Homesteading and Livestock
Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

When the Cold Sets In

winter homestead

An aerial view of our farm, before Farmstead Creamery was built. 

It’s cold outside.  Yeah, just a bit.  Just a little bit.  No, a bit more than that.  I got excited yesterday when I learned the high would be zero!  Whoo-hoo.  Is that still, like, jacket weather? 

While the farm animals would prefer teens and twenties for daytime temps, no one has had that luxury lately.  And projects that should usually take five minutes can seem to take FOREVER in this kind of extreme cold.  Or, well, some of them just don’t happen at all because the equipment refuses to start up.

Here are 20 sure signs it’s gotten pretty darn cold on the homestead this past week.  See how many of these you’ve tasted pieces of recently!  Or they might remind you of days back on the farm:

Even the heated waterers and water buckets are freezing up. Whoever makes the heaters only rates them to be good down to zero degrees.  And this is inside the coop or barn!  What were they thinking, I mean, we’re not the only place where it gets colder than zero.  Well, either way, it means lugging the brick-hard beast into the bath tub and running hot water until it’s all thawed out and ready to return to duty…at least for a bit longer.

My eyelashes freeze together just walking from our house to the chicken coop. Leaving the glasses behind, knowing they would only fog and freeze over, my hat is pulled down over my eyebrows and my purple Turtle Fur scarf is over the top of my nose, leaving a protective slit opening for my eyes—not unlike the view of medieval knights looking out from their helmet.  Even here, aided by my warm breath, ice forms on my lashes and, blink, blink, soon they start getting stuck closed.  But you know it’s REALLY gotten cold when your nose hairs freeze!

Even the winter-hearty water hose can’t come out in this polar vortex, so I’m back to hauling gallons and gallons to chickens, pigs, sheep, cows, and donkey in five-gallon buckets. Trotting through the uneven snowpack, the water sloshes and spills onto my Carhartt insulated chore pants.  After 45 minutes of ducking in and out of barns and sheds with this routine, the frozen sloshes and splashes have formed enough of a crust that I can hardly bend my leg anymore and the pants can stand up all on their own!

The bursting of trees in the woods as any last vestiges of their sap in trunks expands with a loud POP make me jump, thinking a gunshot has gone off. Three of these awaited me just this morning as the sun sparkled on the hoarfrost. 

If your leather glove or mitten gets the tiniest bit damp, good luck getting it back off the metal bucket handle.

I try everything I can NOT to take my hand out of the glove or mitten to latch the chicken coop door at night, which is covered with frost from the breaths of 200 laying hens and 20 ducks. This ice has formed into a jagged crystalline structure like the back of a frosted hedgehog. Invariably, after several minutes of struggle, I hold my breath and pull out the bare hand to just bloody get the job done before I freeze anymore.

The frost has heaved the turkey coop’s cement floor. I can no longer close their front door enough to latch it.  Instead, I devise an alternative latch involving a length of baling twine tied to the door knob that stretches out to the welded wire of their run pen, affixed with an S-hook.  No latch involved to freeze up.  Good, that will work.

The only vehicle that will work in the morning at all is the 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee. It’s the oldest vehicle on the farm. 

I wonder if they make snow tires or tire chains for my utility golf cart, so I can still…maybe…get by using it to haul water instead of this frozen pants and buckets deal.

Even the compost piles have snow on top of them. Typically, the decomposition process continues through the winter, which makes fairly high amounts of heat.  I’ve seen compost piles steam!  But this cold?  Nope, even compost microbes go dormant.

Even the 2-year-old sheep dog with puppy springiness in his step gets too cold to finish chores. All the dogs try to see if they can walk with the fewest number of feet on the ground.  Can I walk on three legs?  Can I walk on two?  Couldn’t I just hover please?

After collecting eggs from the coop, whether it’s morning or evening chores, I have to RUN with them to the farmhouse as fast as possible, before they freeze in the ice cream bucket and split their shells. Meander around too much and you can hear them pop, like miniature versions of the trees in the woods.

