Friday, June 26, 2015

Saving Water Suggestions, and other good ideas....


“The Self-Sufficient Home: Going Green and Saving Money”

 [Caption: Dude McLean with "The Self-Sufficient Home" book.]

Way back in 2000, my wife Dolores and I wrote a book called “Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City,” where we detailed how we grew food, recycled household water, collected rain, raised animals, generated power, and more, in our average home in the hilly outback of Los Angeles. We wrote the book because we constantly heard how difficult it was to do the very things we were doing on a very low budget. We knew it wasn’t all that difficult – you just had to make the commitment to do it! 

The “Self-Sufficient Home” book is a continuation of that work, but in this case, we didn’t strictly write about what we did in our own home. Rather, I interviewed at least two dozen other home-owners and experimenters to discover the ways in which they were practicing urban self-reliance.  In every case, these were private individual who simply chose to take control of  at least one aspect of their lives, without waiting for some elusive government solution.

The book is a timeless work, detailing many of the ways that we can live with less water and still live well, and it provides a guideline for others to do the same.

“Self-Sufficient Home” includes an interview with Altadena architect Steve Lamb, who shares all the ways in which homes should be built to take advantage of natural principles such as sunlight, wind patterns, shade, and other site-specific issues.  Lamb points out that white roofs, and large overhangs helps keep houses naturally cooler.  During the course of writing the book, Lamb took me to a few of the places he’s worked on to show me how it’s also possible to retrofit an “average” house to take advantage of these principles.  We also visited Pasadena’s Gamble House to look at the timeless architecture that keeps a place cool in the hot summer, naturally and without electricity.

“Self-Sufficient Home” details the many ways to use less water, and to recycle water. There are interviews with people who collect rain water, with everything from low-tech to high-tech methods.  In fact, this is now so “mainstream” that all of the building supply companies routinely sell you all the hardware needed to turn a bucket into a rain water catchment system. 

My mother used to have us take the water from washing the dishes and pour it outside on the fruit trees. Very low tech, of course. 

In the 1970s, during a previous drought era, I worked with others to retrofit many homes so their “grey water” (everything but the toilet water) could be directed out into the yard for either a lawn, or garden.  In most cases, this is a simple plumbing job that any plumber could do, though it is still frowned upon my most city’s Building and Safety departments. 

Not big fans of the pointless grass front lawn, we also describe in the book how we mulched the entire front lawn area (in 1986), and grew vegetables and fruit trees on it. All the water came from the washing machine, whose drain hose was disconnected from the sewer and re-routed out into the yard.

Of course, toilets use a lot of water too, so the simplest solution for most people is to get the low-flow toilet. But did you know that there are many alternatives to the conventional flush toilet, from the expensive high-tech to the very simple low-tech methods that have been practiced for millennia.  Though local health departments take a very dim view of such toilets, they are proven water-savers that can be safely used in most situations.  In fact, I describe in my book two toilet alternatives that I tried successfully for many months.

The book also addresses all the ways in which the average urban back yard can be utilized for food and medicine production.  This begins with an assessment of the resources already on the property, coupled with a list of your specific needs and wants. 
Where to get your seeds, how to produce plants from cuttings,  and ways to create your own backyard fertilizers are all included.

The book shares the specific ways in which various local people, with no government aid and with no whining, went about producing their own electricity, and their own solar-heated water.  The reader is guided through the steps of making an electrical use assessment before going out to purchase any solar devices or components.  It’s important to do that assessment if you’re going to be your own power producer, so you build a system that is suitable to your situation.

I figured that if I was able to do all these things with limited specific education, and a very low budget, than anyone could do so!  I dedicate the book to those I call the members of the silent revolution.

“Self-Sufficient Home” can be obtained via Kindle, and hard-copies are available wherever quality books are sold, or on-line.  This is a wonderful book and everyone should have a copy.

[More information about Nyerges’ classes and books is available at, or via School of Self-reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041]

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

MEMORIAL DAY 1998 – A Tale about Death

An excerpt from “’Til Death Do Us Part?” a book by Christopher Nyerges, available on Kindle, or from

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.”  Hahamongna Park -- formerly called Oak Grove Park -- is the site of one of the Gabrielino Indian villages along the Arroyo Seco.  I have found many handstones under the oak groves, used by people millennia ago to crack and grind their acorns and perform other tasks. Down in the bottom of the wash, on the far side of the canyon, I have read that archaeologists had found Indian bodies and believed the site was an old Gabrielino cemetery.

