Friday, March 03, 2017

In Search of The Real Saint Patrick

[Christopher Nyerges is author of several books, such as Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City (co-author), and How to Survive Anywhere.  He has led wilderness expeditions since 1974.  He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041 or via]

On the 17th of this month, we celebrate “Saint Patrick’s Day,” that day when people pinch each other if they’re not wearing green, when Trader Joe’s starts selling little potted shamrocks, and where the local bars sell green beer.  But what’s this really all about?
First, a little wake-up call about “Saint Patrick.”  Patrick was not Irish, had nothing to do with leprechauns, almost certainly was not a drunkard, and didn't drive all the snakes out of Ireland.  In fact, there were believed to be no native snakes in Ireland, though this story is generally regarded as an analogy for driving out the so-called “pagans,” or, at least, the pagan religions.

Patrick was one of the "greats" of history who nearly single-handedly preserved the best of Western culture when much of Europe was devolving into chaos and ruin.  He deserves far better than remembering him in the silly ways we do today, such as wearing green, pinching each other, and getting drunk.  Rather, he deserves an accurate memory, and our emulation.  Unfortunately, like all true Saviors of history, they are either killed off, or relegated to the closet of ridicule. 

So who exactly was Saint Patrick?  Will the real Saint Patrick please stand up?

His real name was Maewyn Succat, born around 385 A.D., somewhere in Scotland, or possibly somewhere else, as there is conflicting historical data on his exact date and place of birth.   His baptismal name was Patricius. 

Around age 16, he was sold into slavery in Ireland and worked for the next 6 years as a shepherd.  Keep in mind that human slavery, as well as human sacrifice, was considered “normal” for those times.

After his six years in slavery, he believed that an angel came to him in a dream, prompting him to escape and seek out his homeland.  He actually walked about 200 miles to the coast, where his dream indicated a ship would also be waiting for him.  He successfully escaped, found the ship he dreamed about, and spent the next twenty years of his life as a monk in Marmoutier Abbey. There he again received a celestial visitation, this time calling him to return to the land where he’d been enslaved, though now with a mission as a priest and converter.

Patrick was called to Rome in 432, where Pope Celestine made Patrick a Bishop, and sent him off  on his mission.

Patrick returned to Ireland with 24 supporters and  followers.  They arrived in the winter of 432.  In the spring, Patrick decided to confront the high King of Tara, the most powerful King in Ireland. Patrick knew that if he had the King's support, he would be free to take his Christian message to the people of Ireland.

Patrick and his followers were invited to Tara by the King of Laoghaire. It was there that he was said to have plucked a shamrock from the ground as he tried to explain to the Druids and the King that the shamrock had three leaves just like the idea of God’s three aspects, the Trinity: The Father, The Son and the Holy Ghost.

Of course, triads and trinities were a common concept among the Druids.  In fact, one could argue that the trinity (a term not found in the Bible) was a concept given to Christianity by the Druids, rather than the other way around.  Nevertheless, whatever momentousness Patrick conveyed,  King Laoghaire was very impressed with Patrick, and chose to accept Christianity. He also gave Patrick the freedom to spread Christianity throughout Ireland.

When Patrick returned to Ireland, he treated the "pagans" with the respect implicit in his dream. Part of this respect was attempting to communicate with the Druids on their terms, which is why he used the shamrock as a teaching tool.  He also blended the Christian cross with the circle to create what is now known as the Celtic cross.  He used bonfires to celebrate Easter, a Holy Day that Christianity supplanted with the already-existing spring equinox commemoration. In fact, he incorporated many of the existing “old religion” symbols and beliefs into his Christian teachings.

He spent his last 30 years in Ireland, baptizing the non-Christian Irish, ordaining priests, and founding churches and monasteries. His persuasive powers must have been astounding, since Ireland fully converted to Christianity within 200 years and was the only country in Europe to Christianize peacefully. Patrick's Christian conversion ended slavery, human sacrifice, and most intertribal warfare in Ireland.

Patrick was also unique in that he equally valued the role of women in an age when the church ignored them. He always sided with the downtrodden and the excluded, whether they were slaves or the “pagan” Irish.

