Several years ago on an assignment for Reader’s Digest, I followed a grizzly in Montana for a week. Her name was Lacy, and wildlife biologists were training her to stay away from people, garbage cans, and orchards. If she’d continued marauding around Kalispel and not learned her lesson, she’d have had to be killed. But her manners became impeccable. I fell in love with her.
So you can imagine my horror when she lumbered out of her den the following spring and a hunter shot her in the back and killed her. She’d been running from him just as she’d been taught. Though my article still appeared in the magazine, I was beside myself. And the same kind of loss hit me last week.
I was preparing to tell you about Happy Feet, the penguin you may have heard about, who was found on Peka Peka Beach in New Zealand, thousands of miles off course. His stomach was filled with sticks and over six-and-a-half pounds of sand, which, supposedly, he mistook for snow that penguins normally eat for fluids. Vets and a gastroenterologist performed three surgeries on him, and then thousands of people watched via videocam as he downed fish milkshakes in his icy chambers at the zoo.
After $30,000 was spent on his rehabilitation and 1,700 well-wishers showed up to say goodbye, Happy Feet was boarded on a ship and set free — 3,000 miles from his Antarctic home — on August 29. He was wearing a satellite tag that would transmit his whereabouts on the journey south, and I had planned to give you reports on his progress. But then signals from his tag stopped. Either his transmitter had fallen off or technically failed, or a whale or leopard seal had eaten him.
I’d like to think that Happy Feet is still alive, but no one will ever know for sure. Just as with Lacy, I’ve had to admit that it’s a brutal world out there and stories don’t always have happy endings. Yet that doesn’t lessen my sadness.
When I think of the fragility of life, I have to remember again how important it is to love all we can when we can. Life is fleeting. I was lucky to have known Happy Feet and Lacy for the short time I was allowed – and now I must let go. But as I do that, I’m going to hug my friends and family and tell them I love them.