Monday, July 27, 2015

Roadkill Bill, and the "Takeover" of Politicians

The Tale of Roadkill Bill
And the “takeover” of Politicians

[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants,” and other books. He can be reached at www.Schoolof]

I knew a homeless guy who called himself Roadkill Bill. He was also known as Wild Bill, but he told me to just call him Roadkill.  I never knew his real name until a few decades late, after he died.

Along the way, I picked up fragmentary details about his past. He was from the San Gabriel Valley, where he attended local school. He was in the Army, from which he was discharged for some reason.  He had a family with whom he could have lived, but he chose not to.

In the mid-1980s, I would encounter him along the trail in the local mountains. He always had good gear and good clothes, and the word was that he lived in that canyon, camping here and there as he chose. When we happened to converse, if you  could call it a conversation, I was never sure what we were talking about. His responses were always very unresponsive, about other topics, and his voice would grow agitated and aggressive. When that occurred, I would quickly walk away from him in another direction.

When he was in an area, there were specific carvings that would appear on the trees. One of the rangers told me that the carvings were Roadkill’s, that he was drawing the faces of the aliens who were invading earth, which helped to seal his reputation as a “kook.”

Occasionally, after he’d be in an area, someone would call the police or sheriff deputies to find Roadkill, because “a violent man” had been reported. To the best of my knowledge, he was never violent with anyone, though his rantings were aggressive and animated.

He’s usually be arrested as a 51-50, and released in a few days.

Years went by and I never saw or heard from him, and then I would occasionally notice him over in one of the parks in the Arroyo Seco.   He lived there for the last 10 years or so of his life.

This time, he no longer had good gear and good clothes. He clearly looked homeless, disheveled, and was widely regarded as “crazy.”

He would see me occasionally when I was at the park teaching or class.  We would exchange a few friendly words, and he would keep a good distance from the class. He would stand there at about 40 feet away and begin to howl, and laugh wildly. One woman said to me, “Can you get rid of him?”  I told her just to carry on with our class work, and to ignore him, that he was harmless. Which he was.

 He must have a hard life living by begging, sleeping in the open, occasionally getting washed away in the heavy rains when there was literally no where to go. And a lot of people saw him and interacted with him over the years, because over a hundred people showed up for a makeshift memorial that was held for him in the park.

I remember the last time I talked with him. I was there with only two friends, and Roadkill sat at our table. We were sitting very close to his “home,” though I did not know that at the time. He shared a few books that he was reading, and he began to tell me about his major thesis, and belief.  There were police who helped him out, so he didn’t have a fear, or hatred, of police. But he said that when the aliens began to land on earth in the last few decades, they began by taking over the bodies of police and local politicians, and national politicians, and world politicians. He didn’t name names, but he said some priests were taken over too.

By “taken over,” he meant that the person we knew who occupied a particular body was no longer in charge of that body, and that it was actually the alien in charge, pretending to be that former person. It was very much like the theme of the movie which was made in Sierra Madre, the original “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” However, Roadkill said he’d never even heard of that movie, but that he would try to see it.

 Even though Roadkill’s conversation was always disjointed, with howling mixed in with normal conversation, he was clear on this point that the people we think we know are not those people anymore. The alien beings who intend to “take over” the world had taken over these key people. We laughed, of course. But Roadkill was very serious about it. When I asked him what we should do about it, he would shrug, and say “Don’t get taken over.”

I have no way of knowing if this was just his wild fantasy, or some unique insight of the delirious mind which sees the world in a way that “ordinary” people do not. In the few years since Roadkill died, I have periodically thought about his worldview, and wondered why leaders on all levels make the decisions they do, often so contradictory to the common good. Why, for example, can our Sacramento leaders think it is OK to force parents to vaccinate all children, or be subject to arrest or expulsion from schools?  Why is it OK for Washington politicians to tell us that we do not have the right to know if our food is made from GMOs, or even the very origin of the foods?  Who are they protecting? Whose side is Hillary Clinton actually on?  Who side is President Obama actually on? 

I wonder if all the idiosyncrasies of our “leaders” and politicians are the result of the love of money and power, and the desire to keep it, or whether Roadkill was actually right.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


 How to use the nuts and leaves of this “living fossil”

[Nyerges is the author of the new book “Nuts and Berries of California,” “Foraging California,” “Guide to Wild Foods,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” and other books. He leads wild food and natural history walks on a regular basis. Contact him at, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041]

My latest book, “Nuts and Berries of California,” is mostly about the wild nuts and berries that Native Americans used for subsistence all throughout this large state of ours. But because there are so many introduced plants in our urban areas, I included a short section in the book describing those ornamentals which are also useful for food or medicine. That section is called HIPs, for “horticulturally introduced plants.”  I only included those plants in that section which have also survived well on their own, even in the wild.
The Ginkgo tree is one of those HIP plants.

