Monday, May 16, 2016

Learning About Mushrooms


Recently, when my “Foraging Oregon” book was released, one person criticized that it  did not include mushrooms in the book because “mushrooms are part of foraging.”  Obviously, the person didn’t actually read the book, and so he missed my reasons for not including mushrooms in the book. Yes, some mushrooms are easily identified, like chicken of the woods, yet there are many lesser-known related species in the “safe” groups can cause sickness if not processed right.

Mycology was the science that obsessed me the most, before botany, and back in the early ‘70s, mycologists were few and far between.  Besides getting every book on the subject, I also joined the Los Angeles Mycological Association, and spent many weekends in fields and wild areas looking for mushrooms, and learning how to identify them. 

Though I’ve written over a dozen books on wild foods and self-reliance, I’ve never written a book exclusively on mushrooms. The reason is because there are many specialists out there who’ve already written some excellent mycology books.  I admit, I shared some basics of mycology in my “Testing Your Outdoor Survival Skills” book, and I’ve used my mushroom quiz for the basis of many lectures.

My publisher of the Falcon Guides wanted me to include a few mushrooms in my “Foraging California” book, partly because all of the other books in that foraging series included a few mushrooms.  But I decided not to include even a few “simple” mushrooms, in part because there are really far too many members of each genus than are ever included in any book, and so amateurs really have no practical way of knowing these “look-alikes” even exist. I still read about experts who ate the wrong mushroom, and died, usually slow and painfully. 

Consider that there are many more good botanists than mycologists because you can go out any day (more or less) and study the flowering plants and trees, and you can get to know them well.  But mushrooms don’t last so long. They appear seemingly at random, and they disappear.  There are therefore not as many good mycologists as botanists because it takes a lot more time and dedication to study the mostly ephemeral mushrooms. 

Also, even the best mycology books do not include all the possible mushrooms that you might find in an area.  At one time or another, I believe I have possessed every notable book published on mycology.  Each contains verbal descriptions, and one or two photos. Some contain technical keys for differentiating the mushroom you found with every other mushroom.  But if the mushroom in your hand is not found in the book in which you are now looking, you might be tempted to conclude that what’s in your hand must be this one or that one in the book. Maybe, maybe not. No harm done if you’re just trying to identify the mushroom, and if you don’t intend to eat it. But it’s an entirely different ball game if you intend to eat the wild mushroom.
We’ve all heard the old rule: there are old mushroom hunters, and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old and bold mushroom hunters.  Sad, but true.

When I was just starting out learning mycology, I insisted on eating every mushrooms that the old experts identified to me as being edible. Some were good, some were not. I had at least a few unpleasant vomiting sessions.  I no longer care to try every “edible” mushroom.

In other words, there are a LOT of mushrooms out there, and not all of them are described in books.  If you want to eat wild mushroom, learn mycology first (the study of mushrooms) and then learn mycophagy second (the study of how to eat wild mushrooms).  Learn by taking a class where you will see the actual mushrooms, hopefully in the field at least some of the time. Join a local mushroom society where you can go on field trips. Then, use internet sites, and videos, and books as the back up to your direct field experience.


And yes, there are some really good books out there.
Here are just a few of the books that I highly recommend for those of you who choose to pursue the science of mycology, without losing your life:

“California Mushrooms: The Comprehensive Identification Guide,” by Desjardin, Wood, and Stevens (Timber Press, 2015).  This new book is expensive, hard-cover, all color photos, up-to-date, and useful well beyond just California.  You get a good comprehensive overview of the world of mycology, with all the types of fungi broken into their categories with keys to help you identify the mushroom in hand. Well worth the money. This over-sized book is over 550 pages.

“Mushrooms Demystified,” by David Arora (Ten Speed Press, 1986).  David Arora is perhaps the man when it comes to mycology. A thick book with 2000 species, over 800 photos, mostly black and white but many in color.  If this is the only book you had, you’d do well, and you’d learn that patience is part of studying mycology.  Nearly 1000 pages.

“The Great Encyclopedia of Mushrooms” by Lamaison and Polese (Konemann, 2005). This is an English version of a German original, really more of a coffee table book that is a very good introduction to mycology.  A very good pictorial overview, and if you master this, you’re ready for one of the other books.

