Hopper finds a temporary home in Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium where for the first time he meets other Rockhopper penguins, as well as some other species. Of course, we know he can’t stay there…
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Every little movement of his cage seemed like a wave to Hopper, and he was hearing many unfamiliar sounds. He didn’t like feeling trapped in the dark, but perhaps it was better than seeing what was going on around him.
He lost track of time. In a while he could tell his cage had been put in a resting place. He wasn’t moving anymore, but then there was a very loud sound, and everything shook. Then he felt like something was happening. He was moving again, but not especially fast.
Then suddenly he was pushed to one side of the cage. “We’re moving!” he thought. Then he felt a bump, and a strange sensation came over him. He remembered the man’s words, “And now, you’ll finally get to fly.”
“Wow! Am I flying?” he thought. “But how could I be flying in this cage?” His mind was spinning so fast that he couldn’t deal with it all, and he fell asleep. As the airplane took him to Chicago, he was dreaming about flying with Hank the hungry hawk and about flying through the water to escape seals.
The seals had just about caught up with him, and he was flying out of the water on to the shore, and about to land on the hard rocks, and then bump! He awoke in his dark cage, and could tell he was still moving, but slower. Soon the movement stopped, and after a while he heard voices. Then someone picked up his cage.
For the next few hours he heard many different sounds as he was being moved around. Finally, he heard a woman saying, “So this is my new Rockhopper?”
“Yes indeedy, ma’am. They say there be a penguin in there.”
“Well, thank you, sir.”
He heard footsteps and a door close. The cover came off the cage. A kind-looking lady with blue eyes was looking at him, smiling. Hopper didn’t return the smile. The light was bright and he was uneasy about being held captive in a strange place.
“Welcome to Chicago,” said the woman. “After I check you over, I’ll take you to your quarters with the other penguins.”
After what seemed a long time being poked, having his feet and wings pulled, and his head turned from side to side by the woman’s gentle hands, Hopper was carried down the hall and into another room.
A man said, “Hey, our new Rockhopper! Hello, little fellow! How do you like Chicago?”
Hopper didn’t mean to seem unfriendly, but he refrained from answering as the woman handed him over to the man and left, saying, “See you later, little penguin!”
Hopper acted as if he didn’t hear her, and the man carried Hopper toward a little door on the other side of the room. “See that door?” said the man. Hopper didn’t answer, and the man continued, “That door leads to your new home. In there are other penguins—some Rockhoppers, some Magellanic, and some Gentoos. They will be your friends and family.
“By the way, what’s your name anyway? What could we call you? They say you were found in Puget Sound. I wonder how you got so far from your home. You’ve done a lot of traveling. We could call you Traveler; no, how about Pilgrim?”
“Pilgrim, indeed!” thought Hopper, who didn’t appreciate having a new name.
“Well, Pilgrim—yes, I like that name—how’s it going, Pilgrim? You look like a fine young penguin, Pilgrim. Well, Pilgrim, it’s time to see your new home!”
When the man opened the door, Hopper saw a huge room that looked like the outdoors. He saw rocks to climb and water to swim in. But what Hopper noticed most were the penguins. He saw Magellanic penguins and Gentoos, both of whom he’d seen before, and then he saw other penguins, little stocky ones with long yellow feathers sticking out above their beady red eyes.
“Hey,” he thought, “Rockhoppers!” and he almost wept for joy.
“Hey, everybody!” said the man. “Here’s a new cousin! This is Pilgrim, a Rockhopper who’s traveled far and wide to come to this home here with you.” Then he gently shoved Hopper through the door and closed it behind him.
“Hello, everyone,” said Hopper. The other penguins didn’t seem very friendly. Some glanced at him and looked away, continuing to stand as they were, some with their wings outstretched. Some didn’t even look at him. Some were swimming in the moat of water at the other end of the room. All of this troubled Hopper. He was so happy to see other penguins, but they didn’t seem to care that he was there.
Twenty-nine other penguins lived there, four Magellanic, eighteen Gentoos, and seven Rockhoppers. He made it eight.
