human activity.

Bob and Helga had parked their RV near the west fence, and it had a huge TV on the side under the awning in case it rained. Erik, the computer and Internet wiz, had a shoulder harness with a large keyboard comfortably at his waist, which he used without ever looking at it. I guessed there was a desktop or laptop inside the RV, and Erik was operating it from the keyboard. The screen showed Mint Linux booting on the huge screen. A few of the penguins were watching the screen light up and change. They were communicating with each other with no discomfort from this never before seen sight. Instead of staying with that group, Betty came over to me, we exchanged greetings, and then we walked around together, seeing what else was going on. We liked each other.

Young Julia and George were chatting with Grandmother Julia and her surprising penguin friend Grace. Although  that shouldn't be too much of a surprise - the blunt, straightforward nature of Grace matched the bluntness of Julia that showed through at times. And a little farther on I saw Mike Fox and the lovely professor smiling and laughing with each other. When Betty and I reached them I asked Mike why he wasn't helping with the computer set up and he shook his head.

"Harry, think back to the time a few years ago at Tim Horton's – you, me and Bill were waiting for my computer to be sold. The attractive woman sitting near would turn out to be Ms Tao." How could I forget that evening? "And then this boy about the age of young Julia came in, his fingers flew over the keys, and we sat stunned. And he bowed and shook our hands, paid, and left."

"He got on his electric bike and disappeared into the night." I added. "And shortly after Ms Tao left too."

"Well," said Mike with a grin on his face. "Erik the Internet guy is as good or better. I couldn't even ask sensible questions! He doesn't need me."

The Professor added quickly, "But I have asked Mike to stay around anyway. He might be able to help me with some things."

I looked at the two of them and wondered. But Betty wanted me to wander with her and meet everyone, so we socialized, sort of, for awhile - she talking to the penguins and I talking to the humans. I was a bit anxious while we meandered. She and I were going to have a lot of work to do tonight.

Helga, Bob the driver's formidable wife, headed to the drive way, and I heard their diesel truck start. Bob nodded to me and Betty, and I moved leisurely to join him. Young Julia separated herself from a group and came over with George. Grandmother Julie headed straight to the truck.

Bob put the ramp down and Betty and George climbed into the covered back of the truck. The two Julias and I clambered  through the truck's rear doors and sat on the bench seat.

"Ramp's up, tailgate's up." said Bob as he buckled . And the truck with seven intelligent creatures moved up the driveway, turned left onto the road, and headed towards Peterborough. Four stops, organized west to east. Just four. The rehearsal would be done when we got back. And then almost everything would be done until the broadcast and the sadness for me that would follow.

The penguins themselves had chosen George and Betty to be their messengers - George because he could be commanding, and Betty because she could charm anyone. The humans had different roles – Helga could intimidate, and probably out-muscle most people. Bob was the spare driver and ramp handler. The two Julias could sweet talk any males we encountered, and I was there because of Betty. When the plan was explained to all the penguins, Betty indicated quite clearly by actions and squawks that I was to come as well. And her feelings were going to make what followed the broadcast even more painful for me. The broadcast wasn't immediate, but it loomed ahead of us.

We travelled along Towerhill Road which became Lily Lake Road and then turned into a lane way that took us to a house that overlooked Lily Lake. "I assume you know the people here Helga?" Her look at me after she parked made it clear that she thought this was a really stupid remark.

Bob laughed. "We made arrangements with Jimmy a week ago."

Jimmy, another truck driver, joined the two penguins, young Julia and myself, and led us down a winding path that got damper the farther we went. Jimmy knew nothing about what was happening. He thought Betty and George were looking for their lost friends and family.

"Squawk, squawk!" Betty and George screamed across Lily Lake. And we waited.

It was a bit of a wait until six penguins gathered in front of us and stood in the shallow water. Greetings,  I suppose, took place quickly, and then so did a long foot tapping, wing stump flapping, and squawking sequence. There seemed to be questions, but who knows?

"Tonight?" asked Young Julia looking at me.
I replied, "Tonight would be best I think. It's a long way."

