My Penguin Pen Pal

2013 Garrett Clevenger



I have a pen pal. Some would say a very unusual one. She lives far away, in a place that is extremely cold: Antarctica, an icy land at the end of the Earth.


Her name in Gwenn. She is a penguin, so for her where I live can be extremely hot: Hawaii, a tropical island in the middle of the ocean.


How could a penguin be my pen pal, you wonder? Why else would they be called penguins!?


One day, I sent my penguin pal a pumpkin. I did not use the post office. I used the ocean!


I made sure it would float by scooping out the seeds. I put in their place a letter written just for Gwenn. I carefully put the top back on the pumpkin and attached a black and white flag with her name on it.


I walked out into the water and pushed the pumpkin away from me. I watched the pumpkin float out to sea and wished it luck on its journey. I could only guess how long it would take to reach Gwenn. The pumpkin did not float straight to her like I hoped. The ocean is too big for that!


On the first night, the pumpkin almost sank. It was windy and the waves were big and bouncy. Luckily, I taped the top on. It would have filled with water when it flipped over if I had not planned ahead.


On the second day, the pumpkin was almost eaten by a whale who thought it was a meal. Luckily, he saw the flag with Gwenn's name on it. He splashed a big wave towards it instead, giving it a needed boost towards my friend.


On the third day, a seagull saw the pumpkin while flying high above. She needed a place to rest, so she landed on top of it. She was hungry and knew that pumpkins have seeds, so she pecked through the flesh to find them. When she poked her head through she saw it was empty except for the letter inside. 


"Hmmm," she thought, "what's a letter doing inside a pumpkin with a flag with the name 'Gwenn' written on it? How odd, indeed!"


She realized it was a pumpkin for my penguin pen pal so she picked it up and flew it as far as she could. The pumpkin was heavy, so that was not far. She dropped it when she could fly no farther.


The pumpkin splashed down and filled with water through the hole the seagull had made. It began to sink. It sank farther and farther into the darkness of the ocean depths until it land with a hollow thud.


"What was that?" asked the captain of the submarine.


"Probably a fish bumping into us, sir," replied the navigator.


Fortunately, the submarine was headed towards Antarctica. They were going to explore the sea floor under the icebergs.


From a distance, the approaching submarine looked like a shark, so all the penguins swam to safety when they saw it coming. They watched it come closer and eventually could hear its motor rumble. As it was, it was not a shark so they swam towards it. One of them saw the pumpkin, saw the flag and saw Gwenn's name on it.


"Gwenn!" he exclaimed. "That pumpkin's for you!"


"For me!?" she excitedly asked, then saw that yes, it was.


She grabbed the pumpkin and brought it to shore. She peeled off the tape, popped off the top and pulled out the letter. She read it aloud to her bewildered flock.


"Dear Gwenn, my penguin friend. I have sent you a plump pumpkin. 

"Since it's so hot here in Hawaii you cannot visit, so give this a try. 

"Put in some ice, fill it with snow, then climb inside and towards me you'll float.

"You will stay cool as you travel the sea. When you get here, I'll make you iced tea!"


So Gwenn did just that. And you know what? It was so much fun she sent pumpkins to all her penguin friends.



Gwenn Gets Goosebumps


You remember Gwenn, my penguin pen pal. She is a black and white flightless bird from Antarctica. She was from Antarctica. Now, she is at home in Hawaii.


It did not take her long to make herself comfortable in this tropical paradise. In fact, her whole penguin flock found Hawaii to be most hospitable. They were no longer frigid as Popsicles standing on the ice or swimming in the chilly waters. They now were always warm and toasty.


You may think this strange, but Gwenn and her fellow penguins often got goosebumps from the freezing weather living in Antarctica. Even though their feathers and fat shielded them from the bitter winds, they still got cold and those chills sent shivers through their bodies, giving them goosebumps. Or should they be called penguinbumps? It doesn't matter, as you could never see those bumps since they were covered by their fuzzy feathers. You could never see their bumpy skin.


It didn't take long, though, for the hotness of Hawaii to make them shed their feathers. Why would they need feathers to keep them warm? One by one, Gwenn began to lose hers. She lost them as she waddled. She lost them as she swam. She lost them as she cleaned herself. She lost them as she slept in the sand.


