Lessons Learned from 23 Years of Mountain Homesteading

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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Deer photographed by the author’s wildlife camera

It was 23 years ago that we took an early retirement to move full time to our mountain homestead. Anniversaries are times to reflect and we now have 23 years to reflect upon.That time has really gone much faster than I expected. A lot has occurred during that time frame and my first question to myself is, Would I do it all over again? A lot of experience has accrued over those years and some experiences I have been fortunate to share on MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

Best Homestead Equipment for Senior Homesteaders

Tractor: The essential tool. Many of our decisions have been wise choices and some not so wise. Perhaps one of the wisest choices came as a suggestion from Carol when she told me we needed a tractor. What a labor saving piece of equipment that turned out to be! Without the tractor, I seriously doubt we could have lasted here as long as we have.

Carefully choose a style of cabin. One of the less positive choices was our selection of our A-frame cabin. We failed to consider that our later years would make going up a spiral stairway to the sleeping loft stressful on aging joints. A single-story cabin would have been much easier on both of us after we have become older. Like it or not as we age, we accumulate more aches and pains and we failed to plan ahead for that reality.

Heating with a wood stove. It was a wise choice to decide to heat our cabin with a wood stove. There is no substitute for warm radiant heat. As we got older, it did become a chore to wake up in the morning and have to immediately clean out and feed firewood into the stove. Also getting up during the night to feed the stove became more difficult as we aged on very cold nights

Electric thermal systems for supplement heat. We remedied that by purchasing two electric thermal heaters (ETS). They use very little electricity and with the program from our electric cooperative our monthly electric bill is less most months. Because the heaters primarily run at night (during off-peak hours), when we get up in the morning the cabin is at a comfortable temperature and there is no rush to get the wood stove going.

Log splitters for fast firewood. We still cut and gather our nine to 11 cords of firewood,but we now do that a little more slowly and carefully. Our winters can last up to 7 months and that requires considerable firewood. A cord of firewood is 4 feet wide, 4 feet high and 8 feet long. Carol suggested a few years ago that we purchase a log splitter, because previous to that I was splitting firewood with a splitting maul by hand. What a difference that hydraulic machine has made! We can split both large and small logs easily now and the job is over quickly compared to weeks of splitting by hand. 

The Ultimate Question

We have made choices that have not only extended our ability to still do manual work on the homestead at our ages but also to get the exercise we need to keep more fit and healthy. Coupled with the fresh mountain air, sparkling clear well water, plus exercise, we seniors have survived the demands of mountain life for 23 years. We chose a lifestyle that is highly demanding but equally healthy and rewarding.

Upon reflection, my next question to myself is, at our age how long can we keep this up? That is the more intense question because we have no allusion as to the hard work ahead coupled with our senior ages.  We have enjoyed our journey and continue to love our lifestyle.

A stranger admires our homestead. An avid reader of these blogs a few days ago stopped to talk to me as I was coming down our road on the tractor. He said he immediately recognized our homestead from reading Mother Earth News blogs and also our blog site. As we talked he mentioned several times that we really had created a paradise for ourselves. I thought about that and realized from the eyes of others it would certainly appear that way. From my perspective I still see work to be done but realistically our lives now are now pretty satisfying. 

To sell or not. And if so, when?We have talked about selling and moving closer to town but quickly decide that is a topic for later discussion. The time is approaching when we will be faced with that dreaded decision as the summers are more physically demanding as are the long winters where we receive 250 to 300 inches of snowfall annually.

Wildfire changes everything. Following the spring wildfire two years ago where half the residents in our community lost their homes, life changed abruptly. There are only so many builders available and while the parcels of land are burned, the removal of charred trees offers dramatic new views that were not available before. Those parcels are reasonably priced but to build a cabin has become more expensive. It can also take years for a contractor to build your cabin due to high demand. That makes existing homes like ours more in demand.

Disasters bring change. Between the long construction time and the Covid-19 pandemic, we shouldn’t have to face that decision for a while. Our normal lifestyle is in semi-isolation. We realize when it comes to “safer at home”, we are far better off than many people because that is our regular lifestyle. The burned land has come back strong and aspen trees are proliferating and are growing faster than I have ever seen them.The burn scar is diminishing more and more each day.

True happiness. As we attain our 23rd anniversary and reflect on our life here, we realize unless something radically changes we are currently right where we should be for the present. As to the question, would we do it again — the answer is an overwhelming “yes”. What we have discovered is that this is the lifestyle which makes us most happy. We have discovered that material possessions and money do not bring us happiness beyond being able to provide for our essential needs. Irrespective of the harsh conditions coupled with our ages, we are in that place that makes us content.

Bruce McElmurray homesteads at high elevation in the Southern Rockies with his wife, Carol. For more on their mountain lifestyle and their observances of animals coupled with their strange behavior, visit Bruce’s personal blog site atBruce Carol Cabin. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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