While it’s cold walking from Farmstead to the aquaponics greenhouse, it’s always colder walking back! Invariably the bottoms of your shoes are wet, sticking to the bare concrete entry way, and your hands are damp, sticking to the door latches!  Can I get that door latch with my elbow?  So THIS is why they made us put ADA compliant latches on all the doors!

You realize why in Vermont so many of the houses are attached to the barns, so you can walk completely inside back and forth. Smart people.  Why didn’t we think of that too…or the Fullingtons when they laid out the farm over 100 years ago.  Inflatable tunnel anyone?

There never seems to be enough wood brought inside for the wood stove. Wait, last piece?  I thought I just went and got a sled load?  Where did it all go?

The few songbirds left all seem to be roosting in the rafters of the turkey coop at night. When I open the door, they bolt out like freed prisoners.  The rest are in the barn above the sheep, only venturing outside when they need to.  I hope that they are finding enough to eat.  Any feed I spill while trying to transfer from 50-lb. bags to 5-gallon buckets is all cleaned up by morning.  So it goes as we all try to make it through the winter season.

None of the icicles have grown an inch this week. They’re just hanging there, waiting for the action to resume like jagged teeth off the side of the barn roof. 

There’s white frost, a quarter of an in thick, on the INSIDE of our front door’s striker plate. That’s, like, in the house.  Not even in a mud room.  And I’m totally serious.

That moment when you realize the water splashed on your chore pants has made it through the zipper and your whole leg is actually wet. How long do I have until frost bite?  How fast can I finish these chores NOW!!!?

That moment when you cannot pry yourself away from sitting in front of the wood stove like a lizard soaking up the desert sun. Chores?  In a minute.  You hear the wind howl, shudder, then tip the other shoulder to ease the sore muscles with the wood-fired warmth.  Maybe I’ll just get a blanket and sleep right here.  Maybe the dog would make a good pillow?  It’s the one real haven in a cold, white, windswept world.

Sound familiar?  One morning this week, I thought, whew, that was an especially cold chores day!  And what was it?  26 below! “Below what?” an East Coast friend once asked me.  “Below freezing?”  Em, no, a bit below that.  Quite a bit.  So if you have to venture out there into that bitter cold, bundle up, duck into shelters often, and try to avoid the perils of the endless splashing water buckets!  See you down on the farm sometime.

(Follow Kara on subzero chores!)

Photo by Jana Reeg Steidinger.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Enjoying the Snow

snowcovered farm

Yes, I know, snow can be a real bugger sometimes.  There’s the drift that always forms just a few feet in front of the garage doors.  Some years I think I shovel the same snowflakes from that spot over and over.  And there’s the new eight inches to clear off all the trails and driveways and walk-paths that crisscross the barnyard and curve their way past the pig pens and chicken coops.

When the first snows hit, we portion out all the shovels like they’re a ration.  One in the garage, one at Farmstead, one in the other garage, one at the coop, one in the barn, one at the pole barn, one at the back door.  You just never know when you’ll be stuck some place and need to dig your way out (or need the one in the car to get yourself unstuck yet again).  Wake up for chore time and some mornings you have to dig your way out!

Not that I’m complaining about the beautiful snow we’ve been having.  I love the elegant, clean look and brightness it adds to the landscape after November’s dulled browns and grays.  It softens the sounds, brightens the mornings and evening (even in the shortened days) and adds a sparkle when the sun is out to catch the frozen crystals like jewels trapped on tree branches.

Our sheep dogs love the snow, snapping up a mouthful in mid-gallop as they romp about the barnyard obstacle course.  For them, it’s like catching a mouthful of ice-cream.  They come up for air, noses powdered white, then keep running.  The sheep stand in their paddocks, observing the day, the downy flakes piling up on the their thick-fleeced backs.

The appearance of snow that sticks around on the farm also creates an interesting storyboard of who’s been where in the tracks left behind.  The appearance of the classic splay-toed prints of turkey feet outside the fence tells of either an escape or a wild visitor, the tunnels of mice and voles bely movements typically unseen, and the highways of rabbits and squirrels spell out their favorite routs and hidey holes. 

