Saturday, August 01, 2015

The Day My Mother Died



[Excerpt from “Til Death Do Us Part?”, available on Kindle, or from SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com]

August 1, 1998

 When I arrived, I put my hand on Marie’s head.  She was hooked up to oxygen, and her eyes were fixed ahead.  She was alive, but not responsive, though I felt she could hear me, and I talked to her.  I cried for awhile, and closed my eyes.  I tried to Feel-into this person, my mother, Marie.  She was breathing with eyes straight ahead. After awhile I felt I was with Mary/Marie.  My eyes closed, I began to see pictures, which I assumed were her pictures.  Childhood -- seeing the front of the farm house in Chardon.  I could sense that Marie was “waiting” -- maybe confused, waiting for us, her children, to come around and to say goodbye, that it is OK.  I asked her how she was, and she “responded” “What now?”  I tried to look at the pictures with her, tried to mentally look at her pictures with her, whatever it was that she wanted to see. 


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

This was her world I was seeing, and I sensed that she did well, in this world, and that she had what could be called a good life.

I was mostly silent with her, holding her hand, my other hand on her forehead, and I knew that she was just waiting now.  All was over, and she wanted to go on.  It seemed she was waiting because she thought we wanted to say our final goodbyes.

I called a priest at St. Andrews, and a Father Gonzalez showed up within 15 or 20 minutes, and gave the Last Rites.  Brother Richard was there by now, and Frank cried when the priest said his prayers.  It had turned out that these Rites had already been administered, but I didn’t know that.  It was good to do, it was what Marie would have felt was best. 

I felt that all is OK.  This life of her’s is over.  But it is not the end.  I asked to myself: Is that all there is?  I knew the answer, but I had to ask.  Life is not the mundanity of everyday things, but it is the value -- our Conscious Light -- that we put into what we do, who we are. 

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

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

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

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

In my mental communication, Marie is smiling. Her radiant smile is not the skin and bones lying on the bed.  She is smiling.  Marie, I tell her, I didn’t know it would be like this.  She is ready for rest, ready for peace, ready for on-going.  She said “please don’t worry for me.  Why worry for me, she smiles. I am ready to go on. I am done.”  She tells me though that she is concerned for Frank, and that we should watch over him.             

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

Yes, it was August 1, the same day Dolores and I married many years earlier.   I tell her that it just might be a good thing, that Dolores says it is OK.  Dolores told me this on the phone, and so I told Marie.  I told her that she will be OK, that we will miss her terribly.  Dolores told me this, and I know it is so -- there will come a time when I really want to just say hello, to tell her something, to talk about things late at night.  But she won’t be there.  I went from hard crying to just being with her.  I really shouldn’t be sad, but happy that the pain is almost over, that she is nearly free. 

I told Marie, this time whispering to her, that I loved her dearly, and that I wished I could have done so much more, but that I was so glad to have at least done what I did with her, especially since the surgery.  I didn’t want to indulge in my regrets or “poor me” -type thoughts.  Rather, I was trying to stay right with Marie.  I believe she felt settled, that although things were never ideal and could always have been better, she worked through so many obstacles of large family and conflicting family interests and all of the challenges that anyone must face, and she somehow managed to constantly be concerned and thinking about other people.

I recalled an old dream that Ellen Hall had of Marie, and it came back to me, and I whispered to her -- Mother, you are going to a wonderful place, your idealized heaven, an oasis, far more wonderful than you could ever imagine.  I cried for my own loss, but I felt a relief and even inner happiness radiating from Marie.  I held her hands and occasionally I could feel a finger tug or pull.  I believe she knew I was there, was communicating with me. 

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

Her close friends Jean Marie and Mary Sue Takeuchi came when I was just sitting there, breathing with her, holding her hands, and I talked with them. I felt it was time to go, to do some work I needed to do, and I said goodbye. 


We got a call about 3:45 or so, saying that Mother had stopped breathing.  She had died.  It was over.  I dressed and quickly went over, and Jean Marie and Mary Sue were still there.  I embraced mother and could see her body now noticeably faded.  I embraced her and told her again I loved her, that I was glad the pain was over, that I would miss her always. 

There was a feeling of great relief.  Jean Marie and Mary Sue said they had just finished saying the rosary next to Marie and then she stopped breathing at 3:35 in the afternoon on August 1, 1998.

We talked, and Mary Sue told me how lucky I was, that she lost her parents when she was very young.  I agreed that I was lucky.  Jean Marie and Mary Sue were obviously very close to Marie -- they had come quite regularly to the rest home, and I could see they were now filled with personal loss but there was also a sort of joy that Marie’s pain is over, that the final hours were filled with closeness with Marie’s loved ones. 

