Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thankgiving Day Commentary



THANKSGIVING DAY:  It’s Roots, and other Commentary

[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Foraging California,” “Enter the Forest” and other books.  He leads courses in the native uses of plants.  He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance..com]


Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday of the year.  Even moreso than Christmas.  It is our uniquely American holiday where the family gathers, where we remember our roots, we share a meal, and we hopefully “give thanks.” 

But look how quickly such simple and profound holidays get perverted. Today, we hardly know what “giving thanks” even means, and so the act of giving thanks is lost on most of us.  Newscasters talk about “turkey day,” as if all there was to the day was eating turkey.  Interestingly, most folks would not know whether or not they were eating turkey, or eating crow, and most of the time we’re doing the latter, figuratively speaking.  Then, when we have barely taken the time to consider the notion of “giving thanks,” we get up early on the following “black Friday” to rush around with the mobs “looking for a good deal”  to help us celebrate the consumer-driven commercial craze into which we’ve morphed “Christmas.”

Wow! How did we get here?  What can we do about it?  Let’s take a moment to look at the roots of Thanksgiving.

In the history of North America, we are told that the first historic Thanksgiving Day was in October of 1621.  After a successful harvest that year at the Plymouth colony, there was about a week or so of celebrations.  The local Indians and the colonists joined together, with the Indians generally showing the colonists (mostly city folks) how to hunt for the meal which consisted of fowl, deer, duck, goose, and fish.  Corn bread, wild greens, plums, leeks, and many other vegetables (wild and domestic) were shared in this celebration.  Interestingly, there is no recorded evidence that wild turkey or wild cranberries  were part of the menu. And we tell and re-tell this particular American story as if it is all about food!

In fact, some (but not all) historians question whether or not there were any religious overtones at all on this “first Thanksgiving,” citing such evidence as the archery and firearms games, and the running and jumping competitions, which they say would never be done at religious ceremonies by the Puritans. The “competition” was more likely the men on each side doing their shows of bravado with weapons and physical feats  before sitting down to eat.

What then is it, if anything, that sets the American (and the Canadian) Thanksgiving celebration apart from any of the other myriad of Harvest Festivals?

Not widely known is that this “first thanksgiving” feast had mostly political overtones, which seem to have largely backfired.  Tisquantum (“Squanto”) was the interpreter for Massasoit, who was the political-military leader of the local Wampanoag tribe.  Massasoit was worried that his weakened tribe would be taken-advantage of by the stronger Narragansett, because his own group had been so reduced from disease.  Massasoit would permit the European newcomers to stay as long as they liked, as long as they aligned with Massasoit against the Narraganset. (Read all about it in your history books). Tisquantum spoke English because he’d been to England and back, and had his own plan to re-establish his home-town village near what became the Plimouth colony. 

Though Tisquantum successfully helped Massasoit broker a pact with the newcomers from across the ocean, Tisquantum died about a year later.  The truce that Massasoit hoped to cement lasted perhaps another 50 years until there were too many Europeans flooding into Massachusetts and all of what was to become the eastern United States. 

Despite the varied history of this day, Americans have chosen to see this as day set aside so that we do not lose sight of our spiritual blessings.

But we should  not confuse “giving thanks” with “eating a lot of really good food.”   “Giving Thanks” is an enlightened attitude which accompanies specific actions.  Perhaps sharing our bounty with the needy would be a better Thanksgiving activity than eating large volumes of food.  More to the point, perhaps we should use Thanksgiving to give thanks where it is due -- to the indigenous peoples who have become the “forgotten minorities.”  Rather than “eat a lot,” perhaps we could send blankets, food, or money to any of the American Indian families or nations who today live in Third World conditions.

To me, the essence of Thanksgiving was the coming together of two cultures, trying to work together under trying circumstances.  Yes, they shared a meal.  Food sustains us.  But it was not about food, per se.  They practiced with their bows and guns, a sign of mutual preparedness. And in their own ways, they “prayed to God,” in the ways that were appropriate to each culture. 
 
But we really should not forget our national roots.  Don’t just give lip-service thanks to the Native Americans whose land was taken.  Rather, find those organizations that are actually providing real assistance to Native Americans in poverty, such as many of those living in the third world conditions so prevalent on today’s reservations.  (IF you have trouble locating such organizations, contact me and I will make some suggestions).

Thursday, November 09, 2017

ANCIENT WRITING ON ROCK

a view of the first inscribed rock found -- see transliteration below



 [Nyerges is the former editor of  Wilderness Way magazine and American Survival Guide. He is  the author of How to Survive Anywhere, Enter the Forest, and other books. He has led wilderness trips into the Angeles National Forest for over 40 years.  He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or www.ChristopherNyerges.com.]

