Few humans get to experience Antarctica, Earth’s most remote and least populated continent. But wildlife cameraman and photographer Lindsay McCrae (BBC’s Alaska: Earth’s Frozen Kingdom) got to be one of the lucky few, recounting both the beauty and harsh conditions of this frigid environment in his enthralling memoir, My Penguin Year.
While staying on Antarctica for 337 days in a fully equipped station with just a handful of other people, McCrae films the complete life cycle of the emperor penguin. As a result, he has a front-row seat to the incredible endurance of an emperor penguin colony, following these fascinating birds through mating, egg-laying, hatching and parenting duties. His year with the emperors means living through both Antarctic summer, with relatively mild temperatures and two months of total sunlight, and the brutal Antarctic winter, with two months of total darkness and temperatures that often dip to minus 50 degrees Celsius.
Spending so much time with the penguins allows McCrae to capture footage that is at times unbelievable and bizarre, as he watches them battle starvation, whiteout blizzard conditions, long journeys, frigid cold and unrelenting winds to ensure the birth of their chicks. And at the same time, McCrae is dealing with his own issues—namely being apart from his new wife, who is pregnant with their first child. He misses this major milestone during his time away, while contending with unforgiving weather conditions to capture footage of the penguins as they, too, become parents.
Ultimately, this year of close calls, extreme cold, loneliness and insomnia is interspersed with amazing sights and sounds, incredible splendor and rarely seen penguin behavior, such as a female emperor laying an egg, the long incubation period handled by the males and the egg hatching. A touching story of courage, survival and persistence, My Penguin Year is a must-read for nature lovers and those who enjoy a stirring memoir.