Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thankgiving Day Commentary

THANKSGIVING DAY:  It’s Roots, and other Commentary

[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Foraging California,” “Enter the Forest” and other books.  He leads courses in the native uses of plants.  He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or]

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday of the year.  Even moreso than Christmas.  It is our uniquely American holiday where the family gathers, where we remember our roots, we share a meal, and we hopefully “give thanks.” 

But look how quickly such simple and profound holidays get perverted. Today, we hardly know what “giving thanks” even means, and so the act of giving thanks is lost on most of us.  Newscasters talk about “turkey day,” as if all there was to the day was eating turkey.  Interestingly, most folks would not know whether or not they were eating turkey, or eating crow, and most of the time we’re doing the latter, figuratively speaking.  Then, when we have barely taken the time to consider the notion of “giving thanks,” we get up early on the following “black Friday” to rush around with the mobs “looking for a good deal”  to help us celebrate the consumer-driven commercial craze into which we’ve morphed “Christmas.”

Wow! How did we get here?  What can we do about it?  Let’s take a moment to look at the roots of Thanksgiving.

In the history of North America, we are told that the first historic Thanksgiving Day was in October of 1621.  After a successful harvest that year at the Plymouth colony, there was about a week or so of celebrations.  The local Indians and the colonists joined together, with the Indians generally showing the colonists (mostly city folks) how to hunt for the meal which consisted of fowl, deer, duck, goose, and fish.  Corn bread, wild greens, plums, leeks, and many other vegetables (wild and domestic) were shared in this celebration.  Interestingly, there is no recorded evidence that wild turkey or wild cranberries  were part of the menu. And we tell and re-tell this particular American story as if it is all about food!

In fact, some (but not all) historians question whether or not there were any religious overtones at all on this “first Thanksgiving,” citing such evidence as the archery and firearms games, and the running and jumping competitions, which they say would never be done at religious ceremonies by the Puritans. The “competition” was more likely the men on each side doing their shows of bravado with weapons and physical feats  before sitting down to eat.

What then is it, if anything, that sets the American (and the Canadian) Thanksgiving celebration apart from any of the other myriad of Harvest Festivals?

Not widely known is that this “first thanksgiving” feast had mostly political overtones, which seem to have largely backfired.  Tisquantum (“Squanto”) was the interpreter for Massasoit, who was the political-military leader of the local Wampanoag tribe.  Massasoit was worried that his weakened tribe would be taken-advantage of by the stronger Narragansett, because his own group had been so reduced from disease.  Massasoit would permit the European newcomers to stay as long as they liked, as long as they aligned with Massasoit against the Narraganset. (Read all about it in your history books). Tisquantum spoke English because he’d been to England and back, and had his own plan to re-establish his home-town village near what became the Plimouth colony. 

Though Tisquantum successfully helped Massasoit broker a pact with the newcomers from across the ocean, Tisquantum died about a year later.  The truce that Massasoit hoped to cement lasted perhaps another 50 years until there were too many Europeans flooding into Massachusetts and all of what was to become the eastern United States. 

Despite the varied history of this day, Americans have chosen to see this as day set aside so that we do not lose sight of our spiritual blessings.

But we should  not confuse “giving thanks” with “eating a lot of really good food.”   “Giving Thanks” is an enlightened attitude which accompanies specific actions.  Perhaps sharing our bounty with the needy would be a better Thanksgiving activity than eating large volumes of food.  More to the point, perhaps we should use Thanksgiving to give thanks where it is due -- to the indigenous peoples who have become the “forgotten minorities.”  Rather than “eat a lot,” perhaps we could send blankets, food, or money to any of the American Indian families or nations who today live in Third World conditions.

To me, the essence of Thanksgiving was the coming together of two cultures, trying to work together under trying circumstances.  Yes, they shared a meal.  Food sustains us.  But it was not about food, per se.  They practiced with their bows and guns, a sign of mutual preparedness. And in their own ways, they “prayed to God,” in the ways that were appropriate to each culture. 
But we really should not forget our national roots.  Don’t just give lip-service thanks to the Native Americans whose land was taken.  Rather, find those organizations that are actually providing real assistance to Native Americans in poverty, such as many of those living in the third world conditions so prevalent on today’s reservations.  (IF you have trouble locating such organizations, contact me and I will make some suggestions).

Thursday, November 09, 2017


a view of the first inscribed rock found -- see transliteration below

 [Nyerges is the former editor of  Wilderness Way magazine and American Survival Guide. He is  the author of How to Survive Anywhere, Enter the Forest, and other books. He has led wilderness trips into the Angeles National Forest for over 40 years.  He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or]

[An extract from Nyerges’ Kindle book “Ancient Writing on Rock,” also available from the Store at, which goes into much more detail about the site and various opinions about it.]

On Halloween day in 2001, I was leading a birthday outing for a 10 year old boy and his friends at the 3000 foot level of the Angeles National Forest.  We were getting late, so I led them down into the stream so we could make soap from the yucca leaves. It was a spot where I would never ordinarily go.  As the boys and I made our yucca soap, my gaze was drawn to the back side of a large, 10 foot wide boulder with unusual markings on it.  There were two large horizontal cleavages and numerous markings across the cleavage that bore an uncanny resemblance to ogam. 

