When life imitates folklore

You can see it in her eyes and in every inch of her feathered body. This goose is in love, and the object of her affections is a human. Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson have a tale type for it in their folktale classification system. Animal brides are type 402. So there’s a precedent for this romance. But stick with me because there’s a surprise coming.

Folklorist and retired professor D.L. Ashliman gives summaries of a dozen animal bride variants and links to others on his folktale site. In 1001 Nights the bride is a tortoise. She’s a frog in Russia, a mouse in Sri Lanka, a monkey in the Philippines, a cat in India, and a she-wolf in Croatia. Whatever form she takes, the animal bride is generally a human who can only be freed of her enchantment through true love.

I haven’t come across any versions in which the bride is a goose, but it isn’t much of a stretch to imagine there must be one. On the other hand, this goose doesn’t need to change a feather in order to secure the affection of her companion. Only thing is, as long as she’s a goose, he won’t take her home with him.

CBS caught wind of the unlikely pair. Thanks to the network, and to Susan Garland, who sent me the link, we can all witness one of the sweetest inter-species friendships I’ve come across.

Toulouse goose

Toulouse goose, photo from OliBac's Flickr photostream

Every day, a Toulouse goose called Maria waits patiently beside the road that borders Echo Park Lake in Los Angeles. When Dominic Ehrler, a retired salesman, drives up on his scooter, she greets him and follows him on his walk. She tries to fly home with him, but co-habiting with a goose exceeds his boundaries.

Then the surprising turn of events: The park’s avian residents have to be moved to the Los Angeles Zoo while the lake gets some repairs. Zoo staff discover the goose is actually a gander, with his own Facebook fan page.

Fortunately, Dominic has visiting privileges because species and gender aren’t issues when it comes to the mysterious chemistry of friendship. Having owned geese, I am particularly touched by this story. These birds are loyal. When they bond with someone, the connection is for life. By accepting Mario’s friendship, Dominic has made a commitment whose end will come only when one of them dies.

We know so little of the inner lives of animals. We fear attributing emotions to them slips over into “anthropomorphism”. There’s no doubt we misinterpret their actions, due to our limitations in communicating with our fellow creatures. Still, who could watch this goose following his human pal around the park and not see genuine fondness?

This is a story that would not be improved by a folkloric ending, in which love turns the goose back into human form. It’s a much better story just the way it is.

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