Wednesday, April 02, 2014

In Search of Real Survival

[Nyerges is the author of 10 books, including “How to Survive Anywhere” and the newly-released all color “Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants.” He has led outdoor field trips since 1974, and does a weekly radio show. He can be reached at Box 41834, Los Angeles, CA 90041, or]

All of us who have devoted our lives to studying and applying skills of survival are well aware of the periodic events which beset us all:  wars, droughts, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, economic collapses, etc.  Some are “acts of God,” and many are acts of man.

The practical skills of survival are direly needed by all of us. And yet, the media continues to serve up “reality” shows that provide little or no practical skills in our day to day living.

Shows like Survivor, Man vs. Wild, Survivorman, and their offspring can be amusing, but are designed more for entertainment value rather than providing anything of real value.  These shows which often depict buff individuals in  a wilderness setting often showcase the worst of human nature in order to keep us glued to our seats.

Though it amusing, and often nauseating, to see hungry men and women eating snakes, rats, and grubs, there seems to be little relevance to the millions of modern urban dwellers.

What then is real survival all about?

Our food-related survival skills necessitate our knowledge of urban food production, such as growing fruit trees, raising vegetables in limited space, raising chickens, making compost.

We need to educate ourselves to the what foods have great nutritional value, and which do not.  If we cannot grow at least some of our own food, we should support those farmers at local farmers markets who are providing local quality food.

Real survival in the modern world includes practical knowledge of economics.  How can you get more for less money by spending less and earning more. You can begin by separating need from want, and then you should re-evaluate everything in your life that is touched by money. Ask yourself, “How can I obtain this thing, or service, or skill, without money?”  Is it possible to trade or barter?

And then there is the ages-old good advice for how to soundly deal with material things:  why buy new if used will do?  Don’t discard if it can be made into something else, etc.

Economic collapse of a country’s currency has happened many times, usually due to the over-extension of the leaders who controlled the purse strings, and who considered themselves more deserving than the general populace.  A collapse of a country’s currency forces the people to deal with stark, basic, everyday needs and concerns in a harsh manner until something new is developed. 

While it is true that learning how to trap and eat a rat means you don’t have to worry about food from the store in the event of an economic collapse, it is far better to involve yourself in the practical and philosophical underpinnings of the society so that such a collapse doesn’t happen in the first place.

As our material abundance and technological advances continue, we become more and more dependent upon things which we cannot control.  We’re fast on the path to a “Blade Runner” or “THX1138” world.

If you’re worried about our future, the answer does not lie with a loin-clothed man with a spear, since a thriving meaningful culture requires vastly more than that.  Real survival must encompass a working knowledge of politics, economics, ecology, health, and so much more.

Our answers lie in making the time to educate ourselves to the things that really matter in life.  For that matter, in today’s information-glutted world, it’s a real challenge to discern between useful and useless information, between entertainment and education, between that which leads us to freedom and that which merely titilates. 

If we desire to be a part of the solution to the ails of modern civilization, then we must choose to not live our lives driven by fear and greed.  Yes, real survival means that we must change ourselves first. 

Sometimes, we have to realize that we’ve been hypnotized, and that we must fight our own ignorances.  Real survival means that we must become like children again, and realize that there is no dishonor in going back to Square One.  By reassessing everything that we think we know, and by asking questions anew, we may discover a new found joy in our very existence.

The pursuit of material survival is too often compassionless.  We need compassion for each other if we want to have a society that is worth living in. 

William Blake once summed up the essence of Real Survival when he stated, “I sought my soul, but my soul I could not see. I sought my God, but my God eluded me. I sought my brother, and I found all three.”

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"Squatter in Los Angeles" -- an excerpt

This is a short excerpt from a chapter of Nyerges' recent Kindle book, "Squatter in Los Angeles: Life on the Edge."  The book can also be obtained from the Store at  

I derived great pleasure from experimenting and learning all the ways I could provide for my daily needs, and even my wants, using things that I made, grew, found on the property, or obtained from discards.  Had I been married with children, I believe this would have been an impossible pursuit, for obvious reasons. But I was essentially alone.

