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. 

Considering Easter




[Nyerges is the author of numerous books such as “Extreme Simplicity,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” and other books. He can be reached at www.Schoolof Self-Reliance.com or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041]

It is a time that millions of people the world over look forward to – the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.  What day is that, you ask?  Easter, the day (and season) that Christians worldwide commemorate the trial, death, and resurrection from the dead of Jesus.

I grew up in a Catholic family, going to a Catholic school, and know well the Easter motif, beginning with the “giving something up” for Lent, Palm Sunday when Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey (in fulfillment of scriptures), and then turned over the tables of the vendors.  He was still invited to speak in the Temple, but the Temple authorities considered him an upstart, someone who seemed to know “the Truth” in a way that they had forgotten, a man who didn’t have the Temple training and no formal training to become a Rabbi, and yet, there he was, attracting crowds, purporting to heal, innocent, seeming to know the answers to life’s deepest questions.

His trial and death were almost predictable, as most societies do not like the rabble-rousers among them. 

Every Easter I have enjoyed the inspiring messages that movie-makers have given us in their efforts to interpret the practical meaning of the Jesus message. I have particularly liked the over six hour presentation of “Jesus of Nazareth” produced by Franco Zeffirelli, starring Robert Powell as Jesus. It is a rare presentation that brings the story alive, and takes it out of the pages of dry church reading.  You cannot help but cry, and laugh, often when viewing this unique presentation.  I have kept a Bible (Lamsa translation) handy when viewing this, to see how well Zeffirelli brought alive these ancient writings. You will likely agree that he did a great job. Actor Robert Powell said once in an interview that this role “changed my life.” Indeed.

Though too many of us have gotten lost in the pre-Christian “Easter” symbolisms of eggs, bunnies, chocolate, etc., it is still worth fighting to realize that there is still a real story here, about someone who worked hard, was ridiculed, laughed at, even killed, in order to  help us to save ourselves.

I have chosen to see the Easter story as a pattern that each of us should find and follow in our own lives. And are there other stories out there which show this pattern in the so-called secular world?

Movie-makers have given us many such stories, but we don’t always see them for what they are.  If we consider the themes of the Easter story – humble birth, hard work, trying to rise above mundanity, showing The Way to others, some sort of “death,” and rising up again – then there are some excellent movies that give us this tale.

For example, you can’t go wrong with the classic “Whale Rider”.  If you’ve not seen it, get it immediately.  The grandfather of the  traditional village is hoping for a grandson to carry on the ways.  A girl is born, and grandpa figures he’ll  have to wait some more.  But the girl is “the one.”  She persists in  her path of learning the  traditional ways.  And when a test is given to the boys to see which one will become the new spiritual leader, the girl nearly dies, but passes the test.  She is the one.  You have to see it, and feel it, and experience that Saviorness can occur at any time, anywhere.  Of course, there are certain requirements, but the chief among them is the willingness and desire to do the work required, and then doing that work.

“Powder” is another good movie that somewhat depicts the elements of the Easter theme, though not precisely.  It’s still worth watching to see how most of us treat our fellow man.

Yes, some of you who will read your Encyclopedia today will learn about the pre-Christian roots of Easter.  There is no denying that the Holy Day, as practiced generally today, has so-called  ”pagan” roots. So what?  You can still observe this day and find the way to use the major themes for your personal upliftment, and for the upliftment of those around you.


Friday, March 03, 2017

In Search of The Real Saint Patrick


            
[Christopher Nyerges is author of several books, such as Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City (co-author), and How to Survive Anywhere.  He has led wilderness expeditions since 1974.  He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041 or via ChristopherNyerges.com]

On the 17th of this month, we celebrate “Saint Patrick’s Day,” that day when people pinch each other if they’re not wearing green, when Trader Joe’s starts selling little potted shamrocks, and where the local bars sell green beer.  But what’s this really all about?
           