I pointed it out to every one and explained ogam to the adults, who seemed underwhelmed at what such a rock might mean.

I returned a week later with Dude McLean to take photographs and sketches.  McLean had also been there when I first noted the rock.  After carefully comparing my sketches with the ogam alphabet, I was amazed to see that all the marks were consistent with ogam.  So I then sent photos and sketches to perhaps 50 “experts” in ogam, linguistics, archaelogy, and other fields and eagerly awaited their response about my exciting discovery.

Ogam is not to be confused with the more ornate runic writing. Ogam employs straight lines across what is called a stem line. The stem line can be a natural horizontal fracture in a rock, or the corner of a standing stone.  The 15 consonants are expressed by from one to five lines above the stem line, one to five lines below the stem line, or one to five lines across the stem lines. The vowels, where present, can be a series of dots or other symbols.  It is certainly possible to see natural fractures in rock and think you are looking at ogam, especially if you have not studied rock sufficiently to see the difference between what nature does and what man does.

Gloria Farley, author of “In Plain Sight,”  responded, saying it certainly looked like ogam, but that she had no idea what it might say since she had all her discoveries translated by Barry Fell, who had passed away.  One expert from England responded, saying that since the rock inscription was in California, there was no chance that it was bonafide ogam.  Another told me that it was clearly a significant find, but he felt it was more likely some sort of tally system, not ogam.  But most of the various world experts ignored me.

So I laid out what I felt was a fairly reasonable scientific method for ascertaining if the inscription I found was, or was not, of some significance.
1.      Were the markings consistent with the ogam alphabet.  If so, I would proceed to the other steps.
2.      Did the ogam letters actually spell anything.
3.      Could the inscription could actually be dated.
4.      Was  there was anything else significant about the site.
5.      The final step – if I got that far – was to determine who may have actually inscribed the rock, and under what circumstances. I also reasoned that if I got this far, others could jump in and attempt to answer this question.

Since all the markings were consistent with the ogam characters, I then proceeded to determine the actual sequence of letters.  It took me approximately 6 visits in different lighting conditions until I arrived at what I felt was the correct letter sequence.  I attempted to confirm my deductions by carefully feeling the indentations in the rock. 

Next, with my sequence of letters, I tried to determine if it spelled anything.  Ogam was used primarily to express Gaelic, but had also been used in some known instances to represent both Saharan and Basque.  I needed experts or dictionaries. 

One night, while staring at my photos of the rock and the letter sequence, the two letters MC jumped out at me, and I realized that the rock inscription was most likely written in the most common language of usage for ogam, Gaelic.  MC is a very common abbreviation for “son of,” as in McDonald, MacAllister, et al.

I obtained a copy of  Dwelley’s “Illustrated Gaelic-English Dictionary” (copyright 1902-12) and one rainy day about two months after finding the rock, I spent about five hours going through Dwelley’s page by page, looking for letter combinations that might mean something. All the letters I had to work with were consonants. There were no vowells, suggestive of an older or earlier linguistic form, akin to several of the Middle Eastern alphabets written without vowels.

Based on the manner in which the markings were made on the rock, I broke the letter sequence into the following groupings: B- MMH- BL- ?MG-MC-MM-DH-B.   I then tried to find words for which those letter groupings would represent.  Part of this search was to see what was commonly written on other such stones.

After a few months, I came up with the following possible transliteration:  To-memory-Bel- Thy Young Hero- Son of – Mother – Deep/depth/ darken- stone. “Bel” was actually written above the main line of the inscription.  So my translation reads: To Bel, in the memory of the young hero, son of the mother (prince?), laid to rest with this stone.”  I found at least one stone in which scholars translated “DH” as “laid to rest.” Thus, I had achieved Step Two in my process, and proceeded to the next Step.

Two different geologists, one a PhD, told me that such inscriptions could not be definitely dated.  The PhD said that based on his educated guess, the inscription was made between 1500 and 2500 years ago, and he’d say it was 95% certain that it was made by man, not natural forces.

I proceeded to Step Four with various informal surveys of the surrounding area. First, IF the rock inscription was formed by natural forces, it would be logical that there would  be many or more such carvings in the  vicinity.   Within a quarter mile of the stone, I found one possible standing stone, one triangular pointing stone (pointed up a side canyon), and a nearby site that had all the appearances of being an ancient graveyard based on the placement of stones – though I did no digging.  A few years after the initial discovery I found another rock near the standing stone with an ogam inscription of B-EA-N-EA, which I eventually concluded must be in reference to Byanu. In time, other features were identified at this site, such as two dolmens, acorn leaching rocks, and other enigmatic features.

Thus, amazingly, everything suggested that this was a foreign inscription, probably someone from Western Europe who came up the canyon and died, or was killed. I shared  my work with my friend who was the editor of the local paper, and he sent a reporter to write a story about it.  The ensuing newspaper story accurately represented my work on the rock and inscription, and also included interviews with others who said I was making fanciful claims, though none of them had ever gone to see the site.

