Senior Homesteading: The Reality

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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Photo by Pixabay/alluregraphicdesign

There are some jobs that seniors probably should not do on a remote homestead. The reality, however, is that getting someone else to do them is not always possible. We heat our small cabin with a wood stove and burn approximately 9 to 12 cords of firewood throughout each fall, winter, and spring seasons.

Our home is an A-Frame construction, and hence the wind cap is over 30-plus feet from the ground. Any sensible person my age would have someone else go up and swap out the wind cap, but this senior homesteader still does it himself.

I can clean the chimney from inside the house but the windcap has to be done from the exterior. For many years, I would climb up to the top of the house, remove the wind cap, and climb down with it in one hand while holding onto the ladder with the other. Then, I would wire-brush the cap clean and climb back up to replace it.

My wife suggested that we purchase a second wind cap, so I would only have to make that trip once and I could swap them out each year. The process of replacing that wind cap is scary, even for this 75-year-old guy who has done it for many years.

I strap myself into a climbing harness and go up the ladder and tie off on the top rung of the ladder. Then, I have to turn and face out to be able to reach the wind cap (see photo). There is nothing in front of me but thin air, and it looks much higher from up there than the 30-plus feet it really is.

Usually, positioning the ladder is the hard part as getting it up from the garage on a steep incline to its needed position is strenuous and awkward. Then, lifting the heavy ladder into position is equally difficult.

Once it is in position, it is only a matter of climbing almost straight up, holding the clean wind cap in one hand and the ladder with the other hand. I tie off my climbing harness on the top rung and turn around and take one wind cap out and put the other one in, then reverse, then go safely back on the ground.

Aging Infirmities

One year, I paid someone who installs chimneys to take the wind cap down. It was clear they were close to petrified when they had to turn around on the ladder and face out and then reach out to take the wind cap off.

I haven’t wanted to put anyone through that again, so even though I’m getting up in age, I still do it myself. With stiff joints, lack of agility and normal aging aches and pains, I can and still do it, but I go slower and use more caution.

I would sum up the experience by saying when you turn around and reach out for that wind cap, if you have any heart problems, they should be revealed at that point. It can be done but clearly is not for everyone or the faint of heart, nor anyone with balance problems or dizziness.

Felling Trees

With several acres of heavily wooded property on a near 45-degree slope, there are trees that need to be dealt with regularly. They die of disease or overcrowding.

Another fairly dangerous job is cutting them down for removal. With two very painful knees, resulting from prior surgeries necessitated by sports injuries, when a tree starts to fall off the mark, it can be pretty scary. You have a chainsaw running in your hands and a tree that may fall where you don’t want it to fall. In spite of all the precautions you may have employed, the tree may not always react as you had hoped.

In the past, I have started to cut into trees that are rotten inside and start to fall almost immediately. When that happens, you need to move fast, which can be hard to do for us seniors. I have compensated for that contingency by always making sure I have an unfettered escape route before I even start the cut.

Once, I cut a wedge from a tree and had not cut more than 2 inches into the 15-inch tree when it suddenly gave way and came crashing down. I had an escape route planned and narrowly avoided injury. Thinking things through before acting is wise and safety conscious.

The other hazard is not only finding the right escape route but being able to back away fast. When the tree comes down, it often has the base bounce up, and if you are caught with the base under the chin, it is probably all over.

Trees also tend to hit and bounce either right or left, which can cause injury if you guess wrong. Another associated problem is bucking up trees on the ground. The log can roll and if you are downhill, you need to move fast to keep from being rolled over by a heavy log. While it is harder to buck up a log from the uphill side, sometimes that is the best course of action if you can’t move out of the way fast enough.

Two of Several Problems Faced by Senior Homesteaders

These are just two specific areas that can be dangerous to a senior homesteader and that should be planned for. By using good common sense and extreme caution, the job can be done even though we are slower, gimpy, and less agile.

Remote homesteading at any age is hard, but it is much harder when you are senior in age. The glamor of homesteading when younger is far different than when you must face the reality of exercising greater caution to compensate for stiffness and decreased agility when you are senior.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their lives in the Sangre de Christo mountains of southern Colorado, go to their blog site Bruce and Carol’s Cabin. They live in a small cabin with their four German Shepherd Dogs at 9,800 feet elevation. Read all of Bruce’s remote-living blog posts for MOTHER EARTH NEWS here.

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