Thursday, March 22, 2018

Wild Food Man Peter Gail -- GOODBYE!

[Nyerges is the author of “Extreme Simplicity,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” and other books. He has known Gail for nearly 30 years.]

Wildfood Man Peter Gail died on Valentine’s Day, 2018, in Cleveland.  This is my story about Peter.
(Peter Gail's books on wild foods and the Amish are available from

It was a grey winter day driving eastbound on US 422 in northeast Ohio with Peter Gail. The clouds made it difficult to see very far into the rural countryside.  The sound of the windshield wipers provided a steady background tempo to our conversation. 

The temperature was in the high 30s, and it was about the same temperature inside Peter's  van. I was tense from the cold, hunched a bit, trying to stay warm.  I'm  from California. Peter was relaxed, smiling, pointing out each feature as we drove  along.  He's a Cleveland resident and used to the cold. On this day he was my tourguide to the Amish countryside of Ohio.

Peter Gail's most famous business associate was Euell Gibbons, who authored Stalking the Wild Asparagus and starred in Grape Nuts cereal commercials  in the 1970s, making him  the butt of comedians jokes about eating  everything from old tires to freeway overpasses. 

That was a long time ago. During those years, Gail edited Gibbons' articles for Boys Life magazine, and worked with him and others to develop the National Wilderness Survival Training Camp for the Boy Scouts. Together they developed and taught a foraging course at Rutgers University in New Jersey. When Gibbons had become nationally famous from the commercials and Johnny Carson's jokes, and was overbooked, Gail occasionally substituted for him on the lecture circuit.   

Gibbons died way back in 1975 -- no, not from eating a poisonous plant! -- and Peter Gail  has tirelessly carried the torch for wild food enthusiasts.

Though Gail has made no cereal commercials, he has appeared on such national TV shows as Good Morning America, Lifetime TV's "Our Home Show,"  Food TV Networks "Extreme Cuisine, has authored numerous books on the subject of wild foods and related topics, and he continued to lecture about the virtues of the ubiquitous wild plants and those people who still use them as  a part of daily life.

While Gail was best known on the national circuit for his "Dinner Underfoot" and "Healing with Weeds" lectures and workshops, locally he was even better known for his work among the Northeastern Ohio Amish community, the 4th largest in the world. As a Ph.D. ethnobotanist and anthropologist, Gail studied the Amish for over 50 years to discover the lessons their simple life style has to teach us.  He interpreted that knowledge in books, articles, and his tours for those interested in learning more about these people who seem firmly  rooted in the technology of a century ago.

Perhaps  Gail's most popular book is his "Dandelion Celebration", a book  which tells you everything you'd ever want to know about dandelions.  He's also authored the "Delightful Delicious Daylily", "Violets in Your Kitchen," "The Messy Mulberry and What to do with it", and "The Volunteer Vegetable Sampler", which profiles the culinary and medicinal values of  41 of the most common backyard weeds.

The least known of Gail's pursuits outside of Northern Ohio were the educational field experiences he provided for people curious about the Amish and what they have to teach us.  Several times a month in spring, summer and fall, he would load up a bus or van, and  take people into the heart of the Northeastern Ohio Amish community.  These were day-long affairs, where his  people were treated to a lunch at an Amish home,  told the history and beliefs of the Amish, and then taken to their stores to look at and buy Amish goods.

On one cold day in December, it was just me and Peter.  We turned off the main freeway while it was drizzling, onto a secondary road.  Occasionally I’d spot an Amish farm house -- painted white, neat, orderly.  Even though it was drizzling and December, nearly  every farmhouse has a long outside clothes line full of clothes blowing  in the breeze. 

If you’re unfamiliar with the Amish, they use no electricity and shun  most modern so-called conveniences.  This means no electric lights, no electric refrigerators, no television, no CDs--very few  of the modern devices that most folks take for granted.  They  have managed to live their lives, and produce most of their needed  items,  by simple old-fashioned ingenuity.  Wood stoves, oil lamps, use of ice, horse-drawn tractors, building houses in such a way to take advantage of the heat of summer,  and be protected from the cold of winter, large windows near the work areas,  hand tools, and the use of diesel and small gasoline engines to generate power. 

The light rain had let up just a bit, and we turned eastward on a smaller road.   We were in a completely rural area, where the roads were lined by shallow ditches, where  the houses have enough space between them to put an average city block,  and no traffic lights, no street lights, no offensive neon. 

