Chester was white. I know what you’re thinking. That is an awful way to start a story. Most days I would agree, but not today. Chester WAS white, and for Chester, that was a bad thing. You see Chester was a Raccoon.
Once, a passing Fox called Chester a ‘Moon Dog’. No one was ever sure if that was an insult or not. Chester didn’t react to it one way, or the other. All Chester knew was that he was white, he was a Raccoon, and none of the other girl Raccoons would have anything to do with him.
As time passed, nothing seemed quite right. The grubs he hunted began to lose their appeal. The crayfish he snagged of the bottom of Colton Creek, were too crunchy. The sweet roots he dug up were not so sweet. Even the blue of the sky was watery and pale looking. Chester was very sad. Chester was always alone. Chester was white.
Now this might have been the end of our story had it not been for a curious series of events. While hunting for grubs, crayfish, and sweet roots, he happened upon two very strange looking creatures. One was a Man. The man sat quietly against the trunk of an ancient Red Cedar tree. He wore a green shirt, a pair of dark pants, and a wide-brimmed hat with a Blue Jay feather stuck in the brim. The hat was pulled down over his eyes and he appeared to be fast asleep. The other was a Hummingbird. He also perched quietly on the top of the man’s hat drinking a liquid out of a tiny battered tin cup. The bird wore a hat of his own. It was a dark grey tam set at a jaunty angle. Chester blinked at this unusual sight. That’s when it happened.
The Hummingbird suddenly flew straight up into the air.
“TICK! TICK-TICK. T-TICK-TICK,” exclaimed the Hummingbird in alarm. He vanished up into the branches of the cedar tree. Hummingbirds are very fast creatures. They fly fast, they eat fast and they talk fast. They can disappear faster than Fairies can. In fact each TICK was a complete hummingbird sentence. You have to listen very carefully if you are going to understand what a hummingbird is saying. The man did not move, but his slow musical voice filled the tiny clearing.
“There is no such thing… as a Moon Dog, Leon”
“Yea there is, Frederick.” Leon contradicted. “Oi can see him right there.” Leon flew directly at Chester then veered away at high speed.
“It’s a Moon Dog all right an’ that’s a fact or Oi’ll eat me own tail feathers, Oi will.” Leon was from somewhere called England. No one knew where that was, but it did explain why everybody, except Leon of course, talked with a funny accent.
The man lifted his head and looked at Chester. He had blue eyes and white eyebrows.
“Hello there,” he called to Chester. He spoke perfect Raccoon.
“Hello,” said Chester.
“Perhaps you can help me settle a small argument with Leon here. Are you a Moon Dog?”
“I… I don’t think so,” said Chester. Although, a Fox once confused me for one.”
“There, you see Leon, he is not a Moon Dog.”
“What is he then?” Leon flew back and looked closely at Chester. “Are you sure you are not a Moon Dog?”
“Pretty sure, yes,” answered Chester.
“What are you then?”
“I am a Raccoon.”
“You’re not a Raccoon!” exclaimed Leon. “You’re white.”
“LEON! That is no way to speak to our guest.” Frederick was frowning. He was also speaking to empty air. Leon had vanished back into the tree branches above.
“Is he dangerous?” Leon called down from above.
“No, he is not dangerous,” Frederick answered. “You’re not are you?”
Chester shook his head.
“See. Do you have a name?”
“It is very nice to meet you Chester,” said Frederick.
“How do you do. I have not seen a Man before.”
“Oi! He’s not a Man. Frederick is the Earth Pilgrim,” Leon announced. He settled back down on Frederick’s hat and began to drink again from the tiny tin cup.
“A white Raccoon. That is a rare sight to be sure,” said Frederick. “Looking at you I am reminded of something. I just cannot remember what it is. Not to worry, it will come to me.”
“Is he coming to the Fair?” asked Leon.
“Leon, you know the rules. You have to invite him first,” Frederick pointed out.
“Oh yea, that’s right Oi do.”
Chester’s pink ears perked up. “There’s a Fair?” he asked.