Jimmy looked at me with an unspoken question. I said, "I'd like to get Julia back to her mom, and it'll be a long drive. But there should be time." The real reason of course was our assumption that the Lily Lake penguins would do a land migration to Chemong Lake to the north, and then they could make their way to thousands of places via the canal system. Even Lake Superior and north of that would be possible. This seemed to satisfy our guide. And Julia and I were pretty sure Betty had picked up our  message, and was telling the group in front of her to get on the move, tonight if possible.

And we made our way back to the truck, where Jimmy was properly thanked, and we explained that Lily Lake didn't seem to have any of her friends. "Don't worry, we'll find them," said Helga to her friend Jimmy. And he answered with a sincere, "Hope so. They must be lonely." Helga put on a sad face and nodded. She should be on the stage.

Jackson Park was easy, and it had parking. There were a few people out watching the penguins in the water. Youngsters especially loved to come and see them. Grandmother Julia explained to a few youngsters that we were looking for the friends and family of our two penguins. They had become separated and were very sad. One little girl looked as if she were going to cry. Julia and Helga should both go into theatre.

You should have noticed here a puzzle. There are almost no fish in the Jackson Park pond. So where were they getting their calories? What are they eating? Young Julia's academic future was being marked out. Lots of work.

We moved on to site three and this particular one is near where I live. The bike trail that runs a stone's throw from our home crosses Hilliard Street as it heads west towards Chemong Road, Jacksons Park and ultimately Lindsay. Shortly after it crosses Hilliard there are two ponds on the north side of the trail. If you Google this area with the satellite view, and zoom in, you'll see the ponds easily. We knew the Penguins were in the eastern pond, and so we drove to the closest spot. We parked to the north of the pond on Evans Drive.

After the ramp went down, and young Julia and I were ready to take the penguins down the path to spread the plans, a police car pulled up and parked. A middle aged constable got out and started to saunter over. "I'll handle this," said our attractive grandmother. And as she walked towards the approaching policeman, with a slightly more pronounced swing to her hips, she uttered, in her lovely voice, "Well Inspector, you've come to see the family reunited as well. Are you on are a break right now? It should be very interesting to watch. Why don't you join us?" I had no worries. Julia was really good at this sort of thing.

The scene was a repetition of Lily Lake. We weren't sure where they would go when they started to travel, but the bike path could be followed east to the zoo, the river, and then anywhere on the waterway that curled its way through our province from Lake Ontario to Georgian Bay. And if they wanted they could go south and east and reach the Rideau Canal, and work their way to Ottawa, the French River, and anywhere in the north or west. They would work it out.

When we got back to the truck, my Julia introduced all of us to the constable. "I made a mistake by the way. Looking like an Inspector does not make him an Inspector." Constable Hadley did not seem to mind the mistake if the grin on his face meant anything. "We would have joined you but we seemed to have so much in common that we just stayed and chatted."

As we were pulling out of our parking spot I said to my Julia, "You have no shame." And this was the moment I decided to think of her as 'my' Julia for the  rest of my life. She wasn't 'my' Julia at all in the real world, but only in the  unexpressed and never enacted semi-real shadow life we had shared the last three decades. I was the Stupid Ass who had never run off with her, and I think she was, when she considered it, quite happy with this. We were still, in a weird way, romantically involved, though we didn't even hold hands, and seldom had. And it isn't weird or unusual for us. It just is.

And next and last was the Frisbee Golf Course by the river, part of Riverview Park and Zoo, a wonderful place in our city. This went smoothly, easily. And these penguins were on the river, so should have no problem covering distance quickly. And before we could think about it much, we were driving back in the dusk. And now there was only one event left, and my sadness would begin. The Julias would face it too. But nobody mentioned it.

Growing up from childhood and becoming an adult is highly overrated.


When we arrived back, Professor Julia and Mike Fox were sitting in lawn chairs enjoying the first stars that were blinking on. George and Betty waddled over to greet them, and then started to walk to the penguin area to narrate the events of the evening to the other penguins. I would find out later if the rehearsal went well, but right now I called after Betty. "Wait Betty. I'll join you." And my Julia came with us, and we made our way through the increasing dark to the back of the property. And at the open gate we said our farewells to each other and separated.