Though the final chapter of this rock has not been written, it has enforced the belief that our history is not as we’ve been taught in school. Indeed, the schools are often the official gurgitators of  the best that academia has been able to collectively come up with.  They get a lot of it right, but they fail to see their own blindnesses and prejudices. 

My rewards for taking all this time on this multi-faceted research:  I have been called a fraud numerous times.  I have been listed on a college web-site as an example of “fringe archaeology” and explained away as a fraud. 

On the other hand, I was made a life member in the Epigraphic Society.  According to Wayne Kenaston, Jr., who bestowed that membership upon me, “Welcome to the frustrations that come with dealing with rock –writing, or epigraphy.  You did a very good and scholarly job of deciphering, transliterating, and translating the Angeles Forest Mystery Rock inscriptions.  I congratulate you and encourage you to pursue your efforts to learn more about the provenance of the ‘young hero’ whose grave is probably marked by the inscription.” 

Monday, November 06, 2017

Eating Corn from my own "Field of Dreams"

An excerpt from Christopher’s “Squatter in Los Angeles” book, available from Kindle, or from the Store at

[circa 1978]
I think I was just a natural dreamer and I believed that I could magically earn a very sufficient income by freelance writing and teaching, so this period of squatting gave me the luxuries to choose my life’s activities.

I continued to write newspaper columns, though I never earned much from them. I  began to work more actively on my first book about the uses of local wild plants. I continued to engage in metaphysical studies, and gardening, and conducting occasional wild food outings.

My garden never seemed highly productive but  I had a few of the tall red amaranth plants, some squash, a corn patch, some greens, and wild foods. It was probably my first successful corn patch. I didn’t plant the rows of corn that you see so often in gardens and on farms. Rather, in my approximately 10 by 20 foot corn patch, I had corn more of less evenly spaced.  I had wanted to try the so-called Three Sisters of the native Southwest, of corn, beans, and squash.

In the arid soil of the Southwest, the corn was planted first, and once it  arose, beans were planted at the base of the each corn. The beans’ roots fix nitrogen and this acts as a fertilizer to the corn. Squash was then planted as a sprawling ground cover to retain the valuable scant moisture of the desert.

I planted my corn in my wood chip patch, three seeds per hole about two feet apart.  Corn came up, and then I planted bean seeds.  Beans are usually an easy crop to grow, but not that many came up. Who knows, maybe the ducks ate them. I planted squash too. Not a desert squash but ordinary zucchini which did a good job as a ground cover and food producer. I loved the little garden, and at night when I sat at my plywood desk with my typewriter, I’d look out my window through the several feet tall corn patch to see the lights of the city below.  During the day, little birds would flock to the corn patch and eat bugs. I enjoyed the fact that this little garden that I created with my simple efforts was now teeming with wildlife.  It felt good just to look at it. It provided food for my body, food for wildlife, and food for my soul.

Not long after I started this patch – it was near Thanksgiving – David Ashley came by for a visit.  David had already moved into the neighborhood from wherever else he’d been living. He came up to the top of the hill where I was an illegal squatter. My housing status didn’t cause David to lower his regard for me.

I took David out into my garden, and we stood there talking about life. I pulled off a ripe ear of corn and handed it to him and picked one for myself.

“What’s this?” asked David.

“To eat,” I responded as I began to peel off the leaves and hairs on my average size ear of corn.  He took a bite of the sweet kernels.

“I didn’t know you could eat corn raw,” said David in a surprised voice.

“Yep, you can,” I told him as I chewed on my sweet cob.  David began to peel his and take some bites.

“Wow, that’s really good!” said David, chewing on more kernels. We stood there for a few moments, eating our corn, looking at the outside world through the stalks of corn that were taller than us. It was a quiet, special moment.

Eventually, David left, and over the ensuing months, I would occasionally hear David telling someone about his surreal experience eating raw corn in Christopher’s little corn patch, our own little “field of dreams.”

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Hallowe'en: Should it be about Fun and Fear? A Mayan Perspective...

MiguelAngel Vergara speaks about the Mayan culture in Guatemala

[Nyerges is the author of numerous books, including “How To Survive Anywhere,” "Til Death Do Us Part," "Self-Sufficient Home," etc.   He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or]

I have often wondered how the commemoration of All Hallows Eve, or Hallowe’en, has devolved into a day of choosing to face our fears in a fun way, and to eat a lot of candy.  It is what I did as a child, dressing up in a costume, screaming, pretending to be frightened, and collecting lots of candy.  Yes, it was fun, but it was also somewhat unfulfilling. As I grew older, I wanted to know what it was all about, and why we all went through the motions of the day, year after year.

When this time of year was commemorated by past cultures, it was believed to be a time when the dead are very close, and perhaps could be contacted.  It was a day to confront our fears and conquer them, and a time to acknowledge our dearly beloveds who have passed away.

When we speak of conquering our fears, it is worthy to note that the root of the word “conquer” is “with” and “query,” meaning that “to conquer” is not so much about vanquishing an enemy, as it is about seeking knowledge, with others, about those things which trouble us, of which we know little.

