Wednesday, September 11, 2013


 [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]

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], 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, or write to School of Self-reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.

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