Friday, January 22, 2016

"Ancient Writings on Rock" -- new book by Nyerges

Providing evidence for pre-Columbian European visitors to California

 On Halloween Day, 2001, naturalist Christopher Nyerges was leading an excursion in the Angeles National Forest when he accidentally discovered an engraved rock.  He recognized the markings on the rock as a form of rock writing – ogam – that had died out in Europe by the 5th century.  Intrigued by the possibility that the engraving was an authentic piece of evidence that travelers from afar had been to Southern California hundreds of years ago, Nyerges researched the rock for the next several years, soliciting the assistance of geologists, archaeologists, linguists, epigraphers, various academics, and local Indians.

By 2008, another rock inscribed with what appeared to be ogam was discovered at the same site, as well as numerous other rock features that are stereotypical of western European’s many ancient ceremonial sites, things such as dolmens, “sacrificial” rocks, standing stones, and more. 

Nyerges shares his painstaking research, step by step, with the reader, including those who support the site as evidence of the presence of ancient Europeans, as well as the commentary of those who believe Nyerges had a vivid imagination. It is left for the reader to decide.

The first large inscribed boulder was tentatively transliterated by Nyerges to read “Bel, Memory, Young Hero, son of, mother, buried, stone,” which would be translated as “To Bel (the god of that era), in the memory of the young hero, son of the mother, laid to rest with this stone.”  If Nyerges’ interpretation is correct, it suggests that a prominent figure died in the Angeles National Forest, and surviving members of the party inscribed the stone.  The second inscribed stone is more straight-forward, reading B-EA-N-EA in ogam, which readily translates as “Byanu,” one of the chief goddesses of the European pre-Christian religion of 2000+ years ago.

To his credit, Nyerges presents both sides of the issue in his fully-illustrated book.

The book, “Ancient Writings on Rock,” is available from Kindle, or as a pdf download at the Store at

Nyerges is available for interview, and copies of the book may be requested by scholars in related fields.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Birthday Run, 2016

Doing the Birthday run, 2016

Since 1977, I have done something called a Birthday Run, taught to me by my mentor as a better and more uplifting way to commemorate one’s birthday.  Originally, I would go to a local track and run one lap per year as I recalled the highlights of that year.  Some years I have run alone, and some years I have run with friends who chose to come and support the run.  I have run in the dark, in the rain, in the fog, and on sunny days. One or two years I did not run at all because I was sick, and it wasn’t the same when I ran a week later. And over the years, my “laps” have grown shorter, otherwise I would be running those slow laps for several hours and would have trouble walking for days after. 

This year I ran alone – other than an occasional hawk and one coyote --  and I found my lap in the bottomlands of the Arroyo Seco.  It was quiet and eerily peaceful as I continued the cycles through my life, replaying the mental movie of each year after each year, going to school, moving around, and my interactions with various people.

My mind began to look at the financial side of my life, and perhaps, more specifically, the non-financial side to my life. Perhaps this was because of the current PowerBall game where so many were talking about nothing else but what they’d do if they suddenly had all that money.  I realized that I too could do so much more, so much more quickly, if I had a few spare million in the bank, maybe.

As I ran through my years, I realized that I operated mostly in financial ignorance, and in a financial fairy-land. Yes, money was always an element, and yes, money was often the limiting factor in so many endeavors. Money was like oxygen – you just had to have it.  But I think, like most people, my school and family discussions were wholly insufficient as any sort of real financial training for dealing with the real world. I moved from activity to activity based on my areas of interest, and when money  was needed, I got it – somehow – or I curtailed the activity. 

But because of my financial ignorance, I found other ways to pursue my goals, ways that seemed more difficult at the time, but which were actually more wholistic ways to pursue my life’s interests.  Without a car, I often bicycled, and formed friendships so that several of us could travel together.  If I wanted to attend workshops or field trips, I learned that I could convince my friends that they’d want to attend also, and invariably, someone had a car.