It was a cool and overcast day as participants for the wild food outing gathered in the parking area of the park.  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. 

I later learned from Martin’s father that this was a favorite place of Martin’s when he was much younger.  He’d come here and spend a week or two and study nature and tracks and practice with his 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 throughout the flat area, I led the way back to the oak trees where I would share my lesson.  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.  You could tell by his hand position that he didn’t trip.  I tried to rouse him, but it was quickly obvious that he was “out.” 

Several of us moved Martin into what we assumed would be a more comfortable position, and that wasn’t easy!  Martin was a big guy.  And then -- since I was the only one who knew the area -- I ran to a phone to call 911.  This was before the days of ubiquitous cell phones.  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 all worked like a highly-coordinated team, speaking among themselves only briefly and in terms we didn’t understand.  They were what we call a “well-oiled machine.”  They carried him into the ambulance and took him away. 

I could tell that the remainder of the outing participants were in varying degrees of shock.  It had all been like a dream, and now Martin was gone.  We discussed the merits and pitfalls of the modern medical system, and whether there was more we could have done to help Martin. We discussed whether we thought Martin would revive or not. The paramedics had been  fairly tight-lipped. When one was asked what he thought about Martin’s chances of recovery, he only said “I can’t do that.”  Still, we all knew it was serious.  We recalled one paramedic yelling “full arrest” to another when they arrived at the scene. 

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.  I didn’t talk everyone through the intended exercise -- I just explained a process that I’d done many times on Memorial Day.

Write a list of all those close people in your life.  Then, close your eyes, and imagine getting a phone call telling you that they have just died.  For most people, there are tears and a feeling of regret that they never told that person something.  You write down all those things you wanted to say to that person.  Then, since these folks are still alive, you then go and call them or write them or see them in person and tell them.  This is a very profound exercise, and in many ways can be called “healing.” 

But we didn’t actually go through this exercise.  We were in no mood for an “exercise.”  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.  After all, it isn’t necessarily others who might die.  We talked about the stages that one passes through in the after death state, and how Martin will experience peace, but will also experience a life-review, a state of purgation, a state of heaven, and eventually another embodiment. One guy muttered, “I don’t believe in reincarnation.”  I knew with this last point that I was treading on ground that some categorize as “religious beliefs,” so I didn’t push the matter.  I just suggesed that anyone interested read about it in Harold Percival’s Thinking and Destiny and decide for themselves. 

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.  Martin’s death was apparently sudden, and his last memory would have been looking at the willows and the rushing stream and the cloudy sky and the sand flats of the Hahamongna Watershed Park.  In his final moments, he was surrounded with friends that he’d only met that day, trail compadres who shared a common love of the outdoors, all brought together at this time and this place to witness his passing.

Though I barely knew him, I felt closer to him in death.
Of course, I told Dolores about this when I got home.  I was a bit shaken by the experience.  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 phone number through process of elimination in my phone log.  Of course, I was partly worried about legal ramifications.  It was Martin’s wife who told me that Martin died doing what he loved doing, and that it was probably the best of all possible outcomes that he died in that manner.  She also said that the family felt Martin was living on “borrowed time,” that they felt he should have died (according to what the doctors said) five years earlier. 

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, June 19, 2015

Squatter in L.A. -- Extract from the book


[This is a section of a chapter from Nyerges’  e-book, “Squatter in Los Angeles,” available from Kindle, or as a pdf from the Store at]

I had no regular job during this period, though I earned $5 each week by writing an outdoor column for the Pasadena Star News. It wasn’t much money, but it seemed to add up when I got a check at the end of each month. It also got my name out there, and I began to get requests to give talks to local groups and to lead walks for schools.

Even though I paid no rent, I did have a utility and phone bill to pay, so I needed a bit  more than $5 a week.  I sought out part time work here and there which would still allow me to attend the various small classes offered by the non-profit during the week. 

I found work doing such tasks as roofing, framing, writing magazine articles.

I landed a part-time job doing typesetting, which also led to my writing for that little newspaper, the Altadena Chronicle, owned by Sue and Rich Redman.  I thought I was on top of the world with that income and my $5 a week income from the Pasadena Star News. I also ended up doing some framing and painting at the newspaper office when they remodeled. 

