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 Christopher_nyerges@yahoo.com, 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 www.ChristopherNyerges.com 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 www.foragersharvest.com. 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 www.ChristopherNyerges.com.  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.


 [Nyerges is the author of “How To Survive Anywhere,” “Guide to Wild Foods,” “Extreme Simplicity,” and other books. He has taught survival skills since 1974.  He can be reached at School of Self-Reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or www.ChristopherNyerges.com]

I’ve had several conversations recently with friends and associates about the current thinking on “survival” and self-reliance issues.  Some folks are interested in surviving in the woods with next to nothing.  Some are just interested in taking care of themselves in an emergency. Others are concerned about the world situation.

I had to think back to my earliest interests, where I wanted to go backpacking and carry as little weight as possible. I found an answer by studying the ethnobotany of the local indigenous people, and have studied this fascinating field ever since. I was also studying the methods of modern agriculture, post-green revolution, and its effects on the soil and nutrition.  I also studied how food is stored, processed, and transported in our economic system.  The complexity was somewhat alarming to my teenage mind, and I oft wondered how food ever gets to anyone’s table.  I could see many scenarios where our accepted normal way of life could be easily disrupted.

In a nutshell, that is what put me on the path I’m on today.

I recently had a short meeting with the founder of an organization devoted exclusively to the study and education of survival in all aspect.  Richard White, with his military background, was so intent on this focus that he began regular study groups in the 1960s called the Noah Seminars, where the intent was to share the facts of our world situation and to work to find solutions that could actually be put into practice. 

When reading some of the minutes of those early meetings, they concerned themselves with wilderness survival and physical survival, but their concern was much broader than that. They focused on verifying the geologic and ecological changes in the world, both those man-made and natural. They looked at the economic issue that were even then threatening to undermine our security in the U.S. They examined the health of the individual, the cities, and our poor methods of communication. And perhaps most importantly, they examined how our moral, ethical, and spiritual weaknesses were threats to our survival.

Each of these areas has since been the subject of many books – perhaps hundreds in some cases. 

My meetings with members of the Noah Seminars, and the non-profit that grew out of it [WTI, go to www.wtinc.info], had an increasingly greater influence on the way that I perceived the world, and the solutions that were both practical and right to pursue.  [By the way, WTI has been actively seeking interns and volunteers; if interested, go to their website and see if this appeals to  you.]

In fact, to this day, I feel that many of the so-called “survival schools” and survival ideologies are sorely lacking because they focus very narrowly on one very limited aspect of that vast spectrum of what is meant by “survival.”

During my recent brief meeting with founder White, he shared that part of his original stimulus was the fact that the U.S.S.R. had plans to bomb those parts of Los Angeles County where we lived.  Local targets included the nearby aerospace facilities, the communication towers on Mount Wilson, and other strategic targets.  Since he felt then that there was a significant possibility of such a bombing actually occurring, he explained to his students that such an event would mean that you simply couldn’t go to the local store or fast food place for lunch.  The study of wild foods became mandatory, as well as some of the skills of hunting and food procurement.  Today, it has become somewhat “hip and cool” to grow only foods in one’s yard, rather than lawns and ornamentals.  This is a good sign.

Physical fitness was also stressed, since in the event of a bombing scenario, one might have no choice but to evacuate.  That would mean a few days, or longer, of evacuating on foot, carrying all of your needed gear, and folks who were excessively overweight or out of shape simply wouldn’t be able to do this.

Another part of the thinking was that, assuming such a scenario actually happened, “law and order” would be non-existent, and various gangs would exert control and authority.  It would be essential to be able to defend oneself and one’s family.  Firearms and martial arts were essential.

These are just a few of the many ways in which we approached survival-thinking and preparedness.  Through non-sectarian spiritual studies, we also explored how our honesty and dishonesty can affect the situation we find ourselves in.  In fact, we studied many of the precepts of all major religions as a way to find those higher “survival tools” of right living that could only serve us well.  These continue to be included in many of the classes and writing that I conduct, as well as in all the classes that WTI  conducts.

