The Wild Cherry

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THE WILD CHERRY:
Native Americans processed and ate the pits
of this widespread and tasty summer fruit

Nyerges has been leading Wild Food Outings since 1974.  He is the author of Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants,  Foraging California, Extreme Simplicity, and other books. For a schedule of his classes, and information about his books, contact School of Self-Reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or on-line at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.
Wild cherry is a common, widespread plant throughout North America.  Where I live in Southern California, there are five native species of wild cherry found throughout the Pacific Coast region.  People are surprised because they do not think of this semi-desert area which rarely gets frosts as being able to support cherries. Yet, these varieties are well adapted to this climate, with deep roots, and thick — almost waxy — leaves so it can survive periods of drought.
Wild cherries are believed to be the most widespread wild shrub throughout all of  North America.  The Prunus genus not only includes all wild and domestic cherries, but also nectarines, peaches, plums, and almonds. 
One of the first historical accounts of the local indigenous people eating wild cherries comes to us from Father Junipero Serra, who passed through the San Gabriel Valley area of Southern California in July of 1769.  He noted that the local Indians (the “Gabrielinos”) used various fruits, grass seeds and other wild seeds, etc.
Most of the year, the evergreen cherry bushes or trees will resemble holly, and people will often guess that they are looking at holly bush.  I tell my students to take a leaf and crush it and wait a few seconds to get a whiff of that characteristic odor.  Most agree that the odor resembles bitter almond extract used in cakes.  In fact, this sweet odor is from the presence of hydrocyanic acid (“cyanide”).  This is why you do not make tea from the leaves.


If we are hiking around the cherries in late summer, there will invariably be fruit on the bush.  Some will be ripe enough for us to taste.  Most people can look at this fruit, and guess that it is edible. (However, I strongly urge you to never assume any wild berry or plant is edible simply because you subjectively think “it looks edible.”  That can be a quick way to get sick, or die.  Never eat any wild plant if  you haven’t positively identified it as an edible species.)  I typically will sample a wild cherry and let my students taste one before I tell them what it is.  The taste is not identical to commercial farm-grown cherries.  There isn’t quite as much sugar in the wild cherries, and they have a bitter underflavor and a tartness that makes them uniquely enjoyable, especially when you’re in the back country with meager food rations.  After a few bites, someone will guess that they are eating a cherry. 
In wet years, there is a thicker, sweeter layer of pulp around the large seed.  In dryer years, the pulp layer is thin — even paper-thin in drought years. 
And though the Indian population certainly enjoyed the pulp of these cherries in the past, they considered the seed as the more important food source.  Seeds were saved, and their thin shells removed.  There is a solid pulp inside the pit, just the same as there is with the store-bought cherry pits.  When you chew on the pulp, you’ll find a pleasant combination of that almondy-bitterness and sweetness.  Though it might be OK to nibble on a few, these seeds were always shelled and leached if substantial amounts were going to be consumed. 
The process of removing the hydrocyanic acid is essentially the same as for acorns. You shell the seeds, and boil the pulp for about half an hour, changing the water a few times.  Generally, you will not need to process cherry seeds as long as acorns. In fact, three boilings of cherry seeds are sufficient to render them safe to eat (whereas, acorns might require a much longer leaching time). The final product is then ground into flour, and mixed into breads, pancakes, soups, or other mush-type dishes.  It is good, and is a sweet flour. 
Shelling cherry seeds

whole seed in bag; shelled in bowl

3x boiled seed, ready to eat
The Cahuilla people of the desert in the vicinity of Palm Springs called this plant cha-mish, and today refer to it as a chokecherry.  They did not typically use the leached seed for breads, but almost exclusively for soups or mush.  Sometimes they made the meal into little cakes.  When dried, they were quite hard and black.  They could then be stored a long time, and would be reconstituted in water before eating.   One form of pemmican was also made by adding the fruit of these chokecherries with deer or elk meat. 
There is a great photo essay on making cherry seed atole (and other cherry seed foods) in “Ethnobotany Project: Contemporary Uses of Native Plants” by Ramirez and Small, and published by Blurb.com.
Dr. James Adams, co-author of “Healing with Medicinal Plants of the West,” adds applesauce to a cherry seed mush that he makes, and he reports that all his students enjoy it.
The inner bark of the wild cherries was also used for its medicinal value. A tea from the bark was used for diarrhea, stomach inflammations, and — among the Cherokee — the tea was said to help relieve the pain of labor during childbirth.  This medicine was also listed in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia in 1820 as a sedative. 


People of the 1800s and earlier would make syrup and soup from the cherries and use it as a medicine for whooping cough. The Miwok Indians of Northern California believed that eating the raw fruit was good for the voice. The bark of the cherries has been used extensively in cough medicines.  The use of cherry fruit or bark in cough medicines was not just for flavor.  But like with so many old fashioned medicinal remedies of the past, the modern counterparts that are now sold in stores are typically all sugar and artificial flavors.  Thus, horehound candy rarely has horehound in it, marshmallows have no marshmallow extract, and even the “cherry” cough medicines do not always have real cherry in it.  The price we have paid for our “advanced culture” is using more sugar, and concomitant health problems — but that is another topic.
Due to the presence of anthocyanins in cherries, eating about 20 cherries provides the same anti-inflammatory effects as two aspirin, according to Alternatives.
Long, straight branches of the various wild cherries are often used for making archery bows, backrests, baby cradles, and various other crafts. 
The cherry is an attractive plant, somewhat conspicuous in the hillsides because of its somewhat shiny leaves.  The leaf shape of the common holly-leaf cherry (P. Ilicifolia) is very much like a camelia leaf, a simple ovate to round leaf with fine teeth along the margin.  In the spring, many white flowers develop, and as the summer progresses, you will see many small green cherries as they develop.  The fruits turn pink, then red, and then nearly black when they are ripe and at their best. 
Though great as a trail nibble, there are many recipes that you can make from the seeds’ pulp, and the deseeded fruit.  Uses for the fruit include jams and jellies, fruit pemmican, juices, and even ice cream. 
I recall taking a late August hike in the Angeles National Forest up a trail I’d never been on before.  There was no water along the four mile, uphill road that eventually led to one of the old, now-abandoned fire-lookout stations.  Though I foolishly neglected to bring along a canteen, I collected many of the ripe and very sweet wild cherries along the trail, and I ate them sparingly along the way.  I ate them sparingly, because if you consume a lot of the fruits raw, they can have a laxative effect.  I ate about three dozen fruits over the course of about three hours, and suffered no laxative results.
Keep in mind when you are collecting your wild cherries that bears enjoy this fruit also.  We’ve often observed abundant cherries in bear scat.  So be mindful and alert when you’re in wilderness areas during cherry season.


The seed readily sprouts, and I have occasionally kept the wild seeds which had particularly large or tasty fruits, and planted them in my yard or in pots.  I have several that sprouted and are now taller that I am, though I have not yet had fruit crops from these.      

“Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City”

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WHY I WROTE MY BOOKS:

EXTREME SIMPLICITY: Homesteading in the City

[Nyerges is the author of over 20 books, and leads classes through the School of Self-reliance. He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]

When Dolores and I purchased a run-down house in Highland Park in 1986, we  worked towards our goal of “living lightly on the earth,” even though we had a small budget and lived in a small suburban Los Angeles home.

We were doing what our Appalachian friend used to describe as “living country in the city.”  We pursued all aspects of self-reliance, and wrote about it. Starting as soon as we moved in to our new home in 1986, we began task by task with limited income.  We were never fans of a front lawn, so one of our first tasks was to invite a tree pruner to dump a load of woodchips in the front lawn area. We used our front lawn  to grow food and fruit trees. We recycled our wash water into the yard, using the simplest of technologies.  We collected rain water, had chickens, a duck, bees, and a pig.  Eventually, we installed solar water heating, and enough solar panels and inverter to power at least part of our home. We installed a wood stove, fueled mostly by “scrap wood,”  and we planted fruit trees and food everywhere.

One of the problems we found with our home was that it was very hot indoors during the summer. So we installed metal security doors at the front and rear, and were able to leave the doors open all night for the breeze. We also painted the roof with a white elastomeric product which reflected sunlight, and produced an indoor temperature of about 15 to 20 degrees cooler in the summer.

At that time, I was writing articles for Mother Earth News, Wilderness Way, American Survival Guide, and various other magazines and newspapers.  Sometime in 1999, I got a call from an editor at Mother Earth News. They wanted to know if I could write an overview article about the methods of “alternate health” that Dolores and I practiced.  I said yes.  They then said, good, and we’d like to come out there from New York and take pictures of you in your home and put you on the cover.  We said yes.  The article came out, all about herbs and healthful living, and the ancient healing methods of Hippocrates.  We got a lot of attention about what we considered very normal, something that everyone should be doing.

Shortly after that issue of Mother Earth News was published, we got a call from a book publisher who asked if we could turn that health article into a book. Of course, we said yes. But when we eventually submitted the manuscript to the publisher, they said, hmmm, not exactly what we were looking for.  [That book, “Integral Health,” is still unpublished, though I use it frequently as the basis for lectures]. They wanted a complete summary of all sorts of “alternative health” methods, though they had not told us that in the beginning.  So we talked about it, and they asked us if we could just write about how we live our life in Los Angeles, which we did, and it became “Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City.”

We described our efforts to do “integral gardening” on every bit of usable land, to produce food (for people and wildlife), medicines, fragrance, shade, and useful tools. We described how we worked to use as little electricity as possible (for heating, cooling, everything), how to recycle everything, and how to waste very little.

Though the book has a lot of “how to,” it’s also full of personal stories and rich reading of the learning we experienced along the way. There is a section on recycling, and a unique section about the economics of self-reliance, my favorite chapter.

“Extreme Simplicity” is still in print, and still prompting conversations.  It’s available wherever books are sold, from Amazon, and from the store at School of Self-Reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041; or www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.

  

  

HERE ARE SOME SELECTED EXCERPTS:

 

TIME AND THE QUALITY OF LIFE

Many people today believe that they’re spending all their time working, yet with very little in return. Unfortunately, such realizations may come too late to be remedied.

We think that the Amish people have the right idea when they keep their schools and work close to home. They don’t have to go a long way to a job, thereby avoiding wasted time and energy, unnecessary expenses, and disconnection from their community. They can protect their families from undesirable influence, and there is the added bonus of having youngsters nearby where they can learn a trade from an early age. The Amish are firmly committed to valuing “quality of life” over all the stuff that our modern society deems important or indispensable – car, home entertainment system, fancy clothes, foods bought for “convenience” and prestige rather than fresh garden flavor and nutritional value.

  

4 MAGIC WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR FINANCIAL SITUATION

Once, during a period of homelessness before we were married, Christopher was engulfed in thoughts of “poor me” and “I’m destitute,” and he could scarcely see a way out of the darkness. Dolores provided him with a simple set of practical tools that anyone can use if only they choose to do so. Here are four “magic” ways to improve your financial situation:

    1. Never waste anything.

    2. Continually improve your personal honesty.

    3. Leave every situation or circumstance better than you found it.

    4. Tithe to the church (or organization) of your choice.

We know that these are genuine practical solutions. We have heard people say that they cannot make these efforts – such as tithing, or improving an environment – because “we are poor.” Our perspective is that they have their reasoning backwards. They are poor because they do not engage themselves in the world in these ways. Logical thinking leads to erroneous conclusions when the premise is false.

  

3 STEPS TO HOUSEHOLD ENERGY EFFICIENCY

1. You can do without some electrical devices.

This will probably involve changing your behavior, for instance, thinking twice before switching on an electrical tool or appliance when a non-electric alternative will work just as well or better.

2. You can learn to use your existing devices more efficiently.

 This step, too, requires changes in habit, but once you’ve understood the extra expenses caused by inefficiency and waste, you’ll feel good about it – plus you’ll save money by practicing efficiency.

3. You can purchase new appliances that render your household inherently more energy efficient.

 This step requires initial outlays of money, and in some cases higher short-term expenses, but with certain especially wasteful appliances, the best way to save energy and money is to immediately replace the old, wasteful model.

   

WOOD FIREPLACE

Our freestanding fireplace has completely transformed our home. We would strongly encourage anyone without one already to seriously consider installing one. On very cold nights, we had been using those small electric heaters that really drive up your electric bill. The fireplace made the house really feel like a home, and we now are uncertain how we got along without it.

In our case, the transition to wood heating was fairly easy, because we had plenty of firewood readily available. We were actually doing a neighbor a favor by cleaning up and carting off large amounts of dead and fallen wood from his property. Our first season of firewood came entirely from our weekly cleaning of his yard, just for the cost of our labor. How’s that for a win-win situation?

The Decline of Western Civilization: Why I wrote my books

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WHY I WROTE MY BOOKS

“Testing Your Outdoor Survival Skills”

Christopher Nyerges

I am often asked why I teach and write about the topics of self-reliance and survival.  Here is part of my answer.

“The city” developed organically from the earliest times of human history, presumably for the mutual survival and upliftment of all those who became a part of it.   The city because the locus for heightened social interaction, where farmers could barter and sell their goods to the far reaches of the domain, where the brightest and the best could answer your questions and resolved your needs, whether about technical, medical, or other issue.  It’s obvious why cities developed, though it has not always so altruistic.

We know, for example, that the great Mayan cities most likely had theocratic rulers whose orders were law, and sometimes that worked out well for the people.  But it could also spell the demise for the city if deluded self-important religious leaders saw themselves as more important than “the people.”  Right here in North America, there was the great city of Cahokia in what is now Illinois, which emerged, dominated, changed and improved the lives of everyone it touched, and then, for various reasons, it disappeared.

Cities and civilizations arise out of the common interests of those it serves, and they seem to follow a pattern of growth, peaking, declining, disappearing (that’s the 25 cent version of what usually takes a full semester anthropology course).

Every school child has heard about the great Roman empire, and how it “fell.”  We read the great details and shake our heads at the Roman stupidity that allowed such greatness to fall, and secretly, we believe it can never happen to us.  Really?  Well, we don’t want it to happen to us, of course, but consider that a “civilization” is a living, dynamic entity.  It’s essence and character and health are all determined by the collective mindset and collective actions of all the participants, whether you recognize that or not.  And it does seem to more and more of us that the collective mindset is too often about short-term gains, and not about the health and survival and vitality of the city, and the culture, and our civilization.

We aren’t sure exactly where we are as a people in the curve of the decline of a civilization, or whether or not we can affect that decline.  However, there is always something that the individual can do – always. 

To gain a higher perspective of what you can do, in your own life, in your own family and in your own town, I strongly encourage you to read Morris Berman’s “The Twilight of American Culture.” There are lots of good ideas there. Also, continue to read the publications that describe and promote the positive actions you can take every day in  your own life to improve your survival quotient, in the city, and in the wilderness.

Everyone wants to make the wisest choices  when our modern structures break down, either from the ravages of nature, or from man (war, terrorism, disease, etc.). 

Sometimes we can feel like we are just a drop of water in the ocean, but as we network and work with like-minded others, we can move in the direction of living solutions.

When I began teaching about wild foods and survival skills when I was still a teenager, I did so to encourage others to think likewise, but mostly I did so to clarify my own thinking on the subject.  You could call it enlightened self-interest.  Plus, by teaching and writing, I was able to meet others along the same path, people that I would have never met if I were hiding out somewhere in a cave.

I taught field trips, and I taught in the classroom. When I taught in the classroom, I found it useful to organize each subject by topic, and to teach by constantly asking questions of the students.  Those refined and edited questions became the basis for my “Testing Your Outdoor Survival Skills” textbook, which is still used by many today.  (It’s available on Amazon, or from the store at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com). 

Though I still use that “Testing” textbook, I have also written “How to Survive Anywhere,” which embodies most of the ideas in “Testing Your Outdoor Survival Skills.” 

In “How to Survive Anywhere,” I mention Jane Jacobs, who is the author of “Dark Ages Ahead,” who attempts to offer solutions to anyone worried about the decline of western civilization.  Her book is worth reading; at least read page 258 of “How to Survive Anywhere,” where I summarize her thinking.  She explains some of the obvious causes of our decline, especially the idea of community.  But she does not see “dark ages” as inevitable. Rather, she says that since culture is a living dynamic entity, we need to all become living examples of the best in society, and we need to think, we need to model solutions, and we need to teach, lecture, and write! 

“Urban Wilderness: An Urban Survival Guide”

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WHY I WROTE MY BOOKS:

URBAN WILDERNESS: An Urban Survival Guide

[cover of first edition]

[current cover]


“Urban Wilderness” is the third book I wrote, published in 1979.  A  few years earlier, I had started writing outdoor columns for the Pasadena Star News and other papers, and I thought the collected columns could make a good book.  But I wanted to create a book that was also relevant to the average city dweller, back then, trying to live a more self-reliant life. 

So my proposal to the publisher included a collection of articles, loosely held together by the themes of household ecology, city gardening, wild city plants, pollution issues, and city survival.  It all seemed very cohesive at the time, but in fact, that third book was a hodge podge of great ideas that only loosely held together.  But since Peace Press of Culver City wanted to publish the book, I went ahead and produced a manuscript.  

[Look at that! Larry Dean Olsen wrote us a cover quote!]


Now, if you are unfamiliar with the publishing world, think of the search for a publisher as men or women exploring a dating service.  Finally you find an interesting publisher and the courting begins.  Finally, you sign a contract, and you’re married! You no longer get exactly what you want.  It’s a pretty good analogy of what happens when you and a publisher hammer out an idea for a book.

Though I wanted a well-organized right-to-the-point book about what it takes to live a self-reliant life, the publisher had their own ideas of what it would take to make the book “popular.”  At the time, I didn’t think much of the fact that they also published books by Timothy Leary, and notes from prison, but their ideology watered down the content and arrangement of my well-intended book.  That book is still available on ebay and elsewhere, and you really might find it entertaining.  I still look into that book for the details of how to process olives, and for my carob recipes. 

In fact, if you get a copy of the old Peace Press version of “Urban Wilderness,” just think of it as a series of newspaper articles and it will make a lot more sense.  There is a great chart on common herbs and their uses, and some unique information about the medical value of garlic, and the dangers of aluminum.  And the book contains a lot of my tests that I use in my survival skills courses.  By the way, my complete set of tests and answers and supportive data I use in my classes is compiled into my “Testing Your Outdoor Survival Skills” book, still available. That testing book was partly the basis for my later “How to Survival Anywhere” book, published by Stackpole.

Eventually, Peace Press closed its doors, and the book never went into a reprint.

Many years after that, in the early 1990s,  there was a resurgence of  survival shows, and I started going to some of these shows and selling my books and giving survival and wild food lectures. Some of you may remember this as the time of militias, when everyone started wearing camos and paintball games were big.  I entirely revised my “Urban Wilderness” book to make it a bare-bones essential guide to the key areas everyone should be concerned about with urban survival.  This was a spiral-bound version that I produced myself, and I sold hundreds of copies.  As Y2K approached, survival and preparedness expositions were popping up all over the country like toadstools.  I made a few tweaks to my “Urban Wilderness” book and also called it “A Y2K preparation manual.”  If you think about it, Y2K planning was not much different than earthquake planning, except your house would still be standing.   I sold thousands of copies of this textbook.  I was very busy in December of 1999,  and then in January of 2000 when the world didn’t slip into the dark ages, and my book continued to sell, I immediately removed all Y2K references for my “Urban Wilderness” book.

The revised book was simple and terse.  It included only what I considered the most essential information about shelter, water (storage and purification), food (storage, cooking, etc.), cooking without gas or electricity, hygiene issues (toilet, etc.), dealing with utilities and using manual tools, communication systems, wise use of resources (making compost, dealing with waste, recycling anything you have to make needed products, and a few other topics. 

If you’re already very knowledgeable in survival skills and planning, this book will seem very basic to you, and you should get one of my later books. If, however, you’re still trying to navigate the waters of prepping, this is an excellent way to begin.

The original “Urban Wilderness” can still occasionally be found for sale on Amazon or ebay.  The revised “Urban Wilderness” book is still available as a hard copy from the store at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com, or from Kindle (at the cost of less than a tip at any restaurant).

“Tunnel 16” — a Pasadena-based science fiction novel

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WHY I WROTE MY BOOKS

“Tunnel 16” [part one of the Tunnel series]

By Christopher Nyerges

[Nyerges is the author of many, including “Tunnel 16,” “Sinkhole 102,” “Enter the Forest,” “Extreme Simplicity,” and others.  He has also been teaching ethnobotany for many years, in the field and classroom.  Information about his books and classes is available from  www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com. 

I’ve always wanted to try writing a novel.  I’ve even tried a few times, but I either didn’t have the patience to take it all the way to the end, or I didn’t have the imagination for a cogent story.

Then one night I had a dream.  I was visiting a friend of mine up at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) complex in the foothills of Altadena.  Something was happening, and we were being chased by some unseen threatening entities.  We ran through what seemed to be underground parking structures, and after a while, the tunnels opened up into a green wilderness area where there were grassy plains and lots of trees.  In the dream, I knew I could run there and be safe. As I exited the JPL tunnel, I looked up and saw the number “16” embossed on the cement wall.  I don’t recall what happened next in the dream.

Later that day, I called my friend who works at JPL and asked, “Is there a tunnel 16 at your work site?”  “Hmmm?” my friend responded. “I don’t think so.”

Eventually, I was taken on a tour of JPL, and got to look at the Mars yard, and the entrances to various corridors and tunnels, but nothing like I saw in my dream.  Regardless, little by little, I created a young character, Rick, and told the tale of how Rick accidentally discovered the hidden and secretive tunnels of Altadena.

I used my knowledge of the physical terrain of Pasadena and Altadena to tell the story, so most of the locations actually exist.  Rick falls into the tunnel and the youth-focused science fiction story begins.

I attempted to incorporate nearly every myth and mystery of Pasadena that I’d ever heard into the novel.  In the tunnel, Rick encounters the holographic image of Jack Parsons in a side cave,  and Parsons gives Rick instructions for helping to resolve a civil war among an invisible race who live in the tunnel system.

Jack Parsons figures large as part of local lore  — he was one of the early developers of JPL, who had a dark side.  As a follower of Aleister Crowley, Parsons was known to hold satanic rituals in his South Orange Grove home. Additionally, Parson’s most famous roommate was one L.Ron Hubbard, who ran away with Parson’s girlfriend, and eventually founded Scientology. 

Other local lore includes the Angeles Forest as the so-called “forest of disappearing children,” and the shaman’s cave found by Dorothy Poole in Descanso Gardens. 

Rick begins to interact with a JPL security worker, Frank Landry, partly based on a real person, and Landry tries to unravel the mystery of the tunnel before having to report it to his superiors. 

Actual names and places are used throughout the book, which local residents will recognize.   Even famous skeptic Michael Shermer appears in this book, and also appears in the  “Sinkhole 102” sequel.

I enjoyed writing the book, and I was partly inspired by the fast-moving Hardy Boys novels, which I always enjoyed.

“Tunnel 16” is currently available from Amazon’s Kindle, for far less than you’d leave for a tip at a restaurant.  Downloads and hard copies will be available from www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.

“Foraging Wild Edible Plants of North America”

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WHY I WROTE MY BOOKS

“Foraging Wild Edible Plants of North America”

WHY I WROTE MY BOOKS
“Foraging Wild Edible Plants of North America”
By Christopher Nyerges
[Nyerges is the author of many foraging books, including “Foraging Wild Edible Plants of North America,” “Guide to Wild Foods,” and others.  He has also been teaching ethnobotany for many years, in the field and classroom.  Information about his books and classes is available from  www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com. 
After the release of my first book (“Guide to Wild Foods”) in 1978, I was contacted by Stackpole Press in Pennsylvania who wanted to know if I could write a cookbook for them, based upon “Guide to Wild Foods.”  Of course, I said yes. 
So I took the plants from my book that are most common over most of North America, and began compiling all my recipes, as well as testing new ones.  In addition, I added various stories about cooking on the trail, and the types of gear and condiments you should always carry if you want a good meal.  Then I spent considerable time trying to come up with catchy names for the various recipes.  The result a year later was “Wild Greens and Salads.”  The book sold a few thousand copies a year and was never re-printed after the first edition.

Nearly 30 years later, I’d started writing foraging books for the Falcon Guides.  They were aware of my previous cook book, and wondered if I could revise it with full color photos and lots of new information.  Of course, I said yes.
I worked for another year to update the text, to delete some plants and to add new ones.  Also, I once again spent considerable time coming up with catchy names to the recipes, usually recalling the first time I tried the recipe.  This is somewhat ironic too, coming from a guy who hardly uses recipes, and generally just follows the basics of cooking that was taught to me by mother.  For those who wonder if there is actually any food value to plants found in the wild, there is a chart at the end of the book detailed the nutritional analysis of many of the wild foods in the book, based upon the USDA’s “Analysis of Foods.”  You’ll be amazed that wild foods are generally more nutritious than much of what you buy at the supermarket.
This revised book is called “Foraging Edible Wild Plants of North America,” focusing primarily on leafy greens for salads, soups, and other dishes.  (I could eventually do a sequel to this, about all the wild nuts and berries that are found widely in North America, not just in a given locale.)
I was really happy with the result, and the way the color photos turned out.  It’s 211 pages full of wild recipes, and various ways to use wild foods, their nutritional value, and the ways to process the plants, with full color photos of every plant. 
The books has lots of interesting recipes.  Those of you who have come to my wild food classes know the ways I prepared wild foods, so many of the recipes in this book will seem familiar.
Some of the recipes’ names incorporate some memory of when I first came up with that recipe: Chardon Crepes (from when I lived in Chardon, Ohio), Big Bend Breakfast (a cattail dish my brother and I cooked up in Texas), the David Ashley Special (a salad of wild greens devised by David, and I wonder if David even remembers this?), Crisptado Fantastico (my unique chickweed tostada), Chicory Hicory Dock (everyone’s favorite), Point Reyes Sunset (a curly dock and clam soup that we first made at Point Reyes Seashore), Altadena Meadows Casserole (a nettle dish that I’d make when I lived in the Meadows), Hahamongna Swamp Salad (that’s self-explanatory, right?), and Tongva Memories (a watercress soup).
EARTH BREAD
Perhaps my favorite recipes are the Lamb’s Quarter recipes, because I use that plant nearly every day, both the leaf and seed. It’s a relative of the now-popular quinoa. 
Lamb’s quarter can be made into salads, soups, stews, and even bread when you use the seed.  You might like my Earth Bread made from the seeds. From the reviews of those who have tasted it, some like it, some do not.
According to the book, “I’ve served this Earth Bread to many foragers and have had mixed responses. A few people did not like it and said it tasted like dirt. There have also been ecstatic responses from people who found the bread ‘virile,’ ‘deliciously wholesome and amazing,’ and ‘primitive.’”  You’ll have to try it for yourself and see what you think. 
Here is the recipe:
1 cup lamb’s quarter seed
1 cup acorn flour
3 tsp. Baking powder
3 Tablespoons honey
1 egg
1 cup raw milk
3 tablespoons oil
You blend everything and bake it until done. You can also water this down and use the batter for pancakes.
This book also has an introductory section which includes photos of Dude McLean cooking a broth in a cut-out yucca bowl, and Pascal Baudar making a wild mustard, and Gary Gonzales showing a miner’s lettuce leaf. 
The cheapest way to get a copy is through Amazon. The retail is $22.95, and you can also get an autographed copy at  www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com. 

By Christopher Nyerges

[Nyerges is the author of many foraging books, including “Foraging Wild Edible Plants of North America,” “Guide to Wild Foods,” and others.  He has also been teaching ethnobotany for many years, in the field and classroom.  Information about his books and classes is available from  www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com. 

After the release of my first book (“Guide to Wild Foods”) in 1978, I was contacted by Stackpole Press in Pennsylvania who wanted to know if I could write a cookbook for them, based upon “Guide to Wild Foods.”  Of course, I said yes. 

So I took the plants from my book that are most common over most of North America, and began compiling all my recipes, as well as testing new ones.  In addition, I added various stories about cooking on the trail, and the types of gear and condiments you should always carry if you want a good meal.  Then I spent considerable time trying to come up with catchy names for the various recipes.  The result a year later was “Wild Greens and Salads.”  The book sold a few thousand copies a year and was never re-printed after the first edition.

Nearly 30 years later, I’d started writing foraging books for the Falcon Guides.  They were aware of my previous cook book, and wondered if I could revise it with full color photos and lots of new information.  Of course, I said yes.

I worked for another year to update the text, to delete some plants and to add new ones.  Also, I once again spent considerable time coming up with catchy names to the recipes, usually recalling the first time I tried the recipe.  This is somewhat ironic too, coming from a guy who hardly uses recipes, and generally just follows the basics of cooking that was taught to me by mother.  For those who wonder if there is actually any food value to plants found in the wild, there is a chart at the end of the book detailed the nutritional analysis of many of the wild foods in the book, based upon the USDA’s “Analysis of Foods.”  You’ll be amazed that wild foods are generally more nutritious than much of what you buy at the supermarket.

This revised book is called “Foraging Edible Wild Plants of North America,” focusing primarily on leafy greens for salads, soups, and other dishes.  (I could eventually do a sequel to this, about all the wild nuts and berries that are found widely in North America, not just in a given locale.)

I was really happy with the result, and the way the color photos turned out.  It’s 211 pages full of wild recipes, and various ways to use wild foods, their nutritional value, and the ways to process the plants, with full color photos of every plant. 

The books has lots of interesting recipes.  Those of you who have come to my wild food classes know the ways I prepared wild foods, so many of the recipes in this book will seem familiar.

Some of the recipes’ names incorporate some memory of when I first came up with that recipe: Chardon Crepes (from when I lived in Chardon, Ohio), Big Bend Breakfast (a cattail dish my brother and I cooked up in Texas), the David Ashley Special (a salad of wild greens devised by David, and I wonder if David even remembers this?), Crisptado Fantastico (my unique chickweed tostada), Chicory Hicory Dock (everyone’s favorite), Point Reyes Sunset (a curly dock and clam soup that we first made at Point Reyes Seashore), Altadena Meadows Casserole (a nettle dish that I’d make when I lived in the Meadows), Hahamongna Swamp Salad (that’s self-explanatory, right?), and Tongva Memories (a watercress soup).

EARTH BREAD

Perhaps my favorite recipes are the Lamb’s Quarter recipes, because I use that plant nearly every day, both the leaf and seed. It’s a relative of the now-popular quinoa. 

Lamb’s quarter can be made into salads, soups, stews, and even bread when you use the seed.  You might like my Earth Bread made from the seeds. From the reviews of those who have tasted it, some like it, some do not.

According to the book, “I’ve served this Earth Bread to many foragers and have had mixed responses. A few people did not like it and said it tasted like dirt. There have also been ecstatic responses from people who found the bread ‘virile,’ ‘deliciously wholesome and amazing,’ and ‘primitive.’”  You’ll have to try it for yourself and see what you think. 

Here is the recipe:

1 cup lamb’s quarter seed

1 cup acorn flour

3 tsp. Baking powder

3 Tablespoons honey

1 egg

1 cup raw milk

3 tablespoons oil

You blend everything and bake it until done. You can also water this down and use the batter for pancakes.

This book also has an introductory section which includes photos of Dude McLean cooking a broth in a cut-out yucca bowl, and Pascal Baudar making a wild mustard, and Gary Gonzales showing a miner’s lettuce leaf. 

The cheapest way to get a copy is through Amazon. The retail is $22.95, and you can also get an autographed copy at  www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com. 

“Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants”

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WHY I WROTE MY BOOKS:

Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants

[Nyerges’ “Guide to Wild Foods” book, originally published in 1978, was published in full color as of 2014.  The book, now titled “Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants,” is available at bookstores, Amazon, and at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.  It has been adopted for use as a college textbook in one college.]

My earliest interest in wild food began around 1967 as I began my awareness of the the Native Americans who lived in Los Angeles County in the pre-Spanish era who gathered and hunted all their food.  I wanted to learn how to do that too, because I thought I would be a good survival skill, and mostly because I thought it was one of the most essential things a person could do, anywhere, at any time.

I studied all I could from the local library, and by enrolling in botany classes in high school and then college. I made the effort to study with whomever I could, when the opportunities arose: Native Americans, Amish, gardeners, botanists, bums — whoever knew about plants and was willing to share their knowledge with me.

By 1974, I was asked to lead Wild Food Outings with the Los Angeles-based non-profit, WTI, whose focus was to educate in all aspects of survival. I fit in well, and not only led the walks (and continued to this day) but started work on a book about local wild foods.  It took the next four years of typing and researching and asking questions and compiling notes, but finally my stacks of seemingly-random notes were taking shape into a book.

My notes consisted of various piles of paperwork that I stacked around my bedroom, and which I finally began to order when I started a typesetting job at the Altadena Chronicle.  The editor, Sue Redman, allowed me to write a column each week which I called “The Emergency Plant Survival Guide,” which was eventually assembled into a photocopied 8 ½ x 11 format.   In many ways, I wrote the book for myself, as a way to assemble my own diverse notes and experiences about using plants for food, and other uses.

By then, I’d met and began studying with botanist Dr. Leonid Enari, who really opened my eyes to the vast botanical world “out there.” Dr. Enari – who I call the greatest botanist that no one knows — was instrumental in shaping that very crude first edition of what we then called “A Southern California’s Guide to Wild Foods.”

The second edition, completely revised, came out within another two years or so, and then soon another revised edition with more plants being added each time.

At the time, there was no other book like this one which appealed to the common useful plants in the Southern California area.  There were a few academic books, though they didn’t appeal to the person who wanted to actually try these plants. And there was no internet then, so all my research was done in libraries or with first-person interviews, or spending all day to get somewhere just so I could learn one new fact about one plant.

The fourth edition was released in 1995, and in many ways this was my favorite version since all the plants drawings were painstakingly done in my own hand.  But today, everyone wants color photos. 

Finally, in the spring of 2014, the book was released in full color, which is perhaps the ultimate format we’d dreamed about in the mid-1970s when the idea for this book was formulated.

