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 www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]

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.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Water in Mexico




The picture shows a light-colored tinaco in Merida.

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

I’ve heard it so long that it sounds like some religious mantra:  “Don’t drink the water in Mexico.” 

The meaning is that a visitor to Mexico should not drink the water untreated.  And why is that?  One explanation that I used to hear back in the 1970s when I first visited Mexico was that, while every place has its own bacteria and organisms in their water, one will get used to the organisms in their water after a while.  And supposedly, this also meant that native Mexicans could drink their municipal tap from the water without concern. When I went to language school in Mexico, I always boiled my water or added water purification tablet to the tap water, or purchased bottled water.  Back then, I never thought about asking native Mexicans if they drank their water out of the tap.

More recently, having visited the Yucatan region several times, I asked some of the natives about this.  These days bottled water is everywhere, and most of the people whose homes I stayed in  purchased all their water and did not drink from the tap. When I asked whether or not they’d get sick by drinking water out of their tap without purifying it, they shrugged and said they didn’t know. They buy their water.

Finally,  I met someone who seemed to know a thing about the Mexican water situation.  I asked Julia, who was an American who married a Mexican man and now calls the Yucatan region her home where she and her husband run a farm.

“Do you drink from the tap directly?” I asked Julia.

“No, though I’m not afraid to,” she responded. “If I’m out in the fields and I’m thirsty, I will drink from the hose and I don’t get sick.  But usually, we buy purified and filtered water and they deliver it to our home.”

Julia went on to explain that the tap water is used directly for washing, brushing teeth, irrigation, etc.

“When people say not to drink the water in Merida (Yucatan), I don’t believe the reason is that the water has bad bacteria.  I believe it’s because the water here is very high in minerals and calcium, etc. And it’s those minerals that might cause sickness if you’re not used to it,” explained Julia.

I asked Julia about the people living in all the small villages where they could not afford to buy water. “I don’t know what they do,” responded Julia.

“However,” added Julia, “I’ve been told that in 20 years or so, you won’t be able to drink the water in the Yucatan region because it will be so polluted.”  Julia pointed out that all the water in Yucatan comes from underground, and that the soil is very porous.  She adds that everyone uses septic systems in Yucatan, and there is no sewer system (like in most parts of the U.S.) where the waste water is treated before it is discharged into the soil or water.  Although the local politicians all talk about installing a sewer system after each flood, Julia doesn’t think that will ever happen because of the immensity of such a project.

“Because the soil is so porous, when chemicals are used, they go directly into the ground water,” she says.

“So, because there is no sewer system, there is flooding after every major storm, and everyone blames the mayor and they elect a new mayor who makes new promises, and then it rains again and floods again because nothing was done.”

I concluded that it was a good thing for me to buy my water, or purify it, whenever I travel.  And it’s not wise to judge the water of such as large country as Mexico with one yardstick because the “water situation” of any country is vastly more complex than what I’ve presented here.  Unfortunately, we should be suspect of most tap water and most open sources of water, wherever we are.

I asked Julia about the black tanks on nearly everyone’s roof in most parts of Mexico. “Those are called tinacos,” Julia told me, which my dictionary told me simply means “water tank.”

In the United States, people often let their water run a bit so it starts to cool off.  However, due to the lack of pressurized water in Mexico, most homes and buildings have large water tanks – tinacos – on their roofs. These then deliver the water by gravity as needed.  But since these are traditionally black, the coolest water comes out first and then the water gets hotter as you let the tap run because the water was heated by the sun.  Now you can find tinacos white or light-colored so that the water is not heated so much by the sun.

[Did  you have any comments or questions about this story? I'd love to hear from you!]

Thursday, September 11, 2014

"The Winds Erase Your Footprints" -- a book by Shiyowin Miller



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

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

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

from chapter 3: Pentz's Trading Post

Juanita stood, head forward, her hair long and black in the sunlight; she shook it, the drops of water flying. She ran her fingers through it, the pale, yellow shreds of fiber falling lightly to the ground. Luciano was washing his head now, in water that his mother had prepared. Juanita began to comb her hair carefully, the comb snagging and tangling in the still-wet strands. She stopped and disentangled the combings, rolling them into a little ball. The wind caught it and tumbled it over and over across the ground.

"Ah-yeeee!" Shimah exclaimed and went running after the ball of combings. She brought it back and placed it carefully in the fire, watching as the flames consumed it, talking rapidly to her son. I am guilty of some small breach of custom, Juanita thought, and then was surprised at the gravity of her husbands' face. He sat back on his heels, his hair dripping unheeded.

"You must always burn your combings," he told her seriously.

"My mother says never to let any of your hair escape like that."

"I'm sorry, Lu," she began. "It was a bit untidy. But out here in the open I thought the wind would carry it away."

