Monday, November 12, 2018

Commentary on the "Caravan"


Christopher Nyerges

[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” “Extreme Simplicity,” and other books.  He leads survival skills and ethnobotany field trips. He can be reached at]

In October of  2018, news reports tell us that a large group of people from Guatemala are fleeing from their country worried about the violence that may befall them if they stay there. They have moved north and passed through the border of Mexico, their large numbers overwhelming the border authorities between Guatemala and Mexico.  They have reached Mexico City and are moving north.  Their purpose is to flee the violence of their homeland.  They are attempting to mostly walk a few thousand miles to get to what is perceived to be the Promised Land of the United States. 

Now, just think about this for a minute.  Think of what it really takes for you to walk a mile to the local grocery store, buy a few things, and walk back home.  If your grocery store was more than 5 miles away, your shopping trip would be nearly an all-day event for most of you.  Why?  No one walks anymore.  Though bicycling has been slowly increasing in the urban areas, even bicycling is not commonly used for everyday transportation.  Urban Americans drive! 

The ability to walk from place to place as a normal part of daily life has long become a lost skill, along with cooking one’s own meals.  Just like most people don’t cook from scratch anymore, nearly no one walks.  So from the American urban point of view, it’s simply unbelievable that a large group of people – which though mostly men, does include women, children, and elderly – is attempting to walk several thousands of miles.  Consider if you had the prospect of walking from Los Angeles to San Diego.  You’ve probably driven the two-plus hours drive to San Diego.  But walking?  What path would you take?  Could you carry enough water? Where would you go to the bathroom?  Would you be able to find a safe place to sleep at night? Would there be safety in numbers?  What if your feet start to hurt?  What if your shoes literally wear out?

There are several lessons that can be derived from this so-called caravan from the south. 

For one, the average American is completely clueless about the harsh conditions that beset so many people every hour of every day in so many countries.  If your money was worthless, and it was challenging to earn an income, and your life was constantly on the line due to changing political situations, you would live in fear and without hope for the future.  These are just the tip of the iceberg of reasons why mass numbers of people have chosen to pick up and move.  But let’s face it – the average American rushes from job to job to school to home, completely preoccupied with getting ahead and the various pleasures that make life seem worthwhile.

Students of Southwest history should take some practical lessons from the fact that people can and do walk hundreds, if not thousands, of miles when drought and political fighting have compelled them to move. 

Of the many “mysteries” of history, one is the movement, and fate, of the Anasazi who lived in the American Southwest, and built thousands of extant structures throughout the sprawling landscape of New Mexico and Arizona.  It was a society which travelled long distances on foot.  We know they built long straight roads, and we know that chocolate was found at Chaco canyon, evidence of a trade connection way to the south in Meso America. 

The Anasazi knew how to build from the local materials, and they mastered pottery, making fabrics with the loom, agriculture, and even canals to bring the water to the crops.  They were only peripatetic when they had to be, when situations compelled them to move.  Skeletal evidence suggests there were at least two distinct peoples living in the Anasazi landscape, and the various long-distance moving probably was a result of lack of water, as well as civil conflict of the population.  There was brutality in the end, as the last of the people apparently moved south again, back to Mexico, to Pacquime, and beyond.  The record is open to interpretation.   But people moved everywhere, on foot, with whole families, carrying what they could. When they settled again, they set to work employing their technologies to create the things that were once again needed.  Craig Childs does a masterful job of re-tracing the hundreds of miles of foot traffic of the Anasazi in his “House of Rain” book.

Others in history have travelled long distances on foot.  Of the many mysteries of the Americas includes what happened to the Maya? When the cities were emptied, many are unaccounted for in the skeletal record or other records of migration.  Look at a map.  They walked north, or sailed north.

What happened to Cahokia, the site of the second largest pyramid in North America, in Illionois?  Archaeologists believed that, for some reason, the city emptied and they all departed.  There are many bits of evidence to suggest this, detailed by Timothy Pauketat in his book, “Cahokia: Ancient America’s Great City on the Mississippi.” 

We know that people of the past walked, and eventually walked great distances.  With them, they could only carry the most basic essentials, living off the land as they walked, using their skills and knowledge to create a new life when they arrived somewhere better.  “Iceman” is evidence of this tradition – he was the traveler found in Northern Italy, having been buried in the ice for 5000 or so years.  His gear provided modern archaeologists with an insight into how people of the past made such distant treks.

There are many ways to interpret a large group of people coming into the country where you are living.  One interpretation is to view it as an “invasion,” and to respond with fear. Ancient Rome had a few such invasions that spelled the end of the Empire. 

 As of this writing, we have no idea how far the current “caravan” will get, since it would be hard for even the hardiest to live off the land of the desert to their north, not to mention the difficulty of a thousand-plus people doing so.  Still, if you live in a country where—despite its weakness and pitfalls – everyone in the world wants to get there, you should be thankful that you live in such a place.  Such a place as the U.S. is not perfect, but people want to come here because it has a somewhat stable economy, and their work can mean something and their money will not all be taken away.  It has  somewhat fair and ethical legal system, where the equal implementation of laws is not strictly about who you know.  In this place,  it’s still possible to create a business for yourself, and to provide a service that others want and need. 