One of my greatest surprises came one morning while listening to the old American Indian hour on Pasadena City College Radio. Dorothy Poole, aka Chaparral Granny, was talking about the uses of certain local wild plants.  As I listened, it sounded vaguely familiar.  I quickly pulled out my copy of “Guide to Wild Foods” and opened to the plant she was talking about.  Imagine my surprise to see that she was reading directly from my book!  I felt honored that she felt my compilation and personal commentary was worthy of sharing on the American Indian hour.

The book helps the beginner understand the basic botanical terminology, and quickly shows the reader how to best utilize many of the common wild plants for food, medicine, soap, etc. 

Many of the plants listed in the book are not  native, and are considered invasive weeds. They are the plants that gardeners love to pull up and toss in the trash, or worse, to spray Roundup on them so they don’t come back.

It turns out that some of the wild foods are more nutritious than much of what we find in the supermarket. And they taste good too, if you simply take the time to learn how to prepare them.

In “Guide to Wild Foods,” you learn that the brown pod from the carob trees planted all over Southern California are edible, and are an excellent source of calcium and B vitamins.

You also learn that dandelion is the richest source of beta carotene (not carrots), and that purslane is the richest plant source of Omega 3 fatty acids, and that the common lambs quarter is like nature’s mineral tablet.

The book includes many of the Native American uses of plants, such as the yucca plant which was a valuble soap and fibre source, as well as three types of food. And you learn about many of the natural cures to poison oak, including the seemingly unusual treatment that I’ve done for the past 30 years.

Now titled “Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants,”  it is available at Amazon, at bookstores, and at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.

Growing Oyster Mushrooms

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Matt Heidrich with some of his home-grown oyster mushrooms 
Matt Heidrich is a man who loves oyster mushrooms.  He enjoys them so much that he has learned the intricate art of home cultivation.  I didn’t know what to expect when I visited him in his Highland Park home, but I certainly got a full tutorial.
Oyster mushrooms are a variety of mushroom that grows on old and dying trees throughout the nation.  They grow from the sides of trees with their gills that slope down to meet the stem.  The caps range from cream to dark brown. They are one of the simplest mushrooms to cultivate, and enjoyed by mushroom enthusiasts and foodies alike.  I always assumed they were called oyster mushrooms because the flavor (to me) is very much like oysters, though some say the name derived from the shape of the mushroom’s cap being similar to an oyster shell.
A child of Army parents, Heidrich spent his childhood in Indiana, and it was there that he first found and harvested some of another wild mushroom in the woods – the popular and colorful chicken-of-the-woods. 
In 2015 at Los Angeles’ eclectic EcoVillage, he attended a workshop led by Peter McCoy where he was introduced to the lifestyle of fungi. The workshop included the details for cultivating the oyster mushroom, and Heidrich was hooked.  Over the last several years, he has refined and perfected his technique for producing oyster mushrooms in his home. 
When I first visited Heidrich, I was given a tour of his small backyard, where he grows numerous herbs and vegetables in small upraised beds.  In one corner was a small compost pile covered with black plastic, which he uses mostly for the old medium of which his mushrooms grow.  He pulled up a corner to show me that oyster mushrooms abundantly grew from his little compost pile, the unexpected result from the leftovers of his cultivation.  He picked a few of the good ones for his meal later in the day.
Next, we went indoors for the tutorial.  It was quickly evident that growing oyster mushrooms were important to Heidrich, because it appeared that major portions of at least two rooms in his home were devoted to the various stages of oyster mushroom cultivation. 
We began by looking at some of the good textbooks that are available on the subject. Two of the best current books on mushroom cultivation are “Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms” by Paul Stamets, and “The Mushroom Cultivator” by Stamets and Chilton.   “Radical Mycology” by Peter McCoy and “Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation” by Trad Cotter are also very useful.  And for those who want to buy starter kits, Stamets’ company, called FungiPerfecti, provides supplies for beginner and expert alike.
There are many ways to cultivate mushrooms.   Understanding the difference between “spores” and “spawn” is key.  Spores are genetically diverse “seeds” that rain down from the gills of the mushroom.  The novice grower will not use spores, but spawn, which is genetically identical to the parent mushroom.  Most home growers use liquid culture spawn and grain spawn.  Liquid culture is simply mushrooms grown in sugar water.  Grain spawn is mushrooms grown on grain.  Heidrich cultivates his liquid culture using simple sugars purchased from the local homebrew shop.  (In fact, homebrewing and mushroom growing go hand in hand.)  For grain spawn, he uses organic wheat berries bought in bulk on Amazon.  The goals of these methods is to give the mycelium (the mushroom body) the nutrients it needs to form robust fruiting bodies (“fruiting bodies” are what most of us simply call mushrooms).  Liquid culture and grain spawn are readily available on Ebay or from mushroom websites.  The simplest way to begin cultivating is to buy liquid culture online and expand it at home in modified Mason jars.  But cleanliness is key.  
Heidrich created his own sterile environment with a 5 gallon clear Rubbermaid tub, onto which he has added two hole where his hands can enter with gloves.  Into this box, after has disinfected it with alcohol, he adds the starter medium, and several Mason jars of wheat berries which will be inoculated with the liquid starter medium. 

He carefully closes the lid of the box, and once everything needed is inside the box, he dons his gloves and his hands enter the box.  The lid of each jar has had two holes drill into it: one hole is stuffed with cotton for aeration, and the other is filled with high temperature RTV engine silicone.  With a hypodermic needle, he first sucks a measured amount of the liquid out of the starter medium, by pushing the needle through the silicone cover, and then he injects a measured amount into each jar of the wheat berries, again, by pushing the needle through the silicon layer.
This is all done very carefully, almost like a careful dance as Heidrich maneuvers into the limited space. But all this is necessary, otherwise the invisible contaminants in the air and environment which will infect the batch of mushrooms.
When done, Heidrich places these inoculated bottles of wheat berries onto a rack with an LED light to assist in stimulating the grown of the spawn. Temperature requirements vary depending on the oyster variety.  For example, there are blue oysters which prefer a cooler temperature, while the pink and phoenix oysters enjoy temperatures up into the 80s and 90s.

After a few weeks, if all went well, the bottles of wheat berries are covered in a white cob-webby material, which is the mycelium which will produce the mushrooms.
Heidrich took such a bottle to show me how he sets up the final stage of cultivation, which can take place in a plastic bag or bucket.  Today he demonstrated in a plastic bag.
Into the approximately gallon-sized plastic bag, he placed a layer of soaked cardboard.  (I had noted earlier that he had a few containers of old cardboard in his back yard, and this is what he uses to grow his mushrooms.). 
“Remember, these mushrooms like to grow on wood, and isn’t that what the cardboard came from?” smiles Heidrich.  He presses a layer of cardboard into the bag, and then adds a layer of used coffee grounds, a free recyclable material from a local coffee house.  Then he added about 5 tablespoons of the wheat berries covered in spawn. Then he added more cardboard, coffee grounds, and more spawn. He continues this way for several layers until the bag is full.  On his last, upper-most layer, he adds only spawn, then cardboard, then spawn.  Heidrich explains that the coffee grounds are most susceptible to infection, and by having no coffee grounds at the top where it is exposed, there is less chance of infection.
Once this is sealed, Heidrich punches a few holes into the bag so that each hole enters the bag at the cardboard.  Once the mushrooms get growing, they will grow out of the holes where they can be easily harvested.  This bag is again put on the shelf with the LED light, and allowed to sit until the mushrooms start to grow.
It all seems like a very mysterious process, but Heidrich is merely controlling in a scientific manner that which occurs naturally in the forest.
Heidrich’s favorite method of preparation is to sautee the mushrooms with his meals.
“How do you preserve the surplus?” I asked him, innocently enough.
“I eat them as quickly as I grow them,” he said smiling.  “There’s never a surplus!” 
Wow! He loves his mushrooms.  Nevertheless, if growers have a surplus, they can be frozen or dehydrated, and dehydration seems to be the preferable choice.
Heidrich has done some wild mushroom hunting on his own, but found that it was less than fruitful.  After all, wild mushrooms arise based on many factors, such as rain, weather, time of year, association of certain trees, humidity, and other factors.  Heidrich did find some turkey tail mushrooms, but generally prefers to grow his own oyster mushrooms. 
He’s not a vegan, vegetarian, macrobiotic enthusiast, or a food faddist of any sort. “Yes, I eat meat,” with a smile that barely concealed a bit a guilt.  He’s a man who loves one of nature’s finest foods, and he’s found a way to have a constantly supply at home.
Heidrich does offer occasional workshops where he takes participants through the various steps involved.  His workshop participants walk home with an instruction sheet, and a bag of spawn to grow at home. For more information, he can be reached at mattheidrich@gmail.com

 [Nyerges continues to teach classes in self-reliance and survival. Go to www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com for the Schedule]

A Memorial Day Exercise

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A MEMORIAL DAY EXERCISE

 another way to deal with life — and death


[Note: this story was extracted from “Til Death Do Us Part?”, a Kindle book by Christopher Nyerges, also available on request at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com]

It was a sunny and brisk day as Dolores and I walked up the steep stony driveway to the WTI headquarters.  We were going to the annual Memorial Day gathering, which would be held outdoors.  Neither of us had been involved in the preparation of this event (as we had with other events), so we were coming as “guests” with no idea what the agenda would be.

When we reached the top, we could see that several others had already arrived.  Prudence approached us as I was scanning the book, and she handed each of us a hot cup of their special coffee.

“Thanks,” I said, taking a long sip.  “That sure hits the spot.”

Dolores and I said hello to the dozen other guests who were sitting on chairs, or reading from a pink paper.  Timothy approached Dolores and I and handed each of us a copy of something printed on pink paper.

“Here’s what we’re going to do,” he said, smiling broadly with his charismatic smile.  “Once those instructions are clear, you should go to a private spot with your notebook.   We’ll all meet back here in 30 minutes.”

“OK,” I said. We both studied the paper as Timothy stood there.

I quickly read the instructions.  We were to select three living “loved-ones” and write their names in our notebook. We were then to go sit under a bush, or sit in some private spot somewhere on the hilltop.  Next, we were  to mentally imagine that we get a phone call, and someone tells us that one of the people on our list have died.  Each of us  was to feel and experience the grief as if that person really died, and attempt to make it real.  With the full feeling of grief, we were to write down all those things that we wished we’d told that person before they died.  We were to do this exercise with all three of the people on our list.

“Any questions?” asked Timothy, still standing in front of us, but now he was  beginning to look around as other guests arrived.  

“It seems pretty clear,” I said, thinking to myself that this was an unusual exercise. 

“Seems clear enough,” added Dolores.

“Oh, one more thing,” said Timothy.  “It doesn’t say this on your paper, but it would be good if at least one person on your list of three is someone who is here today.” 

“OK,” I responded.  I knew that my father would be on my list, and so would Dolores. 

I walked up the rough steps which led to the upper portion of the property, and I sat myself under an old citrus tree.  It was one of my favorite spots on the property because I always felt very “invisible” there, yet I had a terrific view of the surrounding neighborhood.

I began my list.  I wrote down Dolores, Prudence, and my father.  I then closed my eyes, and imagined that I just received a call from my brother telling me that my father had died.  I let it hit me that he was gone, dead, out of my life.  I began to cry involuntarily.  My mind automatically thought back to the earliest childhood memories of my father cutting the lawn, and taking me with him in the station wagon to the supermarket.  I remembered the things I did wrong, and was punished for, and my mind went through a non-chronological review of various events. I attempted to mentally do a chronological review, but found it easier to just let the memories flow.  I began to laugh at some memories, such as the way he and my mother would argue whenever the family was getting ready to go to the local beach for the day.  My mother seemingly wanted to pack everything from the kitchen into the station wagon, and my father – with great pantomime — would express his desire to do it as simply as possible. I remembered how upset my father would get when my mother called him a gypsy, an insult to a Hungarian.

I realized my father was by no means perfect, and yet I could see he tried to do what was right, despite his many weaknesses or deficiencies.  I found myself missing him terribly, in spite of the fact that he was still alive and  I had not called him for over a month.

I began to do the same with Dolores and Prudence.  Dolores and I hadn’t yet married, though we were both very interested in one another and enjoyed each other’s friendship and company.  Still, we had already experienced several “rough spots” together.  I looked at my watch and saw that I had already been there over 30 minutes, so I quickly finished writing my notes and then headed back down to the gathering.

Most everyone was already back down at the gathering site, and were serving themselves from the delicious dishes that everyone provided.  I began to serve myself a smaller than usual dish.  I still felt very “shaken up” by my brief but intensive experience of  “hearing that my father had died.”

Once everyone had returned and served themselves a dish and a mug, Timothy  shared a few prepared readings about Memorial Day and the nature of death,  mostly writings by Shining Bear, as well as some passages from Alexander Solszynitzn’s classic book where he told the story of his time in the Soviet Union’s prison camps, Gulag Archipelago.

Then we got to the part where Timothy asked each person to briefly share their experiences with their list of three people.  A few people said they had experienced nothing worthy of sharing, which I found remarkable. Perhaps they were embarrassed in the unfamiliar setting and did not want to share a deeply personal experience.  I could understand not wanting to share deeply personal things in an unfamiliar public setting. But I could not believe that anyone who actually performed the prescribed exercise would have had no worthwhile experience.

Prudence’s son spoke of the experience of someone telling him his father had passed away and how sad he felt.  He shared a few of the things he would tell his father.

“I’m going to tell him that I love him, and I’m going to pay him back that money I borrowed from him last year,” he said with great enthusiasm. Everyone laughed.

Once each person briefly shared their varied experiences, Timothy then got back in front and, with his charismatic smile, announced that everyone now would have a rare opportunity. 

“You’ve all just done what most people do when they learn that someone they love has died.  However, all these people are still here.  Now you need to tell them today those things that you’d regret not telling them if they died.  We have two phones here, so whomever wants to use them may do so now.”  [Note: this was before the days of universal cell phones.]

A few people got up and went inside to call someone.

“Or, you can write a short note or letter right now,” Timothy declared.  “If you don’t have any stationery, we have lots of paper and envelopes that you can use.”  He pointed to the wooden table behind him where there was a can full of pens and pencils, a small stack of envelopes, and an assortment of stationery paper.

“Now, if the person is here now,” Timothy continued, “I want the two of you to go to a private place and you can tell that person whatever it is that you want them to hear.  Don’t be embarrassed.  We’ll all meet back here together in about 30 minutes and share that experience.”

I was a bit hesitant to do this next step.  It would be risky. It’s always risky to be completely honest and  open.   Nevertheless, I first went with Prudence to a private spot.  It turns out that she also chose me, so we were able to “kill two birds with one stone,” so to speak.

My private-talk with Prudence went well, and both of us shared a few past unresolved issues that bothered us, and tried to make amends for some old hard feelings. We were both fairly open and blunt in both our criticism and praise of the other, and we were able to agree on a few simple steps we could do to bring things to a state of balance.  I was satisfied with this experience.  Next, I did the same thing with Dolores.

After a few minutes, everyone gathered again in the central outdoor meeting place. Prudence read a few passages from a book about death.  I took a few notes as I listened, and also looked around at the expressions of those gathered there that day.  I felt very much “startled awake,” and I could tell that most everyone had had some sort of eye-opening epiphany about life and death and how quickly it all passes. 

I was experiencing an inner turmoil, a bit apprehensive about my plan to talk to my father later in the day.  I was also very reflective about all the choices I make day in and out, and how everyone else affects me, and how I affect everyone else. Especially Dolores.  How to do it all “just right,” all the time, I wondered?  How can I live my life without regrets?  I wondered, was everyone else feeling such inner turmoil, and inner challenge? 

Finally, Timothy made a few closing remarks, shared a few upcoming events, and thanked everyone for coming.  It had been several hours but it flowed so quickly. 

           

LATER IN THE DAY

That evening, I called my father, and asked him if he had a minute.
“Sure,” he said, “what’s up?”

“I just wanted you to know that I really have appreciated all the things you’ve done for me all my life.  I know that at times I have seemed very disrespectful, but I….

“Is something wrong?” he asked.  “Do you need money?”

“No, no, no. I don’t need money. No, nothing’s wrong. I was just thinking about you today, and how we never talk, and I just wanted you to know that I really appreciate you and really love you.”

I think that was the first time I ever told my father that I loved him.

“What’s wrong,” he asked more firmly, “are you in some sort of trouble?”

“No, I’m not in any trouble at all, I just…”

“This doesn’t sound like you, something must be wrong…”

“No, nothing’s wrong.  I just realized that we rarely talk. Today seemed like as good a day as any to tell you that I appreciate you.”  I had momentarily thought that I would explain to him that I’d attended the event earlier in the day, and let him know that he was part of my exercise.  But somehow, if I did that, I felt it would diminish what I was saying to my father, that it was some sort of school assignment or exercise.  Rather than regard it as something genuine coming from me, he would think that I was in the clutches of some sort of controlling cult and was just acting out their dictates.  This had to be real. This had to be from me, because I wanted to communicate these things to him.

“Well, OK,” he responded.  He paused, and said, “Are you coming over for dinner?”

“No, not tonight, but I’ll see you tomorrow.”

It was the beginning of a thaw in our relationship.  There was not an instant turnaround in the way we related to each other, but slowly, slowly, I began to view him as a distinct individual, and slowly, I could tell that he did the same with me.

 

Later, I told Dolores how my father reacted.

“That sounds just like your father,” she laughed.   We both found the exchange hillarious, and we could not stop laughing about it. 

We went to dinner that night and we continued to talk about my father’s suspicious nature, and we laughed like children.  It felt very good to laugh with Dolores.  It was a light time, and somehow, laughing together made us closer.  It also shifted the focus from problems in our relationship to my father’s character, and in that moment, it was a good thing.

Memorial Day — A tale about Death

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MEMORIAL DAY 1998 – A Tale about Death

An excerpt from “’Til Death Do Us Part?” a book by Christopher Nyerges, available on Kindle, or from www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.

It was Memorial Day 1998 – 20 years ago – when I had scheduled to conduct a wild food outing at Pasadena’s Hahamongna Watershed Park.  Since it was Memorial Day, my topic for a short discussion at the end of the outing was “death.” 

It was a cool and overcast day as participants for the wild food outing gathered in the parking area of the park.  Among the half-dozen participants who showed up for the outing was Martin Kruse, a bearded, burly bear of a man who looked like he’d be more at home in the 19th century.  He introduced himself and told me that he’d long wanted to meet me, that we both wrote for many of the same publications and had many friends in common, such as Ron Hood.  Martin and I chatted as the other outing participants listened, and he told me about his work with archery and primitive bow-making. 

We walked down in the flat area of the large expanse of the park, where the wet mud had hardened, capturing countless animal tracks.  Martin told us how to differentiate between coyote and dog tracks.  He identified crow and other birds, showed us how to recognize the tracks of squirrel and rabbit.  He’d obviously done a lot of tracking during his time hunting with a bow. 

I later learned from Martin’s father that this was a favorite place of Martin’s when he was much younger.  He’d come here and spend a week or two and study nature and tracks and practice with his bow.  When we saw the deer tracks, Martin showed us how the deer’s hind foot had stepped into its own track just laid by its front foot.  Martin said that only the female walks this way, that the male’s gait is different.  He told us that the size of the hoof print meant it was a female deer about a year and a half old.  I could tell that Martin enjoyed telling us all about the track. 

After walking throughout the flat area, I led the way back to the oak trees where I would share my lesson.  Within seconds, someone in the rear called out.  Martin had fallen.   I first thought it was a joke, and ran to him.  It was no joke.  His face already looked purple.  The man who had been walking with him said he’d not tripped — he just fell.  You could tell by his hand position that he didn’t trip.  I tried to rouse him, but it was quickly obvious that he was “out.” 

Several of us moved Martin into what we assumed would be a more comfortable position, and that wasn’t easy!  Martin was a big guy.  And then — since I was the only one who knew the area — I ran to a phone to call 911.  This was before the days of ubiquitous cell phones.  Within 10 minutes,  before I even got back to the group and Martin’s flat body — paramedics from the City of Pasadena were on the scene, attempting to revive him. They all worked like a highly-coordinated team, speaking among themselves only briefly and in terms we didn’t understand.  They were what we call a “well-oiled machine.”  They carried him into the ambulance and took him away. 

I could tell that the remainder of the outing participants were in varying degrees of shock.  It had all been like a dream, and now Martin was gone.  We discussed the merits and pitfalls of the modern medical system, and whether there was more we could have done to help Martin. We discussed whether we thought Martin would revive or not.

So there we stood in the cool afternoon breeze, contemplating death in the most sobering manner possible.  I explained to everyone my death lesson — which hardly seemed appropriate now.  I didn’t talk everyone through the intended exercise — I just explained a process that I’d done many times on Memorial Day.  [The details of that exercise can be found in my “Til Death Do Us Part?” book – I’ll send anyone an e-version who wants one.]

Each person commented how “coincidental” it was that the lecture topic that I’d chosen for the day, and listed on the schedule, was “Death.”  We kept reflecting on Martin.  At that moment, none of us knew yet that Martin would not recover, that he had in fact died, and that he died in a place he loved.  Nor had we known that Martin had a heart pacer, and an artery to his heart that was narrow.  We were aware that he’d had surgery — probably to the heart — because we opened his shirt and saw the scar. 

A German woman who’d been on the outing, Walti, told me that we should not feel sad. 

“It was quick,” she told me later. “What better place to die.”  I could not help but agree with her.  Martin’s death was apparently sudden, and his last memory would have been looking at the willows and the rushing stream and the cloudy sky and the sand flats of the Hahamongna Watershed Park.  In his final moments, he was surrounded with friends that he’d only met that day, trail compadres who shared a common love of the outdoors, all brought together at this time and this place to witness his passing.

Though I barely knew him, I felt closer to him in death.

           

Later, I told Dolores about this when I got home.  I was a bit shaken by the experience.  In fact, it was not until late that night that I learned the name of who had died on my outing.  Yes, he’d told me his name when he arrived, but so did a dozen other people who’d I’d just met that day.  By calling around to the fire department and to the hospital, I learned Martin’s identity, and I managed to figure out his phone number through process of elimination in my phone log.  Of course, I was partly worried about legal ramifications.  It was Martin’s wife who told me that Martin died doing what he loved doing, and that it was probably the best of all possible outcomes that he died in that manner.  She also said that the family felt Martin was living on “borrowed time,” that they felt he should have died (according to what the doctors said) five years earlier. 

A few days later, Dolores and I and a few others were discussing this incident, and wondering about the series of choices that brought Martin to me on his last day. 

Dolores seemed very thoughtful about all this, and said that possibly Martin’s Doer (his spiritual Self) knew that his body was going to die.  Coming to my outdoor outing brought him into contact with my Doer, my spiritual Self, which could have been a final uplifting act, whether or not each of us realized it. 

Dolores was never one who engaged in flattery, and she always kept me humble.  She knew that we were not perfect and that we had a long way to go.  Yet, we continued to work at and struggle on the Spiritual Path of  perfection and evolution.  It was always “fall down seven times, get up eight times.”  In our perspective of a morally-bankrupt, and spiritually dark world, we did feel that we (including our “spiritual family”) represented a light in the darkness.  Yes, often a flickering, barely noticeable light, but a light nevertheless.  It is to that Light that Dolores believed Martin was coming to, and it was with that desire that he took his final breath.  And that was good for Martin.

Zorthians: Memories of Altadena’s eclectic couple

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Serendipity, and Reflections Upon Life:

COMMENTARY ABOUT DABNEY AND JIRAYR ZORTHIAN,

Altadena’s most eclectic couple

[Nyerges is a naturalist and outdoor educator. He is the author of “Extreme Simplicity,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” “Foraging California,” and other books. He can be reached at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com].

It was just one of those days. I had a few hours before my next appointment, and I was driving towards the direction of home and there was the cemetery where my parents had been buried. I hadn’t said “hello” for some months, so I pulled in and began looking for the spot.  Right away things looked a little different. A road had actually been removed and it was the road that took me right to their tombstone.  So I had to drive a little further away, as I was a bit disconcerted.  And a movie was being made with the various lights and crew, a distraction from my inner communion with my parents.

Still, after some guesswork and wandering, I found the tombstone and kneeled before them to chat a bit. As usual, I just shared some news and thoughts that were swirling in my mind. My mother seemed to respond first, as if she was more alert. Conversation ensued.  My father slowly awoke, and passively joined the conversation.  Was this all in my mind? Who cares? It was real enough to me, to be there with my memories of them, to feel their presence, to listen to what I think they would have said.

I sprinkled some sage on their stones, and then I walked back erratically to my car, always amazed at the diversity of tombstones and messages over such a long period of time.  I understood the solitude, and the sacredness, of the cemetery, this place of timelessness where the dead and the living meet.  Regardless of whatever hurly-burley is happening in my life, in the cemetery I realize that the physical life has its limits, and will one day end.

THE ZORTHIAN TOMBSTONE

Nearly to my car, I happened upon the tombstone of two old friends, Dabney and Jirayr Zorthian.  I knew Dabney much better, for she often attended my field trips and we would have long conversations after Jirayr died.  I knew Jirayr most through his reputation, and from our many phone conversations.   Why had I happened upon their grave this day?

For those of you unfamiliar with the Zorthian family, Mr. Zorthian had long been considered the most famous eccentric artist of Altadena, and the parties held at their sprawling foothill property were legendary.  Everyone has a story about the Zorthians.

The “last words” engraved next to Dabney’s name were “I want to know.”  What a perfect thing to express!  I want to know.  She didn’t state that she wanted to know a specific this or that, just   that she wanted to Know!  The quest for knowledge, and the drive to do more and try more, was such a signature of Dabney’s.  In our conversations, she often asked many questions, always listened sincerely, truly trying to learn and to know.  Our conversations seemed like true communing, unlike so many of today’s conversations where one party is not listening and is just waiting for the talker to stop so they can say what they are waiting to say.

Jirayr’s tombstone said “Make my heart my mind.” Beautiful!  I took that to mean that Jirayr’s quest was to think with feeling in all that he does.  Even though most of my interactions were somewhat commercial and mundane, I found him to be a creative thinker, thinking outside of the box and finding creative solutions to problems.  

His tombstone carried a second phrase also: “Give me a pleasureful life.” Indeed!  Jirayr didn’t wait for someone to give him such a life, but he pursued pleasure in his art and parties and interactions with other. I don’t believe that he experienced any shortage of pleasures.

Though I doubt anyone would ever inscribe a phrase about pleasure on my tombstone, the fact is that I’m not Jirayr, and it did seem appropriate for him.  As I stared at the phrase, it made me think of all the pros and cons of pursuing pleasure, the excesses of pleasure, but also the simple pleasures of life which money cannot buy.

As I sprinkled some sage on their tombstone, I felt blessed to have had some interaction with one of Altadena’s most unique and eclectic couples.  And I could not help but feel the shortness of life, that one should never wait in the pursuit of knowledge, that one should pursue new knowledge with every breath, and that one should also do so by allowing the heart to be the mind.  In death, Dabney and Jirayr imparted their final lessons to me, and it made me again acknowledge that they indeed had a most wonderful life.

Getting to Know the LOQUAT

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LOQUAT (Eriobotrya japonica)

[Nyerges is the author of “Nuts and Berries of California,” “Foraging California,” and other books. He also leads regular field trips to learn about the uses of wild plants. He can be reached at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]

The loquat, also sometimes known as the Japanese medlar,  is one of those fruits that seems to be everywhere, and most of it just gets eaten by birds or falls to the ground and rots.  This smallish tree – perhaps up to 15 feet tall —  produces some of the earliest fruit each spring.  The plant is somewhat common in California, and fortunately, more and more people are getting to know it, and more importantly, more and more people are beginning to value this sweet fruit.

Loquat’s native home is China, Japan, and North India, this evergreen’s leaves are broad, and pointed at the end, averaging about 8 inches in length.  Each leaf  is darker green on the upper surface, and the under surface is lighter green, with a characteristic wooly surface.

The tree produces white flowers in the late autumn, and its golden-yellow fruits are often abundant on the trees.  The small oblong fruits can be about two inches long, give or take. The flesh is sweet and free of fibre, and each fruit contains a few large brown seeds.  The flavor is sweet, but with a slight sour tang. They’re a bit addicting once you get used to them.  The fruit is high in Vitamin A, dietary fibre, manganese, and potassium.

If the tree is cultivated in your yard, you can produce some bigger fruits by simply irrigating and fertilizing. If the trees are just allowed to go wild, the fruits tend to get smaller each year, though still delicious.  Sometimes in our local wild areas, you can see where someone stopped to have lunch and then spit out the brown seeds, which readily sprout. 

I think loquats are great simply chilled and eaten fresh.  You can remove the seeds, and serve a bunch of the fruit with some ice cream.

If you’re on the trail and you happen upon some loquat trees in fruit at the time, just stop and enjoy a few!  They make a great refreshing trail snack.

Once the large seeds are removed, the flesh is sweet and tender and can be readily made into jams or pie fillings.  Just use a recipe that you already know and life for some other fruit, like peaches, and substitute loquats for the peaches.  You’ll find that these make an excellent jam or jelly.

Sometimes you’ll see loquat jam or jelly at local stores or farmers’ markets.  Mary Sue Eller, who is a professional cook who sells loquat jelly at the Highland Park and other farmers markets, shared with me her recipes, which is printed in my “Nuts and Berries of California” book.  She starts with four cups of fresh loquats, which she washes and deseeds.  She puts them into a pot with a little water, 1 to 2 cups of sugar (depending on the desired sweetness), and the juice of one lemon. She cooks it all until it gets thick, and then puts them into sterilized jars.  Eller suggests that first-time canners research all the details of such canning (in a book or website) before doing this.

It’s pretty easy to grow new loquat trees, and they will produce fruit in a few years.  Though they’re drought tolerant, they will still produce better fruit if they are watered somewhat regularly and fertilized with some regularity.

  

The leaves of the loquat are used in Chinese medicine to make cough syrup. The demulcent effect of the leaves soothes the respiratory and digestive systems.

Plants Gone Wild: a look at “Nuts and Berries of California.”

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PLANTS GONE WILD
about my “Nuts and Berries of California” book 
[Nyerges is the author of “Nuts and Berries of California,” and several other foraging books. Information about his books and classes is available at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.]

In my “Nuts and Berries of California” book, I describe native nuts and berries that have long histories of use by Native Americans throughout California and North America. 
Many generations of rural Americans grew up collecting nuts and berries as a family tradition: going out to collect black walnuts, hickory nuts, pine nuts, blackberries, wild strawberries, and other foods from the forest.  These are some of the foods that people from just a few generations ago took for granted.
I also include many of the introduced ornamental plants in my book which  seem to have firmly established themselves in California.  They are not natives, but they are everywhere anyway.
I wondered, what should we call these plants?  We thought of calling them FUN  plants, for “Feral Urban Neighborhood” plants, but that seemed to convey a misleading message, that introducing non-natives is somehow fun or good or desirable. 
HIP VS. “hip”
HIP seems to be the best term, for Horticulturally Introduced Plants.  The thing is, when these introduced exotics were planted, it was often because the gurus of horticulture of the day were pronouncing them as the greatest new thing since sliced bread.  Grow these bushes and  trees and you too will be hip!  Really!  And lots of people fell for that idea. This is the “in” plant to grow this season, and then yards and backyards fill up with new “hip” plants with great colors and much to talk about at dinner parties. Sometimes the new hip and HIP plants are edible and useful, sometimes not – as in the case of oleanders.
And just like the idol-worshippers who adore the newest rock star of the season, when a new one comes around, the old one is forgotten. Maybe forgotten, but all the HIP “hip” plants are still here, hip or not, and often they expand their habitat into wild areas.
And since we’re calling these plants HIP, it’s worth commenting on the “rose hip,” which is the common way of referring to the fruit of a rose. I am not sure how the term “hip” came to mean fruit, but one theory is that the ovary of the flower become the fruit, and the enlarged fruit might seem visually similar to a woman’s hips.  Hmmmm.  If that were the case, why isn’t every fruit called a hip?

Regardless, the rose is one of the unique plants in this book since there is a native rose (and so we included it with the native plants) but there are also many HIP roses.  HIP roses are probably in everyone’s yard, which are the commercial hybrids with multiple petals of all  hues of the rainbow.  Our wild rose is not a HIP!
The plants in the HIP section of my book are not what we’d call “wild” plants.  These are bushes and trees that have been widely planted for landscaping, street, or yard trees, which sometimes survive well when they are no longer tended.  All of these are commonly used as ornamentals, though the fruits are typically allowed to fall to the grown and then discarded as if they were just trash. 
I have observed every one of these plants in wilderness areas where cabins once existed. After the cabins were destroyed by  fires or floods, these plants survived for years and decades with no human intervention.  These are survivors. And, that means that if we grow these plants, they can provide us with food with very little work and care.  Furthermore, they are probably already growing in or near your neighborhood, just waiting for you to discover and to appreciate them.
Some cultivated plants, which can also survive on their own, are just so common that we decided not to try to include all of them.  Such as citrus, for example.
Rather, we’re including many of the ornamentals which are common, but are either not commonly known, and not commonly used for food.  They are HIP, but not necessarily hip…….
 Some of the very common HIP plants included in the book are ficus trees (figs), loquats, mulberries, pyracantha, olives, ginkgo, and others. 
Watch this space in the coming weeks, and I’ll talk about many of these individually.

NETTLES: all about this valuable herb

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ENJOY THE DELICIOUS NETTLE:

An excellent food, medicine, and fibre source

[Nyerges is the author of “Guide to Wild Foods,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Foraging California” and others.  He has led Wild Food Outings since 1974, and he lectures and writes on natural sciences and ethno-botany widely. His website is www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.Nyerges.com, or he can be reached at School of Self-Reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041]

This year, our rains came late, and many of the early spring natives and exotics hardly grew up at all. There was an abundance of chickweed, various mustards, mallow, and nettles this year, all non-natives and all very nutritious.

