Decline of Western Civilization

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“Testing Your Outdoor Survival Skills”
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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

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!

Guide to Wild Foods

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Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants
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[I’ll eventually share a synopsis of each of my books that are appropriate to this forum.]

[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 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 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

Christopher’s latest book: Foraging Idaho

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IMG_2211Some of you are aware that besides teaching classes, I have written several books. About 5 years ago, I started working for the Falcon Guides, and my latest is FORAGING IDAHO. It’s a great book, all color photos, and lots of information about Idaho and surrounding states. The book covers ferns to trees, roots to fruits, and the many introduced non-native plants. I had a lot of help with this book from some excellent botanists, and many excellent photographers.

Even actor Ed Begley Jr. wrote about the book: “Christopher Nyerges has been showing me how to forage for over 25 years, and now he brings that wisdom to a state I know and love — Idaho! This is a must-have for those interested in the bounty and wisdom of the land, wherever you live.”

I also wrote Foraging Oregon, and Foraging Washington, for the folks who live in the Pacific Northwest.

Closer to home, I wrote Foraging California, and Nuts and Berries of California.

There are other books too — you can see them on my web site: Guide to Wild foods and Useful Plants, Foraging Edible Wild Plants of North America, Extreme Simplicity, Self-Sufficient Home, How to Survive Anywhere, and others.

FORAGING IDAHO isn’t on my web site yet, but if you want to buy direct from me, you can send me a note and we’ll get one to you. Or just buy any of these books from Amazon. You won’t get an autograph if you buy from Amazon, but you’ll get it cheaper.

Raising Oyster Mushrooms in the Kitchen

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GROWING OYSTER MUSHROOMSIMG_1849Matt 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

[You can learn about Christopher’s latest schedule at]

On Life, Death, and Respect

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[Nyerges has led wilderness trips into the forest for over 40 years. He is the author of “Enter the Forest,” “Extreme Simplicity,” “”How to Survive Anywhere,” and other books. He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or]

Many years ago, I met a man named Charlie Locke who was a live-in caretaker for the Angeles Forest Service at a camp called Oakwilde. Oakwilde is about a five mile walk from the closest road.

I met him when I was leading a hiking class through Pasadena City College, taking the class down the old CCC road from the Angeles Crest Highway, into the Arroyo Seco, to Oakwilde. Little did I know that the trail was washed out, and half the class turned back. The rest of us hiked right down the ridgeline into the camp and there we met Charlie, living there with his many tents and many dogs. Charlie was your stereo-typical hermit mountain man, living the good life naturally and rustically.

We all enjoyed meeting this mountain man and talking with him about his viewpoints on life, gold-panning, Irish coffee, and many other topics.

I’d visit Charlie a few times over the next few years before he had a medical emergency and had to be airlifted out of the campsite, never to return.

Charlie told me that one day in his remote part of the canyon, an angry man with a dog came by and told Charlie that he was sick of life and that he was going to kill himself. The man climbed up a nearby cliff where he informed Charlie he was going to jump. Charlie told me that he had to think quickly.

“What about your dog?” yelled Charlie. “Who’s going to take care of Sampson?” The man responded that he was going to kill himself, not responding to Charlie.

“And are you just going to jump right there?” Charlie demanded. “You mean to tell me that you’re going to hit those rocks and let me or someone else clean up the mess?” Charlie acted as if he was angry. The man still seemed angry but seemed to be thinking about it.

“That’s not very considerate,” said Charlie. “I mean, if you’re going to kill yourself, you should at least get a home for your dog, and figure out how to do it so it doesn’t inconvenience other people.” The man remained on the cliff.

“I really don’t want you to jump,” continued Charlie. “I don’t have the time or energy to clean up your body and then go get the police or sheriff and then find your family. I mean, I’ve got to repair my tent, and I need to clean out the fire pits for the weekend hiker, and the rangers want me to keep the outhouse cleaned up for the hikers.” He was silent for a bit.

“I’ll tell you what,” said Charlie. “You can go ahead and kill yourself, but just not today. Why don’t you give me a hand with my chores, and when we’re done, I’ll make us some soup and potatoes and we can talk about it. What do you say?”

Charlie says that the man slowly came off the cliff, and then he followed Charlie back to the camp a short distance away. Charlie began by giving him a tool to cut down some of the tall wild grasses around the camp that were potential fire hazards. When the man was done, Charlie gave him another task.

Charlie told me that they had a very satisfying dinner, and neither brought up the suicide attempt again. The man stayed with Charlie a few days, helping out with chores, before he disappeared back down the trail and into the city.

“You see,” said Charlie, “perhaps all the man needed was someone to listen to him, and to make him feel important, that his life meant something. I didn’t do anything special, just treated him like everyone ought to be treated.”

The Lord of the Flies

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[Nyerges has led wilderness and wild food field trips for over 40 years. He is the author of numerous books, including “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Extreme Simplicity,” “Guide to Wild Foods,” and others. Questions about his classes and books can be directed to or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.]

A plane crashes on some remote island, and only the British school children survive. A classic story of survival begins. The boys –after having attended not a single “survival school” — learn to hunt, make shelters, make fire (using Piggy’s spectacles, or eye glasses), and to enjoy themselves. After all, with all the adults gone, there’s no one to enforce rules, so we do what we want, right? Then the battle for power begins. One side is for some sort of orderly life, and the other side wants to live by rule of might.

“Lord of the Flies” has been widely viewed and widely discussed. What does it mean? What does it tell us about our basic human nature? Is our desire to do good and cooperate with others a skill that must be learned and maintained? Are we essentially animals who need to learn to control our animal natures?

The movie (and book) begins with the boys experiencing a sort of innocent paradise, as they swim and cavort and learn about foods in their adult-free world. The obvious need for leadership results in a vote between Ralph, who represents order and the rule of law, and Jack, who represents immediate fulfillment of desires, power, and even savagery. Ralph wins the election.

In the beginning, Ralph and Jack are not depicted as being all that different. Indeed, they are friends. Ralph is set on doing the best for all, helping the weak, making sure that everyone is fed. Jack seems more intent on his own power ambitions.

A conch shell is chosen as a sign of leadership, and an indication of who has the “floor” during meetings. But Jack forms his own band and moves away from Ralph. Jack chooses to disregard the blowing of the conch. That choice leads to further division and animosity. Eventually, the conch is destroyed when a boulder rolls onto it, symbolizing the loss of one of the symbols of their chosen civility, somewhat akin to someone in a board meeting tossing the gavel out the window.

Jack’s group steals Piggy’s specs to make fire, another strike at cooperation and civility. Jack’s group also lets the signal fire go out, showing that Jack has lost his focus of trying to get off the island.

In analyzing The Lord of the Flies, countless analogies have been used to describe the social dichotomy that it depicts, such as users vs. takers, or producers vs. consumers, or urban vs. rural, or primitive vs. civilized, etc. Perhaps it is the same old story of Cain vs. Abel, or the farmers vs. the ranchers. The story has even been used to illustrate political parties in various countries. But is it that simplistic?

Jack and his group finally devolved to the point where murder was justified. Jack and his group started to hunt Ralph. Jack’s desire for total power would be solidified with the elimination of Ralph (the last opposing force). As Jack’s group chases Ralph along the beach, they all confront a force they all have to reckon with – the rescuing sailors. The sailors are tall, dressed in white, somber. It’s as if the children butted up against the gods of the universe, and now the day of reckoning comes.

A group of men landed on the island and watch in amazement at the behavior of the “children”. The look on the children’s faces express their thoughts. Jack realizes his reign as a petty tyrant in his island empire is over; Ralph is relieved his life is saved, and now he’ll be going back to his real home.

We see something in the childrens’ faces: now they have to account for their actions to a higher power. The choices that each of us make in life have ramification that ripple through our lives. “Ralph” and “Jack” represent the choices we make. What legacy will we leave? What actions will we ultimately be accountable for when the sailors get to shore?

The amateur film-makers who created the original “Lord of the Flies” did so during the boys’ summer vacation. They tracked the lives of the boys who acted in this movie, and the boy-actors were all high achievers in their personal lives. The boys later related that making the movie deeply affected them. Even though it was described as “just a movie,” many of the boys realized in their personal adult lives that it was far better to work hard to choose the upward, inclusive way of Ralph, rather than to ever find oneself descending into Jack-ness.

Holiday Blessings to all Dirttimers!

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In Winter’s Deep, we all give thanks for what we have, especially in a world where so many are suffering so much (ex: Alleppo). As you celebrate Christmas, or light the first candle of Hanukkah, give thanks for your many blessings of family and friends and yes, material goods too. May we all look forward to 2017 with hope and high aspirations.

Thank you Veterans!

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paulanddudearrow2011-09-21-014The Dirttime Team thanks all the Vets out there reading this! You know who you are, and you know what you did. We give you our profound thanks for your participation in the warrior tradition!

Check out the picture — two old Marines: Paul Campbell shows Dude McLean one of his awesome home-made arrows.

We thank all the vets out there, too numerous to mention…….

Washing Clothes

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caption: Downtown Merida, Mexico, seen through the “clothes-drying window” of our apartment.

[Excerpted from Christopher’s book, “Squatter in Los Angeles: Life on the Edge,” available from Kindle, or as a pdf from the Store at]

Washing machines are another of those devices that modern man seems to believe that life could not go on without. Yet for the vast stretch of human life, there were no washing machines. People just washed with hot water and soap and worked the garments by hand. Sometimes smooth rocks were used, sometimes not. In fact, sometimes it was just cold running water in the stream and no soap at all.

When I lived in Cuernavaca, Mexico, I had to walk through a canyon on the west edge of town to get to the school I attended. The poor people lived in little square adobe houses in this section, where the window and doors were merely openings in the structure. A stream flowed through this canyon and everyday I’d see how all the people who lived there washed their clothes in the stream, usually with rocks. Then they laid the clothes out on the stones to dry in the sun. So, clearly, a washing machine is not vital to life. But it was obviously invented because people wanted and needed more time to do all the other things in life that they deemed far more important than washing clothes by hand, whatever those other things may be.

During the time that I was a squatter in an out-of-the-way place in the hills of Northeast Los Angeles, I learned to wash my clothes by hand, and even began to enjoy that process. Soon, I never took trips on my motorcycle anymore with a full load of laundry to a laundromat. I learned how to efficiently wash my clothes by hand, and hang them out on the “solar clothes drier” to get refreshed. An electric drier seemed to be a luxury that was wholly unnecessary. On rainy days, I hung my clothes indoors or in a covered area where they’d dry by the wind.

I found that I had a more intimate connection to my clothes after doing this awhile, and somehow this reminded me of some of Thoreau’s commentary, that we should learn to live better with less. I learned what it takes to clean difficult stains, and the different textures of fabrics. I began to buy for sensibility, always buying for wearability and practicality, rarely because something was in style. I would often think before I set out in the morning: what if some disaster befalls me today, and I am forced to wear these same clothes for days or longer? Would my clothes be comfortable? Could I move around easily in them? Could I run? Will they be easy to clean? These and more questions I asked myself, and gradually I eliminated all my clothing that no longer served me.

I frequently took a load of clothes that I no longer wanted to Goodwill and Salvation Army. Once I began to think to myself, well, if they are no good for me, why should I foist these garments upon the lower income people who must get their clothes at Goodwill? I realized that was stupid thinking, because there is no predicting the tastes that people have in clothing, whether they are rich or poor. My part polyester shirts and pants would serve someone well, especially if the alternative was no clothes at all!

After I was no longer a squatter, I continued to wash some of my clothes by hand. In fact, I have continued this practice life-long, and have rarely used the laundromats around town. I consider hand-washing a very normal thing to do. Wash some of your own clothes, hang it up to dry, let the sun refresh it. And it takes no more or extra water to wash those garments than it took for me to bathe. It’s a perfect formula, one small part of what it takes to live ecologically in the city, and to feel that you are not accruing more karmaic debt.

In 2010, I met Yee Fun from Singapore when we shared a room in Merida, Mexico during an educational tour of the Maya lands. Yee Fun was a man who traveled light, carrying only an average size carry-on travel bag for his week of travel. He traveled light because he expected to wash some of his clothes, somehow, somewhere.

He would wash in the sink or shower, and then find creative ways to dry his clothes in the window, or balcony when there was one. We would trade ideas on how and where to dry clothes the most efficiently, and because of this interaction, I earned the title of “Yee Fun’s Clothes Drying Instructor.”

These days, I have several of the solar showers, which are heavy-duty plastic bags you fill with water and lay in the sun to get hot. You then hang it from a tree, and open a spout to let the hot water out. These are awesome and every home should have at least one to enjoy solar-heated water, and just in case, for emergencies.

Practical survival skills are not just for the homeless, or squatters, or destitute low-income people, nor are they only for surviving “the end of the world.” Survival skills are imminently practical, all the time, everywhere.

Halcon’s article in latest American Survival Guide

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Hey, check out Alan’s article in the latest issue of American Survival Guide. I just got it in my mail, though it is dated “December 2016.” Alan wrote about SODIS, solar disinfection of water using plastic bottles, a viable option where fire is not practical. I suggest you get a copy and check it out. It’s on page 22.

Also, you might enjoy the article by one of my early martial arts teachers, Barton Boehm, with whom I studied Seiken. Barton wrote about the use of sticks “A Survival Stick Can Be Your Best Friend,” on page 36. You will enjoy this Jason!

On Terrorism

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Enrique makes a point...

Enrique makes a point…

I thought I would share this with Dirttimers. I wrote this as a result of a query from a “survival magazine” editor asking if I would write about terrorism. He wanted to see an outline first. Here is my outline. I never heard back from the editor….


I would propose the following outline for an article, which would be a beginning level eye-opener for many people. Some will be uncomfortable with this. But I will attempt to provide an overview, as well as specific actions that the reader can take.

Dealing with Terrorism in the urban areas

Know Your Enemy:
Since we are almost certainly talking about Islamic terrorism, the following are good starters:
Get to know where the mosques are in your neighborhood.
Do you know any Muslims? You should talk to them, and ascertain their beliefs
Do you know what “Sharia law” means? Not all Muslims agree with it.
Here are some Koran passages that are most often cited to promote violence.
Here are some key ways in which “western values” are diametrically opposed to radical Islamic idea.
Learn to understand the timing of possible violent event, from the Muslim perspective.

Get involved with local politics, and state and national, if possible.
Understand the current state of the administration, and its pro-Moslem stance.
Understand how Obama has placed Muslims in key political areas (Homeland Defense, Immigration, border patrol, etc.). Without being judgmental, the current US President is working for the benefit of the Muslim population, a very tiny percentage of the US population.
How and what can you bring about a more pro-American, anti-terrorist, common sense approach in politics? (Clue: it won’t be easy).
Why you should support key organizations such as the NRA, and pro-concealed carry groups.