Those who come to the Promised Land to just get something for free will be less satisfied and fulfilled than those who come with the burning desire to create a life that they simply could not do so in their homeland.  We don’t yet know who will be rebuffed, or welcomed. 

Nevertheless, we should view this as a page of living history.  Simultaneously, as the Thanksgiving season approaches, Americans should take the time to learn more about the uniquenesses of our system, so that we do not “lose it” through our ignorance and complacency.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Is a Pre-Commercialized "Hallowe'en" Possible?

The Roots of Hallowe’en

Is it possible to observe a pre-commercialized version?

[Nyerges is the author of several books including “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Extreme Simplicity,” and “Foraging California.”  Information about his books and classes is available at]

Recently, a few associates and I were discussing the strange customs of Hallowe’en.  Why has it devolved into a day of  fun and fear, we wondered?  We wondered how this once- Holy Day was commemorated before it was all commercialized into a scary night.  Is it possible to discover the roots of this day, and observe it in its original fashion  today?

We determined that we’d need to dig up whatever historical facts we could find that show how this day was commemorated before 1700, more or less.  Though we couldn’t be 100% certain, we at least assumed that “commercialization” didn’t really exist in 1700, and all the European and some American commemorations before that year probably retained some semblance of what the day was all about, originally.

So, first, let’s begin with the day.

It is believed that the ancient Celts observed something called a “Samhain festival” towards the end of October.  Says the World Book Encyclopedia. “The Celts believed that the dead could walk among the living at this time. During Samhain, the living could visit with the dead. Elements of the customs can be traced to a Druid ceremony in pre-Christian times. The Celts had festivals for two major gods—a sun god and a god of the dead (called Samhain), whose festival was held on November 1, the beginning of the Celtic New Year.

This day, or period, was to mark the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter. 

Samhain (pronounced “sow-in,” which means “summer’s end,” or the name of a god, or both) is seen by some Wiccans as a time to celebrate the lives of those who have died, and it often involves paying respect to ancestors, family members, elders of the faith, friends, pets and other loved ones who have died. In some rituals the spirits of the dead are invited to attend the festivities.

Various sorts of activities done on Samhain have been described over the centuries. In Ireland,  Samhain was a time to take stock of the herds and food supplies. Cattle were brought  to the winter pastures after six months in the higher summer pastures. Then, the people chose which animals to slaughter before the winter. After the slaughter of the animals, there would be feasting. And obviously, if you aren’t an animal-raising farmer, how would you celebrate this aspect, except for the feasting?

The Catholic Church was aware of all the so-called “pagan” observances, and had their own day to commemorate the dead, May 13. This began in  609 or 610 C.E., when Pope Boniface the 4th dedicated the Pantheon— the Roman temple of all the gods—to Mary and all the martyrs.  Later that date was changed by Pope Gregory III (731-741 C.E.), who dedicated a chapel in Rome to all the saints and ordered that they be honored on November 1.  This was done, in part, to overshadow the pre-existing Samhain commemorations.

In the 11th century,   November 2nd was assigned as "All Souls’ Day" in commemoration of the dead.   So this began the use of the term Hallow’s Eve, or Hallowe’en for October 31.

Hallowe’en customs are similar to the observance of Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead, commonly practiced in Mexico and which can be traced to early Aztec times.  Apparently,  this “day of the dead” was originally commemorated in Mexico in May, and was changed to November 2 sometime after Spanish contact to correspond with the Christian tradition.


Trick or treating in modern times goes back to leaving food and wine for roaming dead spirits and ghosts. The custom was referred to as "going a-souling" and was eventually practiced only by the children who would visit the houses in their neighborhoods and be given gifts of ale, food and money. It was believed the spirits of the dead returned to visit their old homes during this time, so in ancient times, people left food out for them and arranged chairs so that the dead would be able to rest.  

Treats called “soul cakes” were given out in memory of the departed.  The Middle Age practice of souling — going door to door begging for food in return for prayers — became popular and is even referenced by William Shakespeare in 1593.  This is obviously the root of the modern “trick or treating” for mini Snickers bars, a practice no doubt loved by every dentist.

Seasonal foods such as apples and nuts were often used in the Samhain rituals. Apples were peeled, the peel tossed over the shoulder, and its shape examined to see if it formed the first letter of the future spouse's name.  Nuts were roasted on the hearth and then interpreted – if the nuts stayed together, so would the couple. Egg whites were dropped in water, and the shapes foretold the number of future children. Children would also chase crows and divine some of these things from the number of birds or the direction they flew.  


Celts would wear masks when they left their homes during the night hours during Samhain days, because they hoped they would avoid being recognized by the ghosts and be mistaken merely for fellow ghosts.

“Mumming” and “Guising” were a part of Samhain from at least the 16th century and was recorded in parts of Ireland, Scotland, Mann and Wales. It involved people going from house to house in costume (or in disguise), usually reciting songs or verses in exchange for food.  It is suggested that it evolved from a tradition whereby people impersonated the aos sí, or the souls of the dead, and received offerings on their behalf.  Impersonating these spirits or souls was also believed to protect oneself from them.   One researcher suggests that the ancient festival included people in masks or costumes representing these spirits, and that the modern custom came from this.


Pagan Celtic priestesses and their followers would roam the countryside, chanting songs in order to frighten away the evil spirits thought to be out on Halloween night.  I wonder how that could be practiced in your neighborhood?