On the way back, under the lights of more and more stars filling the sky, my Julia said to me, "Hold my hand as we walk back." I hesitated. This would be very unusual. "I'm not going to wrestle you to the ground and have my way with you. Just bloody well hold my hand!"

And we did, and we walked slowly, and we shared the sadness that we would face after the show.

Chapter #9: The Penguins Perform for the World

By the time you read this you will be fully aware of what happened last night. It has been on every possible communication device – social media, TV, radio, YouTube and whatever. But this is what it was like for someone who was there.

Betty and I were waiting for the school bus to arrive. We stood under the large open-sided tent we'd erected, just on the chance of rain. On the school bus would be a small group of people, all reasonably local, who regularly reported, or filmed, or scavenged for details on whatever seemed newsworthy or interesting at the moment. What made them special was their connections all over the world to TV networks, popular Internet news outlets and the entertainment world. The connections were tenuous – sort of 'if it's interesting we'll take your news'. And each of them was at this moment locked in to someone on some continent who could make decisions, and maybe go with our show when it started. And Erik our computer man knew all the people arriving on the bus. And some would be connected to more than one news gathering business.

I had heard about some of them, and I believe we had PBS, BBC, CBC, the Australian ABC for sure. We also had two places in Asia, one in South America. Two entertainment giants were to be connected. And that's only the connections I knew about. And anyway, once this hits the web, it will get picked up by everyone and passed on.

The school bus borrowed from one of Bob's friends had been driven to a designated parking lot, where the reporters left their cars, and were brought to this unknown destination. Greta drove in, parked the yellow bus, and most of the reporters went and spoke with Erik. Greta had a huge grin on her face.

"I had a list with the passwords, and to get on the bus they had to identify themselves with their unique password, which I checked against the list." Greta continued her smile. "I'm pretty sure Erik's girlfriend is here, a very pretty young lady whose special password is longnipples."

And our computer man was not as he had seemed when I first saw him. His long wavy hair hung down his back. His chin had maybe a three day darkening of masculine, unshaven stubble. And he was dressed quite sharply with an open suit jacket and jeans. His harnessed keyboard rested at his waist, and in the centre of his white tee-shirt, showing clearly and boldly, was Tux the Penguin, the Linux Mascot. He looked like a TV celebrity! Or a rock star ready to start the music with loud chords on his electric keyboard. And he looked totally, totally at ease with all the eyes on him, as if he did this every day. Ladies stared openly.

I glanced over at Professor Julia and she grinned. She had know about this talent that hid under his quiet, unassuming veneer. We exchanged smiles. Probably we don't know most people around us very well.

Everyone was finally seated, the penguins were sent to their area through the gate, and Erik got all eyes on himself, mostly by simply being there at the front. He explained the game of TuxRacer that he put up on the screen. He pointed out how with his keyboard arrow keys he could make Tux slide faster, slower, left or right. "The idea is for Tux to slide down the hill as fast as possible, and gather as many fish as he can. It's game that requires thinking and reacting," he explained. "Penguins obviously can't use a keyboard, so they will  use these four foot-pads here that are just like arrow keys on a keyboard, but made large enough to handle penguin feet." And he pointed to the sensitive plates on the ground in front of the screen.

"Now the really interesting part of what you are going to see this evening is that only six of the penguins had this explained and got to practise. Betty and George have never so much as seen the game, and were out in the truck that night. We have Internet time stamped video to prove this, if you want to sit through all of that. Some of you know me, and you know of my boss." He pointed to the Professor. "This would be pointless to lie about." He conveyed an aura of sincerity that appeared to be accepted. "I'll call the penguins out and you can watch." He asked them to come out and find a spot to sit, and of course most found a favourite human and snuggled in. Betty felt relaxed against my legs.

"The penguins have been allowed to explain to our novices how the game works. But remember, these two have never seen the game or the pedals. They have only heard about it from other penguins. So ladies first. Betty?"

Betty walked up and looked at the screen and the foot-pedals. When Erik asked if she was ready she nodded no. She walked over to Cathy and had a conversation. She walked back and tested the petals, looked at the screen, looked at the pedals and nodded yes.

