Wednesday, December 31, 2014

"I HATE MY JOB": Your personal Economy is your Life, and your Health.

Earn your living through your particular gifts, serving the community by doing the things you love, even though it means starting small.   Money is the fringe benefit of a job you like.
                                                           --- Author unknown

[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Squatter in Los Angeles,”  and other books. He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or]

It is not surprising to hear reports that 80% of all “workers dislike their jobs, and that “jobs” are identified as the single greatest cause, or contributory factor to sickness or disease in nearly 80% of the people studied.  I don’t know how many workers in my town hate their jobs, but I suspect it is similar to the this study.
In a 1973 survey in Massachusetts, a special Department of Health, Education, and Welfare task force reported that the best predictor for heart attack was none of the classic risk factors, but rather, the level of one’s  job dissatisfaction  (Work in America: Report of a Special Task Force to the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, 1973).  It is possible that this finding might be related to the observation that heart attacks (in the United States and other Western industrialized nations) cluster on Monday mornings from 8 to 9 a.m., which is the beginning of the work week. [Kolata, 1986; Muller et al., 1987; Rabkin et al., 1980; Thompson et al., 1992]. 

We’re not sure how scientific such studies can ever really be, but were convinced from personal experience, and observation, and interviews, that the so-called workplace, and the human dynamics of the workplace, are a major culprit when it comes to poor health and sickness.
There are some of the obvious issues that have been reported excessively.  Sitting behind a computer terminal all day, staring at that screen, your hands in one position.  The loud noises associated with certain blue-collar jobs.  The fumes and toxins associated with some manufacturing jobs and farming jobs.  The repetitive and non-thinking nature of so many service-oriented jobs.  But beyond these basic points, there is a more fundamental issue to look at.  In general, these observations apply to someone who is working for someone else, not the person who owns or runs the business. Why is that? Because it is harder to enjoy a job which is essentially fulfilling someone else’s goals.

