In the wilds of North Raleigh, a creature with fur paler than the moon reveals itself on special days, shaking its cottony tail at a lucky few:
The White Squirrel of Draymoor Manor.
A rare genetic morph, the squirrel with a coat the shade of Moby Dick scrambles out of hiding near the gates of the townhouse community, just off Leesville Road. Thanks to a handful of sightings dating back two years, sometimes as a pair, the rodents have risen to the status of neighborhood mascot.
“It’s an oddity, you know?” said Jerry Cram, president of the homeowners association. “How the hell the danged things got there, who knows?”
According to one researcher, the ghost-colored beasts are nearly always a genetically mutated version of the eastern gray squirrel – common to backyard bird feeders. White squirrels normally do not qualify as albino unless they also sport red eyes, a feature the North Raleigh variety lacks.
This ecological researcher, Rob Nelson of the University of Hawaii, has compiled a map of nationwide sightings. On that map, only a few dots are clustered in the mountains of North Carolina, nearly all of them around Brevard, where white squirrels are prized attractions that merit their own annual festival.
“Who knows?” asked Cram, the HOA president. “Maybe somebody grabbed one over in Brevard.”
But hardly any sightings touch the Triangle, where the title of most famous pale-coated creature belongs to the White Deer of Garner, whose stuffed remains are on display in a city park.
On his Web page, Nelson notes that natural selection works hard against blanched rodents, their bodies being so easily spotted by predators. But few squirrel-eating animals populate the Leesville-Strickland road area, especially in a 112-unit townhouse community, where dogs tend to be leashed.
In Draymoor Manor, sympathy for white squirrels runs high enough that residents have considered naming the dog park in their honor. Cram took an informal poll at an HOA meeting last year and found that roughly half of the 60 residents in attendance had spotted the white squirrel.
A common theory in the neighborhood could explain the squirrels’ sudden appearance. A large tract of forest has been cleared at the Leesville-Strickland intersection, making way for a Publix grocery store slated to open next year. The loss of those trees might have forced the squirrels to vacate to digs more frequently in the public eye.
“We used to have deer there as well,” said Allan Johnston. “They, too, have been forced off the land.”
I walked the construction line with my 10-year-old Tuesday morning, annoying a few birds, but spied nothing that might qualify as a genetic morph. My son swears he saw the swishing of a white tail up a tall oak truck, but mythical creatures have always favored children.
May the squirrels reveal themselves to all of us, unworthy disturbers of the peace.