This was to be the biggest moment in the whole endeavour that we planned. Please Betty, I thought. Just get Tux down the hill without hitting a tree.

The start was not optimistic, and she was swinging too wide on her turns. Her speed was a changing too much, but she kept Tux on the track and gathered at least some of the fish. And then her speed increased, her turns were becoming smooth and accurate. She gathered a long row of fish and accelerated around some trees and curves. Time passed and the race continued. After a sharp curve and a long drop the track smoothed out to some easy fish gathering and the finish line in the distance! Tux flew under the finish flags. I took a deep breath and relaxed. She had mastered the game in maybe fifteen seconds and ran the rest of the course efficiently with speed. There was silence and then the clapping and cheering began. It was loud and long.

When the cheering quieted, a low and almost sneering voice took over the space. "This is silly. We all know that there is no way a stupid penguin like this could figure this out." And he pointed at Betty. What would happen now. I felt panic. But I should have trusted the penguins. They all stood up. Betty took the lead and waddled over to the sneering voice. She looked at him and squawked and waved, but I think in retrospect that was a war challenge, voiced in gentle terms. She waddled over to Grace and conversed. She made her way to Cathy, the largest penguin, and conversed. She made her way to Danny, and conversed.

Then to the surprise of everyone, she came to me, sat down on my shoes and leaned against my legs. We watched in the silence as Cathy and Danny meandered over to the far side of the sneering man, and Grace made her way through a crowd and ended up on this side of the doubter. Cathy and Danny approached the doubter with a hell of a racket, making threatening motions with wings and feet, and leaping up a bit as if they intended to land on him and rake claws through his skin. Grace quietly got closer to him from the other side.

The doubter was not only obnoxious, but proved he was the one with, to put it kindly, very limited brain power.  "Go away stupid birds. Bugger off and go live with all the other stupid animals this planet is cursed with." So Cathy and Danny prepared to fight with their razor sharp beaks, opening them, closing them, and making an awful clattering noise. The sneering man was starting finally to realize his danger, and was waving his arms and yelling at at the two menacing birds at his side.

And little Grace, companion and dear friend to my Julia, slipped over closer from the other side, and with the whole world watching, bent, pooped on the sneer's shoes, and strolled away. And the laughing and the cheering began. Erik began a chant that the whole audience joined as loud as they could: "Super Pooper! Super Pooper!" A great moment.

Meanwhile, three very calm penguins put distance between themselves and SneerMan of the Dirty Shoes, looking as if they were out for a Sunday stroll.

The Professor called over to Mike Fox, "You know where the towels are Mike, the old ones. And get some hand sanitizer. And a bag for the dirty towel."

Mike thought and said, "Bottom of the basement stairs, hall closet second shelf." He waited for the nod and went in returning soon with a ratty old towel. My mind had to ask, does Mike live  here?

The dance the penguins did to the music of Happy feet was applauded with whistles, yells and clapping. The chant rang through the night air as the penguins disappeared to prepare for act three. This had become more than a show. It had become a celebration. A festival. But some of us had work to do.

I noticed My Julia with her granddaughter heading at a slow pace towards the driveway. Bob and Helga had exited their RV through their back door that faced the fence. I murmured excuse me and smiled as I moved past laughing faces towards Bob and Helga.

And I knew because of the plan we had formulated that the penguins had gone right through their usual area at the back to the path in the field, and were on their way along the path to Miss Lucinda's house, just up the road.

Growing up from childhood and becoming an adult is highly overrated.


Chapter #10: Painful Goodbyes

As we walked up the road to Miss Lucinda's house my Julia was crying and said, "Hold my hand please." There must be something built into men genetically that doesn't allow a refusal to a woman's tears. The five us, the same as had gone from pond to pond to warn the penguins to leave, walked in silence the short distance to the house where the penguins were arriving.

