Friday, May 31, 2019

The Winds Erase Your Footprints, by Shiyowin Miller


A book by Shiyowin Miller

[Nyerges is the author of several books, and he conducts field trips in ethnobotany.  He can be contacted at]

One of the books that came out of my family was “The Winds Erase Your Footprints,” written by my (deceased) wife Dolores’ mother, Shiyowin Miller.  Shiyowin, who was part Osage, was immersed in Native American culture. I remember visiting her home in Temple City, which seemed like an Indian museum with a full library, drums, pots, and artifacts from all over the country.  Shiyowin had been a music and dance teacher, and was a professional dancer. She knew Iron Eyes Cody, and worked with Luther Standing Bear, a Lakota Sioux who wrote “My People the Sioux” and other books. Luther Standing Bear adopted Shiyowin, and let Shiyowin act as his agent for his various books and other legal matters. It brought the past alive to me when I was able to see and feel the pipes, sandals, robe, and other materials that Standing Bear had given to Shiyowin.  (There is a special exhibit of Standing Bear’s robe and other items at the Crazy Horse Museum in South Dakota.)

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

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

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

Once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. I was amazed at the quality and depth of the story, and could barely believe that it had never been published. Shiyowin had actually received an offer from a publisher some 20 years earlier, but since she kept rewriting and revising, it never got published.  To me, it was like reading a Tony Hillerman novel, except it was true!

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

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

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

The line drawings for the book were drawn by Navajo artist Chester Kahn. Shiyowin’s daughter Dolores stated that the drawings seemed the ideal artistic representation of Shiyowin’s work, capturing the feeling and quality of the historical account. 

The books is available from Amazon, or from the Store at

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

Fom chapter 7: The Sing

"Before we came here," her husband began, "when I tried to tell you about everything which might seem strange to you, I didn't tell you about ma-itso--the wolf clan. One reason, it no longer seemed as believable to me as it once had; perhaps all the years in school did that; anyhow, in Hollywood I seldom thought of it. When we came here, my mother told me the wolf clan was still strong in CaƱoncito. I didn't tell you then because I could see no reason why they would try to harm us. But to be sure you were safe, my mother and sisters watched you every minute.

"There were times when I almost told you, those times when you were upset about things you didn't understand. And yet I hated to frighten you needlessly. Already there was so much for you to worry about. It seemed better to wait until I had a job, until we were living in town and then tell you. "But now two things have happened which make me sure the ma-itso is for some reason after us. I found yellow pollen in an X mark on my hat brim, and today my mother found pollen on our clothes. That is their warning. Lorencito thinks you will be safer if you know about this evil thing."    A hundred questions sprang to Juanita's lips, but her husband went on talking, interrupted now and then by Lorencito or his mother.

"The wolf clan is as old as the Navajo tribe. From the beginning some men turned certain powers, which should have been used for good, toward evil things. Corn pollen, used for blessing, is used by the ma-itso as a warning to a person marked for death. And death does not come in a usual manner; it comes in a round-about way which cannot be easily traced. The victim sickens suddenly; sometimes his mind leaves him. No Medicine Man can cure him. Sometimes the victim meets with a mysterious and fatal accident.       

Fom chapter 13: Wolf Tracks

Juanita had hung up two diapers when she became suddenly aware of something across the arroyo. When she looked carefully nothing seemed unusual; in the dim light she could see the sharp banks of the arroyo, the clumps of juniper in dark patches on the other side. Then gradually, two of the dark juniper patches began to take on the indistinct forms of dogs sitting on their haunches.

That was what imagination would do for you. She even thought now that she could see the large

pointed ears. Juanita smiled to herself. This must be what Lu had seen, the queer-shaped juniper

bushes. They looked surprisingly like coyotes, only larger. The likeness had even startled her for a

moment and her mind had certainly not been on wolves or wolf tracks. She pulled her eyes away and began resolutely to hang up more diapers.