First, a little wake-up call about “Saint Patrick.”  Patrick was not Irish, had nothing to do with leprechauns, almost certainly was not a drunkard, and didn't drive all the snakes out of Ireland.  In fact, there were believed to be no native snakes in Ireland, though this story is generally regarded as an analogy for driving out the so-called “pagans,” or, at least, the pagan religions.

Patrick was one of the "greats" of history who nearly single-handedly preserved the best of Western culture when much of Europe was devolving into chaos and ruin.  He deserves far better than remembering him in the silly ways we do today, such as wearing green, pinching each other, and getting drunk.  Rather, he deserves an accurate memory, and our emulation.  Unfortunately, like all true Saviors of history, they are either killed off, or relegated to the closet of ridicule. 

So who exactly was Saint Patrick?  Will the real Saint Patrick please stand up?

His real name was Maewyn Succat, born around 385 A.D., somewhere in Scotland, or possibly somewhere else, as there is conflicting historical data on his exact date and place of birth.   His baptismal name was Patricius. 

Around age 16, he was sold into slavery in Ireland and worked for the next 6 years as a shepherd.  Keep in mind that human slavery, as well as human sacrifice, was considered “normal” for those times.

After his six years in slavery, he believed that an angel came to him in a dream, prompting him to escape and seek out his homeland.  He actually walked about 200 miles to the coast, where his dream indicated a ship would also be waiting for him.  He successfully escaped, found the ship he dreamed about, and spent the next twenty years of his life as a monk in Marmoutier Abbey. There he again received a celestial visitation, this time calling him to return to the land where he’d been enslaved, though now with a mission as a priest and converter.

Patrick was called to Rome in 432, where Pope Celestine made Patrick a Bishop, and sent him off  on his mission.

Patrick returned to Ireland with 24 supporters and  followers.  They arrived in the winter of 432.  In the spring, Patrick decided to confront the high King of Tara, the most powerful King in Ireland. Patrick knew that if he had the King's support, he would be free to take his Christian message to the people of Ireland.

Patrick and his followers were invited to Tara by the King of Laoghaire. It was there that he was said to have plucked a shamrock from the ground as he tried to explain to the Druids and the King that the shamrock had three leaves just like the idea of God’s three aspects, the Trinity: The Father, The Son and the Holy Ghost.

Of course, triads and trinities were a common concept among the Druids.  In fact, one could argue that the trinity (a term not found in the Bible) was a concept given to Christianity by the Druids, rather than the other way around.  Nevertheless, whatever momentousness Patrick conveyed,  King Laoghaire was very impressed with Patrick, and chose to accept Christianity. He also gave Patrick the freedom to spread Christianity throughout Ireland.

When Patrick returned to Ireland, he treated the "pagans" with the respect implicit in his dream. Part of this respect was attempting to communicate with the Druids on their terms, which is why he used the shamrock as a teaching tool.  He also blended the Christian cross with the circle to create what is now known as the Celtic cross.  He used bonfires to celebrate Easter, a Holy Day that Christianity supplanted with the already-existing spring equinox commemoration. In fact, he incorporated many of the existing “old religion” symbols and beliefs into his Christian teachings.

He spent his last 30 years in Ireland, baptizing the non-Christian Irish, ordaining priests, and founding churches and monasteries. His persuasive powers must have been astounding, since Ireland fully converted to Christianity within 200 years and was the only country in Europe to Christianize peacefully. Patrick's Christian conversion ended slavery, human sacrifice, and most intertribal warfare in Ireland.

Patrick was also unique in that he equally valued the role of women in an age when the church ignored them. He always sided with the downtrodden and the excluded, whether they were slaves or the “pagan” Irish.