Of course, we are not living in the same world situation as we were in the 1960s.  Some things are better, some are worse.  Things always change, and part of a good survival-strategy is to stay abreast of the news, understanding how the political situation can affect us locally and personally.

It is still my belief that the Golden Rule is the best policy, and that the world would be transformed if we all practiced that. Unfortunately, we must recognize that most folks do NOT practice that simple precept, which is why the world is the way it is.  Still, by awareness of the full scope of survival, and by attempting to develop in all these areas, we become fuller human beings.  We become part of the solution.  Our thinking on survival should not be simply about my own personal well-being, but should include our concern and compassion for everyone.

As always, I invite your comments and questions, and welcome you to attend any of the classes we conduct. 

See our Schedule at www.ChristopherNyerges.com, or write to School of Self-reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.

Monday, September 09, 2013


captions, from top: Nyerges examines some lamb's quarter plant; prickly pear cactus fruit in market; a whole carob pod.

Nyerges is the author of “Guide to Wild Foods,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” and other books. He has conducted wild herb walks since 1974. For a free copy of the Talking Leaves Newsletter, which includes a schedule of his various classes, write to School of Self-Reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041. Or go on-line at www.ChristopherNyerges.com.

We’ve all heard it: The true prophet is never accepted by his own people. By some strange quirk of human nature, we tend to think that only something from a faraway country can be of the greatest value. This blindness also affects us when it comes to herbs and nutrition. We think that the best substances for our health and nutrition are only those herbs and roots imported from faraway China or India or South American rain forests, sold at tremendous costs in small bottles at the herb shop.

When you scan the shelfs of herb shops, it would be easy to come to the conclusion that health can be purchased in a bottle. In fact, many businesses push that very idea: “Buy our (expensive) product and you’ll be happier, live longer, be free of disease, and have a great sex life besides.”

But guess what? In this country, we are surrounded with an unbelievable bounty of nature. Just about everything that you’d want for your health and nutrition can be found in your backyard or in the wild, or it can be easily grown. No money need change hands. Shockingly, many of the most nutritious plants on the planet are despised as common weeds, and at any nursery in town, you can buy poisons to kill off these valuable weeds. Such sad ignorance.

Here are some of the wild and free plants which you can use for your health and well-being.

Ginseng seems to be a valuble herb, but it’s not that common in the U.S., and most of it comes from overseas -- which means you have to buy it, and it’s very expensive. On the other hand, just about everyone has dandelions on their lawns. Dandelions are probably better for you than anything in your garden, wild or cultivated. An analysis of 100 grams of dandelion greens by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows 14,000 I.U. of vitamin A, 35 mg. of vitamin C, 397 mg. of potassium, 66 mg. of phosphorus, 187 mg. of calcium, and 36 mg. of magnesium. Dandelion greens are also the richest source of beta-carotene, with 8.4 mg. per cup. By contrast, carrots -- considered an excellent source of beta-carotene -- contain 6.6 mg. per cup. Only young dandelion greens are good in salads, and the older, bitter leaves can be cooked like spinach or added to mixed-vegetable dishes. And the young dandelion roots can also be eaten when cooked.

The health food store shelfs are full of pills, including mineral tablets. But nature provides an excellent “mineral tablet” -- one that you take advantage of by eating. This is lamb’s quarter, a spinach relative found worldwide in the wild. It probably grows in your garden even if you don’t plant it. Used raw in salad or in juice mixes, 100 grams of lamb’s quarter (about a cup) contains about 80 mg. of vitamin C, 11,600 I.U. of vitamin A, 72 mg. of phosphorus, 309 mg. of calcium, small amounts of thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and iron. These figures are slightly lower when you cook the lamb’s quarter as a spinach-replacement, or in soups, egg dishes, or vegetable dishes. You could almost survive on lamb’s quarter alone!