Tracking the paths of our wild friends and enjoying the views and sounds of the season of snow will all be part of our 4th Annual Snowshoe Hike this Saturday the 30th (starting 10:00 am) with naturalist Emily Stone from the Cable Natural History Museum.  Cross-country skis are welcome too, and we’ll stop back at Farmstead after the hike for a hot drink and tasty treat. 

I’ll be sharing the history of the farm as we pass by the old white pine stumps pulled from the fields by the original homesteaders or round the bend towards the unpainted gambrel barn, built in 1919.  Emily weaves the story of what’s happening in the woods this time of year—the active subnivium zone beneath the snow, the amazing properties of lichen.  Following the gently rolling topography, we move from barnyard to forest, hayfields to wetland borders.

This year the snowshoe hike will kick off a whole season of snowshoe/ski treks through our woods on Saturdays that I’ll be guiding.  Starting at 1:00 pm, the hike takes about an hour, beginning and ending at Farmstead, every Saturday throughout January and February.  Bring your own snowshoes or skis (and a friend!) and enjoy the quiet peace of the farm’s wintry hush.  Of course, we ask everyone participating to please respect that this is special access to private property, and the trail will only be open during these guided experiences.

One of my favorite parts about being in the woods in wintertime (other than that I can return without being covered in ticks!) is how deeply one can look into the forest.  Bits of movement between the silvery tree trunks catch the eye, a startled grouse looses her wings with a flurry of wind or a squirrel spirals skyward with great chastisement.  All those bits kept secret through the leafy season are laid bare, silhouetted by the crisp, white snow.

My favorite snow makes the farm look ready for a Dicken’s village scene—powdery, light, with the huge flake-clusters tumbling down with impossible grace.  They only stay that way for a little while before relinquishing their loftiness or slump in warming temps.  But the moment of standing out in this type of snow, listening to the immense quiet of evening (after all the animals are fed because before that there’s too much baahing and braying and squealing) reminds me how truly magical wintertime can be.

What is your favorite way of enjoying the snow?  Writing words in the freshness with your boots, like spelling a cursive message to the sky?  Making snow angels or snowmen with the grandchildren?  Skiing on the trails with your dog?

Whatever helps winter shine for you, make some time for that this week.  It’s easy to complain about the snow, but finding the magic again (a magic we all remember as kids when the coveted snow days would happen) helps lighten the load of wintertime.  Yes, there will still be shoveling and unearthing the car with its annoying crust of ice, but when was the last time you got to “play” with the snow?  Had a snowball fight for fun?

If you’re not sure where to start or are looking for some motivation, you’re certainly welcome to join us on a snowshoe/ski jaunt in the woods behind the barnyard.  But you don’t need me to enjoy the snow.  It’s available to all of us living in these beautiful Northwoods.  Even my ducks like it, burrowing about with their yellow bills.  What are they looking for?  I think it’s their way of just being outside, enjoying the snow.  See you down on the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Homestead Repurposing 101

tractor tire sand box

I recent watched a TED talk that shared a study on the level of genius thinking in school students.  What is genius thinking?  Here’s an example.  Grab a piece of paper and, as quickly as possible, write down all the things you could do with a paper clip.  Go!

Got that?  So, most folks will think of 15 to 20 things they could do with a paper clip.  Genius thinkers will come up with upwards of 80 or 100!  This is because they are willing to take the idea of a paper clip but free it from its current restraints.  “What if,” the genius thinker asks, “the paper clip is 40 feet tall and made of foam rubber?”

What the study found, using similar methods to the question above, is that 95 percent of kindergarteners are genius thinkers, but by 6th grade that number has shrunk to less than 10 percent.  Kids get carefully trained to get the answers “right,” rather than free associate outside of the box.

For the homesteader, it’s essential to be able to draw on that kindergarten ability for genius thinking.  For instance, there are all kinds of things on a farm built for a single purpose:  a dog collar, a tractor tire, a fiberglass fence post, a shepherd’s crook, a broom, and baling twine.  Let’s run with those fairly ordinary farm objects for a minute and see where the genius thinking goes.