According to Thomas Cahill, author of How the Irish Saved Civilization, Patrick's influence extended far beyond his adopted land. Cahill's book, which could just as well be titled How St. Patrick Saved Civilization, contends that Patrick's conversion of Ireland allowed Western learning to survive the Dark Ages. Ireland pacified and churchified as the rest of Europe crumbled. Patrick's monasteries copied and preserved classical texts. Later, Irish monks returned this knowledge to Europe by establishing monasteries in England, Germany, France, Switzerland, and Italy.  When the lights went out all over Europe, a candle still burned in Ireland. That candle was lit by Patrick.

Veneration of Patrick gradually assumed the status of a local cult.  He was not simply remembered in Saul and Downpatrick, he was worshipped!  Indeed, homage to Patrick as Ireland's saint was apparent in the eight century AD. At this time Patrick's status as a national apostle was made independently of Rome.  He was claimed locally as a saint before the practice of canonization was introduced by the Vatican. The high regard in which the Irish have held St Patrick is evidenced by the salutation, still common today, of "May God, Mary, and Patrick bless you".


Saturday, February 25, 2017

On Multi-Tasking

[Nyerges is the author of “Extreme Simplicity,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” and other books. He can be reached at or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.

My friend and I were checking out at a small grocery store. The clerk was on her cell phone, an obviously personal call, and yet she managed to check each item with mechanical efficiency.  She smiled towards us, without actually looking at u s. She spoke the price, I handed her some bills, and she returned the correct change.  The groceries were bagged and we walked away.

I was a bit nonplussed, even though this scene has become way too normal.  To speak on a cell phone to someone else while handling a paying customer is the antithesis of service.  My friend told me I was making a big deal out of nothing.

“Besides, I do that all the time at my office and home,” she smiled.  “Multi-tasking.”

“Really?” I responded.  “So that’s your fancy word for doing two things at the same time and doing them both poorly?”

“But that clerk didn’t do her job poorly, “ my friend protested.  “You got the correct change, right?”

“Yes, I got the correct change but that’s not the point. Let’s just say that if she were my employee, she’d get one warning and then I’d fire her.”

“But that was a small store,” my friend said. “How do you know that she wasn’t  the boss?”

“I don’t know that,” I said, trying to explain why I felt that we’d just had less than an ideal interaction.  Perhaps it was because the clerk’s mind was elsewhere, and that I believe you really cannot do two things simultaneously, and do them each well, which is why it is illegal to talk on a cell phone and drive.  I asked my friend to explain what sort of “multi-tasking” she does at work.

“You know, the usual,” she responded.  She described a variety of tasks such as paperwork, letters, taking phone calls, reading e-mails.  “If you don’t give a task your full attention, do you think the task suffers?” I asked.

She thought about it.  “Not really,” she said.  “As long as I do an adequate job, there’s no problem.” 

“But what if you are talking face-to-face to someone and you’re still typing or shuffling papers.  Don’t you feel that the person will feel slighted?” I asked.

“Well, I suppose it depends on the person,” she responded.

I dropped the subject for fear that if I pushed my point further, a friend would soon be a former friend.

I’m not a big fan of so-called “multi-tasking.”  I think it’s a somewhat fraudulent, self-deceptive concept where you believe you’re doing more than you actually can do.  It’s a belief that by moving a lot of stuff around, that your quantity is more important than quality.  This is probably one of the reasons why the quality of goods and services has declined.

In a similar vein, today there are many multi-purpose tools now on the market, such as a tool which promises to be a hammer, a screwdriver, a saw, a shovel, a can opener and pliers. Such tools do about 40 tasks poorly and none well. 

I do believe that Swiss Army knives pack a lot of quality into a little package, though they cannot handle big jobs.  The Leatherman tool is also generally a good combination tool because it is well made. 

But as a rule of thumb, the more tasks a tool claims, the more poorly it performs.  And, generally, as the price lowers, so does the performance and longevity of the tool. 

In my world view, it is better to have just a few quality tools that a tool box full of cheap tools that mostly result in frustration. 

My friend reminded me that the benefit of her “multi-tasking” is that she gets more done at a lower cost, more quickly.  I had to think about what that means.

