Saturday, August 10, 2013

To Love L.A.

Golden Temples arise from the early morning darkness of L.A.

One man’s thoughtful drive on the 134 freeway

[Nyerges is the author of 10 books, including Enter the Forest and Urban Wilderness.  He has taught outdoor classes since 1974.  Contact him via School of Self-Reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or]

It’s a crisp cold morning with a clear sky.  The chaparral hills to my north are still dark and mysterious.  The sun is rising to my back and I am struck by the pastel beauty of the urban landscape sprawled to the south.  From my perspective, traveling west on the 134 freeway, I see the dark rich hills rising out of the Eagle Rock valley and the countless homes sprawl-packed into the lowlands.  Each home glistens with an orange light, and the overall effect is like a handful of sparkling, scattered jewels. 
The clarity of the air is diminished only by a low haze. As I gaze southward at the rising towers of downtown Los Angeles, they appear golden.  It is the rising sun’s special light casting its orange-golden hue on the mammoth buildings of downtown as well as the towering modernscape of downtown Glendale. 
But in this semi-surreal early morning drive, my eyes “see” something akin to golden Maya temples rising from the denseness of the dark jungles.  The east face of Griffith Park is a golden facade, another temple, a natural splendor for the eyes.
My eyes see a unique beauty in this telling light of the early morning, a beauty that is both profound and ephemeral.  In this drive-by snapshot view as I travel westward, Los Angeles strikes me as a place that’s likable, beautiful, full of vast potential, and countless conflicts. 
I’ve lived here my whole life, and recall the persistent desire in early years to get out of Los Angeles, and escape its ever-cramped and polluted streets.  I did live on a farm for awhile. It was beautiful and peaceful.  Too peaceful.  I came back to this City of Angels in search of my destiny.  Here in this land where I was born, I have always felt a sense of home-ness.

The clarity of the morning air impresses me.  I do a quick turn and can see the towers of Mount Wilson seemingly so close in the clear sky that there’s the impression of being about to reach out and touch it.
Everywhere there is the urban lowland sprawl with the golden temples to commerce rising out of the pastel semi-darkness.  I begin to wonder -- again my mind somehow slips into a comparative analogy.  I am not seeing Los Angeles -- I am seeing the once grand cities of Uxmal and Chichen Itza rising out of the Mexican jungles.  The skyscrapers here are our version of the temples.  In our case, our temples in this age of rampant commercialism are where we worship our dollar gods and gods of productivity.  I marvel at the subtle compelling beauty of these  temples to our modern commercial gods, but at the same time I realize we’ve completely lost an essential spiritual component in our culture.
I look away from these golden towering monuments of man, and I smile upon the also-golden hills of Griffith Park, a natural church rising out of the muck of materiality. My mind is seeing analogy, and so when I spot that observatory building at the top, I’m thinking of the old observatories of Uxmal and other ancient cities, where people took their time to study the heavens and to rise up out of our tight little world and see the magnificence of which we’re only a part. 
I breathe a deep sigh and I inhale.   I’m not depressed -- after all, I’m alive.
I know that you cannot change the world.  You can only change yourself.  Sometimes, even that is hard enough.
I’ve reached the exit from the freeway and I drive south on city streets to my day in the urban jungle to meet my people challenges.  You can’t change the world, but you can change yourself, little by little by little.
Somehow, I allowed my inner consciousness to inwardly capture that beauty of the L.A. landscape and I found it deeply inspiring.  I ponder how to improve my character, here, today, in this chaotic swirl of people.
When my life was peaceful on the farm, my challenges were simple, and few were the external prods to push me beyond my self-imposed limits.  But it is different here.  And it is for this reason, and in this context,  that I can now truly say that I love L.A.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Recycling Newspapers into "Logs"

[We'll try to have this product in our Store soon, at]
In the woods, firewood has never been a problem.  It is everywhere, abundant.  I am not referring to the camps where you drive in and you pay to park in your numbered spot. In those places, it would be somewhat normal to find no firewood because all the other campers have foraged around for whatever is available.  I am referring to the actual wilderness where you have to walk in at least a mile or more. Wilderness.

However, in the event of a natural (or man-made) disaster, firewood may not be so abundant in the urban areas.  I recall hearing stories of German people burning furniture during WWII because there was no other practical way to get heat.

In today’s urban setting, there are many resources that are common, even abundant.  One such resource that could be pressed into service is newspaper.

Newspaper, obviously, can be used for many things, such as wrapping, making pots for your garden, emergency insulation, and also for making logs for the fireplace.

