Ian Pike noon, Dec. 8
The beautiful squirrel, and the Honey Badger too, really made an impression on us. Daisy and I found the beautiful squirrel even more captivating than the squirrels that we sometimes feed peanuts to in Balboa Park. When we visit the squirrels to feed them, Daisy and I walk west across the Cabrillo Bridge and then take a direct right onto a scenic little patch of the park where a number of squirrels live.
The scenic patch of land that the squirrels live on is between Balboa’s dog park and the lawn bowling field. The scenic patch used to be obscured from the street by hedges, bushes, and tree limbs, but then homeless people began to claim the area as their own. There were many times Daisy and I arrived for a pleasant afternoon of feeding the squirrels but then had to navigate an obstacle course of shopping carts and makeshift tents while their owners drank bottles of malt liquor from brown paper bags and reclined on salvaged lawn chairs. To discourage the homeless from marring the scenery, the city began trimming the vegetation to waist-level. Now that the police have a clear view of the area, the homeless have found a new and more private area to gather. Daisy, the general public, and I are relieved that we can once again feed the squirrels in peace without the threat of witnessing public urination or being subjected to drunken and incoherent profanity laced tirades.
The scenic area has a large sign in its middle that reads: “Do Not Feed the Squirrels,” because, it adds (and I’m paraphrasing), they will become lazy and come to rely on people for their livelihoods instead of their own natural abilities. If people inexplicably disappeared I think the park’s squirrels would be able to muster enough industriousness and ambition to keep themselves alive.
There are two kinds of squirrels at the park: red tree squirrels that live in the group of trees growing on the gentle grassy knolls near the concrete walks and lawn bowling field and the grayish ground squirrels that live below the knolls on the sparsely vegetated dirt that drops at a dramatic incline toward the freeway. The red squirrels are friendly and attractive with appealing bushy tails they can suspend over their backs and utilize as umbrellas or parasols. The ground squirrels are drab and ornery with flat useless tails they drag across the ground like persistent burdens.
When Daisy and I feed the squirrels peanuts, it always begins the same way: we stand beneath the big oak tree on the right hand side of grassy area and shake a big bag of peanuts; this signal always seem to do the trick. It doesn’t take long, maybe 30 seconds. One or two red squirrel scouts will descend from the trees to approach us cautiously. Daisy kneels, extending a peanut clasped between her thumb and index finger. A red squirrel comes closer, sniffing the air as he does. Then, gently, he takes the peanut from Daisy, runs ten feet away through the grass, stops, and then eats the peanut that he holds in his two forepaws. Word travels quickly through the red squirrel community and within minutes more than two-dozen red squirrels are politely accepting peanuts from our hands. There are too many to hand feed individually, so we began to scatter the peanuts across the grass allowing most of the squirrels to retrieve the treats themselves, leaving us free to give peanuts to the brave ones who still come near.
About five minutes pass and then the dozen or so ground squirrels begin to creep up from their dirt homes below the grass line. The red squirrels dislike the ground squirrels invading their lush grass domain, but there are plenty of peanuts for everyone and they reluctantly allow the ground squirrels admittance with only limited protest, a few, however, are chased to the perimeter of the grass. The ground squirrels that take peanuts from our hands, snatch them boldly and run off as if they’ve just completed successful street robberies.
The squirrels live by a structured hierarchy that dominates this section of the park and keeps them divided. It’s clear that the happier and more gracious red tree squirrels occupy the coveted high rent district while the ground squirrels are forced to live in the outskirts of the lawn and trees that make up the squirrel ghetto or, at best, maybe the equivalent of Victorville or Barstow. The ground squirrels manifest their resentment through general hostility toward the world and all who inhabit it.
A few of the red squirrels have battle scars such as notched ears and scarred faces, but at least half of the ground squirrels bear remnants of past injuries. And their injuries seem to have been more severe than the red squirrels’. Some of the ground squirrels ears have been almost completely chewed off and some of their tails are only half their lengths and, in some cases, almost entirely gone.
I imagine the ground squirrels periodically organizing themselves and staging revolts against the imperious red squirrels, trying their best to force them to share their pristine real estate. The ground squirrels’ cause is an old and noble one, but they are vastly outnumbered by the imperialistic red squirrels and suffer greatly. The ground squirrels are herded away from the trees by the horde of red squirrels, the ground squirrels’ tails being gnawed off in the process, until they are once again driven back to the wasteland to nurse each other’s wounds in their own little corner of rodent hell.