Monday, August 25, 2014

Considering the Relative Shortness of Life…



It is always best to tell your friends how much you love them when they are alive – not after they have died!

In my book, “Til Death Do Us Part?”, I share many of our stories of how to deal with the death of close loved ones in an enlightened way. We also talk about how important it is to support the survivors – spouses especially.  The book is full of lots of unique ways to deal with death, and very interesting reading.

After Dolores died, a friend offered this saying, suggesting that we all interact with each other with this sort of message:

FARE WELL SONG TOO-SELDOM SUNG

This could be the last time that I see you;
either you or I could die before we meet again;
so please know that I deep-admire your admirable traits
and laud your ceaseless efforts to perfect your soul
and elevate your character (and that of everyone you interact with).
I hope we interact again (in this life or the next);
but if we don’t
I want that you should know
my heart has been enriched by having had you in my life
and hereby do I wish you Godspeed
in your up-and-onward sojourn through Eternity.

This, and many other unique stories and ideas, are in the “Til Death Do Us Part?” book, available at Kindle, or at the Store at www.ChristopherNyerges.com as a pdf.  Please get a copy and let us know what you think.

Friday, August 22, 2014

How to Survive Anywhere, 2nd edition





The second revised edition of my “How to Survive Anywhere” book has just been released, and you’re really going to enjoy it.

Some of the noteworthy points in this new edition include recognizing George Michaud for having figured out how the ancient promontory peg was used, and a mention of how Alan Halcon made fire with the hand drill in two seconds!

When the book was originally written, I wanted a guide that would be useful in all circumstances, with the basics that I’d learned and acquired from a lifetime of study, application, and research.  That’s why I didn’t focus on scenarios, per se, but rather the basics that must always be taken into account in order to live and survive any situation, anywhere.

The book addresses the basics of water, water purification, finding water, and storing water. It includes all the ways to make a fire when you have no matches, and ways to cook including how to make a low-cost solar oven.  There is a whole chapter on health and hygience, something I rarely see in a “survival” book.  We cover how to make alternate toilets, and the many soaps that are found in the wild.

Clothing and the many possible fabrics is addressed, and some patterns are provided in the book for making your own clothing.  Shelters are discussed, and there are plenty of photos and drawings to assist you in making your own shelter, should the need ever arise.   There is also a whole chapter on natural fibres, and how to  make twine, braids, sandals, baskets, etc. This is truly a lost art.

Food in the city and food in the wilderness are both addressed, along with a list of some of the most common, readily recognizable wild plants. Traditional hunting methods are discussed, such as deadfalls, snares, and bows. 

There are chapters on first aid and navigation with some unique information, but those chapters are kept deliberately short since there are so many good references on those two topics.

Of course, my favorite chapter is the last, “What is Survival?” where I describe that survival is not just about having stuff, but about a mindset and way of life.

This revised 2nd edition is 32 pages longer with lots of new graphics, including chapter summaries inside an acorn, called “In a Nutshell.”  There are new charts for the four mechanisms that create fire, and the four ways in which water is purified.

The books is available wherever books are sold, like Amazon, and copies can be obtained from the store at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Low-Budget Camping



[Christopher Nyerges is the author of  books on the outdoors, including How To Survive Anywhere.  He regularly teaches self-reliance and wild food classes, and he blogs at www.ChristopherNyerges.com.  A schedule of his classes is available from School of Self-Reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.]


Some time ago, an editor of a magazine called and asked me to write an article for his readers about “low budget camping.”  My first question was, “What do you mean by low-budget?”

He thought about it for awhile, and then told me to keep the total shopping list under $2,000.  Wow!  That’s low-budget?  He then explained that he was assuming that the reader had absolutely no equipment at all, and he or she would have to go out and purchase everything from scratch. 

I eventually wrote the article, entitled “Backpacking on a Shoestring,” and everything I suggested could be purchased for under $300 or so, if you followed my instructions.

However, I had to think back when I was 10 or so, and how my brothers and I got interested in hiking and backpacking in the Angeles National Forest.  Even if we couldn’t get a parent to drive us, we could just walk outside our door and in a short while through Altadena we were in the mountains.  We certainly enjoyed exploring the hilltops and valleys and hidden canyons.  That appeals to everyone.  But unlike so many of the urban attractions, we knew that we could do our mountain exploring without ever having to pass through a ticket booth where someone collects an admission fee.  For all practical purposes, the mountains belonged to the people and they were free for anyone to enter and explore.  And for us at that age, that was critically important.  We didn’t go hiking on a “low-budget.  We didn’t even know what the word “budget” meant.  We went hiking and backpacking on NO budget.  We had no money and none was needed to head to the hills. 