“The Mushroom Manual” by Pearson (Naturegraph, 2014)  Both amateurs and professionals will enjoy this book.  It does not purport to tell you everything you ever wanted to know about mushrooms.  It does, however, give the reader an excellent overview of fungi. It includes the “foolproof four” that anyone can identify and eat, the fatal five (deadly mushrooms), the nine basic groups, and mushroom identification keys. 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Searching for Meaning in the Death and Resurrection Story (with thanks to Musashi)

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

I grew up with the basic theme of the savior and his death and resurrection, defying the odds of a materialistic society. Jesus is the most widely-written about topic of all time: What are the facts, what do they mean, what does it mean to me, what does it mean to the future.

I felt very much in a seeking mode this Good Friday, and decided to sit in a church where I would sit in my childhood during the 3 hours of the passion of the Christ.  To my chagrin, the churches I visited had no services, so I spent quiet time in my own inner church.

To me, the true essence of religion consists of ways of living, survival tools, if you will, that would help us survive if we’d only follow those guidelines.

After my “How To Survive Anywhere” book was published, a few acquaintances criticized me for the inclusion of what they perceived to be “non-survival” issues in the last chapter, which I called “What is Survival?”  For example, I included USC basketball coach Wooden’s famous pyramid of success, including such “old fashioned” principles as the Ten Commandments.

My perspective is that we can all master Boy Scout skills, and we should.  In addition, we should all strive to become better human beings, and become an asset to our family, community and nation.  This requires discipline, patience, and study.

I am not a pessimist.  It has long seemed that our society has lost its grounding, lost its ability to think, and sinks deeper and deeper into sectarianism, greed, and lust.  On the other hand, there are countless guidelines and reference points that show the way to anyone awake enough who desires a way through the fog that our society has created. 

The Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments, for example.  These are excellent practical survival guidelines that, if followed, provide us with emotional and spiritual stability and a sense of what to do and not to do.

So my perspective is that the higher ideals that we should learn, and live, are in fact, real “survival tools.”  Let me know what you think.

There are other guidelines as well, coming from all corners of the globe. 

For example, I recently obtained a copy of Miyamoto Musashi’s A Book of Five Rings.  Musashi was perhaps the most renowned of all Japanese Samurai.  An undefeated warrior, as well as a poet and artist, he wrote his book in 1645 while living in a cave during the last year of his life. 

He divides his lessons into the Ground book, the Water book, the Fire book, the Wind book, and the Book of the Void.  The Way of which Musashi writes is the Way of Strategy, and all of his books are chiefly concerned with Timing.  In the Ground book, provides 9 guidelines, adding “This is the Way for men who want to learn my strategy.”

1.      Do not think dishonestly.
2.      The Way is in training.
3.      Become acquainted with every art.
4.      Know the Ways of all professions.
5.      Distinguish between gain and loss in worldly matters.
6.      Develop intuitive judgement and understanding for everything.
7.      Perceive those things which cannot be seen.
8.      Pay attention even to trifles.
9.      Do nothing which is of no use.

These are excellent guidelines to study and to apply to any profession.  And because my state of mind was very much into seeing beyond dogma and division, I saw Musashi’s 9 guidelines as a very meaningful Good Friday message.  Yes, we are nailed to the cross of our bodies and our culture, and only by following the spirit of such guidelines as the Golden Rule, the 10 Commandments, and Musashi’s 9 guidelines, are we to resurrect from our own morass of animality and materialism. 

Let me know what you think.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Death Seminars

[an excerpt from “Til Death Do Us Part?” which is available from Kindle, or from the Store at]

Dolores and I were active students of metaphysics, mostly through our association with WTI’s Spiritual Studies classes.  We spent a lot of time studying Harold Percival’s “Thinking and Destiny,” and other books such as Fromme’s “Art of Loving” and Hayakawa’s “Language in Thought and Action.” 

By the early 1990s, we began to conduct weekly study sessions and classes in our home, mostly readings from “Thinking and Destiny” on Sunday afternoons. 

One night, we offered a class called “What Happens After Death.”  About 10 people showed up for this one, which was a large gathering for our small meeting room. 

We began by telling everyone that this was not some sort of religious exercise, nor was anyone required to “agree with” or “believe” anything we were telling them. Rather, we simply asked that they consider the scenario that we’d be sharing as a possibility, and that we would not consider “arguments” or “debates” about it.  In other words, something does “happen” to us after our body dies.  This “something” can range from “nothing” to reincarnation to “going to hell” and many other possibilities. 

