Winter off grid. Fluffy white snow, sparkling snowflakes, moonlight nights twinkling starlight skies. Ahhh the sound of this is indeed dreamy until reality hits. Snow that is piled so high you cant leave the homestead. Ice that is so treacherous even taking out the "humanure bucket" is dangerous! The spring water freezing, the chickens freezing, the constant hauling of wood!!!!
So often people who dive into this off grid adventurous life overlook the simplest things. WINTER! Why winter? On grid winter is, well, just easier. Sorry friends, but it is!
Because we choose to move to the pacific Northwest where terrain is unrelenting and steep, we were now being awaken to trials that we believed would never be issue. I think in our infantile misplaced arrogance we thought our Wisconsinite winter hardy background and the fact that we had over 40 plus years of exposure to brutal temps ice and snow would thoroughly prepare us for these seeming easy mountain winters.
Nope. Not really.
First year just making it up and down the driveway was a learning experiment. a exercise in learning I did not find fruitful or productive. Sliding backwards towards the mountain drop off having only two options....BAIL out of the car or keep stepping on the brakes and praying, just wasn't my idea of off grid winter lessons.
Neither was watching my husband slide the tractor the first time it snow off the edge barely preventing the whole machine from rolling over an crushing him. Lovely.
Life insurance policy for both of us had crossed our minds. Why not even get them for the dogs since they to were at risk!
Thus plowing became a big issue. Moving snow and maintaining the driveway became a unexpected surprise. As did other tasks like keeping our shower water heated. In off grid style we had rigged up our wood stove to heat the water. Sounds novel. Save on propane use the free wood heat. But like most things off grid there just isnt a manual now is there?
So you could be enjoying a nice warm shower encapsulated in glorious lather and bubbles when the water would decide to spew forth a flaming hot froth from hell and basically almost scald you to death! The next time you could be in that same lather heaven and experience darts of piercing ice cubes being thrown at you. Temperature regulation that first year with the wood stove to say the least, was a daunting task.
From carrying wood in daily, to maintaining the wood stove heat, to endless cloudy days that made solar not so desirable, everything seemed to be in a heightened state of difficultly
We tried so many different things that first year even when it came to our solar. Put the fridge outside, use a cooler, plug it in. unplug it. Put the freezer outside. Plug it in..nope..unplug it. Run the generator for a hour. No run it for five hours. Lights off, all lights off. wait we need at least one! UGH!!!
Thus even as seasoned winter experts we found off grid life quite a adventure that first year.
Despite the challenges we appreciated every day that came our way. We felt empowered, and we felt FREE! We were able to fill the pantry up with fish ( ice fishing was a great way to go to the outdoor grocery store) We were able to hunt and harvest some game.
Canning during the winter kept my stock of beans and other veggies well supplied. We grew beautiful indoor veggies and herbs. Mr Hilder got to trap and do some tanning of the skins. And we explored the endless landscapes by ski and by snowshoe. Endless adventurous days filled with beauty and peace! We loved it! The dogs loved it.
If there was indeed a manual written for winters off grid it would be a long one! Preparation made things easier, having plenty of tools and the right equipment helped. and keeping a humble and joyful spirit went along ways in overcoming the daily trials.
And when spring would gently roil in melting the last of the mountain snow, a sense of relief but sadness always overcame us. I wouldn't give away my winters off grid for anything in the world. A priceless piece of off grid life!
A very over looked aspect of creating a self sustainable homestead is hunting. Be it hunting big game for the freezer, birds for the pantry, fish for the fry pan. Often this the last skill people think of when going off the grid. Their focus revolves around the energy source, solar, wind and hydro. They set up their gardens for food production and buy bulk foods for long term. Yet ironically just out their back door or within a couple miles is a basket full of natural resources that can provide for their sustainable food needs often year round!
My husband and I have been hunting all of our married life. I grew up in a very conventional home. My dad did not hunt. He was a cop and grew up in Chicago. I remember in his younger years he looked like a very handsome James Dean, driving his slick Cadillac! No hunting for him! My mom was a stay at home mother who canned and kept a well stocked pantry. Yet I wonder if she even knew about venison or elk or bear meat canning?
When I met my husband the first thing he introduced me to was his taxidermy work, which again was something new. I guess I never thought about people hunting game and having these animals mounted. What I learned after becoming involved in the business was the respect people had for their game, and the usefulness of that natural resource.
Unfortunately distorted views on what hunting is and what it accomplishes has ruined the foundation of its purpose.Many aspects of hunting can be controversial. And indeed there are, with any human pursuits, people who can abuse and exploit the nature of hunting and harvesting game. The backlash of this subject becoming so controversial in today's society is it has trickled thru the homesteading community and sadly has tainted some homesteaders perspectives on utilizing hunting as part of their self reliant skills.
However, we strongly believe that sustainability for a homestead really needs to address hunting of game. One day the grocery stores may not be able to provide the food you need. One day the co op may not be able to deliver those meat chicks for the spring. Self sustainability really should revolve around the philosophy that you want to become less dependent on others, and more independent on what is available around you. Harvesting game is a skill that does take time and effort to refine. This lifestyle is so different then living in the suburbs or the city. It is dependent on skill sets. Dependent on knowledge. dependent on "hands on" living.
The resources that are available are so abundant that once a homesteads gets up and running going to the store for any meat item would almost be a crime. From hunting game birds, to small animals like rabbit, to big game elk, deer bear, to fishing to trapping, all serves a purpose.
The renewable facet of this resource is endless. The money saved alone serves a broader purpose for any homestead. And, the health benefits of meat and fish that has not been adulterated by chemicals and steroids and preservatives is priceless! Getting back to the basics as God intended gives a homestead health, financial security , and a filled pantry!
The negative and very misleading presumptions revolving around hunting are baseless. The price that animal pays which we purchase in the grocery store... supports its stock yard abuse and mistreatment. All of this often goes unnoticed as we fill our faces with McDonald burgers.
Yet harvesting a full mature elk , feeding a family of six non gmo organic meat that was taken respectfully and utilized to its fullest purpose without any abuse or mistreatment conjures controversy? SAD!
Reconsider hunting..harvesting, trapping and fishing. A self reliant homestead in its entirety will involve all of these outdoor skills and bring years of fruitfulness and joy for utilizing your own mind and body to put food on your table