Sunday, December 18, 2011


[photo by Sunny Savage; Richard Nyerges at right]

I was sitting in a bus, driving through the Guatemalan countryside when I got the call that Richard had died. I was troubled, and upset, and saddened that I’d not see Richard again. I began to think over some of our life together. I thought mostly of childhood incidents, and they mostly made me laugh.

-- The haircuts Richard and I would get from our father. My father would sit us up on highchair in the garage and the whole neighborhood could watch the spectacle of a poor haircut.

-- Or our early morning paperroutes when we were out in the neighborhood on our bicycles when everyone else was asleep.

-- Once Richard left the house when my father told him he couldn’t, and my father was so mad that he got in the car and drove over to Santa Rosa and Highland screaming the whole way. He dragged Richard into the car and was screaming and slapping him all the way home, much to the entertainment of all the other children in the neighborhood.

-- I was often surprised when Richard was overly protective of me as his younger brother. Once, while walking home from school, an older boy said something to me, and I just ignored it. But Richard went over to this boy and punched him more times than I could count, and the boy limped away, and I was shocked at his reaction. Yet, I gained a new respect for him.

But mostly, when I heard of his death, I was sad. He’d not be around anymore, even though we probably only talked once a month or so. The last time I saw him was at Jonny’s memorial. I realized that life is short and precious, and we don’t always get all the time we think we need, or deserve.

I remember many years ago when I felt bad, or had some problem, I could always call my parents and talk. I would talk for an hour or so with my mother, and it always made me feel better, and hopeful. Then both parents were gone, and I discovered that I could Still talk to them, which I do almost daily. I just don’t get the same responses anymore.

We could do the same with Richard too, and he will feel your support. Even if you don’t believe this, you can talk to him still and feel better yourself.

The following two days in Guatemala were particularly painful, not entirely but partly because of thinking about Richard. One night I spoke with a friend, Doug, and Doug told me many things, including that my pain wasn’t because of Richard’s pain, but because of my own fears about life, and that was very insightful. Doug told me that night that Richard would appear to me in my dreams. But Richard did not appear to me that night.

The following day, I was participating in our class on the meaning of the Mayan glyphs, and later did a meditation while light music was playing.

When I closed my eyes, I found myself on a large flat mountaintop, not unlike the top of one of the many pyramids we were visiting. Richard was there with me, smiling. He didn’t say anything, but we held hands and began to dance in a circle, slowly at first. We smiled and laughed as we held hands and twirled. We laughed, and Jonathan joined the circle, as we talked lightly about how much fun it was. Dolores joined, and my mother and father joined, smiling. My mother said, “Aren’t you going to invite us to dance?” and we all laughed and continued to dance in this circle.

It was such pure, child-like enjoyment, and others, seeing our delight, quickly joined. Helen joined the circle, and Tom and David and Gilbert quickly joined. Pam, Michael, and Jeffrey joined. Spouses and children joined and the circle got bigger and louder and we were singing and smiling and it was like a Michael Jackson “We are the World” songfest, except the music was more like the Jewish folk song Hava Nagilah. [If you don’t know this song, you should listen to it right now on YouTube to get a feel for my dream].

We went round and round and friends began to join – I saw the neighborhood friends join with Richard – Lee Keller, George Sotello, Babbit, Jim Billups, and I saw the many family friends join the dance – Paul Martinez and Carlos Frausto and the deFazios and people kept joining, friends of Richard and friends of his friends and the circle got larger and larger, and the music was like this celestial angelic music and we moved as one and we smiled and we felt a oneness that you just want to feel on earth but you rarely do.

The circle got larger and larger and as we danced and moved we all began to see that we were all one family, one organism, and we recognized that if I hurt you, I hurt myself, and that if I steal from you, I steal from me, and that if I cause pain to you, I cause pain to myself. We were all moving and there was no fear, no pride, no lies, no prejudice, no Democrats, no Republicans, and Richard in his bright green shirt, was smiling broadly.

As the circle continued and everyone felt their oneness with each other, and with Richard of course, I saw flashes of bright white light all around us – believe me, this would make a great music video!

While we danced, Richard was on the far side of the circle and he said, Don’t cry for me. I said, People are sad. Why not cry. He said, Don’t cry. Just live better. Live your life, and be good. Live better and respect each other and be good to each other. Do that in my memory.

My meditation ended.

So, in Richard’s name, I thank every one of you for being a part of this wonderful circle.

Monday, November 21, 2011


I’ve written extensively on the contributions from Native Americans, contributions that are usually forgotten. These include foods, medicines, political ideas (including the U.S. Constitution and method of government), and much more.

Now that Thanksgiving is nearly upon us again this year, it’s appropriate to thank those people who helped the earliest settlers to survive. By “thanks,” I mean tangible forms of thanks, such as direct gifts to Native families who are still suffering from economic hardship. Look folks, their land was stolen from them as the flow of European culture rolled over them. Now they are the “forgotten minority.”

Casinos haven’t come to all the tribes, and even casinos are not the panacea that they are made out to be.

Yes, also give thanks to God! You should humbly give thanks for your bounty and your blessings. And this does not require you to consume massive amounts of food!

I gave a talk at the Sunday Spiritual Studies at WTI. I was describing the great diversity of Native Americans here in what is now Canada, U.S., and Mexico, with as many as 5000 distinct languages and/or dialects at the time of European contact. The cultural practices and religious ideas are likewise diverse. The Native Americans were never a homogenous group of people.

As a prelude to why we as Americans should give tangible thanks to Native Americans, I attempted to answer the very complicated question of “Who are/were the Native Americans?”

I hope to write this up into a full report with all the details, but for now, here is the basic outline and reference list of my report.

1. Scientific American, November 2011, The First Americans. A report showing that the “first Americans” were here far longer than previously thought.

2. “Red Earth, White Lies” by Vine Deloria, demonstrating that the “Bering Strait Theory” is just that, a theory, based on very little fact.

3. The case of Kensington Man, whose unofficial test showed that he was related to the Ainu of Japan.

4. “The Zuni Enigma” by Nancy Yaw Davis, who shows amazing connections between Japanese and the Zuni. Her theory is that Japanese Buddhists left earthquake-wracked medieval Japan and sailed across the Pacific to Southern California, eventually migrating inland to the Zuni territory.

