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

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“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.

“Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants”

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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]


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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.