Friday, June 16, 2017

Remembering My Father



[Nyerges is the author of “Til Death Do Us Part?”, a series of stories describing how he and his wife attempted to deal with death in an uplifting manner. The book is available on Kindle, or from School of Self-reliance,  Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041 or www.ChristopherNyerges.com.]

When my father’s 80th birthday coincided with Father’s Day some years ago, I wrote a pictorial booklet for my father which outlined key aspects of our life together. It was my way of thanking my father. My wife Dolores and I went to his home after the wild cacophonous family gathering had ended. We didn’t want an audience in an atmosphere of laugher, sarcasm, and possibly ridicule. I only wanted to share the thank you story with my father in a somewhat serious atmosphere.

Dolores and I brought some special foods, put on some music, and I began my short presentation beginning with my earliest significant memories. I shared with him my memories of how he told me I would be an artist when I grew up. He always told me to put my bike and toys away, so "the boogeyman" wouldn’t steal them. As I grew older, I learned that the world was indeed full of very real "boogeymen" and my father attempted to provide me with ways to protect myself against these unsavory elements of life.

I recalled to my father, while my mother and Dolores listened on, the birthday party adventures, getting hair cuts in the garage, and how my father tolerated my interest in mycology and wild edibles.

Everyone found the recounting amusing, even funny, but there were also tears mixed with the laughter. As with most memories, some things my father recalled quite differently from me, and some he didn’t recall at all. Some things that I saw as life-and-death serious, he saw as humorous, and vice versa.

But above it all, I felt I’d finally "connected" with him at age 80 in a way that I’d never managed to do before. My "fathers day card" wasn’t pre-made by a card company, but consisted of my own private and secret memories that I shared with him. I managed to thank him for doing all the things that I took for granted – a roof over my head, meals, an education, a relatively stable home.

Of course, all our family members – "insiders" – knew that my father was no saint. But I was at least acknowledging the good, and sincerely thanking him for it.
My mother died two years later, and we all knew my father would be lost without her. They’d been married over 50 years. His health and activities declined and he finally passed away on the Ides of March a few years later.

Though his death did not come as a surprise – I was nevertheless left feeling his absence. That early Saturday morning when I learned of his death, I even felt parent-less. My view of the world changed and I was forced to acknowledge the limits of life and the futility of pursuing solely a material existence.

After I learned of his death via a phone call, I walked out into the morning rain, in shock, crying, thinking, remembering. I was not feeling cold or wet, and somehow I was protected by that unique state of mind that enshrouded me.

During the next three days, I did as I had done with my mother when she died. I spent the next three days reviewing my life with my father.

At first I allowed the random memories and pain to wash over me. I talked to Frank constantly during those three days, inviting and allowing him to be with me as we did the life review together. I felt his pain, his frustration, his emptiness and loneliness in his last few years of life. I did nothing to stop the pain of this – I allowed myself to feel it all.

I spoke to Frank as I’d speak to anyone living. I felt his presence and even his responses. I did this for myself as much as for Frank and his on-going journey.

I began to see him as a young man, who met, fell in love, and married my mother. Somehow, this was a major revelation to me. I had never seen my own father in that light before. He had simply been "my father." Suddenly, he was a unique individual, with his own dreams, aspirations, and goals. Amazingly, I’d never viewed him in this way during our life together.

And then, after perhaps 12 hours of this, and miles of walking, I began a more chronological review of my life with my father, point by point by significant point. I saw his weaknesses and strengths, as well as my own. As I did this review, I looked for all the things that I’d done right with my father, all the things I’d done wrong, and all the things that I could have done better. I wrote these down, and the "wrong" list was shockingly long. The "right" list only contained a few items!

I asked my father to forgive me, and I resolved to do certain things differently in order to change and improve my character. I know I would not have imposed such a rigor upon myself had it not been for the death of my father.

A week later, when there was the funeral at the church, I felt that I’d come to know my father more than I ever was able to do in life. I briefly shared to the congregation my three days of "being with" my father, and learning what it was like to be Frank, in his shoes, and how we forgave one another.

More importantly, I shared to family and friends gathered that day the importance of constantly finding the time to tell your living loved ones that you indeed love them, not waiting until they die to say the things that you should be saying all along.

I remember Frank now on Father’s Day, and continue to express my heart-felt thanks for all that he – and my mother – gave to me.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Poem: Forgiving Our parents


FORGIVING OUR PARENTS

Christopher Nyerges

[I haven't shared a poem in a while -- I hope you like it]
 
