Living Off the Land in the Rockies

The Churchwell family gave up city life in favor of a self-sufficient homestead in the Idaho Rocky Mountains, and haven't looked back!

| January/February 1990

This year marks the 20th anniversary of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. We think it appropriate to open the year with a success story that springs directly from the roots of our publication. Perhaps there aren't many people who would want to duplicate the Churchwells' great escape, but all of us, regardless of the level of our current commitment to country life, can find entertainment and inspiration in their story.

Once upon a time, we—like so many others—were trapped in a lifestyle that didn't bring us pleasure. Worse yet, we were actively working at jobs we hated in order to finance our entrapment.

"Why can't we use some of our weekend activities that do bring us fulfillment—hunting, gardening, carpentry—to build a home and live off the land in the nearby mountains?" said we to us. So we stopped dreaming and started scheming. The result? For the past four years, our family has been living off the land, under nature's jurisdiction, in a remote setting high in the Idaho Rockies. Despite isolation, arctic cold, and snow that sometimes reaches our belt buckles, we are now self-sufficient, thriving, and happy.

The Beginning: Saving Up and Buying Property

Our grand plan was to first stockpile enough money to buy property and construct a cabin. After purchasing the land we would continue to work and save until our bank balance could earn sufficient interest to provide a small income—enough to handle low monthly living expenses as well as the larger items such as property taxes, truck repairs, and auto insurance. We intended to reach a point where we'd never have to work for salaries again.

For five grueling years we saved most of our paychecks. The fact that we were able to live on $300 a month during that period is an indication of the level of our commitment. When our finances gave us the go-ahead for the land, we visited the local realtor. He claimed to have just the place for us and pointed us in the general direction: "Go up from the highway on the Forest Service road for 15 miles. Watch the curves and straddle the ruts. Park your car at Sawmill Crick. Then follow the trail a mile to the realty sign. Good luck, and, oh, wear your snowshoes."

We fell in love with the place at first sight. By noon the following day we had paid cash (there would be no more buying on credit in our lives) for five acres of hillside, meadow, and forest. Once the snow melted, we discovered that the "road" to our mountain land consisted of two deep tire ruts made interesting by a difficult creek crossing. So we bought (for cash) a used four-wheel-drive "creek-crosser." Besides providing basic transportation, this workhorse was soon called upon to shuttle building materials dumped off by the delivery trucks. The three days spent transporting 1,300 cinder blocks back to our homesite were just a small part of the price we paid for seclusion.

3/17/2016 2:31:55 PM

Great aspiration, but hardly living off the land. You continue to rely on all of the industrial things you claim to have escaped from: infrastructure (mail, towns, cities), materials (propane, food stock), and, ironically, services (banking).

3/26/2015 2:06:52 AM

Me and my family are very interested in your ways of living, we want to join you.please)

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