[An extract from Nyerges’ Kindle book “Ancient Writing on Rock,” also available from the Store at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com, which goes into much more detail about the site and various opinions about it.]

On Halloween day in 2001, I was leading a birthday outing for a 10 year old boy and his friends at the 3000 foot level of the Angeles National Forest.  We were getting late, so I led them down into the stream so we could make soap from the yucca leaves. It was a spot where I would never ordinarily go.  As the boys and I made our yucca soap, my gaze was drawn to the back side of a large, 10 foot wide boulder with unusual markings on it.  There were two large horizontal cleavages and numerous markings across the cleavage that bore an uncanny resemblance to ogam. 

I pointed it out to every one and explained ogam to the adults, who seemed underwhelmed at what such a rock might mean.

I returned a week later with Dude McLean to take photographs and sketches.  McLean had also been there when I first noted the rock.  After carefully comparing my sketches with the ogam alphabet, I was amazed to see that all the marks were consistent with ogam.  So I then sent photos and sketches to perhaps 50 “experts” in ogam, linguistics, archaelogy, and other fields and eagerly awaited their response about my exciting discovery.

Ogam is not to be confused with the more ornate runic writing. Ogam employs straight lines across what is called a stem line. The stem line can be a natural horizontal fracture in a rock, or the corner of a standing stone.  The 15 consonants are expressed by from one to five lines above the stem line, one to five lines below the stem line, or one to five lines across the stem lines. The vowels, where present, can be a series of dots or other symbols.  It is certainly possible to see natural fractures in rock and think you are looking at ogam, especially if you have not studied rock sufficiently to see the difference between what nature does and what man does.

Gloria Farley, author of “In Plain Sight,”  responded, saying it certainly looked like ogam, but that she had no idea what it might say since she had all her discoveries translated by Barry Fell, who had passed away.  One expert from England responded, saying that since the rock inscription was in California, there was no chance that it was bonafide ogam.  Another told me that it was clearly a significant find, but he felt it was more likely some sort of tally system, not ogam.  But most of the various world experts ignored me.

So I laid out what I felt was a fairly reasonable scientific method for ascertaining if the inscription I found was, or was not, of some significance.
1.      Were the markings consistent with the ogam alphabet.  If so, I would proceed to the other steps.
2.      Did the ogam letters actually spell anything.
3.      Could the inscription could actually be dated.
4.      Was  there was anything else significant about the site.
5.      The final step – if I got that far – was to determine who may have actually inscribed the rock, and under what circumstances. I also reasoned that if I got this far, others could jump in and attempt to answer this question.

Since all the markings were consistent with the ogam characters, I then proceeded to determine the actual sequence of letters.  It took me approximately 6 visits in different lighting conditions until I arrived at what I felt was the correct letter sequence.  I attempted to confirm my deductions by carefully feeling the indentations in the rock. 

Next, with my sequence of letters, I tried to determine if it spelled anything.  Ogam was used primarily to express Gaelic, but had also been used in some known instances to represent both Saharan and Basque.  I needed experts or dictionaries. 

One night, while staring at my photos of the rock and the letter sequence, the two letters MC jumped out at me, and I realized that the rock inscription was most likely written in the most common language of usage for ogam, Gaelic.  MC is a very common abbreviation for “son of,” as in McDonald, MacAllister, et al.

I obtained a copy of  Dwelley’s “Illustrated Gaelic-English Dictionary” (copyright 1902-12) and one rainy day about two months after finding the rock, I spent about five hours going through Dwelley’s page by page, looking for letter combinations that might mean something. All the letters I had to work with were consonants. There were no vowells, suggestive of an older or earlier linguistic form, akin to several of the Middle Eastern alphabets written without vowels.

Based on the manner in which the markings were made on the rock, I broke the letter sequence into the following groupings: B- MMH- BL- ?MG-MC-MM-DH-B.   I then tried to find words for which those letter groupings would represent.  Part of this search was to see what was commonly written on other such stones.

After a few months, I came up with the following possible transliteration:  To-memory-Bel- Thy Young Hero- Son of – Mother – Deep/depth/ darken- stone. “Bel” was actually written above the main line of the inscription.  So my translation reads: To Bel, in the memory of the young hero, son of the mother (prince?), laid to rest with this stone.”  I found at least one stone in which scholars translated “DH” as “laid to rest.” Thus, I had achieved Step Two in my process, and proceeded to the next Step.


Two different geologists, one a PhD, told me that such inscriptions could not be definitely dated.  The PhD said that based on his educated guess, the inscription was made between 1500 and 2500 years ago, and he’d say it was 95% certain that it was made by man, not natural forces.

