Monday, February 13, 2017

"The Winds Erase Your Footprints"

A book by Shiyowin Miller

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

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

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

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

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

I was amazed at the quality and depth of the story, and could barely believe it had not been published. To me, it was like reading a Tony Hillerman novel, except it was true!

Everyone said that the book accurately depicted life on the Rez during that time, mixed in with some accounts of Navajo witchcraft.  With some editing, Dolores and I got the book published in 2002 by Naturegraph Press, which features many Native American titles.  If you do an internet search with the book's title, you'll see some of the reviews that have been published about this book. 

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

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

The following excerpts from THE WINDS ERASE YOUR FOOTPRINTS are Copyright  and may not be re-printed without permission of the publisher.

from chapter 3: Pentz's Trading Post

Juanita stood, head forward, her hair long and black in the sunlight; she shook it, the drops of water flying. She ran her fingers through it, the pale, yellow shreds of fiber falling lightly to the ground. Luciano was washing his head now, in water that his mother had prepared. Juanita began to comb her hair carefully, the comb snagging and tangling in the still-wet strands. She stopped and disentangled the combings, rolling them into a little ball. The wind caught it and tumbled it over and over across the ground.

"Ah-yeeee!" Shimah exclaimed and went running after the ball of combings. She brought it back and placed it carefully in the fire, watching as the flames consumed it, talking rapidly to her son. I am guilty of some small breach of custom, Juanita thought, and then was surprised at the gravity of her husbands' face. He sat back on his heels, his hair dripping unheeded.

"You must always burn your combings," he told her seriously.

"My mother says never to let any of your hair escape like that."

"I'm sorry, Lu," she began. "It was a bit untidy. But out here in the open I thought the wind would carry it away."

"That's it: the wind might . . ." He stopped abruptly.

Juanita was puzzled. It was such a little thing for him to get upset about, and she had said she was
sorry. "Is there some tabu connected with hair-combings?" she asked gently, trying to smooth the
troubled look from his face. "If I knew it I'd observe it--you know I would." Shimah stood by gauging the conversation by their voice tones. Luciano was still disturbed. "It isn't exactly a tabu, but just don't be careless." It wasn't like her husband to speak so. He'd always been patient about explaining even small things. She turned away to hide the hurt.

Shimah plucked at her sleeve, speaking gently, soothingly, as though to erase the hurt, the alarm.

"Tell my daughter-in-law to give me her jewelry so that I can put it into the soaproot suds. That will be good for the silver and the turquoise."

Juanita resolved not to mention the incident of the hair-combing again. Lu was moody, preoccupied with looking for a job. It wasn't anything important, only puzzling, and it wasn't worth a misunderstanding if she never found out. There was so much she didn't know, it would take forever to explain in detail everything she asked.       

from Chapter 5: Wild Duck Dinner

Wounded Head greeted them with warm words, but his face remained impassive--cold. His son
extended his hand for a limp handclasp. Juanita and Luciano were given a comfortable place to sit at the back of the hoghan, but Juanita wasn't comfortable. She was conscious of her hair being disheveled from the race up the canyon; she tried to smooth it, putting one hand to her head unobtrusively. She wished that she had worn a skirt instead of Levis. Somehow she could feel Wounded Head's disapproval without seeing his face.

Luciano was talking to the two men. No, he hadn't as yet gone to work in Albuquerque.

Wounded Head placed his fingertips together with elaborate care. Was it true that in that Western
place, where Luciano had been, there was great opportunity for ambitious young Navajo men?

Luciano misunderstood. Was his son planning to go there?

A thin ghost-like smile passed over Wounded Head's face and was gone. He shook his head.

The stew was ladled into bowls and passed to them. Juanita cooled one of the pieces of meat on her spoon. That didn't look like mutton. She bit into it. Beef! Wounded Head and his family did eat well. Her husband had placed his hat on the bedroll behind him, and now his dark head was bent over the bowl of stew attentively. He looked up long enough to direct a sidelong glance at her when their host got up, took a can of peaches from the cupboard, and opened it with his knife.