Bonfires  were a big part of the festival in many areas of western Europe.  Bonfires were typically lit on hilltops at Samhain where everyone could see them, and there were rituals involving them.

Bonfires comes from the root, “bone-fires” because the priests sacrificed animals and supposedly even people in an attempt to appease the sun god, while also looking for future omens. The fire was said to be a type of sympathetic magic, where the fire mimicked the sun, which has the power to hold back the darkness of winter.  Burning the fires was also believed to be a way of banishing evil, at least symbolically.


Divination has likely been a part of the festival since ancient times, and it has survived in some rural areas.  In part, this meant that the spirits,  the aos sí., could enter your world.  Many of the food offerings and fires were directed to the aos sí.   Or perhaps, some of the  crops might also be left in the ground for them the aos sí.    The aos sí.were addressed in various ways, with food offerings, with walks into the ocean, with the idea to hold off any mischief, and perhaps to learn the future.

The belief that the souls of the dead return home on one night of the year seems to have ancient origins and is found in many cultures throughout the world.


So what do you conclude from all this?  Is there an ideal way to commemorate this ancient day, and still avoid the trappings of commercialization?  Is it even possible?

I like the way that the Day of the Dead is commemorated. There are altars with pictures of the dearly departed, and plates of good food.  Candles are lit, rather than a big bonfire which the local fire department would frown upon.  Families gather, and talk in respectful tones about their departed relatives.  Yes, of course, even the Day of the Dead has turned into wild partying in some quarters, but if you seek a return to roots of the ancient commemoration of the dead, perhaps begin here.  

Begin with family or neighborhood gatherings. Prepare a good meal, and keep in the mind the foods that your beloved departeds enjoyed. This is not necessarily because you think their spirits will come to eat (last I checked, ghosts don’t need to eat), but because having, for example, your mother’s favorite dish will give you another reason to talk about your mother, and to remember all the good things she did. 

This is at least a start, and it elevates our day of ghoulish and pointless fear-mongering into one that reconnects us with our roots.  

Friday, October 05, 2018

Kat High Talks about Acorns



[Nyerges is the author of "How to Survive Anywhere," "Guide to Wild Foods," "Foraging California," and other books.  He can be reached at]

In early October, Kat High, Native American of Hupa descent, shared her knowledge of the diverse use of acorns in native American culture at a lunchtime talk at nearby Eaton Canyon Nature Center.

Los Angeles residents might remember the few hundred shows on Native American culture that High produced for public access TV, usually filmed at Highland Park’s Southwest Museum.  Over the years she conducted many programs for the Southwest Museum, and was a consultant for their California Room, among other things. More recently, she has been a consultant at the nearby Autry Museum in Griffith Park for their  native plants garden at Autry, and the California Continued exhibit.

High, who recently retired after many decades as a physical and occupational therapist, has been active in local native American education and training for decades.  Her presentation to the docents could have been titled, “Everything you ever wanted to know about acorns.”

She began by showing a few examples of the many diverse acorns produced on the various native oak trees.  Native people would go to the higher elevations in the old days to collect the larger canyon live oaks, even though the coast live oaks were abundant in the valleys.  The reason is that the canyon live oak is about four times bigger than the tiny bullet-shaped coast live oak.  “If you had a family to feed,” asks High, “what would you pick?”

High demonstrated the proper way to crack an acorn. She placed one on the table, and with the little end pointing up, she whacked it with a flat rock, splitting the shell.  She also shared that, once the acorns are collected, most are stored for future use.  In order to prevent molding, they had to be dried out first.  She demonstrated that  you know the acorn is ready to crack open when you can shake the acorn and hear the nutmeat inside rattling around.  However, if the acorn sat on the ground too long, it sometimes gets soft and moldy, and no longer edible.

For all food uses of the acorn, the acorn is first shelled, and then the tannic acid must be removed. The traditional way is to grind the acorns to a flour, and then put the flour into a container akin to a coffee filter, where water can be poured over it to wash out the bitter tannic acid.   Or, the whole acorns can be boiled, changing the water at least three times, or until they acorns are no longer bitter.

Before she continued, she had everyone try some of the acorn foods she brought. There was acorn “coffee,” a brewed beverage made from leached and roasted acorns.  I found it tasty plain, though others added sweeteners to the hot drink.

She also served some “wii-wish,” which is a traditional mush made from the finely ground acorns.  Wii-wish is an old food, made by many Native Americans, and is somewhat plain.  Many times others nuts and dried fruits are added to it.

“Think of it as a ‘cream of wheat’ breakfast dish,” said High, “to which you can add milk, or honey, or raisins, or whatever you like.”  Though High didn’t think her wii-wish had turned out well, in part because she tried preparing it in a microwave, I found it tasty and satisfying.

She also served a large loaf of acorn bread, made mostly from acorn flour.  This was delicious plain, and it seemed that everyone enjoyed this semi-traditional food from the acorn.  High had some cream cheese that could be added as a topping. I tried some plain, and with topping, and both were good.

Kat High pointed out that acorns were often eaten with meat in the old days, because the high fat content of acorns was a good supplement to the low fat content of game meat. 

