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Lament for the Falklands

Even though I didn't want to see the tanks on television their huge shapes dominated the screen. I tried to look at the land in back of them--the rocky pathless hills of the Falklands I once had known and loved.

I thought: could that tank be on the island where I came ashore? The beach where the penguins waddled down to meet me?

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They were curious, friendly little birds who turned their heads from side to side in order to peer at me from first one eye and then the other. I had never before seen penguins in the wild.

The Falklands are a birder's paradise. More than 60 different species breed there. The stately upland goose struts over the grassy slopes. A mischievous Johnny rook bird sometimes swoops down and steals clothespins and clothes from the back yards of residents.

There are five kinds of penguins. The Magellanic live in tunnels they dig in the earth.

I see tire tracks from the tanks. Do they cover the burrows where the penguins made their homes?

The television shows the plodding cadence of marching feet. I wonder, are they tramping over the nests where the black-browed albatross lived?

When I was in the Falklands my feet were booted too, but with shoes suitable for hiking over the grassy hummocks to find where the albatross nested.

There is another view on television, this time of a newly built military road that parallels the ocean. Once I followed the shoreline to the place where the fur seals stayed. I climbed about three miles up a grassy hillside, with a view of the bright blue ocean on my right. There in front of me were the seals sunning themselves on a rock. They were not afraid of me because few people came there. Now the whole world knows about this once isolated region.

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I speculate whether the Falklands might become like the Vietnamese village during that war that had to be destroyed to be saved.

On the top of my television screen helicopters whir.

But no albatross soars effortlessly in the winds, white wings against the sky.

And where have the penguins gone?

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