Our group's sadness was a total contrast to the fluttering Miss Lucinda, with her thin arms waving about and her white hair bobbing up and down. "Bob made me an official penguin helper on Monday and introduced me to Betty, and explained all about the secrecy needed. No problem here. You can trust me." She beamed proudly, and it raised our spirits. What we were doing was important and maybe noble. We shouldn't dwell on our own sadness.

I grinned at Miss Lucinda and introduced myself. We shook hands and I looked for the words that would please her. "Welcome aboard Penguin Helper." Her face showed instantly I'd picked the right words. Sometimes I'm lucky.

Hours ago Bob had put the tailgate down and ramp in place. I positioned myself a bit down the path and asked the arrivals to say hello to little Miss Lucinda as they passed her. She radiated happiness as they went by waving and squawking, and we all felt better because of this little lady's joy. I suspect it helped us get on with our task. And maybe, I thought, I could create an Official Penguin Helper Certificate for her, signed and dated.

When the birds were in the back of the truck and the tailgate was up, three of us stood close looking in at Betty, Grace and George. We didn't say anything, couldn't think of anything to say. The three pairs of bonded beings shared a silent moment, until Helga told us to get a move on. We thanked Miss Lucinda, and she thanked us. And then we climbed into the back seat.

The drive north was unremarkable. Silent mostly. I did find out that Bob's friend was getting a ride over, and he'd take the reporters back on the school bus so they could get their cars. I wondered how he'd handle the flack he might get from them. The third act was apparently a magic show and the penguins had disappeared. Rock Star Erik could probably handle it. Amazing poise that man had.

I very casually raised the question of Mike Fox and her daughter. Julia grinned. "They are fond of each other. Very, very fond." She paused as if this was all I needed to know. "In some ways there is love between them." Time passed. "It's simply that Mike knew she would need help with academic contacts, say in France or the U.S. He knew she would need coaching on how best to present her work for publication. And he liked her. So he has as much as adopted her, not legally of course. They are maybe the best example you will ever see of father-daughter affection." She was laughing at me. "And if it were more than that, he would maybe have had some strong words with the PhD student she takes to her bed. And strong words with her as well."

My understanding of the people around me is depressingly weak.

Two hours and a bit later, just after the sun set, we drove down a treed lane that led to a secluded cabin on a lake. "Let me guess," I said. "This cabin belongs to a friend of yours Bob." Did anyone have more friends than this truck driver? He laughed.

When the penguins reached the bottom of the ramp they wandered the grounds some, doing a reconnaissance I think, but then made their way to the lake edge. There were some discussions between them, plans made I assume. Ellie, Cathy and Danny made their way out into the water – Ellie was heading across this rather small lake that might in fact be a large inlet. Cathy and Danny were going left and right.

"It's actually one of many small lakes joined by a river. My pal owns this side, and the other side is Crown land. So the birds are safe for awhile. And nothing much comes through because there's a beaver dam at one end, and shallow rapids at the other. The birds can go round these and hunt if they want to. Or maybe go up north." I wondered if Bob's friend knew about the penguins.

The cabin had a front deck, and the Julies and I sat on it leaning back against the cabin wall. Betty, Grace and George sat between our legs and leaned back. The sadness increased as the darkness grew. We had to talk now or never.

"I'm glad Betty that we met. I'd rather have this sadness than never have known you. Maybe we'll meet again, maybe." That seemed unlikely. And there was not much else to say. We sat for maybe fifteen silent minutes in the near total dark. They couldn't respond. And it was time.

Betty joined the others at the water's edge and it was quickly over. They squawked at us and slide into the black water and were gone. Bob got us to the truck, and we drove back in the dark. Not much was said.

At her daughter's my Julia picked up her car and drove the two of us back to Peterborough. My mind was wandered around the affectionate connections between people I'd learned about. "Julia, we heard about Guardian's mother, and her romantic novel type love affairs that she flamed through every few years." What a magnificent life she had. "At the other end of the spectrum Gus and his not-pretty girlfriend found connection through an idyllic quietness." How opposite could you be? "Your daughter apparently has happiness with casual liaisons." I was thinking of her student and waited. She didn't contradict me. "Mike and your daughter have a powerful father-daughter bond, which they created themselves." This was something about Mike Fox that I couldn't have guessed in a decade. "Marilyn and I have something really important and special that has glued us together over half a century, even though our arguments can get really, really loud." And it would never come unglued. "You and I have a romance that isn't anything except an imagined romance, and any resemblance to reality would destroy the illusion and affection." She hadn't argued. It is possible she wasn't listening. But I suspected she was. "And then of course there is your profound connection to Super Pooper Grace, and mine to Betty." She grinned so I knew she was listening. "How is that possible? They're not like pets or teddy bears. You and I know that."

