Thursday, July 24, 2014

Seeking Paradise: How and Where does one look?

Christopher Nyerges

[Nyerges is the author of such books as “Self-Sufficient Home,” “Extreme Simplicity,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” and “Guide to Wild Foods.” He has been teaching self-reliance skills since 1974.  He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or]

At one time, life stretched out like eternity, like the last scene from “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly,” where you knew there were winners and losers and fools, and you hoped desperately that you’d be a winner. Well, at least a good guy. That’s the perspective of a child, seeing the world through simplistic eyes, black and white, good and bad, right and wrong. That’s good, really, but as Mark Twain once noted, there is enough good in the worst of us, and enough bad in the best of us, that we should quit pretending and start working together. At least Twain said something like that, and what he meant was that only in movies and childhood dreams do we ever get to see absolute clarity which doesn’t exist in the real world.

In childhood, I assumed that the older bodies also contained minds that were more developed, and advanced, and therefore more objective and mature. I assumed that parents were the fair arbiters of disputes and that elected officials took those positions because they cared about the good of the people they represented.  I believed in the Jimmy Stewart world of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” even though I never found it.

I believed that there must be a sanctuary of sanity somewhere where people practiced lives of sanity and non-prejudice, and where fraud and cheating were unheard of.  I lived on a farm for awhile right after high school, and I felt that perhaps there, in the rough existence where your work resulted in a very tangible result that supported your existence, it was hard to cheat and defraud, and the folks had pride in their skills, their
sense of community, and their honesty.

Could the urbanization of the world be part of the culprit in our fall from grace?  Perhaps. 
But it’s still no excuse.  Even if I never found Shangra-la on earth, I have not stopped believing in the principles by which such a place must exist. For example, you must keep your word.  Yes, printed papers are OK for poor memories, and for those who are inclined to twist the words later to mean something else from the original intent. But when you twist your word, and bend your word, you bend your very soul, and you dis-integrate your very integrity.  That’s why my father always said to keep your word, that a person is only as good as their word. Even in middle-class Pasadena, my father knew that there was an ineffable something about the giving and keeping of your word. In Shangri-la, you would always keep your word.

In my vision of Paradise, there would be work, but the god that we all trusted wouldn’t be money.  Money, or some version of it, seems inescapable for daily commerce and for converting your work and time into a medium of useful, recognizable exchange. But in Paradise, money would naturally be a tool to assist others to get their own enterprises going, and to provide for the common good.  People would not be obsessed by money and would not be driven by the desire for money. Killing for money would be unheard of.
Work must have a tangible result, within the framework of a goal.  A person must naturally feel uplifted by doing one’s work, and when one knowingly works at a menial and pointless job to fulfill someone else’s desires and goals, it’s hard to feel uplifted. 

Of course, bits and pieces of this Shangra-la exist right now, everywhere, in most people.  I believe that everyone has an innate desire to find rightness, and even fairness, and everyone ultimately recognizes the objective reality of the Law of Thought, that what you think and what you do has ramifications that are scientific result of those specific thoughts and actions. 

If you inwardly believe in the possibility of a Paradise on earth, you must start to grasp those principles of living and thinking that lead to Shangri-La. And though you must do so personally, on your own, it is fortunate that there are others, if you can find them, who are also seeking a higher road.

Shangri-La is not a place that you find, but rather, a place that you earn the right to be a part of, by the evolution of your thought and actions.  What does that mean? What must someone do?  Again, the answers are everywhere, hidden in plain view.  They go by such names as learning to think, separating feeling from emotions, distinguishing empathy from sympathy, learning to use words precisely, working hard to see world events objectively, and not subjectively based on your personal cultural bias.  It means learning the practical value and living the precepts taught by all the great Way-showers of history, from all cultures. Ever heard of the Golden Rule?  That’s a good place to start.  How about the 10 Commandments?  Another good starting point.

One winter night during high school, my friend Nathaniel and I bicycled into a little side canyon of the Angeles National Forest, and we made a safe little fire in our campground and talked about the meaning of life and how we thought that civilization might fail.  It had never occurred to us that we are barely civilized now, and we only believe we are “civilized” because of our material wealth and technological toys.  We bemoaned the fact that society is on the fast road to uncivil barbarousness, and wondered what could be done, and what should be done.