We seldom think that who we are
Is product from backseat car
Or lusty night from smokey bar
And not the son of distant star
We are the product of mom and dad
Their mingled traits both good and bad
We want to think we’re so unique
And so we are, but let us speak
How our child minds did set the stage
For adult us who learned to rage
With pain within we could not gauge
And fears and deficiencies
From hidden fears from early age
We found we could not turn the page
To cure, we had to find a sage
Who maybe helped us, maybe not
Our solution, had to be sought
By choice within, or happened not
And even then, inside we fought
Our inner demons, night and day
Until we got to bright new day
Until we find that we could say
I accept my father who he was
I accept my mother who she was
They lived their life, they did their buzz
They were who they were, just because
I did what I did, I always does
Above my parents did I rise?
Or were their limits born in me
Should I blame them for my own lies
They were my parents, not 2 gods
They made no pretense, they weren’t frauds
I must forgive them, on my own
And for their soul, let cease that moan
They did their best, I am quite sure
No pain intend, from him or her
They lived their life, they tried their best
During Depression, dad came west
Challenge had in time of war
Enough to make their bodies sore
I was not center of their life
Though tried their best in time of strife
The center I’d have liked to been
That I wasn’t, was not sin
Child rarely in parents’ shoes
Sees from parents eyes what they dos
Day in and out, sun rise to set
Bills to pay and job to get
Responsibility, oh boy
My parents sometimes had no joy
I forgive them now in my heart
Though both gone now, I have to start
To have new life, must do my part
To see anew, and wipe eyes clean
Parents forgive, no more mean
Within my mind, internal clean
Release I do bad pictures seen
It’s finally time to let it go
And see instead divine rainbow
Challenges many we all have
Some we fail and some we meet
Time it is for spiritual salve
To lighten mind and stop the heat
To finally learn from our past
Forgive our parents at long last
And with optimistic heart and mind
Seek the truth that is there to find
Not dark webs that would keep us bind
But bright truth light most rad’ant kind
And on that path our answers find
That kingdom within, in our mind
A place real, where we’re no more last
Truly, we can be free at last

080608

Thursday, June 01, 2017

No Electricity: Manual Alternatives to Electrical Devices.





NO ELECTRICITY!





Check out my article in the August issue of American Survival Guide, now available. My article is titled “No Electricity, No problem.”  I provide suggestions for a manual counterpart for all (or most) of our electric devices. Having non-electrical devices can improve the quality of our life, and makes us better prepared for emergencies.

Here are a few teasers from the article. 

Today, most of us in the United States – rural or urban – could not imagine life without electricity.   And what a wonderful invention electricity was – tapping nature’s forces and putting them to work for us in myriad ways.  Of course, there is a cost to pay – the money you pay for the electric bill and the fuels that power the system.  And there is also another less obvious “cost” that we have all been paying as our dependence on electrical power constantly increase.  We pay in the loss of really understanding what it means anymore to actually perform a task that would have been routinely done with manual tools a century ago. 

Most people have barely a clue that nearly every task done with electricity has a manual counterpart.   Yes, often this means more physical exertion. Yes, often this means that the task takes longer. Still, when everything was done by hand, there was an individual quality to good produced that is virtually unknown today. 

Being self-reliant is a good thing on many levels, and many pursue such skills with manual tools for its intrinsic deeper value that it  imparts to the user, forcing him or her to slow down and attempt to find meaning in even the mundane.

Because we are so dependent on electricity for everything today, we are also vulnerable.  If there was a widespread grid-down event, or even a localized blackout, many of the functions of daily life that we today take for granted would cease. People might panic, and many would feel helpless.

I strongly suggest you read Ted Koppel’s book “Lights Out” for a look at what might happen to our society if the power was suddenly gone, perhaps as the result of a terrorist act.  (Koppel also provides many solutions).

In your personal life, there are several ways you can build self-reliance into your life. 

One way is to re-think your usage of electricity.  There are basically 3 methods in which you improve the way in which you use electricity:
  1. Buy the most energy-efficient appliances you can find.
  2. Use your electrical appliances far more efficiently.
  3. Forego some electrical devices altogether. Let’s focus now on number 3.

HOME
Lighting:  Lighting is really essential.  If there’s no electricity, there are the old standbys: candles, battery-operated flashlights, lanterns, slush lamps.  There are also light tubes, which are sold at most building supply stores. They bring light into the home through the ceiling during the day so no electric lights are needed.  Don’t forget battery or solar devices for light, as a backup, or for use in the cabin.
Air Conditioning:  In some environments, the AC really drives up the electric bill.  However, using ancient building technology, homes could (and should) be built today that require very little power for cooling (or heating).  If all walls were insulated, including the ceiling, the need for any cooling could be drastically reduced.  Ancient desert homes, and old Spanish missions in California, had thick walls and they remained cool in the summer. Additionally, a roof painted white reflects the heat of the sun, and the house inside is typically 10 to 15 degrees cooler because of this. Houses with large overhangs also help to keep the inside cool in summer.


Heating:  Again, a heavily-insulated home requires far less heating to keep warm in winter. (I’ve documented a lot of this in my “Self-Sufficient Home” book).  A small wood stove may be all that is needed to keep a well-insulated home warm.
There are other passive methods that could (and should) be used so that less power is needed to keep a house cool or warm, such as aligning the house, and windows, to take advantage of sunlight and prevailing wind currents.


LOTS MORE IN THE ARTICLE…. American Survival Guide is available at news-stands, or you can subscribe  at Engaged Media, 800-764-6278, or subscriptions@engagedmedia.com. Back issues available from www.engagedmediamags.com.


Monday, May 29, 2017

My Pal Otis (the pot-bellied pig)


MY PAL OTIS

[Nyerges is the author of several books, including "Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City," which includes a chapter on Otis. He's also authored "Til Death Do Us Part?," a Kindle book about dealing with the death of family members, as well as pets. Both available on Amazon, or www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]
 
For nearly 20 years, a very quirk, cute individual with long black hair lived right here amongst us right here in the backyard of Eagle Rock.  His name was Otis, a tubby little Vietnamese pot-bellied pig.