“Have you never ‘eard of the Hummingbird Fair?” asked Leon. Chester shook his head.
“It is called the ‘Hummingbird Fair’ because only a Hummingbird can invite you,” said Frederick. “You see the Fair is magical. If you are invited it is easy to find. If you have not been invited you will never find it. It is all run by the Fairy Folk.”
Leon flew over to Chester and stopped a mere whisker away. He bowed to Chester with a sweep of his tam.
“Chester, the White Raccoon,” Leon began formally. “It is my honour and privilege to invite you to the ‘Hummingbird Fair’.”
There was a sudden and noticeable change in the small clearing around Chester. The air smelled fresher and sweeter. Colours were brighter and even the broad fringed scented cedar branches looked more defined – smelled more aromatic. Every feather on Leon was glowing.
“Thank you Leon, I would be delighted to attend,” said Chester. “I have never been invited to anything before.” His whiskers trembled with excitement.
“The it is ‘igh time indeed,” Leon remarked.
“Well then, I suppose it is time to get going. The fair won’t wait for us,” said Frederick.
The Earth Pilgrim stood. To Chester, he was impossibly tall. In the world of men however, he would have been looked upon as somewhat short and a bit round in the vestibule. The crown of his hat actually brushed the lower branches of the Cedar tree. He turned and strode off into the depths of the forest with long, loping strides. Chester hurried after him.
It was never clear to Chester afterward if they walked for a very long way, or a very short way. Everything felt fresh and new. One thing he was sure of, was that for the first time in his life, he was happy.
Then he thought he began to hear music. It was faint and far away, but as he got closer the music grew louder. He could begin to see shapes, colours, and movement through the low underbrush. Suddenly he stepped into a sun-dappled meadow filled with wild flowers. The air was filled with butterflies carrying butter and dragonflies breathing tiny puffs of smoke that smelled like wild flowers.
A magnificently dressed little man not much taller than Chester stopped them. There was white lace at his neck and cuffs and he wore a bright red shirt under a simple leather vest. His pants were bright green and they came down to just below the knee. Below that were white stockings and black shoes with a silver buckle on each. His belt was also silver and covered in tiny bells that tinkled sweetly every time he moved. Even his fine white hair lifted in a halo about his head. However his attire was not the most interesting feature of this tiny man. What captured Chester’s attention were the man’s beautiful transparent butterfly wings.
Albrecht Fafnir Puck was a real Fairy!
The Fairy lifted into the air until he was face to face with the man.
“Frederick! You’re late!” he accused. He poked Frederick in the nose with his finger.
Frederick’s face darkened. His frown grew deeper and more dangerous. It was like a thunderstorm was building and racing towards the cheery meadow. The fairy flew backwards slightly in alarm. Only Fairies and Hummingbirds can fly backwards.
“Albrecht Fafnir Puck!” said Frederick in a deep voice, “An Earth Pilgrim is never late. Nor is he early…”
“Yes, yes, yes, I know,” Puck interrupted, “Nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to. We all read that book too.”
“Oh well, it was worth a try,” said Frederick sheepishly. The dark mood vanished in a twinkling. Another Fairy landed on the forward brim of Frederick’s hat. He bent way over to look under the brim at Frederick.
“Frederick, You’re late. Everybody has been asking about you.”
“I am here now.” There was a pause while the newcomer looked over at Albrecht. “Umm, yes we know you’re here now, Frederick,” stated Nobel Threewit lll, “We can see you.” Fairies were very literal creatures and they never understood the need to state the obvious.
“I would like to introduce our newest companion…” Frederick began again.
“Yes, we know you. Hello Chester, and welcome to the Hummingbird Fair. Today is your day. Look around and enjoy yourself.”
“Wait a minute, how do you know my name?” asked Chester.
“Of course we do. You’re on the guest list, see,” Albrecht gestured and a shimmering parchment magically appeared out of thin air. It was covered with curious marks.”
“Oh,” said Chester dubiously. The parchment faded away.