Gingkgo leaves and nuts have been used in the Orient for centuries, and are one of the new popular herbal medications. Some researchers suggest that it may help Alzheimer’s patients, and that it should help anyone increase mental alertness. And there are several processed bottles of pills on the shelf with the expensive price tag.

Guess what? Gingko is widely planted as a park and street tree! It is very common, and you can simply take the leaves and brew your own tea. Never mind that the pill manufacturers tell you can’t do this -- you can! Make an infusion of the leaves, or if you prefer, simply powder the dried leaves and fill gelatin capsules if you prefer to take your herbs that way.

And don’t overlook the nuts which fall in September and October. The fleshy outer layer of these nuts have a foul odor, but that is easily cleaned off . The nuts can then be dried or roasted and eaten, and many of the same qualities of the leaves have been attributed to these nuts.

Roses are great to grow in any garden because they provide beauty and fragrance. Also, if you let the fruits mature (referred to as the “hips”), you’ll have a rich source of vitamin C. The only known source of vitamin C that is richer is the acerola. Rosehips contain about 7,000 mg. of vitamin C per pound, a remarkable amount. By contrast, a pound of oranges (depending on the type of oranges) contains anywhere between 100 to 250 mg. of vitamin C.

To use rosehips, you snip off the orange-red mature fruit. Once you cut it in half and remove the fibrous seeds, you could just eat it raw. However, most people find it more enjoyable to simmer it into tea, or to make it into jams, jellies, or blended nutritional drinks.

One hundred grams of the edible portion of the carob pod (which is about a cup of the entire pod, minus the seeds) contains 352 mg. of calcium. That makes carob one of the very richest non-meat calcium sources. Even when that same volume is compared to milk -- generally considered a good calcium source -- carob is nearly three times richer in calcium. Carob is also a good source of B vitamins. Though not a complete protein, it is said that this is the food that sustained John the Baptist in the desert for 40 days (hence the name, Saint John’s bread). You can simply eat the pods and spit out the seeds. Also, you can crack the pods, remove the seeds, and grind the pods into a flour which you add to bread and pasty products, or blend into liquids like rice or soy milk.

There are tens of thousands of carob trees throughout Southern California and the Southwest, mostly as street and park trees. The brown leathery pods ripen from September through February.

Oil of eucalyptus is a common active ingredient in many cough medicines, and eucalyptus trees are extremely common. You can simply pick a few eucalyptus leaves, make a hot tea by infusion, and drink it. The flavor of the various eucalypti vary, so you might smell around until you find a variety you like. This tea is useful for most breathing and respiratory ailments.

When you get a few minor cuts and scratches while doing work, do you reach for that tube of creamy stuff and rub it over your cuts? There’s something better. You could just pinch off a bit of an Aloe vera plant, break open the leaf, and spread that gel directly onto the wounds. Aloe has been used for centuries for just such medicinal applications. Aloe is easy to grow in pots or in the garden, and is widely available at nurseries. Even the best bottled aloe preparations are not as good as the fresh plant.

You have high cholesterol, and there are a number of things your doctor has told you to do: Cut out salts, fatty and oily foods, stop smoking and eliminate alcohol. Exercise more, and lose some weight. Did you know that numerous studies have shown that including garlic and onions in your diet can reduce your cholesterol level? We don’t normally think of garlic and onions as “medicine,” but they have a variety of proven or reputed medical properties, and the lowering of cholesterol levels is perhaps the most documented. In this case, you simply eat your garlic and onions -- ideally raw where possible, but cooked also -- in order to receive the beneficial qualities.

Speaking of cholesterol, another good way to lower cholesterol levels is to include foods in your diet that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids. In 1986, two biochemists (Norman Salem, Jr. with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in Bethesda, Maryland, and Artemis Simopoulos of the American Association for World Health in Washington, D.C.) discovered that a common weed, purslane, is the richest leafy-plant source of Omega-3 fatty acids. And purslane is such a common weed, world-wide, that you shouldn’t need to plant it -- you may just need to look for it. It is common in rose beds. To take advantage of purslane’s benefits, you simply eat it in salads, or cook it into soups, stews, vegetable dishes, etc.

