Sunday, December 22, 2013

SUE REDMAN: Goodbye!

[Nyerges is the author of 10 books and regularly offers naturalist training. He can be reached at, or School of Self-reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.]

During the second week of December, I got a message: Sue Redman had died. This came as a great shock.  Sue (and her husband Rich) were longtime friends.  Sue was 72 years old, but I still had the sense that she would live forever.  Here are my thoughts about Sue as I reflected over the years.

It was 1976 and I had just moved out of my home with my parents. I’d gone to my grandfather’s farm in Ohio to live for 6 months after high school, came back to California, and then decided it was time to set out on my own. I was living in a small hut in Highland Park, searching for the meaning of life, and needing a job.

I walked into the office of the Altadena Chronicle on North Lake Avenue looking for work.  I met Sue Redman, and we got along great. She wasn’t anything like the front desk secretary at the Star News, whose job was to repel anyone who walked in the front door.
Sue spoke with me like a real person, and we quickly became friends. I became a typesetter and a columnist for Altadena’s only hometown paper. It was the beginning of a great relationship

I also met Rich at that time and we also became great friends. He hired me to do framing and painting at the Chronicle office, and even way back then, I realized that Rich and Sue were unique.  Two sides of the same coin.  They were, at least in my eyes, the way a married couple should be, both having respect and concern for the other.

(Over time, the Altadena Chronicle segued to the Altadena Weekly, which was swallowed up by the Pasadena Weekly, so we could say that part of what Sue and Rich created lives on.)

I always found Rich to be the model of integrity and honesty.  So I once asked Sue if she worshipped the ground where Rich walks, and Sue laughed.

I realized that as the years went by, I was very much a part of the extended Redman family.  Sue and Rich hired me for one of my first jobs. Rich printed my first book in their newspaper’s print shop. When I got married the first time, the ceremony took place at their home in the Meadows conducted by Rich, who was also a pastor of an Altadena church.  And, up to about a year ago, I lived there on the Redman estate on the edge of the Angeles National Forest, and found it to be paradise on earth, within the watchful and protective aura of Sue and Rich.

Each time I would come back from a trip, Sue was so interested in hearing all the details and encouraged me to write about it.

I very much enjoyed reading Sue’s two novels, and I  hope that everyone reading this will eventually read them and enjoy the world that Sue created. [They are available on Kindle].

I was saddened and shocked to hear of Sue’s passing.  Perhaps I shouldn’t be. I mean, we will all die. But, I still miss her, and have had her in my mind and heart since I heard the news.

I think with someone like Sue, she never really dies. She touched so many of us, in so many ways, with her kindness and friendship and genuine concern.  

The circle of friends and acquaintances of the Redman family were vast, evidenced by the diverse and large group of people who gathered on the Winter Solstice at a downtown Pasadena church to honor her life.

I told Rich that night that he was a very lucky man. He lives in paradise, and he had the best possible life partner, and he is still surrounded by a wonderful family, and friends, and students. 

Sue and Rich, thank you for being a part of my life. I will always be a Redman!

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Nature of Love and its Many Counterfeits

Christopher Nyerges

[From a book-in-progress about Nyerges’s childhood experiences. Nyerges is the author of many books, including “Enter the Forest” and “Self-Sufficient Home.”  He can be reached at or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.]

One day in July of 2008, I went to the Coffee Gallery in Altadena and started talking with Michael, who was reading a book about love. Love, one of the few topics you can study your entire life and never really “get it.”

“The problem,” I told Michael, as if I knew what I was talking about, “is that we think about this way too much, whereas the animals – at least some animals – don’t think about it. They just act.  The basic fundamentals of what most of us mean by love – protection, providing food for the young, some training – are simply done without all the considering and evaluating and vacillation that humans are so famous for.”

Michael nodded.  He didn’t talk a lot but he listened, and when he spoke, he asked a question or he had a pithy comment.

We agreed upon certain things that every human should know about “love” and its many facets and tangents.  A man cannot have more than one woman at a time, whether wife or girlfriend. OK,  some try and seem to get away with it, and some are even involved in consentual polygamy.  But that is the exception, not the rule.  One woman at a time, period.  That works and other arrangements do not.  We agreed that the Masai men in Africa might have four wives there and “get away with it,” because that is the social norm.  It is done in plain view with everyone knowing that’s what’s happening.  But it won’t work here.

Don’t have sex if you’re not prepared for children.  “Hoping that she doesn’t get pregnant” is not a good protective measure.  Don’t have children until you’re ready to devote the next 15 or so years to them, as a child without involved parents is part of the formula called “How to make a criminal.”

Michael and I agreed on some of these basics, and we barely brought up the principles in the “Art of Loving” book by Eric Fromme.

I realized that much of what my parents “taught” me about this subject was due to the fact that I knew I should not follow the path that they took.  Though there was rarely a show of affection between my mother and father, at least I had a roof over my head, we didn’t move around all the time, and we were all given a good education.  My father always worked, and my mother sometimes worked as a nurse.  There seemed to be little of what we would call “romantic love” there, but at least we had the essentials handled, in a more or less stable relationship.  In other words, my brothers and I received at least as good a home life as is given to their children by the most protective of animals.  Which is more than I could say for many of our friends and their parents.

Michael and I continued to discuss why he was reading a book about “love” in the first place, and it continued to invoke memories from my childhood.  Where, for example, did I get my idea of what love is, or should be?  What did I learn from my own home?  More precisely, what didn’t I learn from home that I should have learned?

I was aware of sexual feelings and desires, though I didn’t see a solid connection between that and what I believed was some ideal of the male-female relationship, something perhaps hinted at in movies such as “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and “Leave it to Beaver.”  I assumed that these examples were actually lived out somewhere in the world.

By at least age 10, I was aware that most of my older brothers hid Playboy magazines under their mattresses, or somewhere else.  These were obvious objectifications of beautiful but beyond-the-norm women, and I did not see these women in these pages as objects to be loved, only objects to be lusted after.   Though I did not actually clarify this in my mind at that time, I felt that the higher ideal of love was not the same as the emotion that my brothers felt when they were “reading” these magazines.