Do you enjoy your work?  No one seriously questions that we ought to perform duty in life, and that these duties are required to earn the medium of exchange for those things we cannot or choose not to make ourselves.  But we seem to have taken this to a radical extreme. 
We recall a cartoon from an anti-automobile magazine.  Two men are driving in a car on a gridlock freeway.  The cars are not moving.  The driver says, “I hate driving, but I need my car to get to work.  The passenger says nothing.  In the next panel, the two men are sitting behind computer terminals in a big office, and the first man says, “I hate work, but I need my job to pay for my car.”
The cartoon was funny, but insightful into the way we have chosen to think about our world, and the choices that we have come to believe are necessary.
That is, if 80% of traditional workplace workers hate their jobs, then that is having a profound effect, hour by hour on their health.  Assuming a 40 hour work week, this means (conservatively) that one spends 30 minutes getting ready for work, 30 minutes driving to work, 30 minutes driving home, 30 minutes undressing, and “unwinding.”  That equals at least 10 hours a day, for most people, five days a week, with two days “off” to have to do whatever else it is that is important in your life. 
And if you hate whatever it is that you have devoted 50 hours a week to, you will very likely spend some of your free-time doing things to relax and get-away from what you felt you had to do to pay the bills.”  In other words, your “job under such circumstances takes even more from your life than just those 40 to 50 hours.  In essence, a job that we perform becomes our very life.  We identify with that job, whether or not we like it.  It is foolhardy in the extreme to not consider “what we do for a living” as being a major contributory factor to our health and well-being.
So, now what?
Work is necessary. Work is good.  But how do we get to a place where each person is spending the cream of their life promoting their own health and well-being, feeling good about what they are doing, making their own choices? 
There are many trends in this direction already.  Home-schooling is one example where parents want to take-back control of their childs education from an educational system that seems to have failed in most cases.  And though there are many late night TV schemes you can buy to work at home and be independent, we suggest you switch off the TV and start with yourself. 
What do you like?  What do you like to do?  What are you good at?  Where would you like to spend a good portion of your day?  What skills do you have which can be improved upon, or further developed, so you can turn that interest or skill into a profession?  That is how you get started.
Let’s go one step further.  What is your purpose in life?  We are not referring here to everyone’s ultimate purpose in life.  We are referring to your individual purpose for embodying on the earth. What is your dharmaic destiny?  Have you ever asked yourself: “What did I come here to do?”
If you limit your concern only to “ways I can make money,” you might succeed at breaking out of the nine-to-five rat race, but you will not yet have risen to the level of fulfilling your own dharmaic destiny.  As long as one is spending the majority of one’s life, time, and Light, at a job that they do not like, it is inevitable that your body rebels, and fights back, and explodes with occasional bouts of sickness, and flus, and colds, and headaches, and disease, until death.
Our health in the fullest sense is a factor of what we do, what we think, how we use our emotions and feelings.  Yes, “we are what we eat” is true on both a physical and psychic level, though that does not go far enough.  Everything we do arises from our thinking.  This includes whatever work we choose, whatever life we pursue.  Thus, it has also been said that “We are what we think we are,” which is not quite the precision we prefer.  We think it is more accurate to say: We are what we think.
Finding your optimum daily “work” activity is something that only you can do for you. You have to work at it.  You may not hit-upon the all-around ideal best occupation at first, but if you have an attitude of willingness to learn, and a feeling of gratitude that you can actually pursue your own occupation (in many countries of the world today, this is neither legal or practical to do, because of the prevailing political, economic, or social conditions). 
It can only help to continually take classes at a local college, or even TV classes, and learn more to expand your skills.  It can only help to take small business classes (via H&R Block or the Small Business Administrations, or local colleges).  We are not in any way suggesting that there is some “magic” in finding the ideal occupation for you.  We are simply saying that the very act of seeking your ideal occupation, and working towards it with an uplifting, positive attitude, can have a remarkable influence upon your overall mental and physical health. 
One of the ways to begin pursuing “self-employment” is to take a large sheet of paper or poster, and vertically list all your skills and talents and interests and work-experience.   Then list in the columns to the right all the “pros” of each pursuit, and all the “cons” to each pursuit.  At this stage you might eliminate some pursuits because the cons outweigh the pros.  In the next column, write how you might actually earn an income from each skill, talent, or interest.  Let it be a brainstorm -- you won’t know until you actually get into the field and apply this -- but list whatever possible ways you can determine to earn an income from each item on your list.  Next, check off those skills, or talents, or interests which are at a level of competency where you could feasibly go out and begin earning an income. 
Where possible, such a pursuit can be done with other family members or close friends  and associates.  Then you must make a decision, and where you know that you do not know something, find out!  Call people already engaged in the activities youd like to pursue. Ask them questions. In most cases, they will be willing to help and answer questions. 
We again point out that our intent here is not to provide “business advice” or “career planning.”  But this is an important area to personally deal with when you’ve decided to take control of your life, and ipso facto, your health.

The fact that money permeates our modern life is neither “good” nor “bad,” -- but it is something to be reckoned with.  It has been said that arguments over money is the single greatest cause of marriages breaking up, and worry over money is one of the biggest ulcer and cancer causes in anyone who deals with money as a profession (stock broker, investor, commodity broker, etc.). 

No man can hope to control his destiny.  The best he can hope for is to control himself -- ONE SINGLE ACT AT A TIME.  EACH SINGLE ONE of those acts are like bricks in a wall.  A wall made of such bricks is a man’s character.
                                                            --     Anon.

Obviously, there’s a lot more to be said about this – we’ll come back to this in another installment.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Weather Lore -- from "Enter the Forest"

[Nyerges has been teaching outdoor skills since 1974.  He is the author of many books, including “Testing Your Outdoor Survival Skills,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Enter the Forest,” and others. Information about his books and classes can be seen at]

Aside from consulting with newspapers, the weather service, and such online services as Weather Underground, you should learn to make your own weather observations, and learn to interpret what you see.  If nothing else, this helps to increase your awareness of the environment and keeps you alert.