"Have you ever had really good, natural beef jerky?" asked Peter.

"I'm sure I have," I responded.

"I mean, really good, really  natural?"

"Well, just what I purchased at the market."

"Wait 'til you try what they sell  here," smiled Peter.  "There's nothing like this."

Before we get to market, we note a farm house with lots of junk  and rusty  tools and cars piled about. 

"That's not Amish," Peter said matter-of-factly, nodding towards the rust and the tallish weeds that nearly obscure them.

"One of the major contrasts between the neat, clean Amish places and the 'Yankees,' as they call all us non-Amish in this region -- is that the Yankees live in that kind of trash -- old rusty cars, junk all around their houses.  You won't see that around the Amish  homes.  We, by the way, are called "English" in most other Amish settlements -- it all  depends who the non-Amish settlers were who the Amish encountered when they got to different regions.  Here, they encountered Connecticut Yankees."

We arrived at the market, a small white store set back just a bit from the road.  It was a very low-key setting.  We get out of the van, put on our coats, and entered the small store.  It was a meat market, and it smelled really good. In the deli counter, I saw varieties of cheeses, and lots of cuts of meats. Peter talked with the bearded Amish man wearing a white, blood-stained apron, as if they have known each other for years. (I later learn that in fact they actually had known each other for 20 years)  They exchange a bit of news, who's gotten married, who died, how's business. I stand there quietly, listening, taking it all in, considering how out-of-place this simple conversation would be in any  of today's jam-packed modern supermarkets.  But it is all very simple, very natural, the  way people were meant to interact. 

"It's over there," instructs Peter, towards me. "The beef jerky."

David Kurtz, the Amish butcher, pulls out the container of jerky from the cooler and puts it up on the far end of the deli counter. Peter rummages through the container, picking out several choice pieces and fills a bag for himself, and I do the same.  A lady behind the counter weighs it, prices it. We pay for it and begin eating.  It's fresh, succulent, not rock-hard, and contains an old-world flavor.

“It's really good," I tell Peter.  In fact, it's great, but I'm cold, I'm the outsider, I'm just the observer and I don't want to act overly-enthusiastic for fear of seeming silly. 

"Yes, quite good," I repeated, with a mouth full of the jerky. It turns out that this lady behind the counter was one of Peter's former "tourists," who became so fascinated with the community that she  ultimately moved out there, and got a job working for the Amish. They then engaged in another conversation, discussing her experiences over the years since they have seen each other,  while I look around at the wall decorations, the products I'd not seen in years, such as the blocks of laundry soap, balm for cows' udders, and candies I hadn't seen since childhood.

I was still chewing on a bit of the jerky as we headed up another rural road,  encountering not a single other car the entire way. 

"That farm over there belongs to Nora Miller," explains Peter, "who runs a wonderful bakery out of her home."

I'd already begun to hear some of the same names repeated and so I  asked  Peter for clarification. 

"There are some 1600 Amish families in this community.  Of them, some 600 are Millers, some 300 are Yoders and some 150 are Bylers.  Almost 2/3 of  the families have one of those three surnames.  It makes it really difficult for the mailman!!"

"Are they all related?" I asked.

Many are, but not necessarily very closely,"  he replied. "These names go way back, and a name like Miller originally was a description of an occupation.  A guy with that name ran a flour mill or a saw mill or whatever, so people can have such names and not have any blood relationship at all.  This settlement was started by a Miller back in 1886, and back in the 50's, one of the local Miller's made the Guinness Book of World Records by having 489 living descendants.  That spawned a bunch of  new Miller families in this area!  For that matter, "Beil" in German means axe or hatchet,  so a "Beiler" could have been a logger, or firewood supplier, one who went to the woods with his axe and made lumber. In this area they have Anglicized the name to Byler"

 There was a light wind, and the rain stopped. It was still cold and foggy. I enjoyed looking at the countryside, and anywhere in any direction would make a beautiful postcard. It was that sort of place.   

"This cabinet shop is really going to blow you away," Peter warned me,  as we  pull into a long driveway up to a white farm house.  There is a little sign that says  "Custom Wood products."  Peter leads the way, not knocking, but simply entering the shop.  He explained that he would never enter a home without knocking but that this was a business entrance.  It all looked the same to me.

We entered the public front for the wood business and no one is about.  Peter showed me the various wood works around the room -- intricate wall carvings,  toys, benches and chairs, bowls, book shelves, and beautiful inlaid stools. All the work was beautiful, artful, with  an attention to the finest detail.    After about 15 minutes of looking about, Peter led the way to the cabinet shop. 