They left, and I removed Marie’s scapulars and medals, and cleaned out her things from the room.  I again placed my hands on Marie’s hand and forehead, and said final goodbyes -- goodbyes to the body, I suppose, since I feel I will always have some connection to Marie, long after her body-Temple is gone.  I felt her presence, and I breathed, and still felt the pain of her being gone from my life.  For so long, I think I denied that this could happen, and wanted to believe that I would always live in a world where I could see and be with my parents.  Perhaps that ideal world exists somewhere, and we just have to find it.

A man from Cabot’s mortuary was on the way, and I realized I wanted a locket of Marie’s hair, so I cut a few lockets of her white hair and put in my pouch.  Then Cabot’s came, and I helped David wrap Marie and put her on the gurney, and I gave her a final hug and goodbye, and then she was gone.

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

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

Monday, July 27, 2015

Roadkill Bill, and the "Takeover" of Politicians







The Tale of Roadkill Bill
And the “takeover” of Politicians

[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants,” and other books. He can be reached at www.Schoolof Self-Reliance.com.]

I knew a homeless guy who called himself Roadkill Bill. He was also known as Wild Bill, but he told me to just call him Roadkill.  I never knew his real name until a few decades late, after he died.

Along the way, I picked up fragmentary details about his past. He was from the San Gabriel Valley, where he attended local school. He was in the Army, from which he was discharged for some reason.  He had a family with whom he could have lived, but he chose not to.

In the mid-1980s, I would encounter him along the trail in the local mountains. He always had good gear and good clothes, and the word was that he lived in that canyon, camping here and there as he chose. When we happened to converse, if you  could call it a conversation, I was never sure what we were talking about. His responses were always very unresponsive, about other topics, and his voice would grow agitated and aggressive. When that occurred, I would quickly walk away from him in another direction.

When he was in an area, there were specific carvings that would appear on the trees. One of the rangers told me that the carvings were Roadkill’s, that he was drawing the faces of the aliens who were invading earth, which helped to seal his reputation as a “kook.”

Occasionally, after he’d be in an area, someone would call the police or sheriff deputies to find Roadkill, because “a violent man” had been reported. To the best of my knowledge, he was never violent with anyone, though his rantings were aggressive and animated.

He’s usually be arrested as a 51-50, and released in a few days.

Years went by and I never saw or heard from him, and then I would occasionally notice him over in one of the parks in the Arroyo Seco.   He lived there for the last 10 years or so of his life.

This time, he no longer had good gear and good clothes. He clearly looked homeless, disheveled, and was widely regarded as “crazy.”

He would see me occasionally when I was at the park teaching or class.  We would exchange a few friendly words, and he would keep a good distance from the class. He would stand there at about 40 feet away and begin to howl, and laugh wildly. One woman said to me, “Can you get rid of him?”  I told her just to carry on with our class work, and to ignore him, that he was harmless. Which he was.

 He must have a hard life living by begging, sleeping in the open, occasionally getting washed away in the heavy rains when there was literally no where to go. And a lot of people saw him and interacted with him over the years, because over a hundred people showed up for a makeshift memorial that was held for him in the park.

I remember the last time I talked with him. I was there with only two friends, and Roadkill sat at our table. We were sitting very close to his “home,” though I did not know that at the time. He shared a few books that he was reading, and he began to tell me about his major thesis, and belief.  There were police who helped him out, so he didn’t have a fear, or hatred, of police. But he said that when the aliens began to land on earth in the last few decades, they began by taking over the bodies of police and local politicians, and national politicians, and world politicians. He didn’t name names, but he said some priests were taken over too.

By “taken over,” he meant that the person we knew who occupied a particular body was no longer in charge of that body, and that it was actually the alien in charge, pretending to be that former person. It was very much like the theme of the movie which was made in Sierra Madre, the original “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” However, Roadkill said he’d never even heard of that movie, but that he would try to see it.

 Even though Roadkill’s conversation was always disjointed, with howling mixed in with normal conversation, he was clear on this point that the people we think we know are not those people anymore. The alien beings who intend to “take over” the world had taken over these key people. We laughed, of course. But Roadkill was very serious about it. When I asked him what we should do about it, he would shrug, and say “Don’t get taken over.”

I have no way of knowing if this was just his wild fantasy, or some unique insight of the delirious mind which sees the world in a way that “ordinary” people do not. In the few years since Roadkill died, I have periodically thought about his worldview, and wondered why leaders on all levels make the decisions they do, often so contradictory to the common good. Why, for example, can our Sacramento leaders think it is OK to force parents to vaccinate all children, or be subject to arrest or expulsion from schools?  Why is it OK for Washington politicians to tell us that we do not have the right to know if our food is made from GMOs, or even the very origin of the foods?  Who are they protecting? Whose side is Hillary Clinton actually on?  Who side is President Obama actually on? 