I read Thoreau’s Walden Pond for the first time during this period, and found  my state of mind frequently resonating with the basic themes in the book.  Remember, Thoreau wasn’t a bum, or a drop-out, or an alcoholic.  Actually, for that matter, he was no squatter either, for the land  where he was given permission to do his “experiment” was owned by fellow writer and friend William Emerson. He built for himself a little house (a “shack” by most accounts), and did a lot of his writing there. He stayed there by himself, probably realizing even back then that many commercial interests in our society vie for our time and money, finding ever-more clever ways to convince us that we need objects which previous millennia of humans survived without. 

It would be accurate to say that Thoreau – like me – was profoundly interested in the very meaning of life and wanted to discover the point of all the rushing about to get somewhere.  Unable to discover these answers in his town, Thoreau built and moved into his little shack in the woods and learned how to grow the food that he ate, and found it nourishing and satisfying. He also ate purslane, an import from the old world, which even then was common throughout the eastern United States in tilled soil.  He wrote “I learned that a man may use as simple a diet as the animals, and yet retain health and strength.  I have made a satisfactory dinner off a dish of purslane which I gathered and boiled.  Yet men have come to such a pass that they frequently starve, not from want of necessities, but for want of luxuries.”  Indians and trappers would visit and talk, and somehow through this unprejudiced intercourse, he found that all people were more alike then different, and a life lived for purely material reasons is a life wasted.

Now I found myself in a similar setting, though it wasn’t in the woods but a ruralish part of Los Angeles.  There was purslane and chickweed growing right outside my door.  I  had no pond nearby, but I did manage to get over the Arroyo Seco which was as close to my personal Walden Pond as I felt I would get.

At night, thinking over the day’s classes and studies, typing up my notes and insights, I often ruminated over how life should be lived, and wondered why we take up so much time and waste so much of life on trivial pursuits.  I felt that it  was important to live simply, to grow food, to discover nature’s secrets, and to find answers through thinking and through research.  I wondered why others did not think like me.  And with the purslane growing right in my yard, I could eat it for lunch in my salad and fancy myself some sort of urban Thoreau as I thought over these ideas.

I did learn some years later when Thoreau was mentioned by the academics he was regarded as a brilliant intellectual who discovered the simple reality that was right in front of  everyone. Be here now. Imagine. The kingdom is within. Which is why I naturally assumed that his own peers would have regarded him as a saint and savior.  Wrong!  I have actually spoken to descendents of Thoreau’s peers and they said that in the day, Thoreau was by no means universally respected. Rather, many regarded him as a bum, an outsider, someone who had rejected society to hang out with the Indians in the woods.  I was starting to see that there were more parallels with me and Thoreau than were originally apparent.

So I did my best – though usually unsuccessfully – to not be seen as a freeloading bum who chose not to work and who just sat around listening to the birds and who saw secret messages in the clouds.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Rain Dance

[An excerpt from Nyerges' latest book, "Squatter in Los Angeles: Life on the Edge," available from Kindle, or as a Word document from Store at]


It was Tuesday, August the 14th, the last day I’d be working with some of the children at the day camp, so I had a few special activities planned. After their lunch, I began by showing my group of children some wild edible plants.  These were mostly plants that I brought to camp, because, remember, the day camp was held at Victory Park, which is a large park west of Pasadena High School, and it was mostly lawn with some introduced trees and bushes along the edges. 

Next we practiced some Indian sign language of the Plains.

After that I showed the children some of the buffalo gourd leaves which I’d brought.  I demonstrated how to make soap by wetting a few leaves and then vigorously rubbing a few between my hands.  This produces a thick green froth.  It’s not the best plant for making soap, but it was all that I could collect for that day. Each child then made soap from this plant and in their very excited way they cleansed their hands, splashing and  yelling as they did so.