A sudden movement, one dark figure detaching itself from the other and moving farther down the arroyo, a third form appearing almost directly across from her on the opposite bank. Juanita stood absolutely still. There was no sound except the flapping of the clothes on the line.

When Juanita reached the kitchen door, she called to her husband to bring the shotgun. "Those

figures that you saw are out there again." This couldn't be her voice, tight and choked.

Two of the dark forms were loping off down the arroyo when Luciano reached the bank, but the

third sat directly across from him like a very large coyote on its haunches. Luciano raised his gun and fired directly at it. The animal seemed to gather itself into a ball and plunge down the bank of the arroyo--across the wide, sandy bed.

"Lu! Watch out! It's coming for you."

He raised the gun to fire again ...      

Sunday, May 26, 2019

American Idol: Commentary on this Season's Winner

Number Two is still a “Winner”

[Nyerges is the author of numerous books such as “Extreme Simplicity,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” and “Self-Sufficient Home.”  He regularly Blogs at]

If you’re not a TV watcher, you might not find any value in what I have to say today.  But perhaps you will.

I know that Game of Thrones has a lot of followers and people have been deeply moved by the twists and turns of the plot.  This, despite the fact that I have never seen a single episode and actually have no idea what it’s all about!

But I do enjoy the various talent and singing competitions on TV.  I’ve enjoyed observing amateur contestants working their way through the levels of elimination until supposedly only the best remain.  So this is not a world-shaking issue, and this doesn’t rise to the level of bringing civilization to the edge.  It’s all about entertainment and show-casing the up-and-coming singers who we presume will be starting a dynamic career.

I watched the remarkable talent on the recent series of American Idol and developed my favorites, singer-musicians who I knew were the best of the crop, who I presumed would win.  If you watched this show, you should realize that although there is just one “winner,” each of the highly-talented final contestants is going to have a great career because the show gave them unparalleled publicity.

As the most recent season came to a close, I rooted for Pomona’s Alejandro Aranda, whose occupation was listed as “dishwasher.”  As I expected, he rose to the top and was one of the final two.  His music was unique, compelling, and he performed mostly his own original songs. And then, there was the final vote.  He lost to an Elvis lookalike, who garnered more votes from the adoring public.  The Elvis lookalike was certainly good – good-looking, slick, commanding the stage, and I’m sure he would do well in Las Vegas.

But I still could not figure how he could win over the highly original, uniquely creative Alejandro, my top choice.

Then I realized, duh, this is a TV show, and the “winner” is not determined by any sort of objective criteria by which one judges the totality of musical greatness.  The winner is simply determined by whoever manages to get the most votes.  And I didn’t vote.  After all, it’s a TV show – why would I bother to vote?  And I noted that people could vote up to 10 times!   So that meant that whatever contestant could muster up the popup fan club to get out and vote, and vote often, would win.  

Popularity doesn’t necessarily mean the best musician, sadly.  Nevertheless, I cannot see how Alejandro will not have a remarkable career now that his talent is plain to see.  The show will ultimately have produced several “winners.”

While pondering this state of affairs, I recalled Andy Rooney on an old episode of “60 Minutes” when he talked about how we decide who won the Presidential debates, and thus, how we decide who will be president.  Rooney divulged all the superficial elements that determine who “won” the debate, such as, good looks, color of hair, lack of hair, color of tie, height or shortness, sweat on the forehead, voice quality, and many other highly irrelevant factors for deciding something as momentous as who will be the leader of our country. 

And then, well, after considering that our political elections have because more elaborate versions of American Idol or the Voice, I became a  bit forlorn to realize that this is – sort of, more or less – the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into by “electing” the combination class clown-class bully to be our President.  It seemed like a good idea at the time, but now we pay the price for an unqualified, nepotistic, sybaritic individual in the office of President who would likely flunk a course in American Government 101.   But now I’m developing indigestion thinking about this – presidential commentary will have to wait for another day. 