5. “Pale Ink” by Henriette Mertz, detailing two visits by Chinese to the American west coast, one about 2000 B.C. and another about 400 A.D. She compares some uncanny connections between the Maya and the Chinese.

6. “He Walked the Americas” by L. Taylor Hansen, a collection of fables, legends, stories, and songs from assorted Native American tribes who speak of a holy man or prophet who came from the sea and spread teachings among all tribes.

7. National Geographic, December 1972, article “Mounds: Riddles from the Indian Past,” page 783. Page 794 and 795 shows a conch shell that was dug from a mound. A drawing on the conch shell shows rowers on a boat with an obvious symbol of Tanith, a Carthaginian lunar goddess of the Phoenician pantheon. How did that get there?

8. “America B.C.” by Barry Fell, a fascinating account of the many people who came to America before Columbus, and the evidence left behind.

9. “Cahokia, Ancient America’s Great City on the Mississippi” by Timothy Pauketat.

And there was much more in this fascinating exploration of the diverse roots of the people who became the First Americans. I hope that reading some of the books listed here will help to expand your perspective.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Was Jesus Black?

Christmas is coming, and soon we’ll be entrenched in all the Christmas themes. In a recent conversation, a friend casually said to me, “Well, you know Jesus was black, don’t you?” Needless to say, this led to a long conversation.

I researched this over 15 years ago, and did find that there is sufficient Biblical evidence to say that Jesus was indeed of mixed ancestry, including African. But whether or not that makes him “black” depends on whose definition you use.

Many have heard of the “black Madonna” and believe that to be a carryover from when everyone believed Jesus had African ancestors in his lineage. But that’s not “proof,” anymore than we can say it’s “proof” that Santa Claus is black because we saw a black Santa Claus last Christmas in Harlem.

Where is the proof? I have actually seen Old Testament quotes used to “prove” that Jesus was black. But you can’t use Old Testament quotes for proof, since those quotes were written before Jesus was born!

And you really can’t rely on the book of Daniel or the book of Revelation for proof of Jesus’ African ancestry either since those books are highly symbolic and prophetic and subject to diverse interpretations.

Many of the Old Testament quotes that are used to “prove” that Jesus is black are King James translations, and if you read from another Bible translation – such as the Lamsa Bible translated out of the Aramaic – there would be no “evidence” whatsoever there to suggest anything about Jesus being black.

The key to Jesus’ ancestry is to look at the genealogies listed in the Bible, specifically Luke 3: 23-31, and Matthew 1:1-17. Note carefully that most such lineages list only the male line, but there in these lineages (both a bit different, by the way), we are told of at least four of the women in Jesus’ genealogical line. These are Rehab, Ruth, Tamar, and Bathsheba. Rehab (also spelled Rahab) was a Canaanite. Tamar was probably a Canaanite. Bethsheba, often referred to as a Hittite, was more likely Japhethic, that is, not a descendant of Ham. (However, this is not clear). Ruth was in the line of Ham.

Now, who was Ham? Who were the Canaanites and Hittites?

According to Genesis 9:19, all mankind descended from Noah’s three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth as they spread throughout the world. Ham’s descendants became the black people who settled in Africa, and parts of the Arabian peninsula. His sons were Cush, whose descendants settled in Ethiopia, Mizraim, whose descendants settled in Egypt, Put, whose descendants settled in Libya, and Canaan, whose descendants settled in Palestine. The descendants of Cush were the main populace of the Cushite Empire, which extended from western Libya to Ethiopia and Nubia, all of present day Egypt, and the Arabian peninsula into the mountains of Turkey. They spoke several languages and had skin pigmentation ranging from dark black to medium brown.

It takes a bit of study to ascertain who these people were – and there were other possible African women in Jesus’ lineage as well – but, in general, when we are speaking of Cushites, Canaanites, descendants of Ham, etc., we are speaking of Africans. It is entirely possible that this wasn’t a big deal when the scriptures were written since Jesus’ racial background would have been regarded as common knowledge.

Still, nowhere in the Scriptures can one find definitive descriptions of Jesus’ ethnicity or physical appearance. It just isn’t there. But the clues are there. He was obviously a Jewish rabbi, trained in the Jewish ways, whose background included people from all parts of the known world at that time.

Was Jesus black? It all depends upon how you define “black.” He was clearly a cosmopolitan man.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Road Kill Bill, R.I.P.

News item, dated October 13, 2001.
“Wild Bill” Found Dead in Park Bushes Wednesday.

Christopher Nyerges at the memorial  "gravesite" for William Barrios, aka "Road Kill Bill"
-- photo by Francisco Loaiza

A transient known locally as “wild Bill” was found dead at 12:53 p.m. Wednesday afternoon in the bushes of Hahamongna Park, confirmed Sgt. Debra Herman of the Crescenta Valley Sherff’s Station on Thursday night.

“We – everyone at the station here – have had contact with him several times,” Herman said.

“Wild Bill” is formally known as 54-year-old William Pluma Barrios, who was christened with the nickname for allegedly being intoxicated in public (allegedly??) and yelling at people, which has led to many calls to the station. The park, which is right across the street from La Canada High School, was known as Barrios’ most frequented area. (His “most frequented area”?? He LIVED there!)

Barrios cause of death is still not known, as the coroner’s office is awaiting test results which could arrive in a few weeks, said Lt. Brian Elias of the county coroner’s office. However, Elias added that there is no suspicion of foul play in Barrios’ death.

[You can find a photo of Barrios on Facebook or Altadena Patch.  Use the term "Wild Bill"]
XXX      XX      XXX

I was saddened to read the above news notice – in fact, I was first alerted about his death by a phone call from Francisco Loaiza.

I encountered Road Kill (as he said he preferred to be called) about 30 years ago, when he would camp in the area around Gould Mesa about two miles north of JPL. In the last 6 or so years, he lived further south in various spots in Hahamongna Watershed Park, and we “talked” often. He would often break into poetry or wild laughter, but we had some semblance of coherency. When he learned who I was one day, he ran into his lean-to and came back with a dog-eared copy of my “Guide to Wild Foods” book, which he said taught him a few local wild edible plants.

