A midsummer night's tail: Don't be scared off by rewarding challenges

A midsummer night's tail: Don't be scared off by rewarding challenges

Fleeing in terror is sometimes an overreaction, as I learned one memorable evening.
Oct 01, 2008

One evening not too long ago, a couple of friends and I met in a large park to celebrate midsummer. We found a grove dotted with picnic tables and surrounded by a creek and thick woods. Snacks in hand, we picked a table on the edge of the glade, practically in the woods—the perfect spot to watch fireflies as the sun set.

We set our food on the table and spread out a couple of blankets under a nearby tree. But we weren't hungry yet, so we decided to hike along one of the park's many trails. By the time we returned to the glade, it was almost completely dark. We made our way to our blankets and decided to move them closer to the picnic table to have our snacks.

We didn't get far. As soon as we picked up the blankets and turned toward the picnic table, we heard something that froze us stock-still: a deep, guttural snarl suggesting dripping fangs and instant death—about two feet away.

There was no category in my brain for this noise in this situation. I was just about to say, "What was that?" when my friend screamed, "RUN!" And we took off toward our cars screaming, the blankets flapping behind us. Essentially, we fled like prey animals.

My friend was yelling, "Get in the car! Get in the car!" And I was gasping, "It snarled! Something snarled! It snarled at us!" I was also practically paralyzed by panic-induced laughter, and my legs felt heavy, like cement.

At some point we realized it wasn't after us, so we turned on the headlights and peered through the dark. We could just barely make out the outline of a large cat, its glowing eyes looking at us. We also saw two other sets of little eyes on top of the picnic table. A mama bobcat and her babies, snacking on our Gouda.

Later, a park ranger told us the mom was just warning us of her presence, and we did exactly what she wanted—hightail it out of there. He also said bobcats have a fearsome snarl, and many people who hear them think they're mountain lions.

My point? Sometimes what seems like a ferocious monster isn't that scary at all. And even if you're a little freaked out, it's worth it to investigate further. Take your practice management software, for example. It may seem intimidating, but with the right approach, you can tame it and even get it to do a few tricks—Dr. Christine Stevenson did. See "How to power up your software" in the related links below for her story—and learn how to grab your own software tiger by the tail.