My point is to congratulate Pomona’s Alejandro Aranda, Mr. Segundo, on a job well done, and wishing him the best on his new career!

Friday, May 24, 2019

The Day Martin Kruse Died at Hahamongna Watershed Park


[This account is extracted from Nyerges’ book, “Til Death Do Us Part?”, available from Kindle, or from the Store at]

It was Memorial Day, and I had scheduled to conduct a wild food outing at Pasadena’s Hahamongna Watershed Park.  Since it was Memorial Day, my topic for a short discussion at the end of the outing was “death.”  Hahamongna Park is the site of one of the Gabrielino Indian villages along the Arroyo Seco.  I have found many handstones under the oak groves, used by people millennia ago to crack and grind their acorns and perform other tasks. Down in the bottom of the wash, on the far side of the canyon, I have read that archaeologists had found Indian bodies and believed the site was an old Gabrielino cemetery.

I have always liked the grandeur and openness of this park.  When I grew up, this was a short bicycle ride away, and I regarded it as my extended back yard.

It was a cool and overcast day as participants for the wild food outing gathered in the parking area of the park.  Among the half-dozen participants who showed up for the outing was Martin Kruse, a bearded, burly bear of a man who looked like he’d be more at home in the 19th century.  He introduced himself and told me that he’d long wanted to meet me, that we both wrote for many of the same publications and had many friends in common, such as Ron Hood.  Martin and I chatted as the other outing participants listened, and he told me about his work with archery and primitive bow-making. 

I was struggling with almost-a-cold and with a stiff back, and so I felt almost not there.  I wanted to just keep walking and to breathe deeply of the fresh air of the overcast day, but we walked slowly as everyone asked me countless questions about wild flowers, weeds, flowers, mushrooms, ground squirrels, and poisonous plants. 

We walked down in the flat area of the large expanse of the park, where the wet mud had hardened, capturing countless animal tracks.  Martin told us how to differentiate between coyote and dog tracks.  He identified crow and other birds, showed us how to recognize the tracks of squirrel and rabbit.  He’d obviously done a lot of tracking during his time hunting with a bow. 

I later learned from Martin’s father that this was a favorite place of Martin’s when he was much younger.  He’d come here and spend a week or two and study nature and tracks and practice with his bow.  When we saw the deer tracks, Martin showed us how the deer’s hind foot had stepped into its own track just laid by its front foot.  Martin said that only the female walks this way, that the male’s gait is different.  He told us that the size of the hoof print meant it was a female deer about a year and a half old.  I could tell that Martin enjoyed telling us all about the track. 

We walked out to the middle of the flat area to see some old shelters I’d built with one of my classes a few years earlier.  When we got there, there was absolutely no evidence of them. The heavy rains of the previous season had completely changed and altered the landscape, and a tributary of the Arroyo Seco now flowed where our shelters once stood.  We headed back to the picnic area with the plan to continue identifying wild greens, and collecting enough for our wild food meal that is customary on all these walks.  Then I’d share my brief Memorial Day commentary that I described on the printed schedule as “Considering Death.” 

I led the way back to the oak trees.  Within seconds, someone in the rear called out.  Martin had fallen.   I first thought it was a joke, and ran to him.  It was no joke.  His face already looked purple.  The man who had been walking with him said he’d not tripped -- he just fell.  You could tell by his hand position that he didn’t trip.  I tried to rouse him, but it was quickly obvious that he was “out.” 

Several of us moved Martin into what we assumed would be a more comfortable position, and that wasn’t easy!  Martin was a big guy.  And then -- since I was the only one who knew the area -- I ran to a phone to call 911.  This was before the days of ubiquitous cell phones.  Within 10 minutes,  before I even got back to the group and Martin’s flat body -- paramedics from the City of Pasadena were on the scene, attempting to revive him. They all worked like a highly-coordinated team, speaking among themselves only briefly and in terms we didn’t understand.  They were what we call a “well-oiled machine.”  They carried him into the ambulance and took him away. 

