Which, of course, it turned out to be. Once I tracked the source of the Ashland monkey tale to a friend of a friend of a friend, it turned out he'd seen two monkeys in an Ashland wood on a hunting trip 10 years ago. I saw my Pulitzer disappear up a tree and throw its own poop at me. I was left with a search for mountain goats, more likely to be found in Richmond, British Columbia, than Richmond, Va.
But hope springs eternal, especially when glory's at the pump: A call to the good people of Richmond City Animal Control revealed a pedigree of nature's bounty getting all up in our business. There was the alligator in Chesterfield County, reports of white-tailed deer invading the Richmond Marathon course on River Road, llamas on the lloose. Such stories very quickly become the stuff of legend to bemused Animal Control workers. (They chose to remain anonymous because of the volatile political nature of monkey issues, perhaps?)
They also revealed that yes, there were reported goat sightings somewhere on I-95. They get calls every year about this time. Why? Something to do with Ramadan and fasting, the woman on the phone suggested. All right. I reminded myself of the $10,000 check stapled to the Pulitzer and forged ahead.
I asked Julia Dixon of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries whether she had any goat news, and indeed she did. She'd heard reports that the goats were seen near the Powhite Parkway/Downtown Expressway interchange, and added that they were most likely pigmy goats, rather than the larger, cashmere-rich mountain goats.
"When you come face to face with a wild animal, they do look bigger," she said. Just like myths, I thought.
She mentioned the ongoing lack of Bigfoot in the wilds of Virginia and added, just in time for Christmas, the curious tale of one of "the strangest at-large animals" she'd heard of: the reindeer trotting down West Broad Street in Short Pump five years ago, escaped from a pen at Strange's Nursery and causing drivers to swerve, visions of sugarplums and airbags dancing in their heads.
These are the Great Unknowns, I thought, and on a whim, I asked if she'd heard about any monkey business. Oh yes.
Now when an employee of the state tells stories about three monkeys allegedly throwing bananas at cars on I-95 near the Sussex exit a few years back, you can practically hear the golden eggs cracking over the skillet. She said the biologists were sent out, but no primates were ever found. "No confirmed banana peels," she added.
I took a few passes across the river one bright morning, scanning the hills around Powhite for the proud outline of a goat, a monkey, an alligator, a reindeer or even a goose. But there was only an empty horizon and a lot of honking cars swerving out of my meandering path. My only prize would be the perpetuation of a myth as elusive as those monkeys, hearing no evil, seeing no evil, speaking no evil. S
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