Monday, April 29, 2013

A Review of “High Noon”

I finally saw “High Noon” with Gary Cooper, a movie that I’d heard of forever, but for whatever reason, never had a chance to view.  Finally, last Fourth of July, I had the opportunity to watch this classic.

The lessons of this movie are worth reflection, since the movie captured some of the most basic universal, timeless human traits.  Set in the western genre, Gary Cooper (Cain) is getting married to a Quaker woman, and therefore resigning as marshal of this small town. His resignation is occurring just one day before the new marshal is set to arrive.  This means there will be no marshal for one day.

Coincidentally, three “bad guys” show up in town, awaiting a train that’s due to arrive at high noon.  On board the train is Frank Miller.  Apparently, it was because of Cain that Miller was sent to prison, and Miller is coming to seek revenge. 

But Cain just got married, and was heading out of town.  He could just walk away from it all.  He no longer has any legal responsibilities to the small town. But his personal ethics compel him to go back to the town. 

Some time earlier, Cain and company had managed to drive all the bad elements from the town, and turned the town into the sort of place where people would want to come to in order to work and to live a good life.

There’s also another woman (isn’t there always?) and a cast of characters all caught up in the pettiness of their own lives.

As we watch the clock tick down to noon, Cain attempts to round up some men and deputize them in order to fight back Miller and his gang of three.

But it turned out that Miller and gang had many passive supporters in the town, those who liked the wild days before Cain got Miller sent to prison. You’d think that the whole town would rally behind Cain, but each one had their own fears, their own doubts, and their own excuses.

The movie is a fantastic study in human character.  The basic “good vs. evil” drama is depicted here, which reminded me of the “Lord of the Flies” where the two sides set against one another.  Pleasure vs. discipline.  Freedom vs. control. Do what you want vs. do what is right.

In the end, Cain does his duty and gets some unanticipated assistance. Duty done, he finally tosses his brass badge in the dust and departs that little town that offered no help.

This is a movie worth taking the time to watch, and having a discussion afterwards. It makes you realize that with all our modern trappings today, we are no better and no different than the parochial folks in that little isolated town, who – like us – get to look in the mirror every day, and must accept the consequences of our choices.


[Benjamin Loaiza cooking with the larger Esbit stove]

At least 40  years ago, we all had to get the little Esbit pocket stove for our camping trips.  They were made in Germany, but you could obtain them at some of the various camping supply stores that were more common back then.  The entire stove is just a little larger than a pack of cigarettes,and it folds open so that the two “doors” become “legs.”  You set the stove on the ground or a sturdy surface, and when open the bottom is just a little off the ground, so there’s an air space underneath.  You add a little fuel tab, and you rest your metal cook pot on the top.  It was ingenious, small, lightweight.  You hardly knew it was there. 

When you purchased one of these little Esbit stoves, it came with little fuel tabs, probably trioxane.  One tab was enough to bring a cup of water to a boil. 

But as campers with no money, we never bought fuel.  We’d just stuff some twigs into the Esbit cooker, light them, and cook some soup or tea in a metal Sierra cup.  Sometimes we just cooked in an old soup can.  I’ve used my Esbit stove in the desert, in the mountains, and even in the parking lots of rest areas in California and Arizona!

In the last four decades, we’ve seen some amazing high-tech gear for the campers and backpackers.  At a recent self-reliance and survival shows in Utah, I’ve seen no less than six new high-tech cookers, all very useful and – very expensive.  There are many variations of the original Esbit cooker, generally which go by the name of “tommy cookers.”

Never being a fan of heavy, bulky, expensive gear, I’ve never bought into many of the new products that flood the marketplace.  Of course I do have a few such stoves, and they are great to store in your garage in case I ever have to cook in my backyard after an emergency.  I have used mine in the backyard many times.

Getting back to the Esbit.  I didn’t even know the company was still around, until I got one of the latest Esbit stoves to test.  This time, it’s not the tiny stick-in-your-pocket cooker. But it’s the same stove on steroids. 

The new Esbit stove is bigger, a bit too bulky for most backpackers, but ideal to stick in the car for camping, or to keep handy for home emergencies. [Alan Halcon and I did a Dirttime Youtube video on this stove and others; maybe you saw that?]