I wonder if all the idiosyncrasies of our “leaders” and politicians are the result of the love of money and power, and the desire to keep it, or whether Roadkill was actually right.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

FORAGING FOR GINKGO (Ginkgo biloba)





 How to use the nuts and leaves of this “living fossil”

[Nyerges is the author of the new book “Nuts and Berries of California,” “Foraging California,” “Guide to Wild Foods,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” and other books. He leads wild food and natural history walks on a regular basis. Contact him at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041]

My latest book, “Nuts and Berries of California,” is mostly about the wild nuts and berries that Native Americans used for subsistence all throughout this large state of ours. But because there are so many introduced plants in our urban areas, I included a short section in the book describing those ornamentals which are also useful for food or medicine. That section is called HIPs, for “horticulturally introduced plants.”  I only included those plants in that section which have also survived well on their own, even in the wild.
The Ginkgo tree is one of those HIP plants.

Botanists believed that the Ginkgo biloba tree was extinct, but then it was found in a Chinese Buddhist monastery in the 1700s, where specimens were being cultivated.
Once it was rediscovered, ginkgo has been cultivated and spread all over the world as an ornamental and street tree.  It is popular because of its unique appearance, and its relative resistance to insects and disease. To Buddhists, the tree is regarded as sacred.

In Japan, and other parts of Asia, the processed nuts are added to rice and stir fry dishes. The nuts are high in protein and low in fat. The medicinal properties of the nuts, which you get by eating them, are said to include the release of stress and hypertension (the result of dilating blood vessels and increasing oxygen into the blood stream). The nuts are also reportedly good for pain and soreness, as well as aid to digestion.

Yes, I harvest the ripe ginkgo nuts, and yes, I have to hold my nose! The fleshy tissue around the seed really stinks!  Some people have learned to not-mind the strong odor, generally reminiscent of fresh feces. Yes, you can get used to just about anything, and in time, you can learn to not be bothered by the “aroma” of the flesh around the ginkgo nuts.
My suggestion is that you just get over it, and it might help if you chew on some aromatic gum, like licorice gum, while collecting.

Once collected, you can let the nuts and their soft outer shell dry, which makes it significantly easier to clean. Or you can just clean them right away, as I tend to do.  I always wash them outside. You can put all the fresh ginkgo nuts in a pan of warm water, and roll them around between your hands to clean off all the outer coverings, which you should then toss into your compost pile.

The cleaned nuts are then best dried, such as in the oven at pilot-light temperature.  I have dried them with their shells, and without their shells.  I don’t know if one way is right or wrong, and I believe it is just a matter of preference. However, the ginkgo nuts in the shell seem to keep a lot longer than the shelled and dried ones.  If you plan to eat them right away, then it probably doesn’t matter how you prepare them.

Once roasted, you can just eat the ginkgo nuts as-is. 
(Yes, there are two types of people: Those who like ginkgo nuts, and those who do not….)

I have never eaten these nuts raw because of the foul odor. There have been some reports that the nuts can make you ill if you eat them raw (no doubt!), and they must be boiled or roasted for about 25 minutes. You’ll know they are done when you can easily break the thin shell with a nutcracker. They taste is akin to a bean.

To extend the shelf life, they can be simply dried, though freezing might be even better.
Caution: there have been reports of sickness by some people who have eaten about a dozen nuts at one time. These were nuts that were cooked. So my suggestion is to try a few and monitor the results.  Your body will tell you whether or not you should eat more.

THE LEAF
When you see pills of Ginkgo biloba in the health food stores, they are made from the leaf. The leaf extract has been subject to many clinical tests, and it apparently increases circulation for the limbs and for the brain. This is apparently why it does seem to be helpful for improving memory and assisting with retaining memories. Suggestions that ginkgo can reverse dementia don’t seem to hold up to clinical tests.  Nor do the claims that ginkgo can cure cancer seem to be valid, so far.

An extract from the leaf has also been found to improve the immune system, and to protect the heart by clearing plaque from the arteries. In fact, the extracts are used for many ailments such as headaches, asthma, kidney disorders, and more. 

I have found that when I am experiencing a “slow day,” ginkgo pills, or homemade tea from the leaves, seem to offer a subtle yet noticeable “pick-me-up” without the eventual slowdown that follows drinking coffee.

There has been some debate about the safety of gathering your own ginkgo leaves for making your own tea.  From what I have concluded,  it seems safe enough to brew an occasional cup of tea from the leaves. Also, apparently the best time to collect the leaves for tea is when the leaves have turned yellow and are falling from the tree. This also apparently bypasses any toxic properties (e.g. ginkgolic acid) that may be in the leaf.
But most negative reactions from using ginkgo are not from the leaf, but from eating the nuts raw.