Over the years, of course, I have gradually acquired camping gear that works for me, and that I feel is worth having.  I dont mind spending extra money on an item if I know it’s the best and if my life can depend on it.  On the other hand, to this day I don’t care much for useless gadgets that just take up space and add weight to the pack.  I like to go as light as I possibly can.

So, I thought that readers would enjoy hearing how we went hiking on no budget.  Some of you will chuckle at our youthful enthusiasm and silliness.  A few of you might even think we had a few good ideas.

CLOTHING
We NEVER purchased special clothes, designed for hiking or backpacking.  We just wore what we called our “play clothes” -- clothes that we didnt worry about getting dirty or torn, but durable enough for a weekend or a week in the hills.  We simply dressed for the season, and took an extra sweatshirt along if it was cold. 

The one area that could have used improving was footwear.  I usually had poor footwear on the trails, but I never let it bother me.  The worst time was when I had some old suede shoes while hiking in the snow.  My feet were wet and cold the whole time, so I was either constantly moving or sitting by the fire all the time.  Eventually, I learned that you could put a plastic bag over your socks and keep your feet sort-of dry in the winter. 

But since most of our hiking was in fair weather, wearing our city shoes” into the hills was usually not a problem.

KNIFE
Heck, every kitchen has a knife, doesn’t it?  We just wrapped a small kitchen knife in a piece of cardboard for safety and put it in with our gear.  Eventually, we received Boy Scout knives as gifts one Christmas, and we carried them all the time.  Now, I wouldn’t leave home without a Swiss Amy knife.

MESS KIT
Why would we need to go out and buy something special just for hiking and backpacking when every kitchen in the world -- well, at least OUR kitchen -- had dishes and silverware and pots?  We’d pack an old pan and pot, and would sometimes just carry an old pie pan and an empty can.  We reasoned that with the pie pan and can, we could crush them and bury them before returning home and wouldnt need to carry them back.  We’d also grab a few plastic forks and spoons, and maybe an old metal one. 

Nothing more was needed.

CANTEEN
Back in the mid-1960s, plastic wasnt as ubiquitous as it is today, and the plastic that was around back then was low quality.  So we didn’t have plastic containers to use for water.  On occasions, I actually carried a glass mayonnaise jar as my canteen, and I wrapped it with cardboard so it would be protected.  Eventually, I spent about $1 and purchased a metal WWII canteen.  It was a very good investment.  

However, we tried to plan so many of our hikes around the known water sources, that I never bothered to carry a canteen half the time. 

Today, inexpensive water containers can be obtained just about anywhere, so humanity seems to have solved this problem.

STOVE
Stove?  We simply cooked right on the flames of our small camp fire.  I’ve never carried a stove -- to this day!

FLASHLIGHT
Sometimes we’d find a flashlight in a drawer at home but more often than not it simply didn’t work.  Perhaps the batteries were no good.  So I never got addicted to needing a flashlight at night.  Did you know that the average adult has the ability to see in the darkness almost as good as an owl after 30 minutes in the dark?

LANTERN
Lantern?  We had NO budget.  If we had a lantern, we’d have to buy fuel and wicks and stuff called “misc.”  However, on some occasions, we actually carried an old soup can.  We cut out both ends of the can, and put an old clothes hanger through the can for a handle.  Then we cut a hole in the side of the can, and inserted a candle.  That was our “lantern.”

Another variation of the can-lantern is to cut open an aluminum can so that, when standing upright, it appears to have two “doors.”  You then hang the can by the pop-top, put a candle inside, and you have a lantern.  If made properly, the wind will catch the doors and turn the candle away from the wind.  I learned about this from fellow survival instructor Ron Hood.

WALKING STICK
Though we have marveled at the beautifully-carved walking sticks at backpacking stores, we never even came close to buying one.  For one thing, after you spend $40 for a beautiful stick, who wants to mess it up on the trail.  Additionally, we discovered that there was never a shortage of sticks in the woods which could serve as a walking stick.

TENT
Tent?  Those are heavy and expensive.  I have never carried one.  The closest I have ever come to packing a tent was when I used tube tents a few times in the early to mid-1970s.  But otherwise, you can usually avoid the need for a tent if you simply pick your campsite well.

MAP AND COMPASS
Get real!  We simply went up to the mountains and followed the trails, and often had no idea where we were going, other than some obscure rumor from someone that a friend of a friend talked to and suggested that maybe this particular trail actually led to some really good place.  It all sounds very silly and imprecise as I think back on it, but that’s how we did things.

After awhile, we got to know more and more of our local trails and we would go back to our favorite spots again and again, day or night, summer or winter.  No map or compass was ever needed, and we never got lost.

FIRE STARTER
We would take book matches that we got for free at the local supermarket, and stick matches from our parents kitchen, and wrap them up in several wrappings of plastic.  Back then, there were no Bics, no magnesium fire starters, and none of the high-tech devices that today assure fire for even the village idiot.