In that sense, part of conquering our fears means that we should not pretend we have no fears, and avoid the subject, but we should face them directly, and seek the root of the fear.

When I was in Guatemala a few years ago, one of our teachers was a man who operated a jade store and Mayan museum.  He talked to us about the creation myth from the Popul Vuh, and then began to speak about the Long Count of the Mayan calendar.

“But it seems like a lot of people really want the world to end!” he said, as we all laughed.  He went on to explain – as my group heard over and over – that there are no predictions from the Mayans about the “end of the world” or doom and gloom, referring to the infamous 2012 date that so many were frightened about.  Some poor journalists must have thought they heard “end of the world” when it was only “the end of one calendar cycle.”

“Yes, anything could happen,” he continues, “but it’s good to stick to facts.  The Maya don’t say anything about the end of the world. In fact, they have dates listed for several thousand years from now.  If they thought the world was coming to an end, why did they use those dates?”

Our main teacher, my mentor, Miguel Angel Vergara, spoke after the laughter died down. 

Vergara asked us to list our fears – in general, and about the 2012 date – as we wrote them on the board.  It was a very predictable list.

Vergara then addressed these “fears” one by one. 

Yes, the unknown is a mystery, he told us.  He paused, and then emphasized to us that the past is the past, and is over.  The future is the unknown.  It is only the present that is our real gift.  There fore, we need to simply focus on the present, and not let our minds run away in the past or the future.

Death. Yes, we will all die.  We will.  And so?  Accept it, and then live your life fully.

Suffering and pain.  Again, Vergara said, yes, life is full of suffering and pain. That’s life. It has nothing to do with 2012. 

Concern for our families.  Vergara smiled and said, “They will survive without us.”  He acknowledged that everyone is concerned about their families and this is natural.  But we need not have an imbalanced worry about whether or not someone else might or might not survive a situation.  Just carry on with living your life.

Lastly, he addressed the notion of  losing things.  We will lose things, he said.  That’s life. Whether in catastrophe or in ordinary life, we lose things.  And when we die, we don’t take physical things with us!

Vergara paused and said loudly, “Think!  You all of us have ALL that you need. (He was speaking to an audience of mostly Americans and Canadians).  You have cars, money, homes, and you still suffer.  What are you fearing?  You are all like millionaires [sometimes he would say billionaires] compared to most of the people in the rest of the world.

“We buy what we need at the supermarket,” Vergara told us.  “We have lost our inner warrior.  We are weak and we are comfortable.  We don’t want to fight.  So what should we do, asked Vergara. What is the best formula to recover this part of ourselves?

He offered many solutions.  He described ceremonies that we could perform to reconnect with the earth, and our divinity.  He said Love, Real Love, is a part of our solution. Vergara added that “Ninety-nine percent of the time we fail to solve our problems because we don’t knock on the door of divinity.  We think that our ego will solve our problems.  We know all the things of the outside world, but we don’t know our Self.  Are first task is to Know Thy Self.”

Vergara emphasized the need to avoid fear, and go forward with our purpose in life.  He explained that most people in the poorer and lesser-developed parts of the world are not worried about “the end of the world” predictions.  Why?  They are working hard, every day, for basic survival.  “Always keep in mind that the main purpose of life is Self-Realization.”

During my studies with Vergara, and other Mayan teachers, I found that they never shied away from talking about death, or fears in general. They taught us to look forward with open eyes, and to embrace others who are on the same seeking-path.  As Eric Fromme stated in his classic “Art of Loving” book, Love is the solution to the problem of human existence.

Commemoration of Day of the Dead: Remembering my Mother's Death

An excerpt from Christopher’s “Til Death Do Us Part?” book, available on Kindle or the Store at

There was the stomach cancer diagnosis of 1997.  I was devastated.  I could not believe that it was possible that my own mother could have cancer, and both Dolores and I spent time with Marie talking about the possible results of the surgery her doctors were recommending.  I recall some nights at home feeling lost, hopeless, realizing Marie could die from the surgery alone.  After all, she was nearly 80 years old.  I’m sure Marie was fretful, feeling a sort of terror, frightened, hopeful though that something could be done. Frank, my dad, her husband, was quiet, perhaps uncertain of what to do, and probably somewhat unable….

She eventually had the surgery.  Marie told me one day after she had the surgery – actually, it was more of a question -- something to the effect that she thought I knew a lot about herbs, and she was suggesting that I should know “the cure” or “the answer” to her cancer.  It made me sad.  What could I say?  I wanted to see her healthy and vibrant, and still do, but even taking herbs is akin to taking pills if you are only removing a symptom.  So I had no answers.  No “miracle cures” anyway, and I suppose I wish I did.  I would have given it to her. 