Have a headache? Before you automatically reach for that aspirin, first ask yourself: What is the source of the conflict which is resulting in my headache. Perhaps your pain is trying to telly you something. Then, consider the original source of aspirin, the inner bark of the willow tree. The cambium layer of willow bark contains salicin, which the body converts to salicylic acid -- the active ingredient in most aspirin. If you grew a willow bush or tree in your yard, you could prune off a small twig, remove the bark, and brew that bark for a few minutes in warm water, and then drink it for headaches. The tea may be mildly bitter, but will work (more or less) as well as aspirin. Willow is extremely common world-wide along waterways.

According to long-standing traditions throughout Northern Mexico, eating the young prickly pear cactus pad (once the stickers are removed) is said to help with diabetes. In the past 20 years, we have met dozens of people who claim to have had relief from adult-onset diabetes by consuming the cactus, and we’ve met three who actually stopped taking insulin. Doctors who have researched this have come up with some medical verification. They say that the prickly pear contains a substance which strengthens the pancreas so it is more able to produce insulin. Plus, they say the fibre content of the cactus is beneficial. In addition, consuming the cactus fruits has been shown to be helpful where prostate problems are present.

These are just a few examples of how we can obtain many of our needed healthful vitamins, necessary nutrients, and even medications from plants growing all around us.

Needless to say, none of the above is intended to replace competent, professional medical care for serious illness. In the interest of increasing wisdom and self-reliance, learning which plants can be used in place of bottled vitamin pills and simple medicines can be health-promoting.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

More on “How to Survive Anywhere”

[Note: To get a discounted copy of Nyerges’ “How to Survive Anywhere,” go to Store at www.ChristopherNyerges.com and look at the special deals. Let us know you heard about the deal from this Blog and you’ll get a free Wild Food Garden Kit.  For more information about Nyerges and his classes, you can contact School of Self-reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.]
In the “First Aid” chapter of my How to Survive Anywhere book, I address specific simple ways of dealing with the common medical emergencies that one can expect in the aftermath of a major disaster, or if lost and  hurt in the woods.  Would you be prepared if  a major earthquake struck your town tomorrow?

Also to consider, it is not only the physical accidents that we need to be concerned about, whether a wilderness accident, or the result of an urban disaster (major earthquake, etc.).  In studies that have been done of the survivors of major disasters, the following conclusions have been made about the mental state of the survivors.  Approximately 15% made quick, appropriate, and efficient choices and actions which were well-suited to their safety and security.  Another 15% “went crazy,” making wild irrational choices and even getting hurt as a result of their “losing it.” 

The rest, about 70% of the survivors – a full majority – neither went crazy nor did they make wise and efficient choices and actions, but rather wandered about somewhat zombie-like, spaced-out, in a state of stupor and shock, simply not knowing what to do, where to go, what to think.  This shocked majority tends to be passive, but will take orders from someone who seems to be in control and who seems to know what they are doing and why.

The point:  None of us wants to be a part of that majority, and definitely we don’t want to be a part of that “crazy 15.”  No one would want to be wandering around Colorado Blvd. in a dazed state of mind. 

What can we do to ensure that in a time of disaster, we find ourselves in that 15% category of wise, appropriate, efficient actions?   None of us really knows what we will do until we are actually tested in difficult, stressful real life conditions.  It is impossible to predict what you might do when you are seated comfortably in your home drinking a warm beverage. 

The only way to expand our mental and physical limits is to actually put ourselves into situations where we can discover more about ourselves during situations of less sleep, less food, more work.  People in the military often get that experience.  Some survival schools offer these experiences.  And anyone (with a group of friends and supporters) can regularly plan such trips with the express purpose of expanding limits, learning how you will react in times of stress, and attempting to make the right choices when it is not easy to do so.

