Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Big cats

By Walter Campbell

“Oh please.”

“What, Jason?”

“These mountain lion warning signs. They’re completely useless.”

“How so?” I was digging through my backpack for my lunch. With more than ten miles of hiking left, my hunger was more important than a sign, and even more important than the mountain lions that the sign warned us about.

“Well, first, it’s entirely pointless to tell us there are mountain lions here. These aren’t burglars getting spotted by the neighborhood watch; they’re masters of murder, and if we see one, it’s only because he wants us to. All this sign does is unnecessarily scare us.” I turned back to my bag in an even bigger panic than before because I still couldn’t find my lunch and I had only two zippers left.

“Maybe mountain lions make mistakes. We all make mistakes; why can’t they? And if one does, and we’re on our 'A' game because of this sign and see him early, then the sign worked, right?” I argued. I needed more time to search my pack. Jason sighed heavily.

“No, it didn’t work. First, you’re wrong, they don’t make mistakes. Second, let’s say you’re right, and we catch the Dudley Do-Right of the mountain lion world. Even then, he’s still got us. What does this sign tell us to do? Look big? Don’t run? If attacked, fight back? Are you kidding me?”

“Why? What’s wrong with that?” One zipper had proven to be a bust, but I could feel something in the remaining pouch, and my spirits rose. Jason sighed even more heavily than last time; he refocused his predatory gaze on me, and not the sign.

“Uh, everything. Everything’s wrong with it. First, look big. Really? I’m going to scare a mountain lion by looking big? He has teeth, and claws, and the ability to jump twenty yards in one bound, and me, an overweight twenty-five-year-old white guy from the burbs, is going to scare him by looking a foot taller? No. Second, don’t run? Of course I’m going to run if this thing moves on me; it could kill me. Finally, fight back? That’s a losing battle if I’ve ever heard of one. ‘Oh man, this mountain lion better watch out, I’ve got a mean right cross.’ Please, Cliff, please.”

“I think that’s the point. All the advice is counterintuitive, and that’s why they need to put up the sign. It works even though we think it won’t work, so they have to spell it out for us.” The promising bulge in the last pocket had turned out to be a box of matches and a first aid kit, not lunch.

“I still don’t buy it. These mountain lions are hungry. It’s a dry summer, their food is dying off, and we’re replacement food. This sign’s not going to change that.”

“Well, maybe. But speaking of food, I forgot my lunch, so we should go back. I can’t go another four hours without any food.”

“Yeah, let’s go back,” he agreed a bit too readily. “Oh no…”

“What?” I said, trying to hide my frustration at having forgotten my lunch, and having him give up on our hike so easily.

“A mountain lion, Cliff,” he said, pointing to a spot about 20 yards up the ridge that extended from our trail. “Don’t run. Raise your arms to look bigger. If he comes at us, be ready to fight.”

“Jason, that’s just a bobcat.”

“Just a bobcat, Cliff? Do you have any idea how dangerous bobcats are? Any idea what…” Jason began as my stomach rumbled and the bobcat slunk away.



Walter Campbell is from LA, which you shouldn't hold that against him. He went to college in New England, which you should judge him for. And he currently lives in Philadelphia, and if you can figure out a reaction to that, please let him know, because he's failed to for the last three years. You can find some of his other work in Jersey Devil Press, Static Movement, and

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