See, the reason for this exercise is the well-known fact that stuff breaks on a farm.  Yes, I know, it breaks more often than I would like it to.  So then what?  Throw it away?  No!  We’re way too thrifty for that.  But the piles of “I’ll use that someday” can quickly overrun the working parts of the farm, so it’s critical to put that obsolete thing to a good purpose.

Let’s start with the dog collar.  Well, it didn’t actually break, but the puppy grew up and it no longer fits.  The collar is still in working condition, if a bit well-loved.  Now what, into the drawer?  Ah, but Kara has a gate to the sheep pen that needs a latch.  But it butts up to a metal T-posts, so the usual chain and latch method that requires anchoring to a wooden post won’t work. 

The solution?  Put the dog collar around the gate and the post, and you have a new way to lock it!  Might be a little harder to get in and out (the sheep certainly haven’t figured it out yet), and it froze solid with the last ice storm (Mom thawed it out with her bare hands…that method could use some improvement), but hey, it’s in use.

dog collar latch

Ok, onto the tractor tire.  Of course, there’s lots of things for these enormous rubber doughnuts.  The old Farmall tractor that came with the farm had cut-up chunks of tire strapped to the old metal wheels because it came from the era of cleats rather than tires.  But I can run faster than that tractor, so it’s not really seeing work these days.

You can lay the tire on its side, fill it with soil, and make a flower bed.  Or, even more fun, take a saws-all to the rim and fill it with sand for the kiddos to have a farm-themed sandbox to play in!  It makes the saws-all smoke, but the end result is pretty spiffy, and the tire sides hold up well to the lawn trimmer’s string as you tend the grass.  We made one of these for Farmstead, and it gets a good workout all summer.

Next is the fiberglass fence post.  We use electric mesh fencing for our sheep and poultry.  This helps to keep them safe from predators while being lightweight and movable.  But now and then the fence gets challenged by a situation (a sheep tries to jump it, a storm reeks havoc, or my foot gets caught and I’m the one all tangled up) and the post will break off just above the metal step-in spike. 

Time to buy a replacement post.  But what to do with the old one?   While no longer useful for fencing, the fiberglass is still flexible and a bright white.  I use them as herding sticks for the chickens and turkeys.  Easily visible for the birds and lightweight for me to carry, the nudges and taps on their feathery sides are gentle because of the fiberglass flex.  There’s usually a few handy by the coop door.  Never know when you need to persuade an escapee back into the coop!

What’s next, a shepherd’s crook?  Do they make any of those meant to last?  One wily moment with a well-muscled sheep and a barn support beam between you and her, and the pole is mangled or broken.  Time to place another order and hope there’s a sturdier version on the market.  But now what for the misshapen one?  They hang out in the barn for all sorts of arm-extension jobs like nabbing the handle of a bucket on the other side of a corral panel or knocking open the latch on the little door up on the side of the barn where you throw down the hay bales.  It’s handy for shorter folks like me.  Though I’ll admit that, even with the crook, I’m still jumping to reach that barn door latch.

The broom?  Well, while it still looks like a broom, it’s useful for getting turkeys off of roofs, scrubbing coop window screens free of dust, and various cleaning processes, but when the bristles wear down to nothing, saw off the sweeping part and keep the handle.  You never know when the handle of something else will break and you need a new one in a pinch, or they also work great for door props, tarp props, anti-rooster self-defense weapons, roost rungs, bucket carriers, and on and on and on.  Broom handles are the “paper clip” supreme of homesteading.

But baling twine?  I’m afraid that baling twine takes the cake.  Woe to a farm that doesn’t feed hay.  I can’t imagine homesteading without twine around, draped in bundles from a nail in the barn wall like big hanks of sisal or pink plastic dreads.  Baling twine is one of those things I always try to have in my chore-mongering utility golf cart (that and zip-ties, a harvest knife, a scissors, a pliers, a screw driver, and assorted garden tools…there could be a whole other article just on the many uses of those items!).

But back to baling twine.  Not only does it work great for tying things down (or up) but also for splices, latches, trellises, supports, harnesses, leashes, hoists, tethers, straps, brace ties, join ties, and any other imaginable situation.  Armed with baling twine and a Girl/Boy Scout’s knowledge of knots, this everyday item becomes a lifeline to success under the harshest of circumstances.  Baling twine anchored to T-posts in the midst of lightening saved my poultry from drowning in that terrible September storm a few years ago.