The day before, I’d hinted that we might do a rain-dance, and now, as the children were returning to their circle, a few were now asking with their eager voice, “Are we going to do the rain-dance now?”  Once they were all seated, I explained that a rain dance is actually not just one thing, and that it could take many forms and is usually a part of a larger ceremony.  I explained that we would just be doing one small part of what might be called a rain ceremony, even though what I was going to share wasn’t specifically a part of one tribal tradition.

I didn’t have a specific “formula” or procedure, but rather I was attempting to share several key elements with the children.

I removed my hand-made clay pipe from its container and filled it with tobacco.  I carefully lit it and puffed on it. The children were silent and the teen-age counselors were not sure what to say or do.

Once the pipe was smoking well, I stood in the center and blew smoke to the four directions and to the sky and to the earth. I explained to the children that I was offering my smoke as a way of giving respect and thanks, in an attitude of humility.  I didn’t use the word “God,” but indicated that this was giving respect and thanks to a higher intelligence, a great spirit of the universe. The children watched in awe with wide eyes.  I could tell that they’d never seen anything like this before.

Then I passed the pipe around the circle for each child to take a little puff.  Each child nervously smoked the pipe as it went around, and I told them not to inhale. I explained as we did this that the smoking of the pipe was a traditional sign of our friendship and unity.
Once this was done, I conducted half the children in dancing around the outer circle, as the other half clapped their hands. We all chanted a simple rain chant that I led, and the we all let up a cheer for rain.

My time with the children was over and they all departed for their next session. 

“Is it really going to rain?” a few children curiously asked me as they departed. 

“Of course,” I replied with assurance. “It will rain by Saturday.”  Of course, I was just expressing confidence.  I really had no idea whether or not this would be “effective,” and I’d not checked any weather patterns.  For that matter, I’d not even planned to do the rain dance until that morning.

A heavy rain fell early the following morning.

By the time I arrived at the day camp on noon Wednesday, only a drizzle continued to fall, and most of the day camp activities had been moved indoors. Many of the children who had participated in the rain dance looked at me quizzically.  Several came up to me with their questions and comments.

Some yelled out: “We made rain! We made rain!”  I quickly pointed out that we didn’t make anything. Rather, I told them, our request was answered.

A few children asked with open eyes, “It rained from our rain dance, didn’t it?”  I answered what I believed to be true. “Yes,” I told them.

Pursuing the premise that there was a relationship between the dance and the rain, I attempted to delineate my learning:

1)We washed ourselves before our little ceremony.
2) We requested rain in an attitude of humility.
3) We shared the pipe in a posture of unity and friendship.
4) We sang, chanted, and danced our ceremony not “by the book” but with feeling.
5) And perhaps most important, the ceremony was conducted by children.  These children were young enough to still be uncorrupted by the limitations of adult minds. They had never been told that they couldn’t  invoke rain.  So I believe that the innocence and lack of prejudice on the children’s part was a key factor in the apparent “success” of our rain dance.

I found that this episode forced me to look at myself and the world very differently. What had happened here?  It was the middle of August when there is usually no precipitation, and rain came within 15 or so hours of doing a rain dance. I considered that a state of humility seemed to be essential, and that one really can never claim that they have the personal ability to invoke rain.

This led me to research the many recorded episodes of rain-making and rain ceremonies among Native American traditions, and try to find some common elements.  Eventually, I compiled a file full of newspaper accounts and interviews and book excerpts all about rain ceremonies. 

It turned out that even to this day – well, even to 1984 when this occurred – the invoking of rain was still being practiced by Native Americans.

I read, and collected, a lot more on the people who do rain ceremonies, and documentation of the many cases where they produced rain.  It’s a fascinating subject and that rain dance at the day camp opened the door to this incredible exploration.  It seemed that the more I looked into it, and inquired, the key idea to keep in mind was that personal attitude was the essential ingredient, and that “asking for” or “praying for” rain was an inaccuracy.

It also became clear to me that it is actually a blessing that most people are unaware that they have such a power over the elementals of nature. You could say that our ignorance protects us from the irresistible urge to abuse such ability.