Albrecht suddenly turned and pointed at Leon. “You!” Albrecht stated crossly.
“What?” asked Leon.
“You behave yourself this year. I will be keeping my eye on you.”
“Me?” Leon looked hurt. “What did I do?”
“Hrumph!” Albrecht said. The Fairies flew off.
Leon was about to say something when Frederick held up a finger. “Leave it alone Leon.”
All the colours, sights and sounds fascinated Chester. The music he heard earlier was very clear now. That would be his first stop so he followed his ears.
He came across a small wooden box set so that one flat side rose above the grass. On it were three June bugs with high black shells playing instruments. Behind them was a grasshopper banging away on tiny drums. On the big drum was written two words “The Beetles”. They were singing one of their classics. Once they were finished with their last refrains of Ya Ya Ya, one of the Beetles looked up.
“Good to see you Frederick. Oi see you brought Leon with you again.”
“Yes I did John, we are on a mission of sorts. This is Chester, the white Raccoon.”
“Nice to meet you Chester. Meet me band mates, Paul, George, and ummm. Oi, what was your name again?” The drummer looked up past a prominent nose.
“Emmett,” said the grasshopper.
“Yea, that’s right, Emmett. Hmmm John, Paul, George and Emmett?” John shook his head sadly.
“What happened to Ringo, your regular drummer?” asked Frederick.
“Dunno,” admitted John as he adjusted his round wire-rimmed glasses, “Couldn’t make it. He says he caught some kind of a bug – he did.” Leon snorted suddenly and started to giggle.
“Find that funny do you Leon? Ringo’s sick and you’re laughing. He probably caught sommat from an ‘ummingbird,” said John clearly annoyed.
“Yea. Oh come on, you ‘ave to admit that’s a bit funny. I mean you’re beetles, and Ringo says he caught a bug? Don’t you get it?” Leon tried to resurrect the joke.
The four band members looked at Leon with stony silence.
“Junebugs got no sense of ‘umour!” Leon said as an aside to Chester. Chester just blinked.
“Yea, right then. Hey Chester,” Paul said with a wink, “We’ve got just the song for you, mate. Been working on it ever since we knew you’d be coming.”
Emmett got the beat going with his drumsticks and they launched into ‘I saw her standing there’. Chester sat on his haunches to listen. A small crowd of ladybugs began to arrive and they all screamed in their high-pitched voices. They shook their heads back and forth and waved their antennas – mostly at Paul. It was all very curious.
That’s when something distracted Chester. Something pale was moving through the trees at the far end of the fair ground. As quickly as it appeared it was gone.
When the song ended Chester thanked the band and said it was the most beautiful song he had ever heard. The ladybugs swooned and blinked their multifaceted eyes at the band members.
“Have a good time Chester,” John called out. “Oi am sure you’ll find just what you’re looking for here.” Chester waved at the band and they waved back in reply. He headed in that direction. It took him towards the middle of the fairgrounds.
“Oi still think that was funny,” Leon pouted.
“We know you do Leon,” said Frederick in a condescending voice.
The trio nearly stumbled onto a lined track where the Snail races were underway. Chester looked at the contestants carefully but even after a long time it was difficult to tell if any of them were actually moving or not. Each had a number painted on their shells. That number was 47. The snail that painted these numbers obviously didn’t realize there were rules associated with his task. He later claimed he had simply picked number 47 at random. He went on to explain it was his grandmother’s name.
As it turned out, it worked out just fine. When, four days later, the winner number 47, was announced, each snail could happily claim victory. Snails were very vain. Nobody knew why. But then, nobody but the other snails really cared.
It happened again. Chester saw a flash of white just out of the corner of his eye, but once again when he turned to look, it was gone. He could have sworn it was the flick of a fuzzy tail.
Chester’s attention was drawn to a large wheel and a hamster. Small baskets made from woven grass were attached to the outside of the wheel. Each basket contained a baby mouse. The wheel whizzed around, powered by the little brown hamster running at top speed. When it stopped, the baby mice crawled out of the baskets very dizzy. They wobbled away unsteadily as the next group of baby mice in the queue scrambled to get into the baskets.