Still brainstorming more ways to use a paper clip?  Keep that genius thinking going.  The other word for this process is repurposing.  “I know this object is meant for this process, but what if I…?”  Next time you feel like throwing a broken thing out, take a moment to think about how it might be repurposed.  The results might surprise you!  Time to make sure I still have baling twine handy before chores.  See you down on the farm sometime. 

Tractor tire. Photo by Laura Berlage.

The dog collar gate latch.  Photo Steve Barnes

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

The ABCs of Caring for Baby Chicks

brahma cross baby chick 

Although it's the dead of winter, I know that many chicken enthusiasts like myself are already planning how they will start or expand their flock come spring. Maybe, like us, you are browsing sales ads and hatchery catalogs, in delicious hesitation about the perfect breed to start raising when the days get longer and warmer.

We are big proponents of breeding and raising chicks the natural way, with broody hens, but sometimes running the incubator or ordering a batch of baby chicks can have definite advantages - such as, for example, the ability to monitor valuable eggs extra carefully, and to give your flock a head start in the spring. If you are not averse to the idea of keeping chicks indoors for a few weeks, your February babies may well be ready for the outdoors as early as March or April, depending on your local weather - at about the time when your hens are just thinking of getting back to laying. 

Start With the Basics

If you have hatched some chicks in the incubator or brought some home from a breeder, it is your responsibility to provide all their needs – a safe, warm, clean environment with food and fresh water always available.

We do things very simply around here. For our brooder, we use a large cardboard box lined with newspaper or wood shavings, which are changed often. A heating lamp is suspended from a board placed across the top. We provide food in one tray and water in another – a heavy ashtray works very well for this purpose, as it’s stable enough not to be overturned and flat enough so that chicks won’t drown or get wet through if they stand in their water, which they like to do. If you use a deeper dish, fill it with marbles or rocks.

Make sure the chicks are not crowded. If some chicks are weak and get trodden upon, they can be squashed to death. Remove them to a separate brooder until they recover.

In almost every source I’ve checked, commercial chick starter is recommended for baby chicks, but I confess we have never used it. I expect I’d get a lot of rotten tomatoes hauled my way by experts if I suggested this officially, but remember, I’m sharing our personal experience here.

We offer our chicks a diet of regular chicken mash, or layers’ mash – whatever we have on hand – supplemented with mashed hard-boiled egg and, from very early on, treats in the form of fruit and veggie scraps. I also take the chicks outside, under supervision, and let them peck and scratch in the yard for a while each day (weather permitting, of course). We have raised many generations of healthy chicks this way.

I wish you the best of luck with your chicken nursery, and am sure you are going to have fun with your flock.

Part of this post was an excerpt from Your Own Hands: Self Reliant Projects for Independent Living

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


Laundry When You are Living Off Grid


The evolution of laundry in our family directly correlates with our family’s growth. When we were a small family we washed and scrubbed our clothes in the creek or a bucket using a washboard with very little soap as it takes a while to rinse out the soap. Mom’s homemade lye soap and later lye/goats milk soap was/is a good strong soap for doing laundry and when there was a very dirty spot we would scrub that spot well with soap and scrub it on the wash board.

I do remember having fun trying to twist out the water in big items like sheets and blankets. Even with pants, two of us would grab a side and wring out the water by each of us twisting the pants in opposite directions thus wringing out the majority of the water before we hung it out on the line. We used to just hang everything on the clothes line but the weight tended to break the line no matter how many times we upgraded the clothesline and rebuilt it.

If we wanted to have hot water, it meant heating it on the stove or over a fire, which was easy in the winter as we always had a large pot of water on the wood stove for moisture in the air (wood burning dries it out) and for hot water. In the summer we didn’t use as much hot water (we did have one of those plastic bag camping solar “showers” that we heated water in). Although later I did end up building a solar batch heater using a plastic tank painted black and mounted on the roof. The problem is we had no pump so we had to haul the water from the creek up onto the roof to fill the tank and than it was gravity fed. It usually got way too hot. Now a small solar electric (PV) panel and a little DC pump can do it wonderfully. I don’t remember except vaguely once or twice using hot water to wash our clothes. I think once we had an infestation of lice and we boiled all of our clothes and various cloth sundries.


