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

Off the Grid: The marriage constitutionalist

By Ammi Midstokke For The Spokesman-Review

On this morning, the lake is a trembling sheet of glass. The cool of the night crowds into the trees in the bays, herded there by the rising sun. Small stones on the beach cast long shadows in the early light.

The water lies on the pebbles like a translucent blanket or perhaps a magic spell that covers the sloping earth. The waves, still yawning at the breeze, touch the shore with tendrils of wetness.

My husband is still asleep in the tent. The dogs are wandering here and there in the woods, nibbling scraps of wood and dirt, smelling this or that with a sniff and snort. One wouldn’t know it, but this is marriage therapy.

From time to time, my husband will make some sort of request of me as if having a relationship meant we have to actually relate to each other. I don’t know where he gets the idea that he can just willy-nilly change his mind or change the rules or change my plans. Worst of all is when he tries to change my mind.

It’s like watching a tugboat try to move an island.

And that island may be an erupting volcano.

This time, it came in some banal request about a fundamental need he had. It might have been food or shelter or another human right like access to health care. Probably it was for me to get home earlier or hold hands. As if presence and affection are tenants of marriage. Where does he even get this stuff?

It is a good thing we wrote down our marriage vows. We’re a unique couple and so we needed rather specific unique words. I promised to never put barbecue sauce on a good steak, for example. He promised to kill the flies at night. This is often disputed as we all know there are more than flies to be killed after hours in my house.

When things are not going my way, or I’m challenged, or terrified (of vulnerability mostly), or angry, or hurt, my general response is to run into the mountains.

Runners and wanderers usually have reasons they do these things and rarely is it because they actually like running. I run … to go away. The professionals call that “avoidant attachment style,” but what do they know anyway?

Somewhere in between the lines of my husband’s request to have basic needs acknowledged, I decided there was some confusion about the interpretations of our wedding vows. Clearly, this would need to be clarified immediately. Preferably before I had a chance to go for a run.

Our vows are written in the first pages of a 400-page, leather-bound monolith of a book. On the front cover, the word Dunstokke, a combination of our names, is pressed in gold lettering. The promises are followed with various happenings of the family we have created: Somebody won Uno. The frogs started chirping on April 1. We watched a comet together.

It is the penned history of the minutiae that make up a life, mostly the things we forget but brought us great joy or great sorrow.

A cat’s death is recorded. A funny observation made by a teenager. And of course, the vows we made to each other and our children.

They are the constitution upon which this union was formed. They are the intentions of our promises to uphold and preserve the integrity of the idea, to grow it, mold it with time and progress.

This time, I read through the lines to find useful text for my defense or give some precedent. I am sure I said, “And I can run away to the mountains and you will make dinner,” or something about the minimum temperature allowed in the bedroom. If a right was not explicitly expressed in those lines, then good luck trying to pass an amendment to acknowledge some previously assumed freedom. We’re a two-party house with a split like the Senate.

What I found was this:

“I will always choose connection over isolation.”

Drat. It’s almost like I knew that someday I would need some guidance that superseded all my iterations of escapism.

So I took my husband to the mountains with me. If you ever want to bridge a gap formed in disagreement or disappointment, sitting in a canoe together for several hours while you paddle to a remote beach is an effective means. Worst-case scenario, you fight about how to paddle properly rather than whatever-the-hell-else you thought you were upset about.

Togetherness is the seed from which connection seems to grow. And there is something about the space nature offers that invites consistency and trust. Things there move so slow, one is inclined to match the pace, to listen. Maybe to the waves. Maybe to each other.

I think he slept late to allow me the entire pot of coffee and two hours to write in the morning sun. By the time he emerged, bleary eyed and caffeine-deprived, I’d had just enough solitude to regain my senses and not stare him down with dagger eyes. Sunrises, sea breezes and the smell of cedars tend to do that for me - soften the praying mantis stare.

Someone once told me that the disagreement cannot be found in the content – not in the lines or the syntax. That what matters is our heart, our ability to honor the heart of the other. Sometimes that is nature, the tree, the bug. Sometimes it is the wide-open space that rests in the divide between us.

Rumi wrote about that … the field between right and wrong where we ought to meet. Or in our case, the mountains.

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at

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