Leon flew off Frederick’s hat and hovered above the wheel.
“Ello Ferris. This your wheel then?” Leon asked the Hamster.
“Hello Leon,” Ferris called back. He pointed at the sign on the wheel that read ‘Ferris’s Wheel’.
“Have you tried the honey scones yet?” Ferris asked.
“We’re heading there right now Ferris. Are they good?”
“Best ever Leon. Those bees really sure know their honey scones.”
Leon waved and flew back to Frederick’s hat. He dipped his bill back into the tin cup. Ferris started up the wheel again and soon the tiny mice where whirling around at an alarming speed.
Chester asked. “Hey Leon, what is that in your cup?” Leon looked down at Frederick. Frederick looked up at Leon.
“Mead,” Leon said.
“Sweet,” replied Leon noncommittally.
Presently a buzzing sound could be heard and a large swarm of bees were buzzing busily. Others were busily buzzing. It was here that the butterflies delivered their butter. The bees were making Honey Scones. Frederick, Leon, and Chester stopped. They all watched the bees work. There was a large plate piled high with dripping Honey Scones, and another piled high with tiny pats of butter. The three stood for a moment studying the how they were being made. But hard as they tried it was quite a mystery.
Frederick drew a long pipe from his jacket and brought it up to his lips. He sucked on it for a moment and slowly it began to smoke. He bent to blew some of the smoke into the swarm of bees. Most quieted down a bit and many even landed in the grass and took a break. Frederick selected two scones from the pile and replaced them with a small flat jar of honey. The bees buzzed their gratitude. One scone he set on the brim of his hat. Leon hovered over the scone and licked it with his long tongue. The other he handed to Chester.
The Raccoon looked around for a moment and found there was a shallow bowl of water sitting next to the scones. He took his scone and dunked it in the water rolling it over and over with his paws.
“Chester? What are you doing washing the scone?” Leon asked.
Chester looked up somewhat confused. “Washing it? I am not washing it. I am feeling it with my paws. I always taste things before I eat them. My paws need to be wet for me to do that.”
“No Kidding?” Leon exclaimed in astonishment.
“That is quite true Leon. It is a common misconception that Raccoons wash their food. They don’t. Their paws are very sensitive when they are wet. They wet them to tell them what is food and what is not. Saves a lot of time too if you ask me.”
Leon flew down to stare Frederick right in the eye. “You’re a human not a Raccoon. How is it you know that so exactly?”
“I know because I am an Earth Pilgrim, Leon. Besides I once asked one.” Leon folded his wings in avian indignation. The moment he did, he fell like a stone onto the ground. Luckily, he landed in soft grass. Unluckily, he landed on a bee. It stung him on his backside.
“OWWWWW!” exclaimed Leon.
“OWWWWW, yourself!” exclaimed the bee.
“You stung me!” accused Leon.
“You sat on me.” accused the bee.
Leon turned rubbing his backside. It was none other than the Fairy, Albrecht Fafnir Puck.
“Where did you come from, then? Been spying on me ‘ave you?”
He was shaking his head. “Tsk tsk tsk! I told you I would be keeping an eye on you.”
“Are you causing trouble again?” asked Albrecht.
“No, I am not causing trouble again.” he stated indignantly.
Albrecht turned to the bee. “Why did you sting the hummingbird?”
“He sat on me,” the bee stated as he adjusted one of his antennas.
“What did you sit on the bee? Oh never mind.” Albrecht turned to Frederick. “I told you hummingbirds were trouble. I told you we should have had a ‘Water Buffalo’ Fair instead.”
“Now calm yourself Albrecht, Leon is a bit impulsive perhaps, but he means well. Besides, imagine what cleaning up after Water Buffalo Fair would be like.”
Albrecht thought about it for a moment. “Sigh. I suppose you’re right as always Frederick. Just see to it he behaves himself would you. This is all so tiring.”