How to determine most-like “hot spots” in your city or neighborhood.
Find ways to avoid those “hot spots.”
Attend Neighborhood Watch and/or police meetings where they discuss ways to fight crime.
Tactfully, ask about protocol for terrorism./
Find ways to be an active part of your local fight against crime.

What should you always carry with you “just in case.”
Personal items that should always be on your body.
A pack of gear, and first aid, that should always be with you.
Communication devices and methods.
Considerations for firearms, and how/when they should be used.

Mugwort: A versatile herb with many survival uses

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[Nyerges is the author of “Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” and other books. His schedule of outings is available from School of Self-Reliance, P.O. Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041 and can be viewed on-line at]

Mugwort is an aromatic plant with species found all over the world. It is perhaps one of the few herbs widely steeped in lore and mythology. Mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana and other closely-related species) is a multiple use plant, having been used for food, medicine, fire-starting, dreaming, and more.
I have known people who ate the raw mugwort leaves in salad and added to sandwiches, in much the same way as you’d add a pickle or a piece of lettuce to a sandwich. However, I have always found it too bitter for my taste to eat raw. But once simmered in water and cooked like spinach, its appeal is greatly increased. If you’re really hungry and there’s nothing else, this will be acceptable.
Southern California Indians gathered the mugwort seeds and ground them into meal to make bread products. And in Japan, the dried and powdered mugwort is often used to flavor and color rice cakes. Still, the food value of mugwort is not its greatest asset.

As an infused tea, mugwort is used by herbalists to improve the appetite and digestion, and to relieve stomach pains and fevers. The dried herb is commonly sold in Mexican herb shops under the name “estafiate.”
An infusion from the dried leaves is applied externally for inflammatory swellings. Bruises are reputed to heal quicker if bathed with a mugwort infusion. As a bath additive, it’s used for tired legs and feet. Plus, in the bath water, mugwort gives the bathroom a pleasant aroma!
In areas where poison oak grows, it’s a very old custom to mush up the fresh leaves of mugwort and rub the wet poultice over exposed portions of the body before entering poison oak areas in order to prevent the rash. Some western Indians used the fresh leaves externally as a cure for poison oak and wounds.
Before I immunized myself from poison oak, I have used the freshly crushed leaves of mugwort rubbed over newly-developing poison oak rash with good results. Aloe vera is the best treatment for poison oak that I have found, but you don’t usually find aloe in the wild.

Mugwort gets its name from the English practice of putting a leaf of it in their mugs of beer to improve the flavor. (“Wort” is an Old English word meaning “herb.”) This is still practiced in London pubs.
Mugwort is also used by home beer-brewers, such as Pascal Baudar in Southern California. The results depend on the recipe, ranging from a mead-like beer, to a very crisp, light beer.

One of the most effective wilderness “punks” is made by gathering the mugwort leaves that have dried and browned on the stalk. Slide your hand along the lower stalk to gather the dried leaves and then roll them into a cigar. By lighting the end of this “cigar” and then wrapping the entire cigar in larger fresh mugwort leaves, you can effectively carry fire over long distances. This was the technique practiced by Southwestern Indian tribes for transporting fire from camp to camp. It can still come to the aid of today’s campers where matches are scarce or unavailable. In fact, I have tested dozens of tinders using both natural and man-made materials, and mugwort has consistently proven to be one of the best natural tinders. [Note: Survival Seeds (Box 41-834, L.A., CA 90041) sells bags of mugwort for tinder, for $7 a bag. ]
When we teach and practice the art of fire-making with the hand drill, or the bow-and-drill, we nearly always have a good supply of the mugwort leaves on hand. It is the ideal tinder to shape into a birdnest, and to drop your ember into it. By gently blowing on this ember, it slowly gets larger and larger. Dried grass or pine needles are then added around the mugwort, and one continues to blow until it bursts into flame.

Sleeping on “pillows” of dried mugwort leaves is said to induce wild, vivid dreams and visions of the future. To test this, I placed several of the fresh leaves around my pillow. Those nights, I had very colorful dreams, though they were not what I would describe as “lucid” nor did I ever receive visions of the future. Nevertheless, some enterprising folks have begun to sell “dream pillows” which are small pillows stuffed with mugwort leaves.

Folklore from various parts of the world states that a leaf of mugwort in the shoe will enable you to walk all day without leg fatigue.
Nathaniel Schleimer of Pasadena, California, a student of acupressure, pointed out to me that there may be some factual basis for this “folklore.” Schleimer told me that there is an acupuncture point on the bottom of the foot which is said to “regulate fatigue.” The mugwort leaves which have naturally dried on the plant are collected and used in a therapeutic technique called acupressure. These dried leaves, when rolled into small balls or into a cigar-shaped cylinder, are called “moxa.” A Chinese species is said to be the best, but all species can be used in the following fashion, described by J.C. Cerney in his book Acupressure — Acupuncture Without Needles: “On the outside of the lower leg, below the level of the knee, is the head of the fibula. Just below and slightly in front of the head of the fibula is what the Japanese refer to as sanri or S-36. This is an important vitality-stimulating zone. It’s a point where weary Oriental foot travelers applied a burning ball of moxa and with energy restored, traveled on.”

In a Grid-Down World

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dudeandyuccaBy Dude McLean

“Grid down” is a rational fear. China is perfecting their device to use EMP on Taiwan, and if we interfere, it’s likely to be used on us, or at least the ships we might have in the area. Put that aside for a moment. China has called for the dollar to be replaced by a world currency, again. Given that the vast sum of money the money the U.S. owes China grows by the minute, could they be growing tired of waiting.

The “grid” is very fragile in the first place. We have three grids that are linked—Eastern, Western and Texas (that always struck me as strange). We really have no control of the grid. We are sitting ducks just quacking along, willy-nilly, in our own little bubble of electricity, power, lights, gas, and all that goes with it. Terrorists could inject a virus, in a heartbeat, in this computer- driven nightmare waiting to happen.

EMP is a legitimate fear for downing the grid.

Many millions heat their homes with electricity, not to mention lighting. Many oil heaters use an electric switch to turn them on. If an EMP hit, our love affair with computers would be over –Bam! Just like that! Most systems in your home would not work. If you have solar electricity, you might be able to keep a few things going, like your refrigerator for a few hours a day. In some cases, those who have gennys will be able to continue running some things, but they use a lot of fuel. How much fuel does the average person have stored? Enough to last a week or a month? And then what?

Most folks do not have a large supply of batteries. How long before those are gone?

In a grid-down world, we will not be able to buy gas, because those pumps are all electric. Any kind of fuel is very hard to store for most urban folks.

Always fill your tank when it is at the half way mark. Gas will be huge to have in those urban areas, but impossible to store much. Some in the more rural areas might have an advantage (or not) because the EMP will affect most trucks and cars that have computers. By 1980-81, computers were being installed in many cars and trucks.

Kerosene stores for a very long time, and with frugal use, you would be able to cook on camp stoves and have old time lanterns for light. Today, they have excellent kerosene heaters that are fairly inexpensive. It might be prudent to have a few on hand. In the high desert where I live, wind generators are a common thing to see. However, after talking with a number of folks about them, I am not to keen on trying them. They have several maintenance problems and tend to break down a lot, though they could be a viable option for some. It’s your call.

If you have a bike, it might work well for personal transportation. If you have a horse, that could work also. I feel transportation could be a major deal. Just going to buy food would be a hardship.

If you have a generator, lock it down. Alan Halcon and I interviewed a guy who was in a location when a large section of the grid went down due to ice storms. One of the dirty tricks used by bandits was to roll up to house, deep in the night, where they would hear a genny running. They would pull out a cheap gas lawn mower, turn it on, and leave it running next to the genny, while they took off with the genny. No one woke up because they could hear their genny still running. Neat trick, eh?

By going low-tech, depending on the time of year and where your are located, you could consider setting up several zeer pots. Obviously, get the parts ahead of time. It would help preserve foods that spoil rapidly without a fridge. Zeer pots are cheap and easy to set up. I gave a class about the zeer pots at the Dirttime 9 event, and it’s essentially a clay pot in a clay pot. You need a very large unglazed clay pot, or flower pot. Cover the bottom with about 2 inches of wet sand. Be sure to plug the hole in the bottom of the pot. The second pot must be able to fit inside the larger pot, and you tuck in wet sand all around the sides, between the two pots. The smaller pot can be glazed, or you use a copper or an aluminum pot as well. Make sure the sand between the pots is all wet. Cover the top with a wet cloth. Place in the shade where a breeze will hit it. You keep your food in the inner pot. This will keep a lot of foods from spoiling before you can eat it, and it works!

Details of the zeer pot can be found in Christopher Nyerges’ “How to Survive Anywhere” book, pages 81-83. He explains how Mohammed Bah Abbah, a potter in a small Nigerian village, invented the method to meet a local need where there was no electricity. Abbah won several awards for this simple technology in 2001.

If you have a root cellar, you will be streets ahead of most folks.

In a grid-down world, it will be calling on you to be your primitive self. A grid-down world might last weeks, months, or more. Who knows? Without electricity, it would be a far different world which most of us have never known, affecting millions who must have certain medications to stay alive.

I think we take for granted certain services that are almost invisible, like garbage pickup. Since that happy service will be gone, you will see how amazingly fast a place will fill up with garbage. Your option might be burning the garbage, maybe composting some. I would find a few barrels—now—that you could use for burning. You might think about digging a large pit for garbage but in some areas that simply won’t work well. Of course, if you simply couldn’t go to a store and buy something, an amazing amount of that garbage will be pressed into service and recycled to fill some need.

Even if just a few folks are eating and creating the garbage, it piles up very fast.

In the grid-down world, being prepared and truly owning the skills is going to be a huge deal. You must think outside of the box, because, well, there won’t be a box.

I really hope none of the potential tragedies that are looming never happen. Our wonderful way of life could be erased in a minute. If it does happen, be positive and think of as a very long term camping.

Get To Know Your Neighbors

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Real Survival is not a sport. It is not a computer game. Survival is not a “reality” TV show. Survival is not a concept that intellectuals discuss over latte. Nor is it a topic for science fiction novels.

Survival is that live-or-die feeling that emanates from our deepest desire to continue our life. It is the deepest instinct of human kind and the entire animal kingdom.

We joke about “the apocalypse” and zombies and “the end of the world,” and yet, due to our ability to adapt and to condition ourselves, we live all the time with factors that threaten our very survival. But we address those factors, and we modify and change, and hopefully, we survive.

Human society stands as a testament to human ingenuity, adaptability, and the desire to survive. Our growth, and our ability to harness and utilize nature, all arose from our desire to survive. Now, the main threat to our survival as a species seems to be – ourselves.

We know the natural threats to our survival: earthquakes, mudslides, tsunamis, volcanoes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and maybe even occasional millennia where a comet hits the earth.

The so-called “acts of God” will be contended with when they happen, and it seems they will always be with us.

But as our urban centers grow ever-larger, we wonder if we will ever turn into a Bladerunner-type world, where we’re all cramped into ever-tighter quarters.

We have to be concerned about the “acts of man” that continue to threaten our survival: terrorism, war, bombs that nations point at nations, crazy leaders, economic chaos that drives our lives into the dirt, rampant plague and disease from poor hygiene, and so many other preventable crises.

Some of these “acts of men” we can do something about, and most we cannot. But we can inform ourselves, and we can organize with like-minded individuals. This is perhaps the most important step we can take, since as our society has grown ever larger, and vastly more technologically-oriented, and “leaders” that seem ever-distant, we realize that it’s important to try to take control of whatever we can of our individual lives. We realize that knowledge is power, and my increasing our personal sense of responsibility, and awareness, we can at least move our lives in the right direction.

Self-sufficient and neighborhood cooperativeness is the path to sustainability and survival, often (but not necessarily) regardless of what happens in D.C. I always feel good when I realize that the majority of our countrymen are straight-shooters, honest, and clear-thinking. One bit of evidence for that is that firearms sales have been skyrocketing, even as our President (foolishly, but perhaps with the best of intentions) suggests we should ban firearms as much as possible. Our Second Amendment rights allow us to protect our selves and our own neighborhoods, especially when the police and other government agencies cannot.

An associate of mine who told me he hates his neighbors, said that his ace in the hole in the event of a major disaster is his uncle in Minnesota who has a self-sufficient farm and home, and produces his own power.

“Really?” I mocked. “And how do you expect to get to Minnesota?” (My friend lives in urban California).

Like it or not, we’re all in this same boat. In an emergency, your neighbors are your family. Get to know them, now, not later. Get back to our roots of neighbors helping neighbors, and learn to share and support among yourselves. That is our tradition, and that is what made this country great.

There is no threat that stout-hearted people working together cannot overcome. We overcome natural catastrophes more easily; man-made disasters require a bit more strength and cooperation to overcome.

Dirttimers: Let me hear your comments.

[Nyerges’ schedule of classes, and his books, are available at]

Learning about Mushrooms

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Recently, when my “Foraging Oregon” book was released, one person criticized that it did not include mushrooms in the book because “mushrooms are part of foraging.” Obviously, the person didn’t actually read the book, and so he missed my reasons for not including mushrooms in the book. Yes, some mushrooms are easily identified, like chicken of the woods, yet there are many lesser-known related species in the “safe” groups can cause sickness if not processed right.

Mycology was the science that obsessed me the most, before botany, and back in the early ‘70s, mycologists were few and far between. Besides getting every book on the subject, I also joined the Los Angeles Mycological Association, and spent many weekends in fields and wild areas looking for mushrooms, and learning how to identify them.

Though I’ve written over a dozen books on wild foods and self-reliance, I’ve never written a book exclusively on mushrooms. The reason is because there are many specialists out there who’ve already written some excellent mycology books. I admit, I shared some basics of mycology in my “Testing Your Outdoor Survival Skills” book, and I’ve used my mushroom quiz for the basis of many lectures.

My publisher of the Falcon Guides wanted me to include a few mushrooms in my “Foraging California” book, partly because all of the other books in that foraging series included a few mushrooms. But I decided not to include even a few “simple” mushrooms, in part because there are really far too many members of each genus than are ever included in any book, and so amateurs really have no practical way of knowing these “look-alikes” even exist. I still read about experts who ate the wrong mushroom, and died, usually slow and painfully.

Consider that there are many more good botanists than mycologists because you can go out any day (more or less) and study the flowering plants and trees, and you can get to know them well. But mushrooms don’t last so long. They appear seemingly at random, and they disappear. There are therefore not as many good mycologists as botanists because it takes a lot more time and dedication to study the mostly ephemeral mushrooms.