At one of my hiking spots, I noticed last week that there were contract city workers around our parks with their weed whackers beginning their annual decimation of the useful foods and herbs that have sustained millennia of people, just for the picking.  This is part of our culture’s current schitzophrenia – we talk “green” and how we want to be healthy and save ourselves and save the earth, yet, the very plants that can save us are weed-whacked, sprayed with Roundup, and tossed into the trashcans.  I can’t change the world, but I did tell my friends to collect all the herbs they are able to get before they are all cut down. 
city workers weed-whacking chickweed and nettle

Of course, I understand the other side – city officials don’t want nettles growing around parks where children might sting themselves.  Never mind that the sting can actually be a benefit to offset future arthritis — the city doesn’t want the liability.  So, at this time of the year, vast acreages of nettles and other useful wild plants are cut down and unceremoniously poisoned and killed. Did I also mention that these very plants can be purchased in decorative boxes in the herb section of Whole Foods and other such markets?

This year, I have collected large volumes of chickweed, mallow, hedge mustard, and nettle.  Most of it I dry.  I used the powdered chickweed in an insect repellent, the mallow for a mild cough remedy, and the hedge mustard makes a spicey powder to add to other dishes.  But the nettle is the one that I can never get enough of.
nettle in the field
washing the nettle
drying racks

some chickweed too!

Often during this time of the year, I get an allergic reaction when I’ve been under and around the trees that produces lots of pollen and cottony-fluff, like willows, and cottonwoods, and cattail, and oak.  I’ve tried numerous remedies over the  years to combat the allergy, but all with limited success. It just won’t work to stay out of the woods.

Here are some of the many ways I used the nettle greens:   I make an infusion of the nettle leaves (dried or fresh) for allergy, and I drink it pretty regularly in the evenings.  It has helped to relieve congestion and improve my ability to breathe.  It seems to work even better than my old standby, Mormon tea.

I also add the fresh, dried, or frozen nettle greens into my evening soup.   The soup is  enjoyable and tasty.  In fact, nettle is one of the tastiest wild greens out there, and widely under-rated.

Sometimes I just cook nettle greens like spinach, and I even drink the water because it is so flavorful. I add it to various soups and stews, egg dishes and omelettes, and even burritos.

Sometimes, if I want a quick meal, I’ll make a package of ramen noodles, and add lots of nettle and onion greens.  I’ve also added the dried or fresh leaves of nettle to spaghetti sauce.  Powdered, I’ve added nettles to pancake batter to increase the protein content and improve the flavor or the pancakes.  I’ve not yet tried making pasta with nettles, but a friend of mine routinely dries and powders various wild greens, mixes it 50/50 with flour, and runs it through a pasta machine to make some unique pastas.

Years ago, I would periodically meet people who survived the hardships of World War II, and among other things, they spoke of how nettles saved their lives.  Usually, they would say that nettles and cattails, two widespread common plants, had enabled them to make meals. Until recently, I thought they were exaggerating because I hadn’t been aware of the versatility of nettles, and how it’s really a nutritional powerhouse.

 

ALL ABOUT NETTLES

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioeca) is a fairly common plant throughout most of North America, as well most of the rest of the world.  It is one of the plants that you always see on the charts of “noxious weeds” published by companies such as Ortho and others, letting you know that their product will effectively wipe out these “worthless plants” in your gardens.

The reason why so many people dislike stinging nettles is because when you brush up against it, you break off the tips of tiny hollow needles that are filled with formic acid, and you get a stinging reaction. This reaction is short-lived, and can be remedied by rubbing the skin  with chickweed or curly dock, or even wild grasses.

Nutritionally, nettles is a good source of Vitamin C and A.  According to the USDA’s Composition of Foods, 100 grams of nettle contains 6,500 I.U. of Vitamin A, and 76 mg. of Vitamin C.  This amount contains 481 mg. of calcium, 71 mg. of phosphorus, and 334 mg. of potassium. This amount also contains 5.5 grams of protein, a lot for greens, though not complete protein.

Herbalist Michael Moore, author of Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West, describes nettles as a diuretic and astringent, and he advices the tea for use in cases of internal bleeding. 

In general, nettles are found growing in the wild near streams, in moist soil, in rich soil, and often near raspberries and blackberry vines.  And in the urban areas, it seems to grow everywhere: along roads, in fields, backyards, gardens, and at the Highland Park Farmers Market, I’ve found it growing in the cracks of the sidewalk.

If you cannot yet recognize the wild nettle plant, most gardeners or landscapers should be able to show you one. Or go to a nursery, where nettles are often growing in their pots and soil.  

Life on the Navajo Reservation During the Depression

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THE WINDS ERASE YOUR FOOTPRINTS

A book by Shiyowin Miller

One of the books that came out of my family was “The Winds Erase Your Footprints,” written by my wife Dolores’ mother, Shiyowin Miller.  Shiyowin, who was part Osage, was immersed in Native American culture. I remember visiting her home in Temple City, which seemed like an Indian museum with a full library, drums, pots, and artifacts from all over the country.  Shiyowin had been a music and dance teacher, and was a professional dancer. She knew Iron Eyes Cody, and worked with Luther Standing Bear, a Lakota Sioux who wrote “My People the Sioux” and other books. Luther adopted Shiyowin, and let her act as his agent for his various books and other legal matters. It brought the past alive to me when I was able to see and feel the pipes, sandals, robe, and other materials that Standing Bear had given to Shiyowin.

Shiyowin also had many friends from the Navajo lands. In the 1930’s, Shiyowin’s best friend, Juanita, fell in love with a Navajo man, Luciano, who’d been working as an extra in Hollywood.  Juanita and Luciano got married, and moved back to Luciano’s Navajo lands in New Mexico. Shiyowin kept in touch with Juanita, and wrote about the experiences that Luciano and Juanita underwent on the reservation, during the Depression when there was so little work.

To write the book, Shiyowin had interviewed her best friend to write this true story of the harsh life in the Navajo lands during the 1930s. It’s a wonderfully-told story, written mostly during the 1950s and ‘60s. Shiyowin died in 1983, and when Shiyo’s daughter, Dolores (my wife) showed me the manuscript in the late 1990s, I was amazed at the quality and depth of the story, and could barely believe it had not been published. To me, it was like reading a Tony Hillerman novel, except it was true!

Everyone said that the book accurately depicted life on the Rez during that time, mixed in with some accounts of Navajo witchcraft.  With some editing, Dolores and I got the book published in 2002 by Naturegraph Press, which features many Native American titles.  If you do an internet search with the book’s title, you’ll see some of the reviews that have been published about this book. 

The story was descriptive, compelling, and you feel as if you are re-experiencing the harsh winds, the life in the Hogan making coffee, the search for work, and all the ceremonies and gatherings that were a part of the Navajo way of life.  The books, which was 335 pages when published, also contained hints and clues in the backdrop about Navajo witchcraft, and the ma-itso, the wolf clan which was feared by most.

The freak death of Luciano was generally attributed to the work of the ma-itso, and Shiyowin gives the clues in bits and pieces, in the way that Tony Hillerman so masterfully slowly revealed his mysteries.

The following excerpts from THE WINDS ERASE YOUR FOOTPRINTS are Copyright  and may not be re-printed without permission of the publisher.

from chapter 7: The Sing

And then Shimah was telling him about the yellow pollen. Juanita could almost follow the story by her mother-in-law’s excited gestures. Shimah’s face was strong and tense, no room for gentleness, and her voice carried a new undertone–like fear. Only her hands seemed natural, although excited, as she gestured. Strange that Shimah should tell about the yellow pollen, rather than ask the rider about himself, about news which he was surely carrying. Of what interest could the yellow pollen be to him?

But he was interested. He leaned forward as though better to hear her words; his eyes narrowed and his face looked very grave. He asked many questions. Shimah answered and sometimes Yee-ke-nes-bah. Through their conversation one word seemed to repeat itself until it began to echo and re-echo in Juanita’s mind: ma-itso . . . ma-itso.

…And then Lorencito began to talk seriously to Luciano; Juanita heard the work ma-itso repeated

again and again. Shimah sat nodding her head as her oldest son talked, occasionally adding a word to what he was saying. Luciano turned to Juanita; his face was marked with gravity as was his older

brother’s. “Lorencito says that it is not safe to keep this from you any longer; I should tell you now.”

Juanita waited. Her mouth and throat felt suddenly dry. She could not have spoken. Her thoughts

raced: this is in some way connected, ma-itso and yellow pollen. Perhaps it’s all connected, all of the puzzling and unexplained things that have happened. And somehow, the looks on their faces, Shimah’s and Lu’s, Yee-ke-nes-bah’s and Lorencito’s, are a little bit frightening.

“Before we came here,” her husband began, “when I tried to tell you about everything which might seem strange to you, I didn’t tell you about ma-itso–the wolf clan. One reason, it no longer seemed as believable to me as it once had; perhaps all the years in school did that; anyhow, in Hollywood I seldom thought of it. When we came here, my mother told me the wolf clan was still strong in Cañoncito. I didn’t tell you then because I could see no reason why they would try to harm us. But to be sure you were safe, my mother and sisters watched you every minute.

“There were times when I almost told you, those times when you were upset about things you didn’t understand. And yet I hated to frighten you needlessly. Already there was so much for you to worry about. It seemed better to wait until I had a job, until we were living in town and then tell you. “But now two things have happened which make me sure the ma-itso is for some reason after us. I found yellow pollen in an X mark on my hat brim, and today my mother found pollen on our clothes. That is their warning. Lorencito thinks you will be safer if you know about this evil thing.”    A hundred questions sprang to Juanita’s lips, but her husband went on talking, interrupted now and then by Lorencito or his mother.

“The wolf clan is as old as the Navajo tribe. From the beginning some men turned certain powers, which should have been used for good, toward evil things. Corn pollen, used for blessing, is used by the ma-itso as a warning to a person marked for death. And death does not come in a usual manner; it comes in a round-about way which cannot be easily traced. The victim sickens suddenly; sometimes his mind leaves him. No Medicine Man can cure him. Sometimes the victim meets with a mysterious and fatal accident.       

from chapter 13: Wolf Tracks

Juanita had hung up two diapers when she became suddenly aware of something across the arroyo. When she looked carefully nothing seemed unusual; in the dim light she could see the sharp banks of the arroyo, the clumps of juniper in dark patches on the other side. Then gradually, two of the dark juniper patches began to take on the indistinct forms of dogs sitting on their haunches.

That was what imagination would do for you. She even thought now that she could see the large

pointed ears. Juanita smiled to herself. This must be what Lu had seen, the queer-shaped juniper

bushes. They looked surprisingly like coyotes, only larger. The likeness had even startled her for a

moment and her mind had certainly not been on wolves or wolf tracks. She pulled her eyes away and began resolutely to hang up more diapers.

A sudden movement, one dark figure detaching itself from the other and moving farther down the arroyo, a third form appearing almost directly across from her on the opposite bank. Juanita stood absolutely still. There was no sound except the flapping of the clothes on the line.

When Juanita reached the kitchen door, she called to her husband to bring the shotgun. “Those

figures that you saw are out there again.” This couldn’t be her voice, tight and choked.

Two of the dark forms were loping off down the arroyo when Luciano reached the bank, but the

third sat directly across from him like a very large coyote on its haunches. Luciano raised his gun and fired directly at it. The animal seemed to gather itself into a ball and plunge down the bank of the arroyo–across the wide, sandy bed.

“Lu! Watch out! It’s coming for you.”

He raised the gun to fire again …      

from chapter 20: The Wolf Hunt

“What do you know about this wolf hunt?” Juanita finally asked.

“Something has been stealing lambs this spring; the dogs bark but when the men get out to the sheep corral there’s nothing around.” Alice paused to consult Pah-des-bah.

Now that she thought of it, Ginger and Bob had been restless for a few nights. The dogs had

awakened them once, howling, and Luciano had gone outside to look around.

“There’s nothing out there,” he had said upon returning. “Bob must have started baying at the moon and now Ginger’s doing it.”

Alice began to cut potatoes into chunks; they fell plop, plop, plop into the pan. “Richard Platero

heard something around his corral last night and took his rifle with him when he left the hoghan. He saw what he thought at first was a shadow. When it moved he fired at it. It got away. He couldn’t trail it last night so he started out early this morning. The tracks were wolf tracks. When he met Pah-des-bah’s husband, they talked about it and decided to get some of the other men to go with them.”

Juanita cut the stew meat into small pieces and dropped them into the boiling water of the stew kettle. Coyotes ran near Cañoncito. Early mornings she had heard the weird yelping cries of coyotes from the direction of Apache Wash. They could have been stealing lambs. …

Alice listened for a moment. “They’ve been following the wolf tracks, and the trail doubled back

several times but always went ahead again. Then they lost it on a ledge of rock on one of the mesas.” She pointed north with her lips. “One of the men found a spot of blood below the ledge.”

Alice paused to listen again, and then the women began to talk in low voices and move away from the doorway as the men separated and went back to their horses.

“The men said the nearest hoghan was Wounded Head’s on that same mesa. They rode up there to ask him if he had seen anything or anyone that morning.”

Juanita started back to the washing machine, a frown puckering her forehead.

“Wounded Head’s wife met them at the door of the hoghan; her son stood beside her. The men could not see past them. She would not let them in. She said her husband was very sick. A horse had kicked him.”

Excitement spread through the whole community. Some of the men began to carry guns–rifles across their saddles or old revolvers in their belts. The women who gathered in the day school kitchen or sat outside around the back door talked together in low voices. But no one rode again to Wounded Head’s place on the mesa.

A fascinating glimpse of Navajo life during the depression through the eyes of one woman. The Winds Erase Your Footprints is available from the store at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com, or from Amazon.

In Search of the Real Historical Jesus

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“Easter,” and the man behind it….

In Search of the Real Historical Jesus

[Nyerges is an educator, and author of such books as “Extreme Simplicity,” “Enter the Forest,” and “Self-Sufficient Home.”  You can learn more about his classes and activities at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]


Jesus!  What a man he was!  Perhaps the most amazing thing about Jesus – a man who is known and worshipped by at least a third of all humanity, and around whom our system of reckoning time revolves – is that there is still so much debate about who he was, what he did, how he lived, and what he believed.  Hundreds of differing sects are stark testament to the fact that though Jesus might have had “one message,” that message has been widely interpreted over the centuries.

Let’s work through some basics. As an historical person, he can be placed in a specific time and location.    All historians concede that they do not know the birthday of Jesus, but it’s not Christmas day.  Most scholars suggest that Jesus was born in either April or September, in 4 B.C. or 6 B.C.

“Jesus” was not his name, just the English rendering of Yeshua. Did he have a full name? Yes, of course, and it was not “Jesus Christ,” which is a title, meaning Jesus the Christ, or Jesus the Annointed.  Historians say that the actual name was Yeshua ben Josephus, that is, Jesus son of Joseph.  Another version says it is Yeshua ben Pandirah, Jesus son of the Panther.   In Indian literature, he is referred to as Yuz Asaf, in the Koran he is Isa (or Issa).   

WAS JESUS BLACK?

Ethnically, culturally, and religiously, he was Jewish.  But occasionally, a writer will suggest that Jesus was actually black, with such evidence as the preponderance of the “Black Madonnas” found throughout Europe.  The only Biblical evidence on this are the two lineages of Jesus provided, which uncharacteristically include women.

The key genealogies of Jesus listed in the Bible are Luke 3: 23-31, and Matthew 1:1-17.  In these lineages, we are told of at least four of the women in Jesus’ genealogical line.  These are Rehab, Ruth, Tamar, and Bathsheba.  Rehab (also spelled Rahab) was a Canaanite.  Tamar was probably a Canaanite.  Bethsheba, often referred to as a Hittite, was more likely Japhethic, that is, not a descendant of Ham. (However, this is not clear).   Ruth was in the line of Ham. Now, who was Ham?  Who were the Canaanites and Hittites? 

According to Genesis 9:19, all mankind descended from  Noah’s three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.  Ham’s descendants became the black people who settled in Africa, and parts of the Arabian peninsula.  His sons were Cush, whose descendants settled in Ethiopia, Mizraim, whose descendants settled in Egypt, Put, whose descendants settled in Libya, and Canaan, whose descendants settled in Palestine. The descendants of Cush were the main populace of the Cushite Empire, which extended from western Libya to Ethiopia and Nubia, all of present day Egypt, and the Arabian peninsula into the mountains of Turkey.  They spoke several languages and had skin pigmentation ranging from dark black to medium brown. 

It takes a bit of study to ascertain who these people were – and there were other possible African women in Jesus’ lineage as well – but, in general, when we are speaking of Cushites, Canaanites, descendants of Ham, etc., we are speaking of Africans.  It is entirely possible that this wasn’t a big deal when the scriptures were written since Jesus’ racial background was common knowledge.

So, although Jesus had some African ancestry, his physical appearance was such that he fit right in with the Jews of that era, based on  several passages that indicate that Jesus not only looked like every one else of the day, but was also very average and normal looking Middle-Easterner, not sticking out at all. 

THE EARLY YEARS

The Bible speak of the young Jesus talking to the Rabbis in the Temple, sharing his youthful wisdom with the elders to the surprise of his parents.  Then there is no Biblical record of what he did as a teenager, and during his 20s.  We don’t hear from his again in the Bible until his appearance on the scene at about age 30, where he turned water into wine at a wedding feasts, and is depicted as a healer, prophet, and fisher of men. 

His religious observations would have been the regular observations for Jews of the day, and quite different from the observations of most Christian sects today.  The reasons for this are well-known.  The early Christians were known as Judeo-Christians (Jews who followed the Christ), and as the new religion became more and more encompassing, it eventually became Christianity by the 4th Century. In order to attract ever-more followers, Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Kingdom, and Christianized all the popular Mythraic (so-called Pagan) observations and turned them into Christian Holy Days.  Catholocism, after all, means Universalist.

Growing up as a Catholic, I studied Jesus, and wanted to be holy like him. I wanted to be like Jesus — but what did that really mean?  There was so much about this person that was beyond my ability to research.  For example, what Holy Days would Jesus have observed? Was he an Essene?  Was he a Nazarene? What did these groups believe and practice? Did he have any Buddhist influence?  Who were his closest followers, the apostles?  What did he actually teach his close followers, beyond what is known from his various public talks?  Were his miracles and public healings actual events, or were they symbolic stories?  These and other questions have always swirled around this man called Jesus.

As a student of the real and historical Jesus, here are just a few of the many books I have found to be useful.

Garner Ted Armstrong of the Worldwide Church of God in Pasadena, wrote a book about the “Real Jesus,” and Jesus was described as a hard-working, athletic, health-food eating powerful man, a sort of health advocate Gypsy Boots of the past. But certainly Jesus was much more than that.

Holger Kersten in his “Jesus Lived in India” book presents a very different Jesus, one who is depicted on the Shroud of Turin, and one who traveled to India and studied from the Buddhists. In fact, the way in which the holy men of the Bible sought and found the baby Jesus is very much of the pattern of the holy men of Tibet seeking and finding the next Dali Lama, and Kersten puts Jesus in that very same pattern. 

Manly Hall, who founded Los Angeles’ Philosophical Research Society, writes that the patterns of all historical saviors (he cites at least 16) include more or less the same elements.  But Hall is less concerned about historical facts than he is in demonstrating that there is an extant prototype of human spiritual evolution.

According to Harold Percival in his “Thinking and Destiny” book, Jesus succeeded in re-uniting his Doer and Thinker and Knower, his internal trinity, which put him in touch with his divinity, which made him, effectively, a God.  Though Percival’s terminology is unfamiliar to most Christians, he is less concerned about the historical details of Jesus and more concerned about what Jesus did, and became, that made him a focal point of most societies on earth over the last 2000 years. According to Percival, the virgin birth, the miracles, and the resurrection should all be studied to find the inner meanings for our own individual evolution.

There is also a silly but interesting book that purports to show that Jesus was never a person but actually a hallucinogenic mushroom.  Don’t bother reading it. Another book suggests that there was no Jesus, that he is just a made-up person as a metaphor of astrological principles. Really?

I believe it is unwise (and incorrect) to suggest that a Jesus never existed because of the way his followers centuries later chose to remember him, and continued to overlay so many symbols onto the historical person.

Jesus lived, and it is not reasonable to assume that the stories of such a great one arose from mere myth or fabrication. Such a person lived, and his influence of what he did and said affected many people.

Regardless of your religious background or belief, you are likely to be richly rewarded by delving deeply into the nuances of who Jesus was.  When everyone’s mind is upon Jesus and the Mysteries during the Easter season, I have found great value in viewing the “Jesus of Nazareth” series, and I even find value in such depictions as “Jesus Christ Superstar.”  Unlike so many who purport to follow in his path, I find the real Jesus one who was not dogmatic, but one who knew that only when we recognize each other’s humanity do we rise up into our own divinities.

 According to Holger Kersten, “Jesus did not supply theories to be ground in the mills of academia, about his path and message – he just lived his teachings!  Tolerance, unprejudiced acceptance of others, giving and sharing, the capacity to take upon oneself the burdens of others, in other words, unlimited love in action and service for one’s fellow human beings – this is the path which Jesus showed to salvation.”

                                    30 

Wild Food Man Peter Gail — GOODBYE!

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[Nyerges is the author of “Extreme Simplicity,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” and other books. He has known Gail for nearly 30 years.]


Wildfood Man Peter Gail died on Valentine’s Day, 2018, in Cleveland.  This is my story about Peter.
(Peter Gail’s books on wild foods and the Amish are available from www.dandyblend.com)


TOURING THE AMISH COUNTRYSIDE with PETER GAIL
It was a grey winter day driving eastbound on US 422 in northeast Ohio with Peter Gail. The clouds made it difficult to see very far into the rural countryside.  The sound of the windshield wipers provided a steady background tempo to our conversation. 

The temperature was in the high 30s, and it was about the same temperature inside Peter’s  van. I was tense from the cold, hunched a bit, trying to stay warm.  I’m  from California. Peter was relaxed, smiling, pointing out each feature as we drove  along.  He’s a Cleveland resident and used to the cold. On this day he was my tourguide to the Amish countryside of Ohio.

Peter Gail’s most famous business associate was Euell Gibbons, who authored Stalking the Wild Asparagus and starred in Grape Nuts cereal commercials  in the 1970s, making him  the butt of comedians jokes about eating  everything from old tires to freeway overpasses. 

That was a long time ago. During those years, Gail edited Gibbons’ articles for Boys Life magazine, and worked with him and others to develop the National Wilderness Survival Training Camp for the Boy Scouts. Together they developed and taught a foraging course at Rutgers University in New Jersey. When Gibbons had become nationally famous from the commercials and Johnny Carson’s jokes, and was overbooked, Gail occasionally substituted for him on the lecture circuit.   

Gibbons died way back in 1975 — no, not from eating a poisonous plant! — and Peter Gail  has tirelessly carried the torch for wild food enthusiasts.

Though Gail has made no cereal commercials, he has appeared on such national TV shows as Good Morning America, Lifetime TV’s “Our Home Show,”  Food TV Networks “Extreme Cuisine, has authored numerous books on the subject of wild foods and related topics, and he continued to lecture about the virtues of the ubiquitous wild plants and those people who still use them as  a part of daily life.

While Gail was best known on the national circuit for his “Dinner Underfoot” and “Healing with Weeds” lectures and workshops, locally he was even better known for his work among the Northeastern Ohio Amish community, the 4th largest in the world. As a Ph.D. ethnobotanist and anthropologist, Gail studied the Amish for over 50 years to discover the lessons their simple life style has to teach us.  He interpreted that knowledge in books, articles, and his tours for those interested in learning more about these people who seem firmly  rooted in the technology of a century ago.

Perhaps  Gail’s most popular book is his “Dandelion Celebration”, a book  which tells you everything you’d ever want to know about dandelions.  He’s also authored the “Delightful Delicious Daylily”, “Violets in Your Kitchen,” “The Messy Mulberry and What to do with it”, and “The Volunteer Vegetable Sampler”, which profiles the culinary and medicinal values of  41 of the most common backyard weeds.

The least known of Gail’s pursuits outside of Northern Ohio were the educational field experiences he provided for people curious about the Amish and what they have to teach us.  Several times a month in spring, summer and fall, he would load up a bus or van, and  take people into the heart of the Northeastern Ohio Amish community.  These were day-long affairs, where his  people were treated to a lunch at an Amish home,  told the history and beliefs of the Amish, and then taken to their stores to look at and buy Amish goods.

On one cold day in December, it was just me and Peter.  We turned off the main freeway while it was drizzling, onto a secondary road.  Occasionally I’d spot an Amish farm house — painted white, neat, orderly.  Even though it was drizzling and December, nearly  every farmhouse has a long outside clothes line full of clothes blowing  in the breeze. 

If you’re unfamiliar with the Amish, they use no electricity and shun  most modern so-called conveniences.  This means no electric lights, no electric refrigerators, no television, no CDs–very few  of the modern devices that most folks take for granted.  They  have managed to live their lives, and produce most of their needed  items,  by simple old-fashioned ingenuity.  Wood stoves, oil lamps, use of ice, horse-drawn tractors, building houses in such a way to take advantage of the heat of summer,  and be protected from the cold of winter, large windows near the work areas,  hand tools, and the use of diesel and small gasoline engines to generate power. 

The light rain had let up just a bit, and we turned eastward on a smaller road.   We were in a completely rural area, where the roads were lined by shallow ditches, where  the houses have enough space between them to put an average city block,  and no traffic lights, no street lights, no offensive neon. 

“Have you ever had really good, natural beef jerky?” asked Peter.

“I’m sure I have,” I responded.

“I mean, really good, really  natural?”

“Well, just what I purchased at the market.”

“Wait ’til you try what they sell  here,” smiled Peter.  “There’s nothing like this.”

Before we get to market, we note a farm house with lots of junk  and rusty  tools and cars piled about. 

“That’s not Amish,” Peter said matter-of-factly, nodding towards the rust and the tallish weeds that nearly obscure them.

“One of the major contrasts between the neat, clean Amish places and the ‘Yankees,’ as they call all us non-Amish in this region — is that the Yankees live in that kind of trash — old rusty cars, junk all around their houses.  You won’t see that around the Amish  homes.  We, by the way, are called “English” in most other Amish settlements — it all  depends who the non-Amish settlers were who the Amish encountered when they got to different regions.  Here, they encountered Connecticut Yankees.”

We arrived at the market, a small white store set back just a bit from the road.  It was a very low-key setting.  We get out of the van, put on our coats, and entered the small store.  It was a meat market, and it smelled really good. In the deli counter, I saw varieties of cheeses, and lots of cuts of meats. Peter talked with the bearded Amish man wearing a white, blood-stained apron, as if they have known each other for years. (I later learn that in fact they actually had known each other for 20 years)  They exchange a bit of news, who’s gotten married, who died, how’s business. I stand there quietly, listening, taking it all in, considering how out-of-place this simple conversation would be in any  of today’s jam-packed modern supermarkets.  But it is all very simple, very natural, the  way people were meant to interact. 

“It’s over there,” instructs Peter, towards me. “The beef jerky.”

David Kurtz, the Amish butcher, pulls out the container of jerky from the cooler and puts it up on the far end of the deli counter. Peter rummages through the container, picking out several choice pieces and fills a bag for himself, and I do the same.  A lady behind the counter weighs it, prices it. We pay for it and begin eating.  It’s fresh, succulent, not rock-hard, and contains an old-world flavor.

“It’s really good,” I tell Peter.  In fact, it’s great, but I’m cold, I’m the outsider, I’m just the observer and I don’t want to act overly-enthusiastic for fear of seeming silly. 

“Yes, quite good,” I repeated, with a mouth full of the jerky. It turns out that this lady behind the counter was one of Peter’s former “tourists,” who became so fascinated with the community that she  ultimately moved out there, and got a job working for the Amish. They then engaged in another conversation, discussing her experiences over the years since they have seen each other,  while I look around at the wall decorations, the products I’d not seen in years, such as the blocks of laundry soap, balm for cows’ udders, and candies I hadn’t seen since childhood.

I was still chewing on a bit of the jerky as we headed up another rural road,  encountering not a single other car the entire way. 

“That farm over there belongs to Nora Miller,” explains Peter, “who runs a wonderful bakery out of her home.”

I’d already begun to hear some of the same names repeated and so I  asked  Peter for clarification. 

“There are some 1600 Amish families in this community.  Of them, some 600 are Millers, some 300 are Yoders and some 150 are Bylers.  Almost 2/3 of  the families have one of those three surnames.  It makes it really difficult for the mailman!!”

“Are they all related?” I asked.

Many are, but not necessarily very closely,”  he replied. “These names go way back, and a name like Miller originally was a description of an occupation.  A guy with that name ran a flour mill or a saw mill or whatever, so people can have such names and not have any blood relationship at all.  This settlement was started by a Miller back in 1886, and back in the 50’s, one of the local Miller’s made the Guinness Book of World Records by having 489 living descendants.  That spawned a bunch of  new Miller families in this area!  For that matter, “Beil” in German means axe or hatchet,  so a “Beiler” could have been a logger, or firewood supplier, one who went to the woods with his axe and made lumber. In this area they have Anglicized the name to Byler”

 There was a light wind, and the rain stopped. It was still cold and foggy. I enjoyed looking at the countryside, and anywhere in any direction would make a beautiful postcard. It was that sort of place.   

“This cabinet shop is really going to blow you away,” Peter warned me,  as we  pull into a long driveway up to a white farm house.  There is a little sign that says  “Custom Wood products.”  Peter leads the way, not knocking, but simply entering the shop.  He explained that he would never enter a home without knocking but that this was a business entrance.  It all looked the same to me.

We entered the public front for the wood business and no one is about.  Peter showed me the various wood works around the room — intricate wall carvings,  toys, benches and chairs, bowls, book shelves, and beautiful inlaid stools. All the work was beautiful, artful, with  an attention to the finest detail.    After about 15 minutes of looking about, Peter led the way to the cabinet shop. 

“Remember, they make all this without electricity,” he told me.  “This is really going to blow you away.”

We entered a large airy woodshop with plenty of windows.  At first, it seemed empty. There were no lights on, no radio blaring, no TV in the  corner.  It was quiet.  But there was a lone white-haired man off to one side working on an inlaid stool, one of  those which we had just seen in the finished state, and Peter walked over to him. The man was polite and deliberate as he spoke to Peter.  I highly admired his stool, but he said nothing.  Among other things, you’ll discover that the Amish eschew self-importance, and to indulge in my admiring words would be regarded as prideful.  He chose silent acknowledgment, and then Peter and he talked casually about community  activities, dogs, and the upcoming tour schedule.  And then we left.

 Though I was born in California, and have lived most of my life there, I did live in Chardon, Ohio when I graduated from high school in 1973.  One of my jobs was working as  a pressman’s helper and printer in Middlefield, Ohio, where I worked among the Amish.  However, I never entered any of their homes or places of  work in all those months I lived there.  Now I was able to enter into this other-world of the Amish, via my guide Peter Gail.  I was visiting Peter as a friend and colleague.  Peter wasn’t “on,” performing  as it were, as he might for a regular tour bus. It was just he and I, and so he had the chance to talk with his Amish friends while I listened in and looked around. 

Here was a  people, self-reliant, not relying  as much on “the machine” as we do, and they were living well.  It took just a bit for an outsider to penetrate into their  lives and to see that their lives were not  dark and dreary, but bright and cheery and full.

We drove on to another wood shop where we met one of Peter’s Amish friends who works with a scroll saw, making fine Victorian fret and scrollwork decorative clocks, puzzles, wall plaques, intricate shelves and wooden candy dish/ trivet combinations.  A small nearby gasoline engine powered the scroll saw.  The man, Harvey Byler, stopped his work and chatted with Peter.  How’s business, who’s moved, who’s started another line of work, who got married, who died.  The man showed some of the work that his 10 year old son had done.

 Of course these craftsmen would like Peter — he brings customers to them. But as I looked around the Amish wood shop and listened to their conversation, it was clear there was great mutual respect here, two men from wholly different cultures, finding the best  in each other, realizing that they are each valuable links to the other’s culture. They chatted and laughed and Peter discussed a wood carving he wants to buy.  Peter suggested that the lighthouse would be great with a lamp in it, but Harvey didn’t know how to respond. After  all,  the Amish don’t  live with electric light bulbs, so putting a bulb into the  lighthouse would not be easy,  and I could see by the expression on Byler’s face that he was not inclined to do such.  Peter changed the subject.

“Harvey, you should come with me to the Columbus Gift Mart in May, and show off your work.  You’d really enjoy spending the day there.”

Harvey is silent momentarily, and responded that he might not enjoy spending the day with crowds of people, and he said it with a smile in a way that I assumed Peter should already know this.

We all bid adieu, and Peter and I headed down the road towards Mesopotamia to the shop of Eli Miller.  This shop has a more obvious sign, and it is clearly a store front, even though it is just as clearly located right next to his home.  No neon, no obnoxious billboards, just a modest sign reading “Eli Miller Leather Shop and Country Store.” 

 We entered the dark store that seemed empty at first.  Remember, this is December indoors.  Walking into the store is like passing through a time machine.  My eyes saw oil lamps, butter churns, farms tools, cow bells, wood stoves, cast iron utensils — all that is needed for self-sufficient living apart from the grip of the utility companies.  My eyes were still adjusting to the relative darkness, and exploring row upon row of  “old fashioned” tools, while Peter was yelling to the back, “Anyone home?”       

Way back in the rear, back beyond all the leather goods such as belts and saddles and footwear, there was an answer.  Peter motioned me to follow him and we met Eli, working on a leather saddle.  Eli was regarded as a more progressive Amishman — one who didn’t mind if his picture was taken, and who was very involved in community activities. Peter explained to me that Miller was one of the most respected leather crafters in the United States, with saddle and tack on mounted police units all the way from Dade County, Florida to Portland, Oregon.