In reality, I was on the edge of poverty financially, and yet I felt good, at peace most of the time, and loved to try new things and experiment.  My primary source of mental stimulation was through my classes and involvement with the non-profit next door, and I believed this was the most important work I could do.  In fact, there was no reason why I could not have gotten some full-time job like all my friends, or enrolled back into college full-time and gotten a degree that would enable me to earn a reasonable income. But somehow I convinced myself that  -- for better or worse – my “free” lifestyle was more important for the solace of my soul, and for the salvation of the planet.  Still, my soul wasn’t always solaced by my “lifestyle” because I always had a nagging fear anytime anyone came up the driveway. Furthermore, I constantly wavered between confidence and doubt that my way of life had any effect whatsoever on the direction the planet was taking.

My time was divided between my work, my studies and research with the non-profit organization that brought me to Highland Park in the first place. 

I drove a Honda 90 motorcycle at the time that got 100 miles to the gallon so my transportation costs were very low. 

I derived great pleasure from experimenting and learning all the ways I could provide for my daily needs, and even my wants, using things that I made, grew, found on the property, or obtained from discards.  Had I been married with children, I believe this would have been an impossible pursuit, for obvious reasons. But I was essentially alone. Yes, there was a girlfriend who visited occasionally, and two “roommates,” and though our lives intersected, I was free to try things and experiment and live a very simple life. 
Simple, but not easy, and basic, but not without its challenges.

I read Thoreau’s Walden Pond for the first time during this period, and found  my state of mind frequently resonating with the basic themes in the book.  Remember, Thoreau wasn’t a bum, or a drop-out, or an alcoholic.  Actually, for that matter, he was no squatter either, for the land where he was given permission to do his “experiment” was owned by fellow writer and friend William Emerson. He built for himself a little house (a “shack” by most accounts), and did a lot of his writing there. He stayed there by himself, probably realizing even back then that many commercial interests in our society vie for our time and money, finding ever-more clever ways to convince us that we need objects which previous millennia of humans survived without.  It would be accurate to say that Thoreau – like me – was profoundly interested in the very meaning of life and wanted to discover the point of all the rushing about to get somewhere.  Unable to discover these answers in his town, Thoreau built and moved into his little shack in the woods and learned how to grow the food that he ate, and found it nourishing and satisfying. He also ate purslane, an import from the old world, which even then was common throughout the eastern United States in tilled soil.  He wrote “I learned that a man may use as simple a diet as the animals, and yet retain health and strength.  I have made a satisfactory dinner off a dish of purslane which I gathered and boiled.  Yet men have come to such a pass that they frequently starve, not from want of necessities, but for want of luxuries.”  Indians and trappers would visit and talk, and somehow through this unprejudiced intercourse, he found that all people were more alike then different, and a life lived for purely material reasons is a life wasted.

Now I found myself in a similar setting, though it wasn’t in the woods but a ruralish part of Los Angeles.  There was purslane and chickweed growing right outside my door.  I  had no pond nearby, but I did manage to get over the Arroyo Seco which was as close to my personal Walden Pond as I felt I would get.

At night, thinking over the day’s classes and studies, typing up my notes and insights, I often ruminated over how life should be lived, and wondered why we take up so much time and waste so much of life on trivial pursuits.  I felt that it  was important to live simply, to grow food, to discover nature’s secrets, and to find answers through thinking and through research.  I wondered why others did not think like me.  And with the purslane growing right in my yard, I could eat it for lunch in my salad and fancy myself some sort of urban Thoreau as I thought over these ideas.

I did learn some years later when Thoreau was mentioned by the academics he was regarded as a brilliant intellectual who discovered the simple reality that was right in front of  everyone. Be here now. Imagine. The kingdom is within. Which is why I naturally assumed that his own peers would have regarded him as a saint and savior.  Wrong!  I have actually spoken to descendents of Thoreau’s peers and they said that in the day, Thoreau was by no means universally respected. Rather, many regarded him as a bum, an outsider, someone who had rejected society to hang out with the Indians in the woods.  I was starting to see that there were more parallels with me and Thoreau than were originally apparent.

So I did my best – though usually unsuccessfully – to not be seen as a freeloading bum who chose not to work and who just sat around listening to the birds and who saw secret messages in the clouds.....