Friday, October 02, 2015

Excerpt from "Til Death Do Us Part?"

Today, October 2, would have been Dolores' birthday. After she died in 2008, I wrote a book, "Til Death Do Us Part?" which talked about our lessons and practices regarding death, as well as detailing how we dealt with her death.  She stipulated in her will that her body be left alone for 3 days after death, and we honored that request. You can read some of those details in Memoriam at This excerpt is what happened after the 3 days, when we were required by law to call 911 and report the death.  You can get the full book at Kindle, or from the Store at

            On Friday, we powwowed in the morning to decide the next course of action. I’d found a place to do the cremation as Dolores wished.  I was about to use a well-known company, and received a phone call at a timely moment about another lesser-known company that provided the same service at half the cost.  Indeed, this phone call saved “us” a thousand dollars.  I am sure that Dolores would have been happy to save money on her own cremation.  In fact, she and I often lamented the fact that we couldn’t (legally) just be buried in our own backyard, or set up a funeral rack or cremation rack like the Indians of the Plains did a few hundred years back.
            I made all the arrangements with this more economical company, and explained that Dolores had died on Tuesday and was still at home.  They told me that they would not do anything until after the County Coroner was called, following all legal protocol.  So, I planned to have as many friends at the house as possible once I called 911 – which was how the procedure started.  I wanted to have good support once the police and the others arrived.  I was told that I should also be prepared for the possibility of being arrested, this was definitely not the legal protocol for dealing with death.  Before noon, Marilyn, Prudence, Julie, and Victor assembled.  I called 911, and explained the situation.  My heart was pounding.  I said, “Please do not come with sirens blaring.  Dolores has been dead three days.”  “OK,” I was assured.
            Within 10 minutes, the circus began as paramedics and police arrived. I had propped open the front gate and door so they could all just come in and out at will.  A female police office stood around and observed while five or six paramedics filed in and out of the bathroom to examine Dolores.  Marilyn represented herself as my minister, and she took a lot of pressure off of me as I was being questioned.  It turned out that Marilyn actually knew the police officer’s commanding officer through some of her community work.   Marilyn was incredibly helpful. 
            The fire department investigator first spoke to me for about 45 minutes, trying to fit my responses into the boxes on his form.  “This is very unusual,” he kept saying.  “We haven’t seen a case like this for a very long time.”  But he was very interested in what we all did to preserve the body.  “How did you know how to do all that?” he asked with genuine curiosity.  “Was it some sort of Egyptian thing?” he asked, apparently referring to ancient Egyptians’ practice of mummification. 
            “We just did it,” I told him. “We just proceeded step by step, trying to fulfill Dolores’ wishes in the best way we knew how.” I told him that we had never done anything like this before, but we knew about the preservative qualities of Aloe, and we just did what made the most sense, and watched the results.
            Next, the police officer asked me the same questions, but she seemed a bit more suspicious than the fire department investigator.  But after awhile, she told me that foul play had been ruled out and they decided there was no need to remove Dolores’ body to the coroner downtown.  There was no need for an autopsy.  I was free to call the mortuary to remove Dolores’ body for cremation, and they all left by 2 p.m. 
            Prudence and Marilyn were stunned by this, pointing out how unprecedented that was to not remove the body for some autopsy, especially under such unusual circumstances.  And yet, we also knew that Dolores’ wishes were being fulfilled as there would be no unnecessary cutting up of her body.
            Interestingly, Dolores’ death certificate says day of death is December 12, which is the date the coroner inspected the body, not the day she actually died.
            I then called the mortuary that I’d arranged to do the cremation.  Within 30 minutes, two very polite black-tied men arrived and carefully removed Dolores from her three-day resting place “shrine.”  They placed her on a gurney and wheeled her away as I said my last tearful goodbyes, with Nellie by my side wagging her tail.
            Nellie ran around pensively, and I wondered what Nellie was aware of and if she sensed Dolores’ passing.
            Suddenly the house was empty.  I was exhausted and I wasn’t going to jail.  Dolores was gone.  I sat for awhile and stared out the window at the tall dead lamb’s quarter plants that attracted sparrows who ate the seeds.   I felt tired, empty, but I liked looking at the little birds who found food where there appeared to be none.
            I wondered to myself, now what?  What will I do with the rest of my life?  I ‘d grown so close to Dolores as a friend.  I had developed so much respect for her, and saw her as a near-saint, and I had felt absolutely honored to work with her, to assist her, and to be a part of her life.  Now I stared into the void.
            After awhile, Fikret came over and offered to drive me to the post office, one of my well-known daily rituals.  He sensed that I could use a rest, and he said I shouldn’t be driving.  We talked about mundane things and occasionally about Dolores.  I could tell he wanted me to be happy. 
            Fikret drove to the post office so I could get the daily mail, and then we drove over to the Taco Spot in Eagle Rock.  We had a delicious lunch, though it was less than satisfying for me.  I ate slowly and thoughtfully.  I know my body needed the food, but the simple act of eating reminded me of all my days with Dolores where I could barely find the time to make a meal for myself. Dolores, on her deathbed, had to remind me each day to eat.  I didn’t want to cry in front of Fikret, so I talked about what he’d do when he returned to Germany.
            Time took on a different element.  I realized I was eating slowly because once I finished eating, I would have to get up and make some decisions about going somewhere else and doing something else.  That sounds ridiculous now, but time took on a wholly different nature.  I wasn’t sure who I was.  I was no longer sure what was my driving force in my day to day world.  In fact, I looked around at things a lot that day. It was the first time I’d been out without the pressure of worrying about Dolores’ well-being.  The world was a different place.  Everything was the same, but everything was different.....