Also, even the best mycology books do not include all the possible mushrooms that you might find in an area. At one time or another, I believe I have possessed every notable book published on mycology. Each contains verbal descriptions, and one or two photos. Some contain technical keys for differentiating the mushroom you found with every other mushroom. But if the mushroom in your hand is not found in the book in which you are now looking, you might be tempted to conclude that what’s in your hand must be this one or that one in the book. Maybe, maybe not. No harm done if you’re just trying to identify the mushroom, and if you don’t intend to eat it. But it’s an entirely different ball game if you intend to eat the wild mushroom.
We’ve all heard the old rule: there are old mushroom hunters, and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old and bold mushroom hunters. Sad, but true.

When I was just starting out learning mycology, I insisted on eating every mushrooms that the old experts identified to me as being edible. Some were good, some were not. I had at least a few unpleasant vomiting sessions. I no longer care to try every “edible” mushroom.

In other words, there are a LOT of mushrooms out there, and not all of them are described in books. If you want to eat wild mushroom, learn mycology first (the study of mushrooms) and then learn mycophagy second (the study of how to eat wild mushrooms). Learn by taking a class where you will see the actual mushrooms, hopefully in the field at least some of the time. Join a local mushroom society where you can go on field trips. Then, use internet sites, and videos, and books as the back up to your direct field experience.

And yes, there are some really good books out there.
Here are just a few of the books that I highly recommend for those of you who choose to pursue the science of mycology, without losing your life:

“California Mushrooms: The Comprehensive Identification Guide,” by Desjardin, Wood, and Stevens (Timber Press, 2015). This new book is expensive, hard-cover, all color photos, up-to-date, and useful well beyond just California. You get a good comprehensive overview of the world of mycology, with all the types of fungi broken into their categories with keys to help you identify the mushroom in hand. Well worth the money. This over-sized book is over 550 pages.

“Mushrooms Demystified,” by David Arora (Ten Speed Press, 1986). David Arora is perhaps the man when it comes to mycology. A thick book with 2000 species, over 800 photos, mostly black and white but many in color. If this is the only book you had, you’d do well, and you’d learn that patience is part of studying mycology. Nearly 1000 pages.

“The Great Encyclopedia of Mushrooms” by Lamaison and Polese (Konemann, 2005). This is an English version of a German original, really more of a coffee table book that is a very good introduction to mycology. A very good pictorial overview, and if you master this, you’re ready for one of the other books.

“The Mushroom Manual” by Pearson (Naturegraph, 2014) Both amateurs and professionals will enjoy this book. It does not purport to tell you everything you ever wanted to know about mushrooms. It does, however, give the reader an excellent overview of fungi. It includes the “foolproof four” that anyone can identify and eat, the fatal five (deadly mushrooms), the nine basic groups, and mushroom identification keys.

“Survivalist,” “Prepper,” “Bushcraft,” “Minimalist,” etc. — what the hell are we?

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Christopher with Catherine at Hollywire TV

Christopher with Catherine at Hollywire TV

Recently, I did a little segment for a show called Hollywire TV and they introduced me as a “prepper.” I did a little segment showing survival skills for L.A. Korean TV recently, and they called me a “survivalist.” Back when Ron Hood was alive, I was occasionally paired off with him in newspaper articles – I was called a “soft survivalist,” and he a “hard survivalist.” I have been called these things and more, such as a bushcrafter, a nature man, a wilderness survival expert or teacher, a re-enactor, someone lost in the past, and many more names and titles, both “good” and “bad.”

As survival skills in general have gotten so popular, partly due to all the junk TV shows, and partly due to the fact that some guys figure they can make a buck at it, there has been a concomitant fracturing (“divide and conquer”?) of the community into various factions.

Let’s go back and I’m going to share my path, and see what these various terms mean, and whether it all really matters.

My earliest interest in the early 70s was botany and mycology. I was often called a naturalist, or a botanist, or even a mycologist. Those are standard academic terms for those specialties. “Naturalist” is the most general, of course, and there are many naturalists all over the country, and have been for centuries. Like Thoreau, and Muir, etc. I always thought of myself as an “ethnobotanist,” someone who focuses on the uses of plants. So, news folks have sometimes labeled me “Pasadena’s Euell Gibbons” (no dishonor there), or “Euell Gibbons wannabe,” clearly a veiled insult.

Remember the 70s theme: Get back to the land, back to nature, hippies, communes. It wasn’t about “survival,” per se, but going back to a rural existence. Mother Earth News arose in that era, as well as their myriad copycats.

It is from the early 70s that I got my first copy of Larry Dean Olsen’s “Outdoor Survival Skills,” and he often used the word “survivalist” to describe wilderness survival practitioners.

Around the time of the Iran Hostage Crisis of the Carter administration, the term “survivalist” got big, in part from guys like Kurt Saxon (“Poor Man’s James Bond”), and Mel Tappan. Survival shows were big, and they were held all over the country. If you stored food and had guns, you were a survivalist, and the media made fun of you.

I quickly tried to distance myself from the negative connotation of a “survivalist,” though I am still called that.

The world didn’t come to an end, and as Y2K approached, there was a new upbeat in survival products, seminars, and other things to survive the end of the world. “Survivalist” was still the preferred term.

Now, there were still naturalists and botanists and ethnobotanists and herbalists but “survivalist” was the term that captured media attention.

There were always the “re-enactors,” guys who liked to dress up in an old west period style, and they still do that today.

When Ron Hood began marketing all his wilderness survival DVDs, which are still widely copied today (on Youtube and elsewhere), he taught both bushcraft and wilderness survival skills, as well as some urban skills. Bushcraft would generally be the skills that Native Americans practiced forever, using nothing modern. Some of the more specific practitioners of these skills are called weavers, or potters, or foragers (really big now), or flint-knappers, etc. See? Each little aspect has always had its practitioners who specialized in one little area, but it all could be more or less grouped together with the term “bushcraft skills” or “Native American skills” or “wilderness skills.”

Back when NatGeo contacted me to appear on a new show, they used a term “prepper” which I’d never heard before. “Prepper” was the new “survivalist,” apparently.

Somewhere in here there have been the “minimalists” who either live in the city with next to nothing, or they like to backback as light as humanly possible. That’s the theory anyway. When I attended a few “minimalist” meetings, it was mostly very wealthy people with so, so much stuff in their homes who felt guilty about having so much.

All these terms and ideas comprised bits and pieces of what I always pursued: a way to live a better life with less, learning how to make many things I needed or how to do without, and in general, to get back into a sustainable lifestyle, bit by bit.

I am sure there are many more terms and divisions and fractionated groups that I have not mentioned.

But I think the beauty of DIRTTIME is that we have always embraced all these so-called communities. They all fit under our umbrella. It troubles me that so many fight and bicker over who is right in this little nit-pick, and how the loudest is too often viewed as the best or the “leader.”

At DIRTTIME, we’re not picking fights and sparring with those who believe they are the best… Well, I’m not saying that has not happened, but it is not what we are about. We welcome all the branches of all the arts of survival. They are all branches of one tree.

Earthquake Toilet Test

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[This is an excerpt from my “Squatter in Los Angeles” book, available from Kindle, or as a pdf from It has received the highest accolades from Dude, more or less.]

The reason I was living there in Highland Park was because I was attracted to the work of the non-profit, whose stated goal was to research and share all aspects of “survival.” I took on a project of experimenting with the practicality of using an alternate toilet, such as would be necessary in the aftermath of a major Los Angeles earthquake.

We purchased an inexpensive RV toilet from Big 5, and it consisted of a simple 3 gallon plastic bucket which fit into a larger bucket, which had a toilet seat and lid. The plan was to exclusively use this simple bucket toilet in my home for a period of three months. I kept records and the idea was to ascertain the practicality of such a toilet after an earthquake, and to share those results with whomever would be interested.

I set up the toilet near the regular indoor toilet, but turned off the water of the regular toilet so people would not be tempted to use it. I put a notebook and pen near the toilet so people would write relevant notes after they used it – especially guests.

Though we had occasional guests, it was mostly the three of us in the household who used it. We had a rotation system of who got to empty it, and no one was enthusiastic about this aspect of the project. When the bucket was nearly full, one of us would take it out to a trench that I dug in the yard, and bury the contents, and cover the contents with straw, earthworms, and worm castings. The toilet-bucket would be washed out, and put back into the bathroom.

Otherwise, this simple bucket toilet was not difficult to setup or to use.

Part of our challenge was to test various methods of combating the “outhouse odor” which most people find offensive, and which also attracts flies. We tried some blue powder that came with the RV toilet, and it seemed to work OK at keeping down the odor. We also added lemon juice added to the toilet after each use, and this also worked as well as the blue powder. We didn’t want to rely on the blue powder product provided by the manufacturer, since in a “survival situation” when we actually would need to use this toilet, we’d probably not be able to readily get more of the mysterious blue powder.

We tried a variety of odor-beaters, and found that a lemon juice and/or baking soda combination was nearly ideal.

We began to try wood ash instead of baking powder or lemon juice. I used a little wood stove out in the yard for cooking, and so we had a steady supply of ashes. Wood ashes are absorbent and they reduce odors, and it does make sense that just about anyone anywhere could get wood ashes. Wood ashes added to the toilet after every use worked out fine, with minimal odors and no flies.

Such a simple system like this could be done in the aftermath of an emergency when sewer drains are broken, and as long as the participants emptied the bucket regularly and covered the hole where the contents were buried, this would be somewhat convenient and should be hygienic.

You could also use such a system as this on a more or less permanent basis if you were in the backwoods, too far from sewer lines and utilities – though making an outbuilding (as people did for centuries) is a much more permanent way to have a toilet.

I eventually filled and covered two of the trenches into which we poured the toilet contents during the duration of the test. Again, each was covered with compost and earthworms after each emptying of the toilet, and the worms rapidly decomposed the contents. After about a month of covering up the trenches, I planted tomatoes in each trench, and added some trellises for the plants to grow over. The tomato plants grew surprisingly well, and were insect-free. The plants took about two months before the fruit was ripe, and so I took a basket of the ripe fruit and added it to a salad that I made and served at one of the functions of the non-profit.

When the meal was served, I said that I had grown the tomatoes, and everyone said they were beautiful and tasty as they ate their salads. I’m not sure how it came up, but someone did ask me when our meal was nearly over how exactly I grew the tomatoes, and so I told them. One woman abruptly put her fork down and ate no more of the salad, and her face exhibited both disdain and disgust during the rest of that meeting. I could tell that she felt as if I had done something bad to her.

However, if you think through the biological processes involved, the tomatoes were completely safe. If the woman got ill afterwards, it was primarily from her own psychological reaction to eating tomatoes grown in decomposed feces. On the other hand, a few people congratulated me for the “daring” experiment.

In retrospect, the toilet test wasn’t simply about learning to deal with catastrophes. It taught me a very important lesson about dealing with human feces. It’s not really all that hard or complicated to deal with if you do things properly. Because part of my drive in life was to live ecologically and to take responsibility for all the resources that came into my life, I tried to grow my own food, and recycle as much as possible. It was clear to me back then that modern societies, packed together in houses in neighborhoods, are often designed in such a way that the residents are unable to deal ecologically with their own wastes. Such was not always the case.

In fact, for the long stretch of human history, human waste was either a useful resource, as well as a source of disease and death, depending on how the people handled things. I wanted my waste to be the resource it was intended to be, not the major water waster that it has become in our society.

Over the years, I have been to the homes of friends who composted their own bodily wastes. Some did something right because you had no clue that’s what they were doing. In one case, the entire side yard of the woman’s home smelled of urine. It wasn’t overtly strong, and the next door neighbor probably didn’t even notice it, but we noticed it when we visited. She was doing something wrong.

In another case, a friend composted his urine and feces and scattered it about the trees and bushes in the yard. Part of the yard reeked of the obvious odor of old urine. Fortunately, he had a large yard and far from the noses of neighbors, but I noticed it and told him about it. Composting human wastes shouldn’t be offensive to our senses. I was informed that maybe wild animals were using the yard as a toilet – an insult to what little intelligence I have — so I never brought it up again.

About 7 or 8 years after the squatting time ended, I was living with Dolores on our little plot of land, growing our food and raising chickens. [We wrote about that time in our “Extreme Simplicity” book].

I continued to experiment with toilet alternatives during that time, and you can read all about it in the “Extreme Simplicity” book, available wherever quality books are sold. (Cheapest on Amazon).

How One Man Uses the 99 Cent store for his First Aid Needs

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[Nyerges, a member of the Dirttime team, is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere” who has been leading survival classes since 1974. He can be reached at].

Art Lee, a man with an engineering background from Southern California, found that he could make a better first aid kit by purchasing all the components himself – even purchasing many of the items from the 99 cent store!

He has put together two do-it-yourself kits, one for backpacking and one for home use.

“I made my own because I felt I could get it all cheaper with precisely what I want,” stated Lee. “Too many of the pre-packaged first aid kits are overpriced and just contain a lot of band-aids. I wanted something that is economical, compact, and geared to my personal needs,” he explains.

Lee emphasizes that one should always pick and choose for their own needs. For example, a diabetic will have certain needs, and a parent with children will have other specific needs.


All of the components of his Level One portable kit can be purchased for about $60 to $70 if you look for the lowest prices. “I can get 80% of these ingredients by going to two or three 99 cent stores, and maybe Walmart,” he explains. Some of his items are purchased on-line.

Here is the list:
Two 4×4 gauze pads
Two 4×4 non-stick pads
One 5×9 Israeli trauma pad
2- 25 grams of Quick Clot (Celox).
Four nitrile gloves
Four alcohol pads.
One splinter tweezers
One roll 1” adhesive tape
One moleskin
One container of tincture of iodine

Yes, there are Band-Aids!
Six ½: Band-Aids.
Six ¾” Band-Aids
Two 2” Band-Aids
Two ¼” Steri-strips
Two ½” Steri-strips
Four butterfly closures
One container of instant glue

Three maxi-pads (to absorb bleeding)
One container Visine
One nail clipper
One small flashlight
One hand-sanitizer container
Five Q-tips
One chapstick.

And there are pills!
Sixteen 200 mg. Ibuprofen (Motrin/Advil)
8 2 mg. Loperamide (Lomotil) for diarrhea
eight allergy pills
eight multi-vitamins
Tube of antibiotic ointment.

All of this fits into Lee’s little zippered pouch and is easily carried on the trail. Fortunately, he’s only had to use the items in his kit for a few minor incidents on the trail or while backpacking (and that’s how we like it, right?).


Obviously, there’s more in this kit and it’s bigger and heavier. OK? It’s for all those home emergencies, when you don’t want to hunt around the house for what you need.

One CPR mask, costs about $7.29 (from Amazon)


A flashlight. This one was a cheap pump flashlight with a lithium battery. It cost only $2!
Splinter tweezers
Sharp tweezers
Large nail clipper
Large safety pins
Single edge razor
Knife (this was a cheap Walmart knife, $2).