It was the spring of 1993 when Otis came into our family.  Dolores and I had talked about getting a pig, and the pot belly “craze” was fading out.  We saw an ad in the paper from a woman who was moving and had to get a new home for her nine-month old pot-bellied pig.  We fell in love with Otis right away.

We learned a lot about the nature of “pig-ness” during Otis’ life.  In fact, this was partly why we got Otis in the first place – we were going to learn about the nature of pig-ness, which is also an aspect of human-ness. 

We learned that he certainly had a good memory, especially as it related to food.  He once discovered a bag of carob pods that I had in the living room, and he nearly ate half the bag before I caught him.  After that, any time he got into the house, he always went right to that spot where the carob had been.

Though we’ve heard that pigs are very smart, you can’t really compare them to dogs, for example.  Dogs might not have pigs’ great memory, but they seem smarter due to their loyalty to their masters. I’m sure that Otis always recognized me from other people, but loyalty?  I don’t think so.  Pigs don’t seem to want or need close affinity to people in the way that dogs do.  Nevertheless, later in his life when Otis was mostly alone, we did develop a “closeness.”

Yes, Otis was a pig, and yet he was such an individual!  I learned to know what his sounds and grunts meant, so I knew when he was happy, when he felt threatened, when he was worried, and when he liked (or disliked) someone.  His range of vocal sounds was broad and fascinating.

For his last few years, our cat Popoki would sleep with him, often lying on Otis’ big belly, which was always very warm.  The two of them seemed to not just tolerate one another, but appeared to be good pals.

Since a pot-bellied pig’s expected life is about 7 to 9 yeas, we estimate that he was about 200 years old (by human standards) when he died on Hanukkah of 2011 at the ripe old age of 19+.

He’d gotten much slower in the last two years, and in the last six months, he was slow and unsteady on his feet, and he began to eat less and less.

According to my neighbor, Otis was up every day to eat when I was gone to Guatemala for two weeks in early December of 2011.  But when I got home, Otis was lying on his bed and just grunted when I greeted him.  I hugged him and I hand-fed him, and I felt that he experienced a certain ease that I was back.  But I could also tell that he was on his way out.  I kept him covered, and comfortable, and felt sad that my friend was departing.

I felt a great empathy for Otis. He was a big guy, for sure, but his personality was such that he always seemed like a little boy.  I told him that everything was OK and that I was happy we had a good life together.  I thanked him.  I told Otis that it was OK to go on, if it was his time, if his body had become a burden.  I whispered in  his ear that it was OK, and that I loved him. He just grunted his friendly “oink” in return.  Otis never got up, and he died a week later.

I wrapped him and buried him in the “family graveyard.”  After we buried Otis, we put some flowers on his grave, and I placed his “Otis, Kansas” license plate (which I always kept on his gate) nearby.  My dear friend Helen then played a song as we sat thinking about Otis for a bit.  I was sad, but I knew that Otis had a good life and a long life, for a pig!
/
And though I was sad, I felt a certain inner joy that he lived a long life with me, and that Helen was there to help me bury him and give him a special ceremony.  I thought that I would go through a period of great sadness, but I didn’t.  We had a good life together, and I was able to be there with him in the end of his very long life.

Postscript:  A few days after I buried Otis, when I parked my car near his pen, I heard his distinctive oink.  A trick of the mind?  I like to believe Otis was saying goodbye to papa.




Monday, May 22, 2017

A Natural way to Deal with Cough and Sore Throat



HOW TO DEAL WITH A SORE THROAT AND COUGHING
USING NATURE’S MEDICINE CHEST

Nyerges is the author of Guide to Wild Foods , How to Survive Anywhere , and other books. For more information about Nyerges’ books, or the classes he teaches, contact him at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.

Photos: Top picture is Mallow. Bottom is Christopher looking at Mormon tea (by Rick Adams)

It seems that sore throats and coughs have afflicted people forever, whether resulting from the proximate causes of pollen, dust, woodsmoke, or from talking too much, or yelling, or even from  “catching” something from another person. 

Fortunately, there are quite a few natural remedies which help relieve the pain and discomfort of coughs and sore throats, and many of these have been used for at least centuries. 

Each of the plants described are commonly available in the wild, and typically can be purchased in the dried form in herb shops. 

MALLOW
The various mallows have been used to soothe a sore throat for centuries.  In fact, even the ancient Egyptians used one of the mallows for this purpose.

In the United States, the common mallow (Malva parviflora) is a widespread “weed” of vacant lots and fields.  It is sometimes referred to as poverty weed or cheeseweed.  In fact, the tender leaves of mallow are tasty in salads, added to soup, and can be cooked with other vegetables or like spinach.  They are high in vitamin C.

In Mexico, mallow leaves (known as malva) have long been chewed so that the slightly mucilaginous quality can soothe a sore throat.  Herbalists consider the mallow leaves an emollient and a demulcent.  Whether the leaves are eaten, or made into a tea, this plant helps to relieve inflammation, especially to the throat.