Thursday, October 01, 2015


[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere” and has led wilderness trips since 1974.  He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or]

            A friend and I were talking, and he said, “I’d really like to see a book that tells you how to survive with next to nothing, as if you had just survived a hurricane or a tsunami.” 
            “Really?” I responded. “Well, I wrote that book, and it’s called ‘How to Survive Anywhere’.”
            “Oh, that’s right,” my friend responded. “I forgot that it tells you how to start again if you’ve lost just about everything.  And I’d also like to see a book that just tells you how to live more reliantly, and be more self-sufficient.”
            “Really?”  I said. “Well, I wrote that book too. It’s ‘How to Survive Anywhere’.”  My friend laughed, and told me that he had my book on his shelf for 6 months but hadn’t actually read it.
            “Yeah, George,” I told him, “the book is worthless if you don’t read it. You want the information in your head, not in the pages.”
            So the reason that “How to Survive Anywhere” can be useful in the city when you’re trying to be more self-reliant, and in the wilderness where you have nothing, and in a rural environment, is because I grouped the book by major categories,  not specific scenarios.
            I address the major concerns with water and how to store it and purify it. I address wild food in nature, how to grow food and what to grow, and how to store food. I deal with shelters, clothing, electricity, fire, weapons, tools, and more, always focusing both on high-tech as well as primitive.
            I began to quiz my friend with some of the material in my book. Here are some of the questions I asked him:
Q: What is the Water Purification “Rule of Three”?
Q: What is the universal method of water purification?
Q: What is the most widely ignored “water source” for urban dwellers?
Q: If your car breaks down in a remote area, what are four EASY ways to make a fire?
Q: Aside from a butane lighter, what is the best single device you can carry for making fire?
Q: How do you make a fire from reading glasses?
Q: How can you sterilize water in the sun?
Q: If you have no water and no soap, what is the best way to “stay clean”?
Q: What are the two items everyone should ALWAYS carry?
Q: What is the single worst item of “men’s clothing”?
Q: What is the single worst item of “women’s clothing?”
Q: What is a simple ways to make a pack for carrying things?
Q: What are the 3 common kitchen foods that are fantastic first aid medicines?
            We had a great discussion with these and several more questions, and it’s really the same material that I teach in my college course.
            Yes, I hope you get the book and read the answers, but here they are in a nutshell:
Filter, settle, and boil.  Boil. Rain. Use the battery with jumper cables, the cigarette lighter, the flare, and the reflector around the headlamp.  A magnesium fire starter. Use them like a magnifying glass. Put a quart of water in a glass jar for four hours in the sun.  Do a dry wash with a soft brush.  Knife and fire-starter.  The tie. High heels. Tie up a pair of long pants so that the legs become the straps. Lemon, garlic, and vinegar.  OK?