Over 3 years ago, when Helen Sweany attended one of my classes, she left her pack behind. She called me to go find it, but it was gone. A few days later, a bus driver called Helen. The bus driver was given Helen’s pack by Road Kill, and Helen got it back intact, with nothing removed! Road Kill told the bus driver that he really enjoyed reading Helen’s notebook about wild foods and survival.

Today, October 24, I recorded a podcast in honor of Road Kill next to his last camp, where someone erected a stone memorial in his honor. You can listen to the podcast on Preparedness Radio Network, with the date October 27, 2011.

Here is the poem I wrote about Road Kill back in 2008. When I gave him a copy, he smiled and then let out a wild laugh. I think that meant he liked it.


Road Kill Bill was rarely seen
He lived under a tree in oak grove park
He was maybe 50, not a teen
Whose homeless life seemed so stark

For weeks we’d see him come and go
But we never together talked
we’d hear his loud alone discourses
caused some fear, car doors were locked

But he never caused us harm
Just a man living life
Under the oak trees he lived
Coming from a life of strife

One day Helen she forgot her pack
When I went back to get it, twas no more there
Helen called me few days later
Saying her pack got back, an answered prayer
A bus driver was given it
And then it was passed to Helen
Found by Road Kill Bill, given to bus driver
Bill was an honest man, not a felon

'Well, I’m not speaking for his past
For I only knew this incident
But finally one day he talked to us
After the outing he said “hi,” coincident
With us wondering who he was
Bill’s the name, they call me Road Kill
Yes he lived in the bush, said he
A lively man, dynamic still
This large man called Road Kill Bill
A scary visage but a friendly guy
Wanting to talk with others still
Who simply asked us Why
And how, do you make fire with stick
Can you really do it
Or is it just a trick
And he told us of reading Tom Brown
Of tracking deer and shelter making
He teethless told us how to improve our fire
And he smiled to see that we were not just faking

Road Kill accepted my apple
To give to his friend the deer
“For my toothless mouth
Cannot chew it, I fear”
Said he lost his teeth
In some past jailtime fight
I wanted to ask why he did time
But feared it would not be right
To open the door of frightful fights
And memories bad and invoking pain
So I just smiled back at him
My curiosity I did restrain

I told him Helen was so pleased
To get pack back with book of notes
He simply nodded that he’d done the deed
He was not a man of many coats
Just living life under a tree
In plain sight for any to see
Wild man of the oaken land
shakes you with his strong hand

When you travel this life
Of valleys and hill
You may sometimes reflect
Upon Road Kill Bill

Food he gets from here and there
No air conditioning, not a care
Bathroom and water are nearby
Wild hair with a simple tie

Not a life that all would live
Most have money that flows through a sieve
On all “necessities” that Bill doesn’t use
Such luxuries can be a noose
Are they Right or wrong
Are they good or bad
These are things that Road Kill Bill
Hasn’t had, and isn’t mad

Lives simply under oak tree
Watches animals that he does see
Bothers no one, uses little
Why should anyone him belittle

Probably not a saint
But carbon footprint zero
His lifestyle make you faint
But could he be a hero?

Written August 23, 2008

Friday, September 30, 2011


Dolores' birthday is October 2, Sunday, and so I am thinking about her death, and the memorial we held for her. I always enjoyed her mother's book, "The Winds Erase Your Footprints." It's a true story her mother wrote about her best friend who married a Navajo man and went to live on the reservation during the Great Depression.

(You can read my Memorial to Dolores at and clicking Memorial).
We read passages from the book when we had a "63rd birthday commemoration" for Dolores.

Here is a passage. (The book can be obtained anywhere, plus at the Store at

Here is what I read, from Chapter 7, The Sing:

And then Shimah was telling him about the yellow pollen. Juanita could almost follow the story by her mother-in-law's excited gestures. Shimah's face was strong and tense, no room for gentleness, and her voice carried a new undertone--like fear. Only her hands seemed natural, although excited, as she gestured. Strange that Shimah should tell about the yellow pollen, rather than ask the rider about himself, about news which he was surely carrying. Of what interest could the yellow pollen be to him?
But he was interested. He leaned forward as though better to hear her words; his eyes narrowed and his face looked very grave. He asked many questions. Shimah answered and sometimes Yee-ke-nes-bah. Through their conversation one word seemed to repeat itself until it began to echo and re-echo in Juanita's mind: ma-itso . . . ma-itso.
...And then Lorencito began to talk seriously to Luciano; Juanita heard the work ma-itso repeated again and again. Shimah sat nodding her head as her oldest son talked, occasionally adding a word to what he was saying. Luciano turned to Juanita; his face was marked with gravity as was his older brother's. "Lorencito says that it is not safe to keep this from you any longer; I should tell you now."
Juanita waited. Her mouth and throat felt suddenly dry. She could not have spoken. Her thoughts raced: this is in some way connected, ma-itso and yellow pollen. Perhaps it's all connected, all of the puzzling and unexplained things that have happened. And somehow, the looks on their faces, Shimah's and Lu's, Yee-ke-nes-bah's and Lorencito's, are a little bit frightening.
"Before we came here," her husband began, "when I tried to tell you about everything which might seem strange to you, I didn't tell you about ma-itso--the wolf clan. One reason, it no longer seemed as believable to me as it once had; perhaps all the years in school did that; anyhow, in Hollywood I seldom thought of it. When we came here, my mother told me the wolf clan was still strong in CaƱoncito. I didn't tell you then because I could see no reason why they would try to harm us. But to be sure you were safe, my mother and sisters watched you every minute.
"There were times when I almost told you, those times when you were upset about things you didn't understand. And yet I hated to frighten you needlessly. Already there was so much for you to worry about. It seemed better to wait until I had a job, until we were living in town and then tell you. "But now two things have happened which make me sure the ma-itso is for some reason after us. I found yellow pollen in an X mark on my hat brim, and today my mother found pollen on our clothes. That is their warning. Lorencito thinks you will be safer if you know about this evil thing." A hundred questions sprang to Juanita's lips, but her husband went on talking, interrupted now and then by Lorencito or his mother.
"The wolf clan is as old as the Navajo tribe. From the beginning some men turned certain powers, which should have been used for good, toward evil things. Corn pollen, used for blessing, is used by the ma-itso as a warning to a person marked for death. And death does not come in a usual manner; it comes in a round-about way which cannot be easily traced. The victim sickens suddenly; sometimes his mind leaves him. No Medicine Man can cure him. Sometimes the victim meets with a mysterious and fatal accident.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Goodbye Jonathan

June 18, 1982 – September 1, 2011

Nine of us stood there at dusk on Sunday at the intersection of Baldwin and Palm in Arcadia. It was where my nephew Jonathan died in a motorcycle accident the previous Thursday.