FOOD
Food in the backpacking shops always seems to cost too much.  Freeze-dried, specially portioned exotic meals, MREs, special candy bars, juices, etc. etc.  Why?  We would just go to  the supermarket and purchase dry things like rice and buckwheat groats and spaghetti.  Then we purchased dry soup mixes and instant potatoes. Then we’d get a bottle of dried spices, and then some nuts and seeds, and some fresh fruit like apples and avocadoes and perhaps some cheese.  After awhile, you have good food at a reasonable cost. 

But in the very beginning -- as I said, we had NO budget -- we just looked through our parents’ cupboards and picked out anything that was dry and light and that we thought we might like.  Doesn’t every kitchen cupboard in the world have at least enough odds and ends to make a few decent trail meals for a week or so?  Ours always did.  And though some of our meals were very slim, it was partly because we didn’t want to carry any more weight than was absolutely necessary.  Which is why I have pursued the study of wild edible plants for most of my life -- but that’s another story.

Some of these ways that we did things might help some of you to keep the weight in your pack as low as possible, and to retain as much money as possible.  I have always believed that simple enjoyment of the outdoors should be as unadorned as possible.  Part of the attraction -- to me -- is to be in the outdoors where you can think and be with your self and your friends.  Why clutter it up with all the overpriced gimmicks and gadgets that take up weight and occupy too much of your time?   

I’d like to hear from readers who have unique low-cost camping methods to share. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Seeking Paradise: How and Where does one look?


Christopher Nyerges

[Nyerges is the author of such books as “Self-Sufficient Home,” “Extreme Simplicity,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” and “Guide to Wild Foods.” He has been teaching self-reliance skills since 1974.  He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]

At one time, life stretched out like eternity, like the last scene from “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly,” where you knew there were winners and losers and fools, and you hoped desperately that you’d be a winner. Well, at least a good guy. That’s the perspective of a child, seeing the world through simplistic eyes, black and white, good and bad, right and wrong. That’s good, really, but as Mark Twain once noted, there is enough good in the worst of us, and enough bad in the best of us, that we should quit pretending and start working together. At least Twain said something like that, and what he meant was that only in movies and childhood dreams do we ever get to see absolute clarity which doesn’t exist in the real world.

In childhood, I assumed that the older bodies also contained minds that were more developed, and advanced, and therefore more objective and mature. I assumed that parents were the fair arbiters of disputes and that elected officials took those positions because they cared about the good of the people they represented.  I believed in the Jimmy Stewart world of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” even though I never found it.

I believed that there must be a sanctuary of sanity somewhere where people practiced lives of sanity and non-prejudice, and where fraud and cheating were unheard of.  I lived on a farm for awhile right after high school, and I felt that perhaps there, in the rough existence where your work resulted in a very tangible result that supported your existence, it was hard to cheat and defraud, and the folks had pride in their skills, their
sense of community, and their honesty.

Could the urbanization of the world be part of the culprit in our fall from grace?  Perhaps. 
But it’s still no excuse.  Even if I never found Shangra-la on earth, I have not stopped believing in the principles by which such a place must exist. For example, you must keep your word.  Yes, printed papers are OK for poor memories, and for those who are inclined to twist the words later to mean something else from the original intent. But when you twist your word, and bend your word, you bend your very soul, and you dis-integrate your very integrity.  That’s why my father always said to keep your word, that a person is only as good as their word. Even in middle-class Pasadena, my father knew that there was an ineffable something about the giving and keeping of your word. In Shangri-la, you would always keep your word.

In my vision of Paradise, there would be work, but the god that we all trusted wouldn’t be money.  Money, or some version of it, seems inescapable for daily commerce and for converting your work and time into a medium of useful, recognizable exchange. But in Paradise, money would naturally be a tool to assist others to get their own enterprises going, and to provide for the common good.  People would not be obsessed by money and would not be driven by the desire for money. Killing for money would be unheard of.
Work must have a tangible result, within the framework of a goal.  A person must naturally feel uplifted by doing one’s work, and when one knowingly works at a menial and pointless job to fulfill someone else’s desires and goals, it’s hard to feel uplifted. 

Of course, bits and pieces of this Shangra-la exist right now, everywhere, in most people.  I believe that everyone has an innate desire to find rightness, and even fairness, and everyone ultimately recognizes the objective reality of the Law of Thought, that what you think and what you do has ramifications that are scientific result of those specific thoughts and actions. 

If you inwardly believe in the possibility of a Paradise on earth, you must start to grasp those principles of living and thinking that lead to Shangri-La. And though you must do so personally, on your own, it is fortunate that there are others, if you can find them, who are also seeking a higher road.