            If you have questions or comments, please write.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Squatter In Los Angeles: An excerpt

Here's another short excerpt from "Squatter in Los Angeles," my e-book which is available on Kindle, or from the Store at as a pdf.  I'd love to hear your comments.


Part of the underpinnings for my philosophy of what I did stemmed from my reading of the Plain Truth magazine back when I was still living with my parents. I’d read about subjects such as agriculture, and various social ills. I’d have long discussions with Nathaniel Schleimer.  We were high school buddies, inseparable, and we’d go into Eaton Canyon at night, and sit and talk. We were both hikers, backpackers, bicyclists.  We both had a love and respect for the natural world, not as nature-worshippers exactly, but from the standpoint that our life is dependent on the life of the planet.

We knew without having to earn a PhD that to stay in radiant health, you had to exercise, and drink good water, and eat good food, and think good thoughts. Neither Nathaniel nor I were optimistic about the state of the affairs of the world. We didn’t have to look far to see that the system was constantly being stretched beyond its limits by too many people, all needing to eat, and the growers and deliverers and processors of food all finding ways to take shortcuts to feed the masses.  That’s why we got interested in wild foods. We didn’t think we were particularly special, but we knew that a step in the right direction was to learn the skills of self-reliance, one by one, little by little. 

We were still young, and still living with our parents, but we seemed to work out the general and most sensible path for survival.  We saw dark clouds looming for this country, and though we hadn’t yet risen to the level of being concerned about our fellow man, we wanted to survive ourselves. 

By the time I’d graduated from high school, I wanted nothing more than to live this life, and living on a farm made the most sense.  I moved to Chardon, Ohio and lived on my grandfather’s farm with my brother and my uncle for 7 months.   

Still, since I didn’t have the tools and resources to actually live the life I wanted to live there, I came back to California.  My interests coincided with the non-profit WTI of Highland Park, a small group of people who had taken up roots in a ruralish-seeming part of Los Angeles.  They were sometimes described to me as people who were trying to live country in the city, an ideal that appealed to me. As Nathaniel and I often lamented, why do so many of us backpackers go into the wilderness and practice their high degree of concern for the land and water and resource-use, but then return back home and practice the same tired wastefulness as everyone else?  Why not “be here now,” and “be the example of what you want to see in the world,” as others have said?

So when I was in the unenviable position of being a squatter, these are many of the ideas that ran through my mind each day.  Here I am, now, and I can live and practice these principles, more or less unfettered.  Just do it!  I was still in the position of having few monetary resources, but lots of ideas, sufficient time, and good health so that I had no excuses for not living what I believed.

I have many times thought back to my friend Joe who I’d invite to my high school to speak about ecology and natural living. Joe had the words, and the ideas, and the concepts.  Yet, once when I visited Joe and began to ask him some questions about what he personally did to be a part of the solution, he disappointed me by asserting that “nothing will change without government intervention.”  I found that absurd, and still do.  Of course, I am writing this decades later, and I have a greater perspective now. I remember reading about the “re-education” camps of  the North Vietnamese, and of Pol Pot.  In those extreme cases, “government intervention” simply meant “do it the way we tell you or we kill you.”  Is that really what’s required to change the world?

Well, to be fair, Joe did have a point, to a degree.  However, I have slowly come to the realization that no one can change the world, you can only change yourself, and your habits and behavior. Now, that  might affect others who see your example. Maybe. They see “something better,” something that rings true and they try it in their own way in their own life. You’ve affected one person by changing your behavior.  Then, the idea catches on. Why didn’t we think of this before? It become almost the norm, and then little by little, further refinements in our thinking and in our actions.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Interview with Vine Deloria Jr., author of "God is Red"


Vine Deloria Jr., named by Time magazine one of the greatest religious thinkers of the 20th Century, is a prominent Native American scholar and author of 24 books (such as God is Red, Custer Died for Your Sins, Evolution, Creationism, and Other Modern Myths, etc.).  A retired Professor or Political Science at the University of Arizona, and Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Colorado, he has been executive director of the National Congress of American Indians  and a member of the National Office for Rights of the Indigent. 