"That's it: the wind might . . ." He stopped abruptly.

Juanita was puzzled. It was such a little thing for him to get upset about, and she had said she was
sorry. "Is there some tabu connected with hair-combings?" she asked gently, trying to smooth the
troubled look from his face. "If I knew it I'd observe it--you know I would." Shimah stood by gauging the conversation by their voice tones. Luciano was still disturbed. "It isn't exactly a tabu, but just don't be careless." It wasn't like her husband to speak so. He'd always been patient about explaining even small things. She turned away to hide the hurt.

Shimah plucked at her sleeve, speaking gently, soothingly, as though to erase the hurt, the alarm.

"Tell my daughter-in-law to give me her jewelry so that I can put it into the soaproot suds. That will be good for the silver and the turquoise."

Juanita resolved not to mention the incident of the hair-combing again. Lu was moody, preoccupied with looking for a job. It wasn't anything important, only puzzling, and it wasn't worth a misunderstanding if she never found out. There was so much she didn't know, it would take forever to explain in detail everything she asked.       

from Chapter 5: Wild Duck Dinner

Wounded Head greeted them with warm words, but his face remained impassive--cold. His son
extended his hand for a limp handclasp. Juanita and Luciano were given a comfortable place to sit at the back of the hoghan, but Juanita wasn't comfortable. She was conscious of her hair being disheveled from the race up the canyon; she tried to smooth it, putting one hand to her head unobtrusively. She wished that she had worn a skirt instead of Levis. Somehow she could feel Wounded Head's disapproval without seeing his face.

Luciano was talking to the two men. No, he hadn't as yet gone to work in Albuquerque.

Wounded Head placed his fingertips together with elaborate care. Was it true that in that Western
place, where Luciano had been, there was great opportunity for ambitious young Navajo men?

Luciano misunderstood. Was his son planning to go there?

A thin ghost-like smile passed over Wounded Head's face and was gone. He shook his head.

The stew was ladled into bowls and passed to them. Juanita cooled one of the pieces of meat on her spoon. That didn't look like mutton. She bit into it. Beef! Wounded Head and his family did eat well. Her husband had placed his hat on the bedroll behind him, and now his dark head was bent over the bowl of stew attentively. He looked up long enough to direct a sidelong glance at her when their host got up, took a can of peaches from the cupboard, and opened it with his knife.

The meal finished, they sat back looking into the fire, the men talking leisurely of unimportant things. Wounded Head's wife asked a few questions of Juanita, through Luciano: did she like it here . . . did she miss her own people?

It was a foolish thing, her imagination was overactive, Juanita told herself, but she wanted to get away. The fire was bright, warming; Wounded Head's wife was pleasant; Wounded Head himself seemed almost friendly as he drew Lu into conversation; but it was a strong feeling that Juanita had--as strong as a cold wind--as dark as a dark shadow. She was relieved when Luciano finally arose to go. He thanked them for the good meal and then the blanket over the doorway dropped behind them. She was first in the saddle and started toward the edge of the mesa.

"Not that way," Luciano called. "There's no trail--only rocks."

Juanita turned and followed Luciano as he picked his way down the other side of the mesa. Halfway down the narrow trail, Luciano took off his hat. Holding it at arm's length from him, he shook it carefully. Puffs of yellow dust scattered on the wind.

WATCH FOR MORE SECTIONS….

A fascinating glimpse of Navajo life during the depression through the eyes of one woman. The Winds Erase Your Footprints is available from the School of Self-reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, for $22, or check the Store  at www.ChristopherNyerges.com

Monday, September 08, 2014

The Four Illusions of Money


 

[Nyerges is the author of several books including “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Extreme Simplicity,” and “Self-Sufficient Home.”  He has lectured, taught, and led field trips since 1974. He can be reached at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com or Box 41834, Eagle Rock,CA 90041]


During the early 1980s, I participated in the monthly WTI Plenary sessions which were held in Highland Park. These were all-day events where participants shared accounts of specific research they had been doing. I had been giving presentations on money-related topics, such as “What is money?,” “What is the Federal Reserve?,” “What is the IMF,” etc.

The money-related lecture that stirred up the greatest emotional response was “The Four Illusions of Money.”  I loosely based by presentation on an article by the same name that appeared in the winter 1979-80 issue of Co-Evolution Quarterly.  The presentation and discussion lasted about two hours, covering many facets and dealing with the comments and objections from the audience.  Here is a condensation of that presentation.

When people are queried, almost everyone says that they do not have enough money, and would like to have more. Furthermore, one of the most commonly-cited reasons given by people who continue to work at a job they dislike is to “make a lot of money.”  The reasons that this is such a ubiquitous goal – to make a lot of money – can be summed up in the four following rationales:

  1. A lot of money will let me be free to do what I want to do.
  2. People with a lot of money command more respect from others.
  3. I need more money for my family.
  4. Money is necessary for my security in old age.