I spoke to Dr. George Fishbeck, L.A. area weatherman and meteorologist, and he told me that he noted a storm off California’s coast at 7 p.m. Tuesday.  That evening by 11 p.m., Dr. Fishbeck said that he knew rain would fall, but not where. He was calling it a freak storm. Due to the winds that arose, the rain moved further west and north than he expected.

Apparently, someone had called Dr. Fishbeck and told him about the rain dance, so he already knew about it when I brought it up.  He believed that there was no connection between the rain dance and the rain, discounting the ability of what he called “prayer” to affect the weather. Still, Fishbeck told me that he recognized and respected the sacred nature of the Southwestern Indians’ rain dances and ceremonies, having lived among the New Mexico Indians for two years as an anthropologist.

In the Los Angeles Times of August 16, 1984 on the front page, it read “First Rain of Season Snarls Traffic, Causes Blackout.”  The report read, “The first rainstorm of the season struck the Los Angeles area with surprisingly heavy showers Wednesday morning, spawning a rash of minor accidents on slick freeways and power failures affecting thousands of customers. Rainfall at the Los Angeles Civic Center measured .40 of an inch, nearly double the .21 of an inch recorded by this date last season, before tapering off in mid-morning.” The report talked about auto accidents, blackouts, and flash floods up in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, and clear up in Las Vegas.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014




[Nyerges is the author of “Guide to Wild Foods,” and the soon-to-be-released “Foraging California.” He has led wild food outings since 1974.  He can be reached via the School of Self-reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or at]

There’s a low-growing little plant that grows in most people’s yards and in nearby wild areas, whose little pod is remarkable.  Look at the picture!  The seed pod is heart-shaped, making it the ideal posey to give to your loved one on Valentine’s Day.

The plant is Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris), which came to this country from Europe a long time ago.  It was probably brought here as a medicine, since it was used  by the ancient Greeks and Romans and was popular all over Europe into the Middle Ages. The entire plant was used as astringent (the poultice can be used to stop bleeding), diuretic, and antiscorbutic.  When the plant became naturalized in North America, even the desert Indians began to use it in their medicine. The Cahuilla  (whose territory is around the Palm Springs area) used the leaves as a tea to treat dysentery.
In fact, the small leaves of this little plant are very nutritious, and can be added to salads and soups. As a member of the Mustard Family, the leaves are both tasty and nutritious. An analysis of 100 grams (about ½ cup) of the leaves shows 208 milligrams of calcium, 86 milligrams of phosphorus, 40 milligrams of sodium, 394 milligrams of potassium, 36 milligrams of vitamin C, and 1,554 international units of vitamin A.
Some years this plant is very abundant in lawns, fields, along trails. This little annual is already growing in lawn areas all over town, but it’s not nearly as abundant this year because of the lower rainfall levels.
A friend of mine told me that he once gave his wife a bunch of the seeding stalks as a Valentine’s day gift, and suggested that it might not be the ideal gift.  He explained that he nearly had to spend the night on the couch.
Still, it’s always a good idea to learn about the wild useful plants which grow all around us.  But never eat any wild food unless you have positively identified it as an edible species.

The Roots of Valentine's Day

[Nyerges is the author of several books.  He can be reached via School of Self-reliance at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or]

 Now that January is behind us, the stores are now getting filled with red and pink hearts.  Why?  February 14 is the day set aside to commemorate a real historical person named Valentinus, the day we now call “Saint Valentine’s Day.”  With just a little bit of research, we learn that this Valentinus person was stoned, clubbed, and beheaded in about the year 270 A.D.  He was violently killed by an unruly mob.  But why?  And how have we come to associate Valentinus with chocolates and hearts and lovers?

It turns out that there were at least two people called Valentinus – possibly more – who lived in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries.  One – who the Catholic Church now called Saint Valentine – was beheaded in 270 A.D. 

Another Valentinus lived about a century earlier and founded one of the most important sects of Gnosticism.  He was born in Egypt and educated in Alexandria.  He settled in Rome during the reign of Pope Hyginus and taught there for more than 20 years.  He attracted a large following to his beliefs, due in part to his intelligence, his eloquence of speech, and his impeccable arguments.