There were other forms of love also. In movies, I saw soldiers who died for their country.  It was a form of love – love of country so great that you would die for your country to protect your beloved homeland from foes, internal and external. 

And there was the love of the parent for the child, where you might even die to protect your helpless child from an oncoming car, for example. Clearly that was love, but not the same love that we would describe between a man and woman.

That most adults still have great confusion about the complex thing called “love” is understandable, especially if their childhood experience was anything like mine.

I do remember one Friday night when we were watching TV in the living room – I was maybe in first or second grade – and somehow the very loose and bantering conversation got around to whether or not I knew “where babies came from.”  I was the  youngest, so obviously was the last to know everything.  Gilbert seemed to have a snicker on his face, like he was part of some inside joke.  Tom laughed a little.  OK, what was the joke?  I didn’t respond.

But they kept it up for reasons unclear to me, and after 30 or 40 minutes, my mother asked me to come over into the dining room.  My brothers chuckled. What was so funny?  I already knew where babies came from – from their mothers, right?  So what was the big joke?

In retrospect, my mother was probably trying to find a way to inform me about the details of sexual intercourse, prodded on by my brothers.  But, rather, she simply showed me some medical pictures in a medical book, which showed pregnant women with swollen bellies. She spoke about how pregnancy took nine months, and what happens when the baby actually comes out.  It all sounded very messy, and after it was clear that I was sufficiently bored, she let me go back and watch the Alfred Hitchcock hour, without ever even hinting at that thing that the man and woman do intimately in the bedroom which starts the whole ball rolling.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Thinking About My Parents

Christopher Nyerges

[Nyerges is the author of many books, including “Self-Sufficient Home,” “Enter the Forest,” and “How to Survive Anywhere.”  A listing of his classes and books is available at, and from the School of Self-reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041]

I think about my parents when the year-end holiday season rolls around, often thinking of the life lessons they attempted to impart to me. Yes, at the time, I resisted most of those efforts, because as a typically ignorant, arrogant, know-it-all teen, it was my “duty” to resist those efforts to “control me.”  Only decades later did I begin to realize the value of what they wanted me to comprehend.

Of course, my parents had no desire to “control” me; they wanted me to gain the ability to control myself. And controlling myself meant not so much what I should do, but rather what I should not do.

My father would often tell me to always keep my word. “A man is only as good as his word,” he’d tell me, and my brothers and I would scoff at him. Little did we realize at the time how profound of a practical lesson that was. 

My mother took great pains to attempt to instill in us that there are consequences to our actions.  Nothing really complicated, no Eastern words like “karma.”  Just simple.  Be home at this time or get the stick!

We learned the value of money and work.  Our family was large with a modest income.  If me or any of my brothers asked our parents if we could have something, the response was predictable: “Sure, now go out and earn the money so you can buy it.”  We learned that this was the natural order of things.  So we all learned creative ways to earn money for what we needed or wanted, or we learned to make the things we wanted, or we simply learned that we could do without. Yes, and we learned to fix things that broke rather than immediately throw the item away, as today’s throw-away society encourages us to do.

We were a family of mostly boys – my one sister left home at the earliest age to attend a live-in nursing school. We learned to cook, wash dishes, vacuum, sew, polish our shoes, mow the lawn, paint the rooms, fixed the screens. We were naturally expected to do these things, as both our parents worked. If we neglected to do a chore, my mother would say, “Do you think I’m your maid?”

It continues to amaze me when I learn about friends whose children not only do no work, but actually refuse to do any housework. One such “child” demands everything of his parents and one parent confided in me that she is afraid of her son.  The child – an older teen actually – does no work, uses drugs, and has the audacity to use the “F” word at his parents. Boy, have things changed!

There is absolutely no way I would have ever gotten away with calling either of my parents a name.  It would be incomprehensible, because I knew there would be certain punishment and it would never be forgotten.

Once when I stole something from a neighbor, I was marched over to the neighbor to apologize, return the money, and forced to do some tasks for the month.  Of course, there was never a second incident of stealing.

My mother’s use of a stick – and other tactics – helped to modify our behavior so that at an early age we no longer even thought about any criminal activities.  I was no saint, and am not a saint today. But I realized that – despite tactics that are today frowned upon, my parents’ efforts did eventually have the desired effect.  What was that desired effect?  The desired effect was that I would not have to suffer all the wasted time and dollars that the criminal life costs, and that I could learn to experience personal fulfillment through self-control.

My mother was also a nurse, so each of us gained a sense of doing what it took to let the body heal itself with certain foods and water and bedrest, and only taking pills and going to the doctor when absolutely necessary.

This is only the tip of the iceberg.  Now that both my parents have been gone about 10 years, I find that holidays are not the same without them. And when I recall the practical life’s lessons that they worked frustratingly hard to impart into me, I realized today that my parents are very much still with me.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Disappointment of "Man vs. Wild"

[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere” and 9 other books. He has taught practical survival skills and wild food identification to ordinary folks since 1974. He can be reached at]

For the first time, I watched an episode of “Man vs. Wild” with Bear Grylls.  Yes, I have heard about it for years, and yes I have seen young teenagers drooling over their Bear Grylls knives, and yes I even saw Mr. Grylls doing some silly act on the Jay Leno Show. But I had never watched the “Man vs. Wild” show.

I expected some great lessons on  survival, and relevant topics on how to protect myself and my family from the many threats within and without. I expected entertainment also; I mean, it’s television after all. But I naturally assumed that with all the popularity of this show, it would  have something useful, interesting, relevant, and imminently valuable to share.  Boy was I wrong!

During the one episode I watched, I don’t think I saw any useful survival skill that I would ever be in a position to employ. In fact, most of it would be categorized as what NOT  to do!  Furthermore, there was no sense of purpose or reason to what the man was doing. OK, he was dressed a bit too neat and clean and he was on this quest for water in the desert.

He jumps into a deep rocky hole looking for water.  Really?  A “survival expert” would never have jumped into such a chasm in his dangerous manner since a real expert could have seen there was no water in there merely by looking. But you do get to see him scramble out of the hole. OK, so he has athletic abilities, but not the wisdom to demonstrate what not to do.