"Remember, they make all this without electricity," he told me.  "This is really going to blow you away."

We entered a large airy woodshop with plenty of windows.  At first, it seemed empty. There were no lights on, no radio blaring, no TV in the  corner.  It was quiet.  But there was a lone white-haired man off to one side working on an inlaid stool, one of  those which we had just seen in the finished state, and Peter walked over to him. The man was polite and deliberate as he spoke to Peter.  I highly admired his stool, but he said nothing.  Among other things, you'll discover that the Amish eschew self-importance, and to indulge in my admiring words would be regarded as prideful.  He chose silent acknowledgment, and then Peter and he talked casually about community  activities, dogs, and the upcoming tour schedule.  And then we left.

 Though I was born in California, and have lived most of my life there, I did live in Chardon, Ohio when I graduated from high school in 1973.  One of my jobs was working as  a pressman's helper and printer in Middlefield, Ohio, where I worked among the Amish.  However, I never entered any of their homes or places of  work in all those months I lived there.  Now I was able to enter into this other-world of the Amish, via my guide Peter Gail.  I was visiting Peter as a friend and colleague.  Peter wasn't "on," performing  as it were, as he might for a regular tour bus. It was just he and I, and so he had the chance to talk with his Amish friends while I listened in and looked around. 

Here was a  people, self-reliant, not relying  as much on "the machine" as we do, and they were living well.  It took just a bit for an outsider to penetrate into their  lives and to see that their lives were not  dark and dreary, but bright and cheery and full.

We drove on to another wood shop where we met one of Peter's Amish friends who works with a scroll saw, making fine Victorian fret and scrollwork decorative clocks, puzzles, wall plaques, intricate shelves and wooden candy dish/ trivet combinations.  A small nearby gasoline engine powered the scroll saw.  The man, Harvey Byler, stopped his work and chatted with Peter.  How's business, who's moved, who's started another line of work, who got married, who died.  The man showed some of the work that his 10 year old son had done.

 Of course these craftsmen would like Peter -- he brings customers to them. But as I looked around the Amish wood shop and listened to their conversation, it was clear there was great mutual respect here, two men from wholly different cultures, finding the best  in each other, realizing that they are each valuable links to the other’s culture. They chatted and laughed and Peter discussed a wood carving he wants to buy.  Peter suggested that the lighthouse would be great with a lamp in it, but Harvey didn't know how to respond. After  all,  the Amish don’t  live with electric light bulbs, so putting a bulb into the  lighthouse would not be easy,  and I could see by the expression on Byler’s face that he was not inclined to do such.  Peter changed the subject.

"Harvey, you should come with me to the Columbus Gift Mart in May, and show off your work.  You'd really enjoy spending the day there."

Harvey is silent momentarily, and responded that he might not enjoy spending the day with crowds of people, and he said it with a smile in a way that I assumed Peter should already know this.

We all bid adieu, and Peter and I headed down the road towards Mesopotamia to the shop of Eli Miller.  This shop has a more obvious sign, and it is clearly a store front, even though it is just as clearly located right next to his home.  No neon, no obnoxious billboards, just a modest sign reading "Eli Miller Leather Shop and Country Store." 

 We entered the dark store that seemed empty at first.  Remember, this is December indoors.  Walking into the store is like passing through a time machine.  My eyes saw oil lamps, butter churns, farms tools, cow bells, wood stoves, cast iron utensils -- all that is needed for self-sufficient living apart from the grip of the utility companies.  My eyes were still adjusting to the relative darkness, and exploring row upon row of  "old fashioned" tools, while Peter was yelling to the back, "Anyone home?"       

Way back in the rear, back beyond all the leather goods such as belts and saddles and footwear, there was an answer.  Peter motioned me to follow him and we met Eli, working on a leather saddle.  Eli was regarded as a more progressive Amishman -- one who didn’t mind if his picture was taken, and who was very involved in community activities. Peter explained to me that Miller was one of the most respected leather crafters in the United States, with saddle and tack on mounted police units all the way from Dade County, Florida to Portland, Oregon.

They then chatted a bit.  Who died, who changed professions, who got married, who moved -- the usual stuff, and then Eli started discussing and showing some of the leathers he works with, and some of the special requests he gets. Hanging behind him was a set of three leather belts crafted from English bridle leather which he had custom-made for a man from Cleveland who had been on one of Peter's tours the previous fall. 