Birds perch more and fly lower before a storm because the low-pressure air makes it harder to fly.

A barometer – either store-bought or home-made – is a good tool for determining if there will be clear days or rain ahead.  A rising barometer indicates decreasing air pressure and clear weather, while a rapidly falling barometer sometimes forecasts rain, snow, or other stormy weather.

Though you might have a barometer on your wall at home, most people do not carry a barometer with them into the wilderness areas.  However, many people do carry altimeters (sometimes built into their wrist watches), and these are essentially barometers.  First, you need to know where you are on  your map, and your altimeter needs to be accurate.  Then, over the course of a day or so, if our altimeter shows a higher elevation than is accurate, it means the pressure is falling and this could indicate that a storm is coming.  If the altimeter shows a lower elevation than what the map indicates, then the pressure is rising and you have a general indication of clear or clearing weather.

The key here is an accurate altimeter, and your observation of a change in the altimeter while you were at the same location.

Dew on the grass at night or early morning can be a sign of fair weather, and dry morning grass can foretell rain or an overcast day.  However, in some areas where it is very dry, you may not get morning dew even though  the day will be clear.

The presence of a red sunrise or sunset is also a good general indicator of the weather to follow.  A red sunset generally indicates fair weather, and a red sunrise may foretell rain within 48 hours.  A simple rhyme makes it easy to remember:  “Red sky at night, sailors delight; red sky in morning, sailors take warning.”

Learning to read the clouds can be another skill for short-term weather forecasting.

For example, cumulus clouds are the puffy, flat-based, cauliflower-like clouds which are constantly changing. They mean fair weather followed by clear nights. However, if they begin to stack up into cumulonimbus clouds, that means rain or snow is on the way.

Cumulonimbus clouds result from strong vertical air currents.  These are the most familiar thunderheads, with winds often molding the tops into an anvil form.  Their based may almost touch the ground in the mountains, and violent updrafts can carry the tops to 75,000 feet.  In their most violent form, they can produce tornadoes.  Usually a sign of approaching storms, these cumulonimbus clouds will drop rain or snow, and sometimes hail.

There are many other natural signs which will tell you about upcoming weather systems. Most of these signs are fairly logical once you understand the mechanisms at work.  One of the best books on this subject is Eric Sloane’s illustrated “Weather Book.” Sloane gives the reader a basic understanding of the principles which control weather, and his beautiful drawings make the subject easy to grasp.

I have also learned a lot from Ellsworth Jaegar’s “Wildwood Wisdom” and from the weather section of most Boy Scout manuals.

Observing short-term weather signs is a good way to increase your awareness. When planning your trips, take advantage of all the modern resources.

Once while discussing weather with meteorologist Dr. George Fischbeck, well-known to Southern California TV audiences, he told me that he is very suspect of the long-term weather projections of a week to 10 days. “Weather is a very dynamic thing,” he told me. “No one can accurately predict the weather beyond more than 48 hours.”


How to determine weather conditions by observing a rope that was hung from a tree limb:

If the rope is:
The weather condition is:

Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas Cheer

Memories of Christmas Season 2008

[Nyerges is the author of several books. This article is an extract from his book, “Til Death Do Us Part?: Lessons that Death Taught Us,” available from Kindle or as a pdf from the Store at]

In the days after my wife Dolores died, I still spent my evenings with Nami and Fikret and Nellie (the little dog that Dolores boarded), cooking dinner, sharing dinner, talking over television.  Both Nami and Fikret were living in rooms in the front part of the duplex.  Nami was from Tokyo, working at a Japanese firm in downtown Los Angeles while she earned her CPA license.  Fikret was a student from Germany who’d be going home in a few days. 

That December was dark, pressing, my mind a constricted box of sorrow and loss. 