She described the granaries that were constructed by native people of the past for storing acorns.  Since acorns could only be collected in the fall, anytime between October and December, depending on the season, families would collect all they could during this time. A single family might collect up to a ton of acorns for the year, and store them in containers that looked like silos or large baskets, made from the willow branches. The salicin in the willow was a pest-repellant, said High, and the bay leaves used to line the silos also helped to repel insects and rodents.

High also shared some of the many uses of acorns and acorn caps, besides food.

She showed acorns which had a short skewer inserted into the narrow end, and they were spun as tops by children.  Another game was made from acorn caps, where the caps were cut so that they were rings.  These acorn rings were then all tied onto a string, which was tied to a long stick, and one would try to flip the acorn rings onto the stick.

High also showed a variety of modern acorn crafts, such as acorn earrings, and small acorn cap candles.

“When the Spanish came here,” High told the group, “they described Southern California as looking like a well-tended garden.  That’s because it was,” she told he crowd.  The land had been managed for millennia by a series of practices that only-recently have been more studied and described in such books as “Tending the Wild” (by M. Kat Anderson).

When the Spanish came here, says High, they saw this land as a park-like paradise, and then recruited the local Indians to build the missions and run the farms, which destroyed the Native way of life.  Cattle-raising was most destructive to land and waterways, and the land soon became unable to support the tradition Native lifestyle.

What now? Asks High.  How do we regain our balance with the land? 

Her advice is to learn about the Native uses of plants, and to use them with respect.  “Always offer a prayer when you gather,” says High.  “Ask permission from the plant, don’t deplete an area, and give the plant your intent for picking it.” 

Kat High now teaches classes and workshop on Native skills and caring for the land. She can be reached at 

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Excerpt from "Til Death Do Us Part?"

Note:  DOLORES would have been 72 years old today.  (She passed away 10 years ago).

This is an excerpt from the book that she inspired, “Til Death Do Us Part?”   The book can be purchased from Kindle, or from our store at

However, during October 2018, you can request a FREE COPY of this book to be sent to you.  Send us an email to and request this informative and useful book! 


It was a sunny and brisk day as Dolores and I walked up the steep stony driveway to the WTI headquarters.  We were going to the annual Memorial Day gathering, which would be held outdoors.  Neither of us had been involved in the preparation of this event (as we had with other events), so we were coming as “guests” with no idea what the agenda would be.

When we reached the top, we could see that several others had already arrived.  Prudence approached us as I was scanning the book, and she handed each of us a hot cup of their special coffee.

“Thanks,” I said, taking a long sip.  “That sure hits the spot.”

Dolores and I said hello to the dozen other guests who were sitting on chairs, or reading from a pink paper.  Timothy approached Dolores and I and handed each of us a copy of something printed on pink paper.

“Here’s what we’re going to do,” he said, smiling broadly with his charismatic smile.  “Once those instructions are clear, you should go to a private spot with your notebook.   We’ll all meet back here in 30 minutes.”

“OK,” I said. We both studied the paper as Timothy stood there.

I quickly read the instructions.  We were to select three living “loved-ones” and write their names in our notebook. We were then to go sit under a bush, or sit in some private spot somewhere on the hilltop.  Next, we were  to mentally imagine that we get a phone call, and someone tells us that one of the people on our list have died.  Each of us  was to feel and experience the grief as if that person really died, and attempt to make it real.  With the full feeling of grief, we were to write down all those things that we wished we’d told that person before they died.  We were to do this exercise with all three of the people on our list.

“Any questions?” asked Timothy, still standing in front of us, but now he was  beginning to look around as other guests arrived. 

“It seems pretty clear,” I said, thinking to myself that this was an unusual exercise. 

“Seems clear enough,” added Dolores.

“Oh, one more thing,” said Timothy.  “It doesn’t say this on your paper, but it would be good if at least one person on your list of three is someone who is here today.” 

“OK,” I responded.  I knew that my father would be on my list, and so would Dolores. 

I walked up the rough steps which led to the upper portion of the property, and I sat myself under an old citrus tree.  It was one of my favorite spots on the property because I always felt very “invisible” there, yet I had a terrific view of the surrounding neighborhood.

I began my list.  I wrote down Dolores, Prudence, and my father.  I then closed my eyes, and imagined that I just received a call from my brother telling me that my father had died.  I let it hit me that he was gone, dead, out of my life.  I began to cry involuntarily.  My mind automatically thought back to the earliest childhood memories of my father cutting the lawn, and taking me with him in the station wagon to the supermarket.  I remembered the things I did wrong, and was punished for, and my mind went through a non-chronological review of various events. I attempted to mentally do a chronological review, but found it easier to just let the memories flow.  I began to laugh at some memories, such as the way he and my mother would argue whenever the family was getting ready to go to the local beach for the day.  My mother seemingly wanted to pack everything from the kitchen into the station wagon, and my father – with great pantomime -- would express his desire to do it as simply as possible. I remembered how upset my father would get when my mother called him a gypsy, an insult to a Hungarian.

I realized my father was by no means perfect, and yet I could see he tried to do what was right, despite his many weaknesses or deficiencies.  I found myself missing him terribly, in spite of the fact that he was still alive and  I had not called him for over a month.

I began to do the same with Dolores and Prudence.  Dolores and I hadn’t yet married, though we were both very interested in one another and enjoyed each other’s friendship and company.  Still, we had already experienced several “rough spots” together.  I looked at my watch and saw that I had already been there over 30 minutes, so I quickly finished writing my notes and then headed back down to the gathering.