At one house we had a hand operated wringer washer which a couple of us kids got our hands stuck in when we were ringing out the clothes. It was a game for us kids as one kid would feed the clothes through the ringer while another would hand turn the crank.  It never really hurt as the kid cranking would stop as soon as your fingers were caught and crank backwards to get you out. To wash the clothes there was a handle to swish back and forth to tumble the clothes. It was fun to see how dirty we could get the water as that felt like we accomplished something.

I know we had an electric operated wringer washer also but since we only had electricity for one winter it must have been only than that we used it. When we didn’t have electricity we would use it as a soak tub to soak the really dirty things. I remember being deathly afraid of getting my hand caught in the wringer but would actually, for the excitement, would push the limits on how close I could get my fingers to it and once did get my hand halfway up my forearm sucked in. I don’t remember how I was saved but I do remember the pain and swelling being around for a few days.

Later, as our family grew, we would just do laundry in the large machines at a laundromat on our monthly town runs.

Drying was always done on a clothes line and even a couple of months ago when I went to the laundromat and dried my clothes in the dryer, due to it raining, I felt so guilty for doing it when I should have waited to do laundry when the sun was shining. Even when we did laundry in town 30 minutes away we took all the clothes home to hang them out to dry. Only once did we wait so long to hang the clothes out to dry that they had started to turn sour smelling. Drying them in nature’s solar dryer made them smell fresh again.

I remember when my friend Dan, who lived off grid in Northern Michigan, made up solar clothes dryer kits which he called Solar Fusion Clothes Dryer and sold them at the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair. He actually sold out and had to buy supplies to make more kits. All that was in the “kit” was a piece of paper with instructions on how to set up a clothes line, 25 feet of clothes line, and 10 wooden clothes pins. He was selling them for $10 each. People have become so disconnected that some people had actually no idea what a clothes line was. Dan was a funny man and he would explain it without ever saying clothes line. Pay once and you have free drying For Ever!! Do you have a solar clothes dryer that you use ?

It is interesting to me thinking back that us kids always made any “chore” we had into a game so I still enjoy doing laundry to this day. I know it was work looking back but I don’t remember it as work but rather as a fun time with my siblings.

I look forward everyday to the interactions I have on my Living Off Grid, Really!?!? Facebook page and hope you will join the discussion there.

Stay energized, Aur

Aur Beck has lived completely off-grid for over 35 years. He has traveled with his family through 24 states and 14,000 recorded miles by horse-drawn wagon. Aur is a presenter at The Climate Reality Project, a fellow addict at Oil Addicts Anonymous International  and a talk show co-host at WDBX Community Radio for Southern Illinois 91.1 FM. Find him on the Living Off Grid, Really!?!? Facebook page, and read all of Aur's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

The Cabin In The Woods


Living in the mountains at 9,800’ elevation is wonderful beyond description ‘but’ it comes with a lot of work. In the summer months we spend considerable time cutting, hauling, splitting and stacking firewood. Since we heat our small 890 square foot cabin with a wood stove we need to have between 9 and 12 cords of firewood available to see us through the next winter. Without question our winters are long and last anywhere from 6-8 months. Our snowfall on average is 264” per season but spread out over up to 6 - 8 months it is manageable (more on that under snow removal). The 4-5 months where we don’t have snow is spent with our small garden, property maintenance and getting firewood for next winter.

Average Day In The Mountains

A normal day starts early by arising around sunrise. We like to get an early start to our day since we live on the northeast side of the mountain and the sun sets on the opposite side which is early afternoon for us. First things first - we get our dogs out in the fenced in backyard to relieve themselves and then we sit and do some meditation while we enjoy a hot cup of coffee. This quiet morning time gets our day started off gradually.  