The meal finished, they sat back looking into the fire, the men talking leisurely of unimportant things. Wounded Head's wife asked a few questions of Juanita, through Luciano: did she like it here . . . did she miss her own people?

It was a foolish thing, her imagination was overactive, Juanita told herself, but she wanted to get away. The fire was bright, warming; Wounded Head's wife was pleasant; Wounded Head himself seemed almost friendly as he drew Lu into conversation; but it was a strong feeling that Juanita had--as strong as a cold wind--as dark as a dark shadow. She was relieved when Luciano finally arose to go. He thanked them for the good meal and then the blanket over the doorway dropped behind them. She was first in the saddle and started toward the edge of the mesa.

"Not that way," Luciano called. "There's no trail--only rocks."

Juanita turned and followed Luciano as he picked his way down the other side of the mesa. Halfway down the narrow trail, Luciano took off his hat. Holding it at arm's length from him, he shook it carefully. Puffs of yellow dust scattered on the wind.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Roots of Valentine's Day

[Nyerges is the author of several books.  He can be reached via School of Self-reliance at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or, where one can view his various blogs.]

In the pre-Christian era of Europe, there was a celebration in honor of Lupercus, a pastoral god, sometimes identified with Faunus or Pan.  Faunus is depicted as having the body of a man but the horns, pointed ears, tail, and hind legs of a goat.  That is, Faunus is more or less identical with the satyr, who was said to be lustful, and always ready to party.

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

OK, fast forward to 2017, and the stores of our town are full of red and pink hearts, and lovers and sweethearts are looking for something to give that special person.  Why?  Because February 14 is the day set aside to commemorate a real historical person named Valentinus, the day we now call “Saint Valentine’s Day.”  And who was Valentinus?  With just a little bit of research, we learn that this Valentinus person was stoned, clubbed, and beheaded in about the year 270 A.D.  He was violently killed by an unruly mob.  But why?  Did Valentinus have something to do with chocolates and hearts?  Did he have anything whatsoever to do with the festivities of Lupercalia?

It turns out that there were at least two people called Valentinus – possibly more – who lived in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries.  One – who the Catholic Church now called Saint Valentine – was beheaded in 270 A.D. 

Another Valentinus lived about a century earlier and founded one of the most important sects of Gnosticism.  He was born in Egypt and educated in Alexandria.  He settled in Rome during the reign of Pope Hyginus and taught there for more than 20 years.  He attracted a large following to his beliefs, due in part to his intelligence, his eloquence of speech, and his impeccable arguments.

But the teachings of this Valentinus differed in some ways from the Christian church of that time, and when the office for the Bishop of Rome opened up, he was not selected.  Valentinus decided to split off from the Christian church, left Rome, and continued to develop his own doctrines as he saw fit.

Unfortunately, there are no original surviving documents from the teachings of Valentinus.  So, if you want to discover what he actually believed and taught, you have to study fragmentary quotations found in the writings of his orthodox Christian opponents.      

Through research, we learn that Valentinus was influenced by Plato (the main source of the teachings of Socrates), Zoroastrianism, and Christianity. Valentinus also spoke of a spiritual realm which he called Pleroma, which consisted of “emanations” evolving from an original divine being.  These have been described as the layers of an onion, with each layer being a wholly complete reality.  It’s all very interesting, though it’s all a bit second-hand because whatever Valentinus wrote was apparently “lost” or destroyed by opponents.

The term Gnosticism came from the word “gnosis,” defined as spiritual knowledge.  Those who followed this line of study were called the Gnostics, and many were referred to as Christian Gnostics.  But by the third century, the more orthodox Christian church (and the political power of the day), decided to oppose and persecute the Gnostics.   By the end of the third century, Gnosticism as a distinct movement had largely disappeared.

