On a still, sunny evening in February, scores of newly fledged Adélie penguin chicks were arrayed on the cobblestone beaches of Torgersen Island, contem plating the next step in their brief lives. Only two months old yet almost fully grown, these twenty-inch-high, black-and-white seabirds milled about, some emitting the feeble, honklike call peculiar to adolescent Adélies, others standing and staring at the Southern Ocean. The temperature in this corner of the northwestern A ntarctic Peninsula hovered just above freezing. The sun was making its slow descent tow ard the horizon, its rays casting a gentle light on the ice- draped m ountains that run down the spine of the nine- hundred- mile finger of land.
I stood a few dozen feet from the beaches and gazed at the sea -- frigid, remarkably clear, its surface broken by scores of icebergs -- stretching before me. To my left , the peninsular mountain range--sheer black rock faces and vast fields of ice streaming to the Southern Ocean--dominated the eastern horizon. To my right, the great white dome of the Marr Ice Piedmont sloped gradually to the west. I had been in Antarctica nearly four m onths, but, as always, I felt incapable of grasping the scale and beauty of this place. To take it all in with a single glance, capture it in a photograph, or render it faithfully in words seemed impossible.