A close friend had earlier suggested to Dolores that she take Nami and Fikret to see the annual Griffith Park festival of lights, and Dolores had mentioned it to Fikret.  I brought it up to Fikret and he wanted to go.  I think he was more concerned about me getting out and “getting normal” than he was about seeing some electric light display.  Anyway, he arranged with Nami to go one evening after Nami got home from work, and I drove.

I had never seen the light show either, and though I was in no mood for “joy,” I wanted Nami and Fikret to feel happiness, and the joy of the American Christmas season that the youth can best appreciate. 

My mental state was very constrictive, narrow, even subdued horror.  It was as if I’d been  hit in the face with a 2x4, and I could not see beyond my shocked pain.  But I tried, with great effort, to “enjoy” an evening out with Nami and Fikret as best I could.  It was the weekend after Dolores died.  Nami got home early from work, and it was already dark.  Fikret made a very light meal – more of a snack – for everyone before we drove off to Griffith Park in my Jeep.  I was preoccupied with now living a life turned upside-down, with no perception of light at the end of my tunnel.

Fikret and Nami were noticeably happy, upbeat, and they seemed to be happy to be doing something with me. Fikret had come on a few field trips with, but I’d only gone out rarely with Nami. I know they were both fully cognizant of my pain and I think they were being happy because they wanted me to be happy.  To me, the lights of Griffith Park were a very minor attraction.

As we drove, we spoke about their day, and other light matters.  I always enjoyed talking with Nami over dinner about what sort of day she had at work, and what new English words she learned.  We drove into the large expansive parking lot east of the Los Angeles Zoo, and drove around until we saw where to park for the festival of lights.  People parked their cars, and then boarded buses which set sail every 15 minutes or so, or until the buses were full.  The three of us were the first to enter a bus, so we got the seats we wanted.  A few adults filed in, and then a whole group of school children came in and filled the bus.  The driver turned off the lights, and we were off down the two miles or so of the electric light display. 

The children spontaneously sang Christmas carols at the tops of their voices. Nami and Fikret tried to follow along:  Jingle Bells, Rudolph, Silent Night, all the classics.  Mostly, the children sang enthusiastically and loud with lots of laughter for the first verse until the song faded as the children didn’t know the words. After loud laughter, another song would begin.

I could tell they were all having great fun, though I was barely there. I had to shut off most of my painful feelings and emotions and turn on only that part of me that was needed for ordinary interactions with others. I was glad that there was so much happiness in the world.

I was in a darkness of my own, alone, as if I was severely and suddenly cut off from all that was important to me.  Which was, in fact, what happened.  After the light show, we returned to the Jeep, and I drove on in a stupor.  I asked Nami and Fikret if they wanted to see more Christmas lights, and they said yes.  Christmas Tree Lane was impressive, but monotonous to me.  Nami and Fikret just said “Oohh,” and “Ahhh,” and “Look at those, wow!”  I tried to explain the history of Christmas Tree Lane, how I grew up just around the corner, and I drove by our family home on North Los Robles. 

I didn’t want to go home quite yet.  “Going home” would mean that I would go back home alone, would sit there for awhile listening to music or watching TV, feeling the full grief of losing Dolores, by myself.  It meant I would go to sleep with my grief, unable to find solace in music or TV.  I would turn off the TV and music, and in the darkness I would fall into my abyss of sorrow until I awoke the next day. No, I didn’t want to go home yet.

I told Nami and Fikret that I knew of another Christmas light display and we drove across town looking for it.  We never found it, but they got a tour of East Pasadena and Sierra Madre before we stopped for some snacks and finally went home. 

We then went into the front kitchen when we got home, and enjoyed some cookies and coffee.  We all laughed together and we watched a little bit of a Christmas movie on TV.  It was a good evening overall, but it would be a long time before I could feel joy again.

That was six years ago this December. Life goes on. I learned to love again, and I realized that one does not want to “forget,” as we often hear. For me, it was a truly unique and special time to assist one in their final days. It made me feel the value of each day, of each breath, of each moment. And somehow, that death became a permanent way in which I commemorate the onset of the  Christmas Season, which is all about a New Life.