Yes, true quality – in a service or in a product – takes more time and costs more.  And because most of us want it now and want it cheap, we’ve created a frustrating world of low quality service and goods. Change will only come slowly, when enough of us realize that fast and cheap is just a quick thrill with no lasting satisfaction.

Monday, February 13, 2017

"The Winds Erase Your Footprints"

A book by Shiyowin Miller

["The Wind Erases Your Footprints" is available at Amazon, and from the Store at]
One of the books that came out of my family was “The Winds Erase Your Footprints,” written by my wife Dolores’ mother, Shiyowin Miller.  Shiyowin, who was part Osage, was immersed in Native American culture. I remember visiting her home in Temple City, which seemed like an Indian museum with a full library, drums, pots, and artifacts from all over the country.  Shiyowin had been a music and dance teacher, and was a professional dancer. She knew Iron Eyes Cody, and worked with Luther Standing Bear, a Lakota Sioux who was once the Chief.  He wrote “My People the Sioux” and other books. Luther Standing Bear adopted Shiyowin, and let Shiyowin act as his agent for his various books and other legal matters. It brought the past alive to me when I was able to see and feel the pipes, sandals, robe, and other materials that Standing Bear had given to Shiyowin.

Shiyowin also had many friends from the Navajo lands. In the 1930’s, Shiyowin’s best friend, Juanita, fell in love with a Navajo man, Luciano, who’d been working as an extra in Hollywood.  Juanita and Luciano got married, and moved back to Luciano’s Navajo lands in New Mexico.

Shiyowin kept in touch with Juanita, and wrote about the experiences that Luciano and Juanita underwent on the reservation, during the Depression when there was so little work.

Shiyowin edited and revised and rewrote her book many times over the next 30 years, and she died in 1983 before it was ever published.  I married Shiyowin’s daughter Dolores in 1986, and when I saw the box with hundreds of pages of manuscript, I asked Dolores if I could read it.  In fact, Shiyowin had hired Dolores to type many of the revisions over the years, and so Dolores was familiar with the content.

Once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. It was amazed at the quality and depth of the story, and could barely believe that it had never been published. Shiyowin had actually received an advance from a publisher some 20 years earlier, but since she kept rewriting and revising, it never got published.  

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 story was descriptive, compelling, and you feel as if you are re-experiencing the harsh winds, the life in the Hogan making coffee, the search for work, and all the ceremonies and gatherings that were a part of the Navajo way of life.  The books, which was 335 pages when published, also contained hints and clues in the backdrop about Navajo witchcraft, and the ma-itso, the wolf clan which was feared by most.

The freak death of Luciano was generally attributed to the work of the ma-itso, and Shiyowin gives the clues in bits and pieces, in the way that Tony Hillerman so masterfully slowly revealed his mysteries.

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.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

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, where one can view his various blogs.]

In the pre-Christian era of Europe, 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 lustful, and always ready to party.

The pre-Christian observance of this day was called Lupercalia, which fell on February 15.  On Lupercalia, cards were given (often with subtle or overt sexual offers and overtones), and men reportedly chased women through the streets. Wow! Sounds somewhat like Mardi Gras, or Disneyland’s “Pirates of the Carribbean.”

OK, fast forward to 2017, and the stores of our town are full of red and pink hearts, and lovers and sweethearts are looking for something to give that special person.  Why?  Because February 14 is the day set aside to commemorate a real historical person named Valentinus, the day we now call “Saint Valentine’s Day.”  And who was Valentinus?  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?  Did Valentinus have something to do with chocolates and hearts?  Did he have anything whatsoever to do with the festivities of Lupercalia?

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 decided to split off from the Christian church, left Rome, and continued to develop his own doctrines as he saw fit.

Unfortunately, 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 disappeared.

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 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 men would quit chasing women through the streets on this day.

There’s really nothing wrong with telling your loved ones that you love them!  In fact, we need to do that more often.  But you might also benefit by taking a little time and study a bit about this great teacher Valentinus.  This is also a good time to contemplate the meaning of “love,” and how we can improve our ability to be loving with everyone.  One excellent book in this regard is Eric Fromm’s “Art of Loving.”   Once you get into this book, you may discover – as I did  -- that  much of what Fromm wrote is very relevant today, and very relevant to Valentine’s Day.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Ancient Writing on Rocks: Did others get here before Columbus?

