An Oakland Love Story

I have lived around Lake Merritt in Oakland for years. The bird sanctuary here is the country’s oldest wildlife refuge, I have read somewhere. I used to run the Lake regularly, and years ago I often noticed a pelican and swan, always together. They were beautiful. And you could tell they were companions, not just accidentally hanging out in the same place like so many other birds there are wont to do.

One day I ran into one of the ornithologists at the Lake, and I asked her what their story was. This is what she told me:

Helen was the pelican, and earlier that year her life-long mate of more than 28 years, Hector had been strangled in some fishing nets in the lake. Helen was beside herself with grief. The folks who work at the bird sanctuary buried Hector’s body out of Helen’s sight, purposefully, so that she would more easily be able to move on from her grief. However, she found his grave, and stayed there for days, refusing to leave her beloved.

Before Hector died, a swan named Lancelot had been hanging out with the other large birds of Lake Merritt. He was there on and off. One day when he was at the Lake, he started hanging around Helen at Hector’s grave, and this offered her some comfort. Before long, Helen was persuaded to leave Hector’s burial site, and she and Lancelot were constant companions after that.

Helen died the winter of 1999, and Lancelot hasn’t been seen since they buried her.

This is a tale of love, grief and companionship, and a true Oakland love story.

4 thoughts on “An Oakland Love Story

  1. Elizabeth

    Here’s a love story of a different kind – but with birds;

    I was in the Catskills with my class (30 4th graders) on a camping trip. We were camped on the edge of a beautiful lake that had a view to the West – so that even 30 4th graders could get quiet and listen to the sounds and appreciate the beauty of evening there.

    I was rounding up the gang for dinner, when, from out of the bushes, two of my girls beckoned me to come quickly, “And bring your knife!”

    This is not the thing a teacher wants to really hear. To jump in the bushes with a knife.

    But there, on the edge of the lake, seated on a rock, was a duckling – big enough to swim, but still in that lovely poof of yellow down that makes you want to scream “cute”. His/her leg was caught in a fishing line, and it had pulled it tight – its foot was limp.

    Having put lots of little birds in nests, I had heard that the scent thing isn’t as big a deal as people say – if a bird sees its baby, it will take it back, even if it smells like a skunk. As long as it is safe to do so. So I took the little duckling into my hands to quiet it (it still had a lot of spunk, a good sign) and cut the fishing line – and then held it some more, and waited to see if the foot would “wake up”. And all the while, two little girls were watching and hoping, and watching and hoping.

    The little one needed water, so we set it on the lake, and it began to swim – we watched it swim along the shore, peeping all the way. And the girls watched and hoped. I fought back the words, “Chances are, the duckling won’t make it…”. We noticed a raccoon on the edge of the lake. I fought back the words, “Chances are, some animal will have a meal…” I watched, afraid of disappointing the girls, of having them face a hard lesson of nature. I wondered how long I would sit there, watching the duckling make its way, sadly along the shore, calling for the help that would never come. What would I tell the girls? They wouldn’t leave yet. I had to get them away before they saw what really happened to the duckling! Eaten by something! There was nothing to be done, so I sat on the rock with the girls, and started to believe the hopeful things I was telling them. “A little more time.” “I saw two duck families on this side of the lake, and the little one is swimming towards one of the nests…it will find a safe place until its family comes back…”, and the girls breathed easier, but still watched and hoped.

    Then, a flurry of feather, and a female duck landed on the lake, and called to the baby. She swam along the shore – maybe 30 feet away from the baby, and the baby swam towards her – and there, towards the center, were the rest of the baby ducklings. The little one swam towards them.

    When I first saw the duckling, I wanted to say it was a done deal. When I freed it, I wanted to say that the chances of it finding its mother were low – and the chances of it being able to reunite were lower. But the love of children can push one to go beyond what the chances are, or what “reality” says. With their love, it was possible; and with their love, I was given the power to work the impossible.

    And isn’t that what love does?


  2. Jane

    I love the Oakland love story. Would you mind if I used it in one of my myspace blogs? I’ve actually been compiling animal stories and it would be cool to have a local one . ..


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