As the editor of Wilderness Way magazine, I interviewed Vine Deloria Jr. so that the publication of the interview would coincide with the 30th anniversary edition of his God is Red: A Native View of Religion [Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, Colorado]   I interviewed Deloria in January of 2004; he died in Novemeber 13, 2005 at age 72.  In fact, the interview was never published because the publisher/owner of the magazine believed the title of Deloria’s book, “God is Red,” would offend Christian readers, a position that I found absurd.

God is Red is a vast narrative, broad in scope. Deloria begins with the “Indian unrest” of the 1960s,where younger Indians began to assert their land rights, which had long been abused or ignored. He then proceeds to explain the many counterfeits of Native American Religion, as well as explaining some of the core principles of Native American religion.  According to Wilma Mankiller, former Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, “The flagship book on Native American spirituality remains Vine Deloria’s God Is Red.  He does an outstanding job of translating complex spiritual issues into very simple truths.” 

Here is the text of that interview, minus some sections that I found uninteresting, or where Deloria felt that he had little to say.

WW: Your wealth of knowledge is vast. I was constantly amazed as I read God is Red at the scope of your references in diverse fields. First, I’d like to know if you’ve ever gotten negative feedback from anyone thinking the title was either racist or exclusive?

DELORIA:  Oh, I hardly got any kickback about the title at all.  In fact, the book escaped with very little criticism.  Of course, you should attribute some of the lack of criticism to the fact that it deals with Indians -- an exotic commodity.

WW: When you discussed the aftermath of the 1960s, you mentioned that many non-Indian youth were attracted to Indian-ness but settled for the counterfeits. You referred to the shamans popping up all over the place and charging outrageous prices for “religion.” You mentioned the great popularity of authors such as the non-Indian Lynn Andrews, the probably fictitious works of Carlos Castaneda, and the “new tribe” of Sun Bear’s – among others. Can you comment on the significance of their popularity, and what’s wrong with these examples and others like them?

DELORIA:  In the world of ideas, American and appropriators,  Indian culture becomes a kind of deli where people pick and choose what they want to practice.  Much of the appropriation is the projection of wishful thinking on different Indian symbols, such as Vision Quest, Sweat lodge, using the pipe, etc.  People take the symbol and endow it with their own personal beliefs about who Indians are. My fear was that with so many Indians living in the cities with no experience with reservation communities, some of them would begin to think that the frauds actually represented the true tribal cultures.  I can remember how popular the Billy Jack movies were and many Indian youths thought the "ceremonies" in that movie were what people actually did.  A lot of it sounded good to people who knew nothing about real Indian culture. And simply being an Indian in the urban areas does not somehow magically mean you know anything of the traditional tribal culture.

WW: In Custer Died For Your Sins, you stated that the reason “the hippies” failed was that (though they were interested in things Indian), they failed to grasp the value of organizing tribally, and ignored the value of customs.  Since they were also taking drugs, and had little work ethic, would you agree that that “movement” failed due to laziness? That is, was it their very laziness that led to so many in that movement seeking an “easy” religious path?

DELORIA:  I think the Hippies failed for lack of discipline and commitment.  People tried to create communities from scratch and it didn't work.  People were sincere, but they often lacked anything in common except a rebellious spirit.  And, in fact, a lot of Indian communities today have the very same problem!  Extreme individualism is chaos and unjust to everyone.

WW: Wallace Black Elk died in January of this year. What do you think about his teachings, and his work establishing lodges in diverse parts of the world?

DELORIA:  Well, Wallace made some flamboyant claims, more so with a non-Indian audience than with a predominantly Indian audience.  I can't find anywhere in the Sioux tradition that says medicine men have to become missionaries and spread the tribal religion .  I got along with him personally but was not a follower.  It is difficult to criticize the man when he had so many disciples who were ready to fight if you questioned him.  Poor things -- many of them had only Wallace as their example of traditional Sioux ways - and he wasn't that traditional.

WW. Would you say that you wrote God is Red to waken up Indian people, or did you write it to all peoples?

DELORIA: I wrote it mostly to try and build a context to explain the religious motivation behind some of the activism.  People said they wanted land restored, but deep down they really wanted the Old Ways restored.  But the Old Ways were declared superstitions by most scholars, so I tried to demonstrate that the rejected topics of interest in the modern world were in fact pointing at a more spiritual understanding of the world that could be found in the tribal traditions.