A related mallow, the marsh mallow (Althea officinalis), is also used for coughs and sore throats.  This plant has a long tap root that is boiled, and the resulting liquid is like egg whites. This is then whipped, and honey is added, and it is eaten as a very pleasant and very effective cough medicine.  Of course, marshmallows today are pure junk food, and no marshmallow manufacturers any more use extract of the marsh mallow plant.  Gelatin is today used in the manufacture of those fluffy white non-food objects.

HOREHOUND
The horehound (Marrubium vulgare) is a bitter mint, native to Europe, which has now naturalized throughout the entire United States. It is called marrubio in Mexico, where it also grows in the wild.  When you see it in the wild, it is an obvious mint, yet it lacks any strong aroma so typical of most mints.  However, you’ll see the square stem, the opposite leaves, and the wrinkled leaves on horehound which makes it easy to recognize.

Do any of you remember horehound candy?  This was a popular “old-fashioned” cough drop, made by boiling the horehound leaves, straining out the leaves, and adding sugar or honey to the liquid.  It is then cooked until it is thick enough to harden.  (Recipes for horehound candy can be found in most candy-making books).

Unfortunately, if you go to the store and buy horehound drops, it is very unlikely that they will contain any horehound extract at all.  With very few exceptions, all the horehound I have found in stores are nothing more than sugar with artificial flavors added.

Horehound is made into a tea, which is very bitter and unpleasant.  No one would ever drink it if it weren’t so effective.  Besides soothing a sore throat and a cough, horehound is an expectorant, which means it can help clear your throat when it is congested. 

To make horehound tea, I collect the young leaves in the spring.  They can be used fresh or dried.  I place about one teaspoon of the herb into my cup, pour boiling water over it, cover it, and let it sit until it is cool enough to drink.  The flavor?  Terrible!  Its bitterness must be experienced to understand.  So add honey and lemon juice to your horehound tea to make it more palatable.  The honey and lemon are also good for your sore throat. 

MULLEIN
Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) is another European native that has now naturalized throughout the entire United States.  It is particularly common in dry waste areas throughout the Southwest.  I can recall driving to the Grand Canyon once, and the dominant roadside plant was mullein.

Mullein leaves feel like flannel or chamois cloth.  The plant produces large basal leaves the first year, and then in the second year it sends up a seed spike that can reach up to four and five feet.  

To make a tea, use the first year leaves of mullein, and infuse them.  There is not much flavor, so I typically add mint to mullein tea.  Mullein acts like a mild sedative on the lungs, and it helps to relieve the roughness in the throat common with coughs and some fevers. 

Interestingly, mullein leaves have also been smoked to help relieve coughing and even mild asthma attacks.  I have tried this on a few occasions, and I felt quick relief. 

MORMON TEA
Throughout the Southwestern United States is found a stick-like plant called Mormon Tea (Ephedra sp.).  It is common in the California high deserts, in the Great Basin area, throughout Southern Colorado, and down into Texas.  It is often available at herb stores. 

The plant appears as a low shrub, with branched needle-like segments, with scales at the nodes. 

In China, a related member of the Ephedra genus is the source of the drug ephedrine, which is used as a decongestant and a bronchial dilator.  Though the wild U.S. species contain much less ephedrine, they are nevertheless useful in home remedies where there are breathing problems associated with coughs and colds.  Typically, the stems are brewed into a tea at low temperatures in a covered pot.  There is a mild but distinctive flavor and aroma that I like. 

I have made an evening tea from Mormon Tea while camping in the desert where there were no other beverage plants readily available. It has a pleasant flavor, and it is improved with just a touch of honey.

No doubt there are many, many other remedies for coughs and sore throats.  Included here were just a few of the common wild plants which are safe and easy to use. 

[Note:  None of the above should be construed to take the place of competent medical advise in a face-to-face setting.  Chronic coughing or chronic sore throat may be an indication of a more serious disorder.  Use your common sense, and consult a medical authority if you are experiencing any sort of chronic disorder.]

Monday, May 08, 2017

The Day Lulu Died [excerpt from "Til Death Do Us Part?"]



[an excerpt from “Til Death Do Us Part?”, a Kindle book, also available as a pdf from www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]

I was startled awake by the loud crackling of thunder at 2:30 a.m.  I could see the bright flashes of light outside.  The storm was overhead.  I went outside into the darkness, and the sky would light up with the bright flash, and the thunder shook the house. It began to rain.  Mid-August and it’s raining.  To me, Lulu was saying goodbye, leaving us as she moved along in the spirit world.

Lulu died at 5 p.m. yesterday, August 14.  I saw her about five minutes after she died in Dolores’ arms.  Lulu, a purebred pitbull, was Dolores’ dog who lived with us for all of her ten years. Lulu was a gift from Dolores’ daughter, Barbara, and Dolores LOVED Lulu!

The day she arrived, the little feisty dog took charge of the other two pitbulls, even though she was tiny enough to fit in one hand.  Her tail had this zig-zag coloration like a lightning bolt, a good indication of her character.

Dogs are just like children. Their characters are silly, playful, jealous.  No two are alike.  Lulu loved attention and loved to be with us.  When she came into our home, Cassius and Ramona were with us, and all three would sleep together, and stare out the window in unison, all lined up in the same posture. It was quite a sight.