“I will Albrecht. You have nothing to worry about.” In a twinkling Albrecht was gone again.
“Oi don’t trust that fairy Frederick, oi don’t. There’s sommmat a bit off about ‘im.”
“I am sure you’re right Leon,” said Frederick. Both he and Chester’s attention was on a very strange sight.
In the very center of the field there was a large circle of mown grass. Chester sat on his haunches and watched. Crickets were playing some sort of game. They were all dressed in white and one cricket was throwing a small rock at another. The second cricket would hit it with a flat stick and then run as fast as he could back and forth.
Every time this happened half of the crickets surrounding the circular field would rub their back legs together. It made a kind of ‘Neeker-breeker’ sound. The other half would sit in stony silence and drinking tea out of porcelain cups. It was by far the oddest activity Chester had ever seen.
“What am I watching here Frederick?” asked Chester.
“Cricket,” answered the Earth Pilgrim.
“Yes, I know that they are crickets. I mean the game they are playing. What is it called?”
“Cricket,” Frederick answered again.
Chester blinked “You are saying that these crickets are playing a game called Cricket?
“I am confused.”
“So am I.”
“Ok, so what are the rules?”
“To the best of my understanding Chester, there are none. They can do this for days and days. I think the game ends when they run out of tea.”
Albrecht appeared again with a quiet pop. “So, Chester, are you enjoying yourself?” Albrecht looked around. Leon looked around. Frederick looked around. Chester was no longer there.
He was walking towards the far end of the fair ground.
“Chester! Where you going?” Leon called.
“Let him go Leon. Raccoons are advanced beings Leon. It would seem that sitting for days and days watching a game with no rules did not appeal to him. Now we just watch. This is why we are here after all.”
While the three were arguing, Chester saw that odd white flash again. This time it was much longer. He was becoming very curious now. He walked toward it. He was about to cross a soccer (football) pitch, but was suddenly stopped by a marmot dressed like a referee.
“You will have to go around. Can’t you see there is a match underway?” Chester refocused his attention on this second game.
“Does this game have rules?” Chester asked.
“Of course it has rules. This isn’t Cricket after all,” said the marmot.
As it happened this was a championship match between the Red Squirrels and the Grey Squirrels. A marmot was refereeing the game and he had a small whistle in his mouth. The game consisted of each team trying to roll an acorn with their noses towards the opponent’s goal. It was a fast paced game until the acorn suddenly vanished.
Tweeeeeeet! The Marmot blew his whistle and held up a paw. All the Squirrels stopped and sat up on their haunches. They all turned towards the Referee. The Marmot hurried over to the sight of the infraction.
“Delay of game!” he announced in a loud voice. All the players looked at each other accusingly. The Marmot struck a pose in front of one of the Red Squirrels.
“Alright Edwin, spit it out!”
Edwin looked around innocently.
“EDWIN, spit it out!” the ref demanded again.
Edwin shook his head “no.”
“EDWIN McMONIGAN SQUEAKTAIL, I said spit it out!”
He spit the acorn out of his cheek pouch onto the ground. Edwin looked positively astonished at its sudden appearance. His tail twitched, he put his paws up against his cheeks in mock surprise and let out a short ‘squeak’. The other Squirrels groaned and turned away.
“What have I told you about eating the ball?”
Edwin shrugged his shoulders and his brow furrowed in thought. His eyes and nose twitched. He scratched his head. He thought and he thought. He had nothing.
“Don’t!” the Marmot reminded him.
“Don’t what?” asked Edwin.
“Don’t eat the ball.”
“What me, eat the ball? Don’t be daft.” Edwin turned and walked away. “I have never heard of such rot,” he mumbled. “Eat the ball indeed. What do you think I am? A Grey?” He flicked his tail with indignation.
The Marmot blew the whistle and yelled, “Grey Ball!” The game resumed in the blink of an eye.
Chester began to walk around the pitch and saw the flash of white again. Now he could see a nose, whiskers, and a pair of black eyes peering at him from under a log. He walked toward them. In the background he heard another whistle.