August 1, 1998

Marie was now in hospice, at a rest home. She had gone into a coma state.  When I arrived, I put my hand on Marie’s head.  She was hooked up to oxygen, and her eyes were fixed ahead.  She was alive, but not responsive, though I felt she could hear me, and I talked to her.  My eyes closed, I began to see pictures, which I assumed were her pictures.  Childhood -- seeing the front of her farm house in Chardon, Ohio.  I could sense that Marie was “waiting” -- maybe confused, waiting for us, her children, to come around and to say goodbye.  I asked her how she was, and she “responded” “What now?”  I tried to look at the pictures with her, tried to mentally look at her pictures with her, whatever it was that she wanted to see. 

I saw my childhood, the Cub Scout activities at home that Marie organized, counting pennies and dimes, having tantrums on the kitchen floor, her work, her fears, her doubts, and the many interests and activities that she tried to pursue with me, such as learning Spanish, practicing karate, wild foods.  I saw her focus on Virgin Mary and the League of Mary activities at the church, the desire to save the world by alerting people to change their lives. 

I called a priest at St. Andrews, and a Father Gonzalez showed up within 15 or 20 minutes, and gave the Last Rites.  Brother Richard was there by now, and Frank cried when the priest said his prayers.   

I asked to myself: Is that all there is?  I knew the answer, but I had to ask.  Life is not the mundanity of everyday things, but it is the value -- our Conscious Light -- that we put into what we do, who we are. 

Marie is waiting now.  I close my eyes, my hands on her.  I am breathing deeply, somewhat akin to the Drain I would do at the Survival Training class, and I felt my breath as a circuit through one hand, through Marie’s body, and out the other hand.

I could “see” a pulsating opening, the so-called tunnel that we have often heard about.  It was right there, and she was ready.  Marie was right  at the tunnel, waiting, ready to go on, only waiting for us, to allow us to say goodbyes.  So she is done with the world.  There is only the body, which is now a distant pain, a body that no longer works.  She is free   She is very close to those of us who are here.  She is accepting. 

Frank is sad.  I know this took him hard, that it will be hard on him.  They were together so long -- married 56 years.  Frank came in each day to sit with Marie.  He mentioned to me that sometimes he mixes up days, not sure if it is Thursday or Tuesday, the days blend together, each day a repeat of visiting Marie.  Now it is almost over.  I know this has been tough on my father.

I told Marie, I’ll never forget you.  You will be with me always.  We are conversing now, silently,  and I told her we could talk by sending pictures to one other’s mind.  She asks me, Will you continue my work?  She is referring to her Virgin Mary work and League of Mary church work.  I am silent for awhile.  I tell her that I cannot continue her work, but that I will continue my work.  She is silent, and I can tell she is thinking about it.  She is considering the ultimate goal of her work, and the ultimate goal of my work.  She then smiled, and she said -- That is OK, that is good.  It is noon.

In my mental communication, Marie is smiling.  She said “please don’t worry for me.  Why worry for me, she smiles. I am ready to go on. I am done.”  She tells me though that she is concerned for Frank, and that we should watch over him.             

After a while, I take Frank back home, and I come back to the rest home.  The condition of Marie’s body seems the same. I put my hand on her hand, and the other hand on her forehead.  I tell her that she need not worry about dying on Dolores’ and my Anniversary, that it really is OK.  Yes, it was August 1, the same day Dolores and I married many years earlier….

I  tell Marie, this time whispering to her, that I loved her dearly, and that I wished I could have done so much more, but that I was so glad to have at least done what I did with her, especially since the surgery…

I told her that I would like to see her again.  I felt that I would.  I tried to explain some of the after-death states, whispering that she would experience peace and heaven, and that she would also get to review her entire life, and that there would be judgement.  I told her I would be with her, mentally, psychically, as much as possible, and I told her that she could come to me if she needed.  She said that I could talk to her whenever I wanted, and that I shouldn’t be unhappy or sad, that she would always listen. 

Her close friends Jean Marie and Mary Sue Takeuchi came when I was just sitting there, breathing with her, holding her hands, and I talked with them.  At about 3:45 or so, Marie stopped breathing.   It was over.  I embraced mother  and told her again I loved her, that I was glad the pain was over, that I would miss her always. 

Jean Marie and Mary Sue were obviously very close to Marie -- they had come quite regularly to the rest home, and I could see they were now filled with personal loss but there was also a sort of joy that Marie’s pain is over, that the final hours were filled with closeness with Marie’s loved ones. 

A man from Cabot’s mortuary came, and I helped David wrap Marie and put her on the gurney, and I gave her a final hug and goodbye, and then she was gone.

I drove away feeling very empty but also fulfilled in the sense that I could be there for those final moments.  It made the seeming pointlessness of life very meaningful in this final moment, and it made me feel now that part of Marie lives on in my work, and in whomever embraced Marie’s dream of sacrifice and prayer and long-suffering so the world could be a better place.

So I went home, and I took the bulk of the next 85 hours to be there with Marie for the first phase of her after-death processes.  This is a Returning Science procedure which I had been taught years earlier, and had worked with others when their spouses had died.  Now it was my turn to do it with Marie. [The full details of this procedure are in the book].

