I'd heard about the squirrels.
An apparent population explosion of the furry-tailed rodents at Panorama Park atop northeast Bakersfield's beautiful bluffs had some people talking.
One friend said squirrel behavior at the county park was verging on nutty. After repeated feedings by humans appeared to reduce the rodents' natural fear of people, squirrels had begun to directly approach walkers on the park's meandering path.
Some found it endearing. Others thought it was a bit creepy.
"I was at Panorama Park just now and one tried to sell me a fake Rolex," quipped storyteller and humorist Brian Parks.
This was getting serious. I decided I'd better go see for myself.
It was a beautiful Friday afternoon. The sun was out, but the heat hadn't yet settled in.
There were walkers and strollers, runners and riders. And lots and lots of squirrels.
The first thing I found was a small crowd of the little nibblers in the tiny parking lot off River Boulevard. They were feasting on what appeared to be a pile of crumbled potato chips.
Nature was being seduced by snack foods.
As I walked west, the profusion of squirrels was obvious. The beady-eyed members of the family Sciuridae were having a great spring — if population is any indication.
"When I first started coming here four or five months ago, the squirrels would always run away from me," said Sarah Salem, who was enjoying the park with her friend Lara Gustafson. "Now they don't run away."
Already, I was envisioning a remake of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds," only with squirrels.
According to the Humane Society, feeding squirrels may cause them to lose their natural fear of humans. The instinct to avoid us helps prevent unwanted squirrel-human interactions, like bites and beheadings and other unusual behavior.
"If squirrels come to expect food and it isn’t provided, they may become aggressive in seeking it out," the Humane Society says.
Think about that for a moment. If squirrels come to expect food and it isn’t provided …
Cue music from "Jaws."
Sharon Barnes and Kathy Lindley said they've been walking the bluffs, on and off, for years.
They reported seeing a "little lady with a pouch" feeding squirrels.
Not 50 yards to the south, a graffiti-tagged sign is pretty clear: "Do not feed the birds, squirrels or animals," it says, apparently having concluded that squirrels are in a category all their own.
If neither bird nor animal, just what ARE these creatures?
As I walked the path, I came to a section where I found myself alone. Not another human in sight.
But there on the path dead-ahead stood a single ground squirrel. I could swear he was larger than all the others.
As I walked toward him, he walked toward me.
If we had had six-shooters strapped to our hips, it could have been "High Noon." But I'm not sure which one of us was Gary Cooper.
He stopped not three feet from me and stood up on his hind legs. So did I.
We looked into each other's eyes. His black eyes were empty of empathy and compassion.
I threw him a potato chip and walked back to my car.