When we drove into our driveway I got out and thanked her. She got out the driver's side. "I'm not going home to an empty house tonight. I couldn't face the loneliness." When we got inside she said. "Find me an unused toothbrush please Harry, and you'll need the bed in the spare room made up." Both things were easy. The bed was always made up, and the dentist's office gave us a hoard of packaged toothbrushes with every cleaning. I vowed to myself to get at least half of this written up before dawn.

When I came back Julia was going into Marilyn and my bedroom and turning on the small lamp. "Marilyn you have to hear about the great show." Marilyn propped up her head.

"This is a bit of a surprise Julia," she said,  handling the intrusion with aplomb. She didn't look upset at all. Julia smiled and started taking off most of her clothes.

"I could not face an empty house and an empty bed. And sleeping with Harry would be unpopular, so I'm sleeping beside you, and we can chat our way into the dawn. Harry, you're in the spare bed."

And Julia talked about the spectacular and sad evening. Marilyn, who was an avid reader, knew nothing of our successes. I turned out the lamp and walked out of the room. I was back in three minutes to check on them and break up any fights, but they were both sound asleep.

I typed until dawn with lots of sleep in the spare bed after. And that's how I celebrated this year's Canada Day - typing and sleeping.

Growing up from childhood and becoming an adult is highly overrated.


Wow, Harry. A great, very quirky story! I really enjoyed it. Till we meet the penguins again.
Ubuntu 23.10 on 2019 5k iMac
Ubuntu 22.04 on Dell XPS 13


Thank you Mike. That is kind of you. But I must say if it wasn't for your relationship with Julia, it would have been a bit flat. But thank you. And pass on my thanks to Julia.
Growing up from childhood and becoming an adult is highly overrated.


Final Thoughts: Confessions and Apologies

There were a few things in the story that were fabrications made because I thought they improved the story. Everything else was absolutely true. But I apologize for not being totally honest with these details:

a) Bob's friend on Lily Lake is not named Jimmy.
b) The penguins who lived by the bike trail pond and in Jackson Park were not always finding unusual food. Neighbours and visitors were bringing fish most day.
c) Julia's granddaughter was not actually called Julia.
d) The cabin where we said goodbye to the birds is not owned by a friend of Bob. A relative of mine owns the land and cabin.
e) Miss Lucinda is not short but tall.

If you know of any other errors I made accidentally, I would appreciate a note. Thanks.

Growing up from childhood and becoming an adult is highly overrated.


Mint 20.3 on a Dell 14" Inspiron notebook, HP Pavilion X360, 11" k120ca notebook (Linux Lubuntu), Dell 13" XPS notebook computer (MXLinux)
Cellphone Samsung A50, Koodo pre paid service



For those who actually did read this story:

This is my favourite story, and so far the the least popular by a wide margin. However, if by some chance you did like it, please find a way to bring others to it – spouses, girlfriends, mistresses, relatives or whatever. For all I know, there may be thousands out there who like 'intelligent penguin' stories.

If you found this story by accident and enjoyed reading it, you might wish to try the most popular of the five stories, so far over 8,600 views. (The popularity remains a mystery to me.) It can be found here:


The story I like second best is also not a roaring success, though still gathering views. Maybe I have atrocious taste. My wife is in this story right from the beginning, but I doubt that makes a tale unlikable. She's generally a nice person, most of the time anyway. This story can be found here:


So read or skip. In a thousand years none of this will matter anyway. For me, right now, I think it's beer time in Peterborough.

Growing up from childhood and becoming an adult is highly overrated.


Just checking.
Growing up from childhood and becoming an adult is highly overrated.