Monday, October 02, 2017

Dolores' First Birthday Run


An excerpt from "Til Death Do Us Part?" available from Kindle, or the Store at

            Dolores came into my world around 1979 when she began to participate in the non-profit organization (WTI) I’d been working with.  At the time, Dolores was starting a business selling food storage systems for emergencies, and she contacted the president of our non-profit because of their interest in all aspects of survival.  We had many points of common interest, and she became more involved in the classes and activities of our non-profit.
By September 1980, as her birthday was approaching, she decided that she’d try doing the “birthday run,” an activity devised by the founder of the non-profit.
            Briefly, the birthday run involves going to a local track on your birthday, and running one lap for each year of your life. Friends join in the run at the year when they met you.  The runner mentally reviews each year of their life as they run each corresponding lap. A circular track is ideal because you can mentally divide the track into month or seasonal divisions to help you remember what happened month by month as you run.  One would also write brief notes during the run to record significant memories.  It is not about running, per se, but about remembering and reviewing your life. Afterwards, it is traditional to take a hot “memory bath” and to then share one’s insights and goals for the year with gathered friends.
            I was asked a day earlier if I’d be willing to go with Dolores and run with her. Since I met Dolores only a year or so earlier, I had not planned to run with her until she’d already run her first 33 laps, and then I planned to run only her 34th lap with her.
            Late in the afternoon on October 2, I went to the Eagle Rock High School track where Dolores planned to run.  It was around 4 p.m., and it was dark and overcast, and seemed much later than it was.  When I arrived, I expected to see a group from our non-profit there, but only Dolores was there. 
            “Where is everyone?” I asked her.
            “I don’t know,” said Dolores.  “I don’t know if anyone else was planning to run,” she said as both a statement and question.
            “Oh,” I said dumbly.
            “Look,” continued Dolores. “I don’t really know if I can even do this.  I haven’t been running much and I don’t feel in shape.”
            I encouraged Dolores to try the run anyway.
            “Why not just do at least a few laps – review a few years of your life, and just see how it goes,” I said encouragingly.
            Dolores was quiet, obviously thinking about it.  Then she said, “OK.”
            We waited a few more minutes, and after no one else arrived, we went into the school yard. 
            I explained to Dolores that she should pick a starting point that would correspond to October, and then she should try to divide the lap into 12 monthly sections, so she would know where she was in each year of her life as she ran. 
            “At the very least,” I explained, “divide the lap into the four seasons, so you can try to remember what you were doing in the fall, winter, spring, and autumn of each year.”
            “OK,” responded Dolores.  She decided that the southern end of the track where we’d entered would be January, the beginning of each year.   We then walked to a point that Dolores called October, and she put her water bottle on the benches by the edge of the track. 
            “Why don’t you run with me?” asked Dolores.  “I don’t really expect to finish, so you might as well run and I can ask you questions if I have any.”  That wasn’t the normal protocol, but I figured it would be OK if she was asking me.  Plus, it would be cold just sitting on the benches for her first 33 laps.
            “OK,” I said, and Dolores began her slow running around the Eagle Rock High School track.  I ran to her right and slightly behind, and didn’t say much.
            By the second lap – age two – Dolores began to relate incidents in her life.  Where she grew up, what her mother was doing, getting lost as a child and having a policeman on a motorcycle take her home,  growing up in Altadena, things about her sister.
            She ran steadily and talked in a low voice as if narrating the scenes of some inner vision.  She asked me one question about how to run, and I told her that this was not about running technique, only about getting fully into the details of reliving her life. 
            There was a slight pause about age 20 or so, as Dolores drank a longer drink of her water, and jotted a few notes with a small flashlight.  It was fully dark by this time, and the track was completely empty.
            Dolores continued to run, and related her various world travels – going to Germany to live with her husband, her daughter Barbara, getting divorced, traveling to Hawaii, to Virginia Beach, to Colorado, and her various spiritual pursuits.  I was hearing a lot of these details for the first time, so it was all new to me.  I listened, thinking to myself, what a fantastic life this woman has had! 
            We were getting to the end and she spoke of how the est  training changed her life, and how she wanted to start her own “survival food” business and travel around the country marketing it to communes and ordinary folks. She got to the point where she met the folks at our non-profit, and before you knew it, her run was over.
            “Wow,” said Dolores when she was done.  “I didn’t believe I could have done it without you.”  “What?” I thought to myself.  I only ran along with her, and didn’t realize that my being there gave her the needed support to do her own running.
            Dolores jotted down some more notes in her notebook, and we both departed. 
            I presume Dolores went to her home and did a hot “memory bath” by herself.  There was no gathering for Dolores that night – it was a weekday and someone else determined that the weekend would be a better time for a gathering.
On the weekend, I went to the birthday gathering for Dolores where she shared some of her life review, and some goals.  It was quite interesting to hear many of her life’s details again, though she shared only the highlights of those things that impressed her the most. 
            “I didn’t think I could do the run, but it helped to have Christopher run with me,” she said in her shy way of thanking me.  It made me feel good to know that what I thought was merely my passive presence had a significant positive influence on someone.  On Dolores.  It was the beginning of my feeling close to Dolores, and the beginning of our life paths co-mingling.
            Though I had already done the birthday run for a few years, it was only that night that I learned the birthday run was one of the methods designed to assist in reviewing one’s life.  In our non-profit organization, there was much focus on reviewing what had just occurred, whether it was a critique of an event we’d just done, or the review of what just went wrong on a desert field trip, or our annual New Year’s Eve “year review.”  Participants in our weekly spiritual studies classes were also advised to carefully review their day each night before sleep, and determine what was done right, and what needed rectification. 
            These methods of review, including the birthday run, were designed to assist us in living a better and more fulfilling life, with great cogency.  But this also helped us to deal with, and to prepare for, death.  I had not been aware of this facet of the birthday run until that night’s discussion after Dolores’ birthday. 
Though “preparing for death” and “thinking about death” may seem dark and negative to some folks, we never saw it that way.  Such discussions invariably led us to constantly ponder the consequences of each action, day by day.  Far from a dark and gloomy topic, our constant concern with The Law of Thought and the consequences of our actions led us to – in most cases – make better choices for a fuller and more fulfilling life.  Since death was, and is, inevitable, we choice to not ignore it, but to make our awareness of it a constant fixture in our daily life.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