He was driving north-bound on Baldwin when man driving westbound on Palm turned onto Baldwin. He crossed Baldwin to go south, but he probably didn’t see Jonathan. The impact killed Jonathan instantly and the small SUV was toppled, with the driver dying later in the hospital.

We friends and family members stood by the make-shift shrines erected by Jonathan’s friends. In the middle of the street, on the traffic island, were signs and letters to Jonny. On the sidewalk at the base of the traffic light were a dozen or so candles, a small motorcycle, others trinkets, lots of flowers, and many good wishes written in chalk on the sidewalk and curb.

We talked about what happened, or, how we thought it might have happened. I took photos. Then I noticed all the various colored spray paint marks in the middle of the street. They were the marks made by the police to define the accident scene. Richard and I tried to figure out what the markings meant. We couldn’t figure it all out, but we thought we recognized marks for the main part of the motorcycle. We stared at a spot where Jonny apparently fell.

The sky was red with awesome clouds, and drops of rain had begun falling lightly. Rain, any rain, was a rarity in early September in California. As we silently stood, we listened for Jonny as the cars roared by. I heard Richard continuing to describe what happened, and listened to his hopes that somehow it was all a dream and Jonny would ride up their driveway on the motorcycle. The sky began to light up in an electrical storm. These were huge flashes of multi-branched light quickly followed by the crack of thunder. I took it to be Jonny’s goodbye to all of us who stood there honoring his last stand, where his 29 years ended.

I reflected on the few but happy interactions I had with Jonathan. Helen and I last saw him at Tina Frausto’s Fouth of July party in Altadena. He was there with motorcycle helmet in hand. He was happy and we enjoyed our short talk.

I remember when I went to a mailbox shop one day in Sierra Madre when I needed something notarized. The man behind the counter smiled as he refused my money for his work. It was Jonny who recognized me. He was happy, and smiled in his generosity. He always seemed so happy to see me, even though we only saw one another very seldom. I’d always hoped that I’d have the time, or make the time, to develop a closer relationship with my nephews and nieces. Now there would be no more chance with Jonny.

I knew through his father – my brother Richard – that Jonny loved bikes and motorcycles from an early age, and that he was – like his two brothers Michael and Jeffrey – a whiz when it came to the technical things like computers.

I wish I could have known him better. Now it is too late.

I know the pain too well of losing someone we love. When my wife Dolores died, I felt empty and lost and depressed for a long time, and close friends offered me much support. Now is the time for friends and family to do all they can to offer your loving support and physical support to Richard and his family.

After Dolores died, my mentor shared with me something to keep in mind with all our living loved ones. This is an urging for how all of us should begin interacting with each other, all the time.


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

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Labor Day 2011

A review of “Razor’s Edge”

We were in a small field and a small stream was trickling by. We created an ember with a bow and drill, and then put the ember into a wad of mugwort. We blew it into a flame, and then created our small fire between two rocks. We balanced a #10 can over the rocks, and heated water. Soon, we added coffee grounds to the water, and then strained our coffee through a clean sock into each of our cups. The hobo coffee was delicious and then we began to warm our stew made from beans and wild greens.

It was Labor Day in Highland Park, and we gathered for the annual WTI event [] to discuss the meanings of “real labor,” and to consider why we do what we do all life long, and whether or not there are better alternatives. Our focus was upon those peripatetics throughout history who could not go along with their society’s norm, who knew there was a better way, and who worked to share this insight with their fellow man.

Such peripatetics could have included Jesus, Socrates, Ghandi, Pythagoras, and many others.

As we enjoyed our coffee and beans, we moved to a nearby makeshift shelter where an outdoor TV had been set up. We sat in the shade as we viewed and discussed the original version of “Razor’s Edge.”

The story begins in 1919, post World War I, where the author Somerset Maugm, describes one of the most unusual individuals he’d ever encountered. The main character, Larry, survived the last battles of WWI, but his fellow soldier, right next to him, was shot dead. That caused an indelible mark in Larry, and it led him on his search for the meaning of life, his life, life in general. It meant Larry found himself unable to settle down, and wandered to Paris, and to a monastery in India. Meanwhile, we see what happens to Larry’s childhood friends as they pursue their ordinary life, the very life they wanted for Larry.

I first viewed this movie when it was on TV in the middle of the night, a restless night when I could not sleep and I was asking the very questions that Larry asked himself. What is this all about? Why do I do what I do? What should I do? Why is everyone so unhappy with me if I do not do as they want?

The original black and white version of “Razor’s Edge” remains an inspiring classic, and I strongly recommend that you view it, and put yourself in Larry’s shoes.
Did Larry ever find his answers? He said he found some of his answers, though not all, and that he might never find all his answers. But while in India, while alone outdoors as the rising sun made its appearance, he experienced what some would call a Oneness with The All, and felt that he were a part of God. It was an experience that he could barely describe in words, and one which he thought back to often.

That was what I did on Labor Day.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Some "Economic Survival" Considerations

Here is some “food for thought” adapted from the last chapter of my “How to Survive Anywhere” book (published by Stackpole Books, available from, or

It would be the height of naivete to discuss the full picture of “survival” and not bring up money. Money is an integral, inescapable part of life in any specialized and organized society. Talk show host Tony Brown once said “If I’ve been accused of over-emphasizing money, it’s because I place money right up there with oxygen as a necessity.”