Soon enough, she was naked as a plucked chicken. You would never have guessed she was a penguin any more. She was not now a black and white bird but a pink one, and turning redder by the day as the sun burned her bare skin, she and her penguin flock. They looked rather silly nesting on the beach, bright red dinosaur-looking birds surrounded by the pale, rippled sand.


The problem was, since they were so red, they were unable to blend in and camouflage themselves. They stood out from a distance. They were an obvious target.


Meanwhile, the swimming sea lions were hungry as could be. They hadn't eaten in hours. Their tummies were rumbling. They were on the prowl.


"What's that there, Vern?" Sammy the sea lion said as he swam with the others, nodding towards the red things on the sand.


"Lunch!" Vern replied with a smile. "And they're wearing no clothes!"


The sea lions swam closer, glad that the crashing waves drowned out their splashing tails. The penguins were unable hear their approach. Their mouths began to water as they anticipated eating the naked penguins. All those feathers made eating birds very difficult, of course.


The thing about being prey like a penguin, or even a chicken, is that you always have to be on guard. You always have to keep your eyes open and be on the lookout for predators who want to eat you. Your ears have to be listening for any sound that may be a clue that another animal is sneaking up on you.


So it was with Gwenn. She could sense something was wrong. She felt the goosebumps rise on her skin.


"What are those?" asked Pauly.


The other penguins looked to where Pauly was looking and saw the strange bumps on Gwenn's skin. They felt their skin rise in reaction. That made them wake up and take notice.


Gwenn was on alert and saw close by strange shapes in the water. Was it a whale? Was it a shark? Whatever it was, it was trouble coming closer. She jumped up and fled from the water's edge, her penguin friends following close behind.


The sea lions jumped from the water, barking loudly after the terrified penguins. Luckily, the penguins had a head start and fear in their heart, which made them flee as fast as their little legs would run.


It was a spectacular sight! A flock of squaking penguins, as red as could be, running away from a pack of barking, hungry sea lions, their undulating and bashing bodies splashing in the sand. It did not take long before they were tired of the chase.


"Sammy!" Vern shouted. "It's no use. Those red, naked birds are too fast," he said deflatedly.


Sammy stopped in his tracks and watched the penguins disappear into the rain forest. The sad sea lions turned around and slumped back to the sea. They would have to try to catch fish instead.


Gwenn and her friends slowed down when they didn't hear the sea lions chasing them anymore. She felt her goosebumps disappear. She also felt cooler being in the shade of the trees. She was relieved to be out of the sun. Her skin became a bit chilly, but the goosebumps didn't return.


"This feels good," Gwenn said to the other penguins. "Let's make our nests here!"


The others agreed. As they settled in that night, secure in their leafy nests, Gwenn wrote me a letter, being the good pen pal she is.


"Dear Garrett, listen to this: I almost became food on a dish. 

"I was asleep, warm on the beach when I sensed danger almost in reach. 

"My skin began with goosebumps to crawl and even though they were quite small 

"my friends they saw them and suddenly knew we were in trouble. They had bumps, too!

"So we ran as fast as we could until we were safe in a new neighborhood.

"Now here we will sleep, safe under a tree. There's just one thing we want. Bring more iced tea!"


Gwenn sent the letter with a homing pigeon, so I got it the next day. I made a fresh batch of iced tea and went straight away to find her. They were easy to see under the trees. They were the only things around that were bright red!




The Lava Monster


The coolest thing about the Hawaiian islands, or should we say the hottest thing, is that they are actually volcanoes, old ones and active ones. In fact, they were formed by hot lava flowing up and out of the ocean floor, growing taller and taller until they popped out of the ocean surface. They kept growing to become the tallest mountains on Earth.


It took millions of years for the islands to form and for the forests to grow into the lush tropical jungles they are today. During that time, many animals evolved to become unique species that occur nowhere else on the planet. From tiny snails, to slithering snakes, from colorful birds to creepy insects, the Hawiaiin islands are home to some very special creatures. Of course, as of recently, a flock of defeathered penguins currently resides on the main island.


Now, according to my friend Gwenn, somewhere in Hawaii lives a fearsome lava monster. A lava monster? There are no such things, I told her. She really believes there is one, however, as does the rest of her penguin flock.


