Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
What Constitutes Being a Senior?
It all depends on individual interpretation, but most dictionaries consider seniors to be around 65 years old. Ask any person 65 and they will probably tell you that a senior is between 78 and 80 years old. It is essentially how you evaluate your own status and many people in these age groups still do not consider themselves senior.
In my case, after cutting/splitting/stacking a cord of firewood and being barely able to move at the end of the day is when I feel very much senior. Ask me the next morning and I’d probably tell you in another 10 years or around my mid-80s I'll be a senior. Being a senior can, therefore, fluctuate due to variable circumstances and individual interpretation.
What Constitutes Homesteading?
My first encounter with the word "homestead" was when I lived in Florida and, after a few years, I could claim my home under the Homesteading Act, which gave me reduced taxes. All I knew about homesteading (even though I lived in a city) was that it provided a tax break after you had been in your home for 5 years.
Now, homesteading means a type of lifestyle of self-sufficiency where you make your own clothes, grow and preserve your own food, and is generally associated with remote living.
Defining 'Senior Homesteader'
Therefore, to consider myself a senior homesteader would depend on the time of day I’m asked that question and what I have been doing. Since we live in a cabin remotely in the mountains, heat with a woodstove and get our water from a deep well, plus grow our own vegetables, I think we qualify as senior homesteaders.
Referring to a senior homesteader can be pretty nebulous and, therefore, hard to define. Being a senior homesteader is not one size fits all. In today's environment where just about anything said offends someone, I will use senior homesteader in the first party and macro version and hopefully that will not offend anyone.
Living in a Small, Easy-to-Maintain Cabin
We live in a small cabin tucked away at 9,800 feet elevation, because we want a small cabin and prefer to be remote. Small cabins are easier to care for and maintain than large sprawling homes.
We heat our small cabin with a woodstove and they generate fine dust, which requires more frequent cleaning. A small cabin is easier and quicker to clean than larger homes. Also, our four German shepherd dogs could easily be referred to as German “shedders,” so a small cabin is much easier for cleaning up loose dog hair.
For 20 years, we have been kept warm in the coldest of months by woodstove heat and we burn 9 to 11 cords of firewood to maintain that warmth. Those who choose a different heat source would not have as much work as is involved in accumulating firewood.
Am I a senior homesteader then? Some days I am, but most of the time, I consider myself just an aging mid-70s, hard-working type of person with normal aches and pains that go with aging.
Growing Your Own Sustainability
We grow our own vegetables, so I guess that also makes us somewhat self-sustaining. Due to the rocky soil and a short growing season, coupled with a host of varmints, we never seem to grow enough beyond what we eat to preserve.
Sometimes, we can put up rhubarb and spinach but not much else. Any vegetable that takes longer than 75 days to mature just won’t provide us a productive crop. Our growing season at this altitude is very short and this year, for example, it was the third planting before the snow finally stopped, surprising us and wiping out tender plants.
Maintaining Your Physical Structure
We do the majority of our own cabin repairs, including maintenance on our chimney and wood stove. Our exterior is mostly stone that comes right from our own property, and is not only attractive, but functional. It only needs pressure washing every few years and protects against wildfire, plus gives us an extra 4 to 5 inches of exterior insulation.
We stain and seal those areas not covered by rock. We mulch our tree branches and use the mulch on walkways and frequently used areas of our property. We do our own plumbing and electrical repairs within our experience level.
Since we live in a heavily wooded area, we have also milled our own lumber using our abundant trees when a lumber project is required. Therefore, I believe we are mostly self-sustaining.
Can Seniors Homestead?
With my vague use of macro terms, I hope this has not offended anyone’s sensibility and all this leads to the question: “Can a senior homestead”?
The short answer is "probably," and the long answer is also "probably" — it depends if you truly want a self-sufficient lifestyle. If you do want a thist lifestyle and have the desire, then there is a good chance you can be a senior homesteader.
Homesteading is an exciting life choice regardless of age, and one of the benefits is the remoteness. Yesterday, for example, while working at the far end of our property, I looked up just in time to see a mountain lion passing through. Now, some would clearly not like this, but I love it, as we have a respectful relationship with all the wild animals that frequent our property.
Having an animal that could consider you a food source and no zoo bars between you and it would cause consternation in some, but we don’t see it like that. Being in close proximity to an unrestrained wild animal requires that each must respect the area of the other.
Our experience in these 20 years has been that animals are far more respectful than most humans. Yes, perhaps one day I could be the prey, but those chances are remote and if I lived in a city, I’d be prey all the time for two-legged animals.
Today’s world is an uncertain place, but most animals are very predictable and pose far less hazard than their two-legged counterpart. In summary, seniors can be homesteaders, but just be prepared for hard physical work and be open to adjustment and change.
Bruce McElummary lives remotely with his wife, Carol, in an 880-square-foot cabin along with their three dogs. They implemented many of the things they learned from MOTHER since its inception as a magazine. For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their lifestyle go to www.brucecarolcabin.blogspot.com. Read all of Bruce's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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