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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Off the Grid: Perpetual gifts of wisdom from Granny

By Ammi Midstokke For The Spokesman-Review

After years of faithfully trying to learn how to ski the slopes on telemarks, freezing my few remaining brain cells on painfully slow lift rides, and generally failing miserably, I have decided to spend a season learning how to cross-country ski instead.

If that doesn’t work, next year I am going to learn how to sauna.

I am not giving up. I’m just taking a break from trying really hard to do things I’m bad at. Like playing Monopoly, baking bread and pretending to like skiing.

My granny would refer to this behavior as “swimming upstream” and a waste of energy. And Granny didn’t like wasting things. I’ve never seen a woman scrape so much out of margarine container or test the shelf life of perishables as effectively as she did.

Granny tried new things all the time. If she didn’t like it our couldn’t do it, she declared it a fool’s errand to begin with, brandished the thing generally unacceptable and useless. She was unapologetic about her outspoken opinions on the matter. On any matter, actually.

“I even tried that wacky tobacky once,” she proudly told me as we careened down the Oregon highway where she still holds the record for most speeding tickets. A Danielle Steele novel was playing on a portable stereo she had crammed between the dashboard and windshield.

If we hit a deer, I was going to be bludgeoned to death by a trashy novel and I couldn’t think of a worse way to die.

“I don’t know what all the fuss was about,” she said.

On the stereo, John was slowly pulling a blouse off Maryann’s shoulders as she trembled with the sensation of his fingertips.

“I felt the same about sex after I married your grandfather,” Granny said.

God help me.

One thing Granny was really good at was not caring what other people thought. Especially if she was right, which was all of the time.

As I clicked into my new cross-country skis last week, Granny was on my mind. It was going to be important that I did not care what other people thought.

When I was growing up, Granny had a NordicTrack – the old classy wooden kind. It sat on the blue carpet in her living room for years, like a trophy of good intentions, but I never saw her use it and I don’t remember her ever skiing. She is my Scotch-Irish blood. She bequeathed me with fight and fire and tenacity.

The Norwegian comes from my romantically inept grandfather.

When Granny was out, we kids would get on there and run in place in long, even, gliding strides, graceful and overexaggerated. Something about that movement felt almost primal to me, instinctual, as if I was made to do that thing.

As I pushed off from the parking lot and into the abyss of white, I wondered why I hadn’t just gone to the thrift store to find myself a NordicTrack. I could ski in my underwear next to the wood stove. If there is a heaven, this is probably what mine looks like, only there’s a mug of hot eggnog within reach.

Not everything has to be hard. That is a lesson I learned from a woman who did every hard thing. She earned every toughness badge life had to offer. Then she put a NordicTrack in her living room to sit next to in her massage chair while she watched golf. Because she could.

Much to my surprise and to the credit of those few sneaky lessons I took on Granny’s machine 30 years ago, cross-country skiing felt … easy. I was not in fear of my life or battling frostbite. I was just having fun. It felt natural, like floating.

That’s when I realized how much upstream swimming I have been doing, how much we all have. I don’t know if it is because we have something to prove to ourselves or we need to justify our judgment of each other.

Maybe this year we could stop that. Maybe we could float for a little while and look at the scenery. Maybe if we weren’t kicking so hard, we could catch our breath and ask ourselves what matters. It’s not that we can’t swim upstream when we need to, or when there is something up there that we want.

Granny just taught me the difference between what was worth swimming for, and what was not.

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at

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