An excerpt from "Ancient Writing on Rocks." 

[This book, and others by Nyerges, are available from Kindle, Amazon, or the Store at]


 Remember, there was a challenge when news of this discovery  first appeared in the local newspaper. I was asked, “How did (they) get all the way over here?” ["They" being whomever inscribed these rocks in a Western European language]

Of course, my answer was “boats.” (How else?!!)

Trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic travel almost certainly occurred, bringing various travelers to North and South America in the pre-Columbian days.

Even one of the biggest skeptics of diffusionism, Eric Lurio, author of “A Fractured History of the Discovery of America,” admits that oceanic voyages to North America occurred.  Lurio did his research, and seems to know of every theory of contact with the Old and New World, and generally only discusses the aspects of these theories which help to debunk each one. For example, although the average 3rd grader will look at the giant Olmec heads from Mexico and tell you they look African, Lurio will tell you that certain features we regard as “African” aren’t actually that rare south of the Rio Grande.  Really?  Should we wonder why?  Most of Lurio’s arguments are not objectively scientific, but rather involved lots of fun and ridicule.

To be fair, Lurio’s premise is that just getting to America doesn’t constitute a “discovery” – he lists his 3 “rules” which he regards as the basis for a discovery by his definition, and based on those rules, Columbus wins.

Nevertheless, he admits that folks sailed all the way across the Atlantic to the L’Anse Aux Meadow in Newfoundland around 986 A.D., but he dismisses any evidence that folks may have sailed further south.  The Kensington Stone, the Newport Tower, Saint Brendan, and Madoc are all regarded as hoaxes, frauds, or fairy tales.

But when it comes  to sweet potatoes, he recognizes that they are native to North America and somehow became popular with Polynesians before 1492.  “Just how the Polynesians got them is a mystery,” writes Lurio.  “Either an Amerindian must have gotten to Polynesia, or a Polynesian must have gotten to America,” he admits.

On page 49 of his book, he describes artifacts that were found in 1975 at the tip of the Olympic Peninsula in  Washington  which have continued to perplex archaeologists.  At the site, called Ozette, there was apparently a massive landslide around 1495 to 1500 which buried everything, and even such perishable things as baskets were preserved.

Archaeologists found a few dozen smelted iron knives blades and pieces of bamboo in the excavation.  According to Lurio, the current theory is that “some poor Japanese sailors got caught in a storm and were blown out to sea.  They drifted along the Kirusiro, or Japanese current, for six months or so before being shipwrecked on the American west coast.  It’s been estimated that there were two or three such shipwrecks per century…

“Transpacific contact happened.  But it was nothing like what its advocates say.  The plain fact is that except for the Arctic – where the Pacific is only 56 miles across and there was plenty of contact, trans-Pacific contact was limited to tiny incidents that, with the exception of the Polynesian discovery of the sweet potato and maybe some 5,000-year-old pottery designs, left absolutely no impact on either the Asians or the Amerindians.  So this cannot qualify as a ‘discovery’ of America.”

Indeed!  I was never arguing about “discovery” here, just that ancient people could and did travel the oceans, and that ample evidence shows that they could, and did, get here to the west coast of the U.S.

That’s what Thor Heyerdahl spent his life trying to prove, and he did it with little reed boats.

Back in the days of Julius Caesar, battles were fought on the Mediterranean using huge ships, not small reed boats like Heyerdahl.  Two Roman era ships recovered in Lake Nemi were about 230 and 240 feet long, with 37-foot-long oars, putting to rest the debate whether or not the Romans actually could have built ships as big as they described in their writings. Clearly, these were vessels capable of sailing the open sea.  [See also Julius Caesar’s descriptions of Celtic boats in Book 3 of his De Bello Gallico (Gallic Wars), written in 56 B.C.E.]

[Continued in the book]

Electrical Gadgets: How to be more efficient

ELECTRICAL GADGETS  [part one: Lighting]
 [Based on a chapter from "The Self-Sufficient Home," available from Amazon, or the Store at]

You want to be a bit more self-reliant, but it all seems so complex, so confusing, so expensive.  How do you begin?  Let’s start with our use of electrical appliances. 