They then chatted a bit.  Who died, who changed professions, who got married, who moved — the usual stuff, and then Eli started discussing and showing some of the leathers he works with, and some of the special requests he gets. Hanging behind him was a set of three leather belts crafted from English bridle leather which he had custom-made for a man from Cleveland who had been on one of Peter’s tours the previous fall. 

“Do you have a custom belt for my friend from California?” Peter asks on my  behalf.  I’d told Peter earlier that I could use a good belt, but I silently wonder how much a “custom” belt might cost.  Eli responded that he had  many  good belts on the rack that he’d recently finished making.  I looked and found a good black one that fit me, and I paid Eli his ten dollars asking price – a bargain.

Eli then showed us a new stamp he just received. It was a makers’ stamp for marking leather, though he’d not yet used it. 

“Where do you think I should put my mark on the belts?” he inquired of  Peter.  We looked at belts, considering front side or back side, buckle end or leather end. 

“Put it where you can see it,” responded Peter.  Eli clearly did not want to be prideful, and wasn’t certain.  I took off my new black belt and asked him to stamp it  right on the front, just beyond the buckle, which he did.

Eventually, Peter and I departed, and investigated an old pioneer cemetery back behind Eli’s shop. It was built  atop a hill as the last resting place for one of the families who settled Mesopotamia back in the late 1700’s. The most recent gravestone is dated 1868, 18 years before the first Amish settler set horses hoof on Geauga County’s clay till soils.

The rain had completely stopped, but I kept my coat on.  The last we checked, the temperature was 38 degrees, and rising.  We traveled down a two-lane highway, where trees lined the road in places and where the rolling fields showed  that the work of the summer was over.  Some fields were green, some were brown,  some were specked with the common tall weeds of this part of the country, such as curly dock, or teasel, or milkweeds.

As we drove to our next stop, the Amish farm houses always caught my attention.  In nearly all cases, there were clothes out on the line.  Often the clothes lines were attached by a pulley wheel to a room at the back of the house, and would run all the way out to a barn.  There were also gourds suspended in an array like a  television antennae, which serve as birdhouses for Purple Martins, which are birds which like to live in colonies and consume tons of mosquitos each season.       

We turned onto a paved primary road and quickly turned into the parking lot of a modern building.  This was the Middlefield cheese factory.  I purchased some fresh cheeses, which were delicious, and looked through the large window in the storefront down on the workers making and processing the cheese.  It was quite a sight. The factory and the milk are owned by the Amish but since they can’t have electricity, they have contracted with a cheese company in Wisconsin to bring in the electric equipment and make the cheese, and they hire Amish people to work for them.  It is an interesting accommodation which seems to work very nicely.

While we drove, Peter explained that he got interested in wild foods at an early age in San Gabriel, California after his father died.  Peter collected “goosefoot” – the common lamb’s quarter — to help feed the family.  Lamb’s quarter is arguably one of the most tasty and nutritious greens in the world.  He eventually named his company Goosefoot Acres, an enterprise which his family still operates to sell his books and dandelion products.  (See www.dandyblend.com).

We headed north, out of Amish territory, towards Chardon.  We visited my grandfather’s old farmstead – the barn and house had long since been bulldozed, though the small “Indian mounds” was still prominent behind the old orchard.

After a short visit, we drove on into the darkness to Cleveland.

Wild Food Man Peter Gail — GOODBYE!


[Nyerges is the author of “Extreme Simplicity,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” and other books. He has known Gail for nearly 30 years.]


Wildfood Man Peter Gail died on Valentine’s Day, 2018, in Cleveland.  This is my story about Peter.
(Peter Gail’s books on wild foods and the Amish are available from www.dandyblend.com)


TOURING THE AMISH COUNTRYSIDE with PETER GAIL
It was a grey winter day driving eastbound on US 422 in northeast Ohio with Peter Gail. The clouds made it difficult to see very far into the rural countryside.  The sound of the windshield wipers provided a steady background tempo to our conversation. 

The temperature was in the high 30s, and it was about the same temperature inside Peter’s  van. I was tense from the cold, hunched a bit, trying to stay warm.  I’m  from California. Peter was relaxed, smiling, pointing out each feature as we drove  along.  He’s a Cleveland resident and used to the cold. On this day he was my tourguide to the Amish countryside of Ohio.

Peter Gail’s most famous business associate was Euell Gibbons, who authored Stalking the Wild Asparagus and starred in Grape Nuts cereal commercials  in the 1970s, making him  the butt of comedians jokes about eating  everything from old tires to freeway overpasses. 

That was a long time ago. During those years, Gail edited Gibbons’ articles for Boys Life magazine, and worked with him and others to develop the National Wilderness Survival Training Camp for the Boy Scouts. Together they developed and taught a foraging course at Rutgers University in New Jersey. When Gibbons had become nationally famous from the commercials and Johnny Carson’s jokes, and was overbooked, Gail occasionally substituted for him on the lecture circuit.   

Gibbons died way back in 1975 — no, not from eating a poisonous plant! — and Peter Gail  has tirelessly carried the torch for wild food enthusiasts.

Though Gail has made no cereal commercials, he has appeared on such national TV shows as Good Morning America, Lifetime TV’s “Our Home Show,”  Food TV Networks “Extreme Cuisine, has authored numerous books on the subject of wild foods and related topics, and he continued to lecture about the virtues of the ubiquitous wild plants and those people who still use them as  a part of daily life.

While Gail was best known on the national circuit for his “Dinner Underfoot” and “Healing with Weeds” lectures and workshops, locally he was even better known for his work among the Northeastern Ohio Amish community, the 4th largest in the world. As a Ph.D. ethnobotanist and anthropologist, Gail studied the Amish for over 50 years to discover the lessons their simple life style has to teach us.  He interpreted that knowledge in books, articles, and his tours for those interested in learning more about these people who seem firmly  rooted in the technology of a century ago.

Perhaps  Gail’s most popular book is his “Dandelion Celebration”, a book  which tells you everything you’d ever want to know about dandelions.  He’s also authored the “Delightful Delicious Daylily”, “Violets in Your Kitchen,” “The Messy Mulberry and What to do with it”, and “The Volunteer Vegetable Sampler”, which profiles the culinary and medicinal values of  41 of the most common backyard weeds.

The least known of Gail’s pursuits outside of Northern Ohio were the educational field experiences he provided for people curious about the Amish and what they have to teach us.  Several times a month in spring, summer and fall, he would load up a bus or van, and  take people into the heart of the Northeastern Ohio Amish community.  These were day-long affairs, where his  people were treated to a lunch at an Amish home,  told the history and beliefs of the Amish, and then taken to their stores to look at and buy Amish goods.

On one cold day in December, it was just me and Peter.  We turned off the main freeway while it was drizzling, onto a secondary road.  Occasionally I’d spot an Amish farm house — painted white, neat, orderly.  Even though it was drizzling and December, nearly  every farmhouse has a long outside clothes line full of clothes blowing  in the breeze. 

If you’re unfamiliar with the Amish, they use no electricity and shun  most modern so-called conveniences.  This means no electric lights, no electric refrigerators, no television, no CDs–very few  of the modern devices that most folks take for granted.  They  have managed to live their lives, and produce most of their needed  items,  by simple old-fashioned ingenuity.  Wood stoves, oil lamps, use of ice, horse-drawn tractors, building houses in such a way to take advantage of the heat of summer,  and be protected from the cold of winter, large windows near the work areas,  hand tools, and the use of diesel and small gasoline engines to generate power. 

The light rain had let up just a bit, and we turned eastward on a smaller road.   We were in a completely rural area, where the roads were lined by shallow ditches, where  the houses have enough space between them to put an average city block,  and no traffic lights, no street lights, no offensive neon. 

“Have you ever had really good, natural beef jerky?” asked Peter.

“I’m sure I have,” I responded.

“I mean, really good, really  natural?”

“Well, just what I purchased at the market.”

“Wait ’til you try what they sell  here,” smiled Peter.  “There’s nothing like this.”

Before we get to market, we note a farm house with lots of junk  and rusty  tools and cars piled about. 

“That’s not Amish,” Peter said matter-of-factly, nodding towards the rust and the tallish weeds that nearly obscure them.

“One of the major contrasts between the neat, clean Amish places and the ‘Yankees,’ as they call all us non-Amish in this region — is that the Yankees live in that kind of trash — old rusty cars, junk all around their houses.  You won’t see that around the Amish  homes.  We, by the way, are called “English” in most other Amish settlements — it all  depends who the non-Amish settlers were who the Amish encountered when they got to different regions.  Here, they encountered Connecticut Yankees.”

We arrived at the market, a small white store set back just a bit from the road.  It was a very low-key setting.  We get out of the van, put on our coats, and entered the small store.  It was a meat market, and it smelled really good. In the deli counter, I saw varieties of cheeses, and lots of cuts of meats. Peter talked with the bearded Amish man wearing a white, blood-stained apron, as if they have known each other for years. (I later learn that in fact they actually had known each other for 20 years)  They exchange a bit of news, who’s gotten married, who died, how’s business. I stand there quietly, listening, taking it all in, considering how out-of-place this simple conversation would be in any  of today’s jam-packed modern supermarkets.  But it is all very simple, very natural, the  way people were meant to interact. 

“It’s over there,” instructs Peter, towards me. “The beef jerky.”

David Kurtz, the Amish butcher, pulls out the container of jerky from the cooler and puts it up on the far end of the deli counter. Peter rummages through the container, picking out several choice pieces and fills a bag for himself, and I do the same.  A lady behind the counter weighs it, prices it. We pay for it and begin eating.  It’s fresh, succulent, not rock-hard, and contains an old-world flavor.

“It’s really good,” I tell Peter.  In fact, it’s great, but I’m cold, I’m the outsider, I’m just the observer and I don’t want to act overly-enthusiastic for fear of seeming silly. 

“Yes, quite good,” I repeated, with a mouth full of the jerky. It turns out that this lady behind the counter was one of Peter’s former “tourists,” who became so fascinated with the community that she  ultimately moved out there, and got a job working for the Amish. They then engaged in another conversation, discussing her experiences over the years since they have seen each other,  while I look around at the wall decorations, the products I’d not seen in years, such as the blocks of laundry soap, balm for cows’ udders, and candies I hadn’t seen since childhood.

I was still chewing on a bit of the jerky as we headed up another rural road,  encountering not a single other car the entire way. 

“That farm over there belongs to Nora Miller,” explains Peter, “who runs a wonderful bakery out of her home.”

I’d already begun to hear some of the same names repeated and so I  asked  Peter for clarification. 

“There are some 1600 Amish families in this community.  Of them, some 600 are Millers, some 300 are Yoders and some 150 are Bylers.  Almost 2/3 of  the families have one of those three surnames.  It makes it really difficult for the mailman!!”

“Are they all related?” I asked.

Many are, but not necessarily very closely,”  he replied. “These names go way back, and a name like Miller originally was a description of an occupation.  A guy with that name ran a flour mill or a saw mill or whatever, so people can have such names and not have any blood relationship at all.  This settlement was started by a Miller back in 1886, and back in the 50’s, one of the local Miller’s made the Guinness Book of World Records by having 489 living descendants.  That spawned a bunch of  new Miller families in this area!  For that matter, “Beil” in German means axe or hatchet,  so a “Beiler” could have been a logger, or firewood supplier, one who went to the woods with his axe and made lumber. In this area they have Anglicized the name to Byler”

 There was a light wind, and the rain stopped. It was still cold and foggy. I enjoyed looking at the countryside, and anywhere in any direction would make a beautiful postcard. It was that sort of place.   

“This cabinet shop is really going to blow you away,” Peter warned me,  as we  pull into a long driveway up to a white farm house.  There is a little sign that says  “Custom Wood products.”  Peter leads the way, not knocking, but simply entering the shop.  He explained that he would never enter a home without knocking but that this was a business entrance.  It all looked the same to me.

We entered the public front for the wood business and no one is about.  Peter showed me the various wood works around the room — intricate wall carvings,  toys, benches and chairs, bowls, book shelves, and beautiful inlaid stools. All the work was beautiful, artful, with  an attention to the finest detail.    After about 15 minutes of looking about, Peter led the way to the cabinet shop. 

“Remember, they make all this without electricity,” he told me.  “This is really going to blow you away.”

We entered a large airy woodshop with plenty of windows.  At first, it seemed empty. There were no lights on, no radio blaring, no TV in the  corner.  It was quiet.  But there was a lone white-haired man off to one side working on an inlaid stool, one of  those which we had just seen in the finished state, and Peter walked over to him. The man was polite and deliberate as he spoke to Peter.  I highly admired his stool, but he said nothing.  Among other things, you’ll discover that the Amish eschew self-importance, and to indulge in my admiring words would be regarded as prideful.  He chose silent acknowledgment, and then Peter and he talked casually about community  activities, dogs, and the upcoming tour schedule.  And then we left.

 Though I was born in California, and have lived most of my life there, I did live in Chardon, Ohio when I graduated from high school in 1973.  One of my jobs was working as  a pressman’s helper and printer in Middlefield, Ohio, where I worked among the Amish.  However, I never entered any of their homes or places of  work in all those months I lived there.  Now I was able to enter into this other-world of the Amish, via my guide Peter Gail.  I was visiting Peter as a friend and colleague.  Peter wasn’t “on,” performing  as it were, as he might for a regular tour bus. It was just he and I, and so he had the chance to talk with his Amish friends while I listened in and looked around. 

Here was a  people, self-reliant, not relying  as much on “the machine” as we do, and they were living well.  It took just a bit for an outsider to penetrate into their  lives and to see that their lives were not  dark and dreary, but bright and cheery and full.

We drove on to another wood shop where we met one of Peter’s Amish friends who works with a scroll saw, making fine Victorian fret and scrollwork decorative clocks, puzzles, wall plaques, intricate shelves and wooden candy dish/ trivet combinations.  A small nearby gasoline engine powered the scroll saw.  The man, Harvey Byler, stopped his work and chatted with Peter.  How’s business, who’s moved, who’s started another line of work, who got married, who died.  The man showed some of the work that his 10 year old son had done.

 Of course these craftsmen would like Peter — he brings customers to them. But as I looked around the Amish wood shop and listened to their conversation, it was clear there was great mutual respect here, two men from wholly different cultures, finding the best  in each other, realizing that they are each valuable links to the other’s culture. They chatted and laughed and Peter discussed a wood carving he wants to buy.  Peter suggested that the lighthouse would be great with a lamp in it, but Harvey didn’t know how to respond. After  all,  the Amish don’t  live with electric light bulbs, so putting a bulb into the  lighthouse would not be easy,  and I could see by the expression on Byler’s face that he was not inclined to do such.  Peter changed the subject.

“Harvey, you should come with me to the Columbus Gift Mart in May, and show off your work.  You’d really enjoy spending the day there.”

Harvey is silent momentarily, and responded that he might not enjoy spending the day with crowds of people, and he said it with a smile in a way that I assumed Peter should already know this.

We all bid adieu, and Peter and I headed down the road towards Mesopotamia to the shop of Eli Miller.  This shop has a more obvious sign, and it is clearly a store front, even though it is just as clearly located right next to his home.  No neon, no obnoxious billboards, just a modest sign reading “Eli Miller Leather Shop and Country Store.” 

 We entered the dark store that seemed empty at first.  Remember, this is December indoors.  Walking into the store is like passing through a time machine.  My eyes saw oil lamps, butter churns, farms tools, cow bells, wood stoves, cast iron utensils — all that is needed for self-sufficient living apart from the grip of the utility companies.  My eyes were still adjusting to the relative darkness, and exploring row upon row of  “old fashioned” tools, while Peter was yelling to the back, “Anyone home?”       

Way back in the rear, back beyond all the leather goods such as belts and saddles and footwear, there was an answer.  Peter motioned me to follow him and we met Eli, working on a leather saddle.  Eli was regarded as a more progressive Amishman — one who didn’t mind if his picture was taken, and who was very involved in community activities. Peter explained to me that Miller was one of the most respected leather crafters in the United States, with saddle and tack on mounted police units all the way from Dade County, Florida to Portland, Oregon.

They then chatted a bit.  Who died, who changed professions, who got married, who moved — the usual stuff, and then Eli started discussing and showing some of the leathers he works with, and some of the special requests he gets. Hanging behind him was a set of three leather belts crafted from English bridle leather which he had custom-made for a man from Cleveland who had been on one of Peter’s tours the previous fall. 

“Do you have a custom belt for my friend from California?” Peter asks on my  behalf.  I’d told Peter earlier that I could use a good belt, but I silently wonder how much a “custom” belt might cost.  Eli responded that he had  many  good belts on the rack that he’d recently finished making.  I looked and found a good black one that fit me, and I paid Eli his ten dollars asking price – a bargain.

Eli then showed us a new stamp he just received. It was a makers’ stamp for marking leather, though he’d not yet used it. 

“Where do you think I should put my mark on the belts?” he inquired of  Peter.  We looked at belts, considering front side or back side, buckle end or leather end. 

“Put it where you can see it,” responded Peter.  Eli clearly did not want to be prideful, and wasn’t certain.  I took off my new black belt and asked him to stamp it  right on the front, just beyond the buckle, which he did.

Eventually, Peter and I departed, and investigated an old pioneer cemetery back behind Eli’s shop. It was built  atop a hill as the last resting place for one of the families who settled Mesopotamia back in the late 1700’s. The most recent gravestone is dated 1868, 18 years before the first Amish settler set horses hoof on Geauga County’s clay till soils.

The rain had completely stopped, but I kept my coat on.  The last we checked, the temperature was 38 degrees, and rising.  We traveled down a two-lane highway, where trees lined the road in places and where the rolling fields showed  that the work of the summer was over.  Some fields were green, some were brown,  some were specked with the common tall weeds of this part of the country, such as curly dock, or teasel, or milkweeds.

As we drove to our next stop, the Amish farm houses always caught my attention.  In nearly all cases, there were clothes out on the line.  Often the clothes lines were attached by a pulley wheel to a room at the back of the house, and would run all the way out to a barn.  There were also gourds suspended in an array like a  television antennae, which serve as birdhouses for Purple Martins, which are birds which like to live in colonies and consume tons of mosquitos each season.       

We turned onto a paved primary road and quickly turned into the parking lot of a modern building.  This was the Middlefield cheese factory.  I purchased some fresh cheeses, which were delicious, and looked through the large window in the storefront down on the workers making and processing the cheese.  It was quite a sight. The factory and the milk are owned by the Amish but since they can’t have electricity, they have contracted with a cheese company in Wisconsin to bring in the electric equipment and make the cheese, and they hire Amish people to work for them.  It is an interesting accommodation which seems to work very nicely.

While we drove, Peter explained that he got interested in wild foods at an early age in San Gabriel, California after his father died.  Peter collected “goosefoot” – the common lamb’s quarter — to help feed the family.  Lamb’s quarter is arguably one of the most tasty and nutritious greens in the world.  He eventually named his company Goosefoot Acres, an enterprise which his family still operates to sell his books and dandelion products.  (See www.dandyblend.com).

We headed north, out of Amish territory, towards Chardon.  We visited my grandfather’s old farmstead – the barn and house had long since been bulldozed, though the small “Indian mounds” was still prominent behind the old orchard.

After a short visit, we drove on into the darkness to Cleveland.

In Search of Saint Patrick

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[Nyerges is the author of several books, such as Enter the Forest and Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City (co-author), and How to Survive Anywhere.  He has led wilderness expeditions since 1974.  He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041 or via ChristopherNyerges.com]

           

            There’s a lot of green right now in our town.  Saint Patrick green: shamrocks, leprechans, beer. But who was Saint Patrick?  Was he a real person?  Children are told  “Saint Patrick wore a green suit, talked to leprechans (he was probably drunk at the time), and while trying to convert the pagans with a shamrock, he marched all the snakes out of Ireland.”  Will the real Saint Patrick please stand up?

            His real name was Maewyn Succat, born around 385 A.D., somewhere in Scotland, or possibly somewhere else, as there is conflicting historical data on his exact date and place of birth.   His baptismal name was Patricius. 

            Around age 16, he was sold into slavery in Ireland and worked for the next 6 years as a shepherd.  Keep in mind that human slavery, as well as human sacrifice, was considered normal for those times.

After his six years in slavery, he believed that an angel came to him in a dream, prompting him to escape and seek out his homeland.  He actually walked about 200 miles to the coast, where his dream indicated a ship would also be waiting for him.  He successfully escaped, and spent the next twenty years of his life as a monk in Marmoutier Abbey. There he again received a celestial visitation, this time calling him to return to the land where he’d been enslaved, though now with a mission as a priest and converter.

            Patrick was called to Rome in 432, where Pope Celestine bequeathed the honour of Bishop upon him before he left on his mission.

            Patrick returned to Ireland not alone, but with 24 supporters and  followers.  They arrived in Ireland in the winter of 432.  In the Spring, Patrick decided to confront the high King of Tara, the most powerful King in Ireland. Patrick knew that if he had the King’s support, he would be free to take his Christian message to the people of Ireland.

            Patrick and his followers were invited to Tara by the King of Laoghaire. It was there that he was said to have plucked a shamrock from the ground as he tried to explain to the Druids and the King that the shamrock had three leaves just like the idea of God’s   three aspects – The Father, The Son and the Holy Ghost. This was called the Trinity. 

Of course, triads and trinities were a common concept among the Druids.  In fact, one could argue that the trinity (a term not found in the Bible) was a concept given to Christianity by the Druids, rather than the other way around.  Nevertheless,  King Laoghaire was very impressed and chose to accept Christianity. He also gave Patrick the freedom to spread Christianity throughout Ireland.

            When Patrick returned to Ireland, he treated the “pagans” with the respect implicit in his dream. Part of this respect was attempting to communicate with the Druids on their terms, which is why he used the shamrock as a teaching tool.  He also blended the Christian cross with the circle to create what is now known as the Celtic cross.  He used bonfires to celebrate Easter, a Holy Day that Christianity supplanted with the already-existing spring equinox commemoration. In fact, he incorporated many of the existing symbols and beliefs into his Christian teachings.

            He spent his last 30 years in Ireland, baptizing the non-Christian Irish, ordaining priests, and founding churches and monasteries. His persuasive powers must have been astounding, since Ireland fully converted to Christianity within 200 years and was the only country in Europe to Christianize peacefully. Patrick’s Christian conversion ended slavery, human sacrifice, and most intertribal warfare in Ireland.

            Patrick was also unique in that he equally valued the role of women in an age when the church ignored them. He always sided with the downtrodden and the excluded, whether they were slaves or the “pagan” Irish.


            According to Thomas Cahill, author of How the Irish Saved Civilization, Patrick’s influence extended far beyond his adopted land. Cahill’s book, which could just as well be titled How St. Patrick Saved Civilization, contends that Patrick’s conversion of Ireland allowed Western learning to survive the Dark Ages. Ireland pacified and churchified as the rest of Europe crumbled. Patrick’s monasteries copied and preserved classical texts. Later, Irish monks returned this knowledge to Europe by establishing monasteries in England, Germany, France, Switzerland, and Italy.

            When the lights went out all over Europe, a candle still burned in Ireland. That candle was lit by Patrick.


            Veneration of Patrick gradually assumed the status of a local cult.  He was not simply remembered in Saul and Downpatrick, he was worshipped. Indeed, homage to Patrick as Ireland’s saint was apparent in the eight century AD. At this time Patrick’s status as a national apostle was made independently of Rome.  He was claimed locally as a saint before the practice of canonization was introduced by the Vatican. The high regard in which the Irish have held St Patrick is evidenced by the salutation, still common today, of “May God, Mary, and Patrick bless you”.

            Patrick was not Irish, had nothing to do with leprechauns, almost certainly was not a drunkard, and didn’t drive all the snakes out of Ireland.  In fact, there were no native snakes in Ireland, though this story is believed to be an analogy for driving out the so-called “pagans,” or, at least, the pagan religions.

            Patrick was one of the “greats” of history who nearly single-handedly preserved the best of Western culture when much of Europe was devolving into chaos and ruin.  He deserves far better than remembering him in the silly ways we do today, such as wearing green, pinching each other, and getting drunk.  Rather, he deserves an accurate memory, and our emulation.  Unfortunately, like all true Saviors of history, they are either killed off, or relegated to the closet of ridicule. 

            Perhaps it’s time for all of us to re-think how we commemorate this special man, and his vast contribution to world culture.

Why Keep “Daylight Savings Time”?

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DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME:
Why should we continue this useless relic from the past?
Let’s return to Standard Time All Year!

[Christopher Nyerges writes a regular blog at www.ChristopherNyerges.com, posts regular YouTube videos, and has led outdoor trips since 1974.  He is the author of How to Survive Anywhere, Extreme Simplicity, Foraging California and other books. He can also be reached via School of Self-Reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.]
           
Our lawmakers, in their infinite wisdom, continue to tinker with time.  Manipulate the clocks and we can trick the people into saving energy.  And twice a year, we’re all subject to the changes and inconveniences that occur as a result of the springing forward or falling back.  We have to quickly adjust.  It is part of our annual ritual, our relic from the past, where we go back to standard time from  daylight savings time.  And now we are expected to extend this “better” time a few more weeks.
But are there real and tangible benefits from doing this?  Must  we continue to do so?
Daylight savings time is a manipulation of the basic solar time within each time zone’s standard.  It was said to be an idea of Benjamin Franklin, and was begun in the United States during world wars one and two, and eventually became “official” in all but two states. That right!  At least two states have said “No, thanks, we’ll stick to standard time.” And now a few states are saying, “We’re sick of changing our clocks twice a year – we want to keep daylight savings time all year.”
Daylight savings time is like a quaint tradition of a bygone era that refuses to die.  It is a pointless habit with little recognizable merit.  Michael Downing, author of “Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Savings Time,” demonstrates that the clock-change saves energy in theory only, but not in practice.
David Letterman once asked the question to his audience during his monologue: “Why do we practice daylight savings time?  It’s so the farmers have more light,” he laughed, answering his own question.  “But how does that give the plants morelight?”  That’s a Letterman joke for you, but there is a truth hidden under his humor.  Most people queried on the street don’t know why we have daylight savings time, and fewer still experience any tangible benefits from it, except perhaps the pleasantness of a later sunset time in the summer.
There are two often-cited reasons for the use of daylight savings time.  One is so that the children can have more light going to school in the morning.  But consider:  the  children have an hour more of morning light in late October, when the clock is set back (“fall back”) to standard time.  That is, it is the very use of daylight savings time which creates a darker morning as the days get shorter and shorter.  The “falling back” an hour merely puts us back in sync with the local time zone.  It is the use of daylight savings time that created the problem of less light in the morning, and only in that sense can you say that the “falling back” to regular time gives children that extra hour of light.  In other words, this is a problem caused by daylight savings time.  This is not a bonafide benefit from daylight savings time.
My grandfather, and all my uncles on my mother’s side were farmers.  I have some knowledge of the schedule of farmers.  There is not one that I know who does not arise at the crack of dawn, if not sooner.  There is no other way to function as a farmer.  You then proceed to work as long as needed, and as long as you are able, daylight savings time or standard time.  The manipulation of clocks in no way affected how much work they got done, or not done. 
I have talked to many people about daylight savings time. Some like it, some do not. Some are annoyed by it, some find the long afternoons of summer very enjoyable.  Everyone has arrived late (or early) on the first Sunday (even Monday in some cases) after the changing of the clocks.  Daylight savings time thus gives millions of people a quasi-valid excuse for lateness at least once a year.

Let’s end daylight savings time entirely and adopt a year-round standard time.  If I were asked to choose between daylight savings time all year, or standard time all year, I would definitely choose standard time. Why? Simple! Standard time is the closest approximately of actual solar time. It more closely represents the real world than does the manipulation of daylight savings time.

Those who wish to start school or go to work earlier can do so!  Such voluntary time alterations are fine if those individuals and schools and businesses choose to do so. It may even make the freeways less crowded at rush hours.  But keep the standard time year-round.

Yes, this is a small thing in the context of a world at war, with hate and suspicion in all political camps, and endless economic hardships all over the world.  In that big-picture sense, this is just a little issue.  But this is still an issue that should be resolved, and dealt with.

Since daylight savings time is a state-by-state decision, we can begin with California. Write to Governor Brown and ask him to implement year-round standard time. You can write to Brown at Office of the Governor, State Capitol, Sacramento, CA 95814, or phone at 916) 445-2841, or on-line at www.govmail.ca.gov.  (if you live in another state, write to your governor if you agree).

Take a poll of your friends and acquaintances before you write to the Governor.  See if you can find anyone who derives tangible benefits from daylight savings time.  Secondly, there is always the initiative process where a Proposition can be put on the ballot to be voted on by the people.  This is a process that would take an organized effort and cost at least a million dollars, and probably more.  

No map? Charting a Course with only a Compass

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CHARTING A COURSE

USING A COMPASS ALONE


 [Nyerges has been teaching outdoor survival skills and preparedness since 1974. He is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Guide to Wild Foods,” and other books. He can be reached at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.]

Let’s say it’s dark, or overcast, or you’re traveling in thick woods.  You don’t have a map, but you have a compass. You’re not traveling in a straight line, but going here, going there, finding out what’s out there.

There’s a way that you can take records of your travel, and then chart a direct path back to your camp or car.  It’s not that difficult, but it does require a compass, and a pen and notebook.

Let’s say you’ve driven to a remote area in the forest and you want to explore a large area for possible camp sites. You set out at 27 degrees, and you walk for 20 minutes.  You make two columns in your notebook, and you record 27 in the degrees column, and you record 20 in the time column.

Then, you decide to change directions, and you head out at 150 degrees. You write that down in the “degrees” column.  You walk for 30 minutes before you pause, so you record 30 in the minutes column.

You continue this way for the rest of the day, always recording the degree in which you walked, and the amount of time you walked in that direction.

Now, before we get too far along, let’s review (for you beginners) how to determine what degree you are walking. With  your orienteering compass, you point the “direction of travel” arrow – which is the printed arrow on the housing of the compass — in the direction you are traveling.  So far so good?  Now, you turn the round dial until the printed arrow is directly over the north end of the needle.  OK?  That’s pretty basic compass use.  Sometimes we refer to that step as putting the dog in the house.  The printed arrow looks sorta like a dog house, and the magnetic needle (the “dog”) must be kept aligned with the “doghouse.”  As long as you keep the dog in the house, and follow your “direction of travel” arrow, you’re accurately traveling at whatever degree you’ve decided to walk in. 

Obviously, for this system to work well, you need to walk in fairly straight lines.  In fairly rugged terrain, this system might not be practical or possible.

So, let’s say you’re done exploring for the day, and your notebook contains 6 entries for degree traveled, and 6 entries for amount of time traveled.

With that information, you are now going to create a simple map to determine a straight path back to your camp or wherever you started from.

Let’s take a look at the notes  you took, in the example, and how to turn those notes into a map.

Here is an example of what your notes might look like.

DEGREE
OF TRAVEL
TIME TRAVELLED
27
20
150
30
240
20
180
20
285
30

Remember, this is just an example, and in the example, we have kept the units of time all divisible by 10 minutes.  In real life, your units of time would likely be much more diverse.

Using your notebook, or using sticks on the ground, you will turn the units of time into linear lengths. So, for example, each ten minutes of time traveled will be one inch.  It doesn’t really matter whether you make each ten minute segment represent one inch or five inches or the length of your finger or the length of your Swiss army knife – just be consistent with whatever unit of conversion you use. 

So let’s say you are going to use sticks to create a map. For your first 20 minute leg of your journey, you cut a straight stick 2 inches long (10 minutes = one inches).  Lay the stick on the ground and align it at 27 degrees, your direction of travel.

Your next leg of your journey was 30 minutes, at 150 degrees.  So you cut a stick that is

three inches long.  From the leading end of the first stick, set down your three inch long stick and align it at 150 degrees.  So far so good?  You are creating a map of your journey.

Next, you cut a two inch stick and align it at the end of the last stick at 240 degrees.

Next, cut another two inch stick and align it at 180 degrees from the end of the last stick.

Finally, you cut a stick three inches (30 minutes = 3 inches) and set it at the end of the last stick at 285 degrees.

OK? You have just created a visual map of  your journey using stick, converting time into linear lengths.  When you have completed your stick-map, you now place your compass at the end of the last stick (which represents where you stopped, and decided you wanted to go home), and point it to your starting point.  That is your direct line back to your camp.  Put the dog in the house on your compass, and simply follow the direction of travel arrow back home. 

And because you have chosen each 10 minutes of travel time to represent one inch, you can just measure your straight line back to your camp to get a good idea of how long it will take you to get home.

From my reckoning, it appears that you can now walk straight at 30 degrees, for about 35 minutes and you’ll be back in your camp!  Not bad, considering that your entire journey so far took two hours.

Now, we did not discuss the variables that come with uneven terrain.  That is, if you had a lot of uphill travel, you probably couldn’t cover as much terrain in 10 minutes as you could if the ground were flat.  So you should record these terrain changes in your notebook.  If you walked for 20 minutes, that would normally represent a two inch stick.  But if the terrain was very sharply uphill, you wouldn’t have been able to cover the same distance in the same time.  You would estimate, and probably use just a one inch stick for that leg of your journey.  You should also record any changes in the speed of your hiking, though this works best if your speed is more or less the same.

There’s a bit more to this, so please come to one of my Orienteering workshops when you can. 
See the Schedule at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.
Also, get a copy of each of these following books:

The Green Beret’s Compass Course,” by Don Paul, 2006.  The technique described in this article was based on  his book, available from Amazon.

Be Expert with Map and Compass” by Björn Kjellströmis still one of the best overall guides to map and compass use. Available at Amazon.

 How to Survive Anywhere” by Christopher Nyerges includes a short section on navigation.

Notes from a past eclipse

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This is an excerpt from “Searching for the Meaning of Life in the City of Angels” by Woodenturtle, from Kindle, or as an e-book from the Store at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com

LET ME CAST A HEALING BALM

Interacting with the moon’s energy during an eclipse

In the mid-1980s, Shining Bear told us that there would be a full eclipse of the moon one night. It was in the newspapers, of course, but none of us had read it or taken any special notice of it.

