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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Off the Grid: Finding faith in all its forms

By Ammi Midstokke For The Spokesman-Review

If ever something inspired one to get right with God and lean heavily on faith, it’s the apocalyptic blanket of parched sky that has settled over the desolate fields of late summer. If the world is going to burn down, it seems high time to pick a car on the soul train out of here.

Contrary to my penitent youth, I’m not given to prayer unless there’s a police car behind me and I just blazed through a stop sign. The events of these last years, however, combined with the unstoppable reality of mortality, have me wondering if faith wouldn’t be a reasonable midlife hobby. There are just so many options – in hobbies and faiths.

Should one want to window shop around for spirituality, the purveyors are as inviting as shopkeepers on a London high street. Some of the wares are more attractive than others.

Here in North Idaho, I am in a writing group that is populated largely by some passionate literature aficionados who write tantalizing accounts of Bible study disagreements and Berean conflicts. They call this genre “Christian Fiction” and I suspect it entices a fair few new followers each year, but it lacks the humor and self-deprecation (essential tenets of any faith I’d follow) some of those Eastern faiths embrace.

“Do you want to go to a Gurdjieff meeting with me?” a friend asks as we explore our lacking spirituality. Nothing George ever wrote was particularly original, having borrowed from a variety of the ancient wisdoms. Besides, there’s not enough emphasis on food and if I were to pick a specific path to redemption, the culinary benefits would rank as high as the potential for salvation. Note how close the word is to “salivate.”

As a Waldorf parent, I’m accustomed to an esoteric mingling of everything from gnomes to cosmic intention, but it’s all just a little too inclusive for me. Like Hinduism (although the food in that camp is a front-runner). I want the kind of faith that comes with unwavering conviction and righteousness, like if veganism had a version of Shiva, just bordering on the edge of cultish without the weird outfits and knockoff Keds.

My neighbors passed by me some time ago with their train of Hummers, and as the last hippie holdout on the hillside, I stupidly joked about their contribution to climate change. They were ecstatic – it can’t come soon enough for them. Fire season and pandemics, poverty and anarchy, locusts and the lot: All prescribed paths and validation that they picked the right one. This is why they have lower blood pressure than I, or at least less guilt when flying.

“Bring on all that death and destruction,” said Robert Frost of late summer. Are these decades the late summer of our Mother Earth? Where do we look to renew our faith in her?

Some years ago, there was a fire that roared its way up a mountainside I loved, like many a mountainside. The canyon raged with a red-hot wall that would not be slowed, stopped or directed. The night sky glowed with it and the day sky blackened in plumes of callous tragedy. When the fire finally decided it had consumed enough sacrificial pines, sharp toothpicks stuck out from the slopes as though the mountain were a giant porcupine sleeping in the grass. It smoldered and puffed for weeks.

The following spring, I hiked through in a kind of somber funeral procession, picking my way over charcoaled deadfall, limbs black like a miner’s. In the high country, once-thick forest floors were now barren clay and ash. But as I crept up into the dead heart of the fire, I came across morels bigger than my fist. They poked defiantly out of the travesty, an army of fungi front-liners to lead the charge of regrowth.

The next year, I took a bucket so I could make my fortune in mushrooms, only to find their home replaced with ceaseless fields of purple lupine stretching over whole hillsides. Not one mushroom – perhaps they had come and gone already. A year later, I ran into a bear and her tiny cub, hidden thick in the brush of a creek that was nearly overgrown again.

I have to believe that somewhere amidst all this smoke and flame, all this death and destruction, is a phoenix rising. And there I find the faith to carry on with purpose to do what I can: recycle some things, keep trying to grow food, bundle my Amazon orders, eat local beef, educate myself.

It is clear to me by the regeneration of my yard after a motorized attack from my husband or the regrowth of a forest after a fire, the planet will survive our pillaging. Maybe the faith we need most is in humanity and its ability to turn this ship around. And if at last that fails, perhaps religion or the tail of a comet will be a fair backup plan.

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at

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