If you already live in some remote cabin and you don’t have electricity or electrical appliances, then you don’t need this information.  You’ve already figured out that life will go on without electricity. You’ve learned that you can simply do without.

However, our life and health can be enhanced by some use of modern appliances, and if we select these appliances carefully, and reject others, we can improve the quality of our lives and still make a positive contribution to the health of the environment.

Let’s take a walk through the modern household and see what can be done more ecologically.

1.      You can do without some electrical devices.  This may mean at least slightly altering your behavior, and taking the time to consider if a non-electric device or appliance will work just as well, if not better than the electric one you’re about to switch on. 
2.      Learn to use your existing appliances more efficiently. This too may require some changes in your habits, but once you realize the cost of your inefficiency and waste, you’ll not only feel good about this, but  you’ll be saving money.
3.      When you purchase new appliances, buy the most energy-efficient ones you can find.  This step often will involve a higher initial outlay of cash, but will save money and energy over time.

In general, you will pay about four to five times as much when you go to the local hardware store or supermarket to purchase a flourescent bulb.  Some folks will just react to the higher price, and say “Whoa!” and then reach for the incandescents.

But consider that the flourescent will last about five times as long, and they use about one-quarter the power.  The modern flourescents are as bright as comparable incandescents, and do not give off the heat that incandescents do. 

I can recall when I had all incandescents in my home, it seemed that I was always changing the bulbs when they burned out.  A bulb never lasted more than 9 months or so, if that.      But I have  been using the same compact flourescent  bulbs in my home for over four years now. These provide sufficient light, and apparently are hardier since they get bumped as much as the incandescents did.

Once you start to produce your own power, you’ll find that you’ll automatically think about every energy use, and you’ll want to conserve electricity whenever possible. 
Switching all your lights to flourescents  or LEDs is an easy first step.

A large part of energy self-reliance has to do with self-control and discipline.  This needn’t be “painful,” but it does require exerting the mental discipline to get yourself accostomed to a new habit.  For example,  don’t just leave lights on if you’re not in the room. Turn them off when  you’re done. 

Electricity is not the only way to light your home.  Part of the problem that we face today is over-specialization and lack of interdisciplinary thinking when it comes to building homes.  Have you ever been in an Amish home or workspace?  Since they choose to use NO electricity, they build their homes to take advantage of as much natural lighting as possible.  Though this may not always be possible in some settings, it is obviously an under-utilized method of bringing light inside.  Simply design the house to face the sun – typically the south – and have large south-facing windows so that we get the maximum amount of light indoors by virtue of the design alone.

There are also all the traditional stand-bys that most people think of only in emergencies: candles and lanterns.

Tim Matson has written an excellent 89-page book called “The Book of Non-Electric Lighting: The Classic Guide to the Safe Use of Candles, Fuel Lamps, Lanterns, Gaslights, and Fire-View Stoves.”  Originally written in 1984, there is now a revised 2008 edition. He includes how to make your own candles.  He describes the various kerosene and parrafin wick lamps, and the unique Aladdin lamp.

Light tubes
Light tubes are made by various manufacturers, and are installed from the roof to the ceiling of a room. During the day time, they bring the light into the kitchen or living room so you don’t need to use electricity. This is a relatively simple way to bring light inside, during the day.

In Ted Baumgart’s home in La Crescenta, I attempted to turn off the light when I departed his bathroom, and wondered why the light did not go off.  His bathroom was brightly lit from the sunlight coming in through the light tube.  It was brightly lit and I was once again befuddled that so many “experts” say that such simple technologies are impractical.

The Amish
Peter Gail took me on a tour of Amish lands in 1999, where we visited some of the woodshops and stores in the rural Ohio.  Amish eschew electricity, but do use lanterns for light.  (Most of their work tools are hand-operated).  I was most impressed by the manner in which they built their homes and work spaces.  Large windows were on the south sides of the work spaces, facing the sun, taking advantage of natural lighting as much as possible.

How many of today’s architects, and developers of our urban sprawl ever take orientation to sunlight into consideration?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

To Run in the Mud

[Nyerges is the author of “Extreme Simplicity,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” and other books. Information about his books and classes is available at, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.]