On Socratic Dialogue

[Nyerges is the author of 16 books, founder of School of Self-Reliance, and an outdoor field guide. He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or at]

I am not an academic authority on “Socratic Dialogue,” but I believe that I have a good general sense of it.  When reading Plato’s account of the life of Socrates, and the events leading up to his trial, we get a good sense of how Socrates interacted with others.

Socrates would ask a series of questions, and each subsequent question was based on the answer to the previous one.  It was a true dialogue, where Socrates listened carefully, and responded appropriately.  Socrates said that he was trying to get to the “truth,” the “truth” that others claim to have found. His questions attempted to draw-out from the other person the knowledge or facts that were presumably available within that other person.  That is, Socrates was doing sometimes called educing – the root of the word “education.”   This suggests that all knowing can be acquired by thinking, and careful research.

I’ve had at least a few teachers who were skilled in educing, constantly engaging in a give and take, where eventually a full picture emerges about a subject. 

In the beginning of undergoing this process, I felt silly and frustrated when I was asked to draw these answers from within. But by attempting to be a part of the dialogue, rather than simply listening to a teacher, I learned that I knew a lot more than I realized.  In time, I realized that I began to think more clearly and systematically about things. I learned that there were ways to know if I only applied my mind to a given subject with research, application, and concentration.

I once went to lecture at a renown metaphysical center. The topic was Socratic Dialogue.  The lecturer was clearly in love with himself and the sound of his words, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I raised my hand to ask a pertinent question and he shushed me.  “No, I’m composing,” he said, and then went on with his monologue.

I sat there thinking about this for a few minutes, and realized that I would learn nothing about the Socratic Dialogue from this man.  I got up and left.  His demonstration with me was the opposite of Socratic Dialogue.  To be fair, this had been billed as a “lecture,” not a demonstration or practicum of Socratic Dialogue.

In my classes, I have tried in my limited way to employ Socratic Dialogue.  When I am asked a question, I am inclined to ask the student, “What do you think is the answer?”  Sometimes I get blanks, or, “I don’t know; that’s why I’m in this class.” But occasionally a student will try to answer their own question, and then we go on from there, step by step, working together to draw from the student the answers – or bits of answers—that were already there inside.  (And for the record, I may or may not know the answer, but that’s not the point.)

A man who once attended my classes mentioned me in his book called “Emergency.” It was an excellent book about his quest to learn about survival in the broadest context. In his book he described my teaching method, suggesting that I didn’t want to give answers to students but just wanted to lord over them that I knew it all!  He didn’t quite get what I was doing, unfortunately.  

Things didn’t go so well for Socrates either.

Even though Socrates changed the life of his lead student, Plato, and the millions of “followers” who read about Socrates through Plato, those leaders and priests who brushed up too closely with Socrates felt that he was somehow exposing or disrespecting them.  These “leaders” of ancient Greece trumped up some charges that Socrates was “corrupting the youth of Athens,” and put the philosopher on trial. Socrates lost, of course, was imprisoned, and fulfilled the death sentence by drinking the prescribed hemlock tea.

I’m still a big fan of Socratic Dialogue, not because of how it turned out with Socrates, but because it is a method that can open us up to our own inner mind, and allow us to experience true education.

Public schools are too large with too many students per teacher, and too controlled, to do Socratic Dialogue.  Public schools tend to fill the students minds with facts that they must memorize. 

Anyone today who comes through the “school system” as a clear-thinking, creative individual does so in spite of the school system, not because of it.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Remembering Vicente Gomez: Pasadena legend and Bicycling champion

A Pasadena bicycling legend and Vietnam veteran hero

Vicente Ynfante Gomez, October 24, 1946 to August 4, 2017
[by Christopher Nyerges]

Great people always walk amongst us, yet most of us are too busy in our very narrow lives (me too) to recognize and acknowledge them for who they are.

Vicente and Rafael Gomez were the famous Apache Brothers racing team, brothers who won numerous state and district bicycle racing championships, often defying all odds on their tandem bicycle.