WW: You bring up a very thought-provoking point in your book when you mentioned how Oral Roberts told his followers (some years ago) that he needed something like $10 million for a new building or God would “take me home.” As I read it, your analogy is that televangelists and cults, etc. are to mainstream Christianity as the modern traveling shamans are to traditional tribal religion. Would you agree with that assessment?

DELORIA:  Yes, except the televangelists are much worse.  They thirst for political power whereas the medicine men, even the phoneys, simply want some public recognition and status.

WW: To what have you attributed the non-Indians great interest in things Indian? Do you feel that the Christian and other churches are failing?

DELORIA:  Belief in Christianity has been eroding badly all through the 20th century. Much of it now is mindless recitation of the old story and unquestioned belief or a strange amalgam of contemporary culture and the effort to perpetuate institutional loyalties and activities.  Aside from self-induced experiences of fundamentalists,  people rarely find emotional assurance for themselves.  Indian religions are seen by non-Indians as a way to have real religious experiences -- although I doubt that they have any experiences in depth.  Beneath everything, however, is the desperate need to feel at home.

WW: Where would you direct someone who wanted to find a way to follow the Red Way, the Native American Religion(s). Are there paths where anyone is welcome?

DELORIA:  Well, I don't make recommendations that would encourage people to bother Indians in that regard. A real involvement with traditional religion is quite exhausting and requires immense concentration and almost continuous presence in an Indian community.  I doubt that most villages would welcome outsiders for the necessary period of time.

WW: What advice, if any, do you make to Native Americans who seem to have lost their own cultural roots?

DELORIA: A significant number of Indians have lost not only cultural ties but an appreciation for the powers of real medicine people. I sponsored some conferences on traditional knowledge a decade ago and we began to learn the power and reality behind some of the knowledge. It changed the views of almost everyone who attended.  Since then, I have been working with younger people who are serious about the recovery of the old knowledge and am quite optimistic that they will radically change the way Indians see themselves.

WW: Are you familiar with the book The Pipe and Christ ?  The author --  a priest -- attempted to define many similarities between Christianity and Native American religion(s). Do you feel that Native American religion is essentially in conflict, or complementary, to Christianity (or for that matter, to Buddhism, Judaism, any mainstream religion).

DELORIA:  The task of theologians and religious scholars is to draw comparisons between religions. Unfortunately, they treat beliefs and customs as if they were doctrines and dogmas and generally miss the whole point of a religion.  He is not the first nor will he be the last to draw these comparisons,  thereby distorting both religions for the sake of logic.  Joseph Epes Brown already did it in THE SACRED PIPE -- it didn't change a thing.

God is Red: A Native View of Religion by Vine Deloria Jr. is available at bookstores.  It is published by Fulcrum Publishing, 16100 Table Mountain Parkway, Suite 300, Golden, CO 80403, (800) 992-2908,

Monday, September 14, 2015

Collecting Rain Water

caption: Kevin Sutherland examines the rain barrels.

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

At the home of Carol Kampe in Pasadena, California, nearly all the rain that falls on her roof is collected in rain barrels. She showed me the down-spout of the southwest corner of the house which drained into a rain barrel.  This was a large plastic barrel –the type that I’d seen used to import pickles into the United States.  The entire lid could be screwed off to gain access to the water. The top had been modified with a screen to remove debris that came down from the roof, and a spigot was added to the bottom so one could easily use the collected rain water.

Kampe has  10 rain-collecting barrels strategically located to collect the most rain from the house and garage roofs.  Two of the barrels were 65 gallons each, and the other eight were 60 gallons each.  The rain thus collected is used for outdoor purposes only – watering her fruit trees and other plants in the yard.

“Generally, I have enough rain water in my barrels to last me until August,” says Kampe.   This means that she is able to rely on the rain for watering her yard for approximately 2/3 of the year.  She estimates that she saves perhaps $300 a month in payments to the water company.

“But I don’t do this for economic reasons,” Kampe adds.  “I do it because we live in a desert here in Southern California.  Water will become more critical as time goes on.  So it is just a shame to waste all this good rain.”

Kampe has a common-sense approach to her rain harvesting, something that is easy to do and is both ecological and economical. 