20 cc irrigating syringe
A Band-Aid pack (contained sizes ½”, ¾”, 2”, and knuckle wrap)
Butterfly tape
Duct tape (yes, duct tape really comes in handy for many things)
Adhesive tape
Tegaderm (this is a non-adhesive film by 3M, a breathable band-aid, one of the more expensive components of the kit, purchased on-line). $28 for 50 4×4″

4×4 gauze pads
2×2 gauze
roller gauze
Israeli trauma pad
Curad non-stick pads, 3 x 4”

2x- 4-0 nylon suture
quick-clot gauze
Cyanoacrylate glue (yes, folks, “superglue”)
ACE wrap, 3”
Triangular bandage
Roller dressing

Wet wipes
Hand gel sanitizer

1% hydrocortisone cream
anti-diarrhea pills
fever thermometer
alcohol pads
cold pack
lip balm
triple antibiotic ointment
Salonpas pain relief patch, available in Asian stores.
A pen

All of the above fit into a container about a foot deep and wide, by about 20 inches long. But you don’t need to go out and buy a special bag, advises Lee. “Just find a bag that you already have.”
If purchased economically, all of the contents of Lee’s small pack retails about $30 to $40, and Lee’s large pack can be had for between $100 and $150.

He reminds people to not slavishly follow someone else’s list, but to customize according to your needs. The best prices are usually at the 99 cent store, and the highest prices are typically at a backpacking store like REI or Sport Chalet.

Also, all of the first aid gear in the world is of limited value if you haven’t learned how to actually use them in an emergency. To that end, Lee has taken various Red Cross first aid courses, and encourages readers to do likewise.

Lee can be contacted for questions at Lee also hold workshops for greywater installations and solar generators.

Automobile Survival Kit

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One Veteran’s choice of items

[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere” and other books. He has been leading survival classes since 1974. To learn about his books and classes, contact School of Self-Reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or]

Everyone has an opinion about what constitutes a “survival kit.” Most backpacking stores provide you with a very specific list of what you should have in your personal survival kit, but that list is based upon what they want to sell you, not necessarily what you need. In fact, there is no “final word” on survival kits. The best ones are custom-made to fit your personal needs, in the situations dictated by the weather and your travel patterns.

All that said, here are the details of one man’s automobile survival kit.

Mark Tsunokai is a 26 year veteran of the Army who specialized in light infantry and chemical warfare. He had two tours in Kuwait and one in Iraq.

He showed me the two plastic containers in the back of his pickup, which he always carries. He explains how his military experience influenced both his choice to always carry a survival kit in the truck, as well as his choice of items.

“Most of the military and civilian jobs I’ve had were quite a ways from home, especially when I was living in San Diego,” says Tsunokai, who realized that he should always be ready for a breakdown or other disruption. His military background taught him that he could not always expect an immediate resupply or backup, and he should be prepared to handle a situation by himself. And since he often trained in austere situations, he attempted to select gear that had as many uses as possible.


Tsunokai’s “kit” consists of two plastic boxes and one day pack, which he calls his “get home” bag.

All the contents of this box could be purchased for about $150 to $200.

In here, he carries the gear that everyone in a car should have just to take care of the expected needs of travel. He has jumper cables, road flares, and gloves. He carries chains, since sometimes he is in snow country. He also carries a bag of kitty litter, which he has found gives him a bit more traction when stuck in the snow.

In this box, he also carries a black bag which he purchased as a unit (for about $70.).
It includes some smaller auto gear, such as a can of Seal-a-flat, reflector tape, rags, and a little compressor to give air to the tires.

This box weighs about 45 pounds, and all of it cost less than $100.

He carries an original Esbit stove with fuel and a cooking pot. For those unfamiliar with Esbit, this is a folding stove that folds down when not in use to about the size of a pack of playing cards. He carries a gallon of water, and two Mountain House entrees. He carries a spare fuel can, a large outdoor blanket, a Gerber multi-tool, a folding shovel, and a large cloth signaling panel.

We’ve all heard of a “bug out” bag, right? That’s the bag you grab in an emergency so can evac out to who knows where. Tsunokai carries a far-more realistic bag, what he calls the “get home” bag.

It’s a North Face black pack. “I chose this particular pack because it’s less boxy, but tall and narrow,” explains Tsunokai. “If I had to abandon my vehicle, I’d put on this pack to get home.”

It seems like there’s a lot in this pack, but it only weighs 22 pounds.

Here’s a list of what’s in his “get home” pack.

A roll of first aid tape.
Two of the latest military combat bandages, cost about $6 each.
A Sawyer First Aid kit, about $20.
Toilet paper.

One large military space blanket, which he’s used many times in the Mohave Desert. This one is also noisy and shiny (like most “space blankets” so it is used only in non-tactical situations.
A yellow bivvy sack (to cover a sleeping bag), about $20.
Cheap one-dollar poncho.
About 5 yards of para cord.
A large roll of duct tape.

A Gerber folding knife
A Gerber mini-ax (about $30)
A Gerber multi-tool (about $30)
A Gerber backpacking saw (about $15)
A Ka-Bar knife (about $45)
(Hey, do you think Tsunokai likes Gerber products?)

A Pelican M6 lithium LED flashlight, with two spare batteries, about $50
A dynamo pump flashlight
Three light-sticks, which provide about 8 hours of light each.

Spare eye glasses
Pair of socks, military wool
Pair of gloves, military wool
One scarf, military wool
Sun hat, orange red on one side as a distress sign.

One full MRE meal and a heater
Two Mainstay energy bars
One Datrex energy bar, the type used on life boats)
The Datrex product is designed specifically so you don’t get too thirsty eating it, and the packaging is heat-resistant. It is Coast Guard-approved.

Eight 4.2 ounce retort pouches of water
Safewater water filter, carbon based. Costs about $20.

Playing cards with survival tips on one side
The Air Force Survival Manual. Tsunokai chose this publication because it contains all the basics, is printed on waterproof paper, and has text that is easy to read.
A compact New Testament.

“You Can Survive,” which is a mini-survival kit in a can that someone gave to him.
A Deluxe Tool Kit, made by Ultimate Survival, consisting of a signaling mirror, a Blastmatch, a whistle, and a wire saw.

Tsunokai points out that his survival kit is not static, and that if something doesn’t meet his expectations in the field, he will get rid of it and try something else. Also, some things expire and must be replaced. The light sticks, for example, should be changed at least every 5 years. Food, water, and some first aid items must also be periodically checked and replaced.

Tsunokai also carries along a two quart bladder canteen, which is collapsible when not in use. This can be obtained at a surplus store. With the canteen, he carries iodine pills for water purification.

“How can you test if the iodine pills are still good?,” Tsunokai asks. He pulls one out and shows it to me. “If it’s a steel gray color – like this – it’s still good.” When the pills turn brown, they are no longer good, he explains. In time, or when exposed to air, the pills will stick together, or get crumbly, and should be replaced.

Carrying these items in his vehicle has given Tsunokai peace of mind when traveling around. He doesn’t generally tell people that he carries these things around, but his friends who know about it think it’s a good idea.

The Year of “No Christmas”

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121714Ogam&Mush 139[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” and other books. His blog can be read at He can be contacted via his site, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041]

When Christmas rolls around each year, numerous memories flood in – some good, some not good, some different. I suspect this is the way with everyone. Over the years, a lot has happened during this December time. Here’s one memory from my early years.

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 with our behaviour.

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 big 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, of course they did, 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 her. 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, most of which is forgotten by January anyway.

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.

Christopher’s latest: Foraging North America

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Hey guys, here is my latest book, just released last week. I know some of you may think that this is just another shameless plug from that book fecundator, and well, you might be right. But I think you’ll like the book!

There is an introductory section which includes photos of Dude McLean’s hands cooking a broth in a cut-out yucca bowl, and Pascal Baudar’s hands making a wild mustard, and Gary Gonzales’ hand showing a miner’s lettuce leaf – lots of hands and few heads! Apparently the publisher likes hands and not heads – but there a few heads in the photos.

“Foraging Edible Wild Plants of North America” is a wild food cookbook, fully illustrated with color photos, with recipes for the most common greens that you can find anywhere in North America. In fact, most of these plants are found world-wide.

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 book is a rewrite of my 1980 “Wild Greens and Salads,” which had only line drawings. I’ve added a lot more to this version, and you’ll love the color photos.

The cheapest way to get a copy is through Amazon. The retail is $22.95, and you can also get an autographed copy at For Dirttimers who want a copy, you can get the book and postage included for a total of $20. You can email me through the web site.

Hey, just in time for Christmas, and holiday gifting. And I really like the beautiful cover of a table of wild foods being prepared, taken by Helen Nyerges.

The books has LOTS of interesting recipes, and those of you who have come to my wild food classes, know the ways I prepared wild foods. 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, 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).

I included recipes that friends of mine enjoyed or developed too, such as the John Linthurst special (a steamed green dish), Wild Thomas Returns (a salad dressing based upon the famous dressing from Thomas Hall of the now defunct Daily Bread Café), and Daniella’s Favorite Salad (based upon a variation of the salad often made by Daniella Del Vale at Wild Food Outings).

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’ll like my Earth Bread made from the seeds, and the reviews from those who have tasted it. 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. Though you cannot go to the store and buy any of the wild plants in this book, these are all plants that grow freely throughout the country, usually in abundance before they are plowed over or pulled out by gardeners.

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.

OK, I’ve said enough. Now we can go back to discussing Obama, firearms, and the fate of the world…. That is, once we’ve had lunch.

A Solution to a Common Dirttime Problem

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[also a solution to all the gas and hot air in Washington]

An aromatic Central American spice, said to prevent gas and indigestion,
believed to have been used by the ancient Maya

[Nyerges is the author of “Guide to Wild Foods,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Extreme Simplicity,” and other books on plants and self-reliance. See his book at]

Anyone who uses beans as a significant part of their diet should know about epazote. And anyone who’s had to share a tent with a fellow Dirttimer will really want to share this herb with your tent-made. (You know who you are!). Epazote is also called Nature’s Bean-O.

I first learned of the remarkable gas-relieving effects of epazote in 1975 while studying Mexican and Central American herbalism. Once my instructor, Gene Matlock, had introduced me to this herb, I immediately recognized it as the common plant of so many of the streams I’d hiked along in the hills above my Pasadena home.

My Costa Rican instructor shared with me his family secrets: Add a few leaves of epazote to a pot of beans for a delicious flavor and to render the beans gas-free.

As the years progressed, I was astounded that virtually no Americans I’d talked with were familiar with this herb, let alone its anti-gas effects. Yet, this common, inconspicuous herb had been known and used in Southern Mexico and Central America for centuries! Today, though still not common, you can find little packages of dried epazote in many markets, and bundles of the fresh leaves in many farmers markets.

In the recorded literature of Europe and North American, epazote (formerly Chenopodium ambrosiodes, now called Dysphania ambrosiodes by botanists) is known for it efficacy in expelling intestinal worms. For dogs and cats, add one teaspoon of the seed (or herb) to their meals until the worms clear up. The herb is said to be less effective against tapeworms.
I used to toss a sprig into my chicken coop to keep the chickens clean of worms.

The Natchez Indians used epazote to expel worms in children. The Chinese used the herb as a diaphoretic (promotes sweating). The anthelmintic/vermifuge qualities of epazote are well recognized, and the herb is cultivated in parts of the Soviet Union for this use.

Herbalists believe that epazote was also used by the ancient Mayans both as a spice and medicine.

It is believed that epazote’s effectiveness in removing the “gassiness” of beans is due to the presence of oil of chenopodium, which is found in concentrations of 10% in the seed, and one percent in the leaf.

By the way, it is not rare to find epazote listed in a book on poisonous plants, because high concentrations of the oil of chenopodium is considered toxic. But I have never heard of anyone getting even remotely poisoned from this herb, because as long as used in culinary dishes, as described here, it’s safe and delicious. I think you’d have to work very hard to somehow get poisoned by epazote.

Remember that excess flatulence is a symptom, and that epazote only deals with that symptom. The gas problem will continue if the cause is not eliminated. Some methods to eliminate the cause of gas are eating slowly, proper food combination, and others.

I first began to collect the spicy leaves of epazote during my spring hikes into my local foothills. But like most gardeners and herb-lovers, I eventually wanted to have my own patch of epazote growing near my kitchen door.

In late summer, I collect the wild seed on the dried plants. I plant these seeds in my yard, in an environment which somewhat replicates the plant’s ideal wild environment. Epazote prefers semi-shaded river beds where the soil is sandy and well-drained, and where it’s usually moist. Thus, I plant the seeds on the north side of my house where there’s the most shade, in well-drained soil. Epazote seeds may take up to a month to sprout, a fact which leads many gardeners to suspect their crop failed. To help, the seeds should be soaked in water for 24 hours and then planted. Additionally, you can sow the seeds in a pot or garden bed where other plants are growing. This way, you won’t get frustrated as you water a bare spot of soil.

Sprouted epazote has a bright green appearance, and even when very young you can detect the characteristic epazote aroma. Sometimes you’ll see a few blotches of red on the young sprouts.

Harvesting the mid-sized epazote plants is easy. Just pinch off the top new growth. Pinch off just what you need at the time, or pinch back a lot if you plan to dry some of the herb for storage. The leaf production of each epazote plant is greatly increased by this pinching. The entire above-ground plant will die back each year, but as long as the soil hasn’t dried out, the roots will continue to produce year after year. Also, the regular pinching-back of the leaves during the growing season will significantly extend the growing season for your plants.

Epazote leaves are best dried in the dark (I dry mine in an attic). I spread the leaves thinly on newspaper or brown paper bags. The dried herb is best stored in an opaque jar.

The seeds (for growing) and packets of the dried herb can be purchased from Survival Seeds, P.O. Box 41-834, Los Angeles, CA 90041. Seeds for growing are $3; herb is $4.50 a packet (when in stock). There is also a unique booklet entitled What Causes Gas? ($7), which describes the many dietary and non-dietary causes of gas, as well as practical solutions.

This aromatic herb is a native of Mexico, Central and South America. It has now naturalized in many parts of the world. Epazote is found in many parts of the U.S., particularly in the southern states.

Cooking with epazote is easy! Add approx. one tablespoon of the herb — both the chopped stems and the leaves — to a pot of beans. You can use it fresh or dried. The epazote herb can also be added to soups, stews, and made into tea. The powdered leaves can be added to salads, such as potato and bean salads.

Here are some simple recipes I’ve developed for using epazote.

1 cup lentils
1 bay leaf
5-6 cups water
2 tsp. dried epazote
1 diced red onion
3 cloves of garlic
2 diced carrots
Wash the lentils, and then simmer for an hour and a half. Add the other ingredients when the beans are nearly soft. Simmer `til the vegetables are soft. (Add salt or kelp to taste, if desired.)