Whole libraries have already been written by the folks who live their lives 24/7 in the pursuit of money. You know, Suze Orman, Loral Langemeier, and all the folks that tell you how to make a meaningful income by investing, or buying real estate, or whatever. If you feel you are lacking in this area, you owe it to yourself to explore those who have already succeeded in this arena.

For our purposes here, let’s look at “money” in a meaningful context.

None of us really needs money, per se. We need (and want) those things that money buys for us. This means that if we focus upon the acquisition of money per se, we may simply be bumbling ahead with our lives, assuming that the acquisition of money is itself an important goal.

We should define our goals in life, and we should recognize that although money can help to accelerate our achieving many goals, money cannot replace our desire and drive to achieve and accomplish that goal. In other words, the desire to accomplish and to produce results, and to establish working networks with other people is far more meaningful to our life’s goals than is “money.”

Knowledge and self-education is perhaps the most important first step to increasing your survival awareness, and allowing yourself the possibility of making new choices. This concept was the subject of the last chapter of our Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City book, where we explored the four illusions of money. Fear and greed are the primary factors that drive our economy. If you allow fear or greed to drive you, you cannot make the best decisions.

Once you recognize that much of our personal thinking, and public broadcasting, about “economics” is counter-productive to our “economic survival” (and automatically impinges upon other facets of survival as well), we inevitably look for personal solutions. What can I do? What can I do, especially if I am in a limited situation? What can I do now?

Begin by defining your goals very specifically. Write them down. Record some short-term goals, but also your long-term goals. These must be goals that you deeply desire to achieve, and they should be goals that you can achieve. Plus, you might have a list of goals that you must achieve (e.g., I must have $1700 for my mortgage each month or I lose my home!). For each goal, you should be able to record at least three concrete steps that you can take – whatever your current financial situation – to achieve these goals. Bring other people into your analysis. Don’t try to do this alone.

Also, consider the broadest ramifications for your “goals.” Are they benefiting more than just myself? Are these goals that might facilitate friends, family, neighbors to work together (thus increasing our survival quotient)?

In “Beautiful Mind,” the movie about the life of John Nash, the mathematician who developed “game theory,” Nash quotes Adam Smith (often referred to as the father of modern economics) as saying “The best result comes when everyone in the group is doing what’s best for themselves.” In other words, your self-interest should serve the group. It is better for the society that you not lose your home to foreclosure. Nash saw that Adam Smith, while correct, was incomplete. Nash enhanced Adam Smith’s axiom to” “The best result comes when everyone in the group is doing what’s best for themselves – AND the group.” It was clear to a mathematician that thinking about others is definitely in your best “survival” interests.

Obviously, this is just food for thought. The practical applications are up to you to find, and to put into action.

Here are some financial-related principles to ponder, and to experiment with. Think of them as tools for survival and enlightened living

1. As ye give, so shall ye receive.

2. Always lead with an offer. (Don’t expect someone to care about you just because you are “in need.” Before you ask for help, find out how you can benefit the other person).

3. Make every place better for your having been there. (This is true “Appreciation”)

4. What blesses one, blesses all. (Another way of saying “all ships rise in a rising tide”).

5. Discover the “magic” of Tithing. (Even financial advisor Suze Orman suggests that you give to the church or charity of your choice).

6. Pay back your debts

7. Barter and exchange. (You’d be amazed at the sorts of relationships that can develop when money is not involved.)

Friday, July 29, 2011

In Search of Real Survival, part 2

An Interview with Vine Deloria, Jr.

I had to chuckle when I heard a “survivalist” say that he’d like to see the collapse of society so that he could start over from scratch. Really? Why would someone sitting behind a computer, driving a truck, and buying what he needs at the local grocery store want things to fall apart? Though such persons are usually clueless as to what it actually takes to start a society “from scratch,” such sentiments do reveal a deep discontent with our current state of affairs.

History is full of folks who attempted to create a breakaway society, usually in search of a better, more idealistic, maybe even utopian, way of life. That’s how our American experiment began, at the expense of the Native Americans. This is how and why the Amish live they way they do, and persevere despite the ridicule of their neighbors.

Hippies of the 1960s and ‘70s also tried to create separate communities, “communes,” where they could farm, dance and sing, and attempt to put into practice whatever religion and politics they developed. Let’s examine the hippies.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to interview Vine Deloria, Jr. for Wilderness Way magazine. Deloria was named by Time magazine as one of the greatest religious thinkers of the 20th Century. Among his approximately two dozen books, he wrote “God is Red,” which Wilma Mankiller (former Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation) called “the flagship book of Native American spirituality.” (Deloria passed away at age 72 in November of 2005).

Among other things, I spoke with Deloria about how hippies presumed to imitate Native Americans in both look and practices.

The reason that the hippie movement failed, Deloria told me, was not just because of drug use, though that was a significant factor. Hippies failed, said Deloria, because they failed to grasp the value of organizing tribally, and they ignored the value of customs. “I think they failed for lack of discipline and lack of commitment,” he said. “People tried to create communities from scratch and it didn’t work. People were sincere, but they often lacked anything in common except a rebellious spirit. And in fact, a lot of Indian communities today have the very same problem. Extreme individualism is chaos and unjust to everyone.”

Deloria also blames television and popular media for presenting a false picture of what traditional Indian culture was and is all about, so those who do sincerely try to pursue that end up pursuing a counterfeit.

“In the world of ideas,” continues Deloria, “Indian culture becomes a kind of deli where people pick and choose what they want to practice. Much of the appropriation is the projection of wishful thinking on different Indian symbols, such as the vision quest, sweat lodge, using the pipe, etc. My fear was that with so many Indians living in the cities with no experience with reservation communities, some of them would begin to think that the frauds actually represented the true tribal cultures. I can remember how popular the Billy Jack movies were and many Indian youths thought the ‘ceremonies’ in that movie were what people actually did. A lot of it sounded good to people who knew nothing about Indian culture. And simply being an Indian in the urban area does not somehow magically mean you know anything of the traditional tribal culture.”

It was an insightful interview with Deloria on a variety of topics where he shared – if you read between the lines – how to succeed at making a meaningful community, based upon following certain patterns from the past.

Unfortunately, the interview was never published in Wilderness Way because the owner/publisher told me that “It might offend Christian readers.”