Botanists believed that the Ginkgo biloba tree was extinct, but then it was found in a Chinese Buddhist monastery in the 1700s, where specimens were being cultivated.
Once it was rediscovered, ginkgo has been cultivated and spread all over the world as an ornamental and street tree.  It is popular because of its unique appearance, and its relative resistance to insects and disease. To Buddhists, the tree is regarded as sacred.

In Japan, and other parts of Asia, the processed nuts are added to rice and stir fry dishes. The nuts are high in protein and low in fat. The medicinal properties of the nuts, which you get by eating them, are said to include the release of stress and hypertension (the result of dilating blood vessels and increasing oxygen into the blood stream). The nuts are also reportedly good for pain and soreness, as well as aid to digestion.

Yes, I harvest the ripe ginkgo nuts, and yes, I have to hold my nose! The fleshy tissue around the seed really stinks!  Some people have learned to not-mind the strong odor, generally reminiscent of fresh feces. Yes, you can get used to just about anything, and in time, you can learn to not be bothered by the “aroma” of the flesh around the ginkgo nuts.
My suggestion is that you just get over it, and it might help if you chew on some aromatic gum, like licorice gum, while collecting.

Once collected, you can let the nuts and their soft outer shell dry, which makes it significantly easier to clean. Or you can just clean them right away, as I tend to do.  I always wash them outside. You can put all the fresh ginkgo nuts in a pan of warm water, and roll them around between your hands to clean off all the outer coverings, which you should then toss into your compost pile.

The cleaned nuts are then best dried, such as in the oven at pilot-light temperature.  I have dried them with their shells, and without their shells.  I don’t know if one way is right or wrong, and I believe it is just a matter of preference. However, the ginkgo nuts in the shell seem to keep a lot longer than the shelled and dried ones.  If you plan to eat them right away, then it probably doesn’t matter how you prepare them.

Once roasted, you can just eat the ginkgo nuts as-is. 
(Yes, there are two types of people: Those who like ginkgo nuts, and those who do not….)

I have never eaten these nuts raw because of the foul odor. There have been some reports that the nuts can make you ill if you eat them raw (no doubt!), and they must be boiled or roasted for about 25 minutes. You’ll know they are done when you can easily break the thin shell with a nutcracker. They taste is akin to a bean.

To extend the shelf life, they can be simply dried, though freezing might be even better.
Caution: there have been reports of sickness by some people who have eaten about a dozen nuts at one time. These were nuts that were cooked. So my suggestion is to try a few and monitor the results.  Your body will tell you whether or not you should eat more.

When you see pills of Ginkgo biloba in the health food stores, they are made from the leaf. The leaf extract has been subject to many clinical tests, and it apparently increases circulation for the limbs and for the brain. This is apparently why it does seem to be helpful for improving memory and assisting with retaining memories. Suggestions that ginkgo can reverse dementia don’t seem to hold up to clinical tests.  Nor do the claims that ginkgo can cure cancer seem to be valid, so far.

An extract from the leaf has also been found to improve the immune system, and to protect the heart by clearing plaque from the arteries. In fact, the extracts are used for many ailments such as headaches, asthma, kidney disorders, and more. 

I have found that when I am experiencing a “slow day,” ginkgo pills, or homemade tea from the leaves, seem to offer a subtle yet noticeable “pick-me-up” without the eventual slowdown that follows drinking coffee.

There has been some debate about the safety of gathering your own ginkgo leaves for making your own tea.  From what I have concluded,  it seems safe enough to brew an occasional cup of tea from the leaves. Also, apparently the best time to collect the leaves for tea is when the leaves have turned yellow and are falling from the tree. This also apparently bypasses any toxic properties (e.g. ginkgolic acid) that may be in the leaf.
But most negative reactions from using ginkgo are not from the leaf, but from eating the nuts raw.

Forager Notes:
Don’t bring the raw nuts with the husks into your house without warning the family. I remember once when I brought some home when I was living with my parents. They were all in a brown paper bag in the kitchen, since I intended to clean them right after dinner. My mother insisted that everyone check the bottom of their shoes since she was certain someone stepped in dog poop. Finally, I remembered the bag and took it outside, and it seemed like years before I heard the end of that one.

Ginkgo is a smooth-barked tree, often growing upright in a very vertical fashion when young, and then producing a much larger angular crown as it matures. Each leaf is fan-shaped, and has the appearance of a fern.  The leaves turn yellow in the fall. The fruits, formed only on the female trees, are covered in a light brown fleshy coating that is very odoriferous.  The nut has a thin shell that is easily cracked.   The tree is widely cultivated tree, planted as a street tree, in parks, gardens, and yards.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Fourth of July, Freedom, and Money

[Nyerges is the author of several books including “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Extreme Simplicity,” and “Self-Sufficient Home.”  He has lectured, taught, and led field trips since 1974. He can be reached at or Box 41834, Eagle Rock,CA 90041]

Over the years, I have given a lecture called “The Four Illusions of Money,” in which I share the many ways in which money controls our thinking and our actions. 

For most people, money is intricately and intimately related to every part of our life, and especially that nebulous thing we call “freedom.”