Then it is time to get the dogs fed the first of their three meals for the day. Next we get the three bird feeders filled with sunflower seeds and get breakfast ourselves. I usually spend about an hour on the computer answering emails and checking on friends. Then outside to clear snow, cut firewood, mulch limbs, seal exposed wood or other labor intensive tasks. At our age it takes longer so we have to plan our activities carefully in advance.

Between meals for ourselves and the dogs coupled with dog walks and letting them in and out throughout the day we work on needed tasks. Carol has household duties so she vacuums, dusts, prepares meals, bakes, keeps the wood stove going and helps me when necessary.  When the sun sets we then sit and relax for the rest of the day.

Snow Removal

With the volume of snow here in the mountains we spend a lot of time clearing it away. We have a small Kubota tractor with a snow thrower on the front and a blade on the rear. There are a few areas around our house that we can only get by shoveling. Since we live in an A-Frame the first order of business is to get the snow off the roof. Snow sliding down a steep roof can literally ruin your day so that is first.

Then we shovel it out to where it can be removed by the snow thrower. Snow removal is not something to procrastinate about as if it snows again it can be very troublesome to remove accumulated snow. The wind blows frequently in the mountains so if I had a recommendation it would be having a tractor with a cab enclosure. It can be miserable throwing snow in the wind. Fortunately our snowfall is spread out over several months so we don’t often have to deal with large snowfalls. Six feet over two days is the most we have dealt with.

Living With Wild Animals

We not only live in the mountains but our homestead is pretty remote; hence we live with wild animals. My experience has been that the wild animals make for excellent neighbors. In our 20 + years here we have found them to be very respectful of our space and we reciprocate. When we are outside we never know when we will encounter predators or wild animals. In our time here we have not had any real serious encounters.

We have mountain lion, lynx, wolves, coyotes, bobcat, elk, deer, turkeys and a wide array of smaller critters. We have had a bear sit down about 25 yards away just to watch us work on firewood with a chainsaw. A mother bear actually raised her tiny cubs at our home and used us to train them. Mountain lions will let you know if you happen to get to close. When they coil on the ground, lay their ears back and snarl you need to stop encroaching until they settle down.

Deer frequently follow me around while I work. We used to have a turkey that followed me around like a pet, especially when I would dig fishing worms as she liked to share. Respecting their space and staying calm has seen us through multiple encounters. When you are able to gain the trust of any wild animal and be accepted by them you are at a special place in the animal kingdom. A place that is felt and not easily described.

Living With Canine Companions

We live in our small cabin with our three German Shepherd Dogs. We prefer the German Shepherd breed for their intelligence and loyalty. Of all the breeds the German Shepherd is third on the list for intelligence only behind Poodle and  Border Collie. With our lifestyle we only have each other and the dogs to talk to. It is amazing how much they understand and how it is almost like having three extra people around. They communicate very well and let us know their needs and respond to our direction for them.

We could not ask for any better companions and they are good to live with because living as we do they let us know if there is anything lurking outside the house. They live inside the house with us and have full and complete reign of the house. Their intelligence and protectiveness makes them the perfect fur family for us.

In summary, life in the mountains is pleasurable beyond description but it entails a tremendous amount of work. We especially like this time of year when part time residents are gone and it is very quiet and peaceful. We enjoy the simplicity of our lifestyle albeit a physically demanding one. I would highly recommend it for those who are not afraid of intense hard physical work. It is clearly not a suitable lifestyle for everyone but it is just right for us.

For more on Bruce, Carol and their mountain lifestyle and fur family go to their blog site at:

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Back to the Land With Mother Earth News in Hand


I’m a child of the 1960s and 70s. I remember well the upheaval our country was going through during those troubled times. The Viet Nam War, civil unrest, and possible nuclear attacks from Russia were worrisome.

It was common knowledge during the 1970s there was a sizeable back-to-the-land movement where young Americans gave up on their country’s troubles and went to the land for a rural lifestyle. Some lived in communes while others kept the move to immediate family members. Mother Earth News was instrumental in helping readers make that move. In 1970, the third issue of Mother Earth News, had a feature story about cheap land in West Virginia. Property for less than $50 per acre enticed eager city folk fed up with all the negative news and events. Plenty of young Americans flocked to the Mountain State.