When I say “logs,” I’m not referring to the old 1970s method of rolling some newspaper around a broom handle, tying it up, pulling out the handle, and then burning the “log” like a wooden log. Trouble is, these don’t really burn all that well unless you already  have a blazing fire going.

But there is an alternative. Put all your newspapers into a plastic bucket and add water. Soaking it for a few days is best. On occasion, when I have demonstrated this to children at camp, we simply shredded the newspaper, added water, and went to the next step, but soaking for a few days is ideal.

Next, you need to have a newspaper press, as pictured. I first purchased one around 1980, and though this model doesn’t seem to be available anymore, there are similar ones today manufactured by someone else that seems to work just as well.

You put the wet newspaper into the rectangular box section of the press, add the top, and then push the handles down to press out the water.  You then pop out the “brick” and let it dry for a few days (or longer).  It then burns well in a fireplace or campfire.  Granted, this is newspaper, so don’t expect the same BTU of oak or other hard wood. But it does burn, and definitely better than the logs rolled around a broomstick.  I’ve used them in backyard campfires and in woodstoves.

This device also presents the possibility for dealing with security documents.  If you just toss your paper documents into the city trash can or the city recycling bin, you never really know what might happen.  I used to just burn such documents on a grill in the back yard, but this is not always a possibility.  The last time I had a full bag of documents to deal with – old bills, etc. – I shredded them and put them into a bucket with water. Since they are mostly bond paper, not newsprint, I allowed a week of soaking. After the week, I made some logs and dried them.  Since you can no longer read anything on the bills and documents after this, there is no need to burn them right away.  And since bills are typically bond paper, the logs seem to burn just a bit hotter and longer.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

excerpt from my book "Til Death Do Us Part?": My life with Cassius Clay

Cassius Clay was my purple ribbon pure-bred Staffordshire terrier who died at age 17. This is a section from the chapter about him in the book "Til Death Do Us Part?", available from Kindle or from the Store at for far less than what you'd pay as a tip at a medium-priced restaurant.

You were always so happy to see me when I came to get you that it made me very happy too.  When I briefly lived at my dad’s house, you were difficult at first, but then you could just come and go out the back yard at will, and you were always so happy to see me when I came in. I could tell you had some deep fear of being alone and you felt some deep inner relief that I was there.

You got me up early, and would bark to get me up and out. We walked every single day in the early mornings. In some ways, I feel that you kept me alive and going during those times.  We’d walk in the rain or sun or dark, in the old neighborhood of Pasadena where I’d mentally review all my demons and old memories and I felt good and new having you with me.

When we walked near the intersection of Woodbury Road and Highland Avenue, there was this long row of bushes that you struggled to go to and to carefully sniff.  “Let me see your picture,”  I asked Cassie, thinking of the Leydecker book on animal communication. I felt it would make me closer to Cassie, understand him better, and make him feel good that he could share.

I just mentally asked him to share with me when we went by these bushes. Cassie always HAD to stop there and sniff and sniff and I’m sure it was the code of every dog that ever walked by there. It was a very important thing to Cassie to do this sniffing.

I asked him to share his picture, and I closed my eyes momentarily and I touched his head and I “saw” this wildly complicated picture of streams of what I would call molecules,  or objects, in all geometric shapes, and all colored, and all in motion, and it all meant something to Cassie, but not much to me. When he sniffed, it was as if he was trying to make some order of the kaleidoscopic dynamic color of shapes, and determine what dogs came by, and when.

It was incomprehensible to me – but it occurred to me that that was in fact his mental picture of how he processed the information from his nose.

You were about 10 when I moved up to Altadena. I started to think and feel you would live forever.  You were always there.

I was always afraid that you would get out and attack a horse, and one day, when I left the door open and was watering, I began to  hear the horses making noise and sure enough, there you were down by the horses. I ran down the steps so fast, and my first sight was you flying through the air as a horse kicked you away. You got up and went back, and you got kicked again. I had to wait for the horse to move away before I could get your limp body out of there. I took you to the tub and washed you, and you were all swollen. I think you got kicked in the chest and in the head, not sure. But you didn’t do much for a few days and then you seemed to recover back to normal.  I am certain that if a human received a kick like Cassie did, they’d be dead!

In these last five years, I realize that I structured my life around being able to be there for you and to care for you. I would rush home from the market on cold, rainy, overly hot, windy days to make sure you were OK. You just looked at me, and we went inside or walked. You then came in and slept.