Friday, December 12, 2014

December 12, 2008: The Day I called 911

[An excerpt from Christopher  Nyerges’ book, “Til Death Do Us Part?” (from Kindle or the Store at]

Dolores [Christopher’s wife] had died 3 days earlier, and  in accordance with her wishes, I kept her body (after it had been cleaned and wrapped) in the home.  The room where she was kept had become a makeshift shrine in the last three days. 

On Friday, December 12, we powwowed in the morning to decide the next course of action. I’d found a place to do the cremation as Dolores wished.  I was about to use a well-known company, and received a phone call at a timely moment about another lesser-known company that provided the same service at half the cost.  Indeed, this phone call saved “us” a thousand dollars.  I am sure that Dolores would have been happy to save money on her own cremation.  In fact, she and I often lamented the fact that we couldn’t (legally) just be buried in our own backyard, or set up a funeral rack or cremation rack like the Indians of the Plains did a few hundred years back.

I made all the arrangements with this more economical company, and explained that Dolores had died on Tuesday and was still at home.  They told me that they would not do anything until after the County Coroner was called, following all legal protocol.  So, I planned to have as many friends at the house as possible once I called 911 – which was how the procedure started.  I wanted to have good support once the police and the others arrived.  I was told that I should also be prepared for the possibility of being arrested, since this was definitely not the legal protocol for dealing with death.  Before noon, Marilyn, Prudence, Julie, and Victor assembled.  I called 911, and explained the situation.  My heart was pounding.  I said, “Please do not come with sirens blaring.  Dolores has been dead three days.”  “OK,” I was assured.

Within 10 minutes, the circus began as paramedics and police arrived. I had propped open the front gate and door so they could all just come in and out at will.  A female police office stood around and observed while five or six paramedics filed in and out of the bathroom to examine Dolores.  Marilyn represented herself as my minister, and she took a lot of pressure off of me as I was being questioned.  It turned out that Marilyn actually knew the police officer’s commanding officer through some of her community work.   Marilyn was incredibly helpful. 

The fire department investigator first spoke to me for about 45 minutes, trying to fit my responses into the boxes on his form.  “This is very unusual,” he kept saying.  “We haven’t seen a case like this for a very long time.”  But he was very interested in what we all did to preserve the body.  “How did you know how to do all that?” he asked with genuine curiosity.  “Was it some sort of Egyptian thing?” he asked, apparently referring to ancient Egyptians’ practice of mummification. 

“We just did it,” I told him. “We just proceeded step by step, trying to fulfill Dolores’ wishes in the best way we knew how.” I told him that we had never done anything like this before, but we knew about the preservative qualities of Aloe, and we just did what made the most sense, and watched the results.

Next, the police officer asked me the same questions, but she seemed a bit more suspicious than the fire department investigator.  But after awhile, she told me that foul play had been ruled out and they decided there was no need to remove Dolores’ body to the coroner downtown.  There was no need for an autopsy.  I was free to call the mortuary to remove Dolores’ body for cremation, and they all left by 2 p.m. 

Prudence and Marilyn were stunned by this, pointing out how unprecedented that was to not remove the body for some autopsy, especially under such unusual circumstances.  And yet, we also knew that Dolores’ wishes were being fulfilled as there would be no unnecessary cutting up of her body.

Interestingly, Dolores’ death certificate says day of death is December 12, which is the date the coroner inspected the body, not the day she actually died.

I then called the mortuary that I’d arranged to do the cremation.  Within 30 minutes, two very polite black-tied men arrived and carefully removed Dolores from her three-day resting place “shrine.”  They placed her on a gurney and wheeled her away as I said my last tearful goodbyes, with Nellie by my side wagging her tail.

Nellie ran around pensively, and I wondered what Nellie was aware of and if she sensed Dolores’ passing. (Nellie was the little dog that Dolores was boarding as part of her dog-boarding business).

