Boomerang Days: My White Whale

In which our intrepid columnist takes one last wistful lap around the Forty Acres in search of a majestic beast.

I’m in search of a legend lurking among the oaks and lawns of the Forty Acres. It’s a phantom of luck and elusiveness—the infamous albino squirrel.

Technically the white-furred squirrels seen on campus are not albinos, but a species of white fox squirrels (white fox is what they called my grandmother back in the day). Nevertheless, this albino-esque squirrel has a huge following, inspiring the comics of Korey Coleman, its own Twitter account, and has even graced the cover of this very publication. It’s embarrassing when a pale tree rodent has a better resume than you.

The rare beast has its own club: The Albino Squirrel Preservation Society. The society was founded at UT but now has chapters at schools across the country and members dedicating themselves “to the protection of all squirrels, especially those that are albino.” Another example of what starts at UT, changes the world.

Lore says a sighting of the squirrel on a test day promises an outstanding grade. I never glimpsed one, which my GPA can attest to. But I have my reasons for avoiding squirrels—as a student I had a negative encounter with one. It was a pleasant spring day and I was eating a snack at the base of a shady oak. This friendly furry fellow approached, pleading for a bite with his small, brown, soulful eyes. So I fed him raisins one-by-one, sharing the entire box. But the squirrel was not satiated. I tried to communicate that the box was empty, but my squeaks were weak, and his English was worse. With a high-pitched, bitter bark, he scurried away.

Nonplussed, I returned to my studying, which entailed leaning back on the grass and gazing up through the branches. I closed my eyes, letting the speckled sun warm my skin, the slight dew drip on my face … wait … that’s a lot of dew.

I opened my eyes, and there was the squirrel! He was draped over a branch, staring down at me with a devilish gleam in his eye. And he was urinating. Nature biologists have assured me that this scenario is implausible, but I was there. The squirrel revenge-peed on me.

Since that day, I’ve feared all squirrels, avoiding interactions or even eye contact. But today is special. This is my final installment of the Boomerang Days column. After three years of misadventures, I’m laying down my Boomerang badge. In honor of this, I am facing my fear and finding that albino squirrel.

I wake before dawn. The albino squirrels are most active just before first light. This, it turns out, is not true. I’m not even sure where I got that from. Nevertheless, here I am, walking the pre-dawn campus.

I move from the Harry Ransom Center across the South Mall, skirting the east campus, moving north and then west. I scan trees, shake bushes, and peek into the turtle pond. I’m relentless, a modern-day Ahab, only my white beast is no aquatic colossal, but a woodland nut thief.

As I search, memories pour in from both my college years and my time writing Boomerang Days, when I got to reacquaint myself with the Forty Acres. There’s the creek where I learned how to decipher a snake’s gender (a skill I hope to never use again). There’s the building where I posed for an undergraduate art class wearing nothing but an after-dinner mint. And there’s the Tower, where I guest-played a fragment of Depeche Mode on the carillon.

I find a whole host of memories, but you know what I don’t find? A single doggone albino squirrel. I mean, nothing!
As the sky begins to lighten, I pause on the main mall and take in the view, the Capitol far to the south, the Tower above me. I do so love this place. This is a kind of goodbye. I’ll return to campus, but not as a fresh-eyed undergraduate, and not as a 40-something with an excuse to humiliate myself in the name of journalism. I’ll miss this.

Just then, a single acorn rattles down from one of the sprawling oaks and lands near my feet. I look up and something high in the branches scurries out of sight, something white. It may have been a furry pigeon, a confused miniature poodle, or a very tiny ghost. Or it may have been my squirrel, my Moby Dick, giving me a going away gift.

I keep the acorn. I’m holding it now, which I confess, slows my typing. I’ll plant it in my yard.

I grew so much on the UT campus; it feels right that part of it will grow at my home. Perhaps someday that acorn will become an oak and my son will lay beneath it, and a vengeful squirrel will urinate on his head. It’s the circle of life.


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