It all started when I wrote Gwenn a letter. She is my pen pal, after all. I like to write to her, to tell her stories and sometimes invite her to join me. That is how she got to Hawaii, if you remember the pumpkin story.


"Dear Gwenn, guess where I am? The tallest mountain throughout the land!

"If you look up high, over the trees, past the white clouds you will find me.

"I'd like you to come and meet me up here. Look for the trail where the path's clear.

"Since where I am snow surrounds me, when you get here I'll serve you hot tea."


"Snow!?" thought Gwenn, "On Hawaii!? How could that be?"


It was true, though. Where I stood was so high and so cold that snow actually fell. That was all Gwenn needed know. She really missed the snow since leaving her Antarctic home. So she picked herself up and began the long waddle to Mauna Loa, the mountain where I waited.


I guess I should have sent a map to her with the letter. I assumed that she would have an instinct to find her way. She made it all the way to Hawaii from Antarctica, after all. How hard could it be to find the tallest mountain on Hawaii, one covered in gleaming snow? For a penguin, a bird who cannot fly, it turned out to be a bit difficult.


Gwenn could see the mountain, but it was very far away. She had a long distance to travel and it was not in a straight line. The path she was on winded this way and that, eventually disappearing as it entered the lava flow of Kilauea.


As she ventured onward, sometimes losing site of the snow-peaked mountain, her mind began to wander. She kept thinking of the sea, of eating a fish, and of catching some sleep.


"How much longer can it be?" she thought. "I've been walking for hours!"


Just as she was about to give up, she tripped on a lava rock and slipped down a slope. She tumbled down, almost landing in a pool of hot lava. When she stood up, she heard a slight rumble, which grew louder and louder as her heart beat faster.


"What could that be?" she wondered. "Maybe it's a jet airplane."


She looked up, but all that she saw were a few clouds in the beautiful blue sky.


"Maybe it's, a monster!?" she thought and began to get scared.


She looked around as the rumbling got louder. Just then, an explosion burst out near where she stood. She fell back as debris started sliding down the hill towards her. She got up just before she would have been buried and ran in the other direction.


"Monster!" she screamed as she fled away from the scene of destruction. If she would have turned around, she would have seen it was just a volcanic eruption. She was too afraid though, so instead she ran as fast as she could towards Mauna Loa. She hoped the "monster" was not chasing her.


From where I stood, way up high, I had a spectacular view of the eruption below. It was an awesome sight. I heard the rumble of the eruption, but never thought it was a monster. 


I had seen Kilauea erupt before. I had learned that Hawaii was really just one big volcano. I was just glad I was far away. I suppose if I had been right near it, I may have felt some fear as well.


It did not take Gwenn too much longer to find me. I was excited to see her and she was very happy to see me.


"Gwenn!" I exclaimed as I picked her up and spun her around. "You made it!"


"I almost didn't!" she squawked. "You should have seen the monster that came after me!"


"Monster!?" I asked, "There are no such things!"


"Oh, yes there are! It was big and loud and almost ate me!" she explained. "If not for my quick penguin feet I would have been monster meat!"


"You mean the volcano?" I asked.


"Yes! From the volcano came the lava monster! It nearly made a meal of me!" she exclaimed.


"Oh Gwenn, you silly penguin!" I said and thought of something. "You are safe up here. Do you know why?"


"Because we are so far away?" she answered.


"Yes, and also because lava does not like snow," I replied as I smiled.


"Let's stay up here for a while, then. At least until the monster goes to sleep. I can see it breathing down below," she said as she pointed towards the smoke rising from the lava flow.


"Fair enough, Gwendolyn. Hey, see that hill? Race you down!" I said as I bolted away.


Never underestimate a penguin when it comes to sledding on snow, even if they are naked and a little scared. She beat me to the bottom and squawked excitedly as she flapped her little wings.


"It looks like you're a bit cold," I told her, pointing to her goosebumps.


"Yeah, but you should have seen them when I saw the monster!" she replied.


"Did you really see the monster?" I asked.


She looked down and said, "No. But I could smell it!"


"I bet you could," I responded. "Lava does smell strong." Then I remembered something. "You know what I have to make you feel better?"


"Hot tea!" she answered.