We were students of Harold Percival’s “Thinking and Destiny” book, and we explained that for this class, we’d be sharing his version of what happens after we die.  Obviously, Dolores and I considered this version to be not only acceptable, but possible and plausible. 

A brief explanation about Percival is required.  He claimed in the preface to his monumental “Thinking and Destiny” book that he “came to” the information that he shares by means of what he calls “Real Thinking

Upon body death, according to Percival, we “automatically” go through a series of steps, which he initially describes as a brief overview on pages 240 to 253.  He describes a specific order of 12 events, which includes a life-review, a judgement, a heaven-state, etc.  

After our brief explanation, we asked each participant to lie on our floor. 

“Now you have just died,” we announced, and we covered each person with a sheet to further simulate the death experience.  We then read through the after-death stages, one by one, slowly, in the darkened room, asked each participant to work hard to fully feel the experience.

Talking through this process took about 45 minutes.

Then, we got through the entire cycle, and explained that these steps could actually take several hundred years of earth time.  Then it would be time for being reborn into a suitable and appropriate family, in the place on earth that we’ve earned for ourselves.

We turned on the lights, and removed the sheets, and let everyone take a few minutes to get their eyes adjusted to the light.  Slowly, each person opened their eyes and slowly got up, and sat down in a chair.

We began to share significant experiences that each person had.  A few folks were very quiet and would not talk at all, but others were very talkative.  Some were even in tears.

We closed the class by telling everyone that they had not died tonight, and that everyone now has a “new opportunity” to still “do the right things” since they were still alive in a body.

We shared some freshly-made coffee-elixir and healthful cookies, and we discussed a few of the upcoming classes and poetry readings that we’d be having in the coming weeks.  But no one seemed interested in our announcements.  Most everyone was strongly affected by the experience, and they wanted to ask more questions, which we tried to answer.  As usual, we didn’t feel like the most perfect examples in the world, but we knew that “the future” is all the result of each and every choice that we make, second by second, and the consequences of those choices.  To make the wisest possible choices every second of one’s entire life required a unique sort of sobriety and focus which itself required a unique lifestyle regimen to maintain – and, of course, those details were the subjects of our on-going classes.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Open Letter to Trump

Dear Mr. Trump:

I have been thinking of writing to you for some time, and I’ve finally gotten around to it.

I didn’t know much about you in the past, though your name was occasionally in the news.  I watched and like your Apprentice show, because it forced people to quickly make a plan, and quickly implement a plan to get some business going. In general, I liked the show because I saw young entrepreneurs working creatively to make a buck.  I kept a lot of my ideas to myself as I watched the show, such as “it seems that it doesn’t really matter HOW you make a buck, as long as you make the most.” I mean, sometimes the “winner” wasn’t really a winner in my eyes, but they always made the most money, which was the tangible and measurable factor by which you gauged “success.”  

Sometimes I agreed with your reasons for “firing” one of the contestants, especially when you thought they used less than ideal or socially acceptable means to earn their day’s money. 

Overall, the show seemed like an aggressive business boot camp where you do or die, make money or go home.

It was very entertaining, and it made me realize that American business and creativity are not dead.  (Though, to be honest, I much prefer the recent “Shark Tank,” where existing small business people vie for investment money.)

Somewhere in there, I recall seeing on TV how you sold Merv Griffin an old apartment building.  Merv was happy, and you got the price you wanted, but in talking about it, I was a bit perplexed that you had to call Merv Griffin names and belittle his character, because you wanted it known that you won and he lost.  I recall wondering, why couldn’t you both have “won”?  You got rid of something you didn’t want, and Merv got something he wanted. Win-win.  But no, you had to demean Merv, for reasons I never knew. Surely a “big businessman” doesn’t resort to such tactics.

Now we see you more often than during the Apprentice in your bid for the presidency.  Let me explain why I am ashamed at what I now see you doing.

Yes, you say you want to make America great again. That’s all fine and dandy.

I was brought up in the world of William Buckley’s Firing Line on Sunday afternoons, where he would debate complex matters with people he disagreed with, always with a smile, always sticking to the issues, never ever stooping to such puerility as calling each other names, as boys do in the bathroom or out on the school yard.