Suddenly the house was empty.  I was exhausted and I wasn’t going to jail.  Dolores was gone.  I sat for awhile and stared out the window at the tall dead lamb’s quarter plants that attracted sparrows who ate the seeds.   I felt tired, empty, but I liked looking at the little birds who found food where there appeared to be none.

I wondered to myself, now what?  What will I do with the rest of my life?  I ‘d grown so close to Dolores as a friend.  I had developed so much respect for her, and saw her as a near-saint, and I had felt absolutely honored to work with her, to assist her, and to be a part of her life.  Now I stared into the void.  My own void.  Emptiness.  Life without Dolores. 

After awhile, Fikret came over and offered to drive me to the post office, one of my well-known daily rituals.  He sensed that I could use a rest, and he said I shouldn’t be driving.  We talked about mundane things and occasionally about Dolores.  I could tell he wanted me to be happy. 

Time took on a different element.  Fikret and I went to a restaurant, and I realized I was eating slowly because once I finished eating, I would have to get up and make some decisions about going somewhere else and doing something else.  That sounds ridiculous now, but time took on a wholly different nature.  I wasn’t sure who I was.  I was no longer sure what was my driving force in my day to day world.  In fact, I looked around at things a lot that day. It was the first time I’d been out without the pressure of worrying about Dolores’ well-being.  The world was a different place.  Everything was the same, but everything was different.  It seems very foreign to even try to describe it.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Post-Thanksgiving Considerations

[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Extreme Simplicity,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” “Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants,” and other books. He conducts classes in practical self-reliance. He can be reached at School of Self-Reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90401, or]

Black Friday.  When I was a child 50 years ago, we never heard that word.  Oh, it was around, and it seems to have taken on a heightened life of its own in the decades that followed.

I can recall that in my world as a child – which was the vastness of Pasadena – every store closed on Thanksgiving. The streets were quiet, and you knew everyone was home preparing a meal, or they’d driven away to some other town to visit relatives.   But commerce ceased.  You were pitied if you had no family, and you were looked down upon if you kept your business open.

“Too bad that guy has to actually work on Thanksgiving,” we’d hear my father say.  Most businesses were closed, and when my father realized that he had no working batteries for a camera or flashlight, he’d send one of my older brothers on a mad dash to find a store, any store, that was open and sold batteries. There was no internet, and no easy way to figure out who was open and closed unless you spent an hour on the phone. Suddenly, it wasn’t such a bad idea to have a store open.  Of course, my father would be furious and he’d blame it on someone else for forgetting to stock up on some batteries. Usually, my brother would be gone an hour or two, but somehow managed to come home with the needed batteries.

Still, there seemed something very special to demand of yourself that Thanksgiving be set aside for family, for remembrance, for breaking the spell and monotony of work only and working only for material goals.  In the United States, that used to be Sunday where people took the day off.  In some areas, Sunday is still to the week what Thanksgiving is to the year.  For example, try finding an open store in Utah on Sunday.  Oh, you’ll find one, but not until you do a bit of searching.

Our values determine who we are, and who we become. In this world, everything seems to drive only the materialistic instincts.  Merchants cannot wait even a few extra hours to open their doors for the Black Friday specials, and we are encouraged to rush out the door and buy now before the next guy gets the discounted item offered to the first 50 folks who push their way into the door.

The mindset is rampant in our society.  A natural hillside, and lush trees on a lot, are described as non-performing real estate.  Relaxing on  a Sunday  is thought of as being lazy.  Studying esoteric literature is regarded sometimes as impractical.   We are fast becoming a nation of  non-thinkers, and it is usually (but not always) when we break out of our routine and out of our comfortable box of thinking that we rise to who we really are as spiritual beings, and live lives which reflect some higher goal. 