I could tell that the remainder of the outing participants were in varying degrees of shock.  It had all been like a dream, and now Martin was gone.  We discussed whether we thought Martin would revive or not. The paramedics had been  fairly tight-lipped. When one was asked what he thought about Martin’s chances of recovery, he only said “I can’t do that.”  Still, we all knew it was serious. 

So there we stood in the cool afternoon breeze, contemplating death in the most sobering manner possible.  I explained to everyone my death lesson -- which hardly seemed appropriate now.  I didn’t talk everyone through the intended exercise -- I just explained a process that I’d done many times on Memorial Day.

Write a list of all those close people in your life.  Then, close your eyes, and imagine getting a phone call telling you that they have just died.  For most people, there are tears and a feeling of regret that they never told that person something.  You write down all those things you wanted to say to that person.  Then, since these folks are still alive, you then go and call them or write them or see them in person and tell them.  This is a very profound exercise, and in many ways can be called “healing.” 

But we didn’t actually go through this exercise.  We were in no mood for an “exercise.”  Someone had just died in our midst.  We had to deal with it.   We talked about how important it is to live each moment with intent, with joy, with soberness.  We talked about how Martin may have wanted to say things to those he loved, but no longer could.  After all, it isn’t necessarily others who might die.  We talked about the stages that one passes through in the after death state, and how Martin will experience peace, but will also experience a life-review, a state of purgation, a state of heaven, and eventually another embodiment. One guy muttered, “I don’t believe in reincarnation.”  I knew with this last point that I was treading on ground that some categorize as “religious beliefs,” so I didn’t push the matter.  I just suggested that anyone interested read about it in Harold Percival’s Thinking and Destiny and decide for themselves. 

Each person commented how “coincidental” it was that the lecture topic that I’d chosen for the day, and listed on the schedule, was “Death.”  We kept reflecting on Martin.  At that moment, none of us knew yet that Martin would not recover, that he had in fact died, and that he died in a place he loved.  Nor had we known that Martin had a heart pacer, and an artery to his heart that was narrow.  We were aware that he’d had surgery -- probably to the heart -- because we opened his shirt and saw the scar.  I noted that Martin had been smoking his pipe during most of the outing.  That couldn’t have been good for his health.  What had really brought Martin there on that day?  I felt goose bumps at first, thinking that on some level he wanted to be with me, enjoying the natural world, meeting as two souls in the place he loved, near the old Indian burial ground, on his final day. 

A German woman who’d been on the outing, Walti, told me that we should not feel sad. 

“It was quick,” she told me later. “What better place to die.”  I could not help but agree with her.  Martin’s death was apparently sudden, and his last memory would have been looking at the willows and the rushing stream and the cloudy sky and the sand flats of the Hahamongna Watershed Park.  In his final moments, he was surrounded with friends that he’d only met that day, trail compadres who shared a common love of the outdoors, all brought together at this time and this place to witness his passing. Though I barely knew him, I felt closer to him in death.

Of course, I told Dolores about this when I got home.  I was a bit shaken by the experience.  In fact, it was not until late that night that I learned the name of who had died on my outing.  Yes, he’d told me his name when he arrived, but so did a dozen other people who’d I’d just met that day.  By calling around to the fire department and to the hospital, I learned Martin’s identity, and I managed to figure out his phone number through process of elimination in my phone log.  Of course, I was partly worried about legal ramifications.  It was Martin’s wife who told me that Martin died doing what he loved doing, and that it was probably the best of all possible outcomes that he died in that manner.  She also said that the family felt Martin was living on “borrowed time,” that they felt he should have died (according to what the doctors said) five years earlier. 

A few days later, Dolores and I and a few others were discussing this incident, and wondering about the series of choices that brought Martin to me on his last day.  Dolores seemed very thoughtful about all this, and said that possibly Martin’s Doer (his spiritual Self) knew that his body was going to die.  Coming to my outdoor outing brought him into contact with my Doer, my spiritual Self, which could have been a final uplifting act, whether or not each of us realized it. 