Yes, there are many more such “illusions” that dance around money, but these four seemed to fairly concisely address all the secondary and corollary illusions.

These four statements are illusions about money. That means, these represent false perceptions of the world.  That is to say, when we embrace any or all of these four illusions, we are prevented from seeing the NON-monetary realities about our life and the choices that we make.

So let’s explore these one by one.

A lot of money will let me be free to do what I want to do.

One way to see through this illusion is to make a specific list of all your carefully-considered goals. These can be short-term and long-term goals. These can include travel, projects, achievements, possessions, skills (learning a new language), etc., but the list cannot include money.  Money cannot be a goal. Next, you should examine the list you made and begin to delineate precisely how you can go about achieving that goal.

Yes, of course, money can help accelerate the achievement of the goal.  Still, once  your goals are clearly established in  your own mind – and clearly differentiated from “passing wants” – you can steadily move forward, step by step, toward the achievement of that goal.  Money is incidental to this process, and must not be allowed to determine the choices you make and the steps that you take.

A large part of achieving a goal – perhaps the most important part – is to learn valuable life-enhancing skills that you wouldn’t have learned otherwise.

And many of the essential steps toward a goal involve working with other people. Working with other people develops strong friendships and relationships, and this requires that you must be – or become – reliable and trustworthy yourself.  This manner of pursuing and achieving goals should represent a true freedom from our enslavement to money, and should open you up to some truly life-enhancing experiences.

Remember, this perspective is offered as an alternative to “going out to make enough money so I can be free to do what I want to do.” 

One of the amazing insights that I gained while sharing this at our seminar was how many people actually had no clearly-defined goals at all. 

People with a lot of money command more respect from others.

This is demonstrably and abundantly false.  There is no reason to believe that people with “a lot” of money automatically command genuine respect (in fact, they don’t), or that people with “a lot” of money command respect because of the money. 

People who invite respect do so because of their personal qualities, talents, character, experience.  It may be the case that these very qualities are the reason a person has been able to earn “a lot” of money.  But money itself is not the basis for real respect.

How do I know this?  Look at what happens to those who claim respect for someone when the money is gone.

And also just try the following experiment for yourself.  Make a list of 25 people whom you respect. These must be people that you know personally and you interact with in some way, not just people that you know about from the TV or newspapers.  Do your best to attempt to “score” how much you respect them, using a system for example of listing each from 1 to 100, 100 being the highest level of respect.  Next, do your best to list the income (or net worth) or each of the individuals on your list.  In cases of genuine respect, yo will rarely find  a correspondence between how much you respect that person and how much money they make.

I need more money for my family.

All too often, people use this fallacy as an excuse for doing something they would rather not do.  This rationale is especially typical of “bread-winners” who work extra hours and on weekends so they can pay for possessions and vacations that they believe their family needs and deserves. 

If you are getting more and more out of touch with your own family members because you are spending more and more time away from them supposedly so you can provide something more for them, then you are falling for this illusion.

It would be far more valuable for everyone if these bread-winners instead spent valuable time with their family members, and finding a way to re-orient the job and financial choices.

Sometimes the most valuable time spent with one’s children is the time  spent to teach and work with them to develop their own businesses. 

As for the myth of “quality time” over “quantity of time,” don’t believe it!  Your notion of “quality time” means very little to young people.  The best way to have quality time is to assure that you have sufficient time together.

Money is necessary for my security in old age.

I had barely spoken these words in my seminar presentation when the groans and loud objections were voiced.  Two men got into an argument over this point before I’d barely gotten started, and I had to tactfully break it up.  Yes, we have a lot of baggage about money, and getting older doesn’t make this any better.

Money is needed in many ways, of course, but personal security, inner and outer, cannot be purchased.

The real security that is most needed by elderly can be enhanced by money, but it can never be built solely upon money.   Inner security arises with the development of deep friendships, and with learning to be flexible and adaptable, for example, and these are not things that are in any way dependant upon money. 

In fact, one of the best ways to “prepare for old age” is to become the type of person – inwardly and outwardly – that other people will want to be around and work with. 

This means being competent, helpful, flexible, honest, moral, curious, always willing to learn and to share, generous, and so on.  And note that none of these virtues are either the intrinsic or exclusive virtues of the wealthy.  

Developing one’s character is clearly one of the best ways to prepare for the calamities that might strike any of us at any age, such as wars, depressions, social chaos, as well as a whole host of personal difficulties.

[A continuation of this discussion of money can be found in Christopher Nyerges’ “Extreme Simplicity,” book available at bookstores, Amazon, and www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]




Christopher discusses "Tending the Wild" by M. Kat Anderson