I do not understand why you stoop to 3rd grade bully tactics when talking to and with people who should be, at least on a certain level of abstraction, your colleagues and potential partners.  To bring up Carly Fiorone’s face and to suggest that she is not good looking was a low blow, and unnecessary. Come on, Donald, have you ever looked in a mirror lately?  Everyone ages and beauty is fleeting. The presidency is not a beauty contest.  You have nit-picked every other running mate, in one way or another, in personal attacks that are not worthy of a presidential candidate, and definitely unbecoming and undesirable in an actual president, and nearly always in ways that have nothing at all to do with their ability to run the country.

 I cannot remember another President in my lifetime who ever publicly stooped to such personal attacks. Probably the closest thing was Ronald Reagan saying he was going to whip Jimmy Carter’s ass.  But he never again, to my knowledge, stooped to a gutter level in his interactions with, or his speaking about, Carter or others.

The fact that you continue to do so means that this is a very natural state of mind for you. It is also painfully obvious that you have no one in your inner circle (that you listen to) who tells you the great harm you are doing by this continued childish name-calling. You hurt yourself, at least it seems so. You hurt the Republican party, which to date, has been used to a campaign with at least outward civility. And you hurt the office of the presidency.

Believe me, I am no fan of Hillary in this extraordinary campaign year.  She has out-Nixoned Nixon already, and amazingly, her supporters are legion, who seem not to care about her deep character flaws.

Nevertheless, Mr. Trump, don’t you understand that civility and yes, even politeness and tactfulness, are the hallmarks of a real leader?  I fear that all your money is going to your head, and you believe that  you have so much money, that you can say whatever you want.  Yes, you can, but you bring down our revered institutions each time you belittle another candidate in your childish tirades. Can’t you stick to the real issues upon which a presidency will be involved? 

Your quick and ridiculing and belittling comments are unworthy of a chief of state who will also need to interact other world leaders, whose co-operation is better than their anger.  You will not be able to “fire” other world leaders who do not see things your way.

Yes, I know there are the frustrated masses who like you because you are not politically-correct and because you “speak your mind.”  These are good things, to a point.  Being candid and honest is generally a good thing.  But your “letting it all hang out” is not a good thing.  It is the political version of the Oregon Bhagwan’s free-for-all orgies where anything could and did happen, and eventually the towns organized to eliminate the Bhagwan guru and his followers.  Some people like your style now, and I tremble to say that they like the style which has no substance, and they are swayed by the apparent free-style which has gone out of the bounds of presidential decency. 

Perhaps someone will arise who can be a real uniter, someone who Democrats and Republicans and Independents can unite behind for the good of the country. Perhaps it is time for the rise of a meaningful third party, since the available options are looking increasingly bleak. 

It would be better for the country, and the presidency, Mr. Trump, if you dropped out of the race and went back to your very entertaining Apprentice show, and your many business enterprises which you enjoy so much.  You have not demonstrated the ability to negotiate on a political level, and to bring people together in a common win-win agreement.  At least if you go back to the Apprentice and to your business enterprises, you will be able to call those under your control whatever you wish without international consequences.

Monday, March 07, 2016

An Excerpt from "Ancient Writing on Rocks"

How Did They Get Here, Revisited: BOATS

[This is a section from Nyerges' "Ancient Writing on the Rocks," which describes a site in the Angeles National Forest with two rocks whose inscriptions can be translated into a Western European language, in a style of writing that died out about 1500 years ago. The book is available on Kindle, or as a pdf from the Store at

 Remember, there was a challenge when this first appeared in the local newspaper. I was asked, “How did (they) get all the way over here?”

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.]

To buttress the idea that people from afar have been to North America, one should read the following books:

“Pale Ink” by Henriette Mertz.  Mertz examines two ancient Chinese books, one from 2200 BC and the other from 500 AD, which describe two voyages of exploration. Mertz shows how the geographical data closely match certain areas on the west coast of America. A fascinating read.  How’d they get to America?  Boats, of course.

“The Zuni Enigma” by Nancy Yaw Davis.  [This is the description on Amazon] “Did a group of thirteenth-century Japanese journey to the American Southwest, there to merge with the people, language, and religion of the Zuni tribe? For many years, anthropologists have understood the Zuni in the American Southwest to occupy a special place in Native American culture and ethnography. Their language, religion, and blood type are startlingly different from all other tribes. Most puzzling, the Zuni appear to have much in common with the people of Japan. In a book with groundbreaking implications, Dr. Nancy Yaw Davis examines the evidence underscoring the Zuni enigma, and suggests the circumstances that may have led Japanese on a religious quest--searching for the legendary "middle world" of Buddhism--across the Pacific and to the American Southwest more than seven hundred years ago.” 
And how would these Japanese have gotten across the Pacific?  Boats, of course.