A bit of background. Lifelong Pasadena resident, Vicente was a cross-country runner at John Muir High School, and graduated in 1965.  Both Vicente and Rafael were Vietnam vets.  Vicente was an Army paratrooper with the 101st Airborne’s “Hatchet Brigade,” serving as a ranger in the recon.  He was decorated with the bronze star for valor in combat during the 1968 Tet Offensive. But he never talked about it much – you remember how terribly returning Vietnam vets were treated?  Younger brother Rafael entered the service when Vicente returned home, wanted to follow in big brother’s footsteps.

For 40 years, Vicente and partner -brother Rafael were competitive members of the U.S. Cycling Federation.  Vicente was one of the two only masters (age 55 and older) to win four national track racing championship medals in the elite mens’ tandem.  With the help of Sport Chalet in 1984 (where both brothers worked)  Vicente and Rafael were instrumental in establishing bike racing practice around the Rose Bowl.   And they mentored many other up-and-coming bicyclists, including women such as Katie Safford,  who became champions. 

Those of us who knew this unique brother-team got to witness the rarest form of true and pure brotherhood. They lived together and supported one another through thick and thin. Vicente was the quiet brother, and Rafael loud and gregarious. They represented the totality of the yin and yang, not as opposing forces, but as a duality representing the totality of the whole.  As Katie Safford stated at Vicente’s funeral, “Yes, I know Rafael is still alive, but ‘The Gomez Brothers’ have died,” referring to the inseparable nature of the dynamic brother team.

Safford – who won 53 district championships and 5 nationals in racing – had many bicycling mentors.  “But most of the men weren’t so keen having us race with them,” she explained, “because we were faster. But Vicente and Rafael were always kind to us.”  She describes the Apache brothers as constantly encouraging her, and congratulating her, even when Safford beat the Gomez brothers in the Southern California/ Nevada District Championships at the velodrone in Encino.
Here is a part of what Kathy Safford said at Vicente’s funeral mass:

“When I was 26 I found bicycle racing…. My life changed.  I was competitive. Someone said I should try track racing on the velodrome – you know, no brakes and high speeds. I borrowed a bike and headed to Encino and the Gomez brothers.
“I didn’t know them but I had heard about these two crazy brothers who raced.  They drove a van. They were fast. They were fearless…. We got along from the first moment… They protected me and all of us on the front lines. They liked me and took me in as their little sister, their ‘hermanita,’ as brothers and mentors.
In track racing, it’s all about the lead out-block the wind for your sprinter and let her win.  The Gomez brothers would come from the back and Vince (never loud) would say ‘Vamos, hermanita, al frente’ – come little sister to the front.  And there would be Rafael helping me get situated at 35 mph.  Go little sister, go, he yelled.  And I would follow those wheels and I won!  I won every race they helped me win.  And Vince would smile, ‘good hermanita,’ always a man of few words.  And Rafael would scream ‘You did it, little sis! You won!’  I would offer to split the cash winnings -- $20.  ‘No, m’hija, you won it, you keep it.”
There were district championships for bragging rights and a California Bear jersey.  I gathered a team of fast women and entered the team pursuit event – in the men’s category.  There were not enough women to have a women’s category.  Can you guess who we were up against?  You got that right – The Gomez brothers, my brothers, my mentors. We beat them – the chicks beat the boys. And what did Vicente say?  ‘Good hermanita, good.’  And what did Rafael say? He screamed and whooped with pure joy and pride for us.  Those are some really good guys.”

During a few of the radio interviews I did with ostensibly both brothers, Rafael would do most of the talking and it took a major effort to get Vicente to speak about his love of bicycling, herbalism, and his roots. But speak he did, though slowly, and with great intent. Sometimes, he presumed that one well placed look at me was enough to answer my questions, as if radio listeners can hear the look!

Vicente was surfing on Friday, August 4 at San Onofre State Beach with his brother Rafael and friends.  He died that day in Rafael’s arms, at age 70. 

At the wake for Vicente, “The Function at the Junction” (as Rafael called it), I took the time to “be with” Vicente at the little shrine out back that Rafael had created for his brother.

As some of you may know, I talk to the dead all the time.  Usually there are no responses.  I burned sage to Vicente, and sat with this quiet giant at his shrine, this Apache “medicine man” now gone.

Finally, Vicente had a lot to say. He was happy that I was there with him.  He wanted me to pass along a message, letting me know that everything was different for him now that he no longer had his body to deal with. He was light, but still serious as ever.

I’ll paraphrase, from memory, what he wanted me to know.  “Look, we didn’t live for money, but we took care of each other, and others in need.” Then he went on another track.  “Tell people not to be so pre-occupied with their bodies, and just pleasures of the senses. That’s not really who we are,” Vicente communicated.  This quiet brother was often deep in inner thought each time I met with him and Rafael.

“I see so clearly now, that anything we do that is not moving us forward spiritually is a waste of our precious time and energy.” 

I’ll miss such thoughtfulness and insight from Vicente, and will do my best to follow the spirit of what he told me.