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.