"Do you have a custom belt for my friend from California?" Peter asks on my  behalf.  I'd told Peter earlier that I could use a good belt, but I silently wonder how much a "custom" belt might cost.  Eli responded that he had  many  good belts on the rack that he’d recently finished making.  I looked and found a good black one that fit me, and I paid Eli his ten dollars asking price – a bargain.

Eli then showed us a new stamp he just received. It was a makers’ stamp for marking leather, though he'd not yet used it. 

"Where do you think I should put my mark on the belts?" he inquired of  Peter.  We looked at belts, considering front side or back side, buckle end or leather end. 

"Put it where you can see it," responded Peter.  Eli clearly did not want to be prideful, and wasn't certain.  I took off my new black belt and asked him to stamp it  right on the front, just beyond the buckle, which he did.

Eventually, Peter and I departed, and investigated an old pioneer cemetery back behind Eli's shop. It was built  atop a hill as the last resting place for one of the families who settled Mesopotamia back in the late 1700's. The most recent gravestone is dated 1868, 18 years before the first Amish settler set horses hoof on Geauga County's clay till soils.

The rain had completely stopped, but I kept my coat on.  The last we checked, the temperature was 38 degrees, and rising.  We traveled down a two-lane highway, where trees lined the road in places and where the rolling fields showed  that the work of the summer was over.  Some fields were green, some were brown,  some were specked with the common tall weeds of this part of the country, such as curly dock, or teasel, or milkweeds.

As we drove to our next stop, the Amish farm houses always caught my attention.  In nearly all cases, there were clothes out on the line.  Often the clothes lines were attached by a pulley wheel to a room at the back of the house, and would run all the way out to a barn.  There were also gourds suspended in an array like a  television antennae, which serve as birdhouses for Purple Martins, which are birds which like to live in colonies and consume tons of mosquitos each season.       

We turned onto a paved primary road and quickly turned into the parking lot of a modern building.  This was the Middlefield cheese factory.  I purchased some fresh cheeses, which were delicious, and looked through the large window in the storefront down on the workers making and processing the cheese.  It was quite a sight. The factory and the milk are owned by the Amish but since they can't have electricity, they have contracted with a cheese company in Wisconsin to bring in the electric equipment and make the cheese, and they hire Amish people to work for them.  It is an interesting accommodation which seems to work very nicely.

While we drove, Peter explained that he got interested in wild foods at an early age in San Gabriel, California after his father died.  Peter collected "goosefoot" – the common lamb’s quarter -- to help feed the family.  Lamb’s quarter is arguably one of the most tasty and nutritious greens in the world.  He eventually named his company Goosefoot Acres, an enterprise which his family still operates to sell his books and dandelion products.  (See

We headed north, out of Amish territory, towards Chardon.  We visited my grandfather’s old farmstead – the barn and house had long since been bulldozed, though the small “Indian mounds” was still prominent behind the old orchard.

After a short visit, we drove on into the darkness to Cleveland.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

In Search of Saint Patrick


[Nyerges is the author of several books, such as Enter the Forest and 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]


            There’s a lot of green right now in our town.  Saint Patrick green: shamrocks, leprechans, beer. But who was Saint Patrick?  Was he a real person?  Children are told  "Saint Patrick wore a green suit, talked to leprechans (he was probably drunk at the time), and while trying to convert the pagans with a shamrock, he marched all the snakes out of Ireland."  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, 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 bequeathed the honour of Bishop upon him before he left on his mission.

            Patrick returned to Ireland not alone, but with 24 supporters and  followers.  They arrived in Ireland 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 Father, The Son and the Holy Ghost. This was called the Trinity. 

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,  King Laoghaire was very impressed 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 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".

            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 no native snakes in Ireland, though this story is believed to be 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. 

            Perhaps it's time for all of us to re-think how we commemorate this special man, and his vast contribution to world culture.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Why Keep "Daylight Savings Time"?

Why should we continue this useless relic from the past?

Let’s return to Standard Time All Year!

[Christopher Nyerges writes a regular blog at, posts regular YouTube videos, and has led outdoor trips since 1974.  He is the author of How to Survive Anywhere, Extreme Simplicity, Foraging California and other books. He can also be reached via School of Self-Reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.]
Our lawmakers, in their infinite wisdom, continue to tinker with time.  Manipulate the clocks and we can trick the people into saving energy.  And twice a year, we’re all subject to the changes and inconveniences that occur as a result of the springing forward or falling back.  We have to quickly adjust.  It is part of our annual ritual, our relic from the past, where we go back to standard time from  daylight savings time.  And now we are expected to extend this “better” time a few more weeks.