Now, here’s the quiz:  Where in all this did you hear anything about chocolates, hearts, greeting cards, bunnies, jewelry, roses, or lace underwear?  Plus, there doesn’t appear to be any historical connection with any of the individuals named Valentinus with the date of February 14.

It is difficult to ascertain why the commemoration of Valentinus was used to supplant, uplift, and supercede the already-existing commemoration of Lupercus, but that’s what happened.  Yet, very little of the trappings of modern St. Valentine’s Day have anything to do with the historical Valentinus.

And that’s really a shame, since Valentinus was as important as perhaps Socrates or Pythagoras, and yet most of us only associate him with the silly commercialism of Lupercalia’s remnants. Certainly it’s possible that the Church engineered this substitution so that men would quit chasing women through the streets on this day.

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

Monday, February 06, 2017

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

An excerpt from "Ancient Writing on Rocks." 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Continued in the book]

Electrical Gadgets: How to be more efficient

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

To Run in the Mud

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 09, 2017

The Lord of the Flies

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

Commentary on the "Lord of the Flies" 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 06, 2017

On Being Podded

The Technological Invasion of the Body Snatchers

[Nyerges is the author of “Self-Sufficient Home,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Extreme Simplicity,” and other books.  He writes a Blog on his web site, and he conducts outdoor field trips.  He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or]

The original “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” was filmed locally in Sierra Madre, where the viewer watched pods being unloaded at the triangle at Baldwin and Sierra Madre Avenue.  It’s an insightful movie into human nature, and some have called it an analogy to alcoholism.  Watch the movie sometime and see if you agree.  You could also argue that the movie presented an analogy to any sort of addiction, or cult-thinking, where we are no longer in full control of our destiny.

A few recent experiences have made me realize that most of us are already fully “podded.” 

Not long ago on a cold night,  I went to a local Pasadena coffee shop to sit and drink coffee.  I thought I would meet someone and engage them in good old-fashioned conversation. I purchased my coffee and then found a comfortable chair where I could read the latest issue of Pasadena Weekly.  I hadn’t paid attention to the other patrons but I noted it was very quiet.

Finally looking up from my hot beverage and the rantings of my favorite Pasadena Weekly columnist Carl,  I saw that there was only one person per table, each wholly engaged in their laptop world. There was some light jazz playing in the room, but I seemed to be the only one tapping my foot to the music of Dave Brubeck “Take Five.”   Everyone had wires in their ears extending to some hidden source.  Everyone was tuned into something else, somewhere else, and no one was tuned into the here and now.  It was a room full of alone people,  separated, and non-communicating with anyone else in the here and now.  No conversation would be possible, I lamented.

I went outside in the cold to maybe make conversation with my fellow sojourners.  One man sat alone outside but spoke in hushed tones as he waved his arms.  No, not a crazy man, but a man who was tuned in elsewhere.  The other person outside was a woman, also alone and yelling into the abyss of her phone.  I would be making no conversation out here, I realized.  Everyone had vacant eyes, and they were somewhere else.  

I felt disoriented,  a stranger in strange land of techno-toys.  I got in my vehicle and drove away.

I went to a Pasadena Trader Joe’s market,  did my shopping, and noted that nearly half the shoppers were not here now, but chatted away on their cell phones and other devices to people somewhere else. Some had wires extending from their ears.

One man entered with a silver device wrapped around his ear, Star Trek-like, and he was obviously elsewhere as he talked to unseen recipients. I hailed him with my hand, and inquired about the object.   “It’s my I-pod,” he said enthusiastically.  “I couldn’t live without it,” as he waved me on, and continued with his very important conversation.

I talked to a young  friend who plays on a sports team at a local college.  When I told her about my recent experience, she told me that she takes a school bus with the other athletes to the soccer meets.  She told me that after the game, all her fellow students sit in their own private I-podded musical worlds as they bus home.
“Really?” I said, stunned.  “Don’t you all talk about the game?” I asked.
“We don’t do that,” was her reply.