In the days that followed, I would often see Martin’s face in my mind.  I eventually learned that he taught archery and other primitive skills to children.  How lucky those children must have been to have learned with such a man.  His teaching will live on through those children, and through those who knew him. 

A few days after Martin’s death, I wrote to one of his close friends, Ron Hood, to tell him what happened.  Here is Ron’s response:

“Hi Christopher.

“I hope things went well for you today and that you found some peace.  I can feel the pain and helplessness of your letter.  I think that what you experienced must be the most common nightmare for all of us who take folks into the wilderness.  For all those years I took my students into the mountains, each and every time we left for the experience, I worried.  When we returned, I rejoiced.  No injuries, and thank God, no deaths.  I never lost the fear.


“One thing I knew for certain, there is no way to stop fate.  All I could ever do was attempt to reduce the potential for accidents and hope that fate would leave me alone. I was lucky.

“You have been at this business for so long, with so many people, that the chances of encountering fate increased to the point where an encounter was unavoidable.

“I’m certain that you know you were not responsible for Martin’s death.  It was due.  I’ve known Martin for many years.  During that time, Martin abused his body in many ways.  Martin breathed fumes from his forge, from his cigarettes, and other things.  He had a few of this and some of that and I was with him for part of that time.  Martin always lived life in the fullest way he knew how.  It was only later, after the damage was done, that he began to slow down.  His heart operation, his physical condition, and his legendary consumption of things that gave him pleasure finally conspired to release him for the greatest experience of all.  You just happened to be there when it happened.  That was good for Martin, and bad for you.  I am sorry.  I wish I could exchange places with you.  Martin was my friend and I would have understood his journey because I understood him.

“I can say one unalterable thing about Martin:  He was a good man and a good friend.  Everything else is part of the legend.

 “A friend. Dr. Ron Hood.”


Memorial Day Commentary


Memorial Day, 1983

[An excerpt from the book, "Til Death Do Us Part?", available from Kindle, or from the Store at]

            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.

Though we hadn’t been there for over a week, it seemed like we’d both been away for a very long time.  Dolores and I talked about how brilliant the plants looked as we walked up the dirt driveway, and we noted a distinct “magical” quality in the air.

            When we reached the top, we could see that several others had already arrived.  A table with various books for sale had been set up near the entrance, and I began scanning some of  the unfamiliar titles.  I picked up a copy of a book I’d never seen: Zecharia Sitchin’s The 12th Planet. It seemed like a fascinating book, though the subject matter had nothing to do with the Memorial Day theme.  Later, I purchased and read the book.

            Prudence approached us as I was scanning the book, and she handed each of us a hot cup of elixir.

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

            “You can put your dish over there on the table,” she said, pointing to a wooden table across the yard where there were many other aromatic dishes and pots.  Dolores had made a dessert item, and I made some potato salad.  We set down our dishes next to the other items that were there for our potluck lunch.

            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. 

            By now, several new guests had arrived, several of whom I did not know.  Nathaniel  was walking around saying hello to everyone. Dolores went over and began talking  with a guest, and William Breen arrived with a guest.  Even Prudence’s son had come to this event.

            Todd  was walking from person to person, pouring a bit of fresh cream into their coffee mugs.  I watched him, admiring his style. He moved gracefully from person to person, with his genuine boyish smile and his reserved courteousness that you only expect to see by the best waiters in the most expensive restaurants. 

            Dolores was just finishing talking with the guest, as 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 cried at other memories. 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.

            When someone dies, there is often the regret of having wanted to tell them certain things, things we typically do not do for fear of rejection or embarrassment.  I wrote down all the things I wanted to tell my father. Memories, goals, dreams, regrets, apologies.

            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.  Though I was hungry, I wanted to try some of the home-made tamales that one of the guests brought.  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.  I remember thinking that his presentation was so professional, well-qualified to be in a large auditorium as people sat around in rapt attention, or, for that matter, on the radio or television.