“How on earth would they be offended?” I challenged.

“Because his book is called ‘God is Red,’” said the publisher.

I was shocked at his narrow-mindedness, and suggested that he read such books as “The Pipe and Christ,” or Joseph Epes Brown’s “The Sacred Pipe” to see that there is less dichotomy between pure tribal religion and pure Christianity than meets the eye. This is not to imply that Deloria did not criticize Christianity. He certainly did, but Deloria was an “equal opportunity” criticizer, criticizing what he saw wrong in both Native American practices, Christianity, and elsewhere.

For example, he harshly criticized televangelists such as Oral Roberts who once told his followers that he needed about $10 million for his new building or “God would take me home.” He analogized televangelists to mainstream Christianity as the travelling pop shaman to traditional tribal religion.

“Except the televangelists are much worse,” he explained. “They thirst for political power whereas the medicine men, even the phoneys, simply want some public recognition and status.”

There is no shortage of guidelines from the past or present for “the right ways to live.” It is silly to think that everything must be destroyed in order to create a higher and better way of life.

Deloria brought up just a few of the principles that anyone can work to put into practice: Discipline, organizing within a community of like-minded people, and valuing your traditions and customs.

Additionally, whenever anyone brings up “The Old Ways,” it usually refers to such things as valuing family, home, respect for elders, respect for your surroundings, cooperation with others, and the ability to adapt.

Anyone wishing to seek the meaning of Real Survival cannot go wrong by beginning to apply these simple principles into your daily life.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

In Search of Real Survival

All of us who have devoted our lives to studying and applying skills of survival are well aware of the periodic events which beset us all: wars, droughts, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, economic collapses, etc. Some are “acts of God,” and many are acts of man.

The practical skills of survival are direly needed by all of us. And yet, the media continues to serve up “reality” shows that provide little or no practical skills in our day to day living.

Shows like Survivor, Man vs. Wild, Survivorman, and their offspring can be amusing, but are designed more for entertainment value rather than providing anything of real value. These shows which often depict buff individuals in a wilderness setting often showcase the worst of human nature in order to keep us glued to our seats.

Though it amusing, and often nauseating, to see hungry men and women eating snakes, rats, and grubs, there seems to be little relevance to the millions of modern urban dwellers.

What then is real survival all about?

Our food-related survival skills necessitate our knowledge of urban food production, such as growing fruit trees, raising vegetables in limited space, raising chickens, making compost.

We need to educate ourselves to the what foods have great nutritional value, and which do not. If we cannot grow at least some of our own food, we should support those farmers at local farmers markets who are providing local quality food.

Real survival in the modern world includes practical knowledge of economics. How can you get more for less money by spending less and earning more. You can begin by separating need from want, and then you should re-evaluate everything in your life that is touched by money. Ask yourself, “How can I obtain this thing, or service, or skill, without money?” Is it possible to trade or barter?

And then there is the ages-old good advice for how to soundly deal with material things: why buy new if used will do? Don’t discard if it can be made into something else, etc.

Economic collapse of a country’s currency has happened many times, usually due to the over-extension of the leaders who controlled the purse strings, and who considered themselves more deserving than the general populace. A collapse of a country’s currency forces the people to deal with stark, basic, everyday needs and concerns in a harsh manner until something new is developed.

While it is true that learning how to trap and eat a rat means you don’t have to worry about food from the store in the event of an economic collapse, it is far better to involve yourself in the practical and philosophical underpinnings of the society so that such a collapse doesn’t happen in the first place.

As our material abundance and technological advances continue, we become more and more dependent upon things which we cannot control. We’re fast on the path to a “Blade Runner” or “THX1138” world.

If you’re worried about our future, the answer does not lie with a loin-clothed man with a spear, since a thriving meaningful culture requires vastly more than that. Real survival must encompass a working knowledge of politics, economics, ecology, health, and so much more.

Our answers lie in making the time to educate ourselves to the things that really matter in life. For that matter, in today’s information-glutted world, it’s a real challenge to discern between useful and useless information, between entertainment and education, between that which leads us to freedom and that which merely titilates.

If we desire to be a part of the solution to the ails of modern civilization, then we must choose to not live our lives driven by fear and greed. Yes, real survival means that we must change ourselves first.

Sometimes, we have to realize that we’ve been hypnotized, and that we must fight our own ignorances. Real survival means that we must become like children again, and realize that there is no dishonor in going back to Square One. By reassessing everything that we think we know, and by asking questions anew, we may discover a new found joy in our very existence.

The pursuit of material survival is too often compassionless. We need compassion for each other if we want to have a society that is worth living in.

William Blake once summed up the essence of Real Survival when he stated, “I sought my soul, but my soul I could not see. I sought my God, but my God eluded me. I sought my brother, and I found all three.”

Thursday, June 23, 2011


[Ron Hood died in his sleep on Tuesday, June 21, 2011]

Everyone knew Ron Hood. For me, he was the one relatively local person who was teaching the survival skills I wanted to learn. I knew of Ron long before I ever heard of Tom Brown. I knew about Larry Dean Olsen from his Outdoor Survival Skills book, and wanted to attend Olsen’s classes in the wilderness, but they were a long way from home, and I had no money.

So I studied ethnobotany close to home, from whomever I could. Sometime in the late 1970s, I was invited on a Los Angeles television talk show to talk about survival. The three guests were me to talk about wild foods, and Ellen Hall of WTI to talk about survival clothing, and Ron Hood. That was the first time we met. I recalled Ron as a somewhat thin man, about 10 years older than me, who brought a scientific mind to survival topics.

Occasionally, when drought and disaster and survival were in the news, Ron and I were often interviewed for the same news items. The media called me the “soft survivalist” and Ron the “hard survivalist.” Ron’s policy was “shoot first, ask questions later,” and my policy was why kill an animal at all if you can eat plants.

Ron was a Vietnam veteran, and was teaching at Northridge when I knew him. I would hear of his Sierra excursions from time to time.

Many years passed, and I often wondered what had become of Ron Hood. I learned that he’d moved to Idaho, and was now making the Wood’s Master survival videos, and had cannily obtained the URL.