We were talking with him around 2 p.m., when he explained that there is way to utilize the special lunar energy during this unique eclipse time.

“This is not a way to get something, or to feel good,” said Shining Bear. “Rather, this is a way that you can choose to channel that very refined lunar light – the healing power of the light of the moon – to the benefit of your fellows on this prison planet.” “Prison planet” was how he typically referred to Earth.

He instructed us to find a place where we can sit cross-legged comfortably, and face the moon directly. It would be around 8:30 in the evening. 

“This is best done with pure silver, since silver transmits the lunar energy best. I don’t know what the effect would be if you used sterling silver, but ideally use three pure rounds of silver.” A “round” is simply the coin-dealers term for a round piece of silver that is not a government coin. They are made by private mints so that someone could buy pure silver with no numismatic consideration. And there are also pure silver coins issued by governments. Either way, it needed to be pure silver, 99.9%.  He spent perhaps an hour telling us how to interact with the special lunar light.  

I knew I had some silver coins at home, and some at my parents house.  But my living conditions were somewhat hectic, and I had some things in storage, and wasn’t precisely sure where everything was located.  I found some sterling silver coins – which were 90% silver.  I quickly drove up to my parents house, and searched around for some coins I had stored there in the basement.  Finally, after having to endure the suspicions of my father, Dancing Moon and I were seated in the upper terrace of the Island with the silver that I had managed to locate. 

We set down a blanket on the dirt, and then sat cross-legged.  We positioned ourselves so we could face the full moon as it went into eclipse. Shining Bear had indicated that we were to create a triangle with three pieces of silver and our body.   This meant that silver  should be in each hand, and another piece of silver held in the thyroid area.  Holding the silver in the hands was easy – each palm was simply held upwards and resting on the knees.  Holding the silver next to the thyroid was challenging.  We found that we could wrap a silver coin in a cotton kerchief, and then tie it behind the neck so that the silver was secured and stayed close to the neck.  That was sufficient, since we wouldn’t be moving around, and we’d only be there for 20 minutes or

We sat there on the blanket, getting things arranged.

“Look,” I said after a while.  The shadow of the earth was starting to cover an edge of the moon.  There was a feeling of mystery in the air, an electrical excitement, a buzz.  Even the wild animals sensed it.

It was a bright full moon night and everything was visible. There were no clouds.  In a few minutes, the night would darken and many more stars would be visible.

It was a little chilly so it took a bit of maneuvering to hold the silver in each hand, keep one next to the neck, and to sit with a light blanket over our shoulders.

Dancing Moon was in position, and was quiet. She seemed deep in thought as she watched the moon, and appeared relaxed.

We didn’t say much. I sensed that my runaround to find the silver was viewed with disdain by Dancing Moon, another sign of my being unorganized, chaotic, confused.  But there was nothing that I could say or do – at least not now.  Now was the time to go into the moment.

So we sat, focused on the theme of healing that Shining Bear told us about.  Nothing for ourselves, but for the earth, for all earth’s inhabitants.  Of course, there is always an enlightened self-interest in such things – we would benefit personally in some way if the spiritual and mental health, and the level of harmony, was collectively raised.

The moon was nearly in full eclipse now. 

“Let me cast a healing balm,” began Dancing Moon, slowly, thoughtfully, methodically. At first I tried to say it along with her, but our timing was off so I just continued on my own, focusing on the moon, canting in my own timing.  I mentally worked to feel the lines of energy to the three pieces of silver on my body, and the triangle of light between the three pieces of silver, from hand to hand, and from each hand to the throat.  I visualized the triangle of light and the silver lines extending outward to the moon. 

I continued my canting, focusing on sending a healing balm over the earth.  My eyes closed gently, and I could “almost” see the lines of light extending to the moon.  I could feel a hush fall over the land, a calm that was both physical and psychic.  The landscape had become eerily darker, and the animal sounds were different.

Ten minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes elapsed.  I continued to cant and realized my voice was now in sync with Dancing Moon.  We continued our slow methodical canting, looking at the moon, watching the shadow move across the surface.

The moon was nearly full again when we stopped and put away our silver, and packed our things.

It was been an exhausting evening.  We had no tangible way of knowing if this had any positive benefit or not. There seemed to be “something” detectable that was calmer, more relaxed, peaceful.  Everything was the same, but somehow we had interacted with a force of nature, and somehow, in some not fully tangible way, the world was now different.

We were tired but very relaxed  and the edginess and irritation from earlier was now gone.   I went home and slept soundly.

We didn’t speak of it until the following Sunday when everyone shared their experiences at the regular Sunday gathering. 

Year of the Dog

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Year of the Dog

 [Nyerges is the author of “Extreme Simplicity,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” and other books. He teaches survival and self-reliance at Pasadena City college and throughout the community. He can be reached at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041]

As we are about to begin the Chinese Year of the earth Dog on February 16, it is a good time to take note of all the good things about dogs. It seems that everyone has something to say about the character of dogs.  They exhibit unconditional love, they are loyal, and they really seem to want to be a part of your life, to the extent that they are able.

Dogs are deeply loyal to their families and friends. They are regarded as honest and straightforward, and they can be deeply responsible for the welfare of those around them (remember old episodes of Lassie saving someone?).

Many of our most profound observations about human nature come from our observation of dogs.  For example, Sigmund Freud noted that “dogs love their friends and bite their enemies, quite unlike people who are incapable of pure love and always have to mix love and hate.”

James Thurber observed, “If I have any beliefs about immortality, it is that certain dogs I have known will go to heaven, and very, very few persons.” 

One of my favorite episodes of the Twilight Zone was “The Hunt,” where Hyder Simpson and his dog went for a hunt one day.  Hyder’s dog jumped into a pool, and didn’t come out and Hyder looked for him, eventually finding him.  They both had died, but Hyder didn’t know it, and he strolled down a road where a man informed him he’d died and that he was now at heaven.  Hyder was about to enter but the gatekeeper said dogs were not allowed. So Hyder just kept strolling, saying he’d not go anywhere if his dog couldn’t go.  He eventually came to another gate and the gatekeeper again invited him in.  “What about my dog?” asked Hyder hesitantly.  “Oh, he’s welcome” said the gatekeeper.  It turned out that this was the real heaven, where both Hyder and his dog were welcome.  The other gatekeeper was at the entrance to hell!   It’s an excellent episode and makes you think about what is important to you in life – and after life.

Ann Landers once wrote, “Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.”  And I really like the bumper sticker I once saw that read, “I wish I was half the person that my dog believes I am.”   A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself, said Josh Billings.  And Andy Rooney noted that the average dog is a nicer person than the average person. How true that often seems!

We make fun of some habits of dogs, like going in circles many times before they will lie down, or sniffing everything, because perhaps we do not understand dogs.  Dave Barry once comically noted that “dogs need to sniff the ground; it’s how they keep abreast of current events. The ground is a giant dog newspaper, containing all kinds of late-breaking dog news items, which, if they are especially urgent, are often continued in the next yard.”  Funny, but probably true. I remember walking my pit bull Cassius Clay in my Altadena neighborhood, and there were certain lines of bushes which he had to slowly sniff before we could move on. It took so long to get by that area that I would sometimes avoid it entirely or I would never get home.  What did Cassius smell? His brain was likely translating the different odors left by other dogs, just as Barry suggests, and those odors conveyed a complex picture of each dog that had passed by and probably a few things about its history.

As for the intelligence of dogs, I believe it is quite high. Much has been made of the supposed higher intelligence of pigs vs. dogs.  I don’t doubt that some scientist conducted some tests of brain activity and found that pigs were higher functioning in some areas.  Pigs certainly have incredible memories. When I had both a pig and a dog, I observed that my pig, Otis, had an incredible memory, but the memory was largely limited to food: where he once found it, whether he liked it, and whether he might find more there again.  Whereas the pig seemed to be less interested in humans and wanted to live for food and pleasure, the dog’s mentality was very much geared to the human “master,” and very much included the concepts that we humans call love and loyalty.

I have so many dog stories – stories that are uplifting, sad, hilarious,  stories of how our dog pal made our life more meaningful, and taught us to love even more. I realize that if you’re not a “dog person,” you’re not going to get this.  I remember once on the Dennis Prager radio show – not a “dog person”, by the way —  he talked about people who love dogs dearly.  In his attempt to figure this out, Prager concluded that people who love dogs morethan people have some sort of deficiency, and they are trying to make up for it by loving dogs.  Respectfully, I think you got that one wrong Dennis.  Granted, no two people are alike, but I see that people who can love dogs too are people who are big lovers, not small lovers. They are people whose hearts are big, and they see the beautiful life force and vitalistic energy within these non-human beings. 

I have spent some time attempting to master human-to-dog communication.  It is definitely not about words.  Yes, dogs will remember certain sounds and what they are intended to convey, regardless what human language you are speaking.  But they primarily pick up on your tone and intent.  They know anger, fear, uncertainty, love, respect, and many more of the so-called human emotions.  I also believe that Beatrice Lydecker got it right in her book, “What the Animals Tell Me,” where she shared her “secrets” to animal communication.  Essentially, Lydecker explains that you need to think in pictures, and to then attempt to convey those pictures to the animal, mentally.  I experimented with the Lydecker approach many times with Cassius and found that, towards the end of his life, we had some very deep and profound exchanges of ideas.

Welcome the Year of the Dog!  What an auspicious year. 

An Argument for Frugality

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[Nyerges is the author of various books such as “Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” “Squatter in Los Angeles,” and other books. He has led outdoor field trips since 1974. His schedule is available at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.comor at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041]

I don’t like seeing people waste money, their own or other people’s.  For most of us, money represents the transfer of our work into a tangible abstract which we use to get the things and services we need in life. Money equals our time, our work, our life. If you think that I am placing too much value on money it’s undoubtedly because I place money right up there with oxygen as something that is essential. (yes, stolen quote)

I am not optimistic about the state of our economic health, with the government doing what no one of us can do – survive decade after decade with “deficit spending,” which means money we don’t have, which means, literally, bankruptcy!

The individual should do everything possible to live within their economic means both as a lifestyle, a mentality, and as a way to avoid personal disaster. 

Though this is part of a much longer series about personal economics, let’s start with credit cards. 

The convenience of a credit card is obvious.  I can go to Trader Joes and not have to worry about carrying sufficient cash, and I can buy what I need, slide my card, and go home with groceries.  The problem with this is that too many users – especially in the beginning – get addicted to the card in the same way that one gets addicted to heroin.  It is so easy, and it feels so good, but it is not free.

Let me begin with my conclusion, something that too many have learned too late. If  you cannot pay off your credit card at the end of each month, you cannot afford what you have purchased, and you should not buy whatever it is you think you need or want. There are a few exceptions, however, as my friend Robert Blair always told me: A house, obviously.  An education, because the education presumably will enable you, long-term, to earn much more than you would have earned without it. And, unfortunately, a vehicle. More on these three later.

Remember, if you cannot pay off the balance of your card every month, you cannot afford the items in question, and should not buy them in the first place.

But everyone forgets that last sentence, at one time or another, to their peril.

The balance – and interest – build.  You learn to pay the minimum required by the credit card company, as the principle gets bigger.  Eventually, you learn to juggle your credit card debt from card to card to try and find the lowest interest rate to handle your balance.

Eventually, all your money goes to paying off the minimum amount due, and it seems that you will never get out of debt.  Was it worth it?  You’re now a slave of the banks. 

I once overhead a conversation where the individual was describing how much money they had left. “What does that mean?” I inquired.  They were describing how much more credit they had left on their credit card, as if that was their own money in a wallet somewhere. In fact, the person had NO money “left”—the amount being discussed was simply the amount of more money that the credit card company would allow the person to go even deeper into debt without worrying too much. 

Though lots of people use credit cards without any serious problems, for many others, the use of easy credit is part of the fast road to financial failure.   If you’re one of those people, one of your best courses of action is to first take a complete assessment of all your actual needs.  Stop buying anything you absolutely cannot live without. In fact, if you are having difficulty paying off your credit cards each month, you might be well advised to cut up those cards and operate on a cash basis until you know you are back on solid footing. 

There are also legitimate agencies that help you manage your debt so you can get out of debt. This means the agency will re-negotiate your debt so that you can pay one fee each month, often at a lower interest rate.  Obviously, however, you must change your behavior or you will never get out of debt, and you will be “poor” forever.

When I read statistics about how up to 90% of the American public are dissatisfied and unfulfilled in their life, I have to look at the possible reasons. One of the biggest reasons is a dissatisfaction with one’s chosen employment, because – let’s face it – everyone needs an income and sometimes we take whatever we can get.  If we do not continually seek employment that is more personally fulfilling, we begin to wonder what our life is all about. I have seen it all too often.  Then, too many of us try to find fulfillment or happiness with the junk that we buy, and then we lose ourselves into our technological world of emails and smart phones and facebook and twitters and television.  And that choice to seek meaning with more stuff, and more technology, proves to be a futile path, where we don’t find happiness and we get even poorer.

Yes, I know this is just the tip of an iceberg.  In summary, you really must work hard to stay out of debt by always delineating need from want.  If your life doesn’t depend on it, don’t buy it. And your fulfillment in life will come from your face-to-face interactions and workings with other people.  Go on a diet from your technological toys for a while. You might find a new life that was there all along, and you might find that your wallet is a bit healthier too.

The Year of No Christmas

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[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” and other books.  His blog can be read at www.ChristopherNyerges.com. He can be contacted via his site, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041]

When  I was around 10, my brothers and I were particularly bad, belligerent, and misbehaving one autumn.  My mother gave us several warning and threats and a few “beatings” in her ceaseless attempt to get us to obey.  I don’t recall what was “wrong” with us that year.  It was as if we were afflicted by some unseen infection.  Or maybe it was what all teens go through when they believe they know more than their parents.  So my mother said, “Keep it up and there will be no Christmas this year.”  Of course, my mother didn’t control the calendar.  She just meant “no gifts.”  That threat did at first affect our behavior,  but then we’d go back to our nonfeasant and malfeasant ways.  There were numerous threats, as November rolled into December, but things didn’t substantially improve.
Now, I was at the age where I began to think about things, and the relative unfairness in the world, and the questioning of authority. But I also wondered why we should  receive gifts at Christmas.  By this time, I was aware that Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus at this time, and that it was primarily a religious holiday.  I just didn’t get the whole gift thing –not that I minded receiving.  But because I lacked an understanding of the whole picture, the idea of “no gifts”  didn’t seem that threatening to me.
Thinking back, our bad behaviour that year was likely the trickle-down defiance from our oldest brother.  David was never a defier, certainly not an open defier, but the defiance of Gilbert the eldest would have trickled down to Thomas, to Richard, to me.  We were not an ideal family, and I am sure I have suffered my entire life due to unnecessary defiance and the disrespect that I showed to my parents.  Did my parents deserve respect?  In retrospect, possibly, though the question would have been irrelevant then – like the pot calling the kettle black. 
We were not saints, so who were we to point out hypocrisy in our parents?  Anyway, by mid-December, the word was out: No Christmas this year.  We were schizophrenic about this.  “Oh, we don’t care,” we sassed, but inwardly I believe we each felt a deep dismay at our own inability to live up to our household’s very simple standards.  I felt particularly dismayed that I had been no better, and that I was swayed along with the tide of my older brothers’ mob mentality.  No Christmas.  “She won’t follow through on it,” Tom told us with assurance.  But inwardly, I felt my mother had  to follow through, otherwise her word would mean little to us, and she’d gain little by “being nice.”  I don’t recall what my father had to say about this, but it wasn’t much.
So, sure enough, Christmas came, and we went glumly into the living room to a fire and the usual Christmas tree, but there were no gifts.  We went to church and we talked with our schoolmates. When they talked about what they got for Christmas, we just found ways to change the subject.  We had a quiet Christmas dinner.
One of my brothers told his friends that my mother was mean, but I never did that.  I knew we deserved nothing, and I felt a certain euphoric sense of justice in her actions, and I respected her more because of it. 
Interestingly, in certain ways, I felt closer to my mother after that, was more obedient because I simply felt better doing what was expected of me, and I never complained.  Despite a seeming lack, it was actually one of the best Christmas’ ever, where I received the most fitting possible “gift” – the ability to quickly experience that my choices and actions have consequences.
The story about my mean mother gradually got out into the neighborhood, and my mother once again became the topic of conversations, mostly criticizing my mother.  I always remained silent, trying to listen to both sides. But I only heard one side—no gifts – from those who truly lost the meaning of Christmas, whose sole focus for Christmas seemed to be the acquisition of things. 
So I was “given,” slowly,  a second “gift” by my mother’s action – a unique insight into the all-too-common mundanity of most people’s very narrow thinking.  And I was allowed the rare opportunity to try and experience the meaning of Christmas without the over-focus on material things.

The Year of No Christmas

[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” and other books.  His blog can be read at www.ChristopherNyerges.com. He can be contacted via his site, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041]

When  I was around 10, my brothers and I were particularly bad, belligerent, and misbehaving one autumn.  My mother gave us several warning and threats and a few “beatings” in her ceaseless attempt to get us to obey.  I don’t recall what was “wrong” with us that year.  It was as if we were afflicted by some unseen infection.  Or maybe it was what all teens go through when they believe they know more than their parents.  So my mother said, “Keep it up and there will be no Christmas this year.”  Of course, my mother didn’t control the calendar.  She just meant “no gifts.”  That threat did at first affect our behavior,  but then we’d go back to our nonfeasant and malfeasant ways.  There were numerous threats, as November rolled into December, but things didn’t substantially improve.
Now, I was at the age where I began to think about things, and the relative unfairness in the world, and the questioning of authority. But I also wondered why we should  receive gifts at Christmas.  By this time, I was aware that Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus at this time, and that it was primarily a religious holiday.  I just didn’t get the whole gift thing –not that I minded receiving.  But because I lacked an understanding of the whole picture, the idea of “no gifts”  didn’t seem that threatening to me.
Thinking back, our bad behaviour that year was likely the trickle-down defiance from our oldest brother.  David was never a defier, certainly not an open defier, but the defiance of Gilbert the eldest would have trickled down to Thomas, to Richard, to me.  We were not an ideal family, and I am sure I have suffered my entire life due to unnecessary defiance and the disrespect that I showed to my parents.  Did my parents deserve respect?  In retrospect, possibly, though the question would have been irrelevant then – like the pot calling the kettle black. 
We were not saints, so who were we to point out hypocrisy in our parents?  Anyway, by mid-December, the word was out: No Christmas this year.  We were schizophrenic about this.  “Oh, we don’t care,” we sassed, but inwardly I believe we each felt a deep dismay at our own inability to live up to our household’s very simple standards.  I felt particularly dismayed that I had been no better, and that I was swayed along with the tide of my older brothers’ mob mentality.  No Christmas.  “She won’t follow through on it,” Tom told us with assurance.  But inwardly, I felt my mother had  to follow through, otherwise her word would mean little to us, and she’d gain little by “being nice.”  I don’t recall what my father had to say about this, but it wasn’t much.
So, sure enough, Christmas came, and we went glumly into the living room to a fire and the usual Christmas tree, but there were no gifts.  We went to church and we talked with our schoolmates. When they talked about what they got for Christmas, we just found ways to change the subject.  We had a quiet Christmas dinner.
One of my brothers told his friends that my mother was mean, but I never did that.  I knew we deserved nothing, and I felt a certain euphoric sense of justice in her actions, and I respected her more because of it. 
Interestingly, in certain ways, I felt closer to my mother after that, was more obedient because I simply felt better doing what was expected of me, and I never complained.  Despite a seeming lack, it was actually one of the best Christmas’ ever, where I received the most fitting possible “gift” – the ability to quickly experience that my choices and actions have consequences.
The story about my mean mother gradually got out into the neighborhood, and my mother once again became the topic of conversations, mostly criticizing my mother.  I always remained silent, trying to listen to both sides. But I only heard one side—no gifts – from those who truly lost the meaning of Christmas, whose sole focus for Christmas seemed to be the acquisition of things. 
So I was “given,” slowly,  a second “gift” by my mother’s action – a unique insight into the all-too-common mundanity of most people’s very narrow thinking.  And I was allowed the rare opportunity to try and experience the meaning of Christmas without the over-focus on material things.

The Weinstein Saga

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THE HARVEY WEINSTEIN SAGA
[Nyerges is a teacher, and author of such books at “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Til Death Do Us Part?”, “Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City,” and others. He can be reached at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041]
The Harvey Weinstein saga was the opening salvo in what can be described as the latest Pandora’s Box to be opened for public viewing.  Why now? Who knows? The timing was right, apparently, and the pendulum has swung – in a good direction.
I’ve had many discussions in the past month as revelation after revelation has come forth, almost at a dizzying speed. The nature of this particular Pandora’s Box is unique, and it has ignited deep-felt discussions by both men and women.  I’ve had discussions with just men, just women, and with mixed groups.  I’d like to share some of my observations.
First, by whatever divine timing occurs to allow such nasties to be revealed, it is clear that women have had enough!  Women everywhere know how they have been treated for so long, almost automatically, and they want it to end. After all, let’s face it — the world is largely run by men, and many of them haven’t gotten used to the idea of a woman in the work place which is his equal, and should be respected as such.  Or, the men who have been running things for so long have come to expect – even demand – certain perks from the women who are part of their solar system. 
Once, many years ago while having lunch with my mentor at the time, he noted that I glanced over at a very attractive woman in the next booth over. My mentor said nothing at first. Then, in a short while, he said, “Most men have no clue how hard it is to be a beautiful and attractive woman.”  He did not specify the woman that I  had glanced at, but let’s just say that she had all the assets that a man seems to not be able to not stare at.   “Imagine if you  were such a woman,” he continued.  “All day long, men would whistle at you, yell at you, taunt you, and they would interpret your every move as a flirt or an invitation to them.”   Honestly, I’d never quite thought about it that way before. I’d figured, as a male, that it would be quite awesome to be the most attractive woman in the room where every guy wanted to… well, you know.
My mentor continued.  “The curse of being highly attractive is that it is nearly impossible for most men to see beyond your body, and get to know the person inside.” I had to admit that was true. Sad, but true. 
In our recent Weinstein-related discussions, most of the women were a bit surprised when I declared that nearly all men are natural predators, and that they have to work hard to overcome their animal nature. Women are not that way, and so they are too often surprised when a man’s animal nature strikes.  That’s no excuse for the man, of course – it’s just a fact.
I found it interesting that not a single man challenged my assertion that nearly all men are predators.  Why? Because they are men!  They know what it is like to be inside a man’s body. 
I was asked if I thought any of these women were lying with their sexual allegations.  I said no, I didn’t think so.  I mean, maybe there are one or two exaggerations, but I didn’t see any reason for deceit in this matter.  One man asked me, “Well, don’t you think it’s odd that some of them waited 30 years to speak up?”  No, I didn’t find that unusual at all. After all, if you lived in an environment where you had to prove something happened, you would end up in the so-called he-said-she-said situation, where it could not be decided by a court who was lying or telling the truth. So why would any woman under such difficult situations bother to again put herself through the wringer of the courts?  I believe most of the women.  The timing was right and they are speaking up, saying, I didn’t like what you did to me. I did not consent. What you did was wrong.
And men should really sit up and listen.  A woman does not like a man to push himself on her. A woman who rejects a man (for whatever reason) is not playing “hard to get.”  Guys, get over it. If the woman does not care for you, keep  your hands to yourself and move along smartly. The world is a very big place.  Remember, it is always the woman who chooses in a relationship.  Get that into your head.
The Weinstein saga has brought up a lot of touchy issues, some of which will probably not be resolved any time soon.  For example, there are some who want to revisit some of Bill Clinton’s sexual allegations. But, they aren’t interested in Bill’s extramarital affairs – something that occurred between two consenting adults and therefore only their own business – but only in cases where Clinton forced himself on a woman, and used his power to influence her to do something she did not want to do.
As since the beginning of time, men like women, women like men, and we all need each other, as friends, partners, and associates.  Learn to give the respect that you want and expect others to give of you.
These are some of the things that my friends and I discussed.  I think it’s good that the cat came out of the bag, and I hope that we might see positive changes in the male-female relationships of our society as a result.

The Weinstein Saga

THE HARVEY WEINSTEIN SAGA
[Nyerges is a teacher, and author of such books at “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Til Death Do Us Part?”, “Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City,” and others. He can be reached at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041]
The Harvey Weinstein saga was the opening salvo in what can be described as the latest Pandora’s Box to be opened for public viewing.  Why now? Who knows? The timing was right, apparently, and the pendulum has swung – in a good direction.
I’ve had many discussions in the past month as revelation after revelation has come forth, almost at a dizzying speed. The nature of this particular Pandora’s Box is unique, and it has ignited deep-felt discussions by both men and women.  I’ve had discussions with just men, just women, and with mixed groups.  I’d like to share some of my observations.
First, by whatever divine timing occurs to allow such nasties to be revealed, it is clear that women have had enough!  Women everywhere know how they have been treated for so long, almost automatically, and they want it to end. After all, let’s face it — the world is largely run by men, and many of them haven’t gotten used to the idea of a woman in the work place which is his equal, and should be respected as such.  Or, the men who have been running things for so long have come to expect – even demand – certain perks from the women who are part of their solar system. 
Once, many years ago while having lunch with my mentor at the time, he noted that I glanced over at a very attractive woman in the next booth over. My mentor said nothing at first. Then, in a short while, he said, “Most men have no clue how hard it is to be a beautiful and attractive woman.”  He did not specify the woman that I  had glanced at, but let’s just say that she had all the assets that a man seems to not be able to not stare at.   “Imagine if you  were such a woman,” he continued.  “All day long, men would whistle at you, yell at you, taunt you, and they would interpret your every move as a flirt or an invitation to them.”   Honestly, I’d never quite thought about it that way before. I’d figured, as a male, that it would be quite awesome to be the most attractive woman in the room where every guy wanted to… well, you know.
My mentor continued.  “The curse of being highly attractive is that it is nearly impossible for most men to see beyond your body, and get to know the person inside.” I had to admit that was true. Sad, but true. 
In our recent Weinstein-related discussions, most of the women were a bit surprised when I declared that nearly all men are natural predators, and that they have to work hard to overcome their animal nature. Women are not that way, and so they are too often surprised when a man’s animal nature strikes.  That’s no excuse for the man, of course – it’s just a fact.
I found it interesting that not a single man challenged my assertion that nearly all men are predators.  Why? Because they are men!  They know what it is like to be inside a man’s body. 
I was asked if I thought any of these women were lying with their sexual allegations.  I said no, I didn’t think so.  I mean, maybe there are one or two exaggerations, but I didn’t see any reason for deceit in this matter.  One man asked me, “Well, don’t you think it’s odd that some of them waited 30 years to speak up?”  No, I didn’t find that unusual at all. After all, if you lived in an environment where you had to prove something happened, you would end up in the so-called he-said-she-said situation, where it could not be decided by a court who was lying or telling the truth. So why would any woman under such difficult situations bother to again put herself through the wringer of the courts?  I believe most of the women.  The timing was right and they are speaking up, saying, I didn’t like what you did to me. I did not consent. What you did was wrong.
And men should really sit up and listen.  A woman does not like a man to push himself on her. A woman who rejects a man (for whatever reason) is not playing “hard to get.”  Guys, get over it. If the woman does not care for you, keep  your hands to yourself and move along smartly. The world is a very big place.  Remember, it is always the woman who chooses in a relationship.  Get that into your head.
The Weinstein saga has brought up a lot of touchy issues, some of which will probably not be resolved any time soon.  For example, there are some who want to revisit some of Bill Clinton’s sexual allegations. But, they aren’t interested in extramarital affairs – something that occurred between two consenting adults and therefore is their own business – but only in cases where Clinton forced himself on a woman, and used his power to influence her to do something she did not want to do.
As since the beginning of time, men like women, women like men, and we all need each other, as friends, partners, and associates.  Learn to give the respect that you want and expect others to give of you.
These are some of the things that my friends and I discussed.  I think it’s good that the cat came out of the bag, and I hope that we might see positive changes in the male-females relationships of our society as a result.

On Relationships…

ON THE NATURE OF RELATIONSHIPS
Your “friends” should never tell you who you can associate with

Human relationships are forever fascinating.  I’ve long been interested in the interplay between two partners, and what can be called the “chemistry” between them.  What, for example, really brings two people together?  Is it common interests, or different interests?  What makes the relationship tick, and what tears it apart? 
I have concluded that each human relationship is very much like a chemistry experiment, whereby different chemical-soup mixtures combine or don’t combine with any of the other chemical-soup mixtures that we call the dynamic human.  One day I hope to publish a book on relationships and perhaps I’ll be bold enough to make some meaningful comments and suggestions.
For today, I want to explore one issue that I have experienced all my life in various relationships, though it tends to pop up the most in business relationships.
Someone will say, “If you do business with that person, you cannot do business with me!”  I have had it said to me, and my knee jerk reaction is nearly always, “OK, then I will not do business with you. I do business with whom I choose, and if you have a problem with X, that is your problem alone.” 
I can recall as a child in grammar school when one of the popular boys told me the same thing.  “You cannot be my friend if you are going to pal around with so-and-so.”  Really? I was usually too frightened as a child to openly challenge such a statement, and I would maintain my friendship with the outcast anyway.  I  learned – in time – that the bossy boy was very insecure and he wasn’t really my friend anyway, not in the ways that mattered. 
And as I continued to “pal around” with the new kid in school, who I was told to not associate with, I found someone who was different, unique, and who became a lifelong friend.  It is perhaps because I often felt like an outcast myself growing up that I have found myself attracted to the so-called oddballs and misfits of the world, most of whom are far more fascinating and interesting than the so-called normal people.
More recently, where I conduct a regular outdoor public event, some of the local residents would hang out at my booth where I conducted the administrative aspects of the event. My assistant told me privately that I should not allow one particular person to stay around my booth.  The young man in question lived locally, and was known to be affiliated with a notorious L.A. gang.  Some people felt intimidated by this man’s presence. 
However, it has never been my policy to expel or repel anyone based on such things; as long as his behaviour in my presence was appropriate, I had no reason to repel him. I gradually got to know this man.  He needed income, and so little by little I put him to work doing various small tasks at the weekly outdoor event, much to the dismay of my assistant.  Plus, this was a public space, not private property, so I did my best to make this a good situation for everyone.  Through my comments and suggestions, this young man gradually was able to refine his communication skills when talking with my customers, and even began to dress a little better when he came to our market.  From my perspective, I may have been one of the few people who interacted with him in a positive way, even encouraging him to get more work, and where to find it. I never looked down my nose at him, so to speak.
To my surprise, there were a few times when other individuals harshly criticized me or our market, and this young man strongly  and eloquently defended me.  I was shocked because I didn’t expect it, and it was not necessary, and yet, nothing more needed to be said or done.  I chose to view it as “what goes around, comes around,” as this young man felt so much a part of our market that he would stand up to defend us.
This is just one small example where something positive flowed from a situation that others viewed as negative.
Yes, like everyone, I like to surround myself with good friends. And yet, I have never forgotten the insightful words of Moshe Dayan, who said “Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer.”

More on Thanksgiving

MORE ON THANKSGIVING (but no more until next year, I promise!)
[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Foraging California,” “Enter the Forest” and other books.  He leads courses in the native uses of plants.  He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance..com]
I met a man who began to discuss with me my Thanksgiving column, about the historical origins of Thanksgiving, and what happened, and what didn’t happen.
“I was a little puzzled after I read it,” Burt told me.  “I wanted to know more.  I understand that the first historical Thanksgiving may have not happened the way we are told as children,” he told me, “but how did we get to where we are today?  What I understood from your column was that there are historical roots, and that we today remember those roots and try to be very thankful, but the connection was unclear.”  Burt and I then had a very long conversation.
A newspaper column is typically not long enough to provide the “big picture” of  the entire foundation of such a commemoration, as well as all the twists and turns that have occurred along the way. But here is the condensed version of what I told my new friend Burt.
First, try reading any of the many books that are available that describe the first so-called “first Thanksgiving” at the Plymouth colony that at least attempts to also show the Indigenous perspective.  You will quickly see that this was not simply the European pilgrims and the native people sitting down to a great meal and giving thanks to their respective Gods, though that probably did occur.  In fact, the indigenous peoples and the newcomers had thanksgiving days on a pretty regular basis.
As you take the time to explore the motives of the many key players of our so-called “first Thanksgiving,” in the context of that time, you will see that though the Europeans were now increasingly flowing into the eastern seaboard, their long-term presence had not been allowed – until this point. Massasoit was the political-military leader of the Wampanoag confederation, which was the stronger native group in the area.  However, after disease had wiped out many of the native people, Massasoit was worried about the neighboring long-time enemies – the Narragansett — to the west. The gathering of the European leaders of the Plimouth Colony and Massasoit and entourage had been more-or-less brokered by Tisquantum (aka Squanto) who spoke English. 
Yes, there had been much interaction between the new colonists and native people for some time, and this gathering of 3 days in 1621 was intended to seal the deal between the colonists aligning with Massasoit.  The exact date is unknown, but it was sometime between September 21 and November 9.
Yes, historians say that a grand meal followed, including mostly meat.  The colony remained and there was relative peace for the next 10 to 50 years, depending on which historians were correct in their reading of the meager notes.  The historical record indicates that the new colonists learned how to hunt, forage, practice medicince, make canoes and moccasins, and much more, from the indigenous people. Even Tisquantum taught the colonists how to farm using fish scraps, ironically, a bit of farming detail he picked up during his few years in Europe.
Politicians and religious leaders continued to practice the giving of thanks, in their churches and in their communities, and that is a good thing. They would hearken back to what gradually became known as the “first Thanksgiving” in order to give thanks for all the bounty they found and created in this new world, always giving thanks to God!  But clearly, the indigenous people would have a very different view of the consequences of this 1621 pact, which gradually and inevitably meant the loss of their lands and further decimation of their peoples from disease.  Of course, there was not yet a “United States of America,” and it was with a bit of nostalgia and selective memory that we refer to this semi-obscure gathering of two peoples as some sort of foundational event in the development of the United States. And it is understandable from the perspective of a national mythology that the native people were forgotten and the “gifts from God” remembered. 
My new friend Burt was nodding his head, beginning to see that there was much under the surface of this holiday. I recommended that he read such books as “1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus” by Mann,  “Native American History: Idiot’s Guide” by Fleming, and others.
As I still believe, giving thanks is a good thing – good for the soul and good for the society.  Just be sure to always give thanks where it is due!
Eventually, in the centuries that followed, Thanksgiving was celebrated on various days in various places.  George Washington declared it an official Thanksgiving in 1789.  However, the day did not become standardized as the final Thursday each November until 1863 with a proclamation by Abraham Lincoln.
The gross commercialization of Thanksgiving is a somewhat recent manifestation of the way in which we have tried to extract money from just about anything.  One way to break that cycle is to just choose to do something different.
When I used to visit my parents’ home for annual Thanksgiving gatherings, I disliked the loud arguing and banter, the loud TV in the background, and the way everyone (including me) ate so much that we had stomach aches!  I felt that Thanksgiving should be about something more than all that.  I changed that by simply no longer attending, and then visiting my parents the following day with a quiet meal.  It took my parents a few years to get used to my changes, but eventually they did.
This year, before the actual Thanksgiving day, I enjoyed a home-made meal with neighbors and friends. Before we sat down to eat, everyone stated the things they are thankful-for before the meal. Nearly everyone cited “friends and family,” among other things.  It was quiet, intimate, and the way that I have long felt this day should be observed.  Yes, like most holidays we have a whole host of diverse symbols, and Thanksgiving is no different.  And like most modern holidays, their real meanings are now nearly-hopelessly  obscured by the massive commercialism.  Nevertheless, despite the tide that is against us, we can always choose to do something different.   
Holidays are our holy days where we ought to take the time to reflect upon the deeper meanings.  By so doing, we are not necessarily “saving” the holiday, but we are saving ourselves.  As we work to discover the original history and meanings of each holiday, we wake up our minds and discover a neglected world hidden in plain sight.