Maya Genesis” by Graeme Kearsley. [This is the description on Amazon]  “The prime theme of this work is a comparison of the iconography of the remarkable Mayan civilization of central and south America, with that of India. It goes on to delineate the similarities between the mythologies of the Mayan people and those of the Mediterranean, China and Japan, Polynesia and ancient Egypt, amongst others. These similarities cannot be labeled coincidental. Did these mythologies erupt spontaneously from the collective unconscious of mankind, or is the more prosaic explanation to be found in the study of oceanic trading routes and sea-borne migrations? Presents a convincing and deeply-researched case that the mythology and iconography of Mesoamerica were widely and deeply influenced by those of India -- and the Ganges Delta in particular.”
How would people from India have gotten to the Maya lands in the distant past?  Boats, of course.

 “1421: The Year China Discovered America” by Gavin Menzies.  This one is all about boats! [This is the description on Amazon]  “On March 8, 1421, the largest fleet the world had ever seen set sail from China to "proceed all the way to the ends of the earth to collect tribute from the barbarians beyond the seas." When the fleet returned home in October 1423, the emperor had fallen, leaving China in political and economic chaos. The great ships were left to rot at their moorings and the records of their journeys were destroyed. Lost in the long, self-imposed isolation that followed was the knowledge that Chinese ships had reached America seventy years before Columbus and had circumnavigated the globe a century before Magellan. And they colonized America before the Europeans, transplanting the principal economic crops that have since fed and clothed the world.”
Yes, a controversial book, but well worth reading.

In Gloria Farley’s book, “In Plain View,” she devotes an entire chapter to New World inscription that appear to show Old World boats. Farley tells you her opinion on who drew the inscriptions, and where they came from.
Clearly, ancient people were well aware of boats and they traveled far and wide upon the waters. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

End Daylight Savings Time

Why should we continue this useless relic from the past?

Let’s return to Standard Time All Year!

[Christopher Nyerges writes a regular blog at, posts regular YouTube videos, and has led outdoor trips since 1974.  He is the author of How to Survive Anywhere, Extreme Simplicity, Foraging California and other books. He can also be reached via School of Self-Reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.]
Our lawmakers, in their infinite wisdom, continue to tinker with time.  Manipulate the clocks and we can trick the people into saving energy.  And twice a year, we are all subject to the changes and inconveniences that occur as a result of the springing forward or falling back.  We have to quickly adjust.  It is part of our annual ritual, our relic from the past, where we go back to standard time from  daylight savings time.  And now we are expected to extend this “better” time a few more weeks.

But are there real and tangible benefits from doing this?  Must  we continue to do so?

Daylight savings time is a manipulation of the basic solar time within each time zone’s standard.  It was said to be an idea of Benjamin Franklin, and was begun in the United States during world wars one and two, and eventually became “official” in all but two states. That right!  At least two states have said “No, thanks, we’ll stick to standard time.”

Indeed, daylight savings time is like a quaint tradition of a bygone era that refuses to die.  It is a pointless habit with little recognizable merit.  Michael Downing, author of “Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Savings Time,” demonstrates that the clock-change saves energy in theory only, but not in practice.

David Letterman once asked the question to his audience during his monologue: “Why do we practice daylight savings time?  It’s so the farmers have more light,” he laughed, answering his own question.  “But how does that give the plants more light?”  That’s a Letterman joke for you, but there is a truth hidden under his humor.  Most people queried on the street don’t know why we have daylight savings time, and fewer still experience any tangible benefits from it.

There are two often-cited reasons for the use of daylight savings time.  One is so that the children can have more light going to school in the morning.  But consider:  the  children have an hour more of morning light in late October, when the clock is set back (“fall back”) to standard time.  That is, it is the very use of daylight savings time which creates a darker morning as the days get shorter and shorter.  The “falling back” an hour merely puts us back in sync with the local time zone.  It is the use of daylight savings time that created the problem of less light in the morning, and only in that sense can you say that the “falling back” to regular time gives children that extra hour of light.  In other words, this is a problem caused by daylight savings time.  This is not a bonafide benefit from daylight savings time.