We always toyed with the idea of becoming hermits and hiding out in a cave somewhere, but both of us were way too social to live out our lives in a cave. By whatever choices we made, we felt that everyone should be a good example, and no one should assume that there is no hope for the future. Our civility, our culture, our sense of civilization, after all, is an internal concept that we first keep alive inside our thinking.  Once that flame is bright within, it is proper to share with others, and attempt to be a part of the solution to the many problems we see all around.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Funeral for my Pittbull Cassius Clay

“The Character of a Nation is determined by how its animals are treated” Ghandi

by Christopher Nyerges

[Nyerges is the author of “Extreme Simplicity,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” and other books. He can be contacted at]

Everyone who has a close pet knows that the dog or cat becomes a part of the family, no longer a mere “animal.”  And everyone whose close dog or cat dies, typically feels the same pain – sometimes even deeper – as if a human close friend has died.  Love knows no boundaries and we develop ties with humans and other animals.

The world is full of stories, and monuments, and books devoted to a favorite dog or cat, which is evidence that these beings are indeed close to our hearts.

I once heard  radio host Dennis Prager claim – who apparently had no pets – that it is only those people who have not developed deep human relationships who become very close to their pets, as if the animal relationship is their stepping-stone to a “real” human relationship. Such a statement could only be made by someone who has never experienced a close animal relationship, or he would not have made such an erroneous statement.  (To be fair to Mr. Prager, it’s certainly possible that some close animal-human relationships develop because the person did lack the ability to have close human relationships.)

My perspective is that those who have the ability to enter into a close relationship with an animal have even more developed feelings than the average person.  These animal relationships develop not because of a lack in some area, but because of a greater development in the area of feeling and caring.  That’s how I see it anyway.

So, of my many close animal friends, Cassius Clay, my purple ribbon pitt bull who I loved, died at age 17 on Easter Sunday, 2008.  I’d grown so close to him, and my daily schedule was so structured around him, that I could barely believe he was gone. It was devastating on certain levels, and like when anyone you love dies, suddenly, for awhile, the world is a very dark and dreary place.

In the few days after he died, I reviewed in my mind all the things that he “taught” me, and all the ways in which I felt I became a better person because of Cassius.  I know regular folks don’t think that dogs “talk,” but that’s because most folks believe that language is entirely linguistic, when in fact, words are just one small part of communication.  Cassius talked to me regularly, with the tone of his voice, his eyes, his sounds, his body motions.  I learned to listen and generally understood what he was “saying.”

I buried him in a section of a nature preserve in Highland Park, and invited a few friends to join me in a little ceremony.  I’d planned to plant some herbs over his grave, talk about Cassius, show some pictures, and maybe let people who knew Cassius say a thing or two.

I was overwhelmed with the approximately three dozen people who showed up in the hilly amphitheater section of the property, and, with some friends, we set out chairs and laid down carpets so everyone could join us somewhat comfortably.  I know that many who came never met Cassius, so they came to join me in my saying goodbye to my friend.

I shared some highlights of how Cassius came into my life, and showed pictures, and we had some music. With so many people, I was uncertain how to proceed, but I began to ask people to share their experiences with Cassius, and if they never met him, to share their experiences with their own close animal friend.

It took over an hour for everyone to share their stories, and it was a tearful event even for people who didn’t know Cassius. Many shared stories of animals that were every bit a part of  the family, and how their relationship with that animal was life-enhancing.

When done, I passed out a little leaflet about Cassius, just like you might get when you went to a human funeral or wake.  And then I invited people to plant various flowers and herbs over Cassius’s grave, and to water those plants.

For me, it was a necessary part of the transition of life to death, to take the time to acknowledge a friend. As a child, I recall when our pet dog died, it was taken to the vet who then somehow “disposed” of it. I vowed to never do that again, not to a family member, and not to a pet. 

Death is part of life, and it does not mean we should forget.  Life goes on, but we should never forget the value that others had in shaping our character, and making our life worth living.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: "Practical Self-Reliance" by John McCann

“Practical Self-Reliance: Reducing Your Dependency on Others,” a new book by John McCann.

It’s good to know that in today’s world with war and rumors of war, accelerating environmental degradation, the ruin of the dollar, and inept and corrupt leaders “running the world,” more and more people are at least waking up to the fact that “we the people” means you and I.  The move towards practical self-reliance is not just a fad, but it’s a reaction to very real problems and issues in the world that threaten our well-being and the safety of our families and neighborhoods.  At the most basic level, we are realizing that the most functional definition of “the government” is also you and I, and we had better realize that quickly.

