Examining World Issues using the King James Bible; and passing the Results on to you.

Steve Van Nattan






Herbie and Karl and the trick they tried to play



While I was in Rift Valley Academy growing up in Kenya and Tanzania, hiking was possibly our favorite past time. The school staff seemed to pay little attention to our hiking, and, as I look back on it, I wonder if any of them realized we were in a danger zone when hiking alone.

Then again, missionaries often allowed their kids a lot of freedom if they were keeping out of trouble. Wandering off into the bush and up into the highland forests involved many dangers, but it also was a splendid way to keep out of social trouble. I never heard of a guy meeting a girl in the forest. That would be like meeting a girl while changing the oil in your truck.

Hiking became my special private world. I had been raised by a father with a sense of wonder, and the forests of Kenya were loaded with wonders.

But, there was an unspoken age at which we felt we wanted to go into the forest alone. A young kid would not think of going off hiking. Getting lost is terrifying to a young kid, and this alone discouraged us from venturing off until about the day we were in seventh or eighth grade.

When I was in about eighth grade it occurred to me to make several changes in my life, and some of them were not good for me. More importantly, around eighth grade our staff started watching us more closely. What would be called rebellion in the USA was simply the point when we self-excommunicated ourselves from the rule book once in a while. Somewhere in the rules of the school there was a limit put on the past time of wandering off. It was not real clear where the edge of the world was, but it usually was at the railway tracks on the north boundary of the Kijabe Mission Station and our school.

The Kijabe Mission station included about 700 acres. About 80% of it was down hill from the train tracks, but there was a swath of forest on the uphill side of the tracks which also belonged to the mission. We reinterpreted the rule book here and redefined our limits as the mission station. This allowed us to justify going into the forest a short distance up to the property boundary. At that point the forest simply continued with no indication of the mission station boundary because the mission had not developed the land on the upper side of the railway. The forest belonged to the government and was totally undeveloped and nearly uninhabited. Trails wandered through the forest, and Africans used them, but no one lived in the forest.

Thus, we reasoned that we were sort of legal by hiking to the upper boundary of the station, and at that point, it became possible for us perverse rascals to give ourselves a special dispensation to venture "just a little farther" into the forest. I believe the Principal, and most of the staff men, knew very well that we were doing this, but they also tended to see hiking as a lot more constructive than some of the pranks we played on them.

You parents need to believe me here. When your kid is alone in the woods, he is closer to God and far from the wicked. Oh, he may get into mischief for sure. But, that mischief is almost always between himself and his own curiosity. The thing you need to do to be sure he is safe is to give him rules to follow that make sure he will not get lost. Find some stories online about people who got lost and died because they lacked the sense or tools to find their way out. These rules will become a challenge to your kid to approach the edge of peril and return. This will make him far more useful to his own family some day in the area of survival. Survival is about 20% prepping, and 80% mental discipline.

Required reading: Deep Survival By Laurence Gonzales. This book is not a prepper book. It is a discussion of many ways people failed to survive in nature, sport, and adventure..... who died, and who did not, and why. He also gives principles on how to survive. A home schooler would thrive on this book. It should include plenty of discussion at the dinner table as the book is read.

Was the forest really dangerous?

Dumb question.

There were leopards all through that forest in those days, and snakes were quite common, especially puff adders and black mambas, a cousin to the cobra. Cobras were also available to anyone looking for a near death experience. At fourteen or fifteen near death experiences seemed very fascinating, and to experience one was to own the red badge of courage among the other boys. By "near death" we meant just being close to a deadly situation and walking away.

Then there was the fact that not all the Mau Mau rebels had been caught during the Mau Mau "Emergency" in the Kenya Highlands, and we were at the epicenter of that era. The "Emergency" was the name the British used for the Mau Mau rebellion to cover up the fact that they had a very violent little war on their hands. You see, the British did not like to admit that life was less than perfect in their glorious British Empire.

In any case, there were Mau Mau about who had fled into the forests after the "Emergency" was officially declared over, and it was possible to meet one of these Africans. The chances are that he would pass on by without giving us any trouble because he wanted to stay anonymous. It also helped that we knew Swahili, and we would greet and chatter to the Africans we met. Again, it helped that we usually carried a knife. Mine was a US Military paratrooper's knife, and I kept it sharp as a razor. I felt mighty and intimidating with my jungle knife on my belt. It also helped that we were not old enough to enjoy the same adult fears that our staff had developed as they matured into adults. Adults are always in a panic over something, right?

VENT TIME: Moderate danger is something the nanny state of this present world tries to eliminate, at least natural danger. Instead, kids in our modern world are in danger of getting hearing loss from overly loud boom boxes, sterile from cell phones and laptops, and they are at risk of being sexually abused at home, at school, and at church. And, the people who claim to be protecting them are the most dangerous stalkers. I encourage you to take your kids to the country where they have to only deal with snakes and the beasts of the forest and desert. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

When hiking, we seldom got lost. The hills and forest above the school were above the railway and sloped up for miles along the escarpment of the Great Rift Valley. The railway ran along the side of the escarpment trying to climb from the bottom of the Rift Valley to the Highlands. It was one of the steepest rail gradients in the world.

So, if we did got lost in the forest, we could simply go down hill until we reached the rails, determine the grade slope, and walk right or left accordingly. I got a buzz out of getting myself lost and using this technique to get back to the school. If done correctly, a kid could honestly claim he was lost if he did not show up when expected. Getting lost was a regular past time.