I want a low price and a deal just like the next guy, but I am not willing to do anything to get that deal.  I regard Thanksgiving day as nearly sacred, the closest thing we have to national holy day where we attempt to ponder who we are, what we are, what we did right, what we did wrong, what we need to do next.  To quickly eat a slice of turkey and then some cranberry, and rush out the door to fight the mobs to get a deal is nearly sacrilegious in my thinking.

I have both good and bad memories mixed into Thanksgiving. By my teens, our family Thanksgiving gatherings were crowded, loud, raucous events that started the night before and included the whole weekend.  Yes, there was the prayer that my mother insisted upon, and there were moments of quiet reflection. My mother began forcing each of us to say what we were thankful for, and with close to 20 people in a room, that could take a while. But then, food and wine and beer was served, and the “conversation” was more like non-stop yelling, while the TV played a football game in the next room at the highest possible volume. 

No wonder I got to the point where I told my parents I would not be there on Thanksgiving.  I didn’t try to make them feel bad by giving them all my reasons, but I did come the next day with my wife and we’d sit quietly and talk for awhile when the mob was gone.  At first, my father called me a bad son for not showing up on Thanksgiving, but eventually he enjoyed the more thoughtful visits.

This year, I went to a local park with a small group and we together shared Native American skills that the east coast Indians would have taught the starving pilgrims of the Plymouth Rock colony. We taught about wild plants, and making fire, and weaving with natural fibres, and weaponry, and painting with natural minerals.  Yes, we had some snacks, but it was not about food. 

It has taken a long time to find what I consider a better way to commemorate this very special day. It was thoughtful and quiet and insightful while our small group learned and talked together. We shared the myths and the realities about the people at that “first Thanksgiving,” and looked at how the Indians were thanked for their generosity.  There’s a lot buried just beneath the surface that is so relevant to each of us today that it’s a shame more of us don’t open our encyclopedias and explore these American roots.

Like so much of American history, there are plenty of myths, and plenty of facts. And like so many of American holidays, commercial interests seems bent on convincing us that “buying stuff” is somehow synonymous with commemorating the special day.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Why Go to the Mountains?

This is the epilogue to my "Enter the Forest" book. 

[Nyerges is the author of “Enter the Forest,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants,” and other books. He has been leading field trips into the mountains since 1974.  He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or]

In his classic book, “The One Straw Revolution” (Rodale Press, 1978), Masanobu Fukuoka describes his path that led him to natural farming.  When he was  young, he had a realization that completely changed his life.  It was hard for him to put it into words, but he described it like this: “Humanity know nothing at all.  There is no intrinsic value in anything, and every action is a futile, meaningless effort.”  His experiences in the world seemed to verify this realization.

Years later, after contracting acute pneumonia from what he describes as “an aimless life coupled with fatigue from overwork,” he was hospitalized.  Upon his release, he experienced great depression and wandered about.  He collapsed on a hill overlooking the harbor, and spent the night there. He was awakened by a great heron flapping its wings and crying.  His realization came back to him, and the words that came from his mouth were “In this world this is nothing at all.”  He felt as if he understood nothing.

He returned to his father’s farm in the country, and began the path that led to his radical way of farming, letting nature teach him what is best, using no pesticides, doing no tilling, pulling no weeds, and  -- remarkably – eventually producing crop yields the equal of conventional farmers.

Why do I go to the forest?  I think of Masanobu Fukuoka whenever someone asks me that.  Going to the forest isn’t an escape from the nothingness of modern urban life, but it does provide a chance to allow one’s self to come forth.

One day in late winter, we’d just finished a day of intensive outdoor training in the foothills of the Angeles National Forest.  We were now back at our cars, saying our goodbyes, when one woman asked me, “Don’t you ever go to the mountains just for fun?”  She looked quizzically at me, waiting for an answer to her sincere question.  I had to think for a moment.

