One of our favorite experiences on a recent trip to New Zealand was a visit to The Penguin Place conservatory. It is located outside Dunedin on the southeast tip of the country. The Otago Peninsula is a wildlife mecca, home for a struggling group of rare, endangered yellow-eyed penguins. Therein we found a romance tale that still makes me smile.

These penguins mate for life, pretty much. The ones the conservators named “Jim” and “Maggie” were a matrimonial success. They had produced a number of chicks over the years. But Jim had reached about 23 years of age. It was breeding season. A much younger and eager bachelor penguin the staff named “Rod” had been vying for Maggie’s affections. He had been strutting and preening and flirting around her. It was making Jim pretty mad.

After one long, hard day of fishing, Jim and Rod came out of the ocean onto the beach and began the long walk — or should we say “shuffle” — through the brush to the habitat, where Maggie was already waiting (probably in a satin teddy, but that’s another story). Rod decided to make his move of aggression against Jim, to try to knock him out of the way so that he could steal Maggie. The conservators watched from their blinds as, all the way from the beach across the dunes through the brush to the penguin home, Rod fought and fought and fought against Jim.

Now, penguins don’t punch, bite or kick. They slap. All that way, Rod slapped and slapped his flippers against Jim. But Jim didn’t fight back. He just doggedly trudged on. Jim looked weak and ineffective, like it was time for him to be put out to pasture. Rod thought he was about to win the day.

Just then, they came up over a dune into Maggie’s full view. All of a sudden, Jim came alive.

In front of Maggie’ adoring eyes, he slapped and slapped and slapped furiously against Rod. He bested him, sending him off in defeat and dejection. Maggie was thrilled.

The humans realized that canny old Jim had conserved his energy and endured Rod’s many slaps along the long pathway to spend it in the only place that counted — within Maggie’s view. Meanwhile, Rod had wasted his energy away. Game! Set! Match!

It was a great lesson illustrating how old age and cunning will beat youth and indiscretion, every time.

This happened a few months before our visit. We took extra-special delight in viewing Jim and Maggie’s latest chick from inches away in a well-concealed blind. As an older husband himself, El Magnifico gave Jim a little tip o’ the hat (when he thought I wasn’t looking).

You know what they say: “Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth.” (Proverbs 5:18)