The presentation was  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 simply sat under a tree for 30 minutes doing nothing. 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.   It could be embarrassing.  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 looked for Dolores, who was just getting done with another person.  This was a bit tougher.  We walked up the hill and sat under the towering eucalyptus tree.  I began by making apologies to Dolores having hurt her feelings by a few things I had done.  I knew that she felt I was very rude and calloused at the time, and so I wanted to at least tell her I was sincerely sorry, and really hadn’t done what I’d done as some sort of deliberate attempt to hurt her or embarrass her.  But she had a very hardened look on her face as I talked, and would not accept my apology, saying that an apology was not good enough. I was a bit non-plussed.  I was attempting to do a very real exercise as a unique way to commemorate Memorial Day.  I was giving her my sincere apology in that context, as if this was something I know I would have wanted to tell her “before she died.”  It seemed inconceivable that she would refuse my apology. 

            “I think you did do those things intentionally, and you did know better.”

            What could I say?  We talked about it a bit more, and it was clear that you cannot argue with what someone feels.  Despite what I believed were my intentions, Dolores felt  something else.  So we talked about what I should have done, what I could have done differently, and a few ways to improve our friendship from that day forward.  That seemed about the best that was possible under the circumstances.  We hugged, and went back to join the others.

            I felt hungry and went to the food table where several people were filling their dishes with some delicious-smelling home-cooked foods.  It was all vegetarian, and all beautifully prepared.  It seemed like a Thanksgiving feast.  I served myself a little potato salad and green salad, and took a seat.

After a few minutes, 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. 

            After I finished my salad, I spent the next hour helping to clean things up and put away all the chairs.  I said my goodbyes and we all departed.


            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 a 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.

             The following day, 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.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

What About Chocolate?


Chocolate is a junk food.
Chocolate is an ideal survival food.
           -- A MOUNTAIN CLIMBER
Montezuma believed that chocolate was the food of the gods.


[Nyerges leads outdoor expeditions regularly.  He is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City,” “Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants,” and other books. He can be reached at]

A woman I know saw me trying to select chocolate at a store.Chocolate? she said to me.   “Why are you looking for chocolate?  I thought you only ate health foods.  Chocolate is a junk  food!  Was she right?  Is chocolate a worthless food, something to be avoided?


Chocolate pods are produced on a smallish tree, grown and harvested in a region 20 degrees below and above the equator.  The pods – maybe a foot long – contain white beans.  Once picked, these beans are allowed to ferment for a few days or longer, whereupon they take on their characteristic chocolate aroma and brown color.

Once dried, the beans are then exported and typically processed with modern machinery.  However, it is  certainly possible to process your own, as it’s often done today in Mexico.

During the normal manufacturing process, the beans are first "conched," which means that  heat and grinding pressure are applied to produce a thick liquid called chocolate liquor.  When this chocolate liquor hardens, bitter -- or baker's -- chocolate results.  This is indeed bitter – and most people don’t care for it since it has no sweetness.

When this baker's chocolate is then subjected to great pressure, both a liquid and solid result. The liquid is cocoa butter, and the solid is cocoa.  Cocoa butter added back to baker's chocolate in greater amounts results in bitter-sweet, semi-sweet, or sweet chocolate, three more grades or types of chocolate.  The addition of milk creates milk chocolate.  Sugar, vanilla, and various other ingredients are often also be added.

For example, some of the “designer” chocolates can have hot chilis added, as well as a great variety of nuts, raisins, and even dried fruits.



[source: University of Calif, Berkeley Wellness Letter]

CALORIES (per oz.)
FAT (%)
Bitter (dark). No sweeteners added.
Bittersweet. Must contain at least 35% chocolate liquor.
Sweet. Must contain at least 15% chocolate liquor  and no more than 12% milk solids.
Milk.  Must contain at least 10% chocolate liquor and at least 12% milk solids.
Cocoa (powder). All cocoa butter removed.