Forager Notes:
Don’t bring the raw nuts with the husks into your house without warning the family. I remember once when I brought some home when I was living with my parents. They were all in a brown paper bag in the kitchen, since I intended to clean them right after dinner. My mother insisted that everyone check the bottom of their shoes since she was certain someone stepped in dog poop. Finally, I remembered the bag and took it outside, and it seemed like years before I heard the end of that one.

Ginkgo is a smooth-barked tree, often growing upright in a very vertical fashion when young, and then producing a much larger angular crown as it matures. Each leaf is fan-shaped, and has the appearance of a fern.  The leaves turn yellow in the fall. The fruits, formed only on the female trees, are covered in a light brown fleshy coating that is very odoriferous.  The nut has a thin shell that is easily cracked.   The tree is widely cultivated tree, planted as a street tree, in parks, gardens, and yards.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Fourth of July, Freedom, and Money



[Nyerges is the author of several books including “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Extreme Simplicity,” and “Self-Sufficient Home.”  He has lectured, taught, and led field trips since 1974. He can be reached at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com or Box 41834, Eagle Rock,CA 90041]

Over the years, I have given a lecture called “The Four Illusions of Money,” in which I share the many ways in which money controls our thinking and our actions. 

For most people, money is intricately and intimately related to every part of our life, and especially that nebulous thing we call “freedom.”

On our country’s Independence Day, it seems worthwhile to take a closer look at how we view money, and how it affects our independence and our freedom.

For starters, What is money, how is money created, what is the Federal Reserve, what is the IMF, how does international debt affect us here in the U.S.?  All good questions for you to research on  your own, which are at the very foundation of money and what it is and what it does – but that’s not what I’ll be discussing today.

OK, when people are queried, almost everyone says that they do not have enough money, and would like to have more. Everyone at all income levels says the same thing! Furthermore, one of the most commonly-cited reasons given by people who continue to work at a job they dislike is to “make a lot of money.”  The reasons that this is such a ubiquitous goal – to make a lot of money – can be summed up in the four following rationales:

  1. A lot of money will let me be free to do what I want to do.
  2. People with a lot of money command more respect from others.
  3. I need more money for my family.
  4. Money is necessary for my security in old age.

Yes, there are many more such “illusions” that dance around money, but these four seemed to fairly concisely address all the secondary and corollary illusions.

These four statements are illusions about money. That means, these represent false perceptions of the world.  That is to say, when we embrace any or all of these four illusions, we are prevented from seeing the NON-monetary realities about our life and the choices that we make.

So let’s explore the first one.

A lot of money will let me be free to do what I want to do.

One way to see through this illusion is to make a specific list of all your carefully-considered goals. These can be short-term and long-term goals. These can include travel, projects, achievements, possessions, skills (learning a new language), etc., but the list cannot include money.  Money cannot be a goal. Next, you should examine the list you made and begin to delineate precisely how you can go about achieving that goal.

Yes, of course, money can help accelerate the achievement of the goal.  Still, once  your goals are clearly established in  your own mind – and clearly differentiated from “passing wants” – you can steadily move forward, step by step, toward the achievement of that goal.  Money is incidental to this process, and must not be allowed to determine the choices you make and the steps that you take.

A large part of achieving a goal – perhaps the most important part – is to learn valuable life-enhancing skills that you wouldn’t have learned otherwise.

And many of the essential steps toward a goal involve working with other people. Working with other people develops strong friendships and relationships, and this requires that you must be – or become – reliable and trustworthy yourself.  This manner of pursuing and achieving goals should represent a true freedom from our enslavement to money, and should open you up to some truly life-enhancing experiences.

Remember, this perspective is offered as an alternative to “going out to make enough money so I can be free to do what I want to do.” 

One of the amazing insights that I gained while sharing this at our seminar was how many people actually had no clearly-defined goals at all. 

Not only do most people have no clearly-defined long-term goals in life, most of us have very different and conflicting ideas about this thing called “freedom.”

I propose that there are at least two sorts of “freedom”:  freedom-to, and freedom-from.  Freedom-to refers to the ability to pursue those goals, and do those things, that you wish to do, or need to do. Freedom-from can refer to simply escaping from a bad situation, like a civil war in your country, or trouble in your neighborhood.

Connected to this is the two sided coin of rights and responsibility.  Everyone wants their rights, but somehow the responsibilities are too often left untended.

I have observed that those individuals who willingly take on responsibilities (of all sorts) gain more and more rights.  Though this inevitably involves “money” in some way, it implies a mental state that has nothing to do with money at all. 