1 cup cooked/sliced green beans
1 cup cooked kidney beans
1 cup cooked garbanzos
equal parts olive oil and apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. dried/powdered epazote
2 diced cloves of garlic
1/2 tsp. dill
Salt and pepper, to taste, if desired
Marinate the beans in the dressing, preferably at least eight hours, but no less than 30 minutes.

1 cup black beans
sage, pinch
oregano, pinch
3 onions
epazote, two tsp.
3 small potatoes
salt and pepper, to taste
Cook the beans first for about an hour until tender. Then add the onions and potatoes,and cook until tender. Add the seasonings. Let simmer on low temperature for 15 minutes before serving.

On the Practicality of Foraging for Wild Foods

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[Nyerges has been teaching ethno-botany since 1974, and has authored several books on the subject including “Guide to Wild Foods,” “Foraging California,” and others. He can be contacted at, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041]

First, check out the link to an article that appeared in several Southern California local papers on November 20. A reporter came to a class of mine, and documented a meal that we made from acorns (acorn pancakes), cactus (cactus and eggs), nettle (soup), and a salad made with 4 wild greens. We also had some dried toyon berries as a sweet dessert.

The paper used this wild meal as a way to tell their readers that there are “natural” alternatives to the typical Thanksgiving meal.

After it was also posted on an internet site, most people made very supportive comments. One fellow, however, had this to say:

“A silly fad for bored urbanites and hippies that’s not sustainable in the slightest in the modern Anthropocene. Imagine 40 million Californians doing this. Or even 500,000, in the context of a changing climate, sprawling and expanding human development, widespread habitat loss to agriculture, and the 6th largest extinction (caused by humans) that the planet has ever experienced.”

I did respond, of course, but I am always amused at the strident opinions of those who would likely starve in the wild because they have never taken the time to study botany. Plus, to call the science of ethno-botany, which has sustained traditional cultures around the world for millennia “a silly fad for bored urbanites and hippies” seemed to be insult for no reason, except ignorance.

Of course, built into this man’s challenge is the query that I get from at least half of the reporters who come to one of my plant walks: “Do you really believe that there is enough wild food in L.A. County to feed everyone who’s living here?” Of course, the answer is “no,” and I would never make such a ridiculous claim in the first place. It’s a bit of a straw man, which then leads the reporter, and others, to not bother learning this science in the first place because there’s not enough wild food to support everyone.

I have long advocated that everyone, and especially city-dwellers, should grow at least some of their own food, in the front-lawn space, in backyards, in vacant lots. And I have long been a proponent of having no “ornamentals” in the yard, unless they have food or medicinal value.

But in the context of a balanced food source – foraging, growing, gleaning, and barter – wild foods are very much an important food source worth considering.

Furthermore, this critic’s thinking is that we destroy the environment if we forage upon it. Maybe. But maybe not. Farming destroyed the wild environment that was there before, but now more food is produced there. The foraging practices that sustained generations of native Californians were hardly the product of nomadic wanderers. As documented in the classic work, “Tending the Wild” by Anderson, California indigenous foragers used many practices in their method of passive agriculture which encouraged more and larger wild foods. These practices included mostly burning, but also seed distribution, thinning, coppicing, and more.

This reminded me of a forest ranger who once criticized my constant mention of fire in my “Enter the Forest” book. He said that one would never, ever make a fire if lost because of the inherent dangers. Yes, I agreed to that, but one could still make a safe fire. Plus, his advice to lost hikers was that they should just call 911. Really? We had a different perspective. I believe it is unwise to always think we can rely on others in emergencies, so I’d rather learn about making fire. Likewise, I’d rather know about the many uses of wild plants and regularly incorporate them into my diet “just in case.”

The Campfire Reflector Wall Does NOT work, Here’s Why

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The campfire reflector wall is somewhat the mark of the experienced outdoorsman. But do they actually work they way they are purported, to redirect heat at the back of the fire to someone on the opposite side of the fire all snug in their lean-to? The short answer is NO! It doesn’t, however, stop others from continuously preaching it and can be found in many survival books. In all honesty, I too, many years ago, believed it. But why doesn’t it work? Well, first lets look at what we are discussing, so we are all on the same page.


On the surface, it seems it would work, right? Science, however, tells us that it can’t and a simple experiment you can do at home will prove that it doesn’t. Inverse Square Law and more appropriately Inverse Cube Law says that it doesn’t work. But for the purpose of explanation we will use Inverse Square Law.

Inverse Square Law

Inverse-square law is any physical law stating that a specified physical quantity or intensity is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the source of that physical quantity.

A clear example of this is dropping a pebble into a still pond. The concentric rings near the point of impact will be more intense and as the rings radiate outwards they spread out and lose intensity. This happens with light, heat, magnetism, gravity, etc.

You can do the same thing with a flashlight. Place the source of light near a wall and you will notice how intense it is. Now begin backing away from the wall and you will notice the light covers more area, but the intensity of the light falls off proportionately to it’s distance squared.

The same is true of heat. The closer you are to the campfire, the hotter it is. But as you back away, heat becomes less intense but covers a greater area at that new intensity.

Using the formula of Inverse Square Law, one will note that if we have a fire radiating at 100 degrees, when one moves back say two feet and square the distance one receives only a quarter or 25 degrees of the heat radiated by the fire

Look at the diagram below and position yourself at the position where the Yellow A is. Notice how the letter A has less red dots on it the further away from the source it is. That is Inverse Law.

So how then does this affect the reflector wall? Well, imagine the radiated heat on the other side of the fire also falls off at the same rate, which it does. Now in order to reach you, the already lost heat has to jump back over the source, losing more heat in the process, and reach you at what ever distance you’re at, losing even more heat. The fact is by the time it reaches back just to the heat source it originated from, it is not even measurable, because the temperature is below what the source is radiating.

I know, your head is spinning, right? Here’s the experiment I performed at home, to illustrate the effect.

I took an indoor/outdoor thermometer and placed the outdoor probe 6” away from the back stove, between the stove and the back wall. I turned on the stove and watched the thermometer climb until it became stable and the temperature wouldn’t climb anymore. In my case that was 103 degrees Fahrenheit. I then took the wooden cutting board I had and placed it 2” away from the heat source, a la reflector wall, on the opposite side of the flame, nearest me. Now keep in mind the cutting board was way larger in relation to the temperature probe than anyone builds a reflector wall in relationship to themselves or the fire. The results were, that even though the cutting board was only two inches away from the heat source, the temperature at the probe did not climb past 103 degrees, even after leaving the board in place for about 10 minutes.

Now, keep in mind, this was about as a controlled experiment as one could have. I had a constant room temperature in the kitchen of 74 degrees, without fluctuation, and I had a gas stove putting out a constant 103 degrees at 6” away. In the outdoors, things will not be so kind to you as any little breeze will diminish results exponentially.

So, the long and short of it is The Reflector Fire Wall does NOT work. But if you’re going to go through the effort of building one at least use it to as part of a system to draft smoke away, because using it to reflect heat back to your lean-to won’t work.

Safe Queens

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What is a safe queen? a moniker mostly used by collectors of knives and guns that are non users in order to keep them pristine for possible resale in the future. A fine idea in some respects, but not for me. Many years ago, I sold the last of any safe queens I had. For me, it was a waste of space and non use. If I have a knife or a gun it is to be used like any other tool. If it is so good, why not use it? Why keep the so called best in the shadows?

Like any fine tool, the best are a delight to handle and use for the purpose they were intended for. If I need reliable then these are my choice for use. They do me no good in a hide just sitting looking pretty. A fine race horse is used for racing or breeding, but they’re used. Since I have never been able to breed a knife or a gun it leaves one option open to me, use them. Oh sure, I have a few knives and guns that have seen little use, but that has been dictated by the time I have available and human nature of “I’ll take this knife today” but I try and keep my mind open about which tool I will take on any given day, and is often dictated by what I foresee the chores that tool will be used for on any day in the bush. A good tool should last you a lifetime and ready to be handed down a few generations. I do, however, find myself picking up the same tool many times in a row, because I have bonded with it and already know how it feels to me. I do make a concentrated effort to break the habit of a certain tool choice just to expand my use of the tools at hand.

Like many of you, I have way too many knives. And though they do not breed, it sure seems like at times they do so. My choices are myriad for any chosen craft I might be performing. I also like to experiment using a knife for achore it was not meant to be used for just to see if I can make it work for me. I have been surprised many times by how well a knife worked for me in a craft it was not intended for. For the most part, I am not a fan of large knives, but have more than a few. I have found many of them to be useful in areas I would normally use a smaller knife in, like for trap triggers, and they worked just fine. My own preference is to not chop with a large knife, as I carry a hatchet or a tomahawk. My hawk is a Vechawk. They will out chop any large knife. But this not about what the tool is… it is about using them.

Revolt against “safe queens ” and put them to the work they were intended for. They will thank you by performing like the Kings they really are. Safe Queens are for the non outdoor crowd in my opinion. My opinion may not be shared by many of you, but this is really to get you thinking in a direction of use rather than as a passive collector.

The Fungus Among Us (or, How to Be a Really Fun Guy)

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sulfur fungus or chicken of the woods, Rich Redman

An excellent tasting — and colorful — wild mushroom

[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere” and “Guide to Wild foods” (and other books). For information about his books, and the wild food field trips he conducts, check out his web site at or at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041]

It’s that time of year again. It’s cooler, there’s moisture in the air, and mushrooms are starting to appear.

Knowledge of edible wild mushrooms can really enhance your outdoor experience and give you a little bit of self-reliance in the city. Yet, there is this mystique about mushroom hunting. Lots of folks are very wary about venturing into the field of mycology. And this is understandable, considering the fact that even “experts” occasionally die from eating the wrong mushroom.

I often have told my students that they should avoid eating any wild mushrooms if they do not devote considerable time to studying mushrooms, and learning how to positively identify different genera and species. One of the biggest hurdles to studying mushrooms is that they appear, as if by magic, and then a few days later, most have decayed back to nothing. By contrast, most plants are available for inspection all throughout their growing season. You can leisurely study the leaf and floral structures, clip some for your herbarium, and casually take (or send) samples to a botanist to confirm your identification. Generally, you don’t have the luxury of time with mushrooms. Furthermore, there seem to be far fewer mushroom experts than plant experts, so even if you have a perfect specimen, there may not be anyone to take it to for identification.

Despite the obstacles, thousands of people collect wild mushrooms throughout the United States on a regular basis. Many — such as myself – began the pursuit of mycology by joining a local mushroom group which conducts regular field trips.

Nearly everyone I’ve met who collects wild mushrooms for food collects only those few common mushrooms which are easy to recognize. These very common, easy-to-recognize edible mushrooms include field mushrooms (Agaricus sps.), inky caps (Coprinus sps.), fairy rings (Marasmius oreades), chantrelles, Boletus edulis, chicken-of-the-woods, and many others.

Today we’ll take a look at the chicken-of-the-woods, also known as the sulfur fungus ((Laetiporus sulphureus, formerly known as Polyporus sulphureus)

The sulfur fungus is a polypore, or shelf fungus. Instead of the more-familiar cap on a stem, this one grows in horizontal layers. It is bright yellow as the fungus begins its growth, and then, as multiple layers appears, you will also see orange and red. As it grows older, it fades to a very faded yellow or nearly white color.

Typically, the chicken-of-the-woods grows on tree stumps and burned trees. It can grow high on the stump, or right at ground level. Though it can appear on many types of trees, in the Eagle Rock area, I have seen it most often on eucalyptus and carob trees, both imported from Australia and the Middle East respectively.

This fungus is very easy to positively identify. If you are uncertain, you can call around to the botany departments at local colleges, or nurseries, or check to see if there are mycology groups in your area. Most full color wild mushroom books include this mushroom with color photos. Fortunately, you can collect a sample of the chicken-of-the-woods and put it in your refrigerator or freezer until you can get it to someone for identification. This mushroom will keep well.

In fact, when I locate some of the fresh chicken-of-the-woods, I cut off as much of the bright yellow tender outer sections as I think I can store. I only cut back a few inches; if I have to work my knife, then I am into the tougher sections of the fungus, and those are not as good eating. Typically, I will simply wrap the chunks of this fungus and freeze them until I am ready to use.

Once I am going to prepare some for eating, the process is the same whether I am using frozen or fresh mushrooms.

I put the chicken-of-the-woods into a pan and cover it with water, and bring it to a hard boil for at least 5 minutes. I pour off this water, and repeat the hard boiling. Yes, I am aware that some people do not seem to need to do this. However, if I do not do this boiling, I am likely to vomit when I eat the mushrooms, however prepared. I find vomiting one of life’s most unpleasant experiences, and I try to avoid it whenever possible. Thus, I always boil my chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms twice.

If you are experienced with this mushroom and you know you can eat it without all this boiling, that’s fine. Just be sure to thoroughly cook it for your neophyte friends when you have them over for dinner.

Once boiled, I rinse the pieces, and cut them into small nuggets on a breadboard. I roll them in egg (whole eggs, whipped) and then in flour. In the old days, we would then deep fry the breaded pieces. But since we now know all the bad things that deep-frying does to our arteries, we gently saute the breaded chicken-of-the-woods in butter or olive oil, maybe with a little garlic, in a stainless steel or cast iron skillet at very low heat. When browned, we place them on a napkin and then serve them right away.

We have made these little McNuggets, packed them, and taken them on field trips for a delicious lunch.

Bushcraft Water Purification

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Dude McLean purifies water in a Yucca Stalk

Water is one of the essentials to life. In a wilderness situation, it’s essential to know how to find water, and to purify that water. Fortunately, every backpacking store – and even most supermarkets – sell products that enable us to purify water.

But how do you purify suspect wilderness water when you’ve not planned ahead? The universal way to purify water of biological contaminants is boiling, which means you need to be able to make a fire, and you need a container for the water.

Dude McLean, a member of the Dirttime team, a former Marine and a life-long adventurer, shared with me how he has practiced some of the primitive methods of water purification over the past 25 years.

For example, Indians in the past would stretch out the stomach of an animal so that it would hold liquids, and they would drop hot rocks into it to heat the liquids. This could be soup or water or stew.

The Indians, who didn’t have metals in North America before the advent of the Europeans, also carved wooden bowls to use for cooking liquids.

McLean experimented with this method of heat transfer via heated rocks with a paper Dixie cup, and found that when he dropped a fire-heated rock into the cup, the water boiled. His first experiments with wooden bowls were with commercially-made store-bought wooden bowls into which he dropped hot rocks. “It’s really a very simple technology,” said McLean. “I have also made my own wooden bowls by burning out a piece of wood, and then heating water in the bowl with hot rocks,” he said.

More interesting is how McLean used a mature yucca stalk for purifying water. The yucca plant is very common in the Southern California and the Southwest. Some species are found down into Texas and into the Plain states.