“Perhaps my difficulty is with the word fun,” I finally responded.  “To me, fun implies frivolity, diversion, and something not to be taken seriously,” I slowly responded. “So I rarely go to the mountains for fun.  I enjoy studying nature, learning new things, expanding my ability to see the unseen, and developing new skills.  These serious pursuits are my ‘fun’ since they provide me with a means to stretch my limits, to grow, to seek to find meaning in a world that sometimes seems to have no meaning.  So I go to the mountains for my spiritual nourishment.”  She nodded.  I didn’t want to seem overly philosophical, so we said our final goodbyes and departed.

Since then, I have considered her question.

People today spend billions of dollars talking to psychologists, and self-improvement seminars, and seeking out various self-appointed “masters” who suggest they know “the way.”  The reason for this occasionally desperate search for “answers” is that our society  has cut us off from raw nature.  The result seems to be that we have lost touch with our inherent but dormant spiritual faculties.

We live our lives cramped in houses and apartments and freeways in a highly structured organized society.  We thus have lost a healing and a grounding that people closer to the earth took for granted.

I am not one who believes that closer contact with nature automatically  imparts a greater spiritual wakefulness, more awareness, deeper sense of the meaning of life, etc.  Observation demonstrates that people who are lazy, sloppy, wasteful, and unaware in their urban environment will practice those same bad habits when they go to the country or wilderness.  Some prophets of the wilderness suggest that if we all went back to the wilderness, the world would be a better place. That’s simplistic and silly.

The unexplored wilderness that we need to investigate is within our own minds, and in the hills and valleys of the unused portions of our brains.  And, in general, two things are required in order to find and to explore that inner wilderness.  One is a guide – someone (or something) to point the way.  Usually this is a person who has already traveled the path ahead of you.  Another requirement is to get away from the patterns and paradigms of man so you can attempt to discover a natural rhythm, and so you can attempt to listen, and to see, and to think, in ways that no one could do for you.

So that’s part of what I attempt to do.  I go to the hills and valleys and rivers and mountains and deserts of the Angeles National Forest and beyond to find myself, to re-awaken and to revitalize that inner spiritual part which is usually assaulted non-stop in the urban wilderness of man.

Still, for awhile, I couldn’t get her question out of my mind.  “Don’t you ever go to the mountains just for fun?”

I had to think back 45 to 50 years ago when I began my treks to the mountains in earnest.  Yes, back then, sometimes I did go just for fun, to pass the time, to avoid boredom, or to exercise.  We walked from our home up to the hills, and explored the trails, caves, and old forgotten sites.  We could walk a few miles up the street from our home, and then hike on the mountain trails to old cabin sites and ruins of the old resorts right up there in our extended backyard.

At a very early age, I began to think about life’s “big questions,” and I read books voraciously.  I found some answers, but concluded that true answers are personal and can only be found through personal realization.   Thus, I set out to find my Self, to awaken that Self within, as my individual quest.  In a sense, I had the same realization as Masanobu Fukuoka, except that instead of going to the farm to find answers, I went to the hills. 

So why did I find myself dwelling so much on the question posed to me?  I suppose it is because I have drifted.  In my youth, I knew that all answers were obtainable from within, if you only had the clarity to define your quest, and the patience and concentration to pursue the answers.  I knew this from my own personal experience, and from an inner knowing.  But, as I became more enmeshed in the adult world of jobs and bills and resumes and rents and mortgages and repairs and insurance and taxes and business ventures and organizations and worldly success and failure and politics and social issues, and on and on – well, what I think happened to me is what happens to nearly everyone, except most people seem barely aware that anything at all has happened.  This external “self” slowly becomes the master, and the inner Self is forgotten.

So I go to the mountains to look, in order that I may see.  I see, in order that I may remember.  I remember, in order that I might Learn.  And my goal is to learn one new thing each time I visit the hills.  One new thing, whether from my own thinking and observation and memory, or from another person.

And as a result of being born right here at the base of the these mountains, these mountains are not only my home and “backyard,” but they have been my spiritual training ground.  I regard these mountains as sacred since they provide me (and you) with the means to escape the complex artificial order of man, and to find True Self if I work at it.

That is why I go to the mountains.