Something unusual began to occur with Lulu in the early part of 2005.  Though Lulu had a large bucket of water outside which was readily available for her to drink, she would wait until Dolores let her inside and then she would drink and drink and drink from the bowl of water kept inside for Baby.  Dolores thought that Lulu was trying to tell her something.  If Lulu was so thirsty, why not drink her available outside water?  There was nothing wrong with that water.  If Lulu was trying to communicate something to Dolores, what could that be?

At this time, when we were all out for a run with the dogs, Dolores noticed that Lulu seemed tired, unable to run as swiftly as usual.  Something was wrong.

At the animal doctor, Dolores learned that Lulu had both diabetes and cancer.  Thus began a new era with Lulu, which lasted about five months, where she was given special foods and some pills designed to strengthen her. 

She grew thinner and thinner, yet she loved being with us and going places.  She seemed aware that something was wrong with her body, but she attempted to continue as before. 

Gradually, in the last month, she stumbled when she walked.  We had to help her in and out of the house to use her bathroom.  In spite of her increasing inability, Lulu seemed happy, not in pain, and always determined to go out side to use the bathroom.  What a girl!

We took her to the farmer’s market and she loved being there with Dolores, seeing familiar friends, getting to walk in the open park. 

One day at the Glendale Farmers Market, someone saw how thin she was and assumed we mistreated her. They called an animal inspector out who interrogated me with great suspicion. When it was clear that we were giving Lulu exceptional care, the animal inspector tactfully suggested that it was not Lulu we were concerned about, but our own desire to be with her. The animal inspector suggested we put Lulu to sleep.  In fact, she intimated that she had the authority to remove Lulu from us and “relieve her pain” if she felt we were not handling thing properly.  Ugh! Both Dolores and I were shocked and angered that this is the quality of person (and thinking) that our tax dollars support.   We had no desire to kill off Lulu.  We could feel that Lulu wanted to be with us, that she felt great joy and comfort.  So we took her home in a hurry.

Lulu’s walk became more difficult, and she lost most of her sight in the last two weeks.  We could feel the cancerous growths on her stomach and underside.  We could feel that Lulu was often sad, but she would sleep all day now, though she would eat and drink and go to the bathroom once or twice.  She wagged her tail when I came in.

When I last saw her alive Saturday night, I hugged her and touched her, and told her as I always told her, that she needed to get some meat on her body.  I always encouraged her to get better, hoping, dreaming for a miracle that she would.

On Sunday, I called Dolores on my cell phone when I was out shopping.  Dolores had me talk to Lulu over the phone, and say hello to her.  Dolores said that Lulu made an effort to wag her tail when she heard my voice.

When I came back, I could see the sadness in Dolores’ face. Yes, you can go see Lulu, she told me. Lulu was covered in a towell.  Dolores explained how Lulu really perked up in the morning when Dolores sat with Lulu and began mentally reviewing pictures of their good times together.  Dolores said that she did it again after we talked on the phone, and Lulu died in her lap.

Suddenly, the life was gone from her. It was a dramatic change,” said Dolores

We sat there on Sunday with Lulu, still talking to her, feeling the emptiness of a good friend now gone. It was like the end of the world.  We wished Lulu would be with us longer, another day, another week. We petted her, hugged her, the poor little girl who was now skin and bones. 

There is an emptiness now where there once was Lulu.  It cannot be drowned away with drink or drugs or distractions.  It can only be acknowledged. 

The solution to the sadness and the emptiness was to honor her life, and then to  love the living even more, and to smile.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

"We're Going Wrong" -- Musical Memories


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12sYTdPkEYQ

“WE’RE GOING WRONG” by Cream

[Note: Check www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com for information about the classes and books by Nyerges]
Everyone from every culture has musical memories: a song that brings back the memory of a significant moment, the song you heard when you met your spouse, the song you heard while driving to the Grand Canyon that made you change the course of your life, the song you heard when your mother died, etc.

And when we call a song “classic,” we mean that the song is so good that it captured and epitomized our very thinking and feeling at that time. Though there is always the intellectual question: Did that particular song really capture my feeling, or did I merely embrace that song to allow it to represent a particular time? The answer is that we’ll never really know, especially if you’re not a song-writer.  For most of us, we simply know that the song embodies the memory of the time.

For me, when I was trying to figure out the meaning of life, and more particularly my life during the mid-1960s to the early 1970s, music was a big part of my mental world.  Sometimes the words and music inspired me.  Musicians such as Bob Dylan, Traffic, the Doors, Cream, and the Chamber’s Brothers were much a part of the network of ideas that I wove together to create my inner reality and my outer plan of action.

There was a feeling of change in the air, and the expectation of a new world, if we only were brave enough to make the inner and outer changes necessary.

My best friend Neil and I would talk about the world as we saw it, and the various particulars of what would happen as western civilization could no longer maintain itself, and how the vast infrastructure that so many depended upon would crumble all around us.  Somehow, we felt that we were above it all, as if we were on top of Mount Olympus looking down objectively at the doings of mortal humans, wondering and picturing how the collapse would occur. We had no doubts that another fall of the Roman Empire was slowly unfolding all around us.