According to Thomas Cahill, author of How the Irish Saved Civilization, Patrick's influence extended far beyond his adopted land. Cahill's book, which could just as well be titled How St. Patrick Saved Civilization, contends that Patrick's conversion of Ireland allowed Western learning to survive the Dark Ages. Ireland pacified and churchified as the rest of Europe crumbled. Patrick's monasteries copied and preserved classical texts. Later, Irish monks returned this knowledge to Europe by establishing monasteries in England, Germany, France, Switzerland, and Italy.  When the lights went out all over Europe, a candle still burned in Ireland. That candle was lit by Patrick.

Veneration of Patrick gradually assumed the status of a local cult.  He was not simply remembered in Saul and Downpatrick, he was worshipped!  Indeed, homage to Patrick as Ireland's saint was apparent in the eight century AD. At this time Patrick's status as a national apostle was made independently of Rome.  He was claimed locally as a saint before the practice of canonization was introduced by the Vatican. The high regard in which the Irish have held St Patrick is evidenced by the salutation, still common today, of "May God, Mary, and Patrick bless you".

               

Saturday, February 25, 2017

On Multi-Tasking


[Nyerges is the author of “Extreme Simplicity,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” and other books. He can be reached at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.

My friend and I were checking out at a small grocery store. The clerk was on her cell phone, an obviously personal call, and yet she managed to check each item with mechanical efficiency.  She smiled towards us, without actually looking at u s. She spoke the price, I handed her some bills, and she returned the correct change.  The groceries were bagged and we walked away.

I was a bit nonplussed, even though this scene has become way too normal.  To speak on a cell phone to someone else while handling a paying customer is the antithesis of service.  My friend told me I was making a big deal out of nothing.

“Besides, I do that all the time at my office and home,” she smiled.  “Multi-tasking.”

“Really?” I responded.  “So that’s your fancy word for doing two things at the same time and doing them both poorly?”

“But that clerk didn’t do her job poorly, “ my friend protested.  “You got the correct change, right?”

“Yes, I got the correct change but that’s not the point. Let’s just say that if she were my employee, she’d get one warning and then I’d fire her.”

“But that was a small store,” my friend said. “How do you know that she wasn’t  the boss?”

“I don’t know that,” I said, trying to explain why I felt that we’d just had less than an ideal interaction.  Perhaps it was because the clerk’s mind was elsewhere, and that I believe you really cannot do two things simultaneously, and do them each well, which is why it is illegal to talk on a cell phone and drive.  I asked my friend to explain what sort of “multi-tasking” she does at work.

“You know, the usual,” she responded.  She described a variety of tasks such as paperwork, letters, taking phone calls, reading e-mails.  “If you don’t give a task your full attention, do you think the task suffers?” I asked.

She thought about it.  “Not really,” she said.  “As long as I do an adequate job, there’s no problem.” 

“But what if you are talking face-to-face to someone and you’re still typing or shuffling papers.  Don’t you feel that the person will feel slighted?” I asked.

“Well, I suppose it depends on the person,” she responded.

I dropped the subject for fear that if I pushed my point further, a friend would soon be a former friend.

I’m not a big fan of so-called “multi-tasking.”  I think it’s a somewhat fraudulent, self-deceptive concept where you believe you’re doing more than you actually can do.  It’s a belief that by moving a lot of stuff around, that your quantity is more important than quality.  This is probably one of the reasons why the quality of goods and services has declined.

In a similar vein, today there are many multi-purpose tools now on the market, such as a tool which promises to be a hammer, a screwdriver, a saw, a shovel, a can opener and pliers. Such tools do about 40 tasks poorly and none well. 

I do believe that Swiss Army knives pack a lot of quality into a little package, though they cannot handle big jobs.  The Leatherman tool is also generally a good combination tool because it is well made. 

But as a rule of thumb, the more tasks a tool claims, the more poorly it performs.  And, generally, as the price lowers, so does the performance and longevity of the tool. 

In my world view, it is better to have just a few quality tools that a tool box full of cheap tools that mostly result in frustration. 