We sat down and I poured her a cup from my thermos. Gwenn's goosebumps disappeared as she drank her tea. We watched the smoke from the lava "monster" slowly begin to fade away. Gwenn told me she wanted to write a letter to her friends down on the beach so I gave her a pen and piece of paper.


"Dear flock, guess what I saw after I slipped and took a big fall?

"A monster as big and loud as could be! It rose from the lava and tried to eat me!

"I ran so fast up to the snow 'cause there I knew it couldn't go.

"Yes, there is snow here where I am so come up here now, but follow my plan:

"Don't go to the smoke or the fire or you'll anger the lava monster."


You would think a monster would scare those penguins, but as soon as they heard there was snow to sled and bed on, the rest of Gwenn's flock made there way up to us. Hopefully, they would not waken the dreaded lava monster. Hopefully, Kilauea had enough erupting for now.



Gwenn Rides a Wave


After spending a few hours on the snow of Mauna Loa, Gwenn and her friends began to get hungry for their favorite food: fish! Unfortunately, there were not any up on the mountain. Fish need water like clouds need the sky.


We decided to head back to the sea, this time on a different side of the island than where the penguins had made their camp. I thought they would like to see another beach. I wanted to show them the place where I learned to surf as the waves were almost always perfect there. I really wanted to ride some, most of all.


You should have seen the look on people's faces as we walked out of the forest on to the beach. It's not so strange to see a guy carrying a surfboard, but to be trailed by seven penguins, all whom have lost their feathers and have turned red, is definitely out of the ordinary. The flock didn't seem to notice the stares. They were just very happy to be back to the ocean.


They quickened their pace when they saw water, scampering past me in a hurry. Little kids chased after them, squealing in delight. The penguins didn't mind. They actually seemed somewhat amused. They would rather be chased by harmless kids than sea lions, any day.


"Mommy, look at the little dinosaurs!" one yelled. 


Gwenn turned around, flapped her wings and squawked. Not quite what a dinosaur would sound like, I thought. The kid just laughed. At least he didn't think the little "dinosaur" was scary.


They might have looked funny walking, but once they hit the water, they were as graceful as could be. They definitely were at home in the ocean. They were sleeker without all their feathers and so could swim faster. I doubt anyone thought they were dinosaurs after seeing them swim.


Schools of tropical fish, even more colorful than the penguins, swam all around. There were parrotfish, angelfish, frogfish and lizardfish mingling in the coral reef. Sardines, tunas, moray eels and snappers flitted about. Sea cucumbers and starfish crawled slowly along the ocean floor. It was a marvelous sight. The dinosaur-like penguins made it even more fantastic. It seemed like a dream.


The penguins honed in on small fish they could eat. They were as hungry as ever having only eaten the occasional bug since their trek up to the snow. Now it was their time to hunt for lunch. 


As the penguins caught fish, I caught some waves. There were nice ones rolling in. The swells came in from a storm raging far out at sea. Once they hit the reef, the swells turned into perfect waves that surfers from all over the world came the catch. Surfers that were not just on surfboards, in fact.


It took me a few waves to realize that there were other creatures having fun riding them. As I was waiting for a wave, I looked to my left and saw a fin pop out of the water. I almost yelled, "Shark!" before I was able to see it was actually a dolphin. There were several of them, all catching waves. 


It was then that I noticed Gwenn and her friends were joining in the fun. They had refueled and were ready to romp. There were plenty of waves to go around, so the humans, the dolphins and penguins surfed together. That is, until we had unexpected and unwelcome intruders.


Gwenn had caught a wave and was racing along in it. She had learned to do spins and had just completed one when all of a sudden, Vern, the rambunctious sea lion who had chased the penguins earlier that week, came in for a sneak attack. He nearly bit Gwenn's tail. He would have done so had not one of the dolphins seen the sea lion swim towards Gwenn in an attack. The dolphin rammed into Vern, stunning him. I saw the commotion and paddled towards Gwenn.


"Get on my board!" I yelled to her. She had not noticed Vern. I pointed and shouted, "Sea lions!"


She quickly swam towards me and bounded on to my surfboard.


"You almost were eaten!" I told her. "One of the dolphins saved you by bashing and blocking the sea lion."


"We need to warn my friends!" Gwenn said, but the dolphins were one step ahead. They had formed a barrier around the other penguins.