More on Thanksgiving

MORE ON THANKSGIVING (but no more until next year, I promise!)
[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Foraging California,” “Enter the Forest” and other books.  He leads courses in the native uses of plants.  He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance..com]
I met a man who began to discuss with me my Thanksgiving column, about the historical origins of Thanksgiving, and what happened, and what didn’t happen.
“I was a little puzzled after I read it,” Burt told me.  “I wanted to know more.  I understand that the first historical Thanksgiving may have not happened the way we are told as children,” he told me, “but how did we get to where we are today?  What I understood from your column was that there are historical roots, and that we today remember those roots and try to be very thankful, but the connection was unclear.”  Burt and I then had a very long conversation.
A newspaper column is typically not long enough to provide the “big picture” of  the entire foundation of such a commemoration, as well as all the twists and turns that have occurred along the way. But here is the condensed version of what I told my new friend Burt.
First, try reading any of the many books that are available that describe the first so-called “first Thanksgiving” at the Plymouth colony that at least attempts to also show the Indigenous perspective.  You will quickly see that this was not simply the European pilgrims and the native people sitting down to a great meal and giving thanks to their respective Gods, though that probably did occur.  In fact, the indigenous peoples and the newcomers had thanksgiving days on a pretty regular basis.
As you take the time to explore the motives of the many key players of our so-called “first Thanksgiving,” in the context of that time, you will see that though the Europeans were now increasingly flowing into the eastern seaboard, their long-term presence had not been allowed – until this point. Massasoit was the political-military leader of the Wampanoag confederation, which was the stronger native group in the area.  However, after disease had wiped out many of the native people, Massasoit was worried about the neighboring long-time enemies – the Narragansett — to the west. The gathering of the European leaders of the Plimouth Colony and Massasoit and entourage had been more-or-less brokered by Tisquantum (aka Squanto) who spoke English. 
Yes, there had been much interaction between the new colonists and native people for some time, and this gathering of 3 days in 1621 was intended to seal the deal between the colonists aligning with Massasoit.  The exact date is unknown, but it was sometime between September 21 and November 9.
Yes, historians say that a grand meal followed, including mostly meat.  The colony remained and there was relative peace for the next 10 to 50 years, depending on which historians were correct in their reading of the meager notes.  The historical record indicates that the new colonists learned how to hunt, forage, practice medicince, make canoes and moccasins, and much more, from the indigenous people. Even Tisquantum taught the colonists how to farm using fish scraps, ironically, a bit of farming detail he picked up during his few years in Europe.
Politicians and religious leaders continued to practice the giving of thanks, in their churches and in their communities, and that is a good thing. They would hearken back to what gradually became known as the “first Thanksgiving” in order to give thanks for all the bounty they found and created in this new world, always giving thanks to God!  But clearly, the indigenous people would have a very different view of the consequences of this 1621 pact, which gradually and inevitably meant the loss of their lands and further decimation of their peoples from disease.  Of course, there was not yet a “United States of America,” and it was with a bit of nostalgia and selective memory that we refer to this semi-obscure gathering of two peoples as some sort of foundational event in the development of the United States. And it is understandable from the perspective of a national mythology that the native people were forgotten and the “gifts from God” remembered. 
My new friend Burt was nodding his head, beginning to see that there was much under the surface of this holiday. I recommended that he read such books as “1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus” by Mann,  “Native American History: Idiot’s Guide” by Fleming, and others.
As I still believe, giving thanks is a good thing – good for the soul and good for the society.  Just be sure to always give thanks where it is due!
Eventually, in the centuries that followed, Thanksgiving was celebrated on various days in various places.  George Washington declared it an official Thanksgiving in 1789.  However, the day did not become standardized as the final Thursday each November until 1863 with a proclamation by Abraham Lincoln.
The gross commercialization of Thanksgiving is a somewhat recent manifestation of the way in which we have tried to extract money from just about anything.  One way to break that cycle is to just choose to do something different.
When I used to visit my parents’ home for annual Thanksgiving gatherings, I disliked the loud arguing and banter, the loud TV in the background, and the way everyone (including me) ate so much that we had stomach aches!  I felt that Thanksgiving should be about something more than all that.  I changed that by simply no longer attending, and then visiting my parents the following day with a quiet meal.  It took my parents a few years to get used to my changes, but eventually they did.
This year, before the actual Thanksgiving day, I enjoyed a home-made meal with neighbors and friends. Before we sat down to eat, everyone stated the things they are thankful-for before the meal. Nearly everyone cited “friends and family,” among other things.  It was quiet, intimate, and the way that I have long felt this day should be observed.  Yes, like most holidays we have a whole host of diverse symbols, and Thanksgiving is no different.  And like most modern holidays, their real meanings are now nearly-hopelessly  obscured by the massive commercialism.  Nevertheless, despite the tide that is against us, we can always choose to do something different.   
Holidays are our holy days where we ought to take the time to reflect upon the deeper meanings.  By so doing, we are not necessarily “saving” the holiday, but we are saving ourselves.  As we work to discover the original history and meanings of each holiday, we wake up our minds and discover a neglected world hidden in plain sight.

ANCIENT WRITING ON ROCK

Click here to view the original post.
a view of the first inscribed rock found — see transliteration below

 [Nyerges is the former editor of  Wilderness Way magazine and American Survival Guide. He is  the author of How to Survive Anywhere, Enter the Forest, and other books. He has led wilderness trips into the Angeles National Forest for over 40 years.  He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or www.ChristopherNyerges.com.]
[An extract from Nyerges’ Kindle book “Ancient Writing on Rock,” also available from the Store at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com, which goes into much more detail about the site and various opinions about it.]
On Halloween day in 2001, I was leading a birthday outing for a 10 year old boy and his friends at the 3000 foot level of the Angeles National Forest.  We were getting late, so I led them down into the stream so we could make soap from the yucca leaves. It was a spot where I would never ordinarily go.  As the boys and I made our yucca soap, my gaze was drawn to the back side of a large, 10 foot wide boulder with unusual markings on it.  There were two large horizontal cleavages and numerous markings across the cleavage that bore an uncanny resemblance to ogam. 
I pointed it out to every one and explained ogam to the adults, who seemed underwhelmed at what such a rock might mean.
I returned a week later with Dude McLean to take photographs and sketches.  McLean had also been there when I first noted the rock.  After carefully comparing my sketches with the ogam alphabet, I was amazed to see that all the marks were consistent with ogam.  So I then sent photos and sketches to perhaps 50 “experts” in ogam, linguistics, archaelogy, and other fields and eagerly awaited their response about my exciting discovery.
Ogam is not to be confused with the more ornate runic writing. Ogam employs straight lines across what is called a stem line. The stem line can be a natural horizontal fracture in a rock, or the corner of a standing stone.  The 15 consonants are expressed by from one to five lines above the stem line, one to five lines below the stem line, or one to five lines across the stem lines. The vowels, where present, can be a series of dots or other symbols.  It is certainly possible to see natural fractures in rock and think you are looking at ogam, especially if you have not studied rock sufficiently to see the difference between what nature does and what man does.
Gloria Farley, author of “In Plain Sight,”  responded, saying it certainly looked like ogam, but that she had no idea what it might say since she had all her discoveries translated by Barry Fell, who had passed away.  One expert from England responded, saying that since the rock inscription was in California, there was no chance that it was bonafide ogam.  Another told me that it was clearly a significant find, but he felt it was more likely some sort of tally system, not ogam.  But most of the various world experts ignored me.
So I laid out what I felt was a fairly reasonable scientific method for ascertaining if the inscription I found was, or was not, of some significance.
1.      Were the markings consistent with the ogam alphabet.  If so, I would proceed to the other steps.
2.      Did the ogam letters actually spell anything.
3.      Could the inscription could actually be dated.
4.      Was  there was anything else significant about the site.
5.      The final step – if I got that far – was to determine who may have actually inscribed the rock, and under what circumstances. I also reasoned that if I got this far, others could jump in and attempt to answer this question.
Since all the markings were consistent with the ogam characters, I then proceeded to determine the actual sequence of letters.  It took me approximately 6 visits in different lighting conditions until I arrived at what I felt was the correct letter sequence.  I attempted to confirm my deductions by carefully feeling the indentations in the rock. 
Next, with my sequence of letters, I tried to determine if it spelled anything.  Ogam was used primarily to express Gaelic, but had also been used in some known instances to represent both Saharan and Basque.  I needed experts or dictionaries. 
One night, while staring at my photos of the rock and the letter sequence, the two letters MC jumped out at me, and I realized that the rock inscription was most likely written in the most common language of usage for ogam, Gaelic.  MC is a very common abbreviation for “son of,” as in McDonald, MacAllister, et al.
I obtained a copy of  Dwelley’s “Illustrated Gaelic-English Dictionary” (copyright 1902-12) and one rainy day about two months after finding the rock, I spent about five hours going through Dwelley’s page by page, looking for letter combinations that might mean something. All the letters I had to work with were consonants. There were no vowells, suggestive of an older or earlier linguistic form, akin to several of the Middle Eastern alphabets written without vowels.
Based on the manner in which the markings were made on the rock, I broke the letter sequence into the following groupings: B- MMH- BL- ?MG-MC-MM-DH-B.   I then tried to find words for which those letter groupings would represent.  Part of this search was to see what was commonly written on other such stones.
After a few months, I came up with the following possible transliteration:  To-memory-Bel- Thy Young Hero- Son of – Mother – Deep/depth/ darken- stone. “Bel” was actually written above the main line of the inscription.  So my translation reads: To Bel, in the memory of the young hero, son of the mother (prince?), laid to rest with this stone.”  I found at least one stone in which scholars translated “DH” as “laid to rest.” Thus, I had achieved Step Two in my process, and proceeded to the next Step.

Two different geologists, one a PhD, told me that such inscriptions could not be definitely dated.  The PhD said that based on his educated guess, the inscription was made between 1500 and 2500 years ago, and he’d say it was 95% certain that it was made by man, not natural forces.
I proceeded to Step Four with various informal surveys of the surrounding area. First, IF the rock inscription was formed by natural forces, it would be logical that there would  be many or more such carvings in the  vicinity.   Within a quarter mile of the stone, I found one possible standing stone, one triangular pointing stone (pointed up a side canyon), and a nearby site that had all the appearances of being an ancient graveyard based on the placement of stones – though I did no digging.  A few years after the initial discovery I found another rock near the standing stone with an ogam inscription of B-EA-N-EA, which I eventually concluded must be in reference to Byanu. In time, other features were identified at this site, such as two dolmens, acorn leaching rocks, and other enigmatic features.

Thus, amazingly, everything suggested that this was a foreign inscription, probably someone from Western Europe who came up the canyon and died, or was killed. I shared  my work with my friend who was the editor of the local paper, and he sent a reporter to write a story about it.  The ensuing newspaper story accurately represented my work on the rock and inscription, and also included interviews with others who said I was making fanciful claims, though none of them had ever gone to see the site.
Though the final chapter of this rock has not been written, it has enforced the belief that our history is not as we’ve been taught in school. Indeed, the schools are often the official gurgitators of  the best that academia has been able to collectively come up with.  They get a lot of it right, but they fail to see their own blindnesses and prejudices. 
My rewards for taking all this time on this multi-faceted research:  I have been called a fraud numerous times.  I have been listed on a college web-site as an example of “fringe archaeology” and explained away as a fraud. 
On the other hand, I was made a life member in the Epigraphic Society.  According to Wayne Kenaston, Jr., who bestowed that membership upon me, “Welcome to the frustrations that come with dealing with rock –writing, or epigraphy.  You did a very good and scholarly job of deciphering, transliterating, and translating the Angeles Forest Mystery Rock inscriptions.  I congratulate you and encourage you to pursue your efforts to learn more about the provenance of the ‘young hero’ whose grave is probably marked by the inscription.” 
               

Eating Corn from my own “Field of Dreams”

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An excerpt from Christopher’s “Squatter in Los Angeles” book, available from Kindle, or from the Store at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.
[circa 1978]
I think I was just a natural dreamer and I believed that I could magically earn a very sufficient income by freelance writing and teaching, so this period of squatting gave me the luxuries to choose my life’s activities.
I continued to write newspaper columns, though I never earned much from them. I  began to work more actively on my first book about the uses of local wild plants. I continued to engage in metaphysical studies, and gardening, and conducting occasional wild food outings.
My garden never seemed highly productive but  I had a few of the tall red amaranth plants, some squash, a corn patch, some greens, and wild foods. It was probably my first successful corn patch. I didn’t plant the rows of corn that you see so often in gardens and on farms. Rather, in my approximately 10 by 20 foot corn patch, I had corn more of less evenly spaced.  I had wanted to try the so-called Three Sisters of the native Southwest, of corn, beans, and squash.
In the arid soil of the Southwest, the corn was planted first, and once it  arose, beans were planted at the base of the each corn. The beans’ roots fix nitrogen and this acts as a fertilizer to the corn. Squash was then planted as a sprawling ground cover to retain the valuable scant moisture of the desert.
I planted my corn in my wood chip patch, three seeds per hole about two feet apart.  Corn came up, and then I planted bean seeds.  Beans are usually an easy crop to grow, but not that many came up. Who knows, maybe the ducks ate them. I planted squash too. Not a desert squash but ordinary zucchini which did a good job as a ground cover and food producer. I loved the little garden, and at night when I sat at my plywood desk with my typewriter, I’d look out my window through the several feet tall corn patch to see the lights of the city below.  During the day, little birds would flock to the corn patch and eat bugs. I enjoyed the fact that this little garden that I created with my simple efforts was now teeming with wildlife.  It felt good just to look at it. It provided food for my body, food for wildlife, and food for my soul.
Not long after I started this patch – it was near Thanksgiving – David Ashley came by for a visit.  David had already moved into the neighborhood from wherever else he’d been living. He came up to the top of the hill where I was an illegal squatter. My housing status didn’t cause David to lower his regard for me.
I took David out into my garden, and we stood there talking about life. I pulled off a ripe ear of corn and handed it to him and picked one for myself.
“What’s this?” asked David.
“To eat,” I responded as I began to peel off the leaves and hairs on my average size ear of corn.  He took a bite of the sweet kernels.
“I didn’t know you could eat corn raw,” said David in a surprised voice.
“Yep, you can,” I told him as I chewed on my sweet cob.  David began to peel his and take some bites.
“Wow, that’s really good!” said David, chewing on more kernels. We stood there for a few moments, eating our corn, looking at the outside world through the stalks of corn that were taller than us. It was a quiet, special moment.
Eventually, David left, and over the ensuing months, I would occasionally hear David telling someone about his surreal experience eating raw corn in Christopher’s little corn patch, our own little “field of dreams.”

Dolores’ First Birthday Run

 

An excerpt from “Til Death Do Us Part?” available from Kindle, or the Store at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com

            Dolores came into my world around 1979 when she began to participate in the non-profit organization (WTI) I’d been working with.  At the time, Dolores was starting a business selling food storage systems for emergencies, and she contacted the president of our non-profit because of their interest in all aspects of survival.  We had many points of common interest, and she became more involved in the classes and activities of our non-profit.
By September 1980, as her birthday was approaching, she decided that she’d try doing the “birthday run,” an activity devised by the founder of the non-profit.
            Briefly, the birthday run involves going to a local track on your birthday, and running one lap for each year of your life. Friends join in the run at the year when they met you.  The runner mentally reviews each year of their life as they run each corresponding lap. A circular track is ideal because you can mentally divide the track into month or seasonal divisions to help you remember what happened month by month as you run.  One would also write brief notes during the run to record significant memories.  It is not about running, per se, but about remembering and reviewing your life. Afterwards, it is traditional to take a hot “memory bath” and to then share one’s insights and goals for the year with gathered friends.
            I was asked a day earlier if I’d be willing to go with Dolores and run with her. Since I met Dolores only a year or so earlier, I had not planned to run with her until she’d already run her first 33 laps, and then I planned to run only her 34th lap with her.
            Late in the afternoon on October 2, I went to the Eagle Rock High School track where Dolores planned to run.  It was around 4 p.m., and it was dark and overcast, and seemed much later than it was.  When I arrived, I expected to see a group from our non-profit there, but only Dolores was there. 
            “Where is everyone?” I asked her.
            “I don’t know,” said Dolores.  “I don’t know if anyone else was planning to run,” she said as both a statement and question.
            “Oh,” I said dumbly.
            “Look,” continued Dolores. “I don’t really know if I can even do this.  I haven’t been running much and I don’t feel in shape.”
            I encouraged Dolores to try the run anyway.
            “Why not just do at least a few laps – review a few years of your life, and just see how it goes,” I said encouragingly.
            Dolores was quiet, obviously thinking about it.  Then she said, “OK.”
            We waited a few more minutes, and after no one else arrived, we went into the school yard. 
            I explained to Dolores that she should pick a starting point that would correspond to October, and then she should try to divide the lap into 12 monthly sections, so she would know where she was in each year of her life as she ran. 
            “At the very least,” I explained, “divide the lap into the four seasons, so you can try to remember what you were doing in the fall, winter, spring, and autumn of each year.”
            “OK,” responded Dolores.  She decided that the southern end of the track where we’d entered would be January, the beginning of each year.   We then walked to a point that Dolores called October, and she put her water bottle on the benches by the edge of the track. 
            “Why don’t you run with me?” asked Dolores.  “I don’t really expect to finish, so you might as well run and I can ask you questions if I have any.”  That wasn’t the normal protocol, but I figured it would be OK if she was asking me.  Plus, it would be cold just sitting on the benches for her first 33 laps.
            “OK,” I said, and Dolores began her slow running around the Eagle Rock High School track.  I ran to her right and slightly behind, and didn’t say much.
            By the second lap – age two – Dolores began to relate incidents in her life.  Where she grew up, what her mother was doing, getting lost as a child and having a policeman on a motorcycle take her home,  growing up in Altadena, things about her sister.
            She ran steadily and talked in a low voice as if narrating the scenes of some inner vision.  She asked me one question about how to run, and I told her that this was not about running technique, only about getting fully into the details of reliving her life. 
            There was a slight pause about age 20 or so, as Dolores drank a longer drink of her water, and jotted a few notes with a small flashlight.  It was fully dark by this time, and the track was completely empty.
            Dolores continued to run, and related her various world travels – going to Germany to live with her husband, her daughter Barbara, getting divorced, traveling to Hawaii, to Virginia Beach, to Colorado, and her various spiritual pursuits.  I was hearing a lot of these details for the first time, so it was all new to me.  I listened, thinking to myself, what a fantastic life this woman has had! 
            We were getting to the end and she spoke of how the est  training changed her life, and how she wanted to start her own “survival food” business and travel around the country marketing it to communes and ordinary folks. She got to the point where she met the folks at our non-profit, and before you knew it, her run was over.
            “Wow,” said Dolores when she was done.  “I didn’t believe I could have done it without you.”  “What?” I thought to myself.  I only ran along with her, and didn’t realize that my being there gave her the needed support to do her own running.
            Dolores jotted down some more notes in her notebook, and we both departed. 
            I presume Dolores went to her home and did a hot “memory bath” by herself.  There was no gathering for Dolores that night – it was a weekday and someone else determined that the weekend would be a better time for a gathering.
On the weekend, I went to the birthday gathering for Dolores where she shared some of her life review, and some goals.  It was quite interesting to hear many of her life’s details again, though she shared only the highlights of those things that impressed her the most. 
            “I didn’t think I could do the run, but it helped to have Christopher run with me,” she said in her shy way of thanking me.  It made me feel good to know that what I thought was merely my passive presence had a significant positive influence on someone.  On Dolores.  It was the beginning of my feeling close to Dolores, and the beginning of our life paths co-mingling.
            Though I had already done the birthday run for a few years, it was only that night that I learned the birthday run was one of the methods designed to assist in reviewing one’s life.  In our non-profit organization, there was much focus on reviewing what had just occurred, whether it was a critique of an event we’d just done, or the review of what just went wrong on a desert field trip, or our annual New Year’s Eve “year review.”  Participants in our weekly spiritual studies classes were also advised to carefully review their day each night before sleep, and determine what was done right, and what needed rectification. 
            These methods of review, including the birthday run, were designed to assist us in living a better and more fulfilling life, with great cogency.  But this also helped us to deal with, and to prepare for, death.  I had not been aware of this facet of the birthday run until that night’s discussion after Dolores’ birthday. 
Though “preparing for death” and “thinking about death” may seem dark and negative to some folks, we never saw it that way.  Such discussions invariably led us to constantly ponder the consequences of each action, day by day.  Far from a dark and gloomy topic, our constant concern with The Law of Thought and the consequences of our actions led us to – in most cases – make better choices for a fuller and more fulfilling life.  Since death was, and is, inevitable, we choice to not ignore it, but to make our awareness of it a constant fixture in our daily life.

Dolores’ First Birthday Run

 

An excerpt from “Til Death Do Us Part?” available from Kindle, or the Store at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com

            Dolores came into my world around 1979 when she began to participate in the non-profit organization (WTI) I’d been working with.  At the time, Dolores was starting a business selling food storage systems for emergencies, and she contacted the president of our non-profit because of their interest in all aspects of survival.  We had many points of common interest, and she became more involved in the classes and activities of our non-profit.
By September 1980, as her birthday was approaching, she decided that she’d try doing the “birthday run,” an activity devised by the founder of the non-profit.
            Briefly, the birthday run involves going to a local track on your birthday, and running one lap for each year of your life. Friends join in the run at the year when they met you.  The runner mentally reviews each year of their life as they run each corresponding lap. A circular track is ideal because you can mentally divide the track into month or seasonal divisions to help you remember what happened month by month as you run.  One would also write brief notes during the run to record significant memories.  It is not about running, per se, but about remembering and reviewing your life. Afterwards, it is traditional to take a hot “memory bath” and to then share one’s insights and goals for the year with gathered friends.
            I was asked a day earlier if I’d be willing to go with Dolores and run with her. Since I met Dolores only a year or so earlier, I had not planned to run with her until she’d already run her first 33 laps, and then I planned to run only her 34th lap with her.
            Late in the afternoon on October 2, I went to the Eagle Rock High School track where Dolores planned to run.  It was around 4 p.m., and it was dark and overcast, and seemed much later than it was.  When I arrived, I expected to see a group from our non-profit there, but only Dolores was there. 
            “Where is everyone?” I asked her.
            “I don’t know,” said Dolores.  “I don’t know if anyone else was planning to run,” she said as both a statement and question.
            “Oh,” I said dumbly.
            “Look,” continued Dolores. “I don’t really know if I can even do this.  I haven’t been running much and I don’t feel in shape.”
            I encouraged Dolores to try the run anyway.
            “Why not just do at least a few laps – review a few years of your life, and just see how it goes,” I said encouragingly.
            Dolores was quiet, obviously thinking about it.  Then she said, “OK.”
            We waited a few more minutes, and after no one else arrived, we went into the school yard. 
            I explained to Dolores that she should pick a starting point that would correspond to October, and then she should try to divide the lap into 12 monthly sections, so she would know where she was in each year of her life as she ran. 
            “At the very least,” I explained, “divide the lap into the four seasons, so you can try to remember what you were doing in the fall, winter, spring, and autumn of each year.”
            “OK,” responded Dolores.  She decided that the southern end of the track where we’d entered would be January, the beginning of each year.   We then walked to a point that Dolores called October, and she put her water bottle on the benches by the edge of the track. 
            “Why don’t you run with me?” asked Dolores.  “I don’t really expect to finish, so you might as well run and I can ask you questions if I have any.”  That wasn’t the normal protocol, but I figured it would be OK if she was asking me.  Plus, it would be cold just sitting on the benches for her first 33 laps.
            “OK,” I said, and Dolores began her slow running around the Eagle Rock High School track.  I ran to her right and slightly behind, and didn’t say much.
            By the second lap – age two – Dolores began to relate incidents in her life.  Where she grew up, what her mother was doing, getting lost as a child and having a policeman on a motorcycle take her home,  growing up in Altadena, things about her sister.
            She ran steadily and talked in a low voice as if narrating the scenes of some inner vision.  She asked me one question about how to run, and I told her that this was not about running technique, only about getting fully into the details of reliving her life. 
            There was a slight pause about age 20 or so, as Dolores drank a longer drink of her water, and jotted a few notes with a small flashlight.  It was fully dark by this time, and the track was completely empty.
            Dolores continued to run, and related her various world travels – going to Germany to live with her husband, her daughter Barbara, getting divorced, traveling to Hawaii, to Virginia Beach, to Colorado, and her various spiritual pursuits.  I was hearing a lot of these details for the first time, so it was all new to me.  I listened, thinking to myself, what a fantastic life this woman has had! 
            We were getting to the end and she spoke of how the est  training changed her life, and how she wanted to start her own “survival food” business and travel around the country marketing it to communes and ordinary folks. She got to the point where she met the folks at our non-profit, and before you knew it, her run was over.
            “Wow,” said Dolores when she was done.  “I didn’t believe I could have done it without you.”  “What?” I thought to myself.  I only ran along with her, and didn’t realize that my being there gave her the needed support to do her own running.
            Dolores jotted down some more notes in her notebook, and we both departed. 
            I presume Dolores went to her home and did a hot “memory bath” by herself.  There was no gathering for Dolores that night – it was a weekday and someone else determined that the weekend would be a better time for a gathering.
On the weekend, I went to the birthday gathering for Dolores where she shared some of her life review, and some goals.  It was quite interesting to hear many of her life’s details again, though she shared only the highlights of those things that impressed her the most. 
            “I didn’t think I could do the run, but it helped to have Christopher run with me,” she said in her shy way of thanking me.  It made me feel good to know that what I thought was merely my passive presence had a significant positive influence on someone.  On Dolores.  It was the beginning of my feeling close to Dolores, and the beginning of our life paths co-mingling.
            Though I had already done the birthday run for a few years, it was only that night that I learned the birthday run was one of the methods designed to assist in reviewing one’s life.  In our non-profit organization, there was much focus on reviewing what had just occurred, whether it was a critique of an event we’d just done, or the review of what just went wrong on a desert field trip, or our annual New Year’s Eve “year review.”  Participants in our weekly spiritual studies classes were also advised to carefully review their day each night before sleep, and determine what was done right, and what needed rectification. 
            These methods of review, including the birthday run, were designed to assist us in living a better and more fulfilling life, with great cogency.  But this also helped us to deal with, and to prepare for, death.  I had not been aware of this facet of the birthday run until that night’s discussion after Dolores’ birthday. 
Though “preparing for death” and “thinking about death” may seem dark and negative to some folks, we never saw it that way.  Such discussions invariably led us to constantly ponder the consequences of each action, day by day.  Far from a dark and gloomy topic, our constant concern with The Law of Thought and the consequences of our actions led us to – in most cases – make better choices for a fuller and more fulfilling life.  Since death was, and is, inevitable, we choice to not ignore it, but to make our awareness of it a constant fixture in our daily life.

Dolores’ First Birthday Run

 

An excerpt from “Til Death Do Us Part?” available from Kindle, or the Store at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com

            Dolores came into my world around 1979 when she began to participate in the non-profit organization (WTI) I’d been working with.  At the time, Dolores was starting a business selling food storage systems for emergencies, and she contacted the president of our non-profit because of their interest in all aspects of survival.  We had many points of common interest, and she became more involved in the classes and activities of our non-profit.
By September 1980, as her birthday was approaching, she decided that she’d try doing the “birthday run,” an activity devised by the founder of the non-profit.
            Briefly, the birthday run involves going to a local track on your birthday, and running one lap for each year of your life. Friends join in the run at the year when they met you.  The runner mentally reviews each year of their life as they run each corresponding lap. A circular track is ideal because you can mentally divide the track into month or seasonal divisions to help you remember what happened month by month as you run.  One would also write brief notes during the run to record significant memories.  It is not about running, per se, but about remembering and reviewing your life. Afterwards, it is traditional to take a hot “memory bath” and to then share one’s insights and goals for the year with gathered friends.
            I was asked a day earlier if I’d be willing to go with Dolores and run with her. Since I met Dolores only a year or so earlier, I had not planned to run with her until she’d already run her first 33 laps, and then I planned to run only her 34th lap with her.
            Late in the afternoon on October 2, I went to the Eagle Rock High School track where Dolores planned to run.  It was around 4 p.m., and it was dark and overcast, and seemed much later than it was.  When I arrived, I expected to see a group from our non-profit there, but only Dolores was there. 
            “Where is everyone?” I asked her.
            “I don’t know,” said Dolores.  “I don’t know if anyone else was planning to run,” she said as both a statement and question.
            “Oh,” I said dumbly.
            “Look,” continued Dolores. “I don’t really know if I can even do this.  I haven’t been running much and I don’t feel in shape.”
            I encouraged Dolores to try the run anyway.
            “Why not just do at least a few laps – review a few years of your life, and just see how it goes,” I said encouragingly.
            Dolores was quiet, obviously thinking about it.  Then she said, “OK.”
            We waited a few more minutes, and after no one else arrived, we went into the school yard. 
            I explained to Dolores that she should pick a starting point that would correspond to October, and then she should try to divide the lap into 12 monthly sections, so she would know where she was in each year of her life as she ran. 
            “At the very least,” I explained, “divide the lap into the four seasons, so you can try to remember what you were doing in the fall, winter, spring, and autumn of each year.”
            “OK,” responded Dolores.  She decided that the southern end of the track where we’d entered would be January, the beginning of each year.   We then walked to a point that Dolores called October, and she put her water bottle on the benches by the edge of the track. 
            “Why don’t you run with me?” asked Dolores.  “I don’t really expect to finish, so you might as well run and I can ask you questions if I have any.”  That wasn’t the normal protocol, but I figured it would be OK if she was asking me.  Plus, it would be cold just sitting on the benches for her first 33 laps.
            “OK,” I said, and Dolores began her slow running around the Eagle Rock High School track.  I ran to her right and slightly behind, and didn’t say much.
            By the second lap – age two – Dolores began to relate incidents in her life.  Where she grew up, what her mother was doing, getting lost as a child and having a policeman on a motorcycle take her home,  growing up in Altadena, things about her sister.
            She ran steadily and talked in a low voice as if narrating the scenes of some inner vision.  She asked me one question about how to run, and I told her that this was not about running technique, only about getting fully into the details of reliving her life. 
            There was a slight pause about age 20 or so, as Dolores drank a longer drink of her water, and jotted a few notes with a small flashlight.  It was fully dark by this time, and the track was completely empty.
            Dolores continued to run, and related her various world travels – going to Germany to live with her husband, her daughter Barbara, getting divorced, traveling to Hawaii, to Virginia Beach, to Colorado, and her various spiritual pursuits.  I was hearing a lot of these details for the first time, so it was all new to me.  I listened, thinking to myself, what a fantastic life this woman has had! 
            We were getting to the end and she spoke of how the est  training changed her life, and how she wanted to start her own “survival food” business and travel around the country marketing it to communes and ordinary folks. She got to the point where she met the folks at our non-profit, and before you knew it, her run was over.
            “Wow,” said Dolores when she was done.  “I didn’t believe I could have done it without you.”  “What?” I thought to myself.  I only ran along with her, and didn’t realize that my being there gave her the needed support to do her own running.
            Dolores jotted down some more notes in her notebook, and we both departed. 
            I presume Dolores went to her home and did a hot “memory bath” by herself.  There was no gathering for Dolores that night – it was a weekday and someone else determined that the weekend would be a better time for a gathering.
On the weekend, I went to the birthday gathering for Dolores where she shared some of her life review, and some goals.  It was quite interesting to hear many of her life’s details again, though she shared only the highlights of those things that impressed her the most. 
            “I didn’t think I could do the run, but it helped to have Christopher run with me,” she said in her shy way of thanking me.  It made me feel good to know that what I thought was merely my passive presence had a significant positive influence on someone.  On Dolores.  It was the beginning of my feeling close to Dolores, and the beginning of our life paths co-mingling.
            Though I had already done the birthday run for a few years, it was only that night that I learned the birthday run was one of the methods designed to assist in reviewing one’s life.  In our non-profit organization, there was much focus on reviewing what had just occurred, whether it was a critique of an event we’d just done, or the review of what just went wrong on a desert field trip, or our annual New Year’s Eve “year review.”  Participants in our weekly spiritual studies classes were also advised to carefully review their day each night before sleep, and determine what was done right, and what needed rectification. 
            These methods of review, including the birthday run, were designed to assist us in living a better and more fulfilling life, with great cogency.  But this also helped us to deal with, and to prepare for, death.  I had not been aware of this facet of the birthday run until that night’s discussion after Dolores’ birthday. 
Though “preparing for death” and “thinking about death” may seem dark and negative to some folks, we never saw it that way.  Such discussions invariably led us to constantly ponder the consequences of each action, day by day.  Far from a dark and gloomy topic, our constant concern with The Law of Thought and the consequences of our actions led us to – in most cases – make better choices for a fuller and more fulfilling life.  Since death was, and is, inevitable, we choice to not ignore it, but to make our awareness of it a constant fixture in our daily life.

