A Mountain Man’s View on Climate Impacts

There are many ways in which the effects of climate change seems obvious to us living in the mountains.

Reader Contribution by Bruce McElmurray
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by Bruce McElmurray

We have resided in our mountain cabin full time for over 24 ½ years, which provided us a period of time to observe the seasons and changes in climate. We live at 9,800-foot elevation and ,because of the altitude, we get heavy accumulations of snow. When we bought our property back in the mid 1980s, the HUD report said our average expected annual snowfall was 264 inches.

Ever Changing Weather

Over our time here, we have found that report to be a fairly accurate accounting of our annual snowfall. This year has seen a radical departure from our normal years and so far we only have 57 inches of snow accumulation. What makes this year so different is that we have had severe winds on a regular basis.  Some wind has been hurricane strength wind that has damaged homes, trees and outbuildings.

Property Damage From High Wind

We have lost up to 80 trees and one blew onto our cabin causing damage to our deck and roof. The wind blew shingles off our garage and damaged a bench in our backyard. The bench is made of cherry wood from a tree I cut down and milled out so it was special to us. We have extra shingles on hand for just such an occasion and the bench can be repaired. The deck has already been repaired from our stockpile of spare lumber.

Where Are The Workers?

The building contractors are still trying to catch up from the Spring Wildfire three years ago, so trying to get repairs accomplished could take up to 2 years. We recently needed an electrician and it took a 6-week wait for one to make it to our cabin. I am unfamiliar with other parts of the country but in our area people who draw government subsistence benefits or from Covid payments seem to make more than if they were working. Because of this our labor force has diminished.

Self Sufficiency

Living remotely as we do, if we want something done we either do it ourselves or wait weeks, months, or years for someone else to do it. Fortunately, we have the skills to do many of our own repairs but those who lack skills will need someone to help them or wait for the next available service person. Many in our area had gaping holes in their roof or lost entire sections of their roof. The local contractors did set aside their normal work and helped make temporary patches to keep the damage from becoming worse.

It Is What It Is

These circumstances are just a consequence of remote homestead life and we deal with them as they occur. As people are now prone to say “it is what it is” certainly applies to remote homesteading. From my personal observations, I am convinced climate change  is real as I can see evidence of it with my own eyes. What I can’t observe is what or who is responsible (and so rely on experts who study this) but it impacts our life and the lives of others.

Is Everyone Accountable?

Is climate change part of some regular weather cycle in our world?  Could be, I suppose. Or is it part of we citizens driving vehicles that rely on fossil fuel? No doubt, but larger systems are at play than what any individual is doing. Major countries are either paying lip service to climate action or are very sluggish in trying to remedy it within their countries. It seems to me that it would take a sustained worldwide effort to make any measurable change.

Environmental Success Requires Involvement

Over my lifetime, I have been part of many environmental groups or efforts to curb degradation of our resources or environment. We have had successes but with the many current challenges more people need to be involved. It seems to me our government is dysfunctional in various areas and protecting our resources is chief among them. Environmental stewardship is possible, but it will take many people to achieve meaningful change.

Grassroots Groups Yield Power

I was a director of a small environmental group in Florida. I spoke to many diverse groups about the environmental problems and was sometimes accompanied by the state biologist. We offered people membership for $10 a year. Our numbers grew quite large over time and drew the attention of state lawmakers. The larger number of members actually facilitated some change. Grassroots groups do get politicians attention especially if they are sizable.

Grassroots Groups vs Large Environmental Groups

Some of the large environmental groups nowadays seem stuck in the same rut and are heavy with salaries, fundraising and publications but don’t seem to have a truly viable end result. It seems to me that grassroots groups command more attention. When we were a small group, those with the power to change things were not interested in hearing our complaint.

When we grew to larger numbers, they sought us out. All those members represented votes and all members were provided a copy of our factual newsletter. We did not suggest or tell members how to vote like some organizations do. We simply supplied the facts as there are many things to consider when we cast a vote.

Reading Tree Signs

From what I personally see, there is change to the climate which is visibly evident to me. We have some very old trees on our property and, when they blow down, I study the rings so I can see past changes in the climate. We have a limber pine in our community that has been guesstimated to be over 2,000 years old. That tree could tell some climate stories, I’m sure. It is easily over 8 feet across at the base. Mapping tree rings does tell a fairly accurate story of the past climate and changes.

Bruce and Carol live in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of S. Colorado with their two canine companions in a small cabin they heat with a wood stove. Their neighbors, with whom they live in harmony, consist of wild animals such as bears, mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats, deer, and elk. For more on the McElmurray’s visit their blog site.

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