We listened to the enigmatic words and mournful tune of  “We’re Going Wrong” by Cream, and discussed the many layers of meaning that were not found in the words.  Was it about someone personally going wrong, or was it about the fall of western civilization, and the very collapse of what some called “modern Babylon”?  We didn’t know, but that song was a sort of anthem to us.  We didn’t really know how grossly ignorant we were of the ways of the world, and the intricate network that kept churning out food for everyone’s table, and the profits that were earned all along the way. 

We knew really very little, but that song by Cream was one of our inspirations to begin studying ethno-botany, and the rich botanical and earth knowledge that our ancestors somewhat took for granted in the pre-electrical and pre-computer days.  We were short on details, but we felt that if we could just learn to feed ourselves – even just a little – from local resources, then we’d be on our way to becoming a part of the solution.  We didn’t know how electricity was created, stored, or transported, but we felt that if we could provide some of our daily needs without the use of electricity, then we believed that we’d relieve an over-burdened system at least a little, and we’d be on the road to being part of a solution.

We were just high school boys, interested in adventure, and girls, and wondering how we’d ever support ourselves.  Even then, we knew that an increasing population stresses all resources, and we did our best to educate ourselves on how to live better by using less. 

That was over 40 years ago. Life has continued, and for various reasons, some of the situations on earth have gotten better, but many have gotten worse.  Neil and I knew back then, as we know today, that they who do not learn from the lessons of their past are doomed to repeat them, as we were told by philosopher George Santayana. (Some of our school mates insisted that was a quote by Carlos Santana!).

We ruefully listened to the words of “We’re Going Wrong,” realizing that collectively we do not seem to learn from the past, because of our pride, our ego, or our belief that somehow we are better than all that, that we have overcome all that silly stuff from the past and therefore we are immune from the consequences of our actions. 

Neil and I never were soothsayers or psychics, but we knew that we could not go wrong if we pursued the best of the past, and the ways of our ancestors that were sustainable for millennia. 



Sunday, April 23, 2017

Reducing Our Dependence on Electrical Appliances




An excerpt from Self-Sufficient Home by Christopher Nyerges.  "Self-Sufficient Home" is available from Amazon, and from the Store at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.

Not everyone has the ability to jump right in and install a photovoltaic system to get all their electricity from the sun.  But a good first step towards greater self-reliance is to question each of our electrical uses. Here is an excerpt from the "Self-Sufficient Home" book, available wherever quality books are sold. 

 
KITCHEN APPLIANCES
Electric Can Openers:  Ever hear of someone who couldn’t even open some canned goods after a blackout because their power was out because all they had were electric can openers?  Get a good manual can opener and keep it handy.  Also, most Swiss Army knives have a blade specifically designed for opening cans – and everyone has a Swiss Army knife – don’t they?

Electric knife sharpeners:  For the most part, these cause damage to quality knives.  Get rid of them!

Electric juicers:  OK, some of these are quite good, like the Acme and Vitamix juicers.  You simply couldn’t do the same thing manually.  Still, if you simply want to make orange juice or grapefruit juice from the fresh fruit, buy the simple devices where you squeeze each half of the fruit and twist it around to extract the juice. 

Microwave ovens:  Though generally not a big electrical use, I choose to not have one.  There is still some controversy about the relative safety of this method of cooking food.  Plus, it is worth noting that, in general, microwaves are ideally suited to cooking highly processed “fast foods” which are more expensive and less nutritious than whole foods.   Part of becoming energy self-reliant is to re-think everything we do, and how we do it, and why we do it.   Since good food, properly prepared, is so fundamental to good health and good well-being, shouldn’t we look at why we are in such a hurry to eat that we feel compelled to use microwave ovens?

Automatic dishwashers:  Yes, there are some which are energy-efficient, and if you insist on having one of these, get the most energy-efficient one possible.  I have long found that it is somewhat meditative to stand before the sink, where I can look out the window, and silently wash each dish, rinsing it, and letting it drip-dry in the dish rack. 

Stoves:  In most cases, your stove is fueled by gas.  Use the smallest flame possible, and keep all pots and pans covered while you cook.  This not only saves gas, but reduces some of the scorching of pots and pans. I recall a sign in a kitchen that said “If you can smell it, you’re losing it.”  This was an admonishment to keep all cooking foods covered, since if the aromatic oils and essences were in the air, they were no longer in your food!

Garbage disposals:  These are fuel hogs that also use up lots of water, simply so your compost can get washed away.  You should use all your kitchen scraps to feed your pets, or add it to your compost pit/worm farm.  I have long believed that the main function of garbage disposals is to keep plumbers employed.  In my homes that I owned, I have always removed the garbage disposals, put the kitchen scraps into the compost pit (or fed to the chickens), and had fewer plumbing problems as a result.

Having a compost pit/ worm farm in the back yard is one of the easiest ways to “be a part of the solution.”  It is something that should be in every residential backyard in America.  They are easy to make and to use and maintain.  It isn’t necessary to buy a commercial composter, since a compost system of some sort is easy to make (see The Complete Book of Composting by Rodale Press), though many of the commercial models are not very expensive. 