She was living in her home just a few years and then purchased seven of the rain-collecting barrels. She has since added three  more. The barrels were purchased for about $100 each by a company that modifies the pickle barrels into rain-collecting barrels.  The company also provides hoses so that the barrels can be connected “daisy-chain,” so that the overflow of one barrel fills other barrels. 

Rain barrels are not light, and water weighs a little over 8 pounds a gallon.  That means a 60 gallon barrel full of rain water weighs in the neighborhood of 480 pounds.  So when planning a rain collecting system like this, one has to recognize that the full barrel is not going to be moved.  Other barrels can be connected to the barrel under the downspout so that the overflow can be collected in a spot away from the house.

Also, Kampe is able to simply unscrew the lid of her rain barrels and scoop out water as needed for individual plants.

Kampe laughed at all the current talk about “living green” as if it were something new.  “We were doing all this back in the 1970s,” she says, describing how they recycled and collected rain in Indiana.

Emphasizing the need to save and conserve water where you have a desert and an ever-increasing population, Kampe echoes Santyana, pointing out that “anyone who doesn’t read history is doomed to repeat it.”

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Storage Wars TV show

caption: Ivy, star of Storage Wars, and Christopher

[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Squatter in Los Angeles,” and other books. He has led wilderness expeditions since 1974. He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or]

One day I get a call out of the blue.

”Do you know anything about solar ovens?”

”I suppose so,” I responded. “I’ve taught people how to make low-cost solar cookers for 20 or so years, and  give the step-by-step process in my “How to Survive Anywhere” book.”

“We’re looking for a solar oven expert.  Are you a solar oven expert?” asked the man on the phone. He identified himself as a producer with the Storage Wars show. This is a program where various individuals bid on the contents of storage units that the owners quit paying for. The show tracks each of the bidders to see what they get in the storage units. Sometimes they get junk, and sometimes they get some real interesting things. They hope that what they end up with is worth more than they bid on the unit.

“Have you ever seen the show,” the man asked me.

“Nope, I’ve never even heard of it.” The producer laughed. 

“That’s OK,” he told me.  “It sounds like you know about solar cookers.”  He went on to explain that one of the stars of the show purchased the contents of a storage unit, and has an object that is believed to be a solar cooker. “We want you to look at it, on film, and tell him what he purchased.”

I said OK.

I explained to him that all of this could be done in about 10 minutes in my own backyard, but I was told that they wanted to do the segment in a more natural setting, preferably somewhere in the desert.

We agreed on a day, and a man in a fast car picked me up one morning and whisked me out to the desert, beyond Palm Springs, in a very wild-seeming area.

The star of the show, Ivy, rides up in his SUV, and we meet and greet, and we set up the box he brought me. I’d never seen that particular solar oven before, but it was a top-of-the-line Australian solar oven called the Sun Cook solar oven. I opened it and showed Ivy how to use it, and we even put some eggs and sausage into a pan to cook. 

It was overcast when we started, but then the sky cleared as Ivy and I did a short walkabout, looking at the desert plants.

When we came back, the breakfast was done and we feasted on some sun-cooked food.
The Storage Wars show focuses on the dollar value of the items so I had to give him a dollar figure of what I thought the oven was worth. It was not new, but I estimated it could probably fetch $450 at Ivy’s secondhand store in the high desert, and $450 was a bit more than he paid for all the contents of  the storage unit.

It was an enjoyable day. If you want to view it, go to  My segment comes in at 20:53.

Cooking with the sun is an ancient art. But modern solar ovens are quite another thing. At home, I have the American-made Sun Oven, which cooks about as fast as being on a gas oven if the day is hot and sunny. It easily gets up to 350 degrees f. temperature.

Simple low-cost solar ovens are easily made.  I begin with a box that has a lid, such as the boxes where reams of paper are stored. I find a smaller box that goes into the bigger box, and I fill the space between the boxes with crumpled newspaper for insulation. I line the smaller inner box with tin foil, and then I cut a hole in the lid and secure a pane of glass to it. That’s really all there is to it, and this low-cost solar cooker doesn’t cook as quickly as a commercial model, but it still works well.  [All the details can be found in my “How to Survive Anywhere” book, available anywhere.]

Monday, August 31, 2015

Naked and Afraid TV show

[Paul Campbell sets up a quail trap]

Christopher talks about training contestants for "Naked and Afraid."