He moved uneasily into the center of the room. He waddled up to a Magellanic penguin and said, “Hi.”
“Hi,” she said softly, but continued looking straight ahead away from the door. So Hopper continued on to each penguin standing on the rocks and got similar responses from each of them. He went down to the water to greet the swimming penguins, who didn’t seem to pay much attention to him, either.
Then he saw what they were looking at. This room almost had the feel of any outside home for penguins, but at the far side of the room, just beyond the swimming moat, was a glass wall, and beyond it were people watching them. They were smiling and pointing at them, but he couldn’t hear them. Now he understood the other penguins’ strange behavior. They didn’t want the people seeing them talking.
Hopper turned with his back to the people, so they couldn’t see his mouth as he said, “Hello everyone. I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable. Maybe we can talk tonight when the people can’t see us.”
He thought he saw some slight nods and smiles on their faces. He spent the rest of the day swimming, standing on the rocks with his wings out, wandering around his new home, and eating the food provided by the people. He was feeling happy. Finally he was with other Rockhoppers. He’d found a home.
When the lights were turned off and the people were gone, Hopper shouted, “Can we talk now?”
“Shhh!” answered many penguins. “The people who feed us will be here for a while. We can’t let them know what we’re really like.”
So for another hour or two they talked, but quietly and cautiously, keeping their eye on the door. Finally the door opened, the man brought in some fresh fish and krill, and then he said, “Goodnight, everyone! I’m going home.” He closed the door. They listened quietly until they could hear the door in the other room close.
Then they all erupted in shouts of “Hooray! We can play!” And play they did. They rolled and hopped and waddled and shouted and swam and carried on for hours. After all that they stood around and talked. Hopper told them his life story, and they all grew fond of him and welcomed him warmly into their family.
Time passed and Hopper was enjoying his stay at the Oceanarium. The penguins had accepted him, and the people were good to them and always made sure they had enough to eat. The place was comfortable, and he had everything he needed to enjoy himself.
All of the penguins told Hopper how they had ended up at the Oceanarium. Some had been brought there from their homes in places like the Macarie Islands or South Georgia. Some had been at other zoos. He liked hearing all their stories.
One in particular got his attention. One young female by the name of Eudychrys had been at a zoo where Rockhoppers shared the same area as Emperor penguins.
“One of them,” she said, “had been accidentally caught in a fisherman’s net in the north Pacific and ended up being brought to the zoo. He had all kinds of stories to tell. He had traveled all over the seas and befriended whales and other penguins, and even turtles and tortoises. He, of course, came from Antarctica, but just loved adventuring. He was getting pretty old, but still was hoping to escape from the zoo and be out in the sea again.”
As Eudychrys was telling this story, Hopper became more and more excited. “My uncle!” he cried. “My Uncle Emp! He’s still alive! He used to travel about with my dad, Emmett, until he suddenly disappeared. Everyone thought he was probably dead. He’s alive!”
Eudychrys said, “Yes, Emp was his name. He was the nicest of the Emperors. He didn’t look down his beak at us other penguins.”
“Yeah, that sounds like my uncle. My folks are like that, too. The other Emperors looked down on them because of it. If only all the others knew how great my folks and Emp are!”
That night when Hopper would normally be sleeping, he was awake, thinking about Uncle Emp and his desire to be free in the sea again. Then he heard that voice, saying, “What are you doing here, Hopper?”
“Isn’t this my home?”
“Well, I’ve felt at home here, but really I guess I know it isn’t. What should I do?”
“I’ll open the door for you.”
“Then where should I go?”
“I’ll show you.”
“When should I go?”
“Be alert. Be ready to go at any time.”
“One more thing, Hopper. Don’t go alone.”
“You mean I get to have company this time?”
“Yes, take Eudychrys with you.”
“Really? Will she want to?”
“She’s been waiting for you for a long time.”
A few days later, something caught Hopper’s attention by the door. It was a rock. Maybe it had always been there. It was just a rock, but Hopper had a plan. He told Eudychrys his plan.