Ron’s videos went into great detail on how to make a fire, build a shelter, make traps and snares, and more. Ron was doing all this, and showing how to do it right, in the proper context, way before there were the ridiculous survival game shows (e.g. Survivor), and before the appearance of Man vs. Wild or Survivorman.

In 2000, when I began working for Fox TV’s X Show, I got many of my ideas for what skills to demonstrate to the TV audience from Ron’s videos. Some skills I learned for the first time from his videos, such as how to make the primitive cross bow, the figure 4 deadfall trigger, and snares.

I think it was 1993 when a death brought Ron (and Karen) and I a bit closer. I was leading a Wild Food Walk on Memorial Day when a close friend of Ron’s dropped dead. Ron and I shared many conversations about Martin Kruse, and Ron had told me that he wished he had been there in Martin’s final moments.

By the early 2000s, followers of Hoods on-line Forum started having their get-togethers around the country, calling themselves the “hoodlums.” I participated in a few of these, as did Dude McLean and Alan Halcon. These get-togethers segued into our annual Dirttime event, where we taught survival skills for a week in the wilderness. Ron came to many of these, the last being at Lake Silverwood in the San Bernardino Forest in 2009.

Ron inspired a whole generation of outdoor skills practitioners. His death comes as a shock to me and many others. We all send our condolences to his wife Karen and his son Jesse.

I am sure everyone has many Ron Hood stories. These are mine.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"To Sleep With Anger"

On Martin Luther King Day day at our annual WTI gathering, we watched “To Sleep With Anger,” a 1990 film directed by Charles Burnett. The film is about a black family residing in South-Central Los Angeles. One day, an old acquaintance (Harry, played by Danny Glover) come to visit the Gideon and his wife Suzie. Harry seems to be a good old friend, but always seems to stir up trouble. The family already had some conflicts but they seemed to get worse when Harry was there.

Eventually, Gideon has a stroke, and Babe Brother, the younger son, is heavily influenced by Harry. Babe Brother is about to leave his wife. The older brother, Junior, confronts Babe Brother before he departs and a fight erupts – with a knife. The mother tries to break it up and her hand gets cut, and they rush her to the hospital.

The incident brings many of the family’s conflicts to the forefront, and seems to unite them in a positive way once all recognize the negative influence of Harry, as Harry is asked to go.

To me, “To Sleep With Anger” is a classic film, full of the issues that any family faces. Indeed, much of this reminded me of my semi-dysfunctional family with our many failures and some successes.

Sometime in the mid-1990s, I went to a viewing of this film where Mr. Burnett was there to talk to the crowd and answer questions. It was a wonderful event. I’d already seen the movie but was compelled to see it where I could talk to the writer and director.

I asked him about some of the little details, like the young boy trying to play the horn, and the boy who fed the pigeons. These were little details that added a depth to the movie, though they had nothing to do with the plot. Mr. Burnett told me that that boy represented him, which made me smile. Watch the movie, and see how the boy and his horn practice somewhat frames the movie.

And Harry – who does he repesent? You have to see it and figure it out for yourself.

The movie won several awards, but I had never heard of it before a friend pointed it out to myself and Dolores back in the mid-90s.

“I think this is a great movie,” I told Mr. Burnett. “So why do you think it’s gotten so little attention?” Burnett’s answer was quick, and initially surprised me.
“Because there are all black actors,” he said matter of factly. “Really?” I said. Well, in fact, there were a few token whites in the movie, like one of the paramedics. Still, the movie was so good, capturing “family-ness” so well, that I just naturally assumed people would be color-blind and go see it and enjoy it and benefit from it.

Anyway, if you haven’t seen it, it can be rented or purchased at video places. I hope you view it and enjoy it like I did.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

2011 Birthday Run

I arrived around 8 a.m. at the Lower Arroyo casting ponds to do my annual birthday run that I’ve done for about 32 years now. I mentally divided the lap around the pool into seasons, and attempted to review each year of my life with each corresponding lap.

The day was overcast and cool, and somehow I felt very much in the past. In fact, as I ran, I had the sensation of viewing a single life, in the sense that it is only one life, no more, no less, and that I should attempt to derive lessons from the life that I “take with me.”

During childhood, I realized, perhaps more than ever before, all the opportunities that my parents afforded me. While we did not have the best nor happiest family, there was a stable home and regular meals. I realized that I was hungry for something as soon as I was able to think about things. And I pursued that something better, something more, in just about everything I did, which included poetry, painting, drumming, long conversations with friends about the meaning of life, gardening, meditation, and even drugs.

In many ways, that was good, since I had the chance to attempt to think for myself, and make mistakes, and attempt to evolve my own value judgements. On the other hand, I really should have had more parental guidance. I think I wanted much more pressure, and I felt I was able to do so much more at an early age. Nevertheless, I don’t harbor a bit of resentment towards my parents. I love them more than ever, and talk to each of them daily – despite that both have been deceased for many years.

I saw my life as the pursuit of meaning, of love, and of home, though I don’t think I realized it in those terms all those years. All too often, I did like everyone else does and engaged in the pursuit of money, thinking that money would provide my life with real meaning, love, and home. I think I still battle that one, since we all need the things that money can help us achieve, but we actually don’t need money, per se.

I cried the hardest when I thought of my acts of cruelty towards Dolores before we got married. It wasn’t intentional, and we were both homeless at the time (1984), and we managed to overcome that. But it still pains me, and I vow every day to not let my darker side ever overtake my actions again. And money never can buy love. Money bought our house, but we had to make it a home, which is an art, and requires love. And therein, in the act of lovingly creating a home, we found meaning.

And time goes on. When Dolores died two years ago, I relived that pain while running, and felt her soft hand caressing my forehead, saying both hello and goodbye.

By the time I finished running, I was in physical pain. I still, as I write these words, feel in that timelessness that the birthday run afforded me.

I realized, to my chagrin, that much of my life I was a taker, expecting others to carry the ball for me. Lately, I feel I am again somewhat imbalanced, giving, not receiving as much. So my gift to myself is to continue to seek the mysteries of life, to seek meaning, love, and home, and to allow myself to receive as much as I give.