[Source: Los Angeles Times science writer Usha Lee McFarling, Feb. 16, 2000]

A neurotransmitter which plays a role in regulating mood. Though found in chocolate, it’s found in much higher amounts in other carbohydrates.
This stimulant is found in very small amounts in chocolate.
Cocoa beans are about 2% theobromine,  a central nervous system stimulator, which stimulates and dilates the blood vessels of the heart and brain, and dilates the bronchii of the lungs.
An amphetamine-like substance, also found in the brains of people “in love.” Though found in chocolate, it’s found in much higher amounts in meats, such as salami.
These antioxidants (also found in green tea and red wine) may prevent heart disease by preventing the clogging or arteries, and lowering cholesterol levels.
These chemical, which are the active ingredients in marijuana, are found in very small amounts in chocolate, and may influence the brain’s own production of painkilling compounds. By “very small amounts,” you’d have to eat about 22,000 pounds of chocolate to have any drug-like response.

"White chocolate," however, is really a misnomer.  If a product contains no cocoa, it’s simply not chocolate!  Cocoa is the sine qua non of any true chocolate product.  So-called white chocolate is made from the cocoa butter, but because it contains no cocoa,  it is  technically not “chocolate at all but what I call “bogus chocolate.” And, in some cases if they didn’t even use cocoa butter, but just some cheaper oils, it has no business being called any kind of chocolate.

Since there are so many factors from start to finish, no two chocolate products have exactly the same properties.  In other words, when you try to answer the question “Is Chocolate good or bad for me?”,  you cannot do so without precisely defining what you mean by “chocolate.”   Is it even remotely possible that chocolate might have some redeeming qualities?  Fortunately, when you read medical studies of various “good” or “bad” effects from chocolate, they tell you what type of chocolate was fed to the test subjects, and in some cases, the brand of chocolate as well.

Certainly, chocolate is fattening if you consume a lot and are sedentary.  A small 12 ounce candy bar typically contains about 220 calories.

The raw bean does contain high amounts of theobromine and caffeine, but these oil-soluble stimulating alkaloids are largely lost during the processing.  An average ounce of bittersweet chocolate contains from five to 10 mg. of caffeine, compared with 100 to 150 mg. of caffeine in an average cup of coffee.

So what about cavities and acne -- two often-cited results of chocolate consumption?

Although it is commonly believed that eating chocolate causes an increase the incidence of acne, there is no scientific data to support this belief.  Numerous tests with acne sufferers who were fed large doses of chocolate showed that chocolate did not increase the incidence of acne.  It’s much more likely that people are simply eating chocolate at the age when they are getting acne, but one didn’t cause the other.

As for cavities, at least three separate research centers have revealed that the cocoa powder within chocolate contains a substance that actually inhibits cavities. 


The culprit in this case is not chocolate, but sugar.  Sugar is clearly is a cause of cavities.  Milk chocolate, for example, contains 55% sugar by weight.  And most often,  chocolate is made with “white sugar, which is the cocaine of the food industry.  White sugar is a foodless “food.  In most cases, the worst thing about chocolate is that it contains so much white sugar.  Most commercial chocolate products list white sugar (in any of its various guises) as the primary ingredient.

One way to sidestep the detrimental effects of so much white sugar in chocolate is to make your own chocolate products by mixing cocoa (or bitter or baker's chocolate) with honey, or other natural sweeteners. There are a few commercial chocolate bars which contain no white sugar, but these are not yet common, and cost up to three times as much as others with white sugar.


Talk to anyone who’s lived through hard times and they’ll tell  you that certain basic commodities were hard to get.  This usually includes such items as coffee, sugar, tobacco, alcohol, and yes, chocolate. These might seem like vices, but chocolate is the best of the batch, and you’d be able to trade chocolate for other items  you need.  After all, who doesn’t like chocolate?