That night their feeder opened the door, greeted the penguins, and began giving them their food. Hopper nonchalantly waddled over to the door. The man said, “Hey there, Pilgrim! Aren’t you being friendly today! How are you liking your stay here?” Hopper didn’t answer. He acted like he didn’t understand what the man said. Then the man said, “You aren’t thinking of leaving us are you?”
Hopper’s knees started shaking and his heart beat rapidly, but he tried hard to conceal his surprise, and the man added, “Naw, I didn’t think so, Pilgrim!” He continued with his duties, addressing each of the penguins.
Now Hopper rolled the rock over to the bottom of the doorway, thinking, “I hope the man doesn’t notice this.” Then he wandered away from the door and over to where Eudychrys was eating some fish. He nodded at her and had some fish, too.
In a while the man shouted, “Goodnight, friends. I’ll see you tomorrow!”
“Maybe not,” said Hopper quietly as the man closed the door and was gone. Then Hopper said, “Well, Eudy, let’s see if our plan worked.” They hurried over to the door, and could see light around the edges of it. It wasn’t shut tight! They could hardly contain their excitement. Then the light went out. The man hadn’t noticed the rock or the fact that the door wasn’t shut completely, and now he had left for the night.
There was enough room for Hopper and Eudy to get their feet into the crack of the door. They pushed with all their strength, and the door opened wide enough for them to squeeze through. Hopper pushed the rock away and let the door close behind them. They were now in the people’s workroom.
It was dark and quiet. They looked the place over and found no way out. The other door was there, but it too was closed. “Creator,” said Hopper, “You said you would open the door, and I believe you. I see you opened the first door, and whatever doors remain, you can open them. Thank you.”
They stood there in the darkness as their eyes adjusted. Hopper pointed across the room and said, “Let’s go stand by the door until it opens. It might not be opened for long.”
They hopped over and stood under a table that was beside the door. They waited and waited in the dark, at least 15 minutes. Then they heard footsteps in the hall outside, the doorknob turned, and the door opened. A woman, the same kind woman with the blue eyes, came in and put something on the table above them, and then left. The door closed behind her.
Their hearts sank. “Ah, we lost our chance,” moaned Hopper. “We should have moved more quickly.”
But Eudy said, “Maybe she’ll come back.”
And sure enough, she did come back, put something else on the table, and left again.
“Maybe she’ll come back again,” they said.
Soon she was back. This time she put the doorstop in place to prop the door open, and made some more trips back and forth with more stuff. Finally she stopped right by the table and stood there working with all the things she had brought in.
She left the door open while she worked.
Hopper and Eudy looked at each other. They looked at the open door. They looked at the legs of the woman. Her legs moved to the end of the table farthest from the door. Hopper gestured with his beak toward the door. Slowly and quietly they waddled out the door, down the hall, and up some stairs.
At the top of the stairs, they found another open door, apparently left open by the woman bringing in her materials. Through that door they found themselves in another hall, which was dark, except for a light in the distance. They headed left down the hall toward the light, which they found was mounted high on the wall above a set of six glass doors that were shut.
Beyond the doors was another set of six glass doors, and beyond them was the outside!
“Two more open doors and we’re out of here,” said Hopper.
“Maybe there’s another door already open,” said Eudy.
They waited in the darkness a few minutes to see if the doors opened, but they didn’t. They decided to remember the location of these doors and go see if any other doors were already open.
Trying to keep track of where they were, they wandered down the hall. They found some stairs going down to the right. They heard water and hastened toward it.
At the bottom of the stairs they found a large pool. In it swam a small white whale.
“Hey there, Mr. Whale, how’s it going?” called Hopper.
“Well, I’m not particularly going anywhere, if you get my drift.”
“Don’t seem to be drifting anywhere either, heh-heh,” added Hopper. “What do you call yourself, anyway?”
“Whell,” said the whale.
Hopper waited awhile for him to continue. Then he tried to get him to finish answering his question. “Well…?”
“Yes,” said the whale. “Whell.”
Hopper decided to pursue a different topic and asked, “Do you know any way out of this place?”