It measures  13 " deep, 10" wide, and  4 inches high.  It weighs around five pounds.  It won’t fit into your pocket but it would f it into  your trunk.  I don’t think anyone would backpack with it, though you might just carry the grill along.

We tried cooking on the large Esbit cooker during an expedition to the local mountains, and found it to be convenient to use and easy to pack back up.
I was with a group and Francisco Loaiza and his son Benjamin – mostly his son Benjamin (a recent Eagle Scout) – did most of the cooking.

While everyone agreed that they’d not carry this stove backpacking, it seemed ideal for the cookout for three to five people where a convenient stove in the trunk is just the thing.

According to Francisco Loaiza, “I like the fact that it is constructed of stainless steel, and would resist rusting and I like how it folds up to a nice compact size. Some other barbecues are "oddly shaped" and would be more cumbersome to pack neatly. This is a basic box shape as opposed to the round mini barbecues I have used in the past.”

We both liked the charcoal bag which allows you to neatly carry charcoal, and pack it within the stove. 

Though this Esbit stove might be a bit small for a large group, it’s fine for a small family barbeque, car-camping, and emergency backyard use.  It’s built of stainless steel, compact, and neatly fits into a convenient carrying case.  Loaiza and I both noted that some stoves of this category have covers, which would allow one to use the stove as an oven.  Though this new Esbit stove has no cover, one could easily be fabricated with aluminum foil.

Esbit stoves are exclusively distributed in the U.S. by Industrial Revolution, whose web site is

[Nyerges schedule of classes can be seen at]

Monday, April 15, 2013

Collecting Nettles

[Nyerges is the author of "Guide to Wild Foods," available at Amazon, or]
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.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Book of Eli -- movie review

“The Book of Eli” was one of my favorite “end of the world as we know it” movies.  It didn’t hurt to have Denzel Washington as the star, a role in he played excellently.

The movie is set in the future, and we see a treeless, pock-marked landscape without the millions of people who are present today.  The world is sparsely populated, most people apparently killed off by some event, probably nuclear. 

Denzel possesses a Bible, and his self-appointed task is to get his book to a safe place somewhere on the west coast.

In this version of the future, people have learned to survive by trading – money as we know it today has no value. There is no longer any formal “law enforcement,” just various random thugs, and thugs who work for a big thug.  There is no infrastructure, no fire department, no grocery stores, no electricity.  We see no farms where either plants or animals are raised.  In fact, we hardly see any plants or trees at all – maybe the soil is spoiled from the results of some future warfare.

And we get hints that some have reverted to cannibalism.  Violence and depravity are the norm. 

A strong  thug is the leader of what may one day become a town. This thug wants to find a Bible so that he may use it to exert power over other people.  When he learns that Denzel might have a Bible, the basic plot and drama of the movie become clear.

In some ways, this movie shows a harsh view of the future, presented in such a way that you believe it could be possible.

The setting is not so far-fetched and the story of Denzel and what he does makes this somewhat of a secular Savior story, including the notion that he may return again, in some form.

The harshness of the world made me realize that I’d never want to live in such a bleak world.  Thus, watching this movie made me want to fight even harder to protect all that I believe is good and right in our world. 

And besides the entertainment value, and besides the “big picture” message, there were some excellent teaching moments where each of us could learn a few things.

For example, everyone traded. In this harsh world, piece of paper had no meaning, and certainly no value.  If you wanted or needed something, you had to barter with material goods or services that the other person needed or wanted. Very basic, to the point.  And how many of us realize that general commerce in today’s society cannot continue without the electricity that powers our machines?  And what about the electronic transfers of “money” from place to place, and our reliance on the credit card?  Most of our modern societies are constantly in a state of near-emergency, but we barely realize it.  Learning to barter is a step in the right direction.

There was another scene in the movie where a young woman was asking Denzel what it was like before “the event.”  Denzel thoughtfully responded that the people back then – us, today – had far more than they needed.  Indeed!  So many of us lust after more and more physical stuff to fill our lives, and it never seems to bring happiness. We then toss the objects into the landfills as we seek other material objects to give us happiness and give our lives meaning. How many Americans are aware of the fact that even the very poorest amongst us live lives that are far better than millions of people in third world conditions?

Yes, “Book of Eli” is an excellent movie on many levels.  You can rent or buy the DVD and enjoy it with your family, followed by a lively discussion of what it all means.