Unless you live in the Tropics, you won’t be growing your own chocolate.  Stock up and store it in a cool dry place.  Don’t store it high up in an uninsulated cupboard.  I learned that the hard way.  Once during a heat wave of 100 + degrees f., I found that all my chocolate had melted.  At the time, I’d been storing chocolate nibs in glass jars, so I was left with a block of solid chocolate in each jar.  IF you purchase the unsweetened nibs (a good choice), store it in a solid container and keep it all wrapped. Store it in the basement if you have one, or in a low spot (remember, heat rises).

The unsweetened baking chocolate is perhaps one of the best ways for chocolate storage. It will keep the longest, and since it is unsweetened, you can melt or shred it and use it any way you wish. The unsweetened blocks are also of a uniform size, and are ideal for trading.

If you don’t want to bother with the unsweetened chocolate, 85% cocoa would be a good next choice in the sense of versatility and trade value. 


The more common chocolate bars often contain more sugar than chocolate.  That’s OK if that’s what you like, but because of the high sugar content, you’ll get the good with the bad.  And some people might want a quick sugar rush in certain emergency situations.  

Chocolate, properly stored, lasts almost indefinitely.  In time, it develops a white coating, and gets harder, but is still edible.

So we now know that it’s the sugar, not the chocolate, that’s the cause of chocolate’s sometimes-bad reputation.  Is there anything good to say about chocolate?


Ninety percent of the cocoa bean is digestible, comprising 40% carbohydrates, 22% fat, and 18% protein.  Chocolate contains substantial amounts of vitamins A, D, B2, as well as vitamin E and K, calcium, thiamine, riboflavin, iron, phosphorus, linoleic acids, and phenylethylamine.  For a food that is often regarded as a junk food or pleasure food, it’s really pretty good for  you!

A study conducted at the Harvard School of Public Health indicated that people who eat from one to three chocolate bars a month live almost a year longer than those who do not eat chocolate.      

In fact, chocolate is a quickly-assimilated nourishing energy food.  Chocolate was taken on all of the American and Soviet space flights, onto all modern battlefields, and it was taken to Mount Everest on the Hillary expedition.  Chocolate  goes with many backpackers, hikers, and hunters on their field trips.

 It might also be a good item for your food storage, and for possible barter.


I made my first "authentic" chocolate drink by steeping the coarsely ground beans of the chocolate plant in warm water, adding a little honey.  If historians are correct, this was the type of beverage -- called "xocoatl" -- that Cortez found Montezuma drinking.

We found the whole beans quite oily.  Once ground and made into a beverage, the drink had the color of weak coffee and was a bit oily.  It had a pleasant bitter-chocolate flavor.  One cup seemed as stimulating as two to three cups of coffee.  It was good!

Montezuma believed chocolate to be a food of the gods, which was brought to the Aztecs by a healer or prophet who traveled over the waters, possibly Quetzalcoatl.  To this day, chocolate is known to botanists as Theobroma, or "Food of the gods."  It was widely regarded as an aphrodisiac, a food that gave Montezuma the strength do deal with his many wives!

Chocolate is a valuable energy food for active individuals.  As with coffee, tea, and even tobacco, chocolate has the ability to enhance our lives when consumed moderately.



Traditional CHAMPURADO Beverage

4 C masa

2 pieces Mexican chocolate

2 Tbsp carob powder (optional)

dash of sea salt

½ C Alta Dean eggnog (or other health-quality egg nog)

Warmed in pot, After chocolate has cooled to approx.120 degrees f., add 1 C milk.

2 C water.


3 C. uncooked quick-cooking oats

6 Tbsp. Grated dark chocolate

½ C. dry milk

½ tsp. Sea salt (optional)

1 C. currants or raisins

½ C. chunky peanut butter

½ C. raw honey

2 tsp. Vanilla

Put the oats, cocoa, dry milk, and salt into a bowl and mix well. Add the remaining ingredients and mix together.  Mix thoroughly. Then, pick up a tablespoon of the mix at a time and roll in to a ball with your hands.  Put into a serving plate and serve.