“There’s no way out of this tank, and I can’t see much of anything else. Why would I want out of here?”
“I don’t know about you, but we’re looking for a way out. It’s time for us to move on. There’s an open door for us somewhere, and we need to find it. See you later, Mr. Whale.”
“You can call me Whell if you like. Goodbye, little penguins.”
Hopper and Eudy found some more steps leading down to a dark hallway with windows on one side. Behind the glass was water. In the water they could see a white whale, but he couldn’t see them.
“Hey, there’s Whell,” said Eudy.
They continued on and came to another window with dolphins behind it swimming unaware of their presence. They were having a wonderful time gliding through the water, and sometimes jumping up and coming down with a great splash.
Farther on they came to a glass enclosure on the other side of the hall. “Hey, there are some penguins,” said Eudy. “Maybe we can help them get out of there.”
They watched the penguins until they realized that they knew those penguins. These were their friends, and this place had been their home an hour earlier.
They decided to move on before their friends saw them, so they continued in silence. They passed some sea otters and climbed some steps that led them back up to the hall they were in before.
They returned to the door that led to the outside. The door was closed, and they couldn’t budge it. Two tired Rockhoppers looked at them, reflected by the glass in the door. “This is the way out,” said Hopper, and Eudy agreed. “We’ll have to wait until it’s opened.”
Not far from the door they found a place to hide among some fake trees that were planted around the Oceanarium as part of the design to make this place look and feel like the outdoors where these creatures would naturally live. Here they would wait and watch for the door to open. Hopper said, “We’ve got to get out before they notice we’re gone. So let’s keep watching.” Soon they were asleep.
In the morning they were awakened suddenly by lots of people coming and going down the hall. So far no one had noticed them standing there with their wings outstretched.
A few people used the door they were watching. These were scientists and other people who worked here, and the door remained closed behind them. The penguins stood silently watching and waiting.
Later they noticed a lot of people roaming the hall, and going down the stairs they’d gone down the night before. These were the tourists who came to see the dolphins, seals, penguins, whales, and other creatures. One little girl looked at them and said, “Look at the cute penguins, Mama!”
Her mother said, “I wonder who made those! They look so life-like!”
“But, Mama, I saw one of them blink!”
“Come on, honey, let’s go see the real penguins.”
A short time later they saw a crowd of people gathering outside the door. Sensing their time was getting near, they watched the door with great anticipation.
A woman with a light green jacket arrived and opened the doors. The people started filing in and stood in the hall near the doors. Hopper said, “Let’s go before the last of that group gets in. We need to act nonchalant, like we work here.”
With that, they waddled out of their hiding place with their beaks in the air, past the lady in green, who was looking the other way, past the line of people coming in the door, while some said, “Ah, look at the penguins,” or “What a place; they even let the critters roam free like it was their natural habitat. I can’t wait to see the whale!”
Soon they were through the second door, and they were outside! They thought they heard the woman yell something, but freedom was calling louder. They followed the walkway for a short distance, then turned left through some bushes and came out on a sloping lawn.
They hurried down the slope until they came to a wall, where they had to hop down onto a concrete walkway. Up until now they had been able to see Lake Michigan not far in front of them, but now blocking their view was another concrete wall which they couldn’t see over, and it was too high for them to climb.
Then they heard excited shouts behind them and could see many green-jacketed people running down the slope toward them. Hopper and Eudy turned left, hopping at full speed along the walkway, with the Oceanarium building on their left and the insurmountable wall on their right.
They could hear the people shouting things like, “We have to get them!” and “Quick, someone cut them off before they get to the end of the wall!”
The penguins continued hopping as fast as they could. The people were getting closer. Then ahead of them they saw a break in the wall where they could either go to the left up a grass slope toward the building or to the right down to the lake.
They were almost there, and then they could see more people coming down the slope. They were almost cut off! Just barely making it to the break in the wall before people reached them, they hopped down toward the lake.
They heard the people shouting and saying things like, “No, penguins, you don’t want to leave us!”
Hopper and Eudy looked at each other and said, “Oh yes we do!” and dove into the lake.