On Socratic Dialogue

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[Nyerges is the author of 16 books, founder of School of Self-Reliance, and an outdoor field guide. He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or at www.schoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]
I am not an academic authority on “Socratic Dialogue,” but I believe that I have a good general sense of it.  When reading Plato’s account of the life of Socrates, and the events leading up to his trial, we get a good sense of how Socrates interacted with others.
Socrates would ask a series of questions, and each subsequent question was based on the answer to the previous one.  It was a true dialogue, where Socrates listened carefully, and responded appropriately.  Socrates said that he was trying to get to the “truth,” the “truth” that others claim to have found. His questions attempted to draw-out from the other person the knowledge or facts that were presumably available within that other person.  That is, Socrates was doing sometimes called educing – the root of the word “education.”   This suggests that all knowing can be acquired by thinking, and careful research.
I’ve had at least a few teachers who were skilled in educing, constantly engaging in a give and take, where eventually a full picture emerges about a subject. 
In the beginning of undergoing this process, I felt silly and frustrated when I was asked to draw these answers from within. But by attempting to be a part of the dialogue, rather than simply listening to a teacher, I learned that I knew a lot more than I realized.  In time, I realized that I began to think more clearly and systematically about things. I learned that there were ways to know if I only applied my mind to a given subject with research, application, and concentration.
I once went to lecture at a renown metaphysical center. The topic was Socratic Dialogue.  The lecturer was clearly in love with himself and the sound of his words, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I raised my hand to ask a pertinent question and he shushed me.  “No, I’m composing,” he said, and then went on with his monologue.
I sat there thinking about this for a few minutes, and realized that I would learn nothing about the Socratic Dialogue from this man.  I got up and left.  His demonstration with me was the opposite of Socratic Dialogue.  To be fair, this had been billed as a “lecture,” not a demonstration or practicum of Socratic Dialogue.
In my classes, I have tried in my limited way to employ Socratic Dialogue.  When I am asked a question, I am inclined to ask the student, “What do you think is the answer?”  Sometimes I get blanks, or, “I don’t know; that’s why I’m in this class.” But occasionally a student will try to answer their own question, and then we go on from there, step by step, working together to draw from the student the answers – or bits of answers—that were already there inside.  (And for the record, I may or may not know the answer, but that’s not the point.)
A man who once attended my classes mentioned me in his book called “Emergency.” It was an excellent book about his quest to learn about survival in the broadest context. In his book he described my teaching method, suggesting that I didn’t want to give answers to students but just wanted to lord over them that I knew it all!  He didn’t quite get what I was doing, unfortunately.  
Things didn’t go so well for Socrates either.
Even though Socrates changed the life of his lead student, Plato, and the millions of “followers” who read about Socrates through Plato, those leaders and priests who brushed up too closely with Socrates felt that he was somehow exposing or disrespecting them.  These “leaders” of ancient Greece trumped up some charges that Socrates was “corrupting the youth of Athens,” and put the philosopher on trial. Socrates lost, of course, was imprisoned, and fulfilled the death sentence by drinking the prescribed hemlock tea.
I’m still a big fan of Socratic Dialogue, not because of how it turned out with Socrates, but because it is a method that can open us up to our own inner mind, and allow us to experience true education.
Public schools are too large with too many students per teacher, and too controlled, to do Socratic Dialogue.  Public schools tend to fill the students minds with facts that they must memorize. 
Anyone today who comes through the “school system” as a clear-thinking, creative individual does so in spite of the school system, not because of it.

“LIGHTS OUT” by Ted Koppel

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“Lights Out” by Ted Koppel

[Nyerges is the author of 16 books on self-reliance and preparedness, including “How to Survive Anywhere” and “Self-Sufficient Home.” He has been conducting survival field trips since 1974.  He is an advocate of perma-culture and local farmers markets, and he frequently consults to the movie industry. See the Schedule and booklist at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com]
Former Nightline TV journalist Ted Koppel has written a hard-hitting, compelling book called “Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath.”
What if, asks Koppel, terrorists decide to strike the power grid of the United States? How, after all, does one “attack” the complex, inter-connected group of thousands of independent companies, in order to take out the ability of the U.S. to have and transport power? 
Koppel does his homework and tells us how the electrical system works today, and how power is transmitted.  Koppel asks the hard questions to power executives, and lays out the strengths, and weaknesses, of our system.  Koppel does not say that this would be an easy task, but someone with the know-how for hacking, with a laptop computer, could conceivably disable any of a number of the transformers throughout the country. 
Though the power company executives and Homeland Security officials tried to assure Koppel that this could not happen, or that it would be fixed quickly, Koppel traces the steps to replace a disabled transformer.  Replacing transformers, he points out, is not like replacing a battery in a flashlight. Transformers – one of the weak links in the system, according to Koppel – are huge custom-made pieces of equipment, each costing in the neighborhood of $3 to $10 million, and enormous, anywhere from 400,000 to 600,000 pounds each. They are not readily transported, assuming there was a backup ready to use.
Knowledgeable hackers could access the system other ways as well, causing havoc in a number of ways.  Indeed, Koppel provides clues that hackers have already been exploring digitally, and physically, various aspects of the U.S. power grid.  And there are several nations hostile to the U.S. who could launch such a digital attack any day, without the need for any troops, and with a high degree of deniability. According to CENTCOM [Central Command] Commander General Lloyd Austin, “It’s not a question of if (this will happen), it’s a question of when.”
Finding that a cyber attack is a distinct possibility, Koppel starts to ask government officials and power executives what can be done. Some deny there is a problem. At least one official indicated that he hoped nothing like this happens anytime soon because he was due for retirement in a few years!
Koppel asked Howard A. Schmidt what someone could do.  Schmidt was the former cyber-security co-ordinator for the Obama administration. According to Schmidt, “There is no answer,” says Schmidt, saying that no government agency has any guidelines for private citizens because Schmidt believes there’s nothing an individual can do to prepare. He adds that “We’re so inter-connected, it’s not just me anymore. It’s me and my neighbors and where I get my electricity from. There’s nothing I can do that can protect me if the system falters.”  Koppel describes this answer as very fatalistic, implying that the individual can’t do anything, and that the government won’tdo anything.
Part of the reason that the government won’t do anything, according to Koppel, is that government tends to react to emergencies, and nearly all the emergencies that organizations such as FEMA and the Red Cross prepare for are nearly all natural disasters: floods, fires, earthquakes, hurricanes.  A cyber attack taking out the U.S. electrical grid would be very different.  No electricity over  a large portion of the U.S. would be unprecedented. Normal communication systems would be severely hindered; people would not be able to access money; purchases would be very difficult; problems would arise with sanitation systems and water delivery.  Refrigeration would go out.
To determine the potential severity of a nation-wide blackout, Koppel asks then-secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, to define the threat-level of a cyber attack. “It is potentially very large,” he responded. “It is potentially devastating.” 
Isn’t there something that ordinary citizens could do to prepare for such a possibility as a knock-out of the electrical grid, asks Koppel.  Shouldn’t the government be trying to get the message out to people of what to do in the first few days?  “I suspect there is a message that is out,” said Jeh Johnson.  “It’s just very few people are actually paying attention to it.”  According to Koppel, the level of interest in government preparing for a grid-down situation has not yet risen to the level of apathy.  And government officials to who Koppel spoke believed that there is nothing to worry about, as there is a very low probability of this ever happening.
The only plans that Koppel was able to discover had to do with either getting the power back on, or evacuating millions of people.  Evacuation of millions of people out of cities would be a logistical nightmare, of course, and the only reason that would be considered is because all the natural disaster plans typically involve some evacuation. But a grid-down scenario would be very different than a natural disaster. According to Koppel, the best thing to do would be to stay in one’s homes, in most cases.
Most FEMA officials interview by Koppel admitted that there is only so much FEMA could do, especially in a scenario with no electricity nation-wide.  Some feel that the only way to defend against a cyberattack is by a close coalition between government and industry.
But there are people – many of them – who are doing something. Some of these plans are band-aids, and some are more extensive. Koppel introduces us to survivalist and preppers in the latter part of his book.  He introduces the reader to folks with large ranches, with lots of guns for defense, and to the Mormon Church, perhaps the single-greatest non-government entity that has consistently focused on all phases of survival preparedness. You could describe the operations of the Mormon Church as a country within this country, for they own farms, canneries, storage facilities, and distribution networks that take care of their own so that the government doesn’t have to – assuming it could.
I found the “Solutions” chapter quite useful, and Koppel doesn’t ignore the old standbys for emergencies that everyone should have: stored food and water for six months, grinders for beans and wheat, extra supplies, lots of extra cash, medicines – basically, extra of everything you need, and especially the things that you quickly run out of.  Plus, there is the encouragement to create, or become a part of, a social-financial network where people can work together in good times or bad. Everyone is also encouraged to take CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) training wherever you live.
The directions for any associations, even very loose associations, should be to locate and establish the needs of the most vulnerable, and determine the skills and assets of those who are willing to share either or both. As Koppel says, “Once disaster strikes, it is already too late.”
Koppel is one of our greatest journalists, and he doesn’t make his call-to-action without thorough research. “Lights Out” is interesting and entertaining to read, painting a clear picture of the possibility of a cyber-attack, as well as providing many details for individual action. 

THE ECLIPSE

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[Nyerges is the author of several books, including “Til Death Do us Part?” and “Ancient Writings on Rock,” both Kindle books. He can be reached at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.  IF YOU ENJOY THESE BLOGS, PLEASE FOLLOW! Thank you]
Astronomical events have been observed with awe, ceremony, and even fear for millennia. I choose to regard such events as opportunities. Whether or not the heavens and the positions of celestial bodies effects us will be debated forever.  Yet, we know that our reality is also created by the thoughts of others, especially the collective thoughts of “good,” “bad,” and any of the types of thinking and desiring that creates destiny.  That is, I acknowledge that the thinking (passive or active) of humans collectively does affect our reality, and in particular, my reality.
During our partial eclipse in S. California, we took the time to acknowledge the guardians of the 6 directions, and ancient ones, and our own teachers and mentors who have gone before us. While burning herbs and sharing our impromptu prayers, feelings, and desires, we spoke to each other of our hopes for our future, and for the future, and of those things (people, habits, stuff) that we would do well to leave by the wayside if we are to evolve.
The subdued light outback was noticeable, and we felt a different atmosphere as we spoke our words and shook rattles. Two green California scarabs buzzed about during the time, and a line of small birds tweeted their song as they sat in the bottlebrush tree.  A breeze began to flow through the yard.
Of course, everything in our life and in the world can be viewed only in the most mundane of interpretations, but we choose to also view their symbolic aspects.
The sun – the source of all life on this planet, and viewed nearly as a god by so many ancient civilizations – is temporary blocked out.  A symbolic death. A moment to think, to choose, to decide. And then, the light returns, and the darkness fades. Life, death, resurrection, reincarnation. Everything is there.  Today is the first day of my new choices, and wherever those new choices lead.
That’s what the eclipse meant to me.

THE DAYMOND JOHN “SUCCESS FORMULA”

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[Nyerges and his Significant Other recently attended the “Daymond John Success Formula” training. This is their report.  Nyerges is a journalist,  author of 16 books, and founder of the Self-Reliance Foundation. His website is www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com]
Like millions of other people, we enjoy the popular Shark Tank show every Friday night where entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to “sharks” and seek an investment in their companies.
So I was naturally quite interested when I got a postcard in the mail from Daymond John of Shark Tank, offering a free seminar on how to be successful just like him.  Daymond is the quiet dapper shark, usually the last to make an offer, and often willing to help the underdog. Wouldn’t it be great to meet Daymond and learn to be just like him?
Naturally, I signed up and spent 2 hours at the Alhambra Hilton. It was free, and who wouldn’t want to be successful like Daymond.  At this free event, I was told that I would learn to utilize high-level entrepreneurial skills. activate my own entrepreneurial plan of attack, develop my professional networks, realize increased income, and much more.
How could I go wrong?  When, we arrived, we were first told that Daymond would not be there. OK. He cannot be everywhere.  Still, I expected to get some great ideas, and I did, but the program was primarily a high-powered pitch for the 3-day seminar called “Daymond John’s Success Formula” where we’d then learn how to now apply all the skills that Daymond uses in his businesses.  Naturally, if Daymond uses these skills, I’d be successful too if I took the course. It was only $1,900 for the 3 days.  Still, a bit steep, I thought, but the pitchmen told me that only the amateurs think about what something costs. I should be asking “how much will it yield” if I want to be a true entrepreneur.  

What the heck!  I’m not getting any younger and I’d probably learn internet marketing skills a lot quicker in a 3-day focused workshop than I would by trial and error, or by enrolling in junior college courses. 
What sold me was that they said they offered a money-back guarantee if I did not earn the cost of the admission back in a few months by applying the skills I would learn. I knew it would be tax-deductible for me, and the clincher was that I could bring a friend for no extra cost. I didn’t ask about the details of the money-back guarantee, because, as they told me, “don’t plan to fail, plan to succeed.”  OK, here is my credit card! 
We arrived bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on a Friday morning at the Ontario Doubletree near the airport. I was looking forward to meeting the one and only Daymond, but we were first shown a video where Daymond told us all to enjoy the program, but that he couldn’t be everywhere. OK. 
The presenter got everyone all fired up  about all the new things we’d be learning, and how we too could be the next king of belts, or queen of the internet.  Everyone is excited and the presenter is dynamic, telling us that we too could follow the path of the successful Daymond John,  that we are all indeed lucky that we joined the program this day. 
He told us that he was going to cover a lot of material, and he did, and I filled page after page in my notebook, the type of material that you’d get in a junior college course on internet marketing, but all jazzed up. Lots of topics were addressed, and I had the feeling that we were jumping from tip of iceberg to tip of iceberg.  Most questions were deferred, often with “we simply don’t have the time to go into the details of that in our short time together.”
We were told about the necessity of knowing your personal “why”—That is, why I do what I do.  Understand that before all else. We were told about sources of income to start a business, choosing a product to sell and knowing the competition, how to identify the audience, and a little about how to sell on Amazon.
Before day one was finished, we were given a sheet to find out our credit rating. Why do they need to know that, I asked.  There was no clear answer, except that if we were going to change our lives, and take a risk, we had to free up money. I thought that was good – I was going to learn how to find money to finance my future business ventures.
Day two arrived quickly, and once we had the recap of the day before, we again we were paraded through a series of basic business concepts, some great videos, books to read, and a great pep talk about how we too could succeed if we only had good business mentors, a good business plan, and followed all of Daymond’s instructions. 
We were told to adapt to the changes of the future.  We discussed the cute animated movie “Who Moved My Cheese?” which illustrates that the market is always in flux, and that we should not waste time over a job (or profession) that is disappearing, but just get moving and find the next opportunity. 
We spent more time on Amazon marketing and how to do private labeling. We discussed the 3 ways to increase profits (cut costs – the easiest, raise prices, or sell more).  We discussed what it meant to create a brand, and (my favorite) the six ways to influence customers to continue to do business with you: reciprocity, scarcity, authority, consistency, liking, and consensus.
At lunch on day two, my wife and I had our personal 30 minute consultation. I was looking forward to this, where someone on Daymond’s team would tell me how to kick-start my business ventures and start on the path to success. The consultation was a sham, and very disappointing. It was not a consultation. The consultant had the papers I’d filled out in his hand, though I don’t think he actually read them. He told me that if I had not succeeded on my own after all these years, it was pretty clear I needed additional training from Daymond.  He showed me the brochure for advanced training, where supposedly I would finally get to meet the famous Daymond in person, for a three day intensive jump-start of my business, all for about $20,000. Oh, but again, I would get to take a friend for free!  But, I reasoned, I already paid $2,000 to jumpstart my business.  I realized then that they didn’t have me check my credit scores to jumpstart my business, but in order to make sure I could get the $20,000 to pay for the “advanced” programming. I was disappointed. This was not about my business plan, it was all about Daymond’s business plan.
Day two ended with more videos, and charts, and jumping from point to point but never delving deep enough for it to be useful.  I was beginning to think that it really would have been more productive to sign up for a junior college’s internet business class.
I’d wanted at least to learn how to do drop-shipping on Amazon from this course. I learned how to drop ship, but that going that route would not get me high on the Amazon rating, because it would mean they could not ship my product via Prime.  In order to do Prime, I’d have to buy the product in bulk and ship to Amazon so they could fulfil orders immediately. OK, so I learned one thing that I would probably not do.
On Sunday – the final day – I realized that there were no secrets or magic pills in any of the Daymond John success methods. It was simply implementing all the skills that any successful business does, automatically.  We also learned a neat rope trick where two people were connected by two separate ropes. Each person had a loop on each wrist, and each rope was looped around the other person’s rope. We were told to find a way to extricate from the other person, a task that initially seemed impossible. There was a simple solution, and once someone got it, we all followed suit. The lesson here was that you can’t know everything but you can see the others who succeed, and simply follow them. It was their way of telling us that if we were to succeed, we needed the next level of the Daymond John success training.  Plus, I learned a neat trick that I’d be able to do the next time I’m teaching at a summer camp –though I didn’t come to a $2000 seminar to learn a rope trick.
I learned a lot in those 3 days. I learned that I already knew most of the business principles they shared with us, and I realized that even in three days of talking about the tips of many icebergs, there were no magic pills to be found. Just more hard work and perseverance.  I also met many excellent people with whom I interacted, and have continued to stay in touch.  I consider $2,000 a lot of money, and I must admit I expected a bit more for my money, and I more than slightly resented that so much of the  three days was simply a sales pitch for the next level.  I did not pay the $20,000 for the advanced training, since I thought it would only serve Daymond John’s business plan, but not mine.
Still, for someone just starting out on a business of their own, and who has never studied basic business, this could really be just the inspirational “crash course” that they need. But in my case, it was an expensive, though highly-entertaining, three-day business pep talk.
I will still watch “The Shark Tank,” and I suppose I still like Daymond. At the end of the day, I realized that what really drew me to the “Success Formula” training was the star-appeal of the dapper Daymond.  Let’s face it— Daymond is successful, charming, beautiful, and rich.  Still, everything he teaches in his seminar can be found better and cheaper at a junior college business course.

The Nature of Love and Relationships

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[Nyerges is the author of such books as “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” and “Extreme Simplicity.”  He teaches at Pasadena City College and through the School of Self-Reliance. He can be reached at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]
 NOTE: This article will appear in Awareness magazine, and has been published in the Sierra Madre Mountain News.  It is part of an unpublished book by Nyerges.


One day I went to the Coffee Gallery in Altadena and started talking with my friend Michael, who was reading a book about love. Love, one of the few topics you can study your entire life and never really “get it.”
“The problem,” I told Michael, as if I knew what I was talking about, “is that we think about this way too much, whereas the animals – at least some animals – don’t think about it. They just act.  The basic fundamentals of what most of us mean by love – protection, providing food for the young, some training – are simply done without all the considering and evaluating and vacillation that humans are so famous for.”
Michael nodded.  He didn’t talk a lot but he listened, and when he spoke, he asked a deep question or he had a pithy comment.
We agreed upon certain things that every human should know about “love” and its many facets and tangents.  A man cannot have more than one woman at a time, whether wife or girlfriend. OK,  some try and seem to get away with it, and some are even involved in consentual polygamy.  But that seems to be  the exception, not the rule.  One woman at a time, period.  That works and other arrangements do not.  Even when people try to have “open” arrangements, they all seem to fail in the long run.
We agreed that the Masai men in Africa might have four wives there and “get away with it,” because that is the social norm.  It is done in plain view with everyone knowing that’s what’s happening.  But it won’t work here.
Don’t have sex if you’re not prepared for children.  Don’t have children until you’re ready to devote the next 15 or so years to them, as a child without involved parents is part of the formula called “How to make a criminal.”
Michael and I agreed on some of these basics, and we occasionally brought up the principles in the “Art of Loving” book by Eric Fromme.
I liked chatting with Michael because he was not dogmatic, and listened in a conversation as much as he talked. It was clear that when we talked, he was seeking answers as much as he was telling me his opinions.
We tried to clarify the difference between “love” and sex in a relationship, and how they are actually very different things. Michael brought up the case of a man who divorced his wife because he learned she’d had plastic surgery, and was therefore not as naturally beautiful as he’d assumed.
“The man was in love with the woman’s body,” said Michael with a bit of anger in his voice. “He wasn’t in love with the person– just her body.”  Unfortunately, we both agreed that most people are hopelessly confused about this, often falling in love with a body and never really getting to know the person inside.  “I mean,” said Michael, “ a meaningful relationship can’t be built on just good looks and sex.  You’ve got to have a lot more going for you than that!”  I agreed.
We tried to define those traits that make a good relationship.  It wasn’t hard. We identified many traits that are desirable, and many that were not.  We both started shouting out the traits as I tried to write them down.  “You’ve gotta really like the other person,” said Michael. “And you absolutely must have some common interests, whether it’s religions, or TV shows, or exercise, or academics.  Something!  And I still don’t know what love is,” laughed Michael, “but I think even more than love is basic respect.  You’ve got to have mutual respect.”  A few people from the next table were listening, and begin to add to our lists. 
Here’s what we came up with:
Things you want in a relationship:
Affinity to one other, for whatever reason. 
Respect.
Communication. We both agreed that men and women can barely communicate with each other because they see the world so differently. But at least – if you want a good relationship – you have to work at communication, and continue to resolve issues whenever they come up.
Courtesy.
Caring about the relationship, per se, and working on it.
Clarification about how you deal with money.
Religion and politics: Some relationships work when there are diverse religious and political beliefs, but it is a strain. Stick to those who share your core beliefs.
Someone who shares your core beliefs about life, hygiene, use of time, etc.
Things you don’t want in a relationship:
Jealousy
Possessiveness
Immaturity
Extreme focus on outward appearances.
Incompatability with money.
Each person always trying to be the Alpha dog.
Lack of cleanliness.  Yes, we agreed that no one wants to live with a slob.
After a while, we realized that neither of us brought up that nebulous word “love,” nor did we include sex in our list. We both agreed that mutual respect is at the top of the list to cultivate, and that jealousy and possessiveness will kill any relationship.
[This essay is part of an unpublished book written by Nyerges, about growing up in Pasadena.  He plans to publish it in the next few years.]

Remembering My Father

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[Nyerges is the author of “Til Death Do Us Part?”, a series of stories describing how he and his wife attempted to deal with death in an uplifting manner. The book is available on Kindle, or from School of Self-reliance,  Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041 or www.ChristopherNyerges.com.]
When my father’s 80th birthday coincided with Father’s Day some years ago, I wrote a pictorial booklet for my father which outlined key aspects of our life together. It was my way of thanking my father. My wife Dolores and I went to his home after the wild cacophonous family gathering had ended. We didn’t want an audience in an atmosphere of laugher, sarcasm, and possibly ridicule. I only wanted to share the thank you story with my father in a somewhat serious atmosphere.
Dolores and I brought some special foods, put on some music, and I began my short presentation beginning with my earliest significant memories. I shared with him my memories of how he told me I would be an artist when I grew up. He always told me to put my bike and toys away, so “the boogeyman” wouldn’t steal them. As I grew older, I learned that the world was indeed full of very real “boogeymen” and my father attempted to provide me with ways to protect myself against these unsavory elements of life.
I recalled to my father, while my mother and Dolores listened on, the birthday party adventures, getting hair cuts in the garage, and how my father tolerated my interest in mycology and wild edibles.
Everyone found the recounting amusing, even funny, but there were also tears mixed with the laughter. As with most memories, some things my father recalled quite differently from me, and some he didn’t recall at all. Some things that I saw as life-and-death serious, he saw as humorous, and vice versa.
But above it all, I felt I’d finally “connected” with him at age 80 in a way that I’d never managed to do before. My “fathers day card” wasn’t pre-made by a card company, but consisted of my own private and secret memories that I shared with him. I managed to thank him for doing all the things that I took for granted – a roof over my head, meals, an education, a relatively stable home.
Of course, all our family members – “insiders” – knew that my father was no saint. But I was at least acknowledging the good, and sincerely thanking him for it.
My mother died two years later, and we all knew my father would be lost without her. They’d been married over 50 years. His health and activities declined and he finally passed away on the Ides of March a few years later.
Though his death did not come as a surprise – I was nevertheless left feeling his absence. That early Saturday morning when I learned of his death, I even felt parent-less. My view of the world changed and I was forced to acknowledge the limits of life and the futility of pursuing solely a material existence.
After I learned of his death via a phone call, I walked out into the morning rain, in shock, crying, thinking, remembering. I was not feeling cold or wet, and somehow I was protected by that unique state of mind that enshrouded me.
During the next three days, I did as I had done with my mother when she died. I spent the next three days reviewing my life with my father.
At first I allowed the random memories and pain to wash over me. I talked to Frank constantly during those three days, inviting and allowing him to be with me as we did the life review together. I felt his pain, his frustration, his emptiness and loneliness in his last few years of life. I did nothing to stop the pain of this – I allowed myself to feel it all.
I spoke to Frank as I’d speak to anyone living. I felt his presence and even his responses. I did this for myself as much as for Frank and his on-going journey.
I began to see him as a young man, who met, fell in love, and married my mother. Somehow, this was a major revelation to me. I had never seen my own father in that light before. He had simply been “my father.” Suddenly, he was a unique individual, with his own dreams, aspirations, and goals. Amazingly, I’d never viewed him in this way during our life together.
And then, after perhaps 12 hours of this, and miles of walking, I began a more chronological review of my life with my father, point by point by significant point. I saw his weaknesses and strengths, as well as my own. As I did this review, I looked for all the things that I’d done right with my father, all the things I’d done wrong, and all the things that I could have done better. I wrote these down, and the “wrong” list was shockingly long. The “right” list only contained a few items!
I asked my father to forgive me, and I resolved to do certain things differently in order to change and improve my character. I know I would not have imposed such a rigor upon myself had it not been for the death of my father.
A week later, when there was the funeral at the church, I felt that I’d come to know my father more than I ever was able to do in life. I briefly shared to the congregation my three days of “being with” my father, and learning what it was like to be Frank, in his shoes, and how we forgave one another.
More importantly, I shared to family and friends gathered that day the importance of constantly finding the time to tell your living loved ones that you indeed love them, not waiting until they die to say the things that you should be saying all along.
I remember Frank now on Father’s Day, and continue to express my heart-felt thanks for all that he – and my mother – gave to me.

Poem: Forgiving Our parents

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FORGIVING OUR PARENTS

Christopher Nyerges

[I haven’t shared a poem in a while — I hope you like it]
 
We seldom think that who we are
Is product from backseat car
Or lusty night from smokey bar
And not the son of distant star
We are the product of mom and dad
Their mingled traits both good and bad
We want to think we’re so unique
And so we are, but let us speak
How our child minds did set the stage
For adult us who learned to rage
With pain within we could not gauge
And fears and deficiencies
From hidden fears from early age
We found we could not turn the page
To cure, we had to find a sage
Who maybe helped us, maybe not
Our solution, had to be sought
By choice within, or happened not
And even then, inside we fought
Our inner demons, night and day
Until we got to bright new day
Until we find that we could say
I accept my father who he was
I accept my mother who she was
They lived their life, they did their buzz
They were who they were, just because
I did what I did, I always does
Above my parents did I rise?
Or were their limits born in me
Should I blame them for my own lies
They were my parents, not 2 gods
They made no pretense, they weren’t frauds
I must forgive them, on my own
And for their soul, let cease that moan
They did their best, I am quite sure
No pain intend, from him or her
They lived their life, they tried their best
During Depression, dad came west
Challenge had in time of war
Enough to make their bodies sore
I was not center of their life
Though tried their best in time of strife
The center I’d have liked to been
That I wasn’t, was not sin
Child rarely in parents’ shoes
Sees from parents eyes what they dos
Day in and out, sun rise to set
Bills to pay and job to get
Responsibility, oh boy
My parents sometimes had no joy
I forgive them now in my heart
Though both gone now, I have to start
To have new life, must do my part
To see anew, and wipe eyes clean
Parents forgive, no more mean
Within my mind, internal clean
Release I do bad pictures seen
It’s finally time to let it go
And see instead divine rainbow
Challenges many we all have
Some we fail and some we meet
Time it is for spiritual salve
To lighten mind and stop the heat
To finally learn from our past
Forgive our parents at long last
And with optimistic heart and mind
Seek the truth that is there to find
Not dark webs that would keep us bind
But bright truth light most rad’ant kind
And on that path our answers find
That kingdom within, in our mind
A place real, where we’re no more last
Truly, we can be free at last
080608

My Pal Otis (the pot-bellied pig)

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MY PAL OTIS

[Nyerges is the author of several books, including “Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City,” which includes a chapter on Otis. He’s also authored “Til Death Do Us Part?,” a Kindle book about dealing with the death of family members, as well as pets. Both available on Amazon, or www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]

 
For nearly 20 years, a very quirk, cute individual with long black hair lived right here amongst us right here in the backyard of Eagle Rock.  His name was Otis, a tubby little Vietnamese pot-bellied pig.
It was the spring of 1993 when Otis came into our family.  Dolores and I had talked about getting a pig, and the pot belly “craze” was fading out.  We saw an ad in the paper from a woman who was moving and had to get a new home for her nine-month old pot-bellied pig.  We fell in love with Otis right away.
We learned a lot about the nature of “pig-ness” during Otis’ life.  In fact, this was partly why we got Otis in the first place – we were going to learn about the nature of pig-ness, which is also an aspect of human-ness. 
We learned that he certainly had a good memory, especially as it related to food.  He once discovered a bag of carob pods that I had in the living room, and he nearly ate half the bag before I caught him.  After that, any time he got into the house, he always went right to that spot where the carob had been.
Though we’ve heard that pigs are very smart, you can’t really compare them to dogs, for example.  Dogs might not have pigs’ great memory, but they seem smarter due to their loyalty to their masters. I’m sure that Otis always recognized me from other people, but loyalty?  I don’t think so.  Pigs don’t seem to want or need close affinity to people in the way that dogs do.  Nevertheless, later in his life when Otis was mostly alone, we did develop a “closeness.”
Yes, Otis was a pig, and yet he was such an individual!  I learned to know what his sounds and grunts meant, so I knew when he was happy, when he felt threatened, when he was worried, and when he liked (or disliked) someone.  His range of vocal sounds was broad and fascinating.
For his last few years, our cat Popoki would sleep with him, often lying on Otis’ big belly, which was always very warm.  The two of them seemed to not just tolerate one another, but appeared to be good pals.
Since a pot-bellied pig’s expected life is about 7 to 9 yeas, we estimate that he was about 200 years old (by human standards) when he died on Hanukkah of 2011 at the ripe old age of 19+.
He’d gotten much slower in the last two years, and in the last six months, he was slow and unsteady on his feet, and he began to eat less and less.
According to my neighbor, Otis was up every day to eat when I was gone to Guatemala for two weeks in early December of 2011.  But when I got home, Otis was lying on his bed and just grunted when I greeted him.  I hugged him and I hand-fed him, and I felt that he experienced a certain ease that I was back.  But I could also tell that he was on his way out.  I kept him covered, and comfortable, and felt sad that my friend was departing.
I felt a great empathy for Otis. He was a big guy, for sure, but his personality was such that he always seemed like a little boy.  I told him that everything was OK and that I was happy we had a good life together.  I thanked him.  I told Otis that it was OK to go on, if it was his time, if his body had become a burden.  I whispered in  his ear that it was OK, and that I loved him. He just grunted his friendly “oink” in return.  Otis never got up, and he died a week later.
I wrapped him and buried him in the “family graveyard.”  After we buried Otis, we put some flowers on his grave, and I placed his “Otis, Kansas” license plate (which I always kept on his gate) nearby.  My dear friend Helen then played a song as we sat thinking about Otis for a bit.  I was sad, but I knew that Otis had a good life and a long life, for a pig!
/
And though I was sad, I felt a certain inner joy that he lived a long life with me, and that Helen was there to help me bury him and give him a special ceremony.  I thought that I would go through a period of great sadness, but I didn’t.  We had a good life together, and I was able to be there with him in the end of his very long life.
Postscript:  A few days after I buried Otis, when I parked my car near his pen, I heard his distinctive oink.  A trick of the mind?  I like to believe Otis was saying goodbye to papa.