[Nyerges is a teacher and self-reliance instructor who has been teaching since 1974.  He is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” and other books. He can be reached at, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.]

Yes, that was me you saw in the very beginning of the Nicaragua episode of “Naked and Afraid,” one of the latest in a series of TV shows which contain not much entertainment and mostly useless information.

If you haven’t heard of the show, it’s one of the many “reality” shows pandering to the current interest in “survival skills.”  A decade or more ago, it all began with “Survivor,” which was a contest to win a million dollars if you could survive to the end of all the competitions. It was like Regis’ “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” in costume. Since then, there has been “Dual Survival,” “Tethered,” “Alone,” and many other so-called reality shows where we see what it takes for a few guys to eke out a meal in the woods without killing each other.

I’ve heard good things about “Naked and Afraid” because it’s not a contest, per se. Your task is to just be out in the woods, with no clothes, and just a few pieces of gear that the producers let you have. The people who took off their clothes for the show were all some sort of survival expert, and some lasted a few days, and others made it through the full three weeks.

But I’d never actually seen the show when the producers called and asked if I’d train two upcoming contestants. They wanted to have a show with two fans, viewers who were not survival experts.  They wanted me to give them sufficient training so they’d at least have a chance.

I agreed to train them and scheduled a day to be with each contestant. The producer explained to me what skills were most important.  The two people would be given a choice a few items, and they would not be allowed to pick up and use any random debris that they happened to find during their experience. Everything I taught had to be based on natural materials.

I spent each day going through the same regimen of skills with each contestant.

I shared how to purify water (boil it!), how to make twine from natural fibre, and how to make a net. The net could theoretically be used to make clothing.  I taught them how to make fire using two of the most ancient methods: the bow and drill, and the hand drill. Each of them succeeded in producing a coal using the materials I had brought.
We also spent time making a lean-to, which would be the most probably sort of shelter to set up for a two-week experience.

I didn’t take any time showing them edible plants, because I had no idea what sort of plants they’d see where they were going. However, I did show them how to make an ages-old bird trap with sticks and twine.

I also suggested that they should cover their bodies with mud and/or charcoal to avoid sunburn and insect bites.  After all, they were going to romp around for two weeks in the buff!

Both contestants were alert and seemed eager to learn each thing I shared. But I had no idea how much was sinking in.  After all, I learned all these skills, one by one, little by little, with plenty of time to practice and perfect.  I cannot imagine how I would do if I were thrown into an unknown territory, and with no clothes!

Months later, the man and woman spent their two weeks in the wild, and finally the show was aired sometime in August. I was able to view it from a DVD, and it was the first full episode of the show that I have seen.

Before I’d seen this show, I didn’t think there would be much value in watching two naked people try to simply get by for two weeks, finding their water, making shelter, trying to eat whatever they could. My view didn’t change after watching the show.  I did feel a bit glad that at least one thing that I taught them turned out to be useful – they managed to capture a bird from the trap I showed them. 

In the Nicaraguan “Naked and Afraid,” I saw two people who steadily grew dirtier, who didn’t drink enough water, who seemed to just hang around the same area not doing a whole lot.  To me, it was sad, and a poor example of entertainment. Yes, of course, it was a very real challenge. Yes, they made it through two weeks.  But that was a very unrealistic experience, except that now those two knows that they could do very well, with clothes and with equipment, in a bad situation.

Trouble is, most of the real survival situations in the world are people-caused, and involve war or other turmoil.  Survival situations in the woods are far more rare, and the person is always clothed and usually has at least some basic gear.

The hour show moved along quickly enough, though in retrospect, there wasn’t much action. Eating a snake seemed to invigorate them and raise their spirits, though they needed a can or something to collect water and purify it and drink it regularly. Yes, they ate a bird near the end of their experience, when they had already lost much weight. The man lost 30 pounds in two weeks, and the woman lost 10 pounds.  The woman’s body was covered in insect bites, and I presume they either forgot what I told them about protecting their skin, or they just didn’t want to do that.

 If you’re serious about learning basic survival skills, you’d do better to enroll in a field trip with a local college or even a Meetup group.  As for entertaining TV, much of television has lost any focus whatsoever.  I’d turn it off and get outside!