But are there real and tangible benefits from doing this?  Must  we continue to do so?

Daylight savings time is a manipulation of the basic solar time within each time zone’s standard.  It was said to be an idea of Benjamin Franklin, and was begun in the United States during world wars one and two, and eventually became “official” in all but two states. That right!  At least two states have said “No, thanks, we’ll stick to standard time.” And now a few states are saying, “We’re sick of changing our clocks twice a year – we want to keep daylight savings time all year.”

Daylight savings time is like a quaint tradition of a bygone era that refuses to die.  It is a pointless habit with little recognizable merit.  Michael Downing, author of “Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Savings Time,” demonstrates that the clock-change saves energy in theory only, but not in practice.

David Letterman once asked the question to his audience during his monologue: “Why do we practice daylight savings time?  It’s so the farmers have more light,” he laughed, answering his own question.  “But how does that give the plants more light?”  That’s a Letterman joke for you, but there is a truth hidden under his humor.  Most people queried on the street don’t know why we have daylight savings time, and fewer still experience any tangible benefits from it, except perhaps the pleasantness of a later sunset time in the summer.

There are two often-cited reasons for the use of daylight savings time.  One is so that the children can have more light going to school in the morning.  But consider:  the  children have an hour more of morning light in late October, when the clock is set back (“fall back”) to standard time.  That is, it is the very use of daylight savings time which creates a darker morning as the days get shorter and shorter.  The “falling back” an hour merely puts us back in sync with the local time zone.  It is the use of daylight savings time that created the problem of less light in the morning, and only in that sense can you say that the “falling back” to regular time gives children that extra hour of light.  In other words, this is a problem caused by daylight savings time.  This is not a bonafide benefit from daylight savings time.

My grandfather, and all my uncles on my mother’s side were farmers.  I have some knowledge of the schedule of farmers.  There is not one that I know who does not arise at the crack of dawn, if not sooner.  There is no other way to function as a farmer.  You then proceed to work as long as needed, and as long as you are able, daylight savings time or standard time.  The manipulation of clocks in no way affected how much work they got done, or not done. 

I have talked to many people about daylight savings time. Some like it, some do not. Some are annoyed by it, some find the long afternoons of summer very enjoyable.  Everyone has arrived late (or early) on the first Sunday (even Monday in some cases) after the changing of the clocks.  Daylight savings time thus gives millions of people a quasi-valid excuse for lateness at least once a year.

Let’s end daylight savings time entirely and adopt a year-round standard time.  If I were asked to choose between daylight savings time all year, or standard time all year, I would definitely choose standard time. Why? Simple! Standard time is the closest approximately of actual solar time. It more closely represents the real world than does the manipulation of daylight savings time.

Those who wish to start school or go to work earlier can do so!  Such voluntary time alterations are fine if those individuals and schools and businesses choose to do so. It may even make the freeways less crowded at rush hours.  But keep the standard time year-round.

Yes, this is a small thing in the context of a world at war, with hate and suspicion in all political camps, and endless economic hardships all over the world.  In that big-picture sense, this is just a little issue.  But this is still an issue that should be resolved, and dealt with.

Since daylight savings time is a state-by-state decision, we can begin with California. Write to Governor Brown and ask him to implement year-round standard time. You can write to Brown at Office of the Governor, State Capitol, Sacramento, CA 95814, or phone at 916) 445-2841, or on-line at  (if you live in another state, write to your governor if you agree).

Take a poll of your friends and acquaintances before you write to the Governor.  See if you can find anyone who derives tangible benefits from daylight savings time.  Secondly, there is always the initiative process where a Proposition can be put on the ballot to be voted on by the people.  This is a process that would take an organized effort and cost at least a million dollars, and probably more.  

Monday, March 05, 2018

No map? Charting a Course with only a Compass



 [Nyerges has been teaching outdoor survival skills and preparedness since 1974. He is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Guide to Wild Foods,” and other books. He can be reached at, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.]

Let’s say it’s dark, or overcast, or you’re traveling in thick woods.  You don’t have a map, but you have a compass. You’re not traveling in a straight line, but going here, going there, finding out what’s out there.

There’s a way that you can take records of your travel, and then chart a direct path back to your camp or car.  It’s not that difficult, but it does require a compass, and a pen and notebook.

