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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Ammi Midstokke: Tenant troubles for backwoods landlords

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 am not sure if there is ever a particularly pleasant place in which to encounter a nest of wasps, but I am sure that doing so while dangling from a rope, 20 feet off the ground, is not one of them.

Also, if this homesteading- off-the-grid life doesn’t quite work out for me, I’m pretty sure I am qualified to join a circus.

The day had started out like any good day: with coffee, blue skies and a chore list. My Sparky was scheduled to arrive in the cool morning hours and explain the science of solar power to me while we adjusted the panels. While curious about exactly how the sun makes my washing machine work, I was more curious about whether he’d wear his standard-issue kilt on a rooftop job.

He arrived in disappointingly practical shorts and we set to the task of mounting a series of ladders onto my steep metal roof.

“This ladder is not fixed to anything!” I yelled up at him, wearing my full climbing harness and looking as though I were about to summit some impressive alpine peak. “Are you sure OSHA would approve?”

The sound that extension ladders make when you climb them is ominous. There is a hollow could-break-any- minute-because-you-eat-too- much-pie sort of chink and rattle as one ascends. It does not offer any measure of confidence to the climber.

I had two birds to kill with one stone this morning. My solar panels needed to be adjusted to a better angle for the season and I needed to plug the hole the woodpecker drilled in my siding last summer.

I shot that woodpecker with a BB gun. I didn’t want to kill him, I just wanted him to suffer a similar agony to the brain-shattering, dream-jolting, 4 a.m. wake-up jackhammer sound I was experiencing every morning.

The hole he was drilling was approximately 3 feet away from my bed. I hated to hurt him, but not as much as I hated that alarm. I was chuffed when he moved to the woodpile with the beetles instead.

Until the squirrels found his hole.

They made a wall condo and raised a family there. I could hear them playing Monopoly and arguing about dinner, but mostly it was the morning rush that bothered me. And so I banged on the wall with a King James (unsure of where this literature came from, but pleased with its banging efficacy) until they moved out. It was only a matter of time until some other family of tree rodents moved in.

On this morning, determined for a permanent solution to my tenant problem, I drilled an anchor into the wall. I clung to my rickety ladder system, then clipped in with a short line. I needed just enough length to safely dangle around the corner with a board to cover the hole. I had a tool belt (pink, thanks Dad!) stuffed with nails and a heavy hammer swinging from my hip.

I looked down. Don’t look down! I’m not afraid of heights. I am merely afraid of plummeting to my death next to a gas can and a generator. It’s just not romantic.

I swung off the edge of the roof and lodged the end of my hammer under the damaged board, then gave it a good yank and plucked it off the wall. There was a strange noise following.

Suddenly, a dozen angry, fat yellow jackets ejected from the exposed framing. I believe all yellow jackets are angry, but these ones seemed particularly irate. Probably because they had just taken over the lease from the squirrels.

Wasps make an angry sound, too, and it is not a sound you want to hear when you are tethered helplessly to a roof with only about 3 feet of play. The angry wasps and their friends started rushing out of the hole looking for the culprit. I pointed at the electrician.

I wonder if they are like dinosaurs and they can’t see me if I don’t move? To move also meant doing some sort of interpretive dance to swing my way back onto the roof, unclipping and teetering down that blasted ladder. Would I rather be, a) secure but pelted by an angry mob or b) unsecured while trying to outrun said angry mob?

I opted for the former, shoved a couple of framing nails in my mouth, swung toward the exposed hole and slammed my board decidedly over it.

I missed by an inch, which resulted in a string of swear words only understood by troubled homeowners. You know who you are. The next swing was on target and I drove that first nail in with a shaky, determined swing, then followed with no less than 42 more nails, possibly impaling most of the wasps in the process. Trembling and out of nails, I stopped to catch my breath and fight off any stray insects.

“Hey, careful over there,” yelled Sparky from a safe distance. “There might be a yellow jacket nest.”

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at

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