He then dug a little hole in a dry stream, which is indeed a spot where you’d find water. I have done just that many time and dug deep enough to where water would seep in, clarify on its own, and then I could drink it. But Mr. Grylls instead proceeded to pack wet sand into the sock he just took off his foot and squeeze the sock to get out a few drips of water.  Really?  Again, a real expert would not do that, and  the bad thing about the show is that someone will leave thinking that is a bonafide survival skill.  He’s appealing to the lowest common denominator of thrills and grossness but he didn’t show real useful skills, and he could have, and he should have.

Folks, it only got worse.

Next, he is purportedly wandering along and found some debris in the desert.  Looks like some hang-glider crashed here, he tells us. Really? All the gear was relatively new – not worn out and weather worn like you’d expect to find in the desert. And lo and behold, he found just the right amount of debris to rig together a little three wheel cart and then the old parachute was used so the wind could pull him along. Very ingenious yes, but the debris was most certainly planted there, and the likelihood anyone ever actually fashioning such a vehicle from found objects is so remote as to be laughable. In fact, I began to ask my friend if the show was intended to be comedy.

There were numerous dangerous maneuvers when one could have take a safe route. He chooses to whirl around edges of a mountain on his supposedly-found parachute cord, rather than just hike the safe and sure way around. He squeezes through holes in rock when he could have safely gone around. And he quickly makes a bundle bow to shoot a rock tied to a string to a distant hill so he could hang on the rope to get to the distant mountain.  Really?  He would have done far better simply by tossing the rock.  But most of the purported skills seem faked.  I could not help but wonder how many naieve teenage boys will die when they try to duplicate what the “survival expert” on TV did.  And part of my point is, there was no point!  Grylls chooses danger when there are obviously many safe ways. You survive not by taking ridiculous and unnecessary risks, but by thinking your way through a situation and choosing the wisest route. This was bad TV, bad advice, and there was no real drama and no point to Mr. Grylls wanderings. Is the show really popular?  If Mr.Grylls is really the expert he is made out to be, why does he allow himself to be paid to demonstrate the antithesis of “survival”?

Before we turned off the pointless show, my viewing companion and I watched as Mr. Grylls took two aluminum tubes and purported to make a fire piston.  He stuck a little bit of some sort of tinder in one end, and hit one tube of aluminum into another and magically produced a glowing ember.  Folks, that was as phony as they come. If any of you have tried to get an  ember with a fire piston, you know that everything has to be “just-so,” and even then it will be very difficult. This was just one more staged aspect of a phony show that is not even good entertainment. 

We turned off the TV and found it far more enlightening and enriching to discuss Paul Campbell’s latest book on the Universal Tool Kit. 

And what of the hour or so I spent watching Bear Grylls? Well, as Alan Halcon likes to say, that’s an hour of my life I’ll never get back.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Highland Park's Haunted Church

 [This was originally published in the Eagle Rock Boulevard Sentinel about two years ago, written by Christopher Nyerges, who  is a manager at the Highland Park Farmers Market on Tuesdays on Ave. 58. He is the author of several books including “Enter the Forest” and “How to Survive Anywhere.”  He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or  Or, if you want to tell him your ghost story, just go to the Old L.A. Farmers Market any Tuesday]

Is there a haunted church in our community?

Numerous credible people have reported that the old brick Presbyterian church on N. Figueroa is haunted.  Oscar Enriquez, who works for the North Figueroa Association, and who has an office in the church, reports that he has heard strange noises in the church at least twice a month for the last five years.

“The first time I heard walking sounds right outside my door.  I was in the basement office all by myself around 5 a.m., and there was no chance that someone else was in there,” reports Enriquez.

One time when in the office, Enriquez was doing paperwork and there were three loud knocks on the door. He quickly opened the door and no one was there. “That put me out a bit,” he says.  He closed the door, and there were three knocks right again. He immediately opened the door, and there was no one present. “There is no way that someone can knock and then immediately disappear,” says Enriquez.  

Enriquez and various volunteers and security personnel have been in the church when they knew it was empty, and have heard walking on the stairs, and the laughter of a young girl.  Searching the building revealed no one else present.

Enriquez and others have ruled out echoes, sounds from Figueroa, and creaking walls as causing any of the sounds.

One particular area of interest is a stairway that leads up from the basement to the chapel.  “That area has given me the creeps,” said Enriquez.  “I get  goosebumps there.”

Another individual, who chose not to be named, has reported that the church is haunted and that he has actually seen a little girl on the stairway, all dressed in white.

When the school was in the basement, school children have reported hearing a young girl’s laughter in the bathroom when there was no one in the bathroom.

Enriquez reports that doors have suddenly slammed when there was no possibility of a breeze or wind causing the action.  He also reports that certain parts of the church are always extremely cold, despite the fact that there is heating in the church.  The cold areas seem to correspond to the haunted areas.

“Last week, an old man passing by told me that he had seen the ghost of a preacher in the church all dressed in black, back when he used to go to church there,”  reports Enriquez.

According to local historian, Charles Fisher, “The Highland Park Presbyterian Church, as it was originally named, was founded in the 1890s about the time Occidental College (originally a Presbyterian school) first came to Highland Park in 1897.  The congregation built its first permanent sanctuary in 1903 on the present site. It was a Mission Revival structure designed by the architect, Thornton Fitzhugh. I have a photo of that building in my book. It was replaced by the present building in 1923, which was designed by Architect, George Lindsey.

“The Gothic Revival structure is a reinforced concrete structure with brick facing. Up until a few years ago, it contained an incredible pipe organ, but many of the pipes were sold to the First Congregational Church at 6th and Commonwealth, which was building one of the largest church organs in the United States.  There are many Churches in Highland Park, but Faith United along with St Ignacious Catholic Church are the only ones with large Gothic sanctuaries.

“The name "Faith United" was the result of the merger of the congregations of Highland Park and Mt. Washington Presbyterian Churches in the 1970s.  The Faith United Presbyterian Church building was nominated as a Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument in 1989.  The church became a contributor for the Highland Park Historic Preservation Overlay Zone, which was established in 1994,” reports Fisher.

In order to seek some corroboration of a ghostly presence, I asked Fisher if he ever heard of a young girl dying or getting killed there, but he had no knowledge of any such occurrence.  According to some reports,  a monk used to live in the 3rd upper floor of the church in the little room there.

