CHRISTOPHER NYERGES TALKS TO ASG
CHRISTOPHER NYERGES: MORE THAN 40 YEARS OF LEADERSHIP IN SELF-RELIANCE EDUCATION
Celebrating more than 40 years of leadership in selfreliance education
When one thinks of the top survival/self-reliance experts out there Christopher Nyerges has got to be at the to
of the list.
I first became acquainted with Christopher back when he was the editor of American Survival Guide (see the sidebar on page 40). Until then, I was only aware of him through his writings, which appeared then—and still do—in many different publications. After that, Christopher became my friend and mentor, an I found that this man is much more in tune wit the world around us and deeper, as a person, than many people I have met along my path.
For Christopher, “survival” is a state of mind, something that clearly comes out in his writings. He not only talks the talk, but he also walks the walk. When it comes to plant identification, both edible and medicinal, I have met nobody who knows as much, and he is eager to share that knowledge with his students and readers.
When did all of this start, and what drew him into this world of self-reliance? Christopher answered these and many othe questions; and, as you read our exclusive interview with him, you will find that his answers are quite profound.
A TRADITION OF SHARING
Christopher’s interest in this way of life began in the early 1970s—long before survival, self-re liance or even recycling became fashionable. There were no cell phones or GPS units, and writing for books and magazines was done on a typewriter. It was people such as Christopher who paved the way for all of us as they faced and overcame many roadblocks, both financia and cultural, along the way. (You can read
bout those early days in Christopher’s book, quatter in Los Angeles: Living on the Edge.)
In 1974, Christopher and his late wife, Dolores, tarted the School of Self-reliance in the Los ngeles area of Southern California. Since then, ore than 30,000 people, from young children hrough older adults, have taken at least one f his numerous classes or have participated in he outings offered by the school.
As if that weren’t enough, Christopher has uthored more than 20 books. There are two ore in the works at the time of this writing see the sidebar on page 42). He has written housands of articles, has been featured on cal television broadcasts and is currently a onsultant for the television program, Naked nd Afraid. With such a busy schedule, I considred it an honor that he was able to take the me to answer my questions.
IMPLICITY IS KEY
Communicating with Christopher, even via -mail, is almost a Zen-like experience. His esponses to questions are well thought out nd often generate more questions than they nswer. Christopher makes you think—the mark f a great teacher.
The following is taken from the mission statement of the School of Self-reliance; I believe it says great deal about Christopher:
“We have found that most people are more in touch with their true inner strength when they actu learn practical skills that enhance their day-to-day life.”
In other words, being self-reliant and learning survival skills isn’t just about having the biggest knife. It is about the common skills we all need to re-learn, and it is these skills that Christopher ha committed his life to teaching.
Building on that statement, my first question to Christopher was, “In this world of the ‘latest and the greatest,’ how do you stay focused on the goals you have set for yourself?”
His response was, “My goal has less to do with surviving a catastrophe and more to do with survivi
orally, ethically, spiritually, physically and nancially in an era when I believe we are witessing the slow decline of at least this aspect f Western civilization. My goal is to make daily hoices that allow me to live a meaningful life ach day, without a focus on fear or worry.” By living such a life, Christopher is always repared for any survival situation that might rise. He doesn’t live for the “what-ifs” and the ears that accompany them. If you think about , this is a great way to go through life. Christopher’s interest in self-reliance, the nvironment and our place in it has been a felong pursuit. He spent the early 1970s living lose to the land, learning from those around im, teaching classes about the outdoors and riting newspaper articles. He squatted in n abandoned home in the hills of Southern alifornia and worked odd jobs to make ends eet. He recycled and repurposed everything ng before it became “the thing to do.” He started his writing career the same way ost of us did—by writing columns for local ewspapers about the subjects he felt passionte about, often for little or no money. Funny; hese are the same things he writes about oday: living life, living simply and sharing the nowledge he has amassed.
“DON’T FOCUS ON STUFF. FOCUS ON LEARNING THE SKILLS. DON’T GET YOUR SURVIVAL AND PREPPING EDUCATION FROM TV SHOWS. MOST TV SHOWS ARE ENTERTAINMENT FIRST AND EDUCATION SECOND.”
UBSTANCE OVER STUFF
I asked Christopher what he thought the main sue was regarding “surviving.”
“Most people with the latest gadget and the iggest knife and the thing you must have to
survive are just trying to make a buck,” Christopher said. “Don’t focus on stuff. Focus on learning the skills. Don’t get your survival and prepping education from TV shows. Most TV shows are entertainment first and education second.” He went on to say, “Everyone should constantly stay alert to the ‘big picture’ and make their own plans based on local and personal needs. Live frugally and include others in your plans. Make your circle bigger. Grow food and be self-reliant.”