And I discovered and lived my life utilizing so many of the low-cost and free benefits of our modern society: buses, public libraries, public recreation centers, free hiking in the local mountains, free lectures, clubs and organizations where people just got together and did things.  Eventually, somewhat fortuitously and almost by accident, I was a squatter for a year and a half on an acre property on the edge of Los Angeles. It was quite an adventure. I learned how to live well cheaply, and I learned how to solicit individual investors in my book and other projects.

I am sure I would have done a lot of this very differently had I been born into wealth, but as I looked back, I realized that I learned some very important lessons by simply finding solutions to life’s problems without being able to just “throw money at it.”

That was one theme that went through my mind this year. Another was relationships.

By my age, one has had many relationships, and many types of relationships. In my mind, a mental movie played of the various people in my life and how I treated them: mother, father, friends, teachers, girl friends, wives, business associates.  When I do this annual run, I am looking for what I did right, but mostly what I did wrong so that I can do it better next time around.  I felt great pain at the many things I did wrong as an arrogant child talking back to my parents and not obeying.  It doesn’t matter that others were worse – I was evaluating myself only.  And no, my parents were not perfect either. But I felt great joy that I was able to take precious time in my mother’s, and my father’s,  final days and become their friend and speak to them as equals.  It was very challenging, but very fulfilling. 

I also spent a lot of time reviewing my 22 married years with Dolores – the trips, our animals, our self-sufficient home, our accomplishments, our fights, our disagreements, our agreements.  We had our ups and downs, and though I was not perfect, I realized I could not have been perfect. I was living life, trying to make ends meet, and trying to be a good husband with all the challenges of life that conspire against us. In the end, when Dolores was dying, I was able to experience a rare time of caring for her when she could do so little. We became inseparable, and best friends, and it was as if all our conflicts dissolved.  And then she died and I felt plunged into darkness.  And then there were other challenges, and tasks, and relationships. 

I thought about a few very special people who I never see anymore, and still felt so blessed that we had the time together that we did, and I wished each one the greatest happiness.

Remember, I tried to recall what was going on in my life, year by year as I ran a large lap in the sand in the dimming light of the late afternoon.  I am sure I mixed up some years, but in the end, it is the learning that matters. 

My two lessons were that while money is important, and you must earn it, it is a good goal to pursue whatever one feels compelled to pursue in life without focusing upon money. Yes, it seems unrealistic, but it actually can change the quality and character of what we do.

And secondly, I realized that relationships are the most important aspect of life, and you have a good life when you maintain good relationships, however you do that. This does not mean you are always laughing and happy.  It means that you deal with others honestly and with the integrity that the close ones in your life deserve. 

I know I have not been perfect, and I feel blessed to have been guided to begin this birthday tradition nearly 40 years ago.  In just a few hours, I review my life and tried to figure out if what I have done was worth doing.  By honestly assessing my self in that way, it helps me to determine what is worth doing – and not doing – this year, and into the future.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Chicory Tribe of the Sunflower Family

Knowledge of Botanical Families enhances your learning process

 [PHOTOS: from top, Sow thistle, Dandelion, Chicory]

[Nyerges is the author of “Foraging Edible Wild Plants of North America,” “Guide to Wild Foods,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” and other books. He has been leading outdoor classes since 1974.  He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or]

During the field trips that I’ve conducted for the past 35 years, I show participants how to identify common edible plants, and we make a simple meal on nearly every field trip.  Some of these most common wild edibles can be initially learned after a few hours – or days -- of focussed study, and practice.  Once you take the time to learn the key features of these plants, and after you’ve watched them throughout a growing season, you’ll know them whenever and wherever you see them.  One by one by one is how I’ve learned about wild edibles.  And though there is no shortcut to this learning, you can accelerate your comprehension and mastery of ethnobotany if you also learn about plant families.

Some examples of common plant families include the rose family, sunflower family, goosefoot family, mustard family, mint family, and so on.  Botanists group plants together by their similar floral, fruit, and leaf characteristics, with the floral characteristics being the most important.  You’ll note that many of the traits of plants (poisons, alkaloids, medicines, foods, etc.) often run in families.  There are obviously many exception s to this,  but plants that are related by floral characteristics often share other traits as well. 