I proceeded to Step Four with various informal surveys of the surrounding area. First, IF the rock inscription was formed by natural forces, it would be logical that there would  be many or more such carvings in the  vicinity.   Within a quarter mile of the stone, I found one possible standing stone, one triangular pointing stone (pointed up a side canyon), and a nearby site that had all the appearances of being an ancient graveyard based on the placement of stones – though I did no digging.  A few years after the initial discovery I found another rock near the standing stone with an ogam inscription of B-EA-N-EA, which I eventually concluded must be in reference to Byanu. In time, other features were identified at this site, such as two dolmens, acorn leaching rocks, and other enigmatic features.


Thus, amazingly, everything suggested that this was a foreign inscription, probably someone from Western Europe who came up the canyon and died, or was killed. I shared  my work with my friend who was the editor of the local paper, and he sent a reporter to write a story about it.  The ensuing newspaper story accurately represented my work on the rock and inscription, and also included interviews with others who said I was making fanciful claims, though none of them had ever gone to see the site.

Though the final chapter of this rock has not been written, it has enforced the belief that our history is not as we’ve been taught in school. Indeed, the schools are often the official gurgitators of  the best that academia has been able to collectively come up with.  They get a lot of it right, but they fail to see their own blindnesses and prejudices. 

My rewards for taking all this time on this multi-faceted research:  I have been called a fraud numerous times.  I have been listed on a college web-site as an example of “fringe archaeology” and explained away as a fraud. 

On the other hand, I was made a life member in the Epigraphic Society.  According to Wayne Kenaston, Jr., who bestowed that membership upon me, “Welcome to the frustrations that come with dealing with rock –writing, or epigraphy.  You did a very good and scholarly job of deciphering, transliterating, and translating the Angeles Forest Mystery Rock inscriptions.  I congratulate you and encourage you to pursue your efforts to learn more about the provenance of the ‘young hero’ whose grave is probably marked by the inscription.” 
               

Monday, November 06, 2017

Eating Corn from my own "Field of Dreams"


An excerpt from Christopher’s “Squatter in Los Angeles” book, available from Kindle, or from the Store at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.

[circa 1978]
I think I was just a natural dreamer and I believed that I could magically earn a very sufficient income by freelance writing and teaching, so this period of squatting gave me the luxuries to choose my life’s activities.

I continued to write newspaper columns, though I never earned much from them. I  began to work more actively on my first book about the uses of local wild plants. I continued to engage in metaphysical studies, and gardening, and conducting occasional wild food outings.

My garden never seemed highly productive but  I had a few of the tall red amaranth plants, some squash, a corn patch, some greens, and wild foods. It was probably my first successful corn patch. I didn’t plant the rows of corn that you see so often in gardens and on farms. Rather, in my approximately 10 by 20 foot corn patch, I had corn more of less evenly spaced.  I had wanted to try the so-called Three Sisters of the native Southwest, of corn, beans, and squash.

In the arid soil of the Southwest, the corn was planted first, and once it  arose, beans were planted at the base of the each corn. The beans’ roots fix nitrogen and this acts as a fertilizer to the corn. Squash was then planted as a sprawling ground cover to retain the valuable scant moisture of the desert.

I planted my corn in my wood chip patch, three seeds per hole about two feet apart.  Corn came up, and then I planted bean seeds.  Beans are usually an easy crop to grow, but not that many came up. Who knows, maybe the ducks ate them. I planted squash too. Not a desert squash but ordinary zucchini which did a good job as a ground cover and food producer. I loved the little garden, and at night when I sat at my plywood desk with my typewriter, I’d look out my window through the several feet tall corn patch to see the lights of the city below.  During the day, little birds would flock to the corn patch and eat bugs. I enjoyed the fact that this little garden that I created with my simple efforts was now teeming with wildlife.  It felt good just to look at it. It provided food for my body, food for wildlife, and food for my soul.

Not long after I started this patch – it was near Thanksgiving – David Ashley came by for a visit.  David had already moved into the neighborhood from wherever else he’d been living. He came up to the top of the hill where I was an illegal squatter. My housing status didn’t cause David to lower his regard for me.

I took David out into my garden, and we stood there talking about life. I pulled off a ripe ear of corn and handed it to him and picked one for myself.

“What’s this?” asked David.

“To eat,” I responded as I began to peel off the leaves and hairs on my average size ear of corn.  He took a bite of the sweet kernels.

“I didn’t know you could eat corn raw,” said David in a surprised voice.

“Yep, you can,” I told him as I chewed on my sweet cob.  David began to peel his and take some bites.

“Wow, that’s really good!” said David, chewing on more kernels. We stood there for a few moments, eating our corn, looking at the outside world through the stalks of corn that were taller than us. It was a quiet, special moment.

Eventually, David left, and over the ensuing months, I would occasionally hear David telling someone about his surreal experience eating raw corn in Christopher’s little corn patch, our own little “field of dreams.”