My grandfather, and all my uncles on my mother’s side were farmers.  I have some knowledge of the schedule of farmers.  There is not one that I know who does not arise at the crack of dawn, if not sooner.  There is no other way to function as a farmer.  You then proceed to work as long as needed, and as long as you are able, daylight savings time or standard time.  The manipulation of clocks in no way affected how much work they got done, or not done. 

I have talked to many people about daylight savings time. Some like it, some do not. Some are annoyed by it, some find the long afternoons of summer very enjoyable.  Everyone has arrived late (or early) on the first Sunday (even Monday in some cases) after the changing of the clocks.  Daylight savings time thus gives millions of people a quasi-valid excuse for lateness at least once a year.

Let’s end daylight savings time entirely and adopt a year-round standard time.

Those who wish to start school or go to work earlier can do so!  Such voluntary time alterations are fine if those individuals and businesses choose to do so. It may even make the freeways less crowded at rush hours.  But keep the standard time year-round.

Yes, this is a small thing in the context of a world at war, with hate and suspicion in all political camps, and endless economic hardships all over the world.  In that big-picture sense, this is just a little issue.  But this is still an issue that should be resolved, and dealt with.

Since daylight savings time is a state-by-state decision, we can begin with California. Write to Governor Brown and ask him to implement year-round standard time. You can write to Brown at Office of the Governor, State Capitol, Sacramento, CA 95814, or phone at 916) 445-2841, or on-line at  (if you live in another state, write to your governor if you agree).

Take a poll of your friends and acquaintances before you write to the Governor.  See if you can find anyone who derives tangible benefits from daylight savings time.  Secondly, there is always the initiative process where a Proposition can be put on the ballot to be voted on by the people.  This is a process that would take an organized effort and cost at least a million dollars, and probably more.  

An Earthquake Toilet Test: Excerpt from "Squatter in Los Angeles"

[This is an excerpt from "Squatter in Los Angeles," available as a Kindle book, or a pdf from the Store at]

The reason I was living there in Highland Park was because I was attracted to the work of the non-profit, whose stated goal was to research and share all aspects of “survival.”  I took on a project of experimenting with the practicality of using an alternate toilet, such as would be necessary in the aftermath of a major Los Angeles earthquake.

We purchased an inexpensive RV toilet from Big 5, and it consisted of a simple 3 gallon plastic bucket which fit into a larger bucket, which had a toilet seat and lid.  The plan was to exclusively use this simple bucket toilet in my home for a period of three months.  I kept records and the idea was to ascertain the practicality of such a toilet after an earthquake, and to share those results with whomever would be interested.

I set up the toilet near the regular indoor toilet, but turned off the water of the regular toilet so people would not be tempted to use it. I put a notebook and pen near the toilet so people would write relevant notes after they used it – especially guests.

Though we had occasional guests, it was mostly the three of us in the household who used it.  We had a rotation system of who got to empty it, and no one was enthusiastic about this aspect of the project.  When the bucket was nearly full, one of us would take it out to a trench that I dug in the yard, and bury the contents, and cover the contents with straw, earthworms, and worm castings. The toilet-bucket would be washed out, and put back into the bathroom. 

Otherwise, this simple bucket toilet was not difficult to setup or to use.

Part of our challenge was to test various methods of combating the “outhouse odor” which most people find offensive, and which also attracts flies.  We tried some blue powder that came with the RV toilet, and it seemed to work OK at keeping down the odor. We also added lemon juice added to the toilet after each use, and this also worked as well as the blue powder.  We didn’t want to rely on the blue powder product provided by the manufacturer, since in a “survival situation” when we actually would need to use this toilet, we’d probably not be able to readily get more of the mysterious blue powder.

We tried a variety of odor-beaters, and found that a lemon juice and/or baking soda combination was nearly ideal.

We began to try wood ash instead of baking powder or lemon juice.  I used a little wood stove out in the yard for cooking, and so we had a steady supply of ashes. Wood ashes are absorbent and they reduce odors, and it does make sense that just about anyone anywhere could get wood ashes. Wood ashes added to the toilet after every use worked out fine, with minimal odors and no flies.