Let’s look at another of the Four Illusions.


Money is necessary for my security in old age.

Money is needed in many ways, of course, but personal security, inner and outer, cannot be purchased.

The real security that is most needed by elderly can be enhanced by money, but it can never be built solely upon money.   Inner security arises with the development of deep friendships, and with learning to be flexible and adaptable, for example, and these are not things that are in any way dependant upon money. 

In fact, one of the best ways to “prepare for old age” is to become the type of person – inwardly and outwardly – that other people will want to be around and work with. 

This means being competent, helpful, flexible, honest, moral, curious, always willing to learn and to share, generous, and so on.  And note that none of these virtues are either the intrinsic or exclusive virtues of the wealthy.  

Developing one’s character is clearly one of the best ways to prepare for the calamities that might strike any of us at any age, such as wars, depressions, social chaos, as well as a whole host of personal difficulties.

Learn to Produce
 
History has also taught us that those who learn to produce what they need, and then do so, are invariably more free than their neighbors who do not do so. There are exceptions of course, but those who grow their own food can then sell the surplus of what they grow for the cash to buy what they cannot barter.  In a famous discussion between Merlin and King Arthur (yes, I know I am stretching it a bit here), Merlin told his student that there would never be war if people chose to be self-sufficient.

The way to apply these simple principles tends to be complex, and always further complicated by politicians who are lost in their worlds of words.  Still, freedom to do what is right should be the goal of everyone, and certainly the goal of every American. It is why this country was founded less than three centuries ago. 

And despite all the bickering and fighting that still continues to this day over what the U.S. is and what it represents, I find that the best rule of thumb for guidance is the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

 [We’ve only begun to scratch the surface here.  A continuation of this discussion of money can be found in Christopher Nyerges’ “Extreme Simplicity,” book available at bookstores, Amazon, and www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]



Friday, June 26, 2015

Saving Water Suggestions, and other good ideas....


 

“The Self-Sufficient Home: Going Green and Saving Money”

 [Caption: Dude McLean with "The Self-Sufficient Home" book.]

Way back in 2000, my wife Dolores and I wrote a book called “Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City,” where we detailed how we grew food, recycled household water, collected rain, raised animals, generated power, and more, in our average home in the hilly outback of Los Angeles. We wrote the book because we constantly heard how difficult it was to do the very things we were doing on a very low budget. We knew it wasn’t all that difficult – you just had to make the commitment to do it! 

The “Self-Sufficient Home” book is a continuation of that work, but in this case, we didn’t strictly write about what we did in our own home. Rather, I interviewed at least two dozen other home-owners and experimenters to discover the ways in which they were practicing urban self-reliance.  In every case, these were private individual who simply chose to take control of  at least one aspect of their lives, without waiting for some elusive government solution.

The book is a timeless work, detailing many of the ways that we can live with less water and still live well, and it provides a guideline for others to do the same.

“Self-Sufficient Home” includes an interview with Altadena architect Steve Lamb, who shares all the ways in which homes should be built to take advantage of natural principles such as sunlight, wind patterns, shade, and other site-specific issues.  Lamb points out that white roofs, and large overhangs helps keep houses naturally cooler.  During the course of writing the book, Lamb took me to a few of the places he’s worked on to show me how it’s also possible to retrofit an “average” house to take advantage of these principles.  We also visited Pasadena’s Gamble House to look at the timeless architecture that keeps a place cool in the hot summer, naturally and without electricity.

“Self-Sufficient Home” details the many ways to use less water, and to recycle water. There are interviews with people who collect rain water, with everything from low-tech to high-tech methods.  In fact, this is now so “mainstream” that all of the building supply companies routinely sell you all the hardware needed to turn a bucket into a rain water catchment system. 

My mother used to have us take the water from washing the dishes and pour it outside on the fruit trees. Very low tech, of course. 

In the 1970s, during a previous drought era, I worked with others to retrofit many homes so their “grey water” (everything but the toilet water) could be directed out into the yard for either a lawn, or garden.  In most cases, this is a simple plumbing job that any plumber could do, though it is still frowned upon my most city’s Building and Safety departments. 

Not big fans of the pointless grass front lawn, we also describe in the book how we mulched the entire front lawn area (in 1986), and grew vegetables and fruit trees on it. All the water came from the washing machine, whose drain hose was disconnected from the sewer and re-routed out into the yard.

Of course, toilets use a lot of water too, so the simplest solution for most people is to get the low-flow toilet. But did you know that there are many alternatives to the conventional flush toilet, from the expensive high-tech to the very simple low-tech methods that have been practiced for millennia.  Though local health departments take a very dim view of such toilets, they are proven water-savers that can be safely used in most situations.  In fact, I describe in my book two toilet alternatives that I tried successfully for many months.