Some years ago, while doing something at home, my wife yelled, “There’s a fire next door.” My friend who was with me and I immediately ran outside and around the corner. We could see smoke coming from a house up the street. As we ran up the streeet, we saw most of the neighbors in front of their houses, watching. One woman was watering her yard with a hose.

“There’s a fire!” I yelled.

“We know,” calmly responded one man. “We called the fire department.”

My friend Timothy and I ran to the house, and began ordering people around. “Bring us a ladder,” and “Bring us a hose.” People quickly obeyed and within a minute we were up on a ladder and had the fire out and saved the house, a full 10 minutes before the fire department finally arrived and took over the situation.

We never forgot how the neighbors stood there watching, as if they were watching some “reality show” on their television sets.  They looked, but they took no action!  It is my stance that taking responsibility is one of the key elements of survival, survival in the fullest and most complete sense.

My book “How to Survive Anywhere” is a guide for how to train yourself, and how to take action. I developed the book over my 40+ years of teaching.

The book is divided into chapters similar to the topics of my field or classroom sessions:  Water , Fire, Lighting, Energy, Health and Hygiene, Clothing and Shelter, Fibre, Food, Tools and Weapons, First Aid, etc.

The last chapter is called “What is Survival?” and  I include a discussion on how all our choices affect our destiny, all the moral, ethical, and spiritual choices that we like to kid ourselves and believe it’s all “private.” In fact, I list the 10 Commandments and The Golden Rule as some of the best “survival tools” of all time. What you sow, you shall reap.

I was criticized for including in a “survival manual” John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, the greatest coach of all time, who always said he wasn’t training basketball players but was training people for life. To ignore these principles is the greatest ignorance.

In “How to Survive Anywhere,” I even address the topic of whether or not a dark age is looming, and I provide some practical solutions that anyone can act upon.  It’s a great book, and I hope that you get a copy.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

What if you had to Evacuate?

[Nyerges has led survival skills and wild food classes since 1974, was the editor of Wilderness Way magazine for 7 years, has written 10 books  (including “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Guide to Wild Foods,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” and others). He can be heard weekly on Preparedness Radio Network.  For more information, go to www.ChristopherNyerges.com]

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.”

Friday, September 06, 2013


[Nyerges has been teaching survival skills and wild food classes since 1974.  His books include “Guide to Wild Foods” and “Extreme Simplicity.”  More information about his classes is available from School of Self-reliance, at www.ChristopherNyerges.com.  He also runs two farmers markets as a way to promote local self-reliance. For pictures and more information about these markets, go to Facebook, and click “Glendale Certified Farmers Market” and/or “Highland Park Old LA Certified Farmers Market.”]

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

 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.)

Wednesday, September 04, 2013



[Nyerges is the author of “Self-Sufficient Home,” “How To Survive Anywhere,” and other books. He does a weekly podcast at Preparedness Radio Network. To learn about his books and classes, he can be contacted at www.ChristopherNyerges.com, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.]

