Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Squatter In Los Angeles: An excerpt

Here's another short excerpt from "Squatter in Los Angeles," my e-book which is available on Kindle, or from the Store at as a pdf.  I'd love to hear your comments.


Part of the underpinnings for my philosophy of what I did stemmed from my reading of the Plain Truth magazine back when I was still living with my parents. I’d read about subjects such as agriculture, and various social ills. I’d have long discussions with Nathaniel Schleimer.  We were high school buddies, inseparable, and we’d go into Eaton Canyon at night, and sit and talk. We were both hikers, backpackers, bicyclists.  We both had a love and respect for the natural world, not as nature-worshippers exactly, but from the standpoint that our life is dependent on the life of the planet.

We knew without having to earn a PhD that to stay in radiant health, you had to exercise, and drink good water, and eat good food, and think good thoughts. Neither Nathaniel nor I were optimistic about the state of the affairs of the world. We didn’t have to look far to see that the system was constantly being stretched beyond its limits by too many people, all needing to eat, and the growers and deliverers and processors of food all finding ways to take shortcuts to feed the masses.  That’s why we got interested in wild foods. We didn’t think we were particularly special, but we knew that a step in the right direction was to learn the skills of self-reliance, one by one, little by little. 

We were still young, and still living with our parents, but we seemed to work out the general and most sensible path for survival.  We saw dark clouds looming for this country, and though we hadn’t yet risen to the level of being concerned about our fellow man, we wanted to survive ourselves. 

By the time I’d graduated from high school, I wanted nothing more than to live this life, and living on a farm made the most sense.  I moved to Chardon, Ohio and lived on my grandfather’s farm with my brother and my uncle for 7 months.   

Still, since I didn’t have the tools and resources to actually live the life I wanted to live there, I came back to California.  My interests coincided with the non-profit WTI of Highland Park, a small group of people who had taken up roots in a ruralish-seeming part of Los Angeles.  They were sometimes described to me as people who were trying to live country in the city, an ideal that appealed to me. As Nathaniel and I often lamented, why do so many of us backpackers go into the wilderness and practice their high degree of concern for the land and water and resource-use, but then return back home and practice the same tired wastefulness as everyone else?  Why not “be here now,” and “be the example of what you want to see in the world,” as others have said?

So when I was in the unenviable position of being a squatter, these are many of the ideas that ran through my mind each day.  Here I am, now, and I can live and practice these principles, more or less unfettered.  Just do it!  I was still in the position of having few monetary resources, but lots of ideas, sufficient time, and good health so that I had no excuses for not living what I believed.

I have many times thought back to my friend Joe who I’d invite to my high school to speak about ecology and natural living. Joe had the words, and the ideas, and the concepts.  Yet, once when I visited Joe and began to ask him some questions about what he personally did to be a part of the solution, he disappointed me by asserting that “nothing will change without government intervention.”  I found that absurd, and still do.  Of course, I am writing this decades later, and I have a greater perspective now. I remember reading about the “re-education” camps of  the North Vietnamese, and of Pol Pot.  In those extreme cases, “government intervention” simply meant “do it the way we tell you or we kill you.”  Is that really what’s required to change the world?

Well, to be fair, Joe did have a point, to a degree.  However, I have slowly come to the realization that no one can change the world, you can only change yourself, and your habits and behavior. Now, that  might affect others who see your example. Maybe. They see “something better,” something that rings true and they try it in their own way in their own life. You’ve affected one person by changing your behavior.  Then, the idea catches on. Why didn’t we think of this before? It become almost the norm, and then little by little, further refinements in our thinking and in our actions.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Interview with Vine Deloria Jr., author of "God is Red"


Vine Deloria Jr., named by Time magazine one of the greatest religious thinkers of the 20th Century, is a prominent Native American scholar and author of 24 books (such as God is Red, Custer Died for Your Sins, Evolution, Creationism, and Other Modern Myths, etc.).  A retired Professor or Political Science at the University of Arizona, and Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Colorado, he has been executive director of the National Congress of American Indians  and a member of the National Office for Rights of the Indigent. 

