Back in September, I got up early one morning and went out in the fog to survey my estate.
Nothing unusual in Rhodes Cove. There were still leaves on the trees, and a slight wind that gathered the leaves in huge heaps in my yard. Then, I saw him. A big white squirrel sitting in the driveway near my mailbox, his tail jerking spastically as he checked out the Carden estate.
My little dog, Pumpkin, immediately saw the albino intruder and got hysterical. She chased the squirrel around my yard and up a tree. This was a common occurrence since the woods around my house have an abundance of gray squirrels that raid my bird feeder. However, there was something different about this fellow. He didn’t seem to be especially alarmed by Pumpkin and made no attempt to escape back to the woods. Finally, I had to lure my frustrated little dachshund back into the house.
The next day, there were two white squirrels in the same spot. They seemed to be calmly surveying the trees around my house, and I thought of that poem about Balboa standing on a ridge looking at the new world. Well, I felt honored. I knew a little about white squirrels since I had once spent a summer in Brevard where I saw large numbers of them scampering through the trees in town and in a nearby section called “the flower beds” frequented by picnickers and hikers. When I inquired, the locals told me a story about a carnival wagon filled with “unusual animals,” that passed through Brevard in the 1840s and overturned, releasing the creatures to the wilds.
Frankly, I doubted the story of the wrecked carnival wagons, but it sounded more credible that another tale of a local botanist who produced a new breed of white squirrels for his own entertainment. Unfortunately, his experiments escaped. I don’t believe that one either, but I can tell you that the white squirrels of Brevard live a pampered life. There is a fine of $1,000 for killing a white squirrel, and the local Chamber of Commerce encourages the local folk to feed them. There is also a “White Squirrel Festival” each spring, and the local crafts people turn out an imaginative amount of squirrel-motif carvings, paintings and whittled figures. Recently, when I was in the community of Etowah outside Hendersonville, I saw a dozen of the white rascals cavorting on the deck of a lady’s house. I was told that the community fed them and they were close to “domesticated.”
Recently, I spent a night troubled by insomnia and I began to have “fevered dreams” of my two exploring squirrels. What if they founded a colony of white squirrels in the ridges surrounding Rhodes Cove?
What if they thrived and Jackson County became known as “the Land of the White Squirrels?” What if people came from all over the world to see our albino critters, and suddenly, Sylva was filled with quaint little shops with names like Granny Squirrel’s Cupboard or The Acorn House? Maybe local musicians could form a quartet called “The Crazy Squirrels” and go to New York? Maybe the local beer and wine merchants could create drinks with names like “The Angry Squirrel” or “Dream of the White Squirrel”? Have I lost control? I fear that I have.
Ever since I began to ponder a future that included white squirrels, I have kept watch, hoping to wake some morning to see multitudes of white quaking tails in the woods around my house, but alas, they have not returned. Also, I did a bit of research that really dampened my hopes.
According to Wikipedia, the white squirrel is easy prey for hawks and cats, and for that reason, they rarely thrive outside a protected environment. Further, my research tells me that there are at least six other communities that call themselves “Home of the White Squirrel,” and yes, every one of them have a story about a wrecked carnival wagon. Rival towns now include: Marionville, Mo.; Olney City, Ill.; Bowling Green, Ky.; Kenton, Tenn.; Charlotte; and Exeter, Ontario, Canada.
But then, there are alternatives. Have you heard about the UFOs in Whiteside Cove?