Enriquez explains that he believes in the existence of ghosts – the remaining spirit of a deceased person – due to a few experiences of his youth.  “When you die, you don’t really die, but you go somewhere else.  Just your body is gone,” says Enriquez.

Though several people who I interviewed told me of various “ghostly presences” in this church, only Oscar Enriquez was willing to have his name used.  I would appreciate hearing other reports from anyone with a story to share.  Please let me know of your experiences.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Witches in the Kitchen

A chapter from Christopher Nyerges’ book about growing up in Pasadena

[Nyerges is the author of “Self-Sufficient Home,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” and other books. All of his book are about self-reliance and wild foods and none of them are about witches.  He can be reached at School of Self-reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or]

When I was 3 or 4 – I don’t recall the exact age except that I wasn’t in kindergarten yet – I recall waking up in the early morning and hearing sounds in the kitchen.  These were the sounds of movement, of pans moving, of doors opening and closing, the normal sounds you’d expect to hear in the morning in a kitchen. But the only reason I heard any sounds so early was that everyone else was asleep and the house of five boys was relatively quiet.

I recall lying there on the lower bunk of a bunkbed, wondering what I was hearing, and who was making the noises.  After some time, I had the realization that we had some witches in the kitchen. They came at night after everyone went to sleep and did whatever witches do in the kitchen.  They’d disappear by the time everyone woke up and crawled out of our beds and fought our way to the bathroom and then made our way to the kitchen to have cereal or whatever my mother might be cooking.

When I heard witches in the kitchen in the early morning, I was always cautious when I came to breakfast.  I’d look around for clues, something left on the counter, something out of place, some object forgotten. There were many clues, but none of them that would conclusively prove that witches had been in the kitchen during the night.

Sometimes I would ask questions to a brother or my mother, attempting to determine if they knew about it too.  But my roundabout questions were too indirect to get meaningful responses, and if anyone else knew about the witches, they weren’t talking.  I began to regard this as a very natural thing – witches in the kitchen – and barely brought it up anymore.

I could even “see” the witches in my mind’s eye when I heard them in the early morning.  They were very traditional-looking witches, with large black robes or gowns, black pointy hats, though I don’t recall seeing any facial features or indication of pretty or ugly, or young or old.  I knew they were female.  They moved about like gliding from place to place, doing secret magic alchemy with the ingredients in the kitchen and the fire on the stove.  I could mentally see that the kitchen noises came from them taking pots out of the cupboard, running water, the moving from place to place, the stirring of things in pots on the stove. If they spoke at all, they whispered.  I pictured them doing their early morning tasks knowingly, without the need to converse among themselves.  I pictured them expressionless, if I saw their faces at all.

Off and on for a year or so, I would hear them in the kitchen.  I believed that my dad knew about them.  Some of the “clues” to their presence would be cupboard doors left ajar, spilled salt or sugar on the table, odd smells – nothing that was absolute proof in itself, but all together I knew it added up to the mysterious mornings in the alchemical chamber of our house.  In a way, I was excited about this secret side of our house, and I wondered if everyone had witches in the kitchen.

One day, my dad fixed my cereal and put in two spoons of white sugar.  I didn’t stir it so the white sugar remained at the bottom of the bowl until I was nearly done eating. When I got to the bottom, though I liked the sweetness, I made a point of telling my dad how much sugar he put in the bowl.

“Look at all the sugar,” I said.  At first, it was no big deal, but somehow I knew that the extra sugar was my dad’s secret way of telling me that he knew about the witches.  So I repeated to him how much sugar was in my bowl, what an amazing thing. But then my mother walked into the room and said “What?”

“I just gave him a spoonful,” said my father defensively.

“Why did you give him so much sugar?” my mother said.  I don’t think she knew about the witches.  And, as was her custom, she kept asking about the sugar and talking about it  until they were both nearly in an argument about it.  I felt bad about this because I actually liked the extra sugar and was trying in my way to acknowledge the secret message about my father’s knowing there were witches in the kitchen.

I never received any more secret clues from my dad to tell me that he knew about the witches, and he never again gave me extra sugar.

Sometime later, while sleeping in the lower bunk and with eyes closed, I felt something touch me, and I knew it was one of the witches.  She’d actually came all the way into my room and touched me – not with her finger, but with a stick, or magic wand.  Just a light touch, and I could see her clearly – the same black outfit and hat as they always wore, and this time I could see her face.  She was middle-aged, some wrinkles, smiling, resembling one of the nuns at Saint Elizabeth school.  I opened my eyes startled, and she had managed to disappear before I could catch an open-eyed glimpse.

Maybe it had been a goodbye touch, since I never heard their eerie sounds in the kitchen after that. Each time I thought it was them, I listened carefully and could tell that it was my mother or father or my brother or someone else. For whatever reason, they returned to Witchland and never returned.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

HALLOWE’EN: Dealing with our Fears

The month of Hallowe’en is upon us, the time when we start to think about the roots of this holiday, and its traditional theme of fear.

Is there, as Roosevelt once said, nothing to fear but fear itself?

There are certainly many troubles in the land, from war and rumors of war, terrorists, economic fears, nuclear concerns, genetically-modified food, electronic surveillance and a government that’s no longer trusted by its people.  Lots to fear, right?

Well, perhaps Roosevelt was right.  Fear is not the best method for handling a troublesome world.  But if not fear, how does one respond to a world whose seams are unraveling?  Is there hope in the Hallowe’en season?

When I think of my ignorance of childhood, I realize that my fears drove me.  Sometimes that was a good thing, and sometimes not.  Fear kept me away from certain people, and away from certain neighborhoods. Fear got me into trouble, but it also kept me out of trouble because of fearing the consequences of what I was contemplating doing.

Hallowe’en is one of our ancient commemorations.  Its roots go back to the ancient Celts, who had six significant fire ceremonies during the year, one of which was Samhain, the last day in October. (Originally, Samhain was celebrated from October 31 through November 2).  The Feast of Samhain (meaning “summer’s end”), marked both their Feast of the Dead and the Celtic New Year.  This time of the year, half way between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice, was a time of decay and death on the earth. This was especially apparent in Western Europe, when the temperatures dropped and the rains fell.  Take a walk in the woods or fields and you smell the decay of rotting leaves and fungus.  Samhain ushered in the darkest and most barren time of the year.  It was a time when the spirits of the recently departed – as well as other disincarnate entities -- were believed to be out and about, with easier access to humans. There was much to fear, no? 