For most of its approximately 25 years, the yucca plant appears as a giant pincushion of long narrow sharp-tipped leaves. When the plant is mature, it sends up a tall flower stalk, and the plant dies that summer or fall. The stalk can be 15 feet or taller, and approximately 10 inches thick at the thickest part. This dried stalk is lightweight, with a hard rind and a pithy interior.

“Some years ago, I cut a few of these yucca stalks in order to make a quiver for my arrows,” said McLean, since the stalk can be easily hollowed out and turned into a quality quiver. “I had only started to hollow it out, and it was setting outside during the rain. When I saw that rain had collected inside the hollow, I knew it could be used for a water purifier,” explains McLean with his boyish excitement that betrays his senior-citizen status.

McLean then took an approximately two to three foot section of the yucca stalk, and split it using a large Swiss Army knife. Still using his Swiss Army knife, he easily scooped out the soft inside of the yucca stalk, but keeping the edges intact, thus turning it into a trough.

“You can also make this trough using a discoidal blade, in case you are lost with nothing,” said McLean. A discoidal blade is simply a sharp shard of a rock that is created by whacking the right type of rock onto another, so a thin sharp flake comes off. “It just takes longer that way,” he explained.

Once the yucca trough is made, it is filled with water. Though you might think that the water would soak through the soft inner pith of the yucca and leak out, it doesn’t because the fibres swell with water and water doesn’t leak. Then a fire is built and small, golf-ball sized rocks are heated for about an hour. Using tongs or a trowel, these rocks are then dropped into the yucca trough until you see the water boiling. McLean has heated water this way for purification, and to make wilderness soup.

I was surprised when we went into the woods to practice this method that we had water boiling in just a minute or so after we dropped in the hot rocks.

“Yes, you could use a log or hardwood to do this,” adds McLean, “but that takes a lot longer. If the dried yucca stalk is available, it provides a quick and amazingly-simple way to purify water.”

Of course, McLean quickly points out that in a real wilderness survival situation, he’d look for something like a beer or cola can, which can be used as-is for water boiling.

Some of you will undoubtedly remember the trip that Dude and Alan Halcon took,which was documented in Wilderness Way magazine as “With What’s In Our Pockets.” Dude and Alan used the yucca trough to purify their water and make a stew.

[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants,” and other books. He is a member of the Dirttime team, and was the former editor of Wilderness Way magazine. For information about his books and classes, contact him at, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041]

An Interview with Vine Deloria Jr.

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I thought I would post this in view of some of the current forum discussion about the desire (by some) to form a “tribe,” and the pros and cons about it.

Vine Deloria Jr., named by Time magazine one of the greatest religious thinkers of the 20th Century, is a prominent Native American scholar and author of 24 books (such as God is Red, Custer Died for Your Sins, Evolution, Creationism, and Other Modern Myths, etc.). A retired Professor or Political Science at the University of Arizona, and Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Colorado, he has been executive director of the National Congress of American Indians and a member of the National Office for Rights of the Indigent.

As the editor of Wilderness Way magazine, I interviewed Vine Deloria Jr. so that the publication of the interview would coincide with the 30th anniversary edition of his God is Red: A Native View of Religion [Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, Colorado] I interviewed Deloria in January of 2004; he died in Novemeber 13, 2005 at age 72. In fact, the interview was never published because the publisher/owner of the magazine believed the title of Deloria’s book, “God is Red,” would offend Christian readers, a position that I found absurd.

God is Red is a vast narrative, broad in scope. Deloria begins with the “Indian unrest” of the 1960s,where younger Indians began to assert their land rights, which had long been abused or ignored. He then proceeds to explain the many counterfeits of Native American Religion, as well as explaining some of the core principles of Native American religion. According to Wilma Mankiller, former Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, “The flagship book on Native American spirituality remains Vine Deloria’s God Is Red. He does an outstanding job of translating complex spiritual issues into very simple truths.”

Here is the text of that interview, minus some sections that I found uninteresting, or where Deloria felt that he had little to say.

WW: Your wealth of knowledge is vast. I was constantly amazed as I read God is Red at the scope of your references in diverse fields. First, I’d like to know if you’ve ever gotten negative feedback from anyone thinking the title was either racist or exclusive?

DELORIA: Oh, I hardly got any kickback about the title at all. In fact, the book escaped with very little criticism. Of course, you should attribute some of the lack of criticism to the fact that it deals with Indians — an exotic commodity.

WW: When you discussed the aftermath of the 1960s, you mentioned that many non-Indian youth were attracted to Indian-ness but settled for the counterfeits. You referred to the shamans popping up all over the place and charging outrageous prices for “religion.” You mentioned the great popularity of authors such as the non-Indian Lynn Andrews, the probably fictitious works of Carlos Castaneda, and the “new tribe” of Sun Bear’s – among others. Can you comment on the significance of their popularity, and what’s wrong with these examples and others like them?

DELORIA: In the world of ideas, American and appropriators, Indian culture becomes a kind of deli where people pick and choose what they want to practice. Much of the appropriation is the projection of wishful thinking on different Indian symbols, such as Vision Quest, Sweat lodge, using the pipe, etc. People take the symbol and endow it with their own personal beliefs about who Indians are. My fear was that with so many Indians living in the cities with no experience with reservation communities, some of them would begin to think that the frauds actually represented the true tribal cultures. I can remember how popular the Billy Jack movies were and many Indian youths thought the “ceremonies” in that movie were what people actually did. A lot of it sounded good to people who knew nothing about real Indian culture. And simply being an Indian in the urban areas does not somehow magically mean you know anything of the traditional tribal culture.

WW: In Custer Died For Your Sins, you stated that the reason “the hippies” failed was that (though they were interested in things Indian), they failed to grasp the value of organizing tribally, and ignored the value of customs. Since they were also taking drugs, and had little work ethic, would you agree that that “movement” failed due to laziness? That is, was it their very laziness that led to so many in that movement seeking an “easy” religious path?

DELORIA: I think the Hippies failed for lack of discipline and commitment. People tried to create communities from scratch and it didn’t work. People were sincere, but they often lacked anything in common except a rebellious spirit. And, in fact, a lot of Indian communities today have the very same problem! Extreme individualism is chaos and unjust to everyone.

WW: Wallace Black Elk died in January of this year. What do you think about his teachings, and his work establishing lodges in diverse parts of the world?

DELORIA: Well, Wallace made some flamboyant claims, more so with a non-Indian audience than with a predominantly Indian audience. I can’t find anywhere in the Sioux tradition that says medicine men have to become missionaries and spread the tribal religion . I got along with him personally but was not a follower. It is difficult to criticize the man when he had so many disciples who were ready to fight if you questioned him. Poor things — many of them had only Wallace as their example of traditional Sioux ways – and he wasn’t that traditional.

WW. Would you say that you wrote God is Red to waken up Indian people, or did you write it to all peoples?DELORIA: I wrote it mostly to try and build a context to explain the religious motivation behind some of the activism. People said they wanted land restored, but deep down they really wanted the Old Ways restored. But the Old Ways were declared superstitions by most scholars, so I tried to demonstrate that the rejected topics of interest in the modern world were in fact pointing at a more spiritual understanding of the world that could be found in the tribal traditions.

WW: You bring up a very thought-provoking point in your book when you mentioned how Oral Roberts told his followers (some years ago) that he needed something like $10 million for a new building or God would “take me home.” As I read it, your analogy is that televangelists and cults, etc. are to mainstream Christianity as the modern traveling shamans are to traditional tribal
religion. Would you agree with that assessment?

DELORIA: Yes, except the televangelists are much worse. They thirst for political power whereas the medicine men, even the phoneys, simply want some public recognition and status.

WW: To what have you attributed the non-Indians great interest in things Indian? Do you feel that the Christian and other churches are failing?

DELORIA: Belief in Christianity has been eroding badly all through the 20th century. Much of it now is mindless recitation of the old story and unquestioned belief or a strange amalgam of contemporary culture and the effort to perpetuate institutional loyalties and activities. Aside from self-induced experiences of fundamentalists, people rarely find emotional assurance for themselves. Indian religions are seen by non-Indians as a way to have real religious experiences — although I doubt that they have any experiences in depth. Beneath everything, however, is the desperate need to feel at home.

WW: Where would you direct someone who wanted to find a way to follow the Red Way, the Native American Religion(s). Are there paths where anyone is welcome?

DELORIA: Well, I don’t make recommendations that would encourage people to bother Indians in that regard. A real involvement with traditional religion is quite exhausting and requires immense concentration and almost continuous presence in an Indian community. I doubt that most villages would welcome outsiders for the necessary period of time.

WW: What advice, if any, do you make to Native Americans who seem to have lost their own cultural roots?

DELORIA: A significant number of Indians have lost not only cultural ties but an appreciation for the powers of real medicine people. I sponsored some conferences on traditional knowledge a decade ago and we began to learn the power and reality behind some of the knowledge. It changed the views of almost everyone who attended. Since then, I have been working with younger people who are serious about the recovery of the old knowledge and am quite optimistic that they will radically change the way Indians see themselves.

WW: Are you familiar with the book The Pipe and Christ ? The author — a priest — attempted to define many similarities between Christianity and Native American religion(s). Do you feel that Native American religion is essentially in conflict, or complementary, to Christianity (or for that matter, to Buddhism, Judaism, any mainstream religion).

DELORIA: The task of theologians and religious scholars is to draw comparisons between religions. Unfortunately, they treat beliefs and customs as if they were doctrines and dogmas and generally miss the whole point of a religion. He is not the first nor will he be the last to draw these comparisons, thereby distorting both religions for the sake of logic. Joseph Epes Brown already did it in THE SACRED PIPE — it didn’t change a thing.

God is Red: A Native View of Religion by Vine Deloria Jr. is available at bookstores. It is published by Fulcrum Publishing, 16100 Table Mountain Parkway, Suite 300, Golden, CO 80403, (800) 992-2908,

Storage Wars TV show

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One day I get a call out of the blue.

”Do you know anything about solar ovens?”

”I suppose so,” I responded. “I’ve taught people how to make low-cost solar cookers for 20 or so years, and give the step-by-step process in my “How to Survive Anywhere” book.”

“We’re looking for a solar oven expert. Are you a solar oven expert?” asked the man on the phone. He identified himself as a producer with the Storage Wars show. This is a program where various individuals bid on the contents of storage units that the owners quit paying for. The show tracks each of the bidders to see what they get in the storage units. Sometimes they get junk, and sometimes they get some real interesting things. They hope that what they end up with is worth more than they bid on the unit.

“Have you ever seen the show,” the man asked me.

“Nope, I’ve never even heard of it.” The producer laughed.

“That’s OK,” he told me. “It sounds like you know about solar cookers.” He went on to explain that one of the stars of the show purchased the contents of a storage unit, and has an object that is believed to be a solar cooker. “We want you to look at it, on film, and tell him what he purchased.”

I said OK.

I explained to him that all of this could be done in about 10 minutes in my own backyard, but I was told that they wanted to do the segment in a more natural setting, preferably somewhere in the desert.

We agreed on a day, and a man in a fast car picked me up one morning and whisked me out to the desert, beyond Palm Springs, in a very wild-seeming area.

The star of the show, Ivy, rides up in his SUV, and we meet and greet, and we set up the box he brought me. I’d never seen that particular solar oven before, but it was a top-of-the-line Australian solar oven called the Sun Cook solar oven. I opened it and showed Ivy how to use it, and we even put some eggs and sausage into a pan to cook.

It was overcast when we started, but then the sky cleared as Ivy and I did a short walkabout, looking at the desert plants.

When we came back, the breakfast was done and we feasted on some sun-cooked food.
The Storage Wars show focuses on the dollar value of the items so I had to give him a dollar figure of what I thought the oven was worth. It was not new, but I estimated it could probably fetch $450 at Ivy’s secondhand store in the high desert, and $450 was a bit more than he paid for all the contents of the storage unit.

It was an enjoyable day. If you want to view it, go to My segment comes in at 20:53.

Cooking with the sun is an ancient art. But modern solar ovens are quite another thing. At home, I have the American-made Sun Oven, which cooks about as fast as being on a gas oven if the day is hot and sunny. It easily gets up to 350 degrees f. temperature.

Simple low-cost solar ovens are easily made. I begin with a box that has a lid, such as the boxes where reams of paper are stored. I find a smaller box that goes into the bigger box, and I fill the space between the boxes with crumpled newspaper for insulation. I line the smaller inner box with tin foil, and then I cut a hole in the lid and secure a pane of glass to it. That’s really all there is to it, and this low-cost solar cooker doesn’t cook as quickly as a commercial model, but it still works well. [All the details can be found in my “How to Survive Anywhere” book, available anywhere.]

Beyond the Skills

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“Alone” celebrated as one of televisions most highest rated new reality show.

In a world where we are glued to the news during a high speed chase, fighting, accidents, etc., It’s no wonder the show had such a high rating. Week after week, we would sit in front of the television and watch as ten participants, one by one, would tap out, due to their mental demons poking and prodding at their souls. Houses in Vegas were placing odds and taking bets, week after week, on who would tap out next and who would stay.

Various online bushcraft sites and forums were a buzz with the show, but for different reasons than the rest of the viewing audience. These folks would tune in, week after week, in hopes of gleaning one more appreciable trick they could add to their bushcraft chest of knowledge. Often times, some of the comments surrounded, “I wish they would show more skills”, or “Why didn’t they just do this or that?” Hundreds and hundreds of comments would be made surrounding the skills and how they—the commenters—would have done it different. More often than not, one would read a comment such as, “Don’t the producers know what the audience really wants to see are the skills?” The truth is NO. That is like saying “Gee, I wish during the high speed chase they would get better coverage of how they did the pit maneuver.” The answer is a whole lot different and goes something like this, “No… That is what YOU want to see, and YOU as an audience make up a tiny fraction of what the audience really wants. What the majority of the people want to see is the pain and suffering and who finally wins. Frankly, they really don’t care how they got there, just that they do.

We tend to get so caught up on the tangible that we tend to ignore the intangible. And honestly, when push comes to shove the intangible is what matters.

Being able to bushcamp in your backyard, or within shouting distance of your home is far different than doing it when it counts. You may be able to expertly carve a feather stick, start a fire, tie a knot, catch a fish, and pitch a tent, but can you deal with your own demons? Can you deal with the idea that you’re all alone with no one to talk to, no one to share the joy of your accomplishments, or even vent your frustrations to?

Personally, I am not at all surprised with the outcome of the show. And I wouldn’t be surprised if all the winning contestants in seasons to come were all of Alan Kay’s age or older. Why? Because they (myself included) were brought up during a time free of many of the social interactions that are available today. We tend to process being alone a bit different than those addicted to the blue hue emitted by the computer. Certainly a young farm boy with currently no access to television, radio, cell phone, and computer would fair really well on such a show. Then again, one would probably not even be aware the show existed, so the point is moot.