Way back in 1976, a friend who ran a non-profit group shared with me a way to commemorate one’s birthday.  Run a lap for every year, and mentally review that year as you run.  Relive your life. There are many other details, but this is the essence of it.  Take the time to run through your life, and look over how you got to where you are today.

This is essentially what I have done every year since then.   My birthday this year in January of 2017 was no different.  Though the leaders of the non-profit have encouraged their members to do this run as a group-activity, I felt the need for solitude this year.  I wanted to review my past years, without having to talk it aloud to whomever might have come along to run with me. 

Before noon, I found a somewhat isolated place to run down in the Arroyo Seco. It had rained previously, so everything was wet and muddy.  It was sunny, yet it was still cold and breezy.  Birds flew about overhead looking for possible meals in the new pools of water that head developed around the willows.  I located one of the catchment basins that had been built to hold rain and river water, so it soaks into the water table. I liked the length of its perimeter berm, and began my run.

I run one lap for each  year, trying to remember all the significant events for that year.  I tried to remember all my significant events, and how I was feeling about them way back when. Successes, failures, fears, challenges, obstacles, rejections, learning new skills, realizing that people don’t become more skilled and competent just become they grow older.

In the first few years, very few memories were present.  I ran in a large circle, trying to not pay much attention to my physical surroundings, trying to get back into the mindset of a newly born child.   I saw my parents and I saw my teachers.

I recall the phrase being asked to me so often, in the very early years, and especially as I grew older: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  It was an odd question, I always thought, because the person asking really meant “what sort of a job do you think you will do for the majority of your life so you can earn money to pay your bills?”  But I only heard “what do you want to be” and “when you grow up.”  I had lots of interests, for sure, and I recall admiring other friends or associates who seemed to be so wholly engrossed in one task that they clearly had “become” that activity, whether sports, proficiency with a musical instrument, gardening, whatever.   I had so many interests.  Did I really have to decide on just one?  And “growing up.”  Will I know when I have “grown up”?  I just naturally assumed that once I grew – that once anyone grew up – they would ipso facto become a stable member of society, an actively contributing member to a family and community, and someone who maturely made all the best decisions for now and the future. But I never saw those adults.  I recall feeling disappointed as I “grew up,” seeing what I perceived to be vast incompetence, lack of willpower, and general confusion about what to do in life.  I reasoned that if I enjoyed walking in the woods and studying plants and Native American history, what could  be wrong with that?

As I ran in early January, I felt that I  had wasted so much time in school, constantly resisting the teacher, constantly thinking that my time would be so much better spent being somewhere else. But where?  My problem and blindness, which I did not see back in my grammar school years, was that no teacher was ever really going to teach me anything, as if they were to serve me something on a silver platter.  The real purpose of teachers and schools, I now realize, was to teach me how to teach myself, how to prime my thinking so that I learn what facts are useful in my life, and which facts are necessary to find out all the other things that were necessary to know.

Round and round I went, in the mud, in the diminishing light of the cloudy day, reviewing school, and job, and relationships, and breakup of relationships, and moving from here to there, and traveling, and writing about things, and feeling the pain of the death of so many people around me.

During that time, I had just finished reading the remarkable book, “House of Rain” by Childs, about the possible fate of the Anasazi the American Southwest, and I could not help but think about people with an incredible low-tech technology, who built great houses and roads and canals, made pots and fabrics, and grew food when there was sufficient rain. Then something happened, and people were dispersed, or killed. As I ran, I thought of the fate of all of us, how we take so much for granted, how water is the most essential key to life, wherever we happen to be.

Now, at 62, I was not so concerned about “what I will do when I grow up.”  I was more concerned about the refinement of what I have been already doing.  How do I make the world a better place for my having been here?  Is any “revolution” more important than a personal revolution of my very thinking and going about my daily life?

As I ran my final laps, it was so obvious that life is about people and our relationships, not about the stuff that we acquire.  What we do is what we do, here and now.  Live  your life, and do it the best you can.  Accumulating money, and buying a house, and degrees, and all that,  are all OK, but we don’t want to get all caught up by the material things.

I stood in the stiffening breeze with the setting sun to the west, and it was so clear that life is to be lived in the now, and how you go about that doing, is everything. 

Monday, January 09, 2017

The Lord of the Flies

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

Commentary on the "Lord of the Flies" 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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