Back in the day when there were no modern technological wonders, no Federal Reserve and central banking, no modern drugs and Obamacare, no IRS and no ATMs, people built huge fires and even fire sacrifices the  belief that they’d protect the crops and flocks from demonic influence.

Historically, Hallowe’en had to do with the dead, with ghosts, with spirits.

The practice of putting food out to appease the ghosts so that they’d go back to their ghostly realms has morphed into children and adults dressing up unwittingly as the proxies of the ghosts and spirits, and threatening tricks if no treats are given.

It may seem like an ignorant way to deal with fears, but it likely seemed very pragmatic way back when.

I feared the darkness as a child, and the things that lived under my bed and in the closet.  I feared the creatures that peeked in my window at night and the boogie man who roamed our streets. As I grew older, I feared police and authority, and the inexplicable “establishment” and the abstract evil people.

Perhaps I was lucky in finding a way to deal with my fears. As a long-standing Halloween tradition, the folks at the Los Angeles-based non-profit WTI [] showed me that to conquer your fears, you must identify them, face them, and go into them.  This was done in various ways, sometimes by watching and discussing an insightful movie, such as Nosferatu , both the original and the 1978 Klaus Kinsie version.  We gathered with large bowls of popcorn, and other refreshments, and explored the nature of fear.  We remained focused on finding the science within that movie as to how to deal with our own inner fears. 

Additionally, “Nosferatu” provides a pictorial view of how each of us succumb to our weaknesses, and how we “become someone else.”  There’s no need to couch any of this in religious terms, or guilt. We looked at the movie as a symbolic depiction of one of the ways in which our world actually operates.  We looked at the movie as a symbol for our daily life, and we explored the many ways in which we should protect ourselves from the myriad “bloodsuckers” that seem to surround us in modern life. 

It occurred to me, in retrospect, that I faced and overcame fears in my own ways too. As I child, there was the day I forced myself to look under the bed. Wow! Nothing was there, and I went back to sleep.  There were the days when I forced myself to confront the older boys who I thought were thugs or criminals. Lo and behold, they had their own fears and insecurities, and weren’t that different from me. I learned, as Peter Suzuki has taught us, that once we begin thinking we may discover that what we thought was an enemy is actually a friend.

Fears exist in the abstract, and they stay alive if we keep them there.  If we identify the fear, we can take some action to deal with it, and by so doing, we discover a greater part of ourself, and we discover a new part of the world, and we might even make a new friend.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

In Case You Really Have to Evacuate!

During one of my Pasadena City College survival classes, a student asked me to list the items that should be carried in an evacuation bag, also known as the “bugout bag.”  In other words, if she had to immediately leave her home for some reason, what should her survival bag contain.  Of course, this led to a big portion of that evening’s discussion.

“First,” I responded, “what scenario are we talking about?” The student was thinking of a serious emergency where even a car wouldn’t be useful, where you’d have to evacuate on foot.

So my first order was to convey the fact that one would rarely choose to leave one’s home – where everything is familiar and where you know everyone in the neighborhood – unless you absolutely had no other choice. 

“You would rarely want to choose to leave your home and randomly wander the streets after an emergency,” I replied, “because you are now entering into the chaos and randomness of street mobs and possible violence.”  I tried to impress upon the class how dangerous it often is to wander on foot in the aftermath of a major disaster – whether it be an earthquake, or the results of war, or flooding.

And though the effects of nature can be devastating, the fear and chaos that will possess other people could be your greatest threat.

OK, we established that wandering around may not be your best choice but if you have no choice, then what should you carry?

Before I tried to answer that question, I asked all the students, “If there was an emergency tonight after you get home and you had to evacuate, where would you go?  And why would you go there?”  Most had no idea where to do, and in all probability, would follow crowds to some likely safe place, or would simply follow the orders of whomever happened to be giving orders. 

I urged each student to obtain topographical maps of their local area and to begin to learn about their local environment.  Find out where there are sources of water, reservoirs, pools, train lines, etc.  In a disaster, your knowledge is far more important than your stuff.  Next, I urged each student to get involved in their local Neighborhood Watch, and to do the CERT trainings, and Red Cross emergency first aid.  In other words, we need to realize the fact that other people in our community, and our relationships with them, is a far greater “survival tool” than merely having a pack with some knick-knacks in it.

Most people would be surprised to learn the level of preparedness that already occurs in most cities, and within various agencies such as the Red Cross, Police and Sheriff departments, and City Hall.  It is to each of our advantage to get to know what has already been planned in our own towns.

Everyone was getting the picture.  Get to know your town, your geography, and get to know who’s who in your town, and learn about systems that have already been established in the event of emergencies. Of course you must still do your own home preparedness, but just don’t do it in a vacuum.

But the student persisted.  She still wanted to know what to carry. So I polled the students who’d already been in my class for several weeks. What should one carry in a survival pack?   Someone said a knife. Yes, I wrote that on the board.  You should carry some sort of useful knife that you’re comfortable with, like a Swiss Army knife, a Leatherman, and so on. Someone suggested that a bow and drill be carried for fire making. No, I said. We learn how to make fire with those primitive methods so we can do it when there is nothing else.  You must have fire, but keep it simple. Carry a Bic or a magnesium fire starter. Water.  Yes, you need it, and should carry at least a quart container and a water purifier. And you need to know where to find water.  And we continued this way – first aid kit, small flash light, etc. It was more important to get people to consider their individual needs than it was for me to list things that someone else thinks are important.

Survival can be deadly serious, but it can be a very enjoyable pursuit along the way.  Learn what you can little by little, but apply your knowledge as you go. That way, your skills are useful and your confidence level is increased.  It is never sufficient to say “I saw that on YouTube” and think that you know what it’s all about.

For some idea of what you might carry, look at Francisco Loaiza’s blog spot, where he describes 30 essential items that he recommends to his Boy Scouts.

