Homesteading as a Senior: Finding Balance through Planning Ahead

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray

We have homesteaded at our remote location at 9,800 feet elevation in the Sangre de Christo mountains, where we heat our small cabin with a woodstove. We have resided here for 20 winters on 11 acres of heavily wooded property. We share our cabin with our four German Shepherd dogs. While we have space heaters to heat areas that our woodstove will not reach, like our partial basement and bathroom, the remainder of our cabin is heated with our woodstove.

That requires approximately 10 to 12 cords of firewood per winter season. Our winters are long at this elevation, plus we also receive on average around 260 inches of snow per season. This fairly adequately explains our life choice and circumstances.

Physical Demands

When we first moved here full-time 20 winters ago, we quickly realized that our lifestyle of choice was clearly leaning towards a lot of manual physical labor. As we reflect back, we can see that each year, it has become increasingly harder as we have become older. With the many cords of firewood to cut, haul, split and stack, there is almost 22 feet of snow per season to be moved by shovel, pushed, or piled.

In addition to the firewood and snow, there are many rocks (both small and large) to move, tree limbs to be trimmed, mulched, or hauled off, weeds to be cut, and gardening, plus other multiple routine maintenance tasks to perform. In short, it is labor-intensive to live remotely in our chosen lifestyle but it is our choice.

Plan for Firewood and Other Necessities With Proximity in Mind

Each year, it has become progressively more difficult to perform these tasks, because of those typical  nagging aches and pains that accompany achieving senior status. We had pre-planned to a certain extent for this contingency by starting years ago, cutting the firewood the greatest distance from our home, leaving those dead trees nearer our home for when we couldn’t haul them the greater distance. We improved an old logging trail so we could use our small tractor to better transport cut trees giving us a better route to the far end of our property.

Unfortunately, the prime firewood does not grow right next to the tractor trail. Therefore, it has not become any easier as we age and requires both of us working in unison to accomplish these tasks. We have to carry the firewood  either up the mountain or down the mountain to load it into our trailer.

Trees continue to die and blow over at the far end of the property, so we have not worked that much closer to the house. In summary, it is all very labor intensive to take raw land and continue to maintain that land.

Senior Restrictions

This roughly describes our lifestyle and hopefully explains how as we grow older that age and the stresses we put on our bodies along the way makes tasks get exponentially harder year by year. I am extremely grateful to have reached senior age, as many have regretfully fallen short of this milestone. Even though it is accompanied with aches and pains, slowing down, limitations and stiffness, we are still able to get the needed tasks completed albeit with slightly different methods. We have made great strides toward making our home and land more livable, but much still remains to be done.

Unexpected Obstacles Will Arise

Working together has been a key to our well being and survival. I recently learned just how hard it is to have to work alone when Carol had a lesion removed (benign), but it restricted her performing any physical labor for nine days. The day after her surgery, we had a snowstorm with 15 inches of fresh snow and high winds.

While we have snow-removal equipment, much of our snow removal is still done with a shovel, including for the backyard where the dogs do their bathroom duties, along the sides of the house where the snow slides off the roof, deck and stairs, and the areas we need cleared to fetch our firewood. I don’t know how many tons of snow I moved by shovel, but it took me five days as opposed to what would usually take two days working together.

Anticipate the Unexpected

The moral of this story for us is that you can not always rely on static circumstances because situations change and it can suddenly impact your lifestyle. That is especially true when living at higher elevation where weather patterns and predictions are uncertain. Fortunately it was only for 9 days but it could have been longer. Now in our advanced years it became a more formidable job that required careful planning and execution.

Incorporate Lessons Learned

The primary lessons I learned from this latest incident are: 1) not to take anything for granted, 2) that a small change can impose a large burden, 3) to be prepared for unforeseen and sudden circumstances and not procrastinate, and 4) Carol’s contribution is greater than I realized.

I had just been partially restored by a chiropractor from all the strenuous wood cutting last summer, and moving this much snow by hand alone aggravated some of those strains and pains, which makes the task much more difficult.

Be Prepared for Emergencies

During that 9-day period, we also had a power outage that lasted 4½ hours, which reminded me we need to be better prepared for those events. In the 20 winters we have lived here full-time, we have not really considered having a generator for the occasional extended power outages that happen. We also did not have a reserve fuel source for the heaters that would keep our pipes from freezing.

This episode brought me to the realization that because we live remotely and heat with a woodstove, we need to maintain a higher level of vigilance. We are now more emergency ready. All homesteaders have situations like this appear from time to time and they catch you unexpectedly, but they become more daunting when you are a senior. Being able to pre-plan for them goes a long way in coping with them.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their mountain lifestyle living at 9,800 feet elevation with their four German Shepherd dogs in a small cabin go to Bruce is not an expert on Native American affairs nor pipelines but has followed this issue from the start and attempted to sort through the non-truths to report on this topic. Read all of his 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.