I prodded Christopher a little more about this issue.
This was his response: “The biggest issue facing everyone is that we seem to be in denial of certain fundamental issues that are getting us all in deeper. Overpopulation is one, and that drives all the others and pits people against people. In many areas, water is a serious issue, as is the high cost of housing. So-called ‘preppers’ need to face reality and live their lives
... SURVIVAL IS NOT ABOUT THE AMOUNT OF STUFF YOU HAVE. IT IS ABOUT HOW YOU USE YOUR SKILLS TO INTERACT WITH THE ENVIRONMENT AROUND YOU, INCLUDING ANY HUMANS YOU MIGHT ENCOUNTER.
as an example wherever they live, city or rural. Teach your neighbors how to be part of the solution.”
Whether you are a writer or a teacher, there are many skills we often take for granted. I asked Christopher what concept he has found that students seem to have the most difficulty grasping.
“Assume nothing. There are no ‘simple tasks,’” Christopher explained. “It is simple if you know how to do it; complicated when you do not. Modern technology is being relied upon too much. People are doing less, thinking less and assuming more. When teaching or writing, always begin from step one and go from there.”
CHRISTOPHER’S GO-TO GEAR
Knowing Christopher is not a “stuff” kind of guy, I asked him to list five to 10 items that people should have.
VERYONE SHOULD CONSTANTLY STAY ALERT TO THE ‘BIG PICTURE’ AND MAKE THEIR OWN PLANS BASED ON LOCAL AND PERSONAL EDS. LIVE FRUGALLY AND INCLUDE OTHERS IN YOUR PLANS. MAKE YOUR CIRCLE BIGGER. GROW FOOD AND BE SELF-RELIANT.”
According to Christopher, “The gear that each individual carries is a very personal selection based on the person’s needs, skills and the circumstances, but here are some things that you will always need.”
1. Water container and cup (preferably stainless steel)
2. Water purifier
3. A few knives (one should be a Swiss Army knife or a multi-tool)
4. Fire starters (butane lighters and a magnesium fire starter)
5. Kerchief (multiple uses)
6. Toilet paper
7. First aid kit
9. A little money
10. Small flashlight
In the case of a natural disaster or other emergency (for him that would be mainly earthquakes and forest fires), he suggests having at least two weeks of food and water on hand (more is better).
BUSY PURSUING HIS GOALS
As previously mentioned, Christopher is a very busy person. Besides teaching a variety of courses at the School of Self-reliance, he is working on books about fire-starting and navigation. He consults for National Geographic and for the television program, Naked and Afraid. In addition, he is continually writing articles for a variety of publications—including American Survival Guide—about different aspects of survival. Christopher also donates time to nonprofits, doing such things as re-planting native plants and giving talks on self-reliant living in an urban environment.
Christopher is an interesting man, to say the least, and is someone I am proud to consider my friend. He willingly shares his deep wealth of knowledge, obtained from years of living a life that truly focuses on self-reliance. This honesty and authenticity are evident in the articles he contributes to American Survival Guide and other outlets.
One vital concept I have learned from my association with Christopher is that survival is not about the amount of stuff you have. It is about how you use your skills to interact with the environment around you, including any humans you might encounter.
We need to stop thinking about “me” and start thinking about “we,” because we are not alone in this “boat”; and, despite our plans, we could be the ones who need help someday.
i Christopher, an expert on wild edible plants, shows students how to remove the spines from a prickly pear cactus.
Students of all ages are shown that wild edibles are all around us.
Near right: Nyerges shows just some of the wild edible plants that can be found in the area.Teaching a student the proper way of weaving a fish trap. This skill is also useful for making clothing, baskets and a host of different useful items.
Right: Christopher shares some of his voluminous knowledge and experience with a class held in Southern California.
i Far right: Nyerges with poison hemlock. It is just as important to learn what can hurt you as it is to learn what you can eat.
Below: Christopher instructs students on what materials to look for and how to make “wild” soap.
Right: Christopher shares several lessons in a class near a stream. Aside from explaining how to hollow out a piece of wood, he teaches the class that where there is water, there is food of some kind.
Left: Some of the items Christopher recommends everyone should have with them (Photo: Dana Benner)
Left: Some of the books written by Christopher Nyerges (Photo: Dana Benner)
Students who built bows during one of Christopher’s classes hav them inspected and get constructive feedback.