Friday, December 30, 2016

Death, Life, and a New Year

 [Nyerges is the author of several books, including “Extreme Simplicity,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” and others. He has led field trips and taught classes in self-reliance since 1974. More information on his books and classes is available at, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041]

I had just been told that a friend had died.  It was sad to realize I’d never see him again.  The musical chairs of life goes on, but I always have to stop when I hear of death, at least a death of one who is close.  For me, life is about the people around me.  When they die, a piece of me dies.

Gato Barbieri’s “Europa” is playing on the radio.  That’s Ramah’s song.  Ramah was my purebred pitbull who came on my field trips.  When she died many years ago, I was holding her in my arms as she gave out her last goodbye cry, as the eerie nostalgic sound of Europa was playing on the radio.  Since then, Europa has been “Ramah’s song,” her goodbye rite-of-passage song.  I think of Ramah when I hear Europa, and I think of death and the seeming impermanence of life.

It is time for work so I drive away with the radio off. I want to hear the silence.  I arouse a cooper’s hawk as I go down the long driveway and he swoops away under the oaks with a pocket gopher in his claws.  More death. 

I think about the pocket gopher which devours my root crops, and I feel no sadness. Still,  I only shudder to think that he’ll be ripped apart and eaten while still alive.  Is that good?  Is it bad?

A local Sierra Club hiker wrote about his chancing upon a mountain lion killing a deer.  He said he could have interrupted it, but he didn’t.  He watched it. He said it was beautiful. He said it was part of the beauty of nature.

Beauty?  Certainly the kill is part of nature, part of The Way.  Eat or be eaten.  But “beautiful”?  The deer would have had its throat slit from behind, and while it struggled, the lion would have ripped open his underside and begun eating the deer while it was still alive.  Nope, not beautiful.  Brutal, vicious,  sobering. 

Part of The Way, yes.  Beautiful, no. 

Death is not beautiful.  To the dead, I presume it is peaceful. To the living, painful, especially when a close one goes and you experience their absence, and the pain of separation.  You’re forced to acknowledge the temporary nature of life.  You’re forced to make each moment count, to make each moment matter.

Off to my work of the day, I think about the immediate now, the temporary world of timeclocks and responsibility and bills and rents and taxes.  I am only mildly cheered up by telling myself this is only temporary.

I sip my coffee at a downtown coffeehouse in the dense fog of the early morning before my work begins.  The fog drifts and flows, like the drifting landscape of my thoughts of life and death and work and bills.

I think of the new year beginning. I pause as I sip my coffee, and acknowledge the endless cycle of year after year, life and death and life and death, and each new year provides new opportunities to improve and to do what has not been done yet.

Still, death is everywhere. It is inescapable.  And yet it is perhaps our blessing.  It is the sobering element that forces us to reconsider everything, and to strive to do the right thing in each moment.  Death forces us to think larger than just our own interests, and forces us to think about what is best for the most people, and what is best for the next generation.  It forces us to treat everyone around us even better, and we never need to wait for a “new year” in order to do that….

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