Personally, I don’t enjoy watching any of the shows for the skills. In fact, if the show was based on skills, I would definitely not watch it… it would be boring! I know that sounds a bit arrogant, perhaps, but think about it. Would you watch a show about a mechanic wrenching on a car without any personality whatsoever? No you wouldn’t, at least not for any appreciable amount of time anyway. And if you did, again, you would be in the minority and are not the target audience of big advertisers. I watch the shows because I want to study and learn what the human mind and soul go through during desperate and dire circumstances. By learning that, I can make great strides in my own life by better understanding the psychology of what I may be experiencing if placed in a similar situation. How will my mood change when faced with hunger, cold, and isolation? What can I do to combat the feelings? By watching and using these shows as data gathering of emotions, I can better  mentally prepare and adjust for other situations.

Get beyond the skills and start training your mind and soul.

Fire with the hand drill … in TWO SECONDS!

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060515NewMktHalcon 153

[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” and other books. More details on this method of fire-starting can be found in his book. Books available at]

Note to Dirttimers: Most of you are probably already aware of these facts, but some of you might not be aware of the amazing feats of Alan Halcon. Read, enjoy, and share with your children as you put them to bed.]

Today, when we think about what we shouldn’t leave home without, commercial TV has trained us to believe that the travelers checks must not be left behind. Of course, there are also keys, credit cards, cell phone.

But if you were born here 500+ years ago, you’d never leave home without some sort of knife and firestarter. For millennia, fire has meant the difference between life and death. This is no less true today than it was thousands of years ago. We have removed ourselves so far from raw nature that we are no longer as aware of our dependence on fire.

In primitive societies, thee were countless ways to produce a fire, to maintain a fire, to transport the fire. Fire was a focal point of daily life and of the society at large. Fire were often prominent in ceremonies and feast days.

More practically, the fire was warmth and protection. Fire was used for cooking and boiling and sterilizing. Fire was used for tool-making and metal making. In many cases, fire was used in the very end when the old ones died, cremation being a quick and sanitary way to deal with dead bodies, while symbolizing the spirit rising upward with the smoke.

In most of pre-contact North America in the past several millenia, the fire starter of choice was the hand drill. The hand drill consists of two pieces of wood: an approximately 18 inch, pencil-thick drill, which is spun onto a flat piece of wood, like a fence slat. A triangular notch is carved onto one edge of the flat piece (the hearth), and the drill is spun onto the hearth at the tip of that notch. As you spin, wood dust flows into the notch and heat develops, and if you don’t faint first, an ember develops which you then place into some ideal tinder, like mugwort, and gently blow on it until you get a flame.

I060515NewMktHalcon 170f you have never done this before, outdoor survival teacher Larry Dean Olsen suggests you start about noon if you want a fire by midnight. He is being optimistic.

You need the right type of wood and you need the right body posture and you need lots of guided practice.

My first attempts to do this were humbling failures, as I lay on my patio with blistered palms and no more energy. But in time, with practice, I could do it in under 30 minutes, and today can fairly reliably produce a coal in under 10 minutes. No surprise that only a few hundred people world-wide are believed to be proficient at this method of fire-starting.

But some folks are not content at taking 10 minutes to get a fire by this most primitive of methods. Alan Halcon of Southern California has done it in TWO SECONDS! How did he achieve such a feat?
Halcon says, “I think there has always been this mystique surrounding fire, not just for me, but for everyone. You almost enter into this mystical realm when you are doing this. And this ability to make fire with two pieces of wood and your hands is not only exhilarating, but that fire then can provide you with so many things,” such as warmth, purifying water, signaling ability, etc.

Halcon had read about primitive fire-making for years, but finally took a class and learned first hand. He said that it really paid off having someone show him what to do, and not do, the nuances that were not available in books.

“The first time I tried this,” says Halcon, “I felt that there was this innate connection between me and the wood, like a symbiotic relationship. That was over 20 years ago. In the beginning, I was completely obsessed with making fire with the hand drill, and for the first few months, I practiced this about two to three hours a day, often resulting in blisters. I was fascinated with it.”

Halcon points out that this was far more practice than someone would need in order to simply learn how to make fire. But he was focussed on mastering this skill, not simply proficiency.

Success in making a fire with the hand drill is a combination of your skill and the quality of your woods. Halcon continually experimented with different woods, and he found out what woods work best, just like generations of primitive skills practitioners have learned before him. For the drill, his material of choice for his area is mulefat. Though you can find and cut a dead and dried mulefat stalk if you need it right away, you get a better drill by cutting it green, during the later stages of growth, and letting it dry. The ideal drill is less than a half-inch thick, about as thick as a pencil, and about 18 inches long. Other woods will work too, such a willow, cottonwood, and hard sections of palm.

For the hearth, willow and cottonwood are some of the universally-used woods. However, Halcon has found that he gets the greatest success with a hearth made of sotol, or the flowering stalk of a fan palm.

So after about three years of practice, Halcon was able to get a coal in 6.5 seconds with the hand drill, using ash wood as the hearth. As far as I know, that was a world record. Then, in 2006, Halcon decided to beat his own record, and was able to get a coal in 4 seconds. Shortly thereafter, someone on the internet told Halcon that a Canadian had done it in 3.5 seconds.

Is speed really all that important? After all, I am happy to just to be able to do it, and if I can do it under 10 minutes, I am happy indeed.

According to Halcon, “I feel that getting a coal as quickly as possible is important for at least two reasons. First, you are losing less energy if you can get it right away. And second, the quicker you get that coal, the less likely you will get blisters on the palms of your hands, which can lead to infection in a wilderness situation.”

So, in July of 2008 at Pasadena’s Hahamongna Watershed Park, Halcon challenged himself again and, with seven expectant witnesses—one of them me and one with a stop watch—Halcon managed to get that coal in two seconds. (OK, so there was one witness who thinks it was 2.4 seconds, but he was probably just a naysayer.) And then he repeats the feat a second time, and Halcon exploded into the same ritualistic, screaming wild dance that we saw Tom Hanks perform after he created his fire in “Castaway.”

Halcon has written a booklet describing how to master the hand drill, with such details as selection of materials, preparation of the drill and hearth, and body posture. For more details, go to

Many who know Halcon watched his progress over the years, and we all worked at our skills as well. In the very beginning, when Halcon was able to successfully get a coal by himself, the rest of us were working as a group, so that it would take three or four of us working together to get a coal. It took me a long time to get the coal with the hand drill by myself, and that was only because I used the assistance of the thumb cord. The thumb cord can be any material, but I used a piece of parachute cord, about eight inches long with a loop on each end. You place this cord over the top of the hand drill into a nock that you’ve carved. Then, each loop goes into each thumb, and the operator is able to press down without the hands having to go down and up – your hands just stay in one place until you get the coal or quit.

Don’t be too upset if you cannot get a coal with the hand drill in two seconds, or even ten. I am happy to be able to do it in under five minutes. Halcon achieved his record-setting time because he was absolutely obsessed with this over several years, and practiced constantly. So persistence paid off.

Halcon is a member of the Dirttime team , spends his time teaching and consulting on outdoor self-reliance topics. If you’re interested in attending one of his workshops, visit for a complete schedule. His classes run the full gamut of outdoor skills, including – of course – fire-making.

Recycling newspapers into “logs”

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[Nyerges is the author of “Extreme Simplicity,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” and other books which provide more detail about this and similar ideas. Go to]

In the genuine wilderness, firewood is everywhere, and abundant. Well, more or less.

Nevertheless, in the event of a natural (or man-made) disaster, firewood for fuel may not be so abundant in the urban areas. I recall hearing stories of German people burning furniture during WWII because there was no other practical way to get heat.

In today’s urban setting, there are many resources that are common, even abundant. One such resource that could be pressed into service in an emergency is newspaper. (Though, come to think of it, in another 15 years, newspapers might go the way of the Dodo bird).

Newspaper, obviously, can be used for many things, such as wrapping, making pots for your garden, emergency insulation, and also for making logs for the fireplace.

When I say “logs,” I’m not referring to the old 1970s method of rolling some newspaper around a broom handle, tying it up, pulling out the handle, and then burning the “log” like a wooden log. Trouble is, these don’t really burn all that well unless you already have a blazing fire going.

But there is an alternative. Put all your newspapers into a plastic bucket and add water. Soaking it for a few days is best. On occasion, when I have demonstrated this to children at camp, we simply shredded the newspaper, added water, and went to the next step, but soaking for a few days is ideal.

Next, you need to have a newspaper press, as pictured. I first purchased one around 1980, and though this model doesn’t seem to be available anymore, there are similar ones today manufactured by others which seems to work just as well. (Look for these products on Amazon.)

You put the wet newspaper into the rectangular box section of the press, add the top, and then push the handles down to press out the water. You then pop out the “brick” and let it dry for a few days (or longer). It then burns well in a fireplace or campfire. Granted, this is newspaper, so don’t expect the same BTU of oak or other hard wood. But it does burn, and definitely better than the logs rolled around a broomstick. I’ve used them in backyard campfires and in woodstoves.

This device also presents the possibility for dealing with security documents. If you just toss your paper documents into the city trash can or the city recycling bin, you never really know what might happen. I used to just burn such documents on a grill in the back yard, but this is not always a possibility. The last time I had a full bag of documents to deal with – old bills, etc. – I shredded them and put them into a bucket with water. Since they are mostly bond paper, not newsprint, I allowed a week of soaking. After the week, I made some logs and dried them. Since you can no longer read anything on the bills and documents after this, there is no need to burn them right away. And since bills are typically bond paper, the logs seem to burn just a bit hotter and longer.

I realize that not every home has a fireplace these days, and residents of Southern California are not likely to freeze to death, such as Polish and German people did during WWII in that more-northern locale. But you could still use these “logs” to cook food over a backyard grill if the power went out.

Don’t have enough newspaper for your cooking needs? Well, you all know what I think about eucalyptus trees, right? Cut them down, let them dry, and you’ll have years of firewood.

Protestors Object to Eucalyptus Tree Removal

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eucalyptus 0712Are Eucalyptus a desirable species in the California landscape?
According to one researcher: “Eucalyptus … creates the threat of desertification.”

[Nyerges is the author of “Guide to Wild Foods,” which has a chapter on Eucalyptus with a picture of Dude chewing on the leaf lurps. Yum! You can get the book wherever fine books are sold, or from]

Eucalyptus has been in the news the last few weeks because naked protesters are unhappy with U.C. Berkeley’s plan to remove thousands of these Australian natives.

When I was growing up, we had a neighbor with a few eucalyptus trees in their backyard. I remember that nothing else grew in the back, around and under the eucalyptus tree. We boys liked to climb that tree, but the owners glumly told us that the huge tree was there when they moved to that house, and they could not afford to remove it.

Later, in high school, a schoolmate took me to see his many worm farms that he’d constructed in his large back yard. He showed me the tiny earthworms that grew in the worm farm under the eucalyptus trees. The worms that were raised on the other side of the yard had large normal-looking earthworms. This friend, Scott, also showed me carrots he’d grow on each side of his yard. The carrots under the eucalyptus trees had lots of ferny tops, but very tiny carrots. The carrots on the far side of the yard, away from the eucalyptus, were large normal-looking carrots. “Don’t grow things around eucalyptus,” Scott told me.

On a property governed by a local non-profit, I was once asked to plant bamboo on the property line. The property line was also planted in eucalyptus trees. Nothing grew well under those trees in some 40 years. I planted the bamboo, and watered it. It died, whereas other bamboo beyond the influence of the eucalyptus thrived like weeds.

These are just personal observations, though I have heard dozens of stories like this. What is the “bottom line” about eucalyptus?

Eucalyptus is a tree with a mixed reputation. This stately tree is renown for the “forest effect” due to the high transpiration rate of its leaves. According to one report, “In Sydney, a large gum tree [eucalyptus] transpires up to 200 litres of water a day. A well-maintained garden in Sydney will transpire nearly twice the volume of water as the total rainfall.”

The tree was included in my Guide to Wild Foods book since it was so useful in its native Australia by the Aboriginees: the leaves for various medicines (mostly upper bronchial issues), the bark for infections and many other uses, and even the little psyllid bugs can be harvested and eaten like a backwoods sugar. And the honey produced from eucalyptus flowers is a dark almost-medicinal honey.

But is it good for the California environment to remove the eucalyptus trees and replace them with natives? In fact, is being non-native the only reason that UC Berkeley wants to remove the trees?

In order to fully grasp the effects of eucalypti on the environment, let’s look at its effect in other parts of the world and the problems experienced there.

Eucalyptus is a fast-growing tree. When you cut them down, they will sprout right back up again. Because of this, there have been major plantations in various countries throughout the world from Europe to China to Africa in order to supply the wood for lumber, paper products, and firewood. If the eucalyptus trees are planted in non-agricultural areas where nothing else will grow, they survive quite well. A eucalyptus tree in a plantation can be cut as little as every four years.

Around the time that the U.S. was experiences long gas lines during the 1970s ”energy crisis,” many countries around the world discovered that the eucalyptus tree seemed like a miracle tree. It grew easily anywhere, and could be regularly harvested for fuel wood, building materials, and pulp for paper. It was also a financial boom to the public and private businesses in various countries who grew these plantations. Today, eucalyptus is one of the top trees planted in plantations around the world (pine is apparently the top tree). With so many undeniable benefits, what could go wrong?

Over the last 30 to 40 years, countless business, governmental, and academic studies have been done to weight the pros and cons of the largescale plantings of the eucalyptus tree. I’ve spent time over the last year reading these studies, and compiling hard data on the eucalyptus tree.

There were very real worries about deforestation and desertification that intensified in the 1980s. Eucalyptus, with its obvious economic benefits, were planted in ever-greater numbers. Today we can analyze the ecological effects of over 30 years of eucalyptus plantations.

For starters, there have actually been riots in protest of new eucalyptus plantings. Really, riots? In Northeast Thailand, most of the native forests had been completely logged by private companies, which affected the water, and forced local people to relocate. The Thai government, along with the World Bank, planted eucalyptus trees both as a cash crop, and so that local villagers would have fuel wood for their daily needs. However, it was noted that some results of the thousands of eucalyptus trees planted included lowering the water table for villages, drying up local wells, and making the farmable land less valuable due to the allelopathic effects of the eucalyptus leaves. When the Thai government began to grow even more eucalyptus plantations, villagers in the Tung Kula Ronghai section of Thailand, held meetings, marches, rallies, and they also blocked roads, burned eucalyptus nurseries, ripped out eucalyptus seedlings, and chopped down eucalyptus trees, and planted fruit trees.