The book also addresses all the ways in which the average urban back yard can be utilized for food and medicine production.  This begins with an assessment of the resources already on the property, coupled with a list of your specific needs and wants. 
Where to get your seeds, how to produce plants from cuttings,  and ways to create your own backyard fertilizers are all included.

The book shares the specific ways in which various local people, with no government aid and with no whining, went about producing their own electricity, and their own solar-heated water.  The reader is guided through the steps of making an electrical use assessment before going out to purchase any solar devices or components.  It’s important to do that assessment if you’re going to be your own power producer, so you build a system that is suitable to your situation.

I figured that if I was able to do all these things with limited specific education, and a very low budget, than anyone could do so!  I dedicate the book to those I call the members of the silent revolution.

“Self-Sufficient Home” can be obtained via Kindle, and hard-copies are available wherever quality books are sold, or on-line.  This is a wonderful book and everyone should have a copy.

[More information about Nyerges’ classes and books is available at www.ChristopherNyerges.com, or via School of Self-reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041]
               

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

MEMORIAL DAY 1998 – A Tale about Death



An excerpt from “’Til Death Do Us Part?” a book by Christopher Nyerges, available on Kindle, or from www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.


It was Memorial Day 1998, and I had scheduled to conduct a wild food outing at Pasadena’s Hahamongna Watershed Park.  Since it was Memorial Day, my topic for a short discussion at the end of the outing was “death.”  Hahamongna Park -- formerly called Oak Grove Park -- is the site of one of the Gabrielino Indian villages along the Arroyo Seco.  I have found many handstones under the oak groves, used by people millennia ago to crack and grind their acorns and perform other tasks. Down in the bottom of the wash, on the far side of the canyon, I have read that archaeologists had found Indian bodies and believed the site was an old Gabrielino cemetery.

It was a cool and overcast day as participants for the wild food outing gathered in the parking area of the park.  Among the half-dozen participants who showed up for the outing was Martin Kruse, a bearded, burly bear of a man who looked like he’d be more at home in the 19th century.  He introduced himself and told me that he’d long wanted to meet me, that we both wrote for many of the same publications and had many friends in common, such as Ron Hood.  Martin and I chatted as the other outing participants listened, and he told me about his work with archery and primitive bow-making. 

We walked down in the flat area of the large expanse of the park, where the wet mud had hardened, capturing countless animal tracks.  Martin told us how to differentiate between coyote and dog tracks.  He identified crow and other birds, showed us how to recognize the tracks of squirrel and rabbit.  He’d obviously done a lot of tracking during his time hunting with a bow. 

I later learned from Martin’s father that this was a favorite place of Martin’s when he was much younger.  He’d come here and spend a week or two and study nature and tracks and practice with his bow.  When we saw the deer tracks, Martin showed us how the deer’s hind foot had stepped into its own track just laid by its front foot.  Martin said that only the female walks this way, that the male’s gait is different.  He told us that the size of the hoof print meant it was a female deer about a year and a half old.  I could tell that Martin enjoyed telling us all about the track. 

After walking throughout the flat area, I led the way back to the oak trees where I would share my lesson.  Within seconds, someone in the rear called out.  Martin had fallen.   I first thought it was a joke, and ran to him.  It was no joke.  His face already looked purple.  The man who had been walking with him said he’d not tripped -- he just fell.  You could tell by his hand position that he didn’t trip.  I tried to rouse him, but it was quickly obvious that he was “out.” 

Several of us moved Martin into what we assumed would be a more comfortable position, and that wasn’t easy!  Martin was a big guy.  And then -- since I was the only one who knew the area -- I ran to a phone to call 911.  This was before the days of ubiquitous cell phones.  Within 10 minutes,  before I even got back to the group and Martin’s flat body -- paramedics from the City of Pasadena were on the scene, attempting to revive him. They all worked like a highly-coordinated team, speaking among themselves only briefly and in terms we didn’t understand.  They were what we call a “well-oiled machine.”  They carried him into the ambulance and took him away. 

I could tell that the remainder of the outing participants were in varying degrees of shock.  It had all been like a dream, and now Martin was gone.  We discussed the merits and pitfalls of the modern medical system, and whether there was more we could have done to help Martin. We discussed whether we thought Martin would revive or not. The paramedics had been  fairly tight-lipped. When one was asked what he thought about Martin’s chances of recovery, he only said “I can’t do that.”  Still, we all knew it was serious.  We recalled one paramedic yelling “full arrest” to another when they arrived at the scene. 