In many ways, I felt that I died today, that some part of me died away, and that I am like a new child eager and ready for a new life. Too bad I am a new child in this broken down body….

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

On the Road to 2012

In December, I had the opportunity to travel to Yucatan and to visit Mayan sites under the guidance of Miguel Angel Vergara Calleros, PhD. Calleros is the author of numerous books on the Maya. He was the director of cultural services at Chichen Itza for several years and is one of the foremost authorities on the archaelogical site of Chichen Itza. Additionally, he studied with a Mayan shaman for 17 years, and now continues to share in classes and seminars about Mayan spirituality.

Among other things, I was going to learn about the significance of the December 21, 2012 date to the Maya. For example, were there any actual predictions about 2012? Did the Maya predict that the world would end? Did they predict doom and gloom? Did they predict anything at all?

But I wasn’t going to learn these things in a vacuum. I was going to spend nearly two week immersed in Maya culture, learning significant aspects of their beliefs, spirituality, and monumental architecture. I would learn about 2012 in the proper context.

I arrived in Merida by airplane in early December, ready for a week of travel to pyramids and caves and cenotes.

On our first day, I was pleasantly surprised that Calleros was not only incredibly knowledgeable about Mayan history and archaeology, but was also a true metaphysician who constantly drew parallels between the exoteric world of rocks and inscriptions to the inner esoteric world of my own soul and my own body.

“As above, so below,” he would often tell us.

We began by visiting Mayapan, the last place where Kukulkan was know to reside. Kukulkan, aka Quetzalcoatl, was referred to as the Mayan Christ, a visitor who came from afar, who uplifted the people, and who created Mystery Schools whose ancient universal teachings are still preserved in stone.

We visited Izamal, where the top of a major pyramid had been leveled to create a large cathedral in the colonial days. There, on the large sprawling plaza of the cathedral, Pope John Paul II came in 1993 to ask forgiveness of the native people for the atrocities committed by the Spanish and by the Church. Ten thousand native people showed up to see the Pope and to hear his plea for forgiveness.

Later in the day, we had lunch at Mani, where in 1562 the zealous Bishop Diego de Landa ordered the burning and destruction of Mayan codices and artifacts. Even though de Landa didn’t understand what the artifacts meant, he was convinced that they were contrary to the teaching of the church.

“This destruction was akin to the burning of the library of Alexandria in the ancient world,” said Calleros. Interestingly, as an afterthought, de Landa thought there might be something of value in the Mayan writings and he saved 4 codices from destruction, and began to write down everything he could recalled in his famous document, “Relacion de Cosas de Yucatan” (History of the Things of Yucatan). It is because of de Landa’s writings that much of the Maya writings have been translated and understood.

At each site we entered, Calleros taught us how to enter in reverence, and how to depart the site with reverence, much the way a devout person would do at their chosen church or mosque. He performed ancient Mayan ceremonies at most sites – at the pyramids, in a cave, at a cenote, on the beach at sunset. When we gathered around his just-assembled altar, he prayed to the six directions, and we sent offerings of seed to the six directions.

To me, much of the ceremony was reminiscent of the Catholic Mass that dominated my childhood, though the Mayan ceremonies were outdoors, natural, and pre-Christian.

One night, Calleros and Richard Jelusich talked about the Mayan calendar. Like our own modern calendar, the Maya had different divisions of time which they kept track of. We have the day, the week, the month, the year, the millennium, etc. The Maya counted time by the number of days that have elapsed since a day that corresponds to our August 11, 3114 B.C. (The significance of that date is unclear).

The divisions of time that they kept track of were one day (called a “kin”), 20 days (called a “uinal” – roughly a month), 360 days (called a “tun” – roughly a year), 7,200 days (called a “katun”—19.7 years), and 144,000 days (called a “baktun” – 394.26 years). Thus, a calendar glyph would be represented by 5 symbols, and a number to indicate how many days in each of the periods have elapsed. The “Long Count” of the Maya calendar is the time it takes for 13 baktuns, counting from August 11, 3114 B.C. This Long Count is a period of 5,125.36 years, and that cycle ends on December 21, 2012. However. the following day does not begin the 14th baktun, but rather, the count from 1 to 13 begins again. One Long Count ends, another begins.

“The calendar doesn’t end,” says Calleros. “It just begins another cycle. It just rolls on, just like our modern calendar that never really ends.”

There are no predictions about anything at all pertaining to December 21, 2012. This is due in part because the Maya who wrote these inscriptions have been long gone. Still, there is nothing in the recorded records about doom and gloom. In fact, there is hardly any mention about 2012 at all. Only one stela mentions it.

Calleros acknowledges that lots of folks are simply making things up to sell books and fill seminars. “But, the Maya would have celebrated such a cycle ending, just like everyone today celebrates the New Year.” Calleros is aware that many are treating 2012 with great fear, largely due to ignorance.

Over the course of nearly two weeks, we went to many pyramid sites, remote villages, beaches, caves, and cenotes. One late night ceremony deep in a cenote was exceptional. Equally exceptional was participating in a Mayan ceremony on the beach of Campeche while the sun set.

We looked at plumed serpents in stone, crystal skulls, red jaguars, and living mysteries. Throughout it all, Calleros emphasized that the meaning of “Mayan sacrifices” was that we must let our egos die if we want to transform ourselves and bloom spiritually. “Don’t polish the stones of the pyramids,” he’d tell us. “but polish the stone of your temple and improve your character.” We should be less concerned about the external crystal skulls, and more concerned about the skull within. The crystal skull, we were told, represents our own Christ within.

We learned that the secret to 2012 is everywhere. The secret is within you and it is within the cross shape of every pyramid, and within every tree. In fact, there is no secret at all. 2012 is everything and nothing. It is the ending of the 13 baktuns of the Long Count as another Long Count begins. It is a time, therefore, of increased awareness and internet connections that allows us to be instantly connected. It is a time of potential, and like any other such time, it is entirely up to us to fit ourselves to be ready for such opportunities.

Note: Though there are now numerous 2012 books flooding the market, the only one I’d recommend is “The 2012 Story: The Myths, Fallacies, and Truth behind the most intriguing date in history” by John Major Jenkins.