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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Ammi Midstokke: Midlife crisis for backwoods girls

Ammi Midstokke is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review writing about off-the-grid living. (The Spokesman-Review)
Ammi Midstokke is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review writing about off-the-grid living. (The Spokesman-Review)
By Ammi Midstokke For The Spokesman-Review

I don’t need a fast car. Fast cars are low to the ground and red and wouldn’t make it past the first gravel pitch of my driveway on a good day. These are the things I contemplated on the week of my official entry to middle age.

Forty is the new 20, I told myself, but then why the urge to panic about where I am, or where I am not, in life?

Here I am, the proud owner of 10 acres of granite hilltop with a variety of trees that I cannot identify and a timber-framed house that I don’t know how to repair. How did this even happen?

The panic grew until I manically decided I must learn all the skills to survive the apocalypse, which as far as I can tell, is about the same amount of drama as turning 40.

I called my sparky – the kilt-wearing Mormon – and asked him to come explain the entire science of solar energy from Sun to what kind of batteries do I actually own?

“You don’t know?”

“Right, but I rarely admit that. I say things like, ‘They have about twice the storage capacity and amp hours of my old system,’ because then I sound like I know what I’m talking about.”

He scribbled some basic calculations for me: 12 x 2 = 24.

My novice level of basic skills and rudimentary math (try calculating amp hours and solar input, then figuring out how long you can run a curling iron) only worsened my fears. I was going to die alone and buried in the snow because I burned the wrong wood or something. Or made a hydrogen bomb in my pantry.

I scoured my Homesteader’s Manual. It wouldn’t stick, probably because my brain is atrophying at an exponential rate since my birthday. It was on a Monday. By Tuesday, my ovaries had shriveled into raisins, my hair was turning gray and my mailbox was filling with sweepstakes post.

I thought that midlife crisis meant I’d buy a fast car and develop a bunch of swank new hobbies, like paragliding and road cycling. Instead, I wanted to learn how to fall trees and equalize batteries.

How I made it this far in life without knowing how to run a chain saw baffles me. That might fly in the big city, but I live in Idaho. Seems like chain saw slingin’ should at least be a class in junior high or something. I probably took sex education instead, my priorities always a little askew.

So I called a friend who is a veritable force of a logger and asked him to show me how to run a chain saw in a manner that would preserve my limbs while also supplying my firewood for the season. He showed up on a Sunday morning, forced me to wear an entire suit of bright orange and dropped a tree exactly where he said he would.

“Now you try,” he said.

“Are all saws this heavy?”

He said most were heavier.

So I plopped my earmuffs on, dropped my face guard and fired up that chain saw. I cut the tree this way, then that way, and then it fell right where I wanted it to as well. I limbed it and cut it into firewood. I may have done some sort of strange lumberjack dance afterward.

The apocalypse can come.

I remembered the studies I’ve read on how learning new things helps maintain the integrity of our brains as we age. I assume it also keeps us from getting bored when we retire. That is, if I haven’t overzealously clear-cut my entire property by then. Running a chain saw was more fun than I thought. Come to think of it, so is aging.

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at

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