Most everyone was already back down at the gathering site, and were serving themselves from the delicious dishes that everyone provided.  I began to serve myself a smaller than usual dish.  I still felt very “shaken up” by my brief but intensive experience of  “hearing that my father had died.”

Once everyone had returned and served themselves a dish and a mug, Timothy  shared a few prepared readings about Memorial Day and the nature of death,  mostly writings by Shining Bear, as well as some passages from Alexander Solszynitzn’s classic book where he told the story of his time in the Soviet Union’s prison camps, Gulag Archipelago.

Then we got to the part where Timothy asked each person to briefly share their experiences with their list of three people.  A few people said they had experienced nothing worthy of sharing, which I found remarkable. Perhaps they were embarrassed in the unfamiliar setting and did not want to share a deeply personal experience.  I could understand not wanting to share deeply personal things in an unfamiliar public setting. But I could not believe that anyone who actually performed the prescribed exercise would have had no worthwhile experience.

Prudence’s son spoke of the experience of someone telling him his father had passed away and how sad he felt.  He shared a few of the things he would tell his father.

“I’m going to tell him that I love him, and I’m going to pay him back that money I borrowed from him last year,” he said with great enthusiasm. Everyone laughed.

Once each person briefly shared their varied experiences, Timothy then got back in front and, with his charismatic smile, announced that everyone now would have a rare opportunity. 

“You’ve all just done what most people do when they learn that someone they love has died.  However, all these people are still here.  Now you need to tell them today those things that you’d regret not telling them if they died.  We have two phones here, so whomever wants to use them may do so now.”  [Note: this was before the days of universal cell phones.]

A few people got up and went inside to call someone.

“Or, you can write a short note or letter right now,” Timothy declared.  “If you don’t have any stationery, we have lots of paper and envelopes that you can use.”  He pointed to the wooden table behind him where there was a can full of pens and pencils, a small stack of envelopes, and an assortment of stationery paper.

“Now, if the person is here now,” Timothy continued, “I want the two of you to go to a private place and you can tell that person whatever it is that you want them to hear.  Don’t be embarrassed.  We’ll all meet back here together in about 30 minutes and share that experience.”

I was a bit hesitant to do this next step.  It would be risky. It’s always risky to be completely honest and  open.   Nevertheless, I first went with Prudence to a private spot.  It turns out that she also chose me, so we were able to “kill two birds with one stone,” so to speak.

My private-talk with Prudence went well, and both of us shared a few past unresolved issues that bothered us, and tried to make amends for some old hard feelings. We were both fairly open and blunt in both our criticism and praise of the other, and we were able to agree on a few simple steps we could do to bring things to a state of balance.  I was satisfied with this experience.  Next, I did the same thing with Dolores.

After a few minutes, everyone gathered again in the central outdoor meeting place. Prudence read a few passages from a book about death.  I took a few notes as I listened, and also looked around at the expressions of those gathered there that day.  I felt very much “startled awake,” and I could tell that most everyone had had some sort of eye-opening epiphany about life and death and how quickly it all passes. 

I was experiencing an inner turmoil, a bit apprehensive about my plan to talk to my father later in the day.  I was also very reflective about all the choices I make day in and out, and how everyone else affects me, and how I affect everyone else. Especially Dolores.  How to do it all “just right,” all the time, I wondered?  How can I live my life without regrets?  I wondered, was everyone else feeling such inner turmoil, and inner challenge? 

Finally, Timothy made a few closing remarks, shared a few upcoming events, and thanked everyone for coming.  It had been several hours but it flowed so quickly. 



That evening, I called my father, and asked him if he had a minute.
“Sure,” he said, “what’s up?”

“I just wanted you to know that I really have appreciated all the things you’ve done for me all my life.  I know that at times I have seemed very disrespectful, but I….

“Is something wrong?” he asked.  “Do you need money?”

“No, no, no. I don’t need money. No, nothing’s wrong. I was just thinking about you today, and how we never talk, and I just wanted you to know that I really appreciate you and really love you.”

I think that was the first time I ever told my father that I loved him.

“What’s wrong,” he asked more firmly, “are you in some sort of trouble?”

“No, I’m not in any trouble at all, I just…”

“This doesn’t sound like you, something must be wrong…”

“No, nothing’s wrong.  I just realized that we rarely talk. Today seemed like as good a day as any to tell you that I appreciate you.”  I had momentarily thought that I would explain to him that I’d attended the event earlier in the day, and let him know that he was part of my exercise.  But somehow, if I did that, I felt it would diminish what I was saying to my father, that it was some sort of school assignment or exercise.  Rather than regard it as something genuine coming from me, he would think that I was in the clutches of some sort of controlling cult and was just acting out their dictates.  This had to be real. This had to be from me, because I wanted to communicate these things to him.

“Well, OK,” he responded.  He paused, and said, “Are you coming over for dinner?”

“No, not tonight, but I’ll see you tomorrow.”

It was the beginning of a thaw in our relationship.  There was not an instant turnaround in the way we related to each other, but slowly, slowly, I began to view him as a distinct individual, and slowly, I could tell that he did the same with me.


Later, I told Dolores how my father reacted.