As the editor of Wilderness Way magazine, I interviewed Vine Deloria Jr. so that the publication of the interview would coincide with the 30th anniversary edition of his God is Red: A Native View of Religion [Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, Colorado]   I interviewed Deloria in January of 2004; he died in Novemeber 13, 2005 at age 72.  In fact, the interview was never published because the publisher/owner of the magazine believed the title of Deloria’s book, “God is Red,” would offend Christian readers, a position that I found absurd.

God is Red is a vast narrative, broad in scope. Deloria begins with the “Indian unrest” of the 1960s,where younger Indians began to assert their land rights, which had long been abused or ignored. He then proceeds to explain the many counterfeits of Native American Religion, as well as explaining some of the core principles of Native American religion.  According to Wilma Mankiller, former Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, “The flagship book on Native American spirituality remains Vine Deloria’s God Is Red.  He does an outstanding job of translating complex spiritual issues into very simple truths.” 

Here is the text of that interview, minus some sections that I found uninteresting, or where Deloria felt that he had little to say.

WW: Your wealth of knowledge is vast. I was constantly amazed as I read God is Red at the scope of your references in diverse fields. First, I’d like to know if you’ve ever gotten negative feedback from anyone thinking the title was either racist or exclusive?

DELORIA:  Oh, I hardly got any kickback about the title at all.  In fact, the book escaped with very little criticism.  Of course, you should attribute some of the lack of criticism to the fact that it deals with Indians -- an exotic commodity.

WW: When you discussed the aftermath of the 1960s, you mentioned that many non-Indian youth were attracted to Indian-ness but settled for the counterfeits. You referred to the shamans popping up all over the place and charging outrageous prices for “religion.” You mentioned the great popularity of authors such as the non-Indian Lynn Andrews, the probably fictitious works of Carlos Castaneda, and the “new tribe” of Sun Bear’s – among others. Can you comment on the significance of their popularity, and what’s wrong with these examples and others like them?

DELORIA:  In the world of ideas, American and appropriators,  Indian culture becomes a kind of deli where people pick and choose what they want to practice.  Much of the appropriation is the projection of wishful thinking on different Indian symbols, such as Vision Quest, Sweat lodge, using the pipe, etc.  People take the symbol and endow it with their own personal beliefs about who Indians are. My fear was that with so many Indians living in the cities with no experience with reservation communities, some of them would begin to think that the frauds actually represented the true tribal cultures.  I can remember how popular the Billy Jack movies were and many Indian youths thought the "ceremonies" in that movie were what people actually did.  A lot of it sounded good to people who knew nothing about real Indian culture. And simply being an Indian in the urban areas does not somehow magically mean you know anything of the traditional tribal culture.

WW: In Custer Died For Your Sins, you stated that the reason “the hippies” failed was that (though they were interested in things Indian), they failed to grasp the value of organizing tribally, and ignored the value of customs.  Since they were also taking drugs, and had little work ethic, would you agree that that “movement” failed due to laziness? That is, was it their very laziness that led to so many in that movement seeking an “easy” religious path?

DELORIA:  I think the Hippies failed for lack of discipline and commitment.  People tried to create communities from scratch and it didn't work.  People were sincere, but they often lacked anything in common except a rebellious spirit.  And, in fact, a lot of Indian communities today have the very same problem!  Extreme individualism is chaos and unjust to everyone.

WW: Wallace Black Elk died in January of this year. What do you think about his teachings, and his work establishing lodges in diverse parts of the world?

DELORIA:  Well, Wallace made some flamboyant claims, more so with a non-Indian audience than with a predominantly Indian audience.  I can't find anywhere in the Sioux tradition that says medicine men have to become missionaries and spread the tribal religion .  I got along with him personally but was not a follower.  It is difficult to criticize the man when he had so many disciples who were ready to fight if you questioned him.  Poor things -- many of them had only Wallace as their example of traditional Sioux ways - and he wasn't that traditional.

WW. Would you say that you wrote God is Red to waken up Indian people, or did you write it to all peoples?

DELORIA: I wrote it mostly to try and build a context to explain the religious motivation behind some of the activism.  People said they wanted land restored, but deep down they really wanted the Old Ways restored.  But the Old Ways were declared superstitions by most scholars, so I tried to demonstrate that the rejected topics of interest in the modern world were in fact pointing at a more spiritual understanding of the world that could be found in the tribal traditions.