So there we stood in the cool afternoon breeze, contemplating death in the most sobering manner possible.  I explained to everyone my death lesson -- which hardly seemed appropriate now.  I didn’t talk everyone through the intended exercise -- I just explained a process that I’d done many times on Memorial Day.

Write a list of all those close people in your life.  Then, close your eyes, and imagine getting a phone call telling you that they have just died.  For most people, there are tears and a feeling of regret that they never told that person something.  You write down all those things you wanted to say to that person.  Then, since these folks are still alive, you then go and call them or write them or see them in person and tell them.  This is a very profound exercise, and in many ways can be called “healing.” 

But we didn’t actually go through this exercise.  We were in no mood for an “exercise.”  Someone had just died in our midst.  We had to deal with it.   We talked about how important it is to live each moment with intent, with joy, with soberness.  We talked about how Martin may have wanted to say things to those he loved, but no longer could.  After all, it isn’t necessarily others who might die.  We talked about the stages that one passes through in the after death state, and how Martin will experience peace, but will also experience a life-review, a state of purgation, a state of heaven, and eventually another embodiment. One guy muttered, “I don’t believe in reincarnation.”  I knew with this last point that I was treading on ground that some categorize as “religious beliefs,” so I didn’t push the matter.  I just suggesed that anyone interested read about it in Harold Percival’s Thinking and Destiny and decide for themselves. 

Each person commented how “coincidental” it was that the lecture topic that I’d chosen for the day, and listed on the schedule, was “Death.”  We kept reflecting on Martin.  At that moment, none of us knew yet that Martin would not recover, that he had in fact died, and that he died in a place he loved.  Nor had we known that Martin had a heart pacer, and an artery to his heart that was narrow.  We were aware that he’d had surgery -- probably to the heart -- because we opened his shirt and saw the scar. 

What had really brought Martin there on that day?  I felt goose bumps at first, thinking that on some level he wanted to be with me, enjoying the natural world, meeting as two souls in the place he loved, near the old Indian burial ground, on his final day. 

A German woman who’d been on the outing, Walti, told me that we should not feel sad. 
“It was quick,” she told me later. “What better place to die.”  I could not help but agree with her.  Martin’s death was apparently sudden, and his last memory would have been looking at the willows and the rushing stream and the cloudy sky and the sand flats of the Hahamongna Watershed Park.  In his final moments, he was surrounded with friends that he’d only met that day, trail compadres who shared a common love of the outdoors, all brought together at this time and this place to witness his passing.

Though I barely knew him, I felt closer to him in death.
           
Of course, I told Dolores about this when I got home.  I was a bit shaken by the experience.  In fact, it was not until late that night that I learned the name of who had died on my outing.  Yes, he’d told me his name when he arrived, but so did a dozen other people who’d I’d just met that day.  By calling around to the fire department and to the hospital, I learned Martin’s identity, and I managed to figure out his phone number through process of elimination in my phone log.  Of course, I was partly worried about legal ramifications.  It was Martin’s wife who told me that Martin died doing what he loved doing, and that it was probably the best of all possible outcomes that he died in that manner.  She also said that the family felt Martin was living on “borrowed time,” that they felt he should have died (according to what the doctors said) five years earlier. 

A few days later, Dolores and I and a few others were discussing this incident, and wondering about the series of choices that brought Martin to me on his last day. 

Dolores seemed very thoughtful about all this, and said that possibly Martin’s Doer (his spiritual Self) knew that his body was going to die.  Coming to my outdoor outing brought him into contact with my Doer, my spiritual Self, which could have been a final uplifting act, whether or not each of us realized it. 

Dolores was never one who engaged in flattery, and she always kept me humble.  She knew that we were not perfect and that we had a long way to go.  Yet, we continued to work at and struggle on the Spiritual Path of  perfection and evolution.  It was always “fall down seven times, get up eight times.”  In our perspective of a morally-bankrupt, and spiritually dark world, we did feel that we (including our “spiritual family”) represented a light in the darkness.  Yes, often a flickering, barely noticeable light, but a light nevertheless.  It is to that Light that Dolores believed Martin was coming to, and it was with that desire that he took his final breath.  And that was good for Martin.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Squatter in L.A. -- Extract from the book



HOW I EARNED AN INCOME AND LEARNED TO SPEND LESS

[This is a section of a chapter from Nyerges’  e-book, “Squatter in Los Angeles,” available from Kindle, or as a pdf from the Store at  www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]

I had no regular job during this period, though I earned $5 each week by writing an outdoor column for the Pasadena Star News. It wasn’t much money, but it seemed to add up when I got a check at the end of each month. It also got my name out there, and I began to get requests to give talks to local groups and to lead walks for schools.

Even though I paid no rent, I did have a utility and phone bill to pay, so I needed a bit  more than $5 a week.  I sought out part time work here and there which would still allow me to attend the various small classes offered by the non-profit during the week. 