But the teachings of this Valentinus differed in some ways from the Christian church of that time, and when the office for the Bishop of Rome opened up, he was not selected.  Valentinus then chose to break off from the Christian church, left Rome, and continued to develop his doctrines as he saw fit.

There are no original surviving documents from the teachings of Valentinus.  So, if you want to discover what he actually believed and taught, you have to study fragmentary quotations found in the writings of his orthodox Christian opponents.      

Through research, we learn that Valentinus was influenced by Plato (the main source of the teachings of Socrates), Zoroastrianism, and Christianity. Valentinus also spoke of a spiritual realm which he called Pleroma, which consisted of “emanations” evolving from an original divine being.  These have been described as the layers of an onion, with each layer being a wholly complete reality.  It’s all very interesting, though it’s all a bit second-hand because whatever Valentinus wrote was apparently “lost” or destroyed by opponents.

The term Gnosticism came from the word “gnosis,” defined as spiritual knowledge.  Those who followed this line of study were called the Gnostics, and many were referred to as Christian Gnostics.  But by the third century, the more orthodox Christian church (and the political power of the day), decided to oppose and persecute the Gnostics.   By the end of the third century, Gnosticism as a distinct movement had largely disapppeared.

Now, here’s the quiz:  Where in all this did you hear anything about chocolates, hearts, greeting cards, bunnies, jewelry, roses, or lace underwear?  Plus, there doesn’t appear to be any historical connection with any of the individuals named Valentinus with the date of February 14.

It turns out that in the pre-Christian days, there was a celebration in honor of Lupercus, a pastoral god, sometimes identified with Faunus or Pan.  Faunus is depicted as having the body of a man but the horns, pointed ears, tail, and hind legs of a goat.  That is, Faunus is more or less identical with the satyr, who was said to be lecherous, lustful, and always ready to party.

The pre-Christian observance of this day was called Lupercalia, which fell on February 15.  Most of what people do today in the name of  “celebrating St. Valentine’s Day” has its roots in the ancient feast of Lupercalia.  On Lupercalia, cards were given (often with subtle or overt sexual overtones), and men reportedly chased women through the streets (sounds somewhat like Mardi Gras).

It is difficult to ascertain why the commemoration of Valentinus was used to supplant, uplift, and supercede the already-existing commemoration of Lupercus, but that’s what happened.  Yet, very little of the trappings of modern St. Valentine’s Day have anything to do with the historical Valentinus.

And that’s really a shame, since Valentinus was as important as perhaps Socrates or Pythagoras, and yet most of us only associate him with the silly commercialism of Lupercalia’s remnants. Certainly it’s possible that the Church engineered this substitution so that people would elevate their practices on this day, though there is no evidence that that has happened.

So rather than waste money and time on chocolates and red cards, why not take the time to study something meaningful about the great teacher Valentinus, or about the real meaning of  that much-used word “love.” One excellent book in this regard is Eric Fromm’s “Art of Loving.”  Once you get into it, you may discover – as I did  -- that  much of what he taught is very relevant today.

NOTE:             Every Sunday outdoors under a large banyan tree in Highland Park, there is a spiritual studies presentation on topics of current interest, such as the meanings of the holdays. The presentations are sponsored by WTI (see for details and schedule of upcoming talks.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Ron Hood's Review of my book

When "How to Survive Anywhere" first came out in 2006, the publisher sent a review copy to Ron Hood of  This is what Ron sent to me:

Yesterday I received a mysterious package from Stackpole books... Oh, oh, another book to review. When I opened the packaged I was delighted to find Christopher’s new "How to Survive Anywhere" book. This slick 264 page book is the latest in Christopher’s long series of publications and... far and away the best.

I sat down to skim the book first but before long I discovered that the multitude of photos had captured my interest in ways that brought my eyes to the text. I started to actually read the book. I gotta say that THIS book is “must have” for your library! I cannot use enough superlatives and if I did I would sound like a copywriter for the publisher. Simply, the book is exceptional.

