The Atlantic Monthly
Waiting to Fly: My Escapades with the Penguins of Antarcticaby Ron Naveen
A tour de force of nature writing, Ron Naveen's Waiting to Fly captures the spirit of the gentle and charming creatures called penguins while also beautifully rendering the frozen, windswept landscapes through his magical prose.In Waiting to Fly, Naveen weaves together the stories of his own experiences as a field scientist with the adventures of/i>/i>
A tour de force of nature writing, Ron Naveen's Waiting to Fly captures the spirit of the gentle and charming creatures called penguins while also beautifully rendering the frozen, windswept landscapes through his magical prose.In Waiting to Fly, Naveen weaves together the stories of his own experiences as a field scientist with the adventures of earlier explorers who have studied these fascinating flightless birds. He recounts tales of daring voyages in the Antarctic's dangerous seas and of the men who had to survive for months in this treacherous terrain. These stories of humans struggling to overcome the elements are paralleled with the lives of the very humanlike penguins. Naveen fell in love with penguins sixteen years ago, and ever since they have held a strong place in his mind--whether he is counting their numbers on the icy shores of the seventh continent or studying their behavior as they go through their hectic and productive lives. We see that their natural and healthy lives, unfettered by the clamor and clutter of our workaholic existence, can teach us much about ourselves. Penguins don't spend time reasoning, planning, pondering, or worrying. They're very, very busy, with lots of work to do and little time to do it. The penguins in this delightful and informative book emerge as distinctly resourceful and beguiling personalities.
While penguins amuse and intrigue us, their comically deceptive exterior belies the reality that they may have mastered survival a bit better than we have, and watching them may change our relationship with the earth--and with each other.
The Atlantic Monthly
Naveen knows when to turn loose penguin facts and figures, and he knows how to rein them in. He also knows how to lightly delineate a landscape of thousands upon thousands of the black-and-white, upright, animated birds set against a green and pink mountainside on a scale so vast it steals your breath away. Then again, he closes every chapter with judderingempurpled wordplay that can thankfully be seen coming and thus avoided. Naveen knows and loves his subject-he is the first to admit that he is never happier than when mired in penguin guano-and he writes of it and its place with uncommon fluency.
- HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- 1ST QUILL
- Product dimensions:
- 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.99(d)
Read an Excerpt
What a long, strange trip it's been.
This penguin addiction has curious roots.
And leaves many footprints.
I can't elude them. These playful human-like creatures we call penguins. Or my recurrent visions of penguins. I sometimes rouse from sleep dreaming I'm a penguin. The physical reality may be that penguins live thousands of miles distant. But in a weird metaphysical sense, they're never quite gone from my sight, never quite removed from consciousness. Indeed, I suffer a peculiar, albeit curiously uplifting malady and I've been thrust center stage, into many dramas and tales. Of life and death, Love and lust. Of penguins surviving the worst conditions on the planet. And of a growing number of us humans who have become utterly fascinated by these compact, upright packages of feathers, fat, and muscle.
I see penguins everywhere.
Imagine the crowded Leicester Square tube stop at the height of a spring morning's commuter romp. The lifts are chockablock full of furiously rushing Londoners. I savor my four inches of personal space and realize there's no quick way out. I'm resigned to an endless procession arid tumult, which surely repeats itself morning after morning. The escalator's long, slow ride to the top simply must be endured. One step above, a scruffy woman carries three heavy clothing bags and annoyingly shifts them from hand to hand, and in the process keeps bumping me in the chest. A step down, an immaculately dressed businessman clutches his leather briefcase for dear life and pompously bobs from side to side, trying to find anopening to scoot on past. All of us consult wristwatches, swing elbows, huff and puff and seemingly sweat whether we're going to make it on time, wherever we're going. Tick, tock, up and down we go like tuxedoed penguins on parade, marching to a special drumbeat. To the call of the breaking Antarctic ice. Somewhere, maybe at another tube stop my mate also races home. Another breeding season is about to start.
Or picture a midsummer's day in downtown Manhattan. The bright sun lures everyone to the street, swirling here, swirling there an effervescent, almost musical flow of people in all directions. In similar traffic, Piet Mondrian envisioned colorful, fast-moving rectangles, dots, dashes, boxes, and lines. In my mind's eye, I see the traffic of 'guins chasing food for days on end, before returning home to feed their anxious, fragile chicks. Just another trip to the super-market.
But it also could happen on a frigid, snowy mountain peak anywhere on the planet where it's blowing fifty knots and no one's in sight. There's a desolation of white in all directions. Winter plunges forward and penguins shiver on the beach or on the fast ice surrounding the Antarctic continent. A painful feather molt is mercifully finished and it's time to rest or frolic at sea for eight long months, sometimes meandering, but mostly feeding. Winter's important for them and a big mystery to us. We don't know precisely what they're eating during these months and how far they roam to find it. We speculate it's the same diet they pursue when we can see them firsthand mostly krill, occasionally fish, and very rarely copepods. And no doubt, as is the game, they'll still need to avoid predators, constantly. These penguins must migrate home each spring fattened to the hilt. Without this energy to burn, penguins can't consummate the long fasts that inaugurate each breeding cycle, in which case nests will fail and no chicks will be produced. But we don't encounter them in their winter. We're never there. It's too bloody awfully cold and dangerous. To be blunt: A successful return to breeding territories isn't assured. That contemporary, nihilistic pop adage intones that life's too short and then penguins and we die. But one penguin-counter isn't quite ready to check out and won't without some proper reflection.
I'm affected on various and sundry levels. Superficially, I'm lured like everyone else: The penguins' upright stance and animated behavior reminds me too much of my own waddling around, sometimes unsteadily. This lure has attracted many Antarctic explorers and scientists. Apsley Cheiry-Garrard, the youngest member of Robert Falcon Scott's British Antarctic Expedition of 1910-13 and the author of The Worst Journey in the World, writes that penguins are extraordinarily like children, these little people of the Antarctic world, either like children, or like old men, full of their own importance and late for dinner, in their black tail-coats and white shirt-fronts-and rather portly withal.
But the infection runs deeper. Consider where chinstraps, gentoos, and Adelies live: Antarctica. It's the one spot on the planet that no human rules, that no ownership possesses a strange location where people from more than forty countries, representing 75 percent of the world's population, work together harmoniously. Antarctica is the last frontier on the planet a mix of unspoiled beauty, heart-tugging wildlife, and history, which has been explored only within the last two or three generations, essentially within the time frame of our parents and grandparents. So in my complicated view, chin-straps, gentoos, and Adelies stand before me as research subject, as messenger, and as symbol and they continually lure me back. They keep me on my toes, keep me thinking, and force me to wonder how it might be, if I if all of us had a less dominating view of the planet.
Meet the Author
Ron Naveen, the founder and CEO of Oceanites, an organization dedicated to raising public awareness of the world's living marine resources, is the project director of the Antarctic Site Inventory. He is the author of Wild Ice and The Oceanites Site Guide to the Antarctic Peninsula. When he is not in Antarctica, he lives in Washington, D.C.
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