“That sounds just like your father,” she laughed.   We both found the exchange hillarious, and we could not stop laughing about it. 

We went to dinner that night and we continued to talk about my father’s suspicious nature, and we laughed like children.  It felt very good to laugh with Dolores.  It was a light time, and somehow, laughing together made us closer.  It also shifted the focus from problems in our relationship to my father’s character, and in that moment, it was a good thing.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Survival on the Sea -- a Current Story

[for details on Classes and Books by Nyerges, see]

On September 24, 2018, the Jakarta Post reported how an Indonesian teen, Aldi Novel Adilang, had been drifting in the sea for 49 days since July 14.

Aldi worked on a fishing boat, known as a rompong, lighting lamps to attract fish. But the rompong has no navigational devices or oars; it’s a fixed boat, anchored to the seabed with ropes, where he lived for a week at a time, with supplies meant to last a week.  A storm in July cut the ropes and Aldi floated out on the sea. 

He did have his limited food and water supplies, which were used up in the first few days.  Then he caught fish and drank seawater.  Generally, one does not drink seawater straight because the high mineral content results in vomiting and diarrhea, a net water loss.  However, Aldi states that he soaked his shirt in the sea, and was able to suck the palatable water out of his shirt.

Eventually, after he tried to flag at least 10 ships that sailed by, one was able to rescue him and take him to shore.


There are a limited source of foods from the sea, especially if you’re stranded on the open ocean.  There are fish, birds, turtles, and possibly some crustaceans, especially closer to the shore.  Aldi, who worked with fishermen, managed somehow to capture and eat fish.


Since you cannot safely drink straight seawater,   you have to process it somehow if that’s all you have to drink.

I pointed this out in my book, “How to Survive Anywhere” in the Water chapter.  For example, I recounted the story of Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon Tiki expedition, where he sailed across the ocean using a primitively-built raft, with supplies carried as they would have been a thousand years ago.  When his water supplies ran low, he found that he could mix 60% fresh water with 40% ocean water, with no ill effects whatsoever when they drank it.

Distillation is the best way to purify ocean water from its high mineral content, but you must have the tools and supplies to distill, something that Aldi did not have when adrift.  (See “How to Survive Anywhere” for distillation methods).

For his water, Aldi reported that he soaked his shirt in the ocean water, and sucked the water out of the fabric.  Presumably, the fabric of his shirt absorbed enough of the mineral and salt content that he could safely drink the ocean water.

Otherwise, if adrift on the ocean, your water sources would be the rain, dew, and possibly the liquid inside the floats of seaweeds, and inside fish.

Back on shore, there are several ways to purify/distill water, such as the desert still (a hole in the ground covered with plastic), or a solar tabletop still (see illustrations). [Illustrations from Nyerges' "How to Survive Anywhere" book]

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Mia Wasilevich Speaking in Sierra Madre 09/27


Speaking in Sierra Madre this coming week
[Nyerges is an educator and author. His web site is]

Mia Wasilevich is a chef, photographer, and naturalist who has learned to combine wild foods with her love of cooking. She is the author of a cookbook focusing on invasive and naturalized weeds entitled Ugly Little Greens (Page Street Publishing 2017). She's currently a food stylist in Los Angeles, California.   On Thursday, September 27, you can listen to her talk about local wild foods at the Sierra Madre CERT meeting, 7 p.m. at the Hart Building in Memorial Park.

 As a young child, Mia traveled to many countries, including Central and South America, Australia, New Zealand and Europe.  It became evident to her that what Americans consider "weeds" or wild plants are often regarded as food in many parts of the world.
Mia noticed that weeds and invasive plants make an appearance as food in many cultures. For example, morning glories in Asia, various types of nettles in Africa, and lambs quarters in India.
Mia began to wonder why this art of wildcrafting had faded from our own culture, except for in a few vintage cookbooks. Eventually, she met a prolific set of teachers, foragers, and “foodies” in the Los Angeles area and it inspired her to use weeds in everyday cooking.   She calls these  "everyday weeds" which she attempts to make into recipes as interesting as possible, while keeping it simple.
She’s experimented with unique dishes made from many wild foods, but mainly focuses on invasive plants, non-native plants which were brought here or have migrated here, or whose seeds hitched a ride on travelers inadvertently.  Some of the native wild plants she uses include the acorn.  One of her first creations was the acorn burger,  which is a substantial and tasty meat substitute.  She also developed elderberry ketchup and barbeque sauce that have become  yearly staples of hers when the berries are abundant.
Among the invasive green plants she uses, most can be used interchangeably and can substitute familiar vegetables such and spinach, lettuce and mustard greens. For example, chickweed (Stellaria media) and miner's lettuce  (Claytonia perfoliata) are two greens that pop up seemingly everywhere whenever it rains in the early spring and winter and carpet most backyards and hillsides. They have a lovely, delicate texture and can replace lettuce or anywhere you want a cool, fresh, and green taste. They are excellent raw but can be cooked as potherbs, as well.  The chickweed is a common European plant, while miner’s lettuce is a native.
"My favorite plants to harvest are drought-tolerant black sage (Salvia melifera) when it grows profusely and, of course, the stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) which many people forage when they are first learning to identify plants,” she explains.  Mia likes to infuse creams and chocolates with black sage for a wonderful heady, mint-like experience. She also likes the nettle plant, which she says is  “completely unique and I refuse to believe it tastes like spinach.”  Mia describes nettles as a plant which embodies "medicine as food," lending a complex green flavor to whatever dish it graces. She also makes a  "Nettle-ade" which uses dried nettle tea, preserved lemon, sparkling water and a bit of honey or agave.
She has created menus for special events that have included  cactus and tequila paletas (popsicles) with habanero ants, lambs quarters (Chenopodium ) seed croquettes with corn milk and sweet white clover (Melilotus albus), white fir (Abies concolor) sugar beignets and cream among other creations.
MMia, who is half Native American (from the Southwest) and half Russian (via Argentina),  grew up in Nevada and Southern California. “That’s a lot of food culture right here,” she explains. “During my many childhood travels, the very local ingredients made the foods of various places we traveled very special and memorable to me.”