I was in about ninth grade when Herbie and Karl, upper classmen, invited me to go on a hike. I was delighted. Up until this point I had stayed pretty much within the bounds of habitation defined in the rule book, so going deep into the unknown with two "big guys" was a thought filled with hubris. They convinced me that I was a big enough kid to deal with the vast unknown, and my head swelled.

It was not common for the "big guys" to take us younger kids along on a hike, so I innocently believed them when they told me they wanted my company in the forest. Little did I realize that they were not that sincere in their compassion toward me. Having now given it more thought, it may be that they meant well at first, but their perverse human nature soon kicked in, and my first experience at being lost descended on my world.

Herbie was a funny and furious sort of fellow. He could rage one minute, and the next he would be making witty sarcasms and grinning like a gnome. Karl was a decent sort of guy usually, very generous, especially after a "shopping trip" to Nairobi where he acquired lots of toy cars for us kids. This generosity was similar to that of Al Capone.

Herbie and Karl took me to a point far up in the forest, far beyond the limits of my flat earth safe zone. Then, claiming they needed to empty their bladders, they walked a distance away while I tried to be correct and look the other way. They then disappeared.

At first I thought it was a game of some kind, and I wandered about expecting them to pop out from behind a tree and scare me. Finally, I figured out that my two pals were not nearly as compassionate on this young kid as I had imagined. I felt gullible in the extreme, and I felt quite terrified. I was lost in the forest, and humanity had totally let me down. That is also an epiphany learned the hard way and never too far from the mature adult mind. I was learning.

After some brief panic, I decided to reward them for their treachery. I was furious. I fled the opposite direction from where they had headed, away from them downhill, as quietly as possible. I knew where there was a five foot diameter culvert under a high railway fill. The culvert would have been about sixty feet long. Water trickled through it all the time, and it was a great place for snakes.

The bottom of the culvert was also coated with a thick layer of green living slime which made walking in the culvert perilous. I had another friend who had tried it, and he came back to the dorm with a layer of green stinking slime all down the front of him. Pity the ladies in the laundry.

I squatted down, and I could just barely see the other end of the culvert. I got the creepy crawlies for an instant, and then my sense of revenge and rage returned and my cognitive IQ dropped to about 30 as my emotions took charge. I cast caution to the wind, and I rushed into the culvert pumping adrenaline.

I soon fell into a morbid state of fear and trembling. There seemed to be a snake under my shoe at every step I took. I avoided the green slime and snakes by walking with my feet splayed out along the curved sides of the culvert wall, which left me hurting in the southern parts by the time I exited into the light.

At the other end of the culvert was the road from the African railway town of Kijabe to the missions station, also called Kijabe, and our school. The road through the forest was desolate and dark.

I stopped to let my heart rate slow down, and while squinting into the fierce sunlight, I looked to the left. There was a tree with long deep grooves slashed through the bark and into the heart wood of the tree.


I knew exactly what I was looking at. The bark hung loose and dangled in the breeze. Those pug marks were quite fresh. A very large kitty was sharpening his claws, getting ready for dinner, and I felt like I was the special of the day for the kitty's lunch. It was now my turn to panic and pump adrenaline again. You would think that by then I would have had no adrenaline lift to pump, but the thought of a leopard nearby caused my endocrine system to make plenty of juice to inspire me. My IQ again returned downward to 30, and I got the rush to move.

I had heard the rules when dealing with a leopard. If you cannot see the leopard, but you sense one is near and looking at you, do not run. That will signal the leopard that you know he is there, and he will attack in self-defense. The only animals I know of which almost always attack, for no other reason than to defend themselves, are the leopard, the Cape buffalo, and the black cobra. The rhino will attack in a flash if he gets nervous, but it is the attack of an imbecile more than a raging animal. Climb a tree, and he will get over it very quickly. Climb a tree to escape a Cape buffalo, and you may stay in that tree for three days. The other rule with a leopard is, do not look around to see him. If you lock eyes with him, he knows you have seen him, and he will attack. Not every leopard will attack all the time. Some run away, but the odds are very good he will attack. And, you cannot climb a tree to escape from a leopard. Ref. Any baboon you know.

I had the most monumental urge to look around to see where the leopard was. But, I forced myself to just sort of saunter off up the road casually, staring at the road, and trying hard to not wet my pants. That scent also would give the leopard information he should not have.

The farther I got along the road, the quicker my pace. Try to walk away from sudden death slowly.

I got back to the school and hung out in obscure places. By the time I arrived back, my sense of revenge had again flowered, and I determined not to let Herbie and Karl know I had returned. I wanted them to look all around the forest for me, conclude I was lost, and come back to the school big eyed and in a total panic.

My plan worked great. I hung out in the study hall room for the rest of the afternoon. This was the best place to hide because no one went to study there if they could possibly avoid it. Now, we were very eager students, mind you, but we also believed that life consisted not only of study, but also of vastly more important things like goofing off and wandering off to find excitement.

Meanwhile, Herbie and Karl must have had visions of me falling over a cliff, or being attacked by a leopard, or bitten by a puff adder. I gather they spent the rest of the afternoon trying to find me and came back to school terrified because they had not found me. They came to supper wide eyed and in a near panic.

I walked into the dining room very casually and smiled on my dear brat friends sitting by the fire place wringing their hands. When they saw me, they were suddenly taken with both rage and massive relief. What joy it gave me to see them struggling between wanting to strangle me and hug me.

"Where were you, you rotter?"

"Oh, I just walked back to the school. I got tired of you peeing in the forest, so I decided to go for a hike without you guys."

They will only now be learning how I did this to them.

Herbie, you owe me pie and coffee some time.