Back in the mid-1970s, “survival food” and food storage systems were big, and there was the scare of a possible famine in America. Since then, there have been various hyped-up “ends of the world” including Y2K and the end of the Mayan calendar cycle.  Most are fed by the three horsemen of the Apocalypse: fear, greed, and It has been a long time since I have heard advertisements for “survival foods” for those folks who are worried about a world in which we descend into chaos and anarchy.
As I listened to an ad on the radio recently, it reminded me of my state of mind in the late 1960s and 1970s when I first began to study ethnobotany and survival skills in general. 
Back then, I was primarily motivated out of fear, and was concerned about my own personal physical survival.  It has been a long road to today, and though I still encourage folks to store “survival foods,” I am no longer motivated by fear.  Today, I have a completely different mindset about the very meaning of “survival.” 
            I know that to some people the word “survival” connotes images of some burly guy in a camo outfit and a gun who is just out for himself.  That’s survival, by the lowest definition.  But what about your children, your family, your pets?  What about the survival of your community, your environment, your city, your bank, your educational system?   Real survival is vastly more than keeping your own body alive.
Through the 1980s, I gave a series of lectures about the many cultures and civilizations that have entirely vanished.  Gone.  My focus was to look at what causes a culture to slip into decline, and even to vanish.  Then, more importantly, I attempted to see if we today in the U.S. are experiencing any of these same causes that lead to decline and extinction.  Of course, most members of my audiences listened politely, but felt that “this would never happen to us.”  In other words, the predictable response was denial. 
According to Morris Berman in the classic “The Twilight of American Culture,” there are four factors that define a declining civilization.
The first is an accelerating social and economic inequality.  Then there are “declining marginal returns with regard to investment in organizational solutions to socioeconomic problems.”  Another factor is the rapidly dropping levels of literacy, critical understanding, and general intellectual awareness.  As an example, the author shares with his readers some of the responses to questions that Jay Leno received during his “Jay Walking” routine.  Then, there is something called “Spiritual death”  - probably a major factor in the decline of all civilization. 
Interestingly, Berman adds that he doesn’t know if these four factors are causes, or effects. 
According to Jane Jacobs in her “Dark Ages Ahead,” there are definable reasons
why civilizations fall. Among her nine major factors, she lists resource depletion, catastrophes, insufficient response to circumstances, intruders, mismanagement, economic issues, and “cult thinking.”
I believe the last two are particularly relevant to us today, but they’re by no means our only concern.  As Jacobs states,  “Civilizations are expensive to keep going and require increasing amounts of labor and wealth to maintain themselves.  As civilizations grow, the upper classes grow – and so does their need for surplus wealth.  The overall costs of supporting the system with specialists, servants, soldiers, police, and so on grow at an increasing rate. The increasing effort to maintain them produce diminishing returns and leads to their collapse.”
As for cult thinking, that permeates each and every one of us in every facet of our life.  It is not just about religious things.  Cult thinking occurs whenever we blindly believe anyone.  This is why I have always strongly suggested you read Eric Hoffer’s “True Believer.”
     Jane Jacobs suggests that we are following the same cultural decline that occurred with the Roman Empire.  She identifies many of the weak spots in our contemporary lifestyle, such as: taxes, family, community, education, science, technology, the lack of self-policing, and moral/ethical insanity.  These weak areas are the foundation of all the other often-cited problems, such as the environment, crime, and the discrepancy between rich and poor.
          Modern families are “rigged to fail” due to rising housing prices, the suburban sprawl (with a reduced sense of community), and the automobile.  Automobile is the chief destroyer of communities, and the idea of community.
          The hopeful part of all of this is that dark ages are not inevitable.  For one thing, we all need to get involved, and be a part of the solution.  The millions of details of a complex, living culture are not transmitted via writing or pictorially, but by 1) living examples and 2) by word of mouth.  We need to think!  We need to model solutions (that is, given two options, we should choose what is “higher and better” in our daily life). And we need to teach, to lecture, and to write.
      There is always hope and there are always actions we can take.  If you’re watching TV, choose an educational show, not Family Guy. Constantly learn new skills and crafts, things that have intrinsic value, and that you can do with others. Grow some of  your own food!
     According to Boy Scout leader Francisco Loaiza, “Don’t make entertainment such an important thing in your life. Spend time with others and do things with people.  Get away from the TV and get off the internet.  Get to know other people directly.  We may have more knowledge today but we’ve become a colder society.”  He adds that our emotional intelligence has been lowered a few notches as well, and he cites as an example that when  people sneeze today, they rarely say “excuse me.”
     These are just a few of the many ways in which we can become a part of the solution and not be part of the decline of civilization.  This is why I wrote “Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City,” and “How to Survive Anywhere.”  I include reading lists in those books which I feel are good for your physical, mental, and spiritual health.  
     Let me know if you have questions, or more suggestions.