Because the eucalyptus tree is such a great transpirer, it follows that it generally consumes far more water than other native or non-native trees. In fact, one of the stated reasons that eucalyptus is planted in certain countries is to dry up swamps and wet areas, either for development or because the wet area was believed to be a source of malaria. The deep roots of eucalyptus, and their extensive network of small surface roots, has been noted to extend deep to the water table.

Although a eucalyptus plantation does very well in dry areas where nothing else is growing, in areas as diverse as China, Ethiopia, Vietnam, etc, local villagers of these diverse places have noted that their water wells run dry. In fact, this seems to be one of the main objections to eucalyptus plantations: it dries up the local sources since it generally consumes more water than is received by rain in any given area, which then means there is far less water for agricultural crops and orchards. In the various studies about eucalyptus, it is always pointed out that the effects of eucalyptus on the water table can be minimized by carefully choosing the locations of the eucalyptus plantations, and by interspersing other forest trees with the eucalyptus. However, in practice, this has not been the case because it is also widely acknowledged that to get the greatest economic advantage from the eucalyptus trees, the eucalyptus are grown tightly in huge acreages, like a crop of corn.

In studies done to determine if the leaf drop from eucalyptus is “allelopathic” (exuding soil toxins), various plants grown in a mixture of eucalyptus mulch and soil have exhibited a germination rate as low as 3%, compared to normal rates of germination with an oak mulch. This means there is typically little or no undergrowth in the eucalyptus groves, and therefore there is a lack of food for grazing animals in the eucalyptus groves. Formerly, villages would be able to graze their animals in the forest and let them feed on the undergrowth, and even the leaves of the forest trees. But the eucalyptus leaves themselves are not eaten by grazing animals, which is good if you are growing the trees, but not good if you raise animals.

Another argument against the eucalyptus plantations is that there is a great depletion of soil nutrients. In general, eucapytus take up more nutrients (and water) from the soil than other native or non-native trees because they are fast-growing. And, in theory, if all the leafy matter was left on the ground (as opposed to cleaning it up), those nutrients would degrade and enrich the soil. But unfortunately, eucalyptus mulch takes a very long time to be degraded by bacteria and fungus due to its oils, and so in actual practice, the soils around eucalyptus tend to be very desert-like due to the unavailability of nutrients. [Source: The Effect of Eucalyptus and Oak Leaf Extract on California Native Plants, Kam Watson, UC Berkley]

This effect results in the lack of biodiversity and understory that is commonly observed under and around eucalyptus trees, in stark contrast to native forests.

One study was also done with soil under the eucalyptus trees, along with a soil sample not influenced by eucalyptus. Soil samples from under eucalyptus trees proved to be less able to absorb water. This meant that though eucalyptus trees have been planted in areas to reduce runoff and flooding, this result is not usually successful because of the effect of the tree’s oil on the soil.

These same results have been documented in eucalyptus plantations in China, Kenya, Ethiopia, Vietnam, and other sites.

Kenya Forest Service has published guidelines, basically aimed at promoting eucalyptus plantations in the country, called “A Guide to On-Farm Eucalyptus Growing in Kenya”, December 2009.
They advise not growing eucalyptus in wetlands and marshy areas, and riparian areas. They advise not growing eucalyptus closer than 30 meters from rivers, and ideally 50 meters, so that the trees do not adversely interfere with the water source.

They add that other areas where eucalyptus should not be planted include around lakes, ponds, swamps, estuary and any other body of standing water. They advice that eucalyptus not be plants closer than 50 meters to (about 55 feet) farm lands, and other measures. In other words, even those who are pro-eucalyptus recognize the adverse effects of eucalyptus on the environment, and offer ways to minimize those effects.

The study done of the eucalyptus effect in the Tung Kula Ronghai project in Thailand is somewhat typical of the relationship between local villagers and the various entities who run the eucalyptus “farms” (though, admittedly, every situation is unique). For example, in theory, the eucalyptus plantings are ideally done “where nothing else will grow,” though this is simply not always the case. In this project in Thailand, many of the “public lands” were occupied by poor people, who were evicted from the lands so that eucalyptus could be planted.

Remember, World Bank and other funds were provided with the stated intent of providing a cash crop, as well as providing daily fuel for the poorest of the poor. Though the former has materialized, the latter has not. Protests occurred when it became clear that eucalyptus forests did not solve villagers problems, and created new ones. It turned out that firewood from eucalyptus was not “free,” and it burned too fast compared to former forest woods. There was no benefit from the forest for grazing animals, areas for growing rice disappeared, and the benefits that were supposedly going to assist villagers went to the Thai government and to multi-national wood pulp industries.

By the way, according to Midgley and Pinyopu, “The Role of Eucalyptus in Local Development in the Emerging Economies of China, Vietnam, and Thailand,” there are nearly 10 million acres of eucalyptus under cultivation in the Asia region, which includes Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Phillipines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Because of the kneejerk reaction to “plant trees” to help offset drought and desertification, some believe that any tree is acceptable to plant. Yet according to Shiva and Bandyopadhyay, “Ecological Audit of Eucalyptus Cultivation” (1987), the “complex multi-dimensional impacts on soil moisture and ground water, on the soil fertility; on other plant life and on soil fauna undermine potential of land for biological productivity. Eucalyptus cultivation therefore creates the threat of desertification.”

Obviously, the disputed eucalyptus trees in the Bay area were not planted to provide firewood for local San Francisco “villagers.” And they serve no purpose for a third world’s needed cash economy. They, in fact, serve no purpose at all, except their ease of care and growth, and their very subjective value of beauty . With so many negatives, and so few positives, why does anyone insist on keeping those trees?

U.C. Berkeley should proceed with the removal of eucalyptus trees on the lands under their control, and begin the long process of re-introducing natives, and the many benefits that will come therefrom.

If you have a single eucalyptus in your backyard, you will not likely experience any of the negative effects mentioned here. However, if you have 3 or more, close together, it is likely that you have noted that not much grows under these trees, and other plants struggle. What should you do?

You could remove the tree, use the wood for firewood, and plant something more suitable. Yes, large tree removal is expensive, and some local communities make funds available to help homeowners pay the cost. You could also try drying and selling the eucalyptus leaves to people who do not have them growing nearby. And you could make and sell walking sticks, and other carvings from this hard wood.

[The facts stated in this article come from over a dozen research papers; sources provided upon request]

Epic Survival

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matt graham coverIf you know who Matt Graham is, you’ll be pleased to know his new book has just been released. If you don’t know who Matt Graham is He was one of the stars of “Dude  You’re Screwed” and “Dual Survival”. Aside from staring on those programs, Matt is a world class athlete,  having run the entire length of the California portion of the Pacific Crest Trail in record time, climbed El Capitan and came in third place running against over 30 horses. Matt is a modern hunter gatherer who has lived a good portion of his life off of the land using primitive skills. He’s run along side the Tarahumara Indians and has worked at BOSS where he’s lead month long hunter gatherer courses.

This book is not about tangible skills, as many would hope it is. This book is about Matt’s life and his journeys as he edges out his place in life as a hunter gatherer.

Choosing to walk, Matt covered hundreds, if not thousands, of miles on foot across great swaths of lands, including the Arizona, California, and Utah Deserts, relying on primitive skills to survive. He shares with the readers his near death experiences, as well as his accomplishments.

If you are looking to read something that is a nice departure from the common fare found in the genre—skills based books—this is a good read. I thoroughly enjoyed reading his journey and recommend this book to any fans of survival.

Foraging for Ginkgo biloba

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ginkgoBK120714How to use the nuts and leaves of this “living fossil”

[Nyerges is the author of the new book “Nuts and Berries of California,” available wherever quality books are sold….]

My latest book, “Nuts and Berries of California,” is mostly about the wild nuts and berries that Native Americans used for subsistence all throughout this large state of ours. But because there are so many introduced plants in our urban areas, I included a short section in the book describing those ornamentals which are also useful for food or medicine. That section is called HIPs, for “horticulturally introduced plants.” I only included those plants in that section which have also survived well on their own, even in the wild.
The Ginkgo tree is one of those HIP plants.

Botanists believed that the Ginkgo biloba tree was extinct, but then it was found in a Chinese Buddhist monastery in the 1700s, where specimens were being cultivated.
Once it was rediscovered, ginkgo has been cultivated and spread all over the world as an ornamental and street tree. It is popular because of its unique appearance, and its relative resistance to insects and disease. To Buddhists, the tree is regarded as sacred.ginkgoLF-Fruit110214

In Japan, and other parts of Asia, the processed nuts are added to rice and stir fry dishes. The nuts are high in protein and low in fat. The medicinal properties of the nuts, which you get by eating them, are said to include the release of stress and hypertension (the result of dilating blood vessels and increasing oxygen into the blood stream). The nuts are also reportedly good for pain and soreness, as well as aid to digestion.

Yes, I harvest the ripe ginkgo nuts, and yes, I have to hold my nose! The fleshy tissue around the seed really stinks! Some people have learned to not-mind the strong odor, generally reminiscent of fresh feces. Yes, you can get used to just about anything, and in time, you can learn to not be bothered by the “aroma” of the flesh around the ginkgo nuts.
My suggestion is that you just get over it, and it might help if you chew on some aromatic gum, like licorice gum, while collecting.

Once collected, you can let the nuts and their soft outer shell dry, which makes it significantly easier to clean. Or you can just clean them right away, as I tend to do. I always wash them outside. You can put all the fresh ginkgo nuts in a pan of warm water, and roll them around between your hands to clean off all the outer coverings, which you should then toss into your compost pile.

The cleaned nuts are then best dried, such as in the oven at pilot-light temperature. I have dried them with their shells, and without their shells. I don’t know if one way is right or wrong, and I believe it is just a matter of preference. However, the ginkgo nuts in the shell seem to keep a lot longer than the shelled and dried ones. If you plan to eat them right away, then it probably doesn’t matter how you prepare them.

Once roasted, you can just eat the ginkgo nuts as-is.
(Yes, there are two types of people: Those who like ginkgo nuts, and those who do not….)

I have never eaten these nuts raw because of the foul odor. There have been some reports that the nuts can make you ill if you eat them raw (no doubt!), and they must be boiled or roasted for about 25 minutes. You’ll know they are done when you can easily break the thin shell with a nutcracker. They taste is akin to a bean.

To extend the shelf life, they can be simply dried, though freezing might be even better.
Caution: there have been reports of sickness by some people who have eaten about a dozen nuts at one time. These were nuts that were cooked. So my suggestion is to try a few and monitor the results. Your body will tell you whether or not you should eat more.

When you see pills of Ginkgo biloba in the health food stores, they are made from the leaf. The leaf extract has been subject to many clinical tests, and it apparently increases circulation for the limbs and for the brain. This is apparently why it does seem to be helpful for improving memory and assisting with retaining memories. Suggestions that ginkgo can reverse dementia don’t seem to hold up to clinical tests. Nor do the claims that ginkgo can cure cancer seem to be valid, so far.

An extract from the leaf has also been found to improve the immune system, and to protect the heart by clearing plaque from the arteries. In fact, the extracts are used for many ailments such as headaches, asthma, kidney disorders, and more.

I have found that when I am experiencing a “slow day,” ginkgo pills, or homemade tea from the leaves, seem to offer a subtle yet noticeable “pick-me-up” without the eventual slowdown that follows drinking coffee.

There has been some debate about the safety of gathering your own ginkgo leaves for making your own tea. From what I have concluded, it seems safe enough to brew an occasional cup of tea from the leaves. Also, apparently the best time to collect the leaves for tea is when the leaves have turned yellow and are falling from the tree. This also apparently bypasses any toxic properties (e.g. ginkgolic acid) that may be in the leaf.
But most negative reactions from using ginkgo are not from the leaf, but from eating the nuts raw.

Forager Notes:
Don’t bring the raw nuts with the husks into your house without warning the family. I remember once when I brought some home when I was living with my parents. They were all in a brown paper bag in the kitchen, since I intended to clean them right after dinner. My mother insisted that everyone check the bottom of their shoes since she was certain someone stepped in dog poop. Finally, I remembered the bag and took it outside, and it seemed like years before I heard the end of that one.

Ginkgo is a smooth-barked tree, often growing upright in a very vertical fashion when young, and then producing a much larger angular crown as it matures. Each leaf is fan-shaped, and has the appearance of a fern. The leaves turn yellow in the fall. The fruits, formed only on the female trees, are covered in a light brown fleshy coating that is very odoriferous. The nut has a thin shell that is easily cracked.
The tree is widely cultivated tree, planted as a street tree, in parks, gardens, and yards.

Living a Static Life

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Is or has your life been static, meaning you have not changed a thing in your life over time? I highly doubt it. Most do not remain the same.

I recall I was with an uncle, who as a young man delivered ice to homes when everyone had an ice box, not a fridge. He was the ice man, at 19, for one year. Flash forward to when he was 75 and ran into a guy he knew way back then. The guy asked my uncle if he was still an iceman. My uncle almost fell over.. “What the hell are you asking me am I still an iceman for? You ^%$)(_+ idjit.” and it went on from there.

What brought this to mind was a recent experience I had much along the same thought pattern. A guy I knew since I was a teenager recently saw some videos that Alan Halcon, Christopher Nyerges and yours truly made, and said I was full of crap and BS and asked when did I ever do that stuff. My response was, ” Well, you never knew me well at all and I know you think I didnt know a thing about the outdoors life, based on when I asked you question once when we were fishing about how you tried a knot. It was method I was not aware of. Since then, you have only seen me a few times for short periods over the last almost 60 years. I could not talk about the skills and not be called out if I didnt know what I was talking about. I have spent years perfecting my outdoor skill sets. My life did not remain static. I could not have written for a magazine for 7 years if I did not own the skills.” I was kind of stunned by his remarks, the man has no idea of what my life has been about. my respect for him went out the window. I thought he was better than that kind of thinking, guess not.

No one lives a static life. We all move forward and we take many paths. To think a person has not had the ability to learn new things and move forward is very rigid thinking at best. I know we tend to place people in slots and remember them as we last saw them. We seem to think they never moved on and grew.

I was in the Marine Corps. Afterward, I worked on shipping docks, drove a truck, installed TVs, painted houses and movie sets, and then had a career in the music business for 40 years. That career allowed me plenty of time off to pursue my love of the outdoors. I wrote a book for songwriters ” the song writers survival guide to success”. As teenagers, we became very enthralled with falconry and learned how to rappel over cliffs and learning the ways of an outdoor life. Camping was make do with what we had, though it wasn’t much by todays standards. There is always more to any person than meets the eye, or what you might think of them.

I’ve never known anyone who has not moved on and grown and have been surprised several times at what they have accomplished in life. This is kind of a rant, but I think it is easy to discredit someone when you don’t know any facts. It also shows a great lack of respect. The only thing that has remained static in my life is I’m still a Marine, once a Marine always a Marine—Static in its finest form.