WW: You bring up a very thought-provoking point in your book when you mentioned how Oral Roberts told his followers (some years ago) that he needed something like $10 million for a new building or God would “take me home.” As I read it, your analogy is that televangelists and cults, etc. are to mainstream Christianity as the modern traveling shamans are to traditional tribal religion. Would you agree with that assessment?

DELORIA:  Yes, except the televangelists are much worse.  They thirst for political power whereas the medicine men, even the phoneys, simply want some public recognition and status.

WW: To what have you attributed the non-Indians great interest in things Indian? Do you feel that the Christian and other churches are failing?

DELORIA:  Belief in Christianity has been eroding badly all through the 20th century. Much of it now is mindless recitation of the old story and unquestioned belief or a strange amalgam of contemporary culture and the effort to perpetuate institutional loyalties and activities.  Aside from self-induced experiences of fundamentalists,  people rarely find emotional assurance for themselves.  Indian religions are seen by non-Indians as a way to have real religious experiences -- although I doubt that they have any experiences in depth.  Beneath everything, however, is the desperate need to feel at home.

WW: Where would you direct someone who wanted to find a way to follow the Red Way, the Native American Religion(s). Are there paths where anyone is welcome?

DELORIA:  Well, I don't make recommendations that would encourage people to bother Indians in that regard. A real involvement with traditional religion is quite exhausting and requires immense concentration and almost continuous presence in an Indian community.  I doubt that most villages would welcome outsiders for the necessary period of time.

WW: What advice, if any, do you make to Native Americans who seem to have lost their own cultural roots?

DELORIA: A significant number of Indians have lost not only cultural ties but an appreciation for the powers of real medicine people. I sponsored some conferences on traditional knowledge a decade ago and we began to learn the power and reality behind some of the knowledge. It changed the views of almost everyone who attended.  Since then, I have been working with younger people who are serious about the recovery of the old knowledge and am quite optimistic that they will radically change the way Indians see themselves.

WW: Are you familiar with the book The Pipe and Christ ?  The author --  a priest -- attempted to define many similarities between Christianity and Native American religion(s). Do you feel that Native American religion is essentially in conflict, or complementary, to Christianity (or for that matter, to Buddhism, Judaism, any mainstream religion).

DELORIA:  The task of theologians and religious scholars is to draw comparisons between religions. Unfortunately, they treat beliefs and customs as if they were doctrines and dogmas and generally miss the whole point of a religion.  He is not the first nor will he be the last to draw these comparisons,  thereby distorting both religions for the sake of logic.  Joseph Epes Brown already did it in THE SACRED PIPE -- it didn't change a thing.

God is Red: A Native View of Religion by Vine Deloria Jr. is available at bookstores.  It is published by Fulcrum Publishing, 16100 Table Mountain Parkway, Suite 300, Golden, CO 80403, (800) 992-2908,

Monday, September 14, 2015

Collecting Rain Water

caption: Kevin Sutherland examines the rain barrels.

[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,””Extreme Simplicity” and other books. He conducts regular survival skills and ethnobotany walks.   He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or]

At the home of Carol Kampe in Pasadena, California, nearly all the rain that falls on her roof is collected in rain barrels. She showed me the down-spout of the southwest corner of the house which drained into a rain barrel.  This was a large plastic barrel –the type that I’d seen used to import pickles into the United States.  The entire lid could be screwed off to gain access to the water. The top had been modified with a screen to remove debris that came down from the roof, and a spigot was added to the bottom so one could easily use the collected rain water.

Kampe has  10 rain-collecting barrels strategically located to collect the most rain from the house and garage roofs.  Two of the barrels were 65 gallons each, and the other eight were 60 gallons each.  The rain thus collected is used for outdoor purposes only – watering her fruit trees and other plants in the yard.

“Generally, I have enough rain water in my barrels to last me until August,” says Kampe.   This means that she is able to rely on the rain for watering her yard for approximately 2/3 of the year.  She estimates that she saves perhaps $300 a month in payments to the water company.

“But I don’t do this for economic reasons,” Kampe adds.  “I do it because we live in a desert here in Southern California.  Water will become more critical as time goes on.  So it is just a shame to waste all this good rain.”

Kampe has a common-sense approach to her rain harvesting, something that is easy to do and is both ecological and economical. 