For example, one of the largest plant families is the Sunflower Family (Asteraceae).  This is a huge botanical family, consisting of about 21,000 species of plants, divided into approximately 1,300 genera.  It’s such a large group that botanists have sub-divided it into groups or tribes.  Depending on whether the particular botanist is a “splitter” or a “grouper,” you’ll find from 11 to 13 groups in the Sunflower Family. 

Today, let’s focus on just one of those groups or tribes within the Sunflower Family.  Here in California, I use The Jepson Manual of the Higher Plants of California, published in 1993. [There is some such reference used by botanists for every part of the U.S. and much of the world.  It would enhance your learning to obtain the official book of flora for wherever you live.]

When I was in high school and studying from the 1925 version of Jepson’s manual, the Sunflower Family was divided into groups called tribes. One of these tribes used to be called the Chicory Tribe, though in the latest edition it is simply referred to as “Group 7.” According to Dr. Leonid Enari, the former chief botanist with the L.A. County Arboretum, the Chicory Tribe of the Sunflower Family consists of no toxic plants, and all that are palatable can be eaten.

If you already know how to recognize a dandelion, or a chicory plant, you’re familiar with the Chicory Tribe. 

As I reviewed the genera of the Chicory Tribe, many consisted of only one species of a plant not commonly known.  Where I live, there are as many natives as there are exotics. 

Perhaps the best general statement that can be made about the Chicory Tribe is that none are known to be poisonous.  I have eaten many of them, raw and cooked, including the ragweeds (Agoseris sp.), whose pollen is often responsible for allergies.  Tasting a bit like medicine, it is nevertheless palatable.

I have also eaten the malacothrix greens on numerous occasions.  These western natives are called prickly lettuce and desert dandelion, among other names, suggesting they have been eaten. As they mature they are incredibly bitter, and therefore I only regard the very young growth as palatable.

Another member of this Tribe, Picris, has only one species, an introduced plant known as bristly ox-tongue.  The leaf actually looks like a big tongue, covered with soft spines.  Though edible, it is not palatable when raw, and even cooking does not entirely reduce the stickers. I would only use it for food if I had nothing else available.

Fortunately, most parts of North America have many of the common members of the Chicory Tribe, such as chicory, wild lettuce (Lactuca), sow thistle, dandelion, and salsify, all exotics.

If you’re already familiar with a dandelion, then you’re well on your way to learning to recognize this entire Tribe.  Note that the flowers of these are composite, that is, each flower is composed of a tight group of individual flowers.  What appears to be a single dandelion flower is in reality up to several hundred flowers clustered together.

Here are some of the key characteristics which help you recognize the Chicory Tribe:

First, there is the composite “dandelion-like” flower. It doesn’t have to be yellow, as it may appear white, orange, blue, etc. 

Also, the tip of each “petal” is 5-lobed.  You might have to look with a magnifying glass to see this. 

In addition, there is generally a milky sap when you break the leaf or stem.

I recommend that you begin by studying the dandelion, and then attempt to identify other members of this tribe by these guidelines.  However, don’t eat any of these until you have positively ascertained that it’s actually in the Chicory Tribe. Even then, many of the members of this Tribe are very bitter, and some are fibrous.  Even though none are toxic, that doesn’t mean that all are readily palatable.

In other words, don’t eat anything until you’re positive, and even then go slowly!
The leaves of dandelion are incredibly nutritious, but also bitter.  Cooking can reduce the bitterness.  Young sow thistle, lettuce, and chicory leaves can all be used raw;  as they mature and get bitter, they are best cooked like spinach, or added to soups, stews, and other cooked dishes.

The dandelion, sow thistle, chicory, and salsify all have edible roots.  All should be cooked to tenderize.  Sow thistle roots tend to be the smallest, but the size of all of these will depend on the richness of the soil they’re growing in.

These roots – primarily chicory and dandelion -- also have a long history of being dried, roasted, ground, and used as a caffein-free coffee substitute.