Part of this rational mindset is the attempt by many to self-govern: to do as much as they can to provide some of their own food, their own power, and many of the supplies they need.  No, this is not referring to “farming,” but rather a complete mindset which any urban dweller can and should adopt of being responsible for your own domain.

John McCann’s latest book provides a useful no-nonsense guide to becoming more self-reliant, from a man who has also taught wilderness survival.

Naturally, McCann points out the necessity of ascertaining need from want, a great starting point.

He addresses all the ways to get food. Yes, grow as much as you can, and grow plants appropriate to your locale. But what if you live in an apartment?  Try joining a neighborhood garden. And try supporting local farmers markets. Learn about wild foods.
McCann also provides us with a variety of ways to store food and water in case of an emergency, and multiple ways to prepare your meals in the back yard. Ever heard of a solar oven?  These are very practical for most of the U.S., and some can be made for very little outlay of cash.

Lots of things can be recycled (“repurposed” is the current hip way to refer to this) into practical and useful items, once we get over our foolish pride that everything must be new from Target.  My father and grandfather would enjoy McCann’s section of the tools needed to make and fix everything around your home and homestead.

I liked the section explaining how to make a simple slush lamp (basically, an oil lamp) from an old wine bottle which has a wick stuck into it.

Everything you need to know about water purification, water storage, alternate toilets, compost toilets, is detailed in this heavily-illustrated book.

There’s a good section on alternate sources of electricity, not how to get off the grid, but how to start using solar electricity little by little within a budget.

Perhaps the section that we should all read carefully is Chapter 9, “Don’t Bank on Banks.”  No, it’s not a rant against the establishment, just some common-sense reality about what to do when the banking system fails.  Even a short-term electrical blackout renders all  your ATMs and electronic money moot.  Remember that cash is king, and learn to barter with useful items and skills.

This book made me smile often, since it was reminiscent of my 2002 book, “Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City,” where my wife Dolores and I described our efforts to live in a normal suburban yard and live as self-sufficiently as possible.  John McCann’s book, and my book, make a wonderful complementary package.
Practical Self-Reliance is available from  Kindle at at $9.95.  The print edition can be purchased directly from John McCann at or from

Monday, July 07, 2014

BATS: An Ecological Method of Insect Control

Tips for installing a bat house

Many people believe that bats are dangerous because they’ve been watching too many movies.  In fact, bats are an important way to control insects.  They do eat mosquitoes too, but  this part of their reputation is a bit over-rated because bats tend to fly a bit higher than mosquitoes. Still, they do eat mosquitoes.  Encouraging bats to live around your place is an easy, natural way to control unwanted insect populations.  In nature, bats would reside in hollow trees, which are abundant in the forest, but less common in the urban areas. 

This is why you’ll probably need to install a bat house if you want to encourage them to live around your place.  Bat houses can be purchased at garden supply shops and on-line catalogs.  They can also be made from scrap lumber, and rough lumber is better because bats need something to cling onto.

The location of your bat house is important because bats are a bit choosey as to where they make their home. Just tacking a bat house up on the wall doesn’t guarantee that bats will occupy it.  Bat Conservation International offers a few suggestions for properly installing a bat house.

Make sure that the bat house gets a lot of sunlight. The bats don’t like the sunlight, per se, but they need the warmth to raise their young. So a bat house should be situated where it get a lot of sun, ideally on a free-standing pole if possible.  The bat house can also be painted black to help with heat retention.

Bats are more likely to occupy a house that is about 15 to 20 feet above the ground.  A pre-made bat house should be well-anchored to the house, or pole, and studies have shown that the bats are less likely to use the pre-made house that is anchored to a tree. 

Make sure there are no obstructions to the entry of the bat house within 20 feet. 
Assuming you’ve done all this, you should still give the bats time to notice the house.  If  there are no bats in the house within two years, try moving it to another location. 

Even if bats occupy the house you’ve provided for them, don’t expect miracles. They are not going to reduce your mosquito population to zero, but they will eat mosquitoes and other insects, and you won’t have to use harmful insecticides on your property to take advantage of their free service.

And because the needs of bats are very specific, it turns out that many bat house that are pre-made are not ideal.  Bat Conservation International provides a list of bat house manufacturers which conform to the needs of bats. They also provide free plans for building your own. Just check their web site at