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What I've Learned
In the mid 1980's, the U.S. government loaned me to the British government to serve on a scientific expedition in Kenya. (I was in the Army, thus Uncle Sam considered me loanable.)
When this little vacation – for that's how I thought of it – was over, I would return to an active duty unit and would be due for my semi-annual physical fitness test. I was concerned about staying in shape.
The expedition was stationed in the Tsavo Game Reserve, and my job was to organize and run the camp, a skill most of the scientists and college students lacked.
The reserve was a dangerous place. There were beasts that could eat you. Other creatures, though not interested in you as food, could leave you in tatters. A cape buffalo, for example, would not consider you a meal, but would take delight in stomping you to a pulp.
To keep us from becoming predator poop or something stuck between a pachyderm’s toes, none of us left the camp unless accompanied by two Kenyan park rangers armed with rifles.
Each day, the scientists and students and armed rangers would load into Land Rovers and head off to do whatever it was they did, leaving a handful of us behind. Other than have a hot meal prepared when the expedition returned, there wasn't much to do, which was fine with me.
What a wonderful break from military life. There was time to read, write letters, soak up some equatorial sun (I turned almost mahogany), and generally laze about. In a few months I'd be facing a test of pushups, situps, and a two-mile run, so a morning regiment of exercise was called for.
There was a circular trail about an eighth of a mile in length that ringed our camp, and the rangers gave me permission to run it unguarded, provided I remained alert and aware of my surroundings.
For the day to day, we wore boots, but for exercise I'd brought my New Balance runners – the same shoes I'd be using on my PT test when I got home.
One morning after the expedition members left, I did my usual sets of pushups and situps and took off on my 16-lap circling of the camp. About half way into my run, I started thinking about supper. Cooking was done over a campfire, and stew was on the menu.
The stew should be started around two, so that by five when the expedition returned, it would be ready to serve. I decided to surprise the gang and bake biscuits. I was thinking about setting up the reflector oven and the looks of delight the biscuits would engender, when a movement caught my eye.
It's odd how in moments of danger, time can slow to almost a stop. In the path ahead of me was a black mamba, a snake as deadly as they come. A bite from a mamba is almost always fatal, and they strike and kill anything that disturbs them, even lions and buffalo.
My speed was such that I couldn't stop. There was bush on either side of the path, the leaping into of which was unwise.
The millisecond that stood between me and death was time enough for many thoughts, including sadness at not getting to bake the biscuits, wondering if my wife would someday remarry, pleasure at how comfortable my running shoes were, and assessing how old the mamba was.
If the crew didn't know there was going to be biscuits, they wouldn't miss them. My wife should remarry, but to someone less introspective. It would have been nice to have written to New Balance, complimenting them on the comfort of their shoes. The mamba was about six feet long, so was either young or a smoker who's growth had been stunted.
Had I not been terrified, that last thought would have made me laugh. I jumped, my leap fueled by a fearful surge of adrenaline.
The mamba gave a twitch of concern as I flew over, but didn't strike.
The biscuits that night were the most delicious thing I've ever eaten.