“For pity sake, spit it out!”
“What?” came the expected reply.
Chester had stopped listening.
Chester stopped at the log and peeked under it. Sure enough a small furry face peeked back at him. He hopped over the log and could not believe his eyes. It was another pure white Raccoon just like him. This was the only other white Raccoon he had ever seen. It had small ears, a delicate inquisitive nose, and long eyelashes.
She was a girl Raccoon.
“Hello,” she said with a sweet Raccoon smile.
“Umm, Hello?” Chester replied. He suddenly felt very shy and clumsy. She was beautiful.
She smiled at him again. “I am Feather, Fea for short. What’s your name”
“I’m Chester.” His heart leaped with joy.
“Nice to meet you Chester. Where did you come from?”
“Oh, I was at the Hummingbird Fair.”
Fea looked around. “Fair, What fair?” she asked.
“That one over there…” He turned and motioned past the log. Fea stepped up and looked over the log. Chester joined her. He blinked twice. He found he was staring at a large open field of tall grass. It was quite empty. Gone were the squirrels playing soccer, the crickets, the bees and their Honey Scones, Ferris and his wheel; even the band with John, Paul, George, and Emmett was gone.
His new friends were also gone. Leon the hummingbird, Albrecht Fafnir Puck the fairy, and Frederick the Earth Pilgrim were also gone. Gone, as though they had never been there at all.
“A moment ago there was…” Fea was looking at him with her beautiful eyes. Her nose wrinkled with joy just being near him.
“Would you like to see my little creek? It is full of the sweetest crayfish you have ever tasted and the huckleberries are so ripe and sweet. Let me show you. Come on Chester follow me.”
And follow her he did. She was wonderful.
It did not take long for Chester to forget about the Hummingbird Fair. The memory of Albrecht, Leon, and Frederick also faded. That was as it should be, too. Chester and Fea started a family of their own. They lived in a cosy hollow tree. They had many little raccoons and some of them were even white.
Chester never thought of himself as white again. He was just a Raccoon. Chester was never alone again either. Fea was always by his side. When Fea looked at him, she always smiled. Chester was finally happy. He was happy like he had never been before in his whole life. He was happy for the rest of his days.
So, if anyone you know is sad or feels left out, or alone, just remember Chester, Leon, Frederick, and of course Fea. Somewhere out there, there is a Hummingbird Fair for each and every one of us. We just have to be patient. A Hummingbird Fair will find each one of us just when we need one the most.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:
I saw my first albino raccoon in the Ottawa valley of Ontario Canada. I was nine years old and he was sitting high up in a tree beside Colton Creek, where I fished for brook trout. I named him Chester and talked to him as I fished. I am not certain who was more astonished, Chester or myself. Over the course of several hours I caught five brook trout and I left one for Chester to thank him for his hospitality. I wrote Chester and the Hummingbird Fair much later in life after learning quite a bit about albinism and the struggles these animals face in the wild. I hope you enjoy my little bit of whimsy.
M.F. Harding is the curious brown mouse that lives under your favourite garden bench. Always quiet and inquisitive, he grew up in the trackless forests of Ontario Canada. He discovered that magic still exists in the wild nooks and crannies of the Ottawa Valley for anyone brave enough plumb their mysteries. He spent his youth watching the lives of wolves, bears, and bobcats. It was here that he first saw a white raccoon. As a student he fought to remain true to what he knew to be real and rejected much of the nonsense he was being force-fed. In time he grew to become a traveling story teller and traveled all over North America before settling in British Columbia. It was here that he became a Druid and was first referred to as an Earth Pilgrim. His solitary nature did not stop him from marrying. Now, with his wife Barbara he continues his journey into the mountains of Vancouver Island. With no formal education at all, he chose to study the craft of writing at the feet of giants. Edgar Allan Poe, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Dickens, Agatha Christie, Stephen King to name just a few. He studied their work from a literary and structural point of view. His research into history, archaeology, and ancient Druidry spawned his second published novel "Athelstan's World'. He is currently working on the sequel.