In an elevated society of the future, I envision a composter as the norm for every backyard, something that is taken for granted.  It is the ancient way in which each plot of land can be enriched by the alchemical conversion of the “wastes” of the residents.
           
WASHING MACHINES
When purchasing a new washing machine, look for the best EnergyStar rating.  Some of the newer models are more efficient not only with electricity, but also with water.

Also, if you are able to do so in your location, you should disconnect your washing machine drain from the sewer line and direct the rinse water into your yard to water your fruit trees and garden.  This is a big no-brainer.  It is easy to do and allows you to use the water twice that you use to wash your clothes. 

If you choose to use the rinse water in your yard, here are a few things to keep in mind.  1.  Make sure you are buying a detergent that is not toxic to plants in your yard.  2. Make sure you are not allowing water to puddle up somewhere, breeding mosquitoes. 3. Test your system to make sure it works well and drains well and doesn’t over-strain the washing machine.  In general, you can attach a large hose to the drain line of the washing machine. This new hose should be at least as large in diameter as your washing machine’s drain hose, and it must be as long as necessary to get to your yard, by gravity. 

DRYERS
Look for the best EnergyStar rating.  And don’t overlook the utter practicality of the “solar clothes dryer” – a clothes line! 

I was very impressed during a winter visit to the Ohio Amish lands to see that every Amish household dries their clothes on their covered porches, on rack ingeniously devised for this purpose.  They have committed themselves to not using electricity, and so they FIND those natural forces, and natural principles, by which they utilize for their day-to-day needs.

OTHER HOUSEHOLD APPLIANCES
Hair dryers:  Perhaps I am an exception, but a towell and fresh air are fine for me. Still, many women depend on these for quickly drying their hair.  Has anyone come up with a battery-operated hair dryer?

Electric toothbrushes:  Are these really necessary!?

GARAGE and YARD TOOLS
Many of today’s garage tools are powered by built-in batteries, which can be recharged over and over.  Some can even be set up to be re-charged by the sun.  This includes such tools as drills, saws, pneumatic hammers, staplers. and more.  With a small PV system, you can keep all your tools powered by the sun.

I have a very dim view of such “garden tools” as weed-whackers and blowers.  I am Old School, and I prefer hand tools for pruning, and a rake and broom for cleaning.  When called up to cut the lawn, I have used both push mowers, and power mowers, though my belief about the pointlessness of “front lawns” keeps me from using such devices.

The Problem -- and Solution -- of the Front Lawn



an excerpt from “Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City”


[Nyerges is the author of “Extreme Simplicity,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Foraging California,” and other books. For information on his classes and books, contact him at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.]

When we first moved into our home, the front yard was ugly – barren and oily.  The previous residents had used the yard to park their cars, an area of about 35 by 15 feet.  Just a bit of crabgrass grew around the edges.  The inner front yard, which we called the courtyard, was almost as barren, though there were a few trees there.

One of our first improvements, once we had removed bits of old metal, wood scraps, logs, and an old shack, was to very heavily mulch the barren yard and the neglected courtyard areas.  Mulch consisted of natural materials such as wood chips, leaves, grass clippings – organic matter that can be spread on the ground to hold in moisture.  As the mulch decomposes, it helps to increase the soil’s fertility.

While driving home one day, we saw a yard that was covered with fall leaves.  We had our rakes and bags with us, so we pulled over and knocked on the door.

“May we rake up your front yard and take the leaves with us?” we asked the elderly man who came to the door.

He was silent for a moment, uncertain what we had said, or perhaps suspicious of our intentions.  We repeated the request.

“We’d like to rake up your yard.  We don’t want to charge you.  We just want the leaves to use for mulch.”

By now, his wife had come to the door and we had to repeat the request again.   They seemed to realize that we were sincere, and agreed. 

As we raked, they began to laugh at their good fortune with sheepish smiles – someone had actually knocked on their door requesting to do something for free that they usually had to pay for.

“Take all you want!” the man told us, cheerfully and loudly.

We busied ourselves filling up about four large trash bags of the yellow leaves, and they watched us from their window with large grins.  We laughed to ourselves too, and wondered if they would be telling and re-telling this curious story to their friends and grandchildren.

When we got home, we scattered all those leaves around the needy front and courtyard areas.  We knew that we’d have to add more and more organic matter before the soil would be fertile enough to grow plants, so we collected leaves from other sources as well and spread them in our yard.

Neighbors watched our leaf mulch project curiously.

We contacted an acquaintance who runs a tree-pruning service.  This man and his crew prunes trees and then chips up the prunings, and when their truck is full of chips, they take it to the local landfill and pay to unload the chips.  In response to our invitation, they were happy to bring a load to our place instead and dump it in a huge pile onto our front yard.

The huge pile covered most of the front yard, and the central peak was nearly five feet tall.   We knew the pile would get smaller over time as the chips decomposed.  In fact, the pile had sunk down about a foot after the first week, and we spread the chips out on each side so we’d have a mulch that uniformly covered the entire area.

If you’ve ever been around a big compost pile, you know how it generates lots of heat as the contents decompose.  We noticed our pile steaming in about two weeks, and we also watered it to help the decomposition process.

One morning, a neighbor form next door yelled, “Your front yard’s on fire!”