She points out that living in the Los Angeles area, she doesn’t have to drive far to have an authentic ethnic food experience from just about anywhere in the world.
“Once I reached adulthood and was introduced to wild plants and foraging, I couldn’t think of a reason not to use them for food as long as it was sustainable. Foraging is  a practice in being self- reliant.  In addition, the plants that are in my book are authentic to my environment, and they are also universal. This means that these plants grow in many places all over the world and are used by so many cultures in so many different ways. I think that’s neat.”

Monday, September 17, 2018

Can Anything Be Learned from TV?


Can anything be learned from TV?

[Nyerges is an educator and author of nearly two dozen books, such as “Extreme Simplicity,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” and others.  His web site is]

I took a short lunch break today, sitting down on my couch and turning on the TV.  I wanted to hear the weather forecast, which I never did.

I first learned about a bicyclist who was killed in Torrance, and the killer simply drove away in his Toyota truck.  Shocking!  How is that  a person can run down someone on a bicycle, kill them, and then just drive off into the wild blue yonder?  As someone who looks at the non-sustainability of the Los Angeles area “machine,” I know that more and more of us should take to our bicycles and become a part of the solution.  As I sat shaking my head, I thought about my own lifetime of bicycling, and how I just started bicycling more, in part, inspired by a female friend who wrote about her bicycling to her job in Azusa from Highland Park. Wow!  I used to have difficulty biking to my job  in Pasadena from Highland Park  because I’d show up dripping in sweat and had no way to change or shower.

Drivers need to wake up, and realize that the bicyclist is your friend, and is a friend to the sprawling mass of Los Angeles County.  Don’t treat them as an irritation, or a fly to be swatted.  And bicyclists – some anyway – also need to wake up to the fact that their total 150 pounds of small mass is nothing compared to a minimum 2000 pound car.  I have never figured out why some bicyclists taunt auto drivers, and bicycle far from the curb in a way that makes them a target in a confrontation they can’t win.  As Rodney asked, “Can’t we all get along?”

Then, when I was about a third done with my soup, the news program began showing the wreckage of the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.  OMG! It was clearly not good for my digestion to see whole neighborhoods half underwater, houses turned into splinters, people crying for help, families in need of food and fresh water.  And I watched some of the remarkable rescuers who came out on boats and took people to dry land and brought supplies to those who needed it the most.  There were also showing a convenience store in some town that was being looted, and a few people were arrested. 

As C.S. Lewis so insightfully pointed out in the Screwtape Letters,  times of great stress and disaster brings out the worst in mankind, but somehow it also brings out the very best as well. Heroes are made and lives are changed.  I watched these dramas being played out on my TV screen as I pushed my empty soup bowl to the side and started for my half-sandwich (Subway vegetarian).

Floods of memories flowed through my mind as I recalled two of the best bits of advice for anyone preparing for disasters (or old age, for that matter):  Develop useful skills, and develop deep meaningful relationships with people.  Not “gather lots of stuff,” and not “make sure you have the biggest knife,” etc. ad nauseum.  Yes, stuff is important, but look what Florence did to all that stuff!  You can’t predict the weather, but we should be able to rely upon our own hard-earned skills and our deep friendships.

I didn’t have much time to watch TV, and my sandwich was nearly done, so I flipped around to other stations, and came up with a few ironclad rules of life, though of lesser importance than what I’ve already mentioned.

Number one:  If you have a small claims court case to settle, and you’re guilty, never, ever, under any circumstances, have Judge Judy try your case. She will not only expose you but will humiliate you as well. Try your luck with one of the local judges in a local, non-televised court.

Number two: If anyone from the Jerry Springer show ever calls you to come onto their show to meet some mystery person of your past, don’t even think about calling them back.  It will not turn out well.

Monday, September 03, 2018

The Four Illusions of Money


[Nyerges is the author of several books including “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Extreme Simplicity,” and “Self-Sufficient Home.”  He has lectured, taught, and led field trips since 1974. He can be reached at or Box 41834, Eagle Rock,CA 90041]


During the early 1980s, I participated in the monthly WTI Plenary sessions which were held in Highland Park. These were all-day events where participants shared accounts of specific research they had been doing. I had been giving presentations on money-related topics, such as “What is money?,” “What is the Federal Reserve?,” “What is the IMF,” etc.