It covers "Urban, suburban, rural and wilderness environments." It is filled with great tricks well thought out and presented, often with a plethora of excellent telling photos. What sets this book apart is that the photos show the process as well as the result in many topics. It makes it easy for the reader to replicate the steps and successfully make what the text describes. It is also filled with smiling faces that make the skills look like fun!

If you have not yet started your survival skills library, start with this book.

In the library you should have:

Christopher’s Book
Aboman's book
John McCann's book

Well done, Christopher!

Ron Hood

Sunday, December 22, 2013

SUE REDMAN: Goodbye!

[Nyerges is the author of 10 books and regularly offers naturalist training. He can be reached at, or School of Self-reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.]

During the second week of December, I got a message: Sue Redman had died. This came as a great shock.  Sue (and her husband Rich) were longtime friends.  Sue was 72 years old, but I still had the sense that she would live forever.  Here are my thoughts about Sue as I reflected over the years.

It was 1976 and I had just moved out of my home with my parents. I’d gone to my grandfather’s farm in Ohio to live for 6 months after high school, came back to California, and then decided it was time to set out on my own. I was living in a small hut in Highland Park, searching for the meaning of life, and needing a job.

I walked into the office of the Altadena Chronicle on North Lake Avenue looking for work.  I met Sue Redman, and we got along great. She wasn’t anything like the front desk secretary at the Star News, whose job was to repel anyone who walked in the front door.
Sue spoke with me like a real person, and we quickly became friends. I became a typesetter and a columnist for Altadena’s only hometown paper. It was the beginning of a great relationship

I also met Rich at that time and we also became great friends. He hired me to do framing and painting at the Chronicle office, and even way back then, I realized that Rich and Sue were unique.  Two sides of the same coin.  They were, at least in my eyes, the way a married couple should be, both having respect and concern for the other.

(Over time, the Altadena Chronicle segued to the Altadena Weekly, which was swallowed up by the Pasadena Weekly, so we could say that part of what Sue and Rich created lives on.)

I always found Rich to be the model of integrity and honesty.  So I once asked Sue if she worshipped the ground where Rich walks, and Sue laughed.

I realized that as the years went by, I was very much a part of the extended Redman family.  Sue and Rich hired me for one of my first jobs. Rich printed my first book in their newspaper’s print shop. When I got married the first time, the ceremony took place at their home in the Meadows conducted by Rich, who was also a pastor of an Altadena church.  And, up to about a year ago, I lived there on the Redman estate on the edge of the Angeles National Forest, and found it to be paradise on earth, within the watchful and protective aura of Sue and Rich.

Each time I would come back from a trip, Sue was so interested in hearing all the details and encouraged me to write about it.

I very much enjoyed reading Sue’s two novels, and I  hope that everyone reading this will eventually read them and enjoy the world that Sue created. [They are available on Kindle].

I was saddened and shocked to hear of Sue’s passing.  Perhaps I shouldn’t be. I mean, we will all die. But, I still miss her, and have had her in my mind and heart since I heard the news.

I think with someone like Sue, she never really dies. She touched so many of us, in so many ways, with her kindness and friendship and genuine concern.  

The circle of friends and acquaintances of the Redman family were vast, evidenced by the diverse and large group of people who gathered on the Winter Solstice at a downtown Pasadena church to honor her life.

I told Rich that night that he was a very lucky man. He lives in paradise, and he had the best possible life partner, and he is still surrounded by a wonderful family, and friends, and students. 

Sue and Rich, thank you for being a part of my life. I will always be a Redman!

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Nature of Love and its Many Counterfeits

Christopher Nyerges

[From a book-in-progress about Nyerges’s childhood experiences. Nyerges is the author of many books, including “Enter the Forest” and “Self-Sufficient Home.”  He can be reached at or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.]

One day in July of 2008, I went to the Coffee Gallery in Altadena and started talking with Michael, who was reading a book about love. Love, one of the few topics you can study your entire life and never really “get it.”

“The problem,” I told Michael, as if I knew what I was talking about, “is that we think about this way too much, whereas the animals – at least some animals – don’t think about it. They just act.  The basic fundamentals of what most of us mean by love – protection, providing food for the young, some training – are simply done without all the considering and evaluating and vacillation that humans are so famous for.”