Shangri-La is not a place that you find, but rather, a place that you earn the right to be a part of, by the evolution of your thought and actions.  What does that mean? What must someone do?  Again, the answers are everywhere, hidden in plain view.  They go by such names as learning to think, separating feeling from emotions, distinguishing empathy from sympathy, learning to use words precisely, working hard to see world events objectively, and not subjectively based on your personal cultural bias.  It means learning the practical value and living the precepts taught by all the great Way-showers of history, from all cultures. Ever heard of the Golden Rule?  That’s a good place to start.  How about the 10 Commandments?  Another good starting point.

One winter night during high school, my friend Nathaniel and I bicycled into a little side canyon of the Angeles National Forest, and we made a safe little fire in our campground and talked about the meaning of life and how we thought that civilization might fail.  It had never occurred to us that we are barely civilized now, and we only believe we are “civilized” because of our material wealth and technological toys.  We bemoaned the fact that society is on the fast road to uncivil barbarousness, and wondered what could be done, and what should be done.

We always toyed with the idea of becoming hermits and hiding out in a cave somewhere, but both of us were way too social to live out our lives in a cave. By whatever choices we made, we felt that everyone should be a good example, and no one should assume that there is no hope for the future. Our civility, our culture, our sense of civilization, after all, is an internal concept that we first keep alive inside our thinking.  Once that flame is bright within, it is proper to share with others, and attempt to be a part of the solution to the many problems we see all around.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Funeral for my Pittbull Cassius Clay





“The Character of a Nation is determined by how its animals are treated” Ghandi

by Christopher Nyerges

[Nyerges is the author of “Extreme Simplicity,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” and other books. He can be contacted at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]

Everyone who has a close pet knows that the dog or cat becomes a part of the family, no longer a mere “animal.”  And everyone whose close dog or cat dies, typically feels the same pain – sometimes even deeper – as if a human close friend has died.  Love knows no boundaries and we develop ties with humans and other animals.

The world is full of stories, and monuments, and books devoted to a favorite dog or cat, which is evidence that these beings are indeed close to our hearts.

I once heard  radio host Dennis Prager claim – who apparently had no pets – that it is only those people who have not developed deep human relationships who become very close to their pets, as if the animal relationship is their stepping-stone to a “real” human relationship. Such a statement could only be made by someone who has never experienced a close animal relationship, or he would not have made such an erroneous statement.  (To be fair to Mr. Prager, it’s certainly possible that some close animal-human relationships develop because the person did lack the ability to have close human relationships.)

My perspective is that those who have the ability to enter into a close relationship with an animal have even more developed feelings than the average person.  These animal relationships develop not because of a lack in some area, but because of a greater development in the area of feeling and caring.  That’s how I see it anyway.

So, of my many close animal friends, Cassius Clay, my purple ribbon pitt bull who I loved, died at age 17 on Easter Sunday, 2008.  I’d grown so close to him, and my daily schedule was so structured around him, that I could barely believe he was gone. It was devastating on certain levels, and like when anyone you love dies, suddenly, for awhile, the world is a very dark and dreary place.

In the few days after he died, I reviewed in my mind all the things that he “taught” me, and all the ways in which I felt I became a better person because of Cassius.  I know regular folks don’t think that dogs “talk,” but that’s because most folks believe that language is entirely linguistic, when in fact, words are just one small part of communication.  Cassius talked to me regularly, with the tone of his voice, his eyes, his sounds, his body motions.  I learned to listen and generally understood what he was “saying.”

I buried him in a section of a nature preserve in Highland Park, and invited a few friends to join me in a little ceremony.  I’d planned to plant some herbs over his grave, talk about Cassius, show some pictures, and maybe let people who knew Cassius say a thing or two.

I was overwhelmed with the approximately three dozen people who showed up in the hilly amphitheater section of the property, and, with some friends, we set out chairs and laid down carpets so everyone could join us somewhat comfortably.  I know that many who came never met Cassius, so they came to join me in my saying goodbye to my friend.

I shared some highlights of how Cassius came into my life, and showed pictures, and we had some music. With so many people, I was uncertain how to proceed, but I began to ask people to share their experiences with Cassius, and if they never met him, to share their experiences with their own close animal friend.

It took over an hour for everyone to share their stories, and it was a tearful event even for people who didn’t know Cassius. Many shared stories of animals that were every bit a part of  the family, and how their relationship with that animal was life-enhancing.

When done, I passed out a little leaflet about Cassius, just like you might get when you went to a human funeral or wake.  And then I invited people to plant various flowers and herbs over Cassius’s grave, and to water those plants.

For me, it was a necessary part of the transition of life to death, to take the time to acknowledge a friend. As a child, I recall when our pet dog died, it was taken to the vet who then somehow “disposed” of it. I vowed to never do that again, not to a family member, and not to a pet. 

Death is part of life, and it does not mean we should forget.  Life goes on, but we should never forget the value that others had in shaping our character, and making our life worth living.