What a depressing world we’ve devolved into.  I can recall bussing home from John Muir High School cross country and track meets, listening to “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” playing loudly on the bus radio, and all us boys loudly sang along in comraderie, whether we lost or won.  How have we descended to the point where it is regarded as better to reside in safe little individually-podded worlds?

It would be instructive for today’s over-teched youth to go watch the original “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” and replace “pod” with “I-pod.”  We are all being podded, and not only is there no fight, but it’s being welcomed as the next great thing.

Later that night, there was a localized blackout in my neighborhood for five hours or so.  I sat outside in the cool darkness of the evening with no cell phone, no lights, no TV, no telephone, no e-mail, no electronic gadget which would pod my mind and rob my time.  It was a deep pleasure to be alone with myself, to think about life, and life’s important questions, with no chance for google or wickipedia to presume to know the answers to my inner questions before I’ve even asked them. 

I marvel at our technological advances, and I know there are certain values to them. Still, I  cringe with sadness each time I  realize what all of us have lost.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Death, Life, and a New Year

 [Nyerges is the author of several books, including “Extreme Simplicity,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” and others. He has led field trips and taught classes in self-reliance since 1974. More information on his books and classes is available at, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041]

I had just been told that a friend had died.  It was sad to realize I’d never see him again.  The musical chairs of life goes on, but I always have to stop when I hear of death, at least a death of one who is close.  For me, life is about the people around me.  When they die, a piece of me dies.

Gato Barbieri’s “Europa” is playing on the radio.  That’s Ramah’s song.  Ramah was my purebred pitbull who came on my field trips.  When she died many years ago, I was holding her in my arms as she gave out her last goodbye cry, as the eerie nostalgic sound of Europa was playing on the radio.  Since then, Europa has been “Ramah’s song,” her goodbye rite-of-passage song.  I think of Ramah when I hear Europa, and I think of death and the seeming impermanence of life.

It is time for work so I drive away with the radio off. I want to hear the silence.  I arouse a cooper’s hawk as I go down the long driveway and he swoops away under the oaks with a pocket gopher in his claws.  More death. 

I think about the pocket gopher which devours my root crops, and I feel no sadness. Still,  I only shudder to think that he’ll be ripped apart and eaten while still alive.  Is that good?  Is it bad?

A local Sierra Club hiker wrote about his chancing upon a mountain lion killing a deer.  He said he could have interrupted it, but he didn’t.  He watched it. He said it was beautiful. He said it was part of the beauty of nature.

Beauty?  Certainly the kill is part of nature, part of The Way.  Eat or be eaten.  But “beautiful”?  The deer would have had its throat slit from behind, and while it struggled, the lion would have ripped open his underside and begun eating the deer while it was still alive.  Nope, not beautiful.  Brutal, vicious,  sobering. 

Part of The Way, yes.  Beautiful, no. 

Death is not beautiful.  To the dead, I presume it is peaceful. To the living, painful, especially when a close one goes and you experience their absence, and the pain of separation.  You’re forced to acknowledge the temporary nature of life.  You’re forced to make each moment count, to make each moment matter.

Off to my work of the day, I think about the immediate now, the temporary world of timeclocks and responsibility and bills and rents and taxes.  I am only mildly cheered up by telling myself this is only temporary.

I sip my coffee at a downtown coffeehouse in the dense fog of the early morning before my work begins.  The fog drifts and flows, like the drifting landscape of my thoughts of life and death and work and bills.

I think of the new year beginning. I pause as I sip my coffee, and acknowledge the endless cycle of year after year, life and death and life and death, and each new year provides new opportunities to improve and to do what has not been done yet.

Still, death is everywhere. It is inescapable.  And yet it is perhaps our blessing.  It is the sobering element that forces us to reconsider everything, and to strive to do the right thing in each moment.  Death forces us to think larger than just our own interests, and forces us to think about what is best for the most people, and what is best for the next generation.  It forces us to treat everyone around us even better, and we never need to wait for a “new year” in order to do that….