My wife Cat and I were sitting on our magical hill in San Diego’s Balboa Park, reveling in the beauteous wonder that is nature. Off to our left was a spread of dense, gnarly … above-ground tree roots, basically. I won’t even try to describe this botanical oddity. But think gold-hued, ancient, above-ground tree roots (connected to these intertwined, truly weird “trees” that grew low and parallel to the ground). Think the kind of place you’d expect gnomes to live.

Or, apparently, killer attack squirrels.

It was from out of this woody labyrinth that six or seven squirrels came suddenly charging. Their heads were lowered. Their tails were stiffened behind them. Their shiny black eyes were fixed squarely on us. And they were running towards us as fast as they could.

“Hey,” said Cat. “Squirrels.”

I was speechless. In a lifetime of squirrel experiences, I’d never seen anything like this. (I grew up in northern California, where squirrels are as common as mosquitoes, robins, and people who think southern Californians are vacuous, wanna-be stars. Now that I live in southern California, I understand how wrong my northern brethren are. Not everyone down here is vacuous.)

Squirrels scamper. They gambol. They frisk. They caper. What they don’t do, as far as I’d ever known, is spontaneously charge in groups. This was new.

Well. Live and learn.

And in this case learn fast, too, because squirrels aren’t the slowest critters in the woods. They can pretty quickly cover pretty serious ground.

“Whoa,” I said, as the ground between us and Fort Root rapidly disappeared.

“Ahhh,” said Cat. “They’re so cute.”

“Are they?” I said, feeling just the slightest twinge of panic at the way the Charge of the Light Brigade wasn’t slowing down at all. “Are we sure they're cute?”

“Um,” said Cat. The squirrels were gaining momentum. They’d be on us in moments. “There does seem to be an issue.”

You know how squirrels and other park-populating, people-wise critters and birds will come so close to you—and then no closer? How they sort of always obey that instinctive Animal Safety Zone while they check you out—while they basically see if you have any food that you’ll throw them?

You know that zone ?

Yeah. Well, these squirrels bolted right past that.

johnshore@sbcglobal.net

www.johnshorebooks.com