On our country’s Independence Day, it seems worthwhile to take a closer look at how we view money, and how it affects our independence and our freedom.

For starters, What is money, how is money created, what is the Federal Reserve, what is the IMF, how does international debt affect us here in the U.S.?  All good questions for you to research on  your own, which are at the very foundation of money and what it is and what it does – but that’s not what I’ll be discussing today.

OK, when people are queried, almost everyone says that they do not have enough money, and would like to have more. Everyone at all income levels says the same thing! Furthermore, one of the most commonly-cited reasons given by people who continue to work at a job they dislike is to “make a lot of money.”  The reasons that this is such a ubiquitous goal – to make a lot of money – can be summed up in the four following rationales:

  1. A lot of money will let me be free to do what I want to do.
  2. People with a lot of money command more respect from others.
  3. I need more money for my family.
  4. Money is necessary for my security in old age.

Yes, there are many more such “illusions” that dance around money, but these four seemed to fairly concisely address all the secondary and corollary illusions.

These four statements are illusions about money. That means, these represent false perceptions of the world.  That is to say, when we embrace any or all of these four illusions, we are prevented from seeing the NON-monetary realities about our life and the choices that we make.

So let’s explore the first one.

A lot of money will let me be free to do what I want to do.

One way to see through this illusion is to make a specific list of all your carefully-considered goals. These can be short-term and long-term goals. These can include travel, projects, achievements, possessions, skills (learning a new language), etc., but the list cannot include money.  Money cannot be a goal. Next, you should examine the list you made and begin to delineate precisely how you can go about achieving that goal.

Yes, of course, money can help accelerate the achievement of the goal.  Still, once  your goals are clearly established in  your own mind – and clearly differentiated from “passing wants” – you can steadily move forward, step by step, toward the achievement of that goal.  Money is incidental to this process, and must not be allowed to determine the choices you make and the steps that you take.

A large part of achieving a goal – perhaps the most important part – is to learn valuable life-enhancing skills that you wouldn’t have learned otherwise.

And many of the essential steps toward a goal involve working with other people. Working with other people develops strong friendships and relationships, and this requires that you must be – or become – reliable and trustworthy yourself.  This manner of pursuing and achieving goals should represent a true freedom from our enslavement to money, and should open you up to some truly life-enhancing experiences.

Remember, this perspective is offered as an alternative to “going out to make enough money so I can be free to do what I want to do.” 

One of the amazing insights that I gained while sharing this at our seminar was how many people actually had no clearly-defined goals at all. 

Not only do most people have no clearly-defined long-term goals in life, most of us have very different and conflicting ideas about this thing called “freedom.”

I propose that there are at least two sorts of “freedom”:  freedom-to, and freedom-from.  Freedom-to refers to the ability to pursue those goals, and do those things, that you wish to do, or need to do. Freedom-from can refer to simply escaping from a bad situation, like a civil war in your country, or trouble in your neighborhood.

Connected to this is the two sided coin of rights and responsibility.  Everyone wants their rights, but somehow the responsibilities are too often left untended.

I have observed that those individuals who willingly take on responsibilities (of all sorts) gain more and more rights.  Though this inevitably involves “money” in some way, it implies a mental state that has nothing to do with money at all. 

Let’s look at another of the Four Illusions.

Money is necessary for my security in old age.

Money is needed in many ways, of course, but personal security, inner and outer, cannot be purchased.

The real security that is most needed by elderly can be enhanced by money, but it can never be built solely upon money.   Inner security arises with the development of deep friendships, and with learning to be flexible and adaptable, for example, and these are not things that are in any way dependant upon money. 

In fact, one of the best ways to “prepare for old age” is to become the type of person – inwardly and outwardly – that other people will want to be around and work with. 

This means being competent, helpful, flexible, honest, moral, curious, always willing to learn and to share, generous, and so on.  And note that none of these virtues are either the intrinsic or exclusive virtues of the wealthy.  

Developing one’s character is clearly one of the best ways to prepare for the calamities that might strike any of us at any age, such as wars, depressions, social chaos, as well as a whole host of personal difficulties.

Learn to Produce
History has also taught us that those who learn to produce what they need, and then do so, are invariably more free than their neighbors who do not do so. There are exceptions of course, but those who grow their own food can then sell the surplus of what they grow for the cash to buy what they cannot barter.  In a famous discussion between Merlin and King Arthur (yes, I know I am stretching it a bit here), Merlin told his student that there would never be war if people chose to be self-sufficient.

The way to apply these simple principles tends to be complex, and always further complicated by politicians who are lost in their worlds of words.  Still, freedom to do what is right should be the goal of everyone, and certainly the goal of every American. It is why this country was founded less than three centuries ago. 

And despite all the bickering and fighting that still continues to this day over what the U.S. is and what it represents, I find that the best rule of thumb for guidance is the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

 [We’ve only begun to scratch the surface here.  A continuation of this discussion of money can be found in Christopher Nyerges’ “Extreme Simplicity,” book available at bookstores, Amazon, and]