Senior Homesteading at High Elevation

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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Homesteading remotely is difficult but it is particularly difficult as we grow older into our senior years. Of course, it depends on the type of lifestyle lived as to how hard it is. We chose to build a small cabin and heat it with wood. We also chose to be on grid as the financial difference between being on-vs-off grid was negligible. Due to our long winter months at 9,800’ elevation we use a considerable amount of firewood each winter. Our winters can be up to 6-7 months long and we can burn up to 10 to 11 cords of firewood each cold season.

Abrupt introduction to winter. This year, the natural indicators pointed toward an early and cold winter. The insects, birds and animals were spot on because our first single digit temperatures and snow was mid-October. Normally we ease into snow season but this year our first snow was 20 inches and our subsequent snows were an accumulation  of 15 inches. That totals 35 inches of snow inside of 10 days was an abrupt introduction to our lengthy snow season.

Indications of winter. By paying close attention to bird migration, insect activity and squirrels/chipmunks gathering and storing food we knew it was going to be a different type of winter so we were prepared. As we have gotten older and in our senior years the 23+ years which we have lived here have taken a toll on our bodies and joints and we find our two most demanding tasks have become harder to accomplish. Snow removal and firewood gathering are still possible but we approach those jobs more carefully and try to work smarter. 

Aches and pains. For other seniors who would desire to live remotely, consider that as we age those tasks you can easily perform when younger will become more challenging as your joints and lower back have some accumulated years of hard use on them. Remembering how it used to be doesn’t help the present and getting anxious over how things were when you were younger can be self defeating. 

Heating needs. For example, to relieve our heating demands we have installed two electric ceramic heaters at each end of the cabin. They keep our cabin comfortably warm at night and due to their efficiency our electric bill has remained about the same. This lessens our need for so much firewood since we don’t have to keep the wood stove operating 24/7. We still use our wood stove during the daytime when it is very cold so our electric heat doesn’t have to keep the house warm around the clock. 

Snow removal is strenuous. Snow removal has been made easier by the use of our Kubota tractor with a snow thrower attachment. We also have a walk behind snow thrower that gets into the hard to reach spots the tractor can’t easily reach. We then use snow shovels to remove the rest of the snow those mechanized pieces of equipment can’t access. Our senior dogs need an area cleared and shoveling is the only way to provide clear space for them. We also have decks, steps and a walkway that need to be shoveled. Even with the mechanical removal equipment we still do a lot of shoveling which serves to keep us healthy but also generates more aches and pains.

Inconsistent winters. In our 23+ years of living here we have rarely seen two winters alike. Some have little snow (180 inches or less) while other years we have 300 inches or more of snow. Some years have temperatures that range in the teens and other winters we have negative temperatures. Some winters start in November or December and others like this winter start mid-October. We rarely have two snow seasons that are consistent enough to determine what is “normal”. I suspect that may lend itself to what most are referring to as climate change. We also have have periods of drought which led to last years ‘Spring’ wildfire that left us intact within a burn scar area. 

High-altitude weather. We hear about global warming but with our diverse weather at high altitude we do not have any tangible indicators that would prove it one way or the other. From what I have learned from those who have lived here much longer than us, our weather is mostly inconsistent. I am not well versed in the science of global warming but I know our weather does fluctuate from one year to the next. 

Nature heals itself, given time. I recall once when I was a speaking director for an environmental group in Florida that I had one audience in which myself and the state biologist both spoke. He said something that has stuck with me and that is that the Earth is far more resilient than we could imagine and mother nature heals some of our environmental blunders in ways we can’t comprehend. That actually happened to the river we were drawing attention to, and what we were unable to do nature did for itself. 

How old is the planet (and does it matter)? Some say our planet is 650,000 years old — others say it is much older. Over that span of time, there have been many changes. I also recall what a geology professor once said, that when people try to date the Earth, let them, because no one really knows and it is not worth debating over. Our planet changes over the span of its lifetime and those changes can take thousands of years.I am not knowledgeable enough to tell if we are in the midst of global change or warming and will leave that to the experts. In fact I get easily confused over the conflicting versions espoused and the terminology. 

Climate change at high altitudes. There clearly is some change taking place, but the USA needs to work in partnership with other countries to make a difference. Until this and other countries are prepared to do more than talk about it and actually do something, I don’t think much progress will be noticeable. Here in the mountains of Southern Colorado, our weather is unpredictable and as we get older, we have to be anticipatory and prepared to deal with changes. I am not a doubter of climate change or that the USA has made some progress to be cleaner, but we can’t do it all by ourselves.  

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their remote lifestyle and their constant weather changes go to their personal blog site


Mountaintop removal (MTR) does exactly what it says: A mountaintop is stripped of trees, blown to bits with explosives, then pushed aside by giant equipment … all to expose a layer of coal to be mined. Hundreds of thousands of acres of ancient forested mountains have been ”removed” this way and will never again support the biologically rich and diverse forest and stream communities that evolved there over millions of years. Instead, they’ve been sacrificed to support a flawed national energy policy. Mountain Justice tells a terrific set of firsthand stories about living with MTR and offers on-the-scene (and behind-the-scenes) reporting of what people are doing to try to stop it. Tricia Shapiro lets the victims of mountaintop removal and their allies tell their own stories, allowing moments of quiet dignity and righteous indignation to share center stage. This book includes coverage of the sharp escalation of anti-MTR civil disobedience, with more than 130 arrests in West Virginia alone during the first year of the Obama administration. This is an international issue, with campaigns against this massively damaging method of mining taking place in the United Kingdom, India, Canada, New Zealand and Burma. The proposed destruction of a number of habitats, from mountaintops to heath land to jungle, is a loss for us all.

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