Let’s say you’ve driven to a remote area in the forest and you want to explore a large area for possible camp sites. You set out at 27 degrees, and you walk for 20 minutes.  You make two columns in your notebook, and you record 27 in the degrees column, and you record 20 in the time column.

Then, you decide to change directions, and you head out at 150 degrees. You write that down in the “degrees” column.  You walk for 30 minutes before you pause, so you record 30 in the minutes column.

You continue this way for the rest of the day, always recording the degree in which you walked, and the amount of time you walked in that direction.

Now, before we get too far along, let’s review (for you beginners) how to determine what degree you are walking. With  your orienteering compass, you point the “direction of travel” arrow – which is the printed arrow on the housing of the compass -- in the direction you are traveling.  So far so good?  Now, you turn the round dial until the printed arrow is directly over the north end of the needle.  OK?  That’s pretty basic compass use.  Sometimes we refer to that step as putting the dog in the house.  The printed arrow looks sorta like a dog house, and the magnetic needle (the “dog”) must be kept aligned with the “doghouse.”  As long as you keep the dog in the house, and follow your “direction of travel” arrow, you’re accurately traveling at whatever degree you’ve decided to walk in. 

Obviously, for this system to work well, you need to walk in fairly straight lines.  In fairly rugged terrain, this system might not be practical or possible.

So, let’s say you’re done exploring for the day, and your notebook contains 6 entries for degree traveled, and 6 entries for amount of time traveled.

With that information, you are now going to create a simple map to determine a straight path back to your camp or wherever you started from.

Let’s take a look at the notes  you took, in the example, and how to turn those notes into a map.

Here is an example of what your notes might look like.


Remember, this is just an example, and in the example, we have kept the units of time all divisible by 10 minutes.  In real life, your units of time would likely be much more diverse.

Using your notebook, or using sticks on the ground, you will turn the units of time into linear lengths. So, for example, each ten minutes of time traveled will be one inch.  It doesn’t really matter whether you make each ten minute segment represent one inch or five inches or the length of your finger or the length of your Swiss army knife – just be consistent with whatever unit of conversion you use. 

So let’s say you are going to use sticks to create a map. For your first 20 minute leg of your journey, you cut a straight stick 2 inches long (10 minutes = one inches).  Lay the stick on the ground and align it at 27 degrees, your direction of travel.

Your next leg of your journey was 30 minutes, at 150 degrees.  So you cut a stick that is

three inches long.  From the leading end of the first stick, set down your three inch long stick and align it at 150 degrees.  So far so good?  You are creating a map of your journey.

Next, you cut a two inch stick and align it at the end of the last stick at 240 degrees.

Next, cut another two inch stick and align it at 180 degrees from the end of the last stick.

Finally, you cut a stick three inches (30 minutes = 3 inches) and set it at the end of the last stick at 285 degrees.

OK? You have just created a visual map of  your journey using stick, converting time into linear lengths.  When you have completed your stick-map, you now place your compass at the end of the last stick (which represents where you stopped, and decided you wanted to go home), and point it to your starting point.  That is your direct line back to your camp.  Put the dog in the house on your compass, and simply follow the direction of travel arrow back home. 

And because you have chosen each 10 minutes of travel time to represent one inch, you can just measure your straight line back to your camp to get a good idea of how long it will take you to get home.

From my reckoning, it appears that you can now walk straight at 30 degrees, for about 35 minutes and you’ll be back in your camp!  Not bad, considering that your entire journey so far took two hours.

Now, we did not discuss the variables that come with uneven terrain.  That is, if you had a lot of uphill travel, you probably couldn’t cover as much terrain in 10 minutes as you could if the ground were flat.  So you should record these terrain changes in your notebook.  If you walked for 20 minutes, that would normally represent a two inch stick.  But if the terrain was very sharply uphill, you wouldn’t have been able to cover the same distance in the same time.  You would estimate, and probably use just a one inch stick for that leg of your journey.  You should also record any changes in the speed of your hiking, though this works best if your speed is more or less the same.

There’s a bit more to this, so please come to one of my Orienteering workshops when you can. 
See the Schedule at

Also, get a copy of each of these following books:

The Green Beret’s Compass Course,” by Don Paul, 2006.  The technique described in this article was based on  his book, available from Amazon.

Be Expert with Map and Compass” by Björn Kjellström is still one of the best overall guides to map and compass use. Available at Amazon.

 How to Survive Anywhere” by Christopher Nyerges includes a short section on navigation.