West Virginia at that time was experiencing an outflow of its young adults looking for a steady work environment that cities tended to provide. With thousands of young adults fleeing West Virginia this left a vacuum for the young newcomers to fill. The newcomers were often met by friendly older locals willing to help the newbies learn how to survive the mountain environment. Between learning from the entrenched locals and reading Mother Earth News many of these city transplants learned farming, construction, plus arts and crafts skills that would allow them to live on their own land and prosper. Many went on to become successful furniture makers, potters, sculptors, quilters, photographers, and more.

Even to this day, it’s inspiring to hear the stories of those new homesteaders success in fleeing the rat race and building a peaceful and satisfying life in the woods. Fast forward to 2017, and it seems America is in similar turmoil. Regardless of one's politics, it’s easy to see people are getting fed up with the rat race and events. Perhaps it’s time to have another Back to the Land movement?

If so, then Mother Earth News is essential to the plan. Every issue helps those seeking a rural existence - information like how to brew your own beer, turning a profit farming, build your own solar system, raise heritage livestock, and most of the skills needed to live a good life in the country.

Living in the online age can further aid in selling home-based food as well as craft products on the web. In her excellent book Hippie Homesteaders, Carter Taylor Seaton tells of successful city escapees making a move to West Virginia and succeeding in a variety of home-based occupations back in the 1960s and 70s. Those back-to-the-landers didn’t have the internet to sell their wares, and yet many of them succeeded. If you choose a rural home where you have internet; all the better for success in selling home-based products. Farmers markets give you another source of a ready and willing group of customers seeking all kinds of homemade goods from small producers. It’s a fine time to make a move back to the land if you seek a rural lifestyle.

Some of the places that might appeal for a move to the country nowadays are West Virginia and Alaska. Land is reasonably inexpensive, and a variety of homes on a few acres are available to fit what many are looking for. Near the charming town of Capon Bridge, West Virginia a one bedroom cabin on seven treed acres was listed recently for a mere $70,000. The cabin already has electricity, well, and septic in place. A listing of five acres without home on it is only $11,500 and includes access to the community’s lakes for swimming and fishing. It’s no surprise West Virginia is experiencing a new wave of back-to-the-land folk.

North to Alaska

Want to go much farther away from the madness? Up in Sterling Alaska, a 1.17 acre treed lot with utilities close by is for sale at $8,500. The lot would need a short road built to it, but the location is just 20 minutes from Soldotna - a town of 4,000 plus. Further north in Nikiski a 4.09-acre lot is out where the moose and ravens live and cost $20,000. These two options would allow for a peaceful country existence and are close enough to offer possible work in fisheries, tourism, or jobs in the cities of Kenai or Soldotna. And after living in Alaska for over a year, you would probably be able to collect Permanent Fund Dividend payments to each member of your household. These payments run from $878 to as high as $2,072 over the last 10 years.

Living rural is a romantic notion for some and a burning desire for others. For many of us, it’s not hard to imagine the satisfaction of getting away from negative TV news, hectic cities, and crowded highways in search of a quiet existence. It’s not so much running away from the city than running to a life well-lived that waits for those making the move.

The possibilities for a rural life are there. Ask yourself if the desire there? It’s not rocket science to live a simple life in the woods. Many have, and many more will make the move. With Mother Earth News and other resources, you’ll find rural living subjects are explained to help you succeed. Hey, if the move doesn’t work out you can always come back to the rat race, but who would want that after a taste of the good life. 

Kurt Jacobson writes about travel, food, wine, organic gardening, and most anything else from his varied professional life. His articles appear in Alaska Magazine, Fish Alaska Magazine, Metropolis Japan Magazine, Edible Delmarva Magazine, North West Travel and Life Magazine, and Mother Earth News.

Kurt’s articles also appear on several websites like:,,,, and several others. Kurt is a regular contributor to writing about Alaska, Colorado, New Zealand, Japan, and the Mid-Atlantic areas.

Kurt lives in the Baltimore, MD area with his wife, dog and cats.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.