A Natural way to Deal with Cough and Sore Throat

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HOW TO DEAL WITH A SORE THROAT AND COUGHING
USING NATURE’S MEDICINE CHEST

Nyerges is the author of Guide to Wild Foods , How to Survive Anywhere , and other books. For more information about Nyerges’ books, or the classes he teaches, contact him at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.
Photos: Top picture is Mallow. Bottom is Christopher looking at Mormon tea (by Rick Adams)
It seems that sore throats and coughs have afflicted people forever, whether resulting from the proximate causes of pollen, dust, woodsmoke, or from talking too much, or yelling, or even from  “catching” something from another person. 
Fortunately, there are quite a few natural remedies which help relieve the pain and discomfort of coughs and sore throats, and many of these have been used for at least centuries. 
Each of the plants described are commonly available in the wild, and typically can be purchased in the dried form in herb shops. 
MALLOW
The various mallows have been used to soothe a sore throat for centuries.  In fact, even the ancient Egyptians used one of the mallows for this purpose.
In the United States, the common mallow (Malva parviflora) is a widespread “weed” of vacant lots and fields.  It is sometimes referred to as poverty weed or cheeseweed.  In fact, the tender leaves of mallow are tasty in salads, added to soup, and can be cooked with other vegetables or like spinach.  They are high in vitamin C.
In Mexico, mallow leaves (known as malva) have long been chewed so that the slightly mucilaginous quality can soothe a sore throat.  Herbalists consider the mallow leaves an emollient and a demulcent.  Whether the leaves are eaten, or made into a tea, this plant helps to relieve inflammation, especially to the throat.
A related mallow, the marsh mallow (Althea officinalis), is also used for coughs and sore throats.  This plant has a long tap root that is boiled, and the resulting liquid is like egg whites. This is then whipped, and honey is added, and it is eaten as a very pleasant and very effective cough medicine.  Of course, marshmallows today are pure junk food, and no marshmallow manufacturers any more use extract of the marsh mallow plant.  Gelatin is today used in the manufacture of those fluffy white non-food objects.
HOREHOUND
The horehound (Marrubium vulgare) is a bitter mint, native to Europe, which has now naturalized throughout the entire United States. It is called marrubio in Mexico, where it also grows in the wild.  When you see it in the wild, it is an obvious mint, yet it lacks any strong aroma so typical of most mints.  However, you’ll see the square stem, the opposite leaves, and the wrinkled leaves on horehound which makes it easy to recognize.
Do any of you remember horehound candy?  This was a popular “old-fashioned” cough drop, made by boiling the horehound leaves, straining out the leaves, and adding sugar or honey to the liquid.  It is then cooked until it is thick enough to harden.  (Recipes for horehound candy can be found in most candy-making books).
Unfortunately, if you go to the store and buy horehound drops, it is very unlikely that they will contain any horehound extract at all.  With very few exceptions, all the horehound I have found in stores are nothing more than sugar with artificial flavors added.
Horehound is made into a tea, which is very bitter and unpleasant.  No one would ever drink it if it weren’t so effective.  Besides soothing a sore throat and a cough, horehound is an expectorant, which means it can help clear your throat when it is congested. 
To make horehound tea, I collect the young leaves in the spring.  They can be used fresh or dried.  I place about one teaspoon of the herb into my cup, pour boiling water over it, cover it, and let it sit until it is cool enough to drink.  The flavor?  Terrible!  Its bitterness must be experienced to understand.  So add honey and lemon juice to your horehound tea to make it more palatable.  The honey and lemon are also good for your sore throat. 
MULLEIN
Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) is another European native that has now naturalized throughout the entire United States.  It is particularly common in dry waste areas throughout the Southwest.  I can recall driving to the Grand Canyon once, and the dominant roadside plant was mullein.
Mullein leaves feel like flannel or chamois cloth.  The plant produces large basal leaves the first year, and then in the second year it sends up a seed spike that can reach up to four and five feet.  
To make a tea, use the first year leaves of mullein, and infuse them.  There is not much flavor, so I typically add mint to mullein tea.  Mullein acts like a mild sedative on the lungs, and it helps to relieve the roughness in the throat common with coughs and some fevers. 
Interestingly, mullein leaves have also been smoked to help relieve coughing and even mild asthma attacks.  I have tried this on a few occasions, and I felt quick relief. 
MORMON TEA
Throughout the Southwestern United States is found a stick-like plant called Mormon Tea (Ephedra sp.).  It is common in the California high deserts, in the Great Basin area, throughout Southern Colorado, and down into Texas.  It is often available at herb stores. 
The plant appears as a low shrub, with branched needle-like segments, with scales at the nodes. 
In China, a related member of the Ephedra genus is the source of the drug ephedrine, which is used as a decongestant and a bronchial dilator.  Though the wild U.S. species contain much less ephedrine, they are nevertheless useful in home remedies where there are breathing problems associated with coughs and colds.  Typically, the stems are brewed into a tea at low temperatures in a covered pot.  There is a mild but distinctive flavor and aroma that I like. 
I have made an evening tea from Mormon Tea while camping in the desert where there were no other beverage plants readily available. It has a pleasant flavor, and it is improved with just a touch of honey.
No doubt there are many, many other remedies for coughs and sore throats.  Included here were just a few of the common wild plants which are safe and easy to use. 
[Note:  None of the above should be construed to take the place of competent medical advise in a face-to-face setting.  Chronic coughing or chronic sore throat may be an indication of a more serious disorder.  Use your common sense, and consult a medical authority if you are experiencing any sort of chronic disorder.]

The Day Lulu Died [excerpt from “Til Death Do Us Part?”]

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[an excerpt from “Til Death Do Us Part?”, a Kindle book, also available as a pdf from www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]
I was startled awake by the loud crackling of thunder at 2:30 a.m.  I could see the bright flashes of light outside.  The storm was overhead.  I went outside into the darkness, and the sky would light up with the bright flash, and the thunder shook the house. It began to rain.  Mid-August and it’s raining.  To me, Lulu was saying goodbye, leaving us as she moved along in the spirit world.
Lulu died at 5 p.m. yesterday, August 14.  I saw her about five minutes after she died in Dolores’ arms.  Lulu, a purebred pitbull, was Dolores’ dog who lived with us for all of her ten years. Lulu was a gift from Dolores’ daughter, Barbara, and Dolores LOVED Lulu!
The day she arrived, the little feisty dog took charge of the other two pitbulls, even though she was tiny enough to fit in one hand.  Her tail had this zig-zag coloration like a lightning bolt, a good indication of her character.
Dogs are just like children. Their characters are silly, playful, jealous.  No two are alike.  Lulu loved attention and loved to be with us.  When she came into our home, Cassius and Ramona were with us, and all three would sleep together, and stare out the window in unison, all lined up in the same posture. It was quite a sight.
Something unusual began to occur with Lulu in the early part of 2005.  Though Lulu had a large bucket of water outside which was readily available for her to drink, she would wait until Dolores let her inside and then she would drink and drink and drink from the bowl of water kept inside for Baby.  Dolores thought that Lulu was trying to tell her something.  If Lulu was so thirsty, why not drink her available outside water?  There was nothing wrong with that water.  If Lulu was trying to communicate something to Dolores, what could that be?
At this time, when we were all out for a run with the dogs, Dolores noticed that Lulu seemed tired, unable to run as swiftly as usual.  Something was wrong.
At the animal doctor, Dolores learned that Lulu had both diabetes and cancer.  Thus began a new era with Lulu, which lasted about five months, where she was given special foods and some pills designed to strengthen her. 
She grew thinner and thinner, yet she loved being with us and going places.  She seemed aware that something was wrong with her body, but she attempted to continue as before. 
Gradually, in the last month, she stumbled when she walked.  We had to help her in and out of the house to use her bathroom.  In spite of her increasing inability, Lulu seemed happy, not in pain, and always determined to go out side to use the bathroom.  What a girl!
We took her to the farmer’s market and she loved being there with Dolores, seeing familiar friends, getting to walk in the open park. 
One day at the Glendale Farmers Market, someone saw how thin she was and assumed we mistreated her. They called an animal inspector out who interrogated me with great suspicion. When it was clear that we were giving Lulu exceptional care, the animal inspector tactfully suggested that it was not Lulu we were concerned about, but our own desire to be with her. The animal inspector suggested we put Lulu to sleep.  In fact, she intimated that she had the authority to remove Lulu from us and “relieve her pain” if she felt we were not handling thing properly.  Ugh! Both Dolores and I were shocked and angered that this is the quality of person (and thinking) that our tax dollars support.   We had no desire to kill off Lulu.  We could feel that Lulu wanted to be with us, that she felt great joy and comfort.  So we took her home in a hurry.
Lulu’s walk became more difficult, and she lost most of her sight in the last two weeks.  We could feel the cancerous growths on her stomach and underside.  We could feel that Lulu was often sad, but she would sleep all day now, though she would eat and drink and go to the bathroom once or twice.  She wagged her tail when I came in.
When I last saw her alive Saturday night, I hugged her and touched her, and told her as I always told her, that she needed to get some meat on her body.  I always encouraged her to get better, hoping, dreaming for a miracle that she would.
On Sunday, I called Dolores on my cell phone when I was out shopping.  Dolores had me talk to Lulu over the phone, and say hello to her.  Dolores said that Lulu made an effort to wag her tail when she heard my voice.
When I came back, I could see the sadness in Dolores’ face. Yes, you can go see Lulu, she told me. Lulu was covered in a towell.  Dolores explained how Lulu really perked up in the morning when Dolores sat with Lulu and began mentally reviewing pictures of their good times together.  Dolores said that she did it again after we talked on the phone, and Lulu died in her lap.
Suddenly, the life was gone from her. It was a dramatic change,” said Dolores
We sat there on Sunday with Lulu, still talking to her, feeling the emptiness of a good friend now gone. It was like the end of the world.  We wished Lulu would be with us longer, another day, another week. We petted her, hugged her, the poor little girl who was now skin and bones. 
There is an emptiness now where there once was Lulu.  It cannot be drowned away with drink or drugs or distractions.  It can only be acknowledged. 
The solution to the sadness and the emptiness was to honor her life, and then to  love the living even more, and to smile.

Turning Over the Money-Changers’ Tables

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An Easter Week Commentary
[Nyerges is the author of 10 books, a member of the think-tank WTI, and the director of the School of Self-Reliance. He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or www.ChristopherNyerges.com.]
Growing up in a Catholic family, I have always had a special reverence for Passion Week, perhaps the holiest of all the Christian holy days.  The climax of this tradition begins on Palm Sunday with Jesus’ entry into the city of Jerusalem on a mule while palm leaves and garments are laid in his path by his followers. He is widely acknowledged as a healer, though some are upset that his actions are drawing so much attention. 
Then, later that day, or the next day, he becomes enraged by the “money changers” and ubiquitous vendors along the way to the temple, and knocks over many of these booths.
Of course, it is no different today.  Every holy site on earth is packed with vendors and their booths of trinkets that they hawk to every tourist who passes by.  These booths of vendors are found around the Vatican, the Church of Guadalupe in Mexico City, Chichen Itza, the Egypt pyramids, etc., ad nauseum.
Jesus knocked over the merchants’ tables because he felt their very presence in the temple desecrated a holy site.  This didn’t garner him many friends, especially not the merchants who felt justified in their commerce.  This act set the stage for the various accusations, arrest, trials, and crucifixion.
Today, commerce seems to run and rule every aspect of our lives.  Everything has a price and scant few protest the gross invasion of commercialism, on billboards, on our e-mail, on the bus-stop, in the bus, on the bus, at every sporting venue, on the clothing of bicyclists and car racers, etc.  Yet, we somewhat draw the line at our religious locations.  Somewhat.  
Jesus recoiled that the work of the Temple seemed to be just the work of commerce.  Let it be done elsewhere, he argued.  Of course, his actions were radical, and noteworthy, and look how he was “rewarded” for trying to separate commerce from “the house of God.”
I once experienced what I felt was very similar to what Jesus felt that day.
I was in Guatemala on a Mayan study and tour, we drove to the town of Chichicastenango.  It was said to be a sacred city where the oldest version of the Popul Vuh exists.  We were going to visit one of the holiest Mayan sites, which was once a pyramid in the town, upon which a Catholic cathedral had been built a few hundred years ago.
To get to this site, we had to walk through several blocks of narrow passageways, densely populated with booth after booth selling jewelry, artworks, fabric, clothing, food, herbs, and all manner of trinkets.  There was no escaping the throngs of vendors, to whom any eye contact meant maybe you wanted to buy what they had.  The narrow passageways were so thick that you literally had to bump shoulders with everyone else, and the hired tour guide yelled out to all of us to carry our daypacks in front of our bodies to thwart pickpockets. 
I began to feel that I had descended into a hell of sorts.  I had not been feeling well, and I had just learned two days earlier that my brother had died.  I was in the mindset of entering into a Holy of Holies, but to get there you had to pass through the gauntlet of the most overt commercialism imaginable.  I withdrew deeply into my self, something next to impossible to do in such a public place.
Eventually, our group all arrived at the base of what was left of the whitewashed pyramid.   At the top was the cathedral, where the church today allows the Mayans to practice their traditional religion.  We would eventually enter the church and hear about its history, and see a Mayan priestess performing a ritual in the middle row of the church. 
But outside, with the din of voices and screaming all around, the merchants booths were set up right to the edge of the pyramid.  People sat on the pyramid, and near the base, copal was continually burned and black smoke poured heavenward.  The narrow passageways of all the corridors of booths led to this pyramid, and a constant throng of passersby moved constantly this way and that.
I felt awestruck by that unique spiritual “something” that was an inherent part of this special place.  But why had the commerce been allowed to invade and over run this site. At least no vendors were allowed into the church yard or church!
But outside, at the base of the pyramid, I had a clear mental picture of the wrath of Jesus back at the Temple of Jerusalem, knocking the vendors tables over.  I could see the Rightness in what he did.  I felt such a strong desire myself – to be rid of the hawkers of ware in that holy place. 
There was no way I would kick over a table of jewelry or other goods. For one, I was not feeling well and didn’t have the strength for such an act. For another, I was well aware that I’d be spending time in some out of the way Guatemalan jail cell, and that notion was very unappealing.  I simply took in the moment, tried to feel the reality of the commerce that  has  overtaken us, and looked forward to my departure.
Yes, Easter is about the death and ressurection, a theme that is found in numerous religious traditions world-wide. It is a worthy theme to study and to plumb its mysteries.  It is all about each of us allowing our ignorant ways to die, and to allow our spiritual divinities to be resurrected from the ashes of our pointless lives.  But don’t forget that Jesus desired to kick out the love of money from the spiritual temple.  That too is something that each of us should do in our own private lives. 
And if and when we get the courage to actually do this, do not expect your friends and family to smile in approval.  You would be wise to look at story of Jesus to see what you should expect, and to plan accordingly. 

On Multi-Tasking

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[Nyerges is the author of “Extreme Simplicity,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” and other books. He can be reached at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.comor Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.
My friend and I were checking out at a small grocery store. The clerk was on her cell phone, an obviously personal call, and yet she managed to check each item with mechanical efficiency.  She smiled towards us, without actually looking at u s. She spoke the price, I handed her some bills, and she returned the correct change.  The groceries were bagged and we walked away.
I was a bit nonplussed, even though this scene has become way too normal.  To speak on a cell phone to someone else while handling a paying customer is the antithesis of service.  My friend told me I was making a big deal out of nothing.
“Besides, I do that all the time at my office and home,” she smiled.  “Multi-tasking.”
“Really?” I responded.  “So that’s your fancy word for doing two things at the same time and doing them both poorly?”
“But that clerk didn’t do her job poorly, “ my friend protested.  “You got the correct change, right?”
“Yes, I got the correct change but that’s not the point. Let’s just say that if she were my employee, she’d get one warning and then I’d fire her.”
“But that was a small store,” my friend said. “How do you know that she wasn’t  the boss?”
“I don’t know that,” I said, trying to explain why I felt that we’d just had less than an ideal interaction.  Perhaps it was because the clerk’s mind was elsewhere, and that I believe you really cannot do two things simultaneously, and do them each well, which is why it is illegal to talk on a cell phone and drive.  I asked my friend to explain what sort of “multi-tasking” she does at work.
“You know, the usual,” she responded.  She described a variety of tasks such as paperwork, letters, taking phone calls, reading e-mails.  “If you don’t give a task your full attention, do you think the task suffers?” I asked.
She thought about it.  “Not really,” she said.  “As long as I do an adequate job, there’s no problem.” 
“But what if you are talking face-to-face to someone and you’re still typing or shuffling papers.  Don’t you feel that the person will feel slighted?” I asked.
“Well, I suppose it depends on the person,” she responded.
I dropped the subject for fear that if I pushed my point further, a friend would soon be a former friend.
I’m not a big fan of so-called “multi-tasking.”  I think it’s a somewhat fraudulent, self-deceptive concept where you believe you’re doing more than you actually can do.  It’s a belief that by moving a lot of stuff around, that your quantity is more important than quality.  This is probably one of the reasons why the quality of goods and services has declined.
In a similar vein, today there are many multi-purpose tools now on the market, such as a tool which promises to be a hammer, a screwdriver, a saw, a shovel, a can opener and pliers. Such tools do about 40 tasks poorly and none well. 
I do believe that Swiss Army knives pack a lot of quality into a little package, though they cannot handle big jobs.  The Leatherman tool is also generally a good combination tool because it is well made. 
But as a rule of thumb, the more tasks a tool claims, the more poorly it performs.  And, generally, as the price lowers, so does the performance and longevity of the tool. 
In my world view, it is better to have just a few quality tools that a tool box full of cheap tools that mostly result in frustration. 
My friend reminded me that the benefit of her “multi-tasking” is that she gets more done at a lower cost, more quickly.  I had to think about what that means.
Yes, true quality – in a service or in a product – takes more time and costs more.  And because most of us want it now and want it cheap, we’ve created a frustrating world of low quality service and goods. Change will only come slowly, when enough of us realize that fast and cheap is just a quick thrill with no lasting satisfaction.

“The Winds Erase Your Footprints”

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A book by Shiyowin Miller

[“The Wind Erases Your Footprints” is available at Amazon, and from the Store at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]
 
One of the books that came out of my family was “The Winds Erase Your Footprints,” written by my wife Dolores’ mother, Shiyowin Miller.  Shiyowin, who was part Osage, was immersed in Native American culture. I remember visiting her home in Temple City, which seemed like an Indian museum with a full library, drums, pots, and artifacts from all over the country.  Shiyowin had been a music and dance teacher, and was a professional dancer. She knew Iron Eyes Cody, and worked with Luther Standing Bear, a Lakota Sioux who was once the Chief.  He wrote “My People the Sioux” and other books. Luther Standing Bear adopted Shiyowin, and let Shiyowin act as his agent for his various books and other legal matters. It brought the past alive to me when I was able to see and feel the pipes, sandals, robe, and other materials that Standing Bear had given to Shiyowin.

Shiyowin also had many friends from the Navajo lands. In the 1930’s, Shiyowin’s best friend, Juanita, fell in love with a Navajo man, Luciano, who’d been working as an extra in Hollywood.  Juanita and Luciano got married, and moved back to Luciano’s Navajo lands in New Mexico.

Shiyowin kept in touch with Juanita, and wrote about the experiences that Luciano and Juanita underwent on the reservation, during the Depression when there was so little work.

Shiyowin edited and revised and rewrote her book many times over the next 30 years, and she died in 1983 before it was ever published.  I married Shiyowin’s daughter Dolores in 1986, and when I saw the box with hundreds of pages of manuscript, I asked Dolores if I could read it.  In fact, Shiyowin had hired Dolores to type many of the revisions over the years, and so Dolores was familiar with the content.

Once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. It was amazed at the quality and depth of the story, and could barely believe that it had never been published. Shiyowin had actually received an advance from a publisher some 20 years earlier, but since she kept rewriting and revising, it never got published.  

I was amazed at the quality and depth of the story, and could barely believe it had not been published. To me, it was like reading a Tony Hillerman novel, except it was true!

Everyone said that the book accurately depicted life on the Rez during that time, mixed in with some accounts of Navajo witchcraft.  With some editing, Dolores and I got the book published in 2002 by Naturegraph Press, which features many Native American titles.  If you do an internet search with the book’s title, you’ll see some of the reviews that have been published about this book. 

The story was descriptive, compelling, and you feel as if you are re-experiencing the harsh winds, the life in the Hogan making coffee, the search for work, and all the ceremonies and gatherings that were a part of the Navajo way of life.  The books, which was 335 pages when published, also contained hints and clues in the backdrop about Navajo witchcraft, and the ma-itso, the wolf clan which was feared by most.
The freak death of Luciano was generally attributed to the work of the ma-itso, and Shiyowin gives the clues in bits and pieces, in the way that Tony Hillerman so masterfully slowly revealed his mysteries.
The following excerpts from THE WINDS ERASE YOUR FOOTPRINTS are Copyright  and may not be re-printed without permission of the publisher.
from chapter 3: Pentz’s Trading Post
Juanita stood, head forward, her hair long and black in the sunlight; she shook it, the drops of water flying. She ran her fingers through it, the pale, yellow shreds of fiber falling lightly to the ground. Luciano was washing his head now, in water that his mother had prepared. Juanita began to comb her hair carefully, the comb snagging and tangling in the still-wet strands. She stopped and disentangled the combings, rolling them into a little ball. The wind caught it and tumbled it over and over across the ground.
“Ah-yeeee!” Shimah exclaimed and went running after the ball of combings. She brought it back and placed it carefully in the fire, watching as the flames consumed it, talking rapidly to her son. I am guilty of some small breach of custom, Juanita thought, and then was surprised at the gravity of her husbands’ face. He sat back on his heels, his hair dripping unheeded.
“You must always burn your combings,” he told her seriously.
“My mother says never to let any of your hair escape like that.”
“I’m sorry, Lu,” she began. “It was a bit untidy. But out here in the open I thought the wind would carry it away.”
“That’s it: the wind might . . .” He stopped abruptly.
Juanita was puzzled. It was such a little thing for him to get upset about, and she had said she was
sorry. “Is there some tabu connected with hair-combings?” she asked gently, trying to smooth the
troubled look from his face. “If I knew it I’d observe it–you know I would.” Shimah stood by gauging the conversation by their voice tones. Luciano was still disturbed. “It isn’t exactly a tabu, but just don’t be careless.” It wasn’t like her husband to speak so. He’d always been patient about explaining even small things. She turned away to hide the hurt.
Shimah plucked at her sleeve, speaking gently, soothingly, as though to erase the hurt, the alarm.
“Tell my daughter-in-law to give me her jewelry so that I can put it into the soaproot suds. That will be good for the silver and the turquoise.”
Juanita resolved not to mention the incident of the hair-combing again. Lu was moody, preoccupied with looking for a job. It wasn’t anything important, only puzzling, and it wasn’t worth a misunderstanding if she never found out. There was so much she didn’t know, it would take forever to explain in detail everything she asked.       
from Chapter 5: Wild Duck Dinner
Wounded Head greeted them with warm words, but his face remained impassive–cold. His son
extended his hand for a limp handclasp. Juanita and Luciano were given a comfortable place to sit at the back of the hoghan, but Juanita wasn’t comfortable. She was conscious of her hair being disheveled from the race up the canyon; she tried to smooth it, putting one hand to her head unobtrusively. She wished that she had worn a skirt instead of Levis. Somehow she could feel Wounded Head’s disapproval without seeing his face.
Luciano was talking to the two men. No, he hadn’t as yet gone to work in Albuquerque.
Wounded Head placed his fingertips together with elaborate care. Was it true that in that Western
place, where Luciano had been, there was great opportunity for ambitious young Navajo men?
Luciano misunderstood. Was his son planning to go there?
A thin ghost-like smile passed over Wounded Head’s face and was gone. He shook his head.
The stew was ladled into bowls and passed to them. Juanita cooled one of the pieces of meat on her spoon. That didn’t look like mutton. She bit into it. Beef! Wounded Head and his family did eat well. Her husband had placed his hat on the bedroll behind him, and now his dark head was bent over the bowl of stew attentively. He looked up long enough to direct a sidelong glance at her when their host got up, took a can of peaches from the cupboard, and opened it with his knife.
The meal finished, they sat back looking into the fire, the men talking leisurely of unimportant things. Wounded Head’s wife asked a few questions of Juanita, through Luciano: did she like it here . . . did she miss her own people?
It was a foolish thing, her imagination was overactive, Juanita told herself, but she wanted to get away. The fire was bright, warming; Wounded Head’s wife was pleasant; Wounded Head himself seemed almost friendly as he drew Lu into conversation; but it was a strong feeling that Juanita had–as strong as a cold wind–as dark as a dark shadow. She was relieved when Luciano finally arose to go. He thanked them for the good meal and then the blanket over the doorway dropped behind them. She was first in the saddle and started toward the edge of the mesa.
“Not that way,” Luciano called. “There’s no trail–only rocks.”
Juanita turned and followed Luciano as he picked his way down the other side of the mesa. Halfway down the narrow trail, Luciano took off his hat. Holding it at arm’s length from him, he shook it carefully. Puffs of yellow dust scattered on the wind.
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Christmas Cheer

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Memories of Christmas Season 2008

Nyerges is the author of several books. This article is an extract from his book, “Til Death Do Us Part?: Lessons that Death Taught Us,” available from Kindle or as a pdf from the Store at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.  The book details many of the specific Lessons that Dolores and I received through our association with WTI.  I highly encourage you to obtain a copy!
In the days after my wife Dolores died, I still spent my evenings with Nami and Fikret and Nellie (the little dog that Dolores boarded), cooking dinner, sharing dinner, talking over television.  Both Nami and Fikret were living in rooms in the front part of the duplex.  Nami was from Tokyo, working at a Japanese firm in downtown Los Angeles while she earned her CPA license.  Fikret was a student from Germany who’d be going home in a few days. 
That December was dark, pressing, my mind a constricted box of sorrow and loss. 
A close friend had earlier suggested to Dolores that she take Nami and Fikret to see the annual Griffith Park festival of lights, and Dolores had mentioned it to Fikret.  I brought it up to Fikret and he wanted to go.  I think he was more concerned about me getting out and “getting normal” than he was about seeing some electric light display.  Anyway, he arranged with Nami to go one evening after Nami got home from work, and I drove.
I had never seen the light show either, and though I was in no mood for “joy,” I wanted Nami and Fikret to feel happiness, and the joy of the American Christmas season that the youth can best appreciate. 
My mental state was very constrictive, narrow, even subdued horror.  It was as if I’d been  hit in the face with a 2×4, and I could not see beyond my shocked pain.  But I tried, with great effort, to “enjoy” an evening out with Nami and Fikret as best I could.  It was the weekend after Dolores died.  Nami got home early from work, and it was already dark.  Fikret made a very light meal – more of a snack – for everyone before we drove off to Griffith Park in my Jeep.  I was preoccupied with now living a life turned upside-down, with no perception of light at the end of my tunnel.
Fikret and Nami were noticeably happy, upbeat, and they seemed to be happy to be doing something with me. Fikret had come on a few field trips with, but I’d only gone out rarely with Nami. I know they were both fully cognizant of my pain and I think they were being happy because they wanted me to be happy.  To me, the lights of Griffith Park were a very minor attraction.
As we drove, we spoke about their day, and other light matters.  I always enjoyed talking with Nami over dinner about what sort of day she had at work, and what new English words she learned.  We drove into the large expansive parking lot east of the Los Angeles Zoo, and drove around until we saw where to park for the festival of lights.  People parked their cars, and then boarded buses which set sail every 15 minutes or so, or until the buses were full.  The three of us were the first to enter a bus, so we got the seats we wanted.  A few adults filed in, and then a whole group of school children came in and filled the bus.  The driver turned off the lights, and we were off down the two miles or so of the electric light display. 
The children spontaneously sang Christmas carols at the tops of their voices. Nami and Fikret tried to follow along:  Jingle Bells, Rudolph, Silent Night, all the classics.  Mostly, the children sang enthusiastically and loud with lots of laughter for the first verse until the song faded as the children didn’t know the words. After loud laughter, another song would begin.
I could tell they were all having great fun, though I was barely there. I had to shut off most of my painful feelings and emotions and turn on only that part of me that was needed for ordinary interactions with others. I was glad that there was so much happiness in the world.
I was in a darkness of my own, alone, as if I was severely and suddenly cut off from all that was important to me.  Which was, in fact, what happened.  After the light show, we returned to the Jeep, and I drove on in a stupor.  I asked Nami and Fikret if they wanted to see more Christmas lights, and they said yes.  Christmas Tree Lane was impressive, but monotonous to me.  Nami and Fikret just said “Oohh,” and “Ahhh,” and “Look at those, wow!”  I tried to explain the history of Christmas Tree Lane, how I grew up just around the corner, and I drove by our family home on North Los Robles. 
I didn’t want to go home quite yet.  “Going home” would mean that I would go back home alone, would sit there for awhile listening to music or watching TV, feeling the full grief of losing Dolores, by myself.  It meant I would go to sleep with my grief, unable to find solace in music or TV.  I would turn off the TV and music, and in the darkness I would fall into my abyss of sorrow until I awoke the next day. No, I didn’t want to go home yet.
I told Nami and Fikret that I knew of another Christmas light display and we drove across town looking for it.  We never found it, but they got a tour of East Pasadena and Sierra Madre before we stopped for some snacks and finally went home. 
We then went into the front kitchen when we got home, and enjoyed some cookies and coffee.  We all laughed together and we watched a little bit of a Christmas movie on TV.  It was a good evening overall, but it would be a long time before I could feel joy again.
That was eight years ago this December. Life goes on. I learned to love again, and I realized that one does not want to “forget,” as we often hear. For me, it was a truly unique and special time to assist one in her final days. It made me feel the value of each day, of each breath, of each moment. And somehow, that death became a permanent way in which I commemorate the onset of the  Christmas Season, which is all about a New Life.

Searching for the Real Meaning of Christmas

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[Nyerges  is the author of several books, including “Whose Child Is This” (about the meaning of the symbols of Christmas).  He can be reached at www.ChristopherNyerges.com or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.]
In 1976, I was asked to conduct a Christmas event for the non-profit I’d been a part of.  My job: “Find the real meaning of Christmas.”  Even after I agreed to do this, I wondered:  How can I do that?  How can I be sure that I’ve really got the “real” meaning?  How will I know whether or not I’m right? 
I was told by Ms. Hall, the then-president of the non-profit WTI, to make a plan, and that I should write out the overall reasons and purposes for the event.  I was to start collecting all the facts I’d need for my study into the meaning of Christmas. Sounded good, so far. I needed to discover what all the symbols of Christmas meant, symbolically, to each of us.
“So you need to focus your thinking on all the important details that pertain to Christmas.  Your job is to find, and then to convey, that real meaning to the others at the event,” I was told.  OK.   I felt even more overwhelmed.  I was not sure I could actually do this and get meaningful results.  So, I did the best that I was able to. 
Finally, the Christmas Eve event took place.  It was half the day of music, movies, and delicious food.  Once it was underway, everyone seemed to fill their role rather professionally.  And then there was my presentation on the meaning of Christmas.  I had toiled over my research notes, and done considerable “thinking-into” the subject.  Still, even as I stood there in front of 20 or so people, I had my doubts about whether or not I knew what I was talking about.
I explained how I grew up in a Catholic family, and was taught that Jesus was born on December 25, which is obviously why we celebrate his birthday on that date. But by age 14, I began reading literature from non-Catholic, and non-Christian sources, that pointed out that most of the Christian Holy Days – including Christmas – were pre-Christian, as hard as that was to believe.  Those first revelations had the effect of making me even more depressed at Christmastime, since not only did I perceive it as time when the merchants induced us all to buy, it now appeared that Christmas had so-called “pagan” roots. 
I had a few encyclopedias with me, and read passages from them as appropriate.  I also hadThe Golden Bough, and Manly Hall’s Secret Teachings of All Ages.  I told the small group that was gathered there that day that I was amazed to discover that Jesus was not the only god or savior of world history who birth was commemorated on December 25, or a few days earlier on the solstice.   Mithra, for example, was born of a virgin mother in a cave. His birthday was commemorated on December 25.  Mithraism was the dominant religion of the Roman Empire during the time of Jesus.  Nimrod from Babylon was also said to be born on December 25, as was Osiris, Quetzalcoatl, and others. 
“I was very influenced in my early teens by certain religious groups who taught that we should not observe Christmas because it is pagan,” I told the small group.  I explained that it was not until the 4th Century when Constantine was attempting to unite his empire that he made Christianity the official religion, and he “Christianized” all the so-called pagan commemorations.  As a result, the birth of the Sun that was already commemorated by the Mithra-followers was now going to commemorate the Birth of the Son. 
It turned out that nearly all of the Christmas symbols pre-dated Christianity, and were called “pagan” by some. 
“But what is a pagan?” I asked the group.  “It turned out that the pagani originally referred to anyone who lived in the countryside.  Only later did the term take on the somewhat derogatory “non-Christian” meaning, since it was harder to convert the people who did not live close to the cities of the day.”
During the next 45 minutes, I discussed the meanings of the wreath, evergreens, lights and candles, the giving of gifts, the virgin birth, and birth in a stable.  I pointed out that the winter solstice, that darkest day when the day’s light increases, has been used ceremonial to commemorate the birth of saviors for four or five millennia.  We know Jesus wasn’t born then, but we today use that day to commemorate the possibility of a new beginning.
Timothy,  who was a guest that night, described the importance of the winter solstice to ancient people.  “That’s why there are so many stone structures and shadows and drawings that tell people when it’s the day of least light.  Not only did the farmers want to know when the days would get longer, but it was also highly symbolic.  There in the deep of winter, when the days were darkest, suddenly the days started to get longer. That’s where the birth of the sun idea came from.  It’s highly symbolic, as you’ve been saying, and just about everyone throughout time has taken note of it.”
When it was over, I felt that I – and the guests – had come just a bit closer to finding this real, inner meaning to this special day.  But I knew this was not a matter of just collecting facts, like some college research project.
Can I even say that today I know the “real meaning”? 
I’ve concluded that, despite all the outward signs and parties and food, the “real meaning” of Christmas is that we should take the time to allow a “new birth” to occur within our own mind and soul.  Yes, that’s not easy, and it’s hard work, though very rewarding. This real, inner meaning of this time of the year, is something that anyone of any culture can choose to experience.