The sea lions tried to sneak through. Vern was particularly persistent but the dolphins were not going to let him or the the others get any of the penguins. The dolphins were quicker and had better reflexes, so they swam circles around the sea lions, making them dizzy and confused. Eventually, they had enough.


"Let's get out of here," Vern said to his sea lion pack. "These pesky penguins aren't worth the effort."


The dolphins chased them away, to make sure they were really gone. When the dolphins returned, they each leapt high out of the water, chirping in excitement and triumph. "We beat the sea lions!" they were saying.


The waves kept rolling in and the penguins and dolphins continued their surfing excursion.


"Hey, Gwenn," I said to my friend. "Stay on the surfboard. Let's see if you can ride a wave with me."


She squawked in agreement.


"Grip the board tight," I told her. "This is probably going to get bouncy."


A wave approached us so I paddled hard to catch it. Gwenn stood at the front, claws dug deep into the wax spread on the board. When I felt the wave push me, I knew the time was right, so I jumped to my feet. We were surfing!


I turned the board up to the top of the wave, trying to be gentle so as not to knock Gwenn off the board. I cut it a bit too sharp, though, and Gwenn flew off, landed with a big belly flop, then popped back up to the surface.


"That was awesome!" she yelled. "Let's ride another wave!"


"I knew you'd think that," I told her. "Hop back on!"


The next wave we caught was even bigger.  I was determined to ride in the tube, the part of the wave that crashes down like a tunnel. That was always my favorite thing to do when surfing.


We caught the tube and watched the water fall around us. We were inside the wave. The rumble from the crashing of the wave filled our bodies. The wind that was created from the crashing wave sprayed water out the tube's entrance, making our bodies shake. We almost fell off of the  surfboard, but stood strong and maintained our balance.


"Yeeeeee haaaaaaaw!" I shouted with the biggest grin on my face. Gwenn squawked excitedly in response.


We burst out of the tube and shot off the top of the wave, both of us flying off the board. That was as close as a penguin got to actually flying. We splashed into the water. Gwenn dove down, then raced back up, shooting out of the water, trying to fly again. I think she wished she had wings that could really fly. I had a feeling about what Gwenn was going to want to do for her next adventure, but she was having so much surfing, we would have to wait to do that on another day.


The other penguins, by this point, also wanted to surf, so each one found a surfer and jumped on their surfboard. Luckily, the other surfers were more than happy to surf with a penguin on board. 


We spent the afternoon catching as many waves as we could. Gwenn got very good at staying on the board, but she told me her favorite part was flying off the board at the end of a ride. I made it my point to try to get as high as possible for her, so that her flying time would be longer. I eventually realized that I could just pick her up while riding a wave and throw her high so she would fly even farther. Gwenn was having the best time of her life.


Just like all things, though, we had to end our surfing when the sun started to go down. We did not want to be on the water when it got too dark in case the sea lions decided to come back. We made our way to shore, sat down and watched the sun set.


A photographer I knew named Pete came up to us and said, "Dudes, that was the coolest surfing I've ever seen. I got some excellent shots of you ripping up the waves. Check them out."


He showed us the pictures he took. There were a few silly ones and some pretty good ones. My favorite was the shot of me tossing Gwenn high in the air. She was flapping her little wings so hard, you would think that she was a real flying bird. A red, dino-bird. Gwenn liked that picture, too. I could tell she was coming up with an idea.


"If you guys want, I can print you out a few of these pictures," Pete told us.


"That would be great," I said. 


We pointed out our favorite ones. Gwenn said she was going to send her mom the one of her flying. I told her that was a excellent idea.


"Do you have a piece of paper?" Gwenn asked. "I want to write to her right now."


I pulled a piece out of my backpack and gave her a pen.


"Dear mom, do you see me? I'm the red bird in the photo flying.

"I lost all my feathers because it's hot up here, then I got sunburned on my front and my rear.

"I was chased by a monster who live in lava. I bedded in snow and ate some sweet guava.

"Today I went surfing with the help of a friend, then learned to fly, that's kind of pretend.

"Tomorrow my plan's to make it real, to fly like a bird. That's what I wanna feel!"


"Thanks for teaching me how to surf today," Gwenn said after she finished writing the letter.


"You're welcome," I replied.


"Tomorrow, I want to learn how to fly," she confirmed.


That would be our most exciting time yet.