For more ideas of what to consider in a kit, you should check out John McCann’s “Build the Perfect Survival Kit,” as well as my own “How to Survive Anywhere.”

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Paul Campbell's Latest Book! "THE UNIVERSAL TOOL KIT"

THE UNIVERSAL TOOL KIT: Out of Africa to Native California
By Paul Campbell

This is the latest by Paul Campbell, released September of 2013.

“The Universal Tool Kit” refers to taking a rock and turning it into a tool. Some of you may think this is not a very interesting subject, but believe me, it’s an incredible insightful look at how ancient man survived. This is not the theoretical charts and arrows and categorization you might get in an anthropology class.  Campbell brings it alive, and makes it relevant.

Just like his previous two books – “Survival Skills of Ancient California” and “Paints and Pigments” – Campbell thoroughly investigates his subject matter.

Campbell gives us a review of stone tools in primitive cultures around the world, and how extreme simplicity was the name of the game. This is not  a book about fancy flint-knapping. Rather, this is a book that describes Campbell’s personal research and experimentation in making quick and simple stone tools, and how he went about using those tools to make bows, atlatls, and other necessary products. It seems that too many people have made all the basic survival skills all so complicated.  Too many folks are telling us you must have this huge knife and this big compass and that big weapon. 

Why?  Because for the people selling all the survival paraphernalia, it helps to put their daughters through college.  But if  you really want to get simple and get basic, then just GET THIS BOOK.  A stone is the ultimate survival tool. And guess what?  When you’re done reading this book, you’ll agree with Campbell that you really don’t need the stone, per se. The greatest skill is your knowledge, and your ability to transform natural resources into the tools of everyday life and survival.

Campbell gives you a thorough background in the subject in a readable way.  You’ll know far more than the average anthropologist after reading this.  He describes how to make one-day willow bow, atlatls and spears, flakers, and more. Fully illustrated with hundreds of photos and drawings, this is the book you will want when  you do the research that matters. 

Top quality hard cover, 316 pages.  Suggested retail is 29.95. 
The exclusive distributor is currently School of Self-reliance, where you can get the book for $25 plus postage at the Store at www.ChristopherNyerges. 

HOWEVER, you can purchase through this blog for only $15!  To order this book through this BLOG,  you can send a check for $15 + $5 priority postage to School of Self-reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or do a Paypal payment to, and leave a message that this is for Paul’s book.  You will NOT see this special deal on the School of Self-reliance Store, only here.

Also, if you know bookstores or museums or schools that want to buy wholesale, please send Christopher an email.

Footnote: YES, you did just read a shameless plug for Paul’s new book, but believe me, this is one book you will keep when you use the rest of your books for toilet paper or tinder.  It’s an awesome book, and we’re practically giving it away.  ALSO, if you don’t want to pay the postage, simply show up at the beginning of one of Christopher’s outings (the Schedule is on the website), and just identify yourself as a reader of this BLOG for the $15 price!!  It is also probably the perfect gift for Christmas, Hanukah, New Years, birthdays, whatever.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Death on Memorial Day 1998

[Note: The full version of this story is found in Nyerges' "Til Death Do Us Part?" book, available from Store at or from Kindle.]

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.”

I have always liked the grandeur and openness of this park. When I grew up, this was a short bicycle ride away, and I regarded it as my extended back yard.

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.

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 into the middle depths of the wash, we headed back to the picnic area, with me leading.
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. I tried to rouse him, but it was quickly obvious that he was “out.”

Since I was the only one who knew the area -- I ran to a phone to call 911. 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 carried him into the ambulance and took him away.

We discussed whether we thought Martin would revive or not. The paramedics had been fairly tight-lipped. Still, we all knew it was serious. 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.

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

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.

Though I barely knew him, I felt closer to him in death.

Of course, I told Dolores about this when I got home. 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 family phone number through process of elimination in my phone log.

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, September 13, 2013

Into The Wild: How Christopher McCandles Died


[Note: There has been more discussion about whether or not the movie -- Into the  Wild -- accurately depicted how the main character died.  Wild food expert Sam Thayer has gone into this in great detail, and he covers it in his excellent "Foragers Harvest" book.  Here is what Thayer had to say about this case in an article that he wrote for Wilderness Way when I was the editor -- the article was never published because the magazine folded.  See what you think.  Christopher Nyerges]

Into the Wild—What Really Killed Chris McCandless?
by Samuel Thayer

Both the book and the movie Into The Wild portray Chris McCandless—the hapless “survivalist” who was found dead in a bus in the Alaska bush in Sept. of 1992—as having died from eating a wild plant. Millions have seen the movie, and it has left a strong impression on an entire generation of idealistic young wilderness lovers. The message many take from the movie is: “the city is evil, wilderness is beautiful and good, but it will kill you. So stay home.” For other people who already questioned the value of wilderness experiences, the book and movie only solidified the fears and ignorance that had already kept them indoors.
     But perhaps a better question than, “What is the story’s message,” is simply, “Is the story true?” This inquiry has been all but ignored by the media—despite the overwhelming evidence that the causes of death presented in the movie and book are completely bogus. This is all the more strange when we consider that, in originally arguing that Chris was killed by eating a wild plant, Jon Krakauer—a person with absolutely no credentials in this field—was contradicting the medical authorities who had examined Chris’s remains. There is, in fact no evidence that eating a wild plant contributed in any way to Chris McCandless’s death.