The money-related lecture that stirred up the greatest emotional response was “The Four Illusions of Money.”  I loosely based by presentation on an article by the same name that appeared in the winter 1979-80 issue of Co-Evolution Quarterly., written by Raspberry.  The presentation and discussion lasted about two hours, covering many facets and dealing with the comments and objections from the audience.  Here is a condensation of that presentation.

When people are queried, almost everyone says that they do not have enough money, and would like to have more. Furthermore, one of the most commonly-cited reasons given by people who continue to work at a job they dislike is to “make a lot of money.”  The reasons that this is such a ubiquitous goal – to make a lot of money – can be summed up in the four following rationales:

  1. A lot of money will let me be free to do what I want to do.
  2. People with a lot of money command more respect from others.
  3. I need more money for my family.
  4. Money is necessary for my security in old age.

Yes, there are many more such “illusions” that dance around money, but these four seemed to fairly concisely address all the secondary and corollary illusions.

These four statements are illusions about money. That means, these represent false perceptions of the world.  That is to say, when we embrace any or all of these four illusions, we are prevented from seeing the NON-monetary realities about our life and the choices that we make.

So let’s explore these one by one.

A lot of money will let me be free to do what I want to do.

One way to see through this illusion is to make a specific list of all your carefully-considered goals. These can be short-term and long-term goals. These can include travel, projects, achievements, possessions, skills (learning a new language), etc., but the list cannot include money.  Money cannot be a goal. Next, you should examine the list you made and begin to delineate precisely how you can go about achieving that goal.

Yes, of course, money can help accelerate the achievement of the goal.  Still, once  your goals are clearly established in  your own mind – and clearly differentiated from “passing wants” – you can steadily move forward, step by step, toward the achievement of that goal.  Money is incidental to this process, and must not be allowed to determine the choices you make and the steps that you take.

A large part of achieving a goal – perhaps the most important part – is to learn valuable life-enhancing skills that you wouldn’t have learned otherwise.

And many of the essential steps toward a goal involve working with other people. Working with other people develops strong friendships and relationships, and this requires that you must be – or become – reliable and trustworthy yourself.  This manner of pursuing and achieving goals should represent a true freedom from our enslavement to money, and should open you up to some truly life-enhancing experiences.

Remember, this perspective is offered as an alternative to “going out to make enough money so I can be free to do what I want to do.” 

One of the amazing insights that I gained while sharing this at our seminar was how many people actually had no clearly-defined goals at all. 

People with a lot of money command more respect from others.

This is demonstrably and abundantly false.  There is no reason to believe that people with “a lot” of money automatically command genuine respect (in fact, they don’t), or that people with “a lot” of money command respect because of the money. 

People who invite respect do so because of their personal qualities, talents, character, experience.  It may be the case that these very qualities are the reason a person has been able to earn “a lot” of money.  But money itself is not the basis for real respect.

How do I know this?  Look at what happens to those who claim respect for someone when the money is gone.

And also just try the following experiment for yourself.  Make a list of 25 people whom you respect. These must be people that you know personally and you interact with in some way, not just people that you know about from the TV or newspapers.  Do your best to attempt to “score” how much you respect them, using a system for example of listing each from 1 to 100, 100 being the highest level of respect.  Next, do your best to list the income (or net worth) or each of the individuals on your list.  In cases of genuine respect, you will rarely find  a correspondence between how much you respect that person and how much money they make.

I need more money for my family.

All too often, people use this fallacy as an excuse for doing something they would rather not do.  This rationale is especially typical of “bread-winners” who work extra hours and on weekends so they can pay for possessions and vacations that they believe their family needs and deserves. 

If you are getting more and more out of touch with your own family members because you are spending more and more time away from them supposedly so you can provide something more for them, then you are falling for this illusion.

It would be far more valuable for everyone if these bread-winners instead spent valuable time with their family members, and finding a way to re-orient the job and financial choices.

Sometimes the most valuable time spent with one’s children is the time  spent to teach and work with them to develop their own businesses. 

As for the myth of “quality time” over “quantity of time,” don’t believe it!  Your notion of “quality time” means very little to young people.  The best way to have quality time is to assure that you have sufficient time together.

Money is necessary for my security in old age.

I had barely spoken these words in my seminar presentation when the groans and loud objections were voiced.  Two men got into an argument over this point before I’d barely gotten started, and I had to tactfully break it up.  Yes, we have a lot of baggage about money, and getting older doesn’t make this any better.

Money is needed in many ways, of course, but personal security, inner and outer, cannot be purchased.

The real security that is most needed by elderly can be enhanced by money, but it can never be built solely upon money.   Inner security arises with the development of deep friendships, and with learning to be flexible and adaptable, for example, and these are not things that are in any way dependant upon money. 

In fact, one of the best ways to “prepare for old age” is to become the type of person – inwardly and outwardly – that other people will want to be around and work with. 

This means being competent, helpful, flexible, honest, moral, curious, always willing to learn and to share, generous, and so on.  And note that none of these virtues are either the intrinsic or exclusive virtues of the wealthy.  

Developing one’s character is clearly one of the best ways to prepare for the calamities that might strike any of us at any age, such as wars, depressions, social chaos, as well as a whole host of personal difficulties.

The discussion went on for another hour – heated at times – and fortunately no chairs or windows were broken.

[A continuation of this discussion of money can be found in Christopher Nyerges’ “Extreme Simplicity,” book available at bookstores, Amazon, and]