I found work doing such tasks as roofing, framing, writing magazine articles.

I landed a part-time job doing typesetting, which also led to my writing for that little newspaper, the Altadena Chronicle, owned by Sue and Rich Redman.  I thought I was on top of the world with that income and my $5 a week income from the Pasadena Star News. I also ended up doing some framing and painting at the newspaper office when they remodeled. 

In reality, I was on the edge of poverty financially, and yet I felt good, at peace most of the time, and loved to try new things and experiment.  My primary source of mental stimulation was through my classes and involvement with the non-profit next door, and I believed this was the most important work I could do.  In fact, there was no reason why I could not have gotten some full-time job like all my friends, or enrolled back into college full-time and gotten a degree that would enable me to earn a reasonable income. But somehow I convinced myself that  -- for better or worse – my “free” lifestyle was more important for the solace of my soul, and for the salvation of the planet.  Still, my soul wasn’t always solaced by my “lifestyle” because I always had a nagging fear anytime anyone came up the driveway. Furthermore, I constantly wavered between confidence and doubt that my way of life had any effect whatsoever on the direction the planet was taking.

My time was divided between my work, my studies and research with the non-profit organization that brought me to Highland Park in the first place. 

I drove a Honda 90 motorcycle at the time that got 100 miles to the gallon so my transportation costs were very low. 

I derived great pleasure from experimenting and learning all the ways I could provide for my daily needs, and even my wants, using things that I made, grew, found on the property, or obtained from discards.  Had I been married with children, I believe this would have been an impossible pursuit, for obvious reasons. But I was essentially alone. Yes, there was a girlfriend who visited occasionally, and two “roommates,” and though our lives intersected, I was free to try things and experiment and live a very simple life. 
Simple, but not easy, and basic, but not without its challenges.

I read Thoreau’s Walden Pond for the first time during this period, and found  my state of mind frequently resonating with the basic themes in the book.  Remember, Thoreau wasn’t a bum, or a drop-out, or an alcoholic.  Actually, for that matter, he was no squatter either, for the land where he was given permission to do his “experiment” was owned by fellow writer and friend William Emerson. He built for himself a little house (a “shack” by most accounts), and did a lot of his writing there. He stayed there by himself, probably realizing even back then that many commercial interests in our society vie for our time and money, finding ever-more clever ways to convince us that we need objects which previous millennia of humans survived without.  It would be accurate to say that Thoreau – like me – was profoundly interested in the very meaning of life and wanted to discover the point of all the rushing about to get somewhere.  Unable to discover these answers in his town, Thoreau built and moved into his little shack in the woods and learned how to grow the food that he ate, and found it nourishing and satisfying. He also ate purslane, an import from the old world, which even then was common throughout the eastern United States in tilled soil.  He wrote “I learned that a man may use as simple a diet as the animals, and yet retain health and strength.  I have made a satisfactory dinner off a dish of purslane which I gathered and boiled.  Yet men have come to such a pass that they frequently starve, not from want of necessities, but for want of luxuries.”  Indians and trappers would visit and talk, and somehow through this unprejudiced intercourse, he found that all people were more alike then different, and a life lived for purely material reasons is a life wasted.

Now I found myself in a similar setting, though it wasn’t in the woods but a ruralish part of Los Angeles.  There was purslane and chickweed growing right outside my door.  I  had no pond nearby, but I did manage to get over the Arroyo Seco which was as close to my personal Walden Pond as I felt I would get.

At night, thinking over the day’s classes and studies, typing up my notes and insights, I often ruminated over how life should be lived, and wondered why we take up so much time and waste so much of life on trivial pursuits.  I felt that it  was important to live simply, to grow food, to discover nature’s secrets, and to find answers through thinking and through research.  I wondered why others did not think like me.  And with the purslane growing right in my yard, I could eat it for lunch in my salad and fancy myself some sort of urban Thoreau as I thought over these ideas.

I did learn some years later when Thoreau was mentioned by the academics he was regarded as a brilliant intellectual who discovered the simple reality that was right in front of  everyone. Be here now. Imagine. The kingdom is within. Which is why I naturally assumed that his own peers would have regarded him as a saint and savior.  Wrong!  I have actually spoken to descendents of Thoreau’s peers and they said that in the day, Thoreau was by no means universally respected. Rather, many regarded him as a bum, an outsider, someone who had rejected society to hang out with the Indians in the woods.  I was starting to see that there were more parallels with me and Thoreau than were originally apparent.

So I did my best – though usually unsuccessfully – to not be seen as a freeloading bum who chose not to work and who just sat around listening to the birds and who saw secret messages in the clouds.....