Jon Krakauer’s Three Stories, and Why They’re All Wrong

     Arguing against Krakauer here is a bit confusing because he has told three completely separate versions of how Chris died. (This alone is highly suspicious.) First, in an article in Outside Magazine, he conjectured that Chris had died by poisoning when he mistook the wild sweet pea Hedysarum mackenziei for the “wild potato” Hedysarum alpinum. But since the medical examination showed that Chris had clearly starved to death, Krakauer posited that McCandless was “laid low” by the poisoning, and thus unable to feed himself. 
     But there is no evidence that Chris McCandless ever ate even a single seed of H. mackenziei. Despite Krakauer’s misinformed insistence that the veins on the underside of the leaflets are the only reliable characteristic distinguishing them, there are actually numerous features of the two plants that are notably different. In fact, experienced foragers can readily distinguish these plants by their roots alone (Schofield, 1989). Krakauer’s hypothesis requires that, after more than a month of collecting H. alpinum safely, McCandless suddenly couldn’t recognize the plant and accidentally ate a significant volume of H. mackenziei seeds. Exceedingly unlikely.
The second fatal flaw in this poisoning hypothesis is the fact that H. mackenziei, the plant that supposedly poisoned Chris McCandless, is not poisonous. Krakauer calls H. mackenziei “poisonous” but admits that “accounts of individuals being poisoned from eating H. mackenziei are nonexistent in modern medical literature” (p.191). He goes on to counter that, “the aboriginal inhabitants of the North have apparently known for millennia that the wild sweet pea is toxic,” but he does not tell us what makes this assumption “apparent.” Krakauer only finds one highly questionable account of a poisoning “attributable” to wild sweet pea from 1848. In the wake of the Chris McCandless case, extensive laboratory analyses have been conducted, attempting to verify the toxicity of H. mackenziei. Roots, seeds, flowers, leaves, and stems were all analyzed. These tests have turned up no alkaloids or toxins of any kind (Treadwell and Clausen, 2008). The authors of this study also state that there is no credible chemical, historical, or ethnobotanical basis for the anecdotal belief that H. mackenziei is toxic.
The hypothesis that Chris McCandless died from eating H. mackenziei seeds is totally unsupported, has no factual basis, and should be discarded. So when he wrote Into The Wild, Krakauer had to come up with a second story: that Chris was poisoned by the seeds of H. alpinum—the plant that he thought he was eating. Now, the story went, Chris hadn’t eaten the wrong plant, he had eaten the wrong part of the right plant, and this caused him to starve to death. At face value, this is a very odd proposition. Last time I checked, starvation was caused by not eating things. The only way that Krakauer could make this precarious case was to argue that a chemical called swainsonine was present. Although swainsonine poisoning is unknown in humans, it does (like many chronic illnesses) cause starvation in livestock in the later stages.
 Unfortunately for our would-be detective, this hypothesis has two flaws that are almost unbelievably obvious. First, evidence for toxicity of these seeds is entirely nonexistent. Krakauer himself points out that “the seeds of H. alpinum have never been described as toxic in any published text: an extensive search of the medical and botanical literature yielded not a single indication that any part of H. alpinum is poisonous” (p. 191). Then he assumes they contain swainsonine anyways. Dr. Thomas Clausen, a biochemist at the University of Alaska, tested these seeds for toxins such as swainsonine and found no traces. And this plant is considered good livestock forage, which would not be the case if it contained a toxin that would kill sheep and cattle. 
The second problem with Krakauer’s hypothesis of swainsonine poisoning is the fact that Chris was clearly not exhibiting the signs of it. Swainsonine poisoning causes uncoordination, hypersensitivity, depression, blank-staring eyes, loss of awareness, and similar neurological symptoms long before it causes weight loss and starvation. Yet Krakauer somehow ignores the fact that Chris was not exhibiting these widely known classic symptoms. His only swainsonine symptom, emaciation, was observed well before the alleged poisoning by H. alpinum seeds, and can clearly be attributed to the caloric deprivation that he was suffering.
When a Matthew Power article in Men’s Journal exposed the fact that biochemists have found H. alpinum seeds nontoxic, Krakauer quickly composed yet a third story to explain McCandless’s death, and a new edition of the book came out bearing the revised tale. This third, the “moldy seed” hypothesis, is the most fanciful, forced, and inane of all. It states that, although the seeds of H. alpinum are not poisonous and do not contain swainsonine, they must have become infected with a certain mold, Rhizoctonia leguminicola, which could produce swainsonine. If you ignore the fact that Rhizoctonia leguminicola is not known to infect H. alpinum, and the fact that Chris’ symptoms appear incompatible with Rhizoctonia poisoning (a hyper-salivating condition known as “slobbers”), you are still left with the problem that there is no evidence that Chris actually ate any moldy seeds—much less the “enormous quantities” that Krakauer proposes (and which would be required to cause poisoning). The only evidence that Krakauer gives to support this idea is that McCandless collected some seeds during a rainy period and put some of them in a Ziploc bag. That’s it.
Are you convinced?
The moldy seed explanation is patently ridiculous. By this time, one begins to wonder if Krakauer will just continue to change his hypotheses ad infinitum as each one is logically and scientifically refuted. This capriciousness is the hallmark of “science” with a predetermined conclusion. Clearly, Krakauer’s predetermined conclusion is that Chris McCandless died from a wild plant that he ate, and it appears that he will twist the facts in any illogical way necessary to support this conclusion. Even if that means contradicting the scientific and medical establishments in order to create a better story.

The Movie’s Deliberate Deception About McCandless’s Death

In the movie version of Into The Wild, Sean Penn chose to portray McCandless poisoning himself according to Krakauer’s first unsupported hypothesis—mistaking wild sweet pea for wild potato. When Chris is starving and trapped by the high waters of the Teklanika River, the film shows him having an epiphany after reading the words “to call each thing by its right name” in Doctor Zhivago. After this, he takes the field guide Tanaina Plantlore and goes on a plant identification spree. Among the plants he identifies is Hedysarum alpinum. (In reality, Chris had already been collecting and eating this plant for several weeks by this time.) After eating this plant’s seeds, McCandless becomes very ill. Upon a second look at his book he realizes that he has mistakenly eaten H. mackenziei, the wild sweet pea. Further reading reveals that he is bound to die a slow, agonizing death. He throws the book in rage, knowing that he has been murdered for an innocent mistake by the treachery of a poisonous plant. Just before Chris expires, so that nobody forgets how he perished, the movie hauntingly repeats the words, “To call each thing by its right name. By its right name.”
The message is clear: Eating wild plants will kill you.
But it’s a lie.
When Chris opens up Tanaina Plantlore (Kari, 1987), the book’s actual cover is shown. But when Chris flips to page 128 to read about H. mackenziei, the movie shows a counterfeit page that the producers have forged and inserted. The excerpt from the book that McCandless reads in the film goes like this (Yes, it really does go like this; the apparent errors and omissions are original.):

The lateral veins, nearly invisible on leaflets of wild sweet pea the plants poisonous seedlings. If ingested symptoms include partial motor paralysis, inhibition of digestion, and nausea. If untreated leads to starvation and death. Another way to distinguish is that the stem of the wild sweet pea is mostly unbranched.