She was living in her home just a few years and then purchased seven of the rain-collecting barrels. She has since added three  more. The barrels were purchased for about $100 each by a company that modifies the pickle barrels into rain-collecting barrels.  The company also provides hoses so that the barrels can be connected “daisy-chain,” so that the overflow of one barrel fills other barrels. 

Rain barrels are not light, and water weighs a little over 8 pounds a gallon.  That means a 60 gallon barrel full of rain water weighs in the neighborhood of 480 pounds.  So when planning a rain collecting system like this, one has to recognize that the full barrel is not going to be moved.  Other barrels can be connected to the barrel under the downspout so that the overflow can be collected in a spot away from the house.

Also, Kampe is able to simply unscrew the lid of her rain barrels and scoop out water as needed for individual plants.

Kampe laughed at all the current talk about “living green” as if it were something new.  “We were doing all this back in the 1970s,” she says, describing how they recycled and collected rain in Indiana.

Emphasizing the need to save and conserve water where you have a desert and an ever-increasing population, Kampe echoes Santyana, pointing out that “anyone who doesn’t read history is doomed to repeat it.”

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Storage Wars TV show

caption: Ivy, star of Storage Wars, and Christopher

[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Squatter in Los Angeles,” and other books. He has led wilderness expeditions since 1974. He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or]

One day I get a call out of the blue.

”Do you know anything about solar ovens?”

”I suppose so,” I responded. “I’ve taught people how to make low-cost solar cookers for 20 or so years, and  give the step-by-step process in my “How to Survive Anywhere” book.”

“We’re looking for a solar oven expert.  Are you a solar oven expert?” asked the man on the phone. He identified himself as a producer with the Storage Wars show. This is a program where various individuals bid on the contents of storage units that the owners quit paying for. The show tracks each of the bidders to see what they get in the storage units. Sometimes they get junk, and sometimes they get some real interesting things. They hope that what they end up with is worth more than they bid on the unit.

“Have you ever seen the show,” the man asked me.

“Nope, I’ve never even heard of it.” The producer laughed. 

“That’s OK,” he told me.  “It sounds like you know about solar cookers.”  He went on to explain that one of the stars of the show purchased the contents of a storage unit, and has an object that is believed to be a solar cooker. “We want you to look at it, on film, and tell him what he purchased.”

I said OK.

I explained to him that all of this could be done in about 10 minutes in my own backyard, but I was told that they wanted to do the segment in a more natural setting, preferably somewhere in the desert.

We agreed on a day, and a man in a fast car picked me up one morning and whisked me out to the desert, beyond Palm Springs, in a very wild-seeming area.

The star of the show, Ivy, rides up in his SUV, and we meet and greet, and we set up the box he brought me. I’d never seen that particular solar oven before, but it was a top-of-the-line Australian solar oven called the Sun Cook solar oven. I opened it and showed Ivy how to use it, and we even put some eggs and sausage into a pan to cook. 

It was overcast when we started, but then the sky cleared as Ivy and I did a short walkabout, looking at the desert plants.

When we came back, the breakfast was done and we feasted on some sun-cooked food.
The Storage Wars show focuses on the dollar value of the items so I had to give him a dollar figure of what I thought the oven was worth. It was not new, but I estimated it could probably fetch $450 at Ivy’s secondhand store in the high desert, and $450 was a bit more than he paid for all the contents of  the storage unit.

It was an enjoyable day. If you want to view it, go to  My segment comes in at 20:53.

Cooking with the sun is an ancient art. But modern solar ovens are quite another thing. At home, I have the American-made Sun Oven, which cooks about as fast as being on a gas oven if the day is hot and sunny. It easily gets up to 350 degrees f. temperature.

Simple low-cost solar ovens are easily made.  I begin with a box that has a lid, such as the boxes where reams of paper are stored. I find a smaller box that goes into the bigger box, and I fill the space between the boxes with crumpled newspaper for insulation. I line the smaller inner box with tin foil, and then I cut a hole in the lid and secure a pane of glass to it. That’s really all there is to it, and this low-cost solar cooker doesn’t cook as quickly as a commercial model, but it still works well.  [All the details can be found in my “How to Survive Anywhere” book, available anywhere.]