My friend reminded me that the benefit of her “multi-tasking” is that she gets more done at a lower cost, more quickly.  I had to think about what that means.

Yes, true quality – in a service or in a product – takes more time and costs more.  And because most of us want it now and want it cheap, we’ve created a frustrating world of low quality service and goods. Change will only come slowly, when enough of us realize that fast and cheap is just a quick thrill with no lasting satisfaction.

Monday, February 13, 2017

"The Winds Erase Your Footprints"



A book by Shiyowin Miller


["The Wind Erases Your Footprints" is available at Amazon, and from the Store at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]
 
One of the books that came out of my family was “The Winds Erase Your Footprints,” written by my wife Dolores’ mother, Shiyowin Miller.  Shiyowin, who was part Osage, was immersed in Native American culture. I remember visiting her home in Temple City, which seemed like an Indian museum with a full library, drums, pots, and artifacts from all over the country.  Shiyowin had been a music and dance teacher, and was a professional dancer. She knew Iron Eyes Cody, and worked with Luther Standing Bear, a Lakota Sioux who was once the Chief.  He wrote “My People the Sioux” and other books. Luther Standing Bear adopted Shiyowin, and let Shiyowin act as his agent for his various books and other legal matters. It brought the past alive to me when I was able to see and feel the pipes, sandals, robe, and other materials that Standing Bear had given to Shiyowin.

Shiyowin also had many friends from the Navajo lands. In the 1930’s, Shiyowin’s best friend, Juanita, fell in love with a Navajo man, Luciano, who’d been working as an extra in Hollywood.  Juanita and Luciano got married, and moved back to Luciano’s Navajo lands in New Mexico.

Shiyowin kept in touch with Juanita, and wrote about the experiences that Luciano and Juanita underwent on the reservation, during the Depression when there was so little work.

Shiyowin edited and revised and rewrote her book many times over the next 30 years, and she died in 1983 before it was ever published.  I married Shiyowin’s daughter Dolores in 1986, and when I saw the box with hundreds of pages of manuscript, I asked Dolores if I could read it.  In fact, Shiyowin had hired Dolores to type many of the revisions over the years, and so Dolores was familiar with the content.

Once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. It was amazed at the quality and depth of the story, and could barely believe that it had never been published. Shiyowin had actually received an advance from a publisher some 20 years earlier, but since she kept rewriting and revising, it never got published.  

I was amazed at the quality and depth of the story, and could barely believe it had not been published. To me, it was like reading a Tony Hillerman novel, except it was true!

Everyone said that the book accurately depicted life on the Rez during that time, mixed in with some accounts of Navajo witchcraft.  With some editing, Dolores and I got the book published in 2002 by Naturegraph Press, which features many Native American titles.  If you do an internet search with the book's title, you'll see some of the reviews that have been published about this book. 

The story was descriptive, compelling, and you feel as if you are re-experiencing the harsh winds, the life in the Hogan making coffee, the search for work, and all the ceremonies and gatherings that were a part of the Navajo way of life.  The books, which was 335 pages when published, also contained hints and clues in the backdrop about Navajo witchcraft, and the ma-itso, the wolf clan which was feared by most.

The freak death of Luciano was generally attributed to the work of the ma-itso, and Shiyowin gives the clues in bits and pieces, in the way that Tony Hillerman so masterfully slowly revealed his mysteries.


The following excerpts from THE WINDS ERASE YOUR FOOTPRINTS are Copyright  and may not be re-printed without permission of the publisher.

from chapter 3: Pentz's Trading Post

Juanita stood, head forward, her hair long and black in the sunlight; she shook it, the drops of water flying. She ran her fingers through it, the pale, yellow shreds of fiber falling lightly to the ground. Luciano was washing his head now, in water that his mother had prepared. Juanita began to comb her hair carefully, the comb snagging and tangling in the still-wet strands. She stopped and disentangled the combings, rolling them into a little ball. The wind caught it and tumbled it over and over across the ground.