That’s strange, because when I open to page 128 in my copy, it only says this in the same place:

The lateral veins of the leaflets of wild sweet pea are hidden, while those of the wild potato are conspicuous. Another way to distinguish between the two plants is that the stem of the wild sweet pea is mostly unbranched, while that of the wild potato is definitely branched.

In real life, the book has no mention whatsoever of “partial motor paralysis, inhibition of digestion, and nausea,” nor of “starvation and death.” That was all just fabricated so that Chris’s life story could be twisted into a fable for the purpose of casting fear and doubt into those who would seek what he sought. The greatest lessons that could be learned from his death are now buried under this myth.

So how did Chris McCandless die?

There has never been debate about this: Chris starved to death. His autopsy, performed by the crime lab in Anchorage, confirmed this. When Chris’s body was found, it weighed 67 pounds; it was estimated that his weight at death was 83 pounds, with a body mass index of 13.3 (Lamothe, 2007). Death from starvation usually occurs when body mass index falls to about 13 (Shils et al., 1994; Henry, 1990). The proportion of weight that Chris lost was comparable to that normally associated with victims of concentration camps, severe famine, anorexia nervosa, and death by starvation (Keys et al., 1950). Even Chris’ own journal, nineteen days before his death, says, “Starving. Great Jeopardy.”
Keys et al. (1950), in their famous and fascinating study of human starvation, point out that starving people become exceedingly preoccupied with food, writing and talking of little else. Krakauer and others were struck by this very feature of Chris’s journal: Andrew Liske, who accompanied Krakauer to the bus after Chris’s death, noted after reading the journal, “He wrote about hardly anything except food” (p. 183). Chris displayed this obsession for the entire stay, because he was starving through all of it. The journal entries clearly show that he was not getting nearly enough calories. He took pictures of himself that document his steadily decreasing body mass throughout his stay in Alaska. He appears dangerously malnourished weeks before ingesting the seeds that Krakauer claims killed him. The medical examiners who performed Chris’ autopsy noted telltale signs of starvation: severe deterioration of his muscles and a lack of subcutaneous fat. No other individual who has seriously investigated the matter finds Krakauer’s explanations necessary or even credible.
The only reasonable conclusion is that Chris died of starvation—the regular kind of starvation, which results from not eating enough food over a prolonged period—not from some farfetched and imaginary sort of starvation.
From a survivalist’s point of view, the mistakes that Chris made were enormous and egregious. He was ill-prepared and had poor skills. He was idealistic and stubborn in the face of forces greater than him. There are lessons in all of this. But there are no real lessons that can come from a falsified account of his death: that has given us nothing but confusion and disillusionment.

[Sam Thayer is the author of “The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants.”  His web site is He can also be reached at Forager’s Harvest, W5066 State Hwy 86, Ogema, WI 54459]

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Collecting NETTLES

caption: Top, Adrian Gaytan sells fresh nettle at the Glendale (Calif) Certified Farmers Market. Below, a view of wild nettle in the field.  Photos by Christopher Nyerges

[Nyerges is the author of "Guide to Wild Foods," available at Amazon, or  He has led Wild Food Outings and survival skills outings since 1974.]
Often during this time of the year, I get an allergic reaction when I’ve been under and around the trees that produces lots of pollen and cottony-fluff, like willows, and cottonwoods, and cattail, and oak.  I’ve tried numerous remedies over the  years to combat the allergy, but all with limited success. It just won’t work to stay out of the woods.

But finally, one of the natural remedies seemed to have good results. Nettle tea. I’ve long heard of the many health benefits of eating nettles and drinking the nettle tea.  I’ve eaten the greens like spinach for decades.  But once I heard about using an infusion of the nettle leaves (dried or fresh) for allergy, I’ve starting drinking it pretty regularly in the evenings.  It has helped to relieve congestion and improve my ability to breathe.  It seems  to work even better than my old standby, Mormon tea.

Since I’ve used up my limited supply of dried nettle, and since I don’t want to keep paying high prices for the tea packages at Whole Foods, I went out to collect a large bag of it.  I know of a field that gets mowed down every year, so I knew that the nettle was not valued.  I went there with my cloth bag and my scissors.  I found it easiest to clip off the tender tops with a pair of sharp scissors, and just let the nettles drop into the bag without touching it. After a while though, I was simply cutting with scissors and putting the tops into my bag with my other hand. I got nettled a little but they don’t seem to bother me that much anymore.

It felt good to be alone in the field where it was quiet and green and misty. But I wasn’t totally alone. There were people walking by.  One woman just looked at me as she and her friend walked by, and it was a very telling look. “Wow, I really pity you!” was written all over her face.  Oh, well. I’ve heard worse.

A guy wandered over and wondered what I was doing. Collecting nettles, I told him, and maybe if David Letterman ate them, and changed his diet, he wouldn’t have needed a quadruple by-pass surgery. Ok, so the man, Harold, wasn’t so interested in what I thought about Letterman. But he just watched a bit, perhaps amused, and then he told me a story.
He said that he’s collected nettles before for food, because he liked to eat them. He didn’t know they were good medicine too.

Anyway, one day while picking nettles all by himself, someone wandered over and wanted to know what he was doing.  Not knowing who the man was, Harold just said, “picking nettles.” And then he added, “to eat.”  The stranger looked closely and finally said, “You think I’m dumb, don’t you?  That’s marijuana you’re picking.”  Harold was a bit dumbfounded, and wanted to say “You really are far more stupid than you look,” but instead, said, “of course not.”  The stranger just smiled a knowing look, and then hung around.  Harold soon wandered off and then hid behind a tree.  He saw the stranger pulling up bunches of nettle and walking off with it. Harold laughed, thinking that the man would probably go home, dry the nettle, and try to smoke it. 

I finally left with my very full bag of nettle greens.  Some of the tops went into our evening soup, and the rest I cleaned and set out to dry for future tea.  The soup was very enjoyable and tasty, and I realized that nettle is one of the tastiest wild greens out there, and widely under-rated.