Such a simple system like this could be done in the aftermath of an emergency when  sewer drains are  broken, and as long as the participants emptied the bucket regularly and covered the hole where the contents were buried, this would be somewhat convenient and should be hygienic. 

You could also use such a system as this on a more or less permanent basis if you were in the backwoods, too far from sewer lines and utilities – though making an outbuilding (as people did for centuries) is a much more permanent way to have a toilet.

I eventually filled and covered two of the trenches into which we poured the toilet contents during the duration of the test.  Again, each was covered with compost and earthworms after each emptying of the toilet, and the worms rapidly decomposed the contents. After about a month of covering up the trenches, I planted tomatoes in each trench, and added some trellises for the plants to grow over. The tomato plants grew surprisingly well, and were insect-free.  The plants took about two months before the fruit was ripe, and so I took a basket of the ripe fruit and added it to a salad that I made and served at one of the functions of the non-profit. 

When the meal was served, I said that I had grown the tomatoes, and everyone said they were beautiful and tasty as they ate their salads.  I’m not sure how it came up, but someone did ask me when our meal was nearly over how exactly I grew the tomatoes, and so I told them. One woman abruptly put her fork down and ate no more of the salad, and her face exhibited both disdain and disgust during the rest of that meeting. I could tell that she felt as if I had done something bad to her.

However, if you think through the biological processes involved, the tomatoes were completely safe. If the woman got ill afterwards, it was primarily from her own psychological reaction to eating tomatoes grown in decomposed feces. On the other hand, a few people congratulated me for the “daring” experiment.

In retrospect, the toilet test wasn’t simply about learning to deal with catastrophes.  It taught me a very important lesson about dealing with human feces.  It’s not really all that hard or complicated  to deal with if you do things properly.  Because part of my drive in life was to live ecologically and to take responsibility for all the resources that came into my life, I tried to grow my own food, and recycle as much as possible. It was clear to me back then that modern societies, packed together in houses in neighborhoods, are often designed in such a way that the residents are unable to deal ecologically with their own wastes.  Such was not always the case.

In fact, for the long stretch of human history, human waste was either a useful resource, as well as a source of disease and death, depending on how the people handled things. I wanted my waste to be the resource it was intended to be, not the major water waster that it has become in our society.

Over the years, I have been to the homes of friends who composted their own bodily wastes.  Some did something right because you had no clue that’s what they were doing.  In one case, the entire side yard of the woman’s home smelled of urine. It wasn’t overtly strong, and the next door neighbor probably didn’t even notice it, but we noticed it when we visited.  She was doing something wrong.

In another case, a friend composted his urine and feces and scattered it about the trees and bushes in the yard. Part of the yard reeked of the obvious odor of old urine.  Fortunately, he had a large yard and far from the noses of neighbors, but I noticed it and told him about it.  Composting human wastes shouldn’t be offensive to our senses.  I was informed that maybe wild animals were using the yard as a toilet – an insult to what little intelligence I have -- so I never brought it up again.

About 7 or 8 years after the squatting time ended, I was living with Dolores on our little plot of land, growing our food and raising chickens.  [We wrote about that time in our “Extreme Simplicity” book].

I continued to experiment with toilet alternatives during that time, and I did use an outdoor toilet that I devised which had no smell and produced compost quickly.   

You can read all about it in the "Extreme Simplicity" book, available from Amazon or

Monday, February 08, 2016

The Lupercalian Roots of St. 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.]

OK, follow along closely -- there will be a quiz.

In the pre-Christian era, 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 2015, 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?  And how have we come to associate Valentinus with chocolates and hearts and lovers and all 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 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  (that’s my theory anyway, even though most historians disagree with me.)

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.

When you read Fromm’s book, you will learn that “real love” is not something you “fall –into,” but rather something that requires hard work to master. In fact, despite what most people think, sex is not synonymous with love, and is only one aspect of what “real love” is all about. The Real Love that Fromm speaks of is that driving force that compels people to do heroic “superhuman” acts of bravery and generosity, for family, for a spouse, for children, for city, even for one’s country.  The Real Love that Fromm spends a whole book talking about is the driving force behind all that is good in society and life.  It is the deep feeling and deep desire that compels people to rise up out of their little selfs and do, and become, something greater.  Try to obtain a copy of “The Art of Loving” and read it. It will be far more challenging than anything you’ve heard in a very long time on your TV or in your newspaper.