"Ah-yeeee!" Shimah exclaimed and went running after the ball of combings. She brought it back and placed it carefully in the fire, watching as the flames consumed it, talking rapidly to her son. I am guilty of some small breach of custom, Juanita thought, and then was surprised at the gravity of her husbands' face. He sat back on his heels, his hair dripping unheeded.

"You must always burn your combings," he told her seriously.

"My mother says never to let any of your hair escape like that."

"I'm sorry, Lu," she began. "It was a bit untidy. But out here in the open I thought the wind would carry it away."

"That's it: the wind might . . ." He stopped abruptly.

Juanita was puzzled. It was such a little thing for him to get upset about, and she had said she was
sorry. "Is there some tabu connected with hair-combings?" she asked gently, trying to smooth the
troubled look from his face. "If I knew it I'd observe it--you know I would." Shimah stood by gauging the conversation by their voice tones. Luciano was still disturbed. "It isn't exactly a tabu, but just don't be careless." It wasn't like her husband to speak so. He'd always been patient about explaining even small things. She turned away to hide the hurt.

Shimah plucked at her sleeve, speaking gently, soothingly, as though to erase the hurt, the alarm.

"Tell my daughter-in-law to give me her jewelry so that I can put it into the soaproot suds. That will be good for the silver and the turquoise."

Juanita resolved not to mention the incident of the hair-combing again. Lu was moody, preoccupied with looking for a job. It wasn't anything important, only puzzling, and it wasn't worth a misunderstanding if she never found out. There was so much she didn't know, it would take forever to explain in detail everything she asked.       

from Chapter 5: Wild Duck Dinner

Wounded Head greeted them with warm words, but his face remained impassive--cold. His son
extended his hand for a limp handclasp. Juanita and Luciano were given a comfortable place to sit at the back of the hoghan, but Juanita wasn't comfortable. She was conscious of her hair being disheveled from the race up the canyon; she tried to smooth it, putting one hand to her head unobtrusively. She wished that she had worn a skirt instead of Levis. Somehow she could feel Wounded Head's disapproval without seeing his face.

Luciano was talking to the two men. No, he hadn't as yet gone to work in Albuquerque.

Wounded Head placed his fingertips together with elaborate care. Was it true that in that Western
place, where Luciano had been, there was great opportunity for ambitious young Navajo men?

Luciano misunderstood. Was his son planning to go there?

A thin ghost-like smile passed over Wounded Head's face and was gone. He shook his head.

The stew was ladled into bowls and passed to them. Juanita cooled one of the pieces of meat on her spoon. That didn't look like mutton. She bit into it. Beef! Wounded Head and his family did eat well. Her husband had placed his hat on the bedroll behind him, and now his dark head was bent over the bowl of stew attentively. He looked up long enough to direct a sidelong glance at her when their host got up, took a can of peaches from the cupboard, and opened it with his knife.

The meal finished, they sat back looking into the fire, the men talking leisurely of unimportant things. Wounded Head's wife asked a few questions of Juanita, through Luciano: did she like it here . . . did she miss her own people?

It was a foolish thing, her imagination was overactive, Juanita told herself, but she wanted to get away. The fire was bright, warming; Wounded Head's wife was pleasant; Wounded Head himself seemed almost friendly as he drew Lu into conversation; but it was a strong feeling that Juanita had--as strong as a cold wind--as dark as a dark shadow. She was relieved when Luciano finally arose to go. He thanked them for the good meal and then the blanket over the doorway dropped behind them. She was first in the saddle and started toward the edge of the mesa.

"Not that way," Luciano called. "There's no trail--only rocks."

Juanita turned and followed Luciano as he picked his way down the other side of the mesa. Halfway down the narrow trail, Luciano took off his hat. Holding it at arm's length from him, he shook it carefully. Puffs of yellow dust scattered on the wind.

WATCH FOR MORE SECTIONS….