Michael nodded.  He didn’t talk a lot but he listened, and when he spoke, he asked a question or he had a pithy comment.

We agreed upon certain things that every human should know about “love” and its many facets and tangents.  A man cannot have more than one woman at a time, whether wife or girlfriend. OK,  some try and seem to get away with it, and some are even involved in consentual polygamy.  But that is the exception, not the rule.  One woman at a time, period.  That works and other arrangements do not.  We agreed that the Masai men in Africa might have four wives there and “get away with it,” because that is the social norm.  It is done in plain view with everyone knowing that’s what’s happening.  But it won’t work here.

Don’t have sex if you’re not prepared for children.  “Hoping that she doesn’t get pregnant” is not a good protective measure.  Don’t have children until you’re ready to devote the next 15 or so years to them, as a child without involved parents is part of the formula called “How to make a criminal.”

Michael and I agreed on some of these basics, and we barely brought up the principles in the “Art of Loving” book by Eric Fromme.

I realized that much of what my parents “taught” me about this subject was due to the fact that I knew I should not follow the path that they took.  Though there was rarely a show of affection between my mother and father, at least I had a roof over my head, we didn’t move around all the time, and we were all given a good education.  My father always worked, and my mother sometimes worked as a nurse.  There seemed to be little of what we would call “romantic love” there, but at least we had the essentials handled, in a more or less stable relationship.  In other words, my brothers and I received at least as good a home life as is given to their children by the most protective of animals.  Which is more than I could say for many of our friends and their parents.

Michael and I continued to discuss why he was reading a book about “love” in the first place, and it continued to invoke memories from my childhood.  Where, for example, did I get my idea of what love is, or should be?  What did I learn from my own home?  More precisely, what didn’t I learn from home that I should have learned?

I was aware of sexual feelings and desires, though I didn’t see a solid connection between that and what I believed was some ideal of the male-female relationship, something perhaps hinted at in movies such as “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and “Leave it to Beaver.”  I assumed that these examples were actually lived out somewhere in the world.

By at least age 10, I was aware that most of my older brothers hid Playboy magazines under their mattresses, or somewhere else.  These were obvious objectifications of beautiful but beyond-the-norm women, and I did not see these women in these pages as objects to be loved, only objects to be lusted after.   Though I did not actually clarify this in my mind at that time, I felt that the higher ideal of love was not the same as the emotion that my brothers felt when they were “reading” these magazines.

There were other forms of love also. In movies, I saw soldiers who died for their country.  It was a form of love – love of country so great that you would die for your country to protect your beloved homeland from foes, internal and external. 

And there was the love of the parent for the child, where you might even die to protect your helpless child from an oncoming car, for example. Clearly that was love, but not the same love that we would describe between a man and woman.

That most adults still have great confusion about the complex thing called “love” is understandable, especially if their childhood experience was anything like mine.

I do remember one Friday night when we were watching TV in the living room – I was maybe in first or second grade – and somehow the very loose and bantering conversation got around to whether or not I knew “where babies came from.”  I was the  youngest, so obviously was the last to know everything.  Gilbert seemed to have a snicker on his face, like he was part of some inside joke.  Tom laughed a little.  OK, what was the joke?  I didn’t respond.

But they kept it up for reasons unclear to me, and after 30 or 40 minutes, my mother asked me to come over into the dining room.  My brothers chuckled. What was so funny?  I already knew where babies came from – from their mothers, right?  So what was the big joke?

In retrospect, my mother was probably trying to find a way to inform me about the details of sexual intercourse, prodded on by my brothers.  But, rather, she simply showed me some medical pictures in a medical book, which showed pregnant women with swollen bellies. She spoke about how pregnancy took nine months, and what happens when the baby actually comes out.  It all sounded very messy, and after it was clear that I was sufficiently bored, she let me go back and watch the Alfred Hitchcock hour, without ever even hinting at that thing that the man and woman do intimately in the bedroom which starts the whole ball rolling.