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

Off the Grid: California Neighbors

By Ammi Midstokke For The Spokesman-Review

It was only a matter of time. I’ve been noticing an increase in “Go back to where you came from” bumper stickers for a while now. And “Locally Grown.” And Porsches at the health food store.

The Lexus on my driveway confirmed what my heart already knew: I was getting new neighbors. And they were from California.

This optimistic variety bought a piece of land above me with one of the most beautiful views, stretching up the river, across the lake, and to the west with the Cabinets towering on the horizon. Majestic doesn’t even begin to describe that humbling spread of nature.

They picked a perfect spot to put their yurt. They’d never lived in a yurt, built a yurt, installed an off-grid system, danced with the witchcraft of well-drilling, or plowed snow.

“Oh, we’ve been to Tahoe,” they told me.

And down in California, I hear the internet works most days, so you can YouTube all that stuff anyway.

The first thing the Californians did was embrace their God-given right to open-carry a pistol on their hips whenever they were out and about … digging their car out of the snow presumably. It’s important to wear a pistol when working in your yard around here because you can.

And sometimes a moose or a flock of turkeys come strolling by with their bad intentions. When they see that pistol, they reconsider plans to steal your generator.

I bought my generator at Costco for $600. It’s not legal in most states because it is so loud and it doesn’t meet emissions criteria of a third-world country, but it also weighs the equivalent of a steel ship, so I don’t have to worry about those blasted ground squirrels making off with it.

There has been some propaganda on the social medias about these Southern folk being rather an adjustment for us “natives.” This term seems to apply to anyone who has lived in the state and filed taxes before COVID, provided they actually have a social security number. Word has it, they are trying to make here a lot more like there.

Which means I should be able to shop at a Whole Foods any day now. AND be able to get breast augmentation on a walk-in basis, I assume. Also, there will be a German car dealership here soon and a movie star will run for office. I am so hopeful it is Kevin Costner, though I could also embrace something not-white and not-male (though known here often as “radicals”).

I’m not radical, I just prefer a little diversity that refers to more than branches of the Christian faith.

Contrary to stories of these Californians being of questionable character, my new neighbors are like normal people. They have jobs and kids and parents. They are friendly, have not pushed Sharia law on me, and I think they even eat three meals a day.

They have hobbies and they obviously learned a lot with all those how-to videos because their yurt is gorgeous, although not accessible probably until April.

I think the driveways in Tahoe must be heated.

They haven’t come home since the last big snow storm, actually. I’m wondering if they’d notice if I pilfered a bit of their excess firewood as I miscalculated this year – an embarrassing rookie mistake that I’m blaming on my husband. This is probably the real reason they wear pistols.

I’ll just tell them it was the turkeys. They’re Californians and won’t know any different.

“You didn’t fowl-proof your wood pile?” I’ll ask, incredulous. “Oh Cali,” because that’s what I call them, “don’t you know these North Idaho birds nest on split larch?”

They asked if I was native myself once, what with my blonde hair, blue eyes and ability to identify a snowmobile track in the fresh snow. My DNA doesn’t lie: Generations of European settlement set me here. My fair-skinned Norsky family drank the same Hollywood hope as everyone else in the ’30s, got a suntan on the coasts of California (where I, too, was born), and migrated north.

But according to the bumper sticker wisdom, somehow here is more ours than theirs. Which allows some inherent privilege, like maybe we get to take up more space in this life. And I can’t quite put my finger on what part of that shames me more.

I’m going to get a new bumper sticker made: “Welcome to the neighborhood. We’re all lucky to be here.”

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at

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