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  • Writer's pictureStuart Sheldon

Heavy Petting Penguins

African penguin at Boulders Beach, Capetown

I’m a beach guy.

Slept on one on every continent but Antarctica. Born and raised in the teeny weeny bikini culture of Miami, F-L-A. Surfed Ocean Bch, SF for a decade. Collected shells as a boy. Snorkeled at 5. Certified scuba at 15. Hermit crabs, brine shrimp, kelp beds, Portugese man-of-war, seagulls, sandpipers … I know beaches.

I don’t know penguins. Especially penguins on warm sunny beaches.

Boulders Beach in Capetown is famous for its African or Black-footed or Jackass (my fave, of course) penguins. After surfing and exploring the southern tip of Africa for a month with friends years back, we took a refreshing swim in the chilly ocean at Boulders Beach one afternoon. Boulders is really a cove populated with enormous rocks which form cool nooks and crannies to explore in the shallows. A mile off shore lies a seal colony that attracts Great Whites. But I digress.

After my swim, I cracked a coldie, took a long sip and sprawled, salty and wet, on my towel. Shut my eyes into the warm sun and took in the crystalline seaside vibe.

When I opened my eyes, there he stood. A few feet away. All smooth and shiny and fat around the middle. Like an awkward teenager. Long wing-arms, stubby legs and a semi-confused-yet-adorable expression. I grinned hello.

Did he want to touch, make that hug, me as much as I wanted to reach over and snuggle him? Squeeeeze his penguiny cuteness. Only one way to find out. I leaned over and touched his back gently with my finger. He didn’t freak out. Didn’t even move at first. So I touched him again, which he did not seem to mind one bit. So I started petting him like a schnauser.

Well, that was a bit too familiar, apparently. My friend wobbled off. No drama, mind you. Just a few feet away. And their we both remained, a couple of flightless, fish-loving bipeds enjoying the crisp southern-hemi sun.

This story is apropos of nothing. Just a twinkle in the firmament of a lifetime. A memorable example of how something so familiar, lying on a beach, can still be rendered new.

I suspect there is a penguin on every beach … as there is in my 5yr old’s newest painting above. We just need to find it.

Tell me of your expereince where something old became new again.

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