We ran out expecting to see flames somewhere but saw only the steaming chip pile.  We assured our neighbor that everything was fine.

In two  years, after two big truckloads of wood chips, we were able to sink our hand down into the soil in the front yard, and wild plants had begun to grow and thrive. 

FOR THE CONTINUATION OF THIS STORY, get a copy of “Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City” wherever quality books are sold.  Also available at the Store at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Turning Over the Money-Changers' Tables



An Easter Week Commentary


[Nyerges is the author of 10 books, a member of the think-tank WTI, and the director of the School of Self-Reliance. He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or www.ChristopherNyerges.com.]


Growing up in a Catholic family, I have always had a special reverence for Passion Week, perhaps the holiest of all the Christian holy days.  The climax of this tradition begins on Palm Sunday with Jesus’ entry into the city of Jerusalem on a mule while palm leaves and garments are laid in his path by his followers. He is widely acknowledged as a healer, though some are upset that his actions are drawing so much attention. 

Then, later that day, or the next day, he becomes enraged by the “money changers” and ubiquitous vendors along the way to the temple, and knocks over many of these booths.

Of course, it is no different today.  Every holy site on earth is packed with vendors and their booths of trinkets that they hawk to every tourist who passes by.  These booths of vendors are found around the Vatican, the Church of Guadalupe in Mexico City, Chichen Itza, the Egypt pyramids, etc., ad nauseum.

Jesus knocked over the merchants’ tables because he felt their very presence in the temple desecrated a holy site.  This didn’t garner him many friends, especially not the merchants who felt justified in their commerce.  This act set the stage for the various accusations, arrest, trials, and crucifixion.

Today, commerce seems to run and rule every aspect of our lives.  Everything has a price and scant few protest the gross invasion of commercialism, on billboards, on our e-mail, on the bus-stop, in the bus, on the bus, at every sporting venue, on the clothing of bicyclists and car racers, etc.  Yet, we somewhat draw the line at our religious locations.  Somewhat.  

Jesus recoiled that the work of the Temple seemed to be just the work of commerce.  Let it be done elsewhere, he argued.  Of course, his actions were radical, and noteworthy, and look how he was “rewarded” for trying to separate commerce from “the house of God.”

I once experienced what I felt was very similar to what Jesus felt that day.

I was in Guatemala on a Mayan study and tour, we drove to the town of Chichicastenango.  It was said to be a sacred city where the oldest version of the Popul Vuh exists.  We were going to visit one of the holiest Mayan sites, which was once a pyramid in the town, upon which a Catholic cathedral had been built a few hundred years ago.

To get to this site, we had to walk through several blocks of narrow passageways, densely populated with booth after booth selling jewelry, artworks, fabric, clothing, food, herbs, and all manner of trinkets.  There was no escaping the throngs of vendors, to whom any eye contact meant maybe you wanted to buy what they had.  The narrow passageways were so thick that you literally had to bump shoulders with everyone else, and the hired tour guide yelled out to all of us to carry our daypacks in front of our bodies to thwart pickpockets. 

I began to feel that I had descended into a hell of sorts.  I had not been feeling well, and I had just learned two days earlier that my brother had died.  I was in the mindset of entering into a Holy of Holies, but to get there you had to pass through the gauntlet of the most overt commercialism imaginable.  I withdrew deeply into my self, something next to impossible to do in such a public place.

Eventually, our group all arrived at the base of what was left of the whitewashed pyramid.   At the top was the cathedral, where the church today allows the Mayans to practice their traditional religion.  We would eventually enter the church and hear about its history, and see a Mayan priestess performing a ritual in the middle row of the church. 

But outside, with the din of voices and screaming all around, the merchants booths were set up right to the edge of the pyramid.  People sat on the pyramid, and near the base, copal was continually burned and black smoke poured heavenward.  The narrow passageways of all the corridors of booths led to this pyramid, and a constant throng of passersby moved constantly this way and that.

I felt awestruck by that unique spiritual “something” that was an inherent part of this special place.  But why had the commerce been allowed to invade and over run this site. At least no vendors were allowed into the church yard or church!

But outside, at the base of the pyramid, I had a clear mental picture of the wrath of Jesus back at the Temple of Jerusalem, knocking the vendors tables over.  I could see the Rightness in what he did.  I felt such a strong desire myself – to be rid of the hawkers of ware in that holy place. 

There was no way I would kick over a table of jewelry or other goods. For one, I was not feeling well and didn’t have the strength for such an act. For another, I was well aware that I’d be spending time in some out of the way Guatemalan jail cell, and that notion was very unappealing.  I simply took in the moment, tried to feel the reality of the commerce that  has  overtaken us, and looked forward to my departure.

Yes, Easter is about the death and ressurection, a theme that is found in numerous religious traditions world-wide. It is a worthy theme to study and to plumb its mysteries.  It is all about each of us allowing our ignorant ways to die, and to allow our spiritual divinities to be resurrected from the ashes of our pointless lives.  But don’t forget that Jesus desired to kick out the love of money from the spiritual temple.  That too is something that each of us should do in our own private lives. 

And if and when we get the courage to actually do this, do not expect your friends and family to smile in approval.  You would be wise to look at story of Jesus to see what you should expect, and to plan accordingly.