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

Off the Grid: Not everyone is made for the backwoods

By Ammi Midstokke For The Spokesman-Review

As some of you know, I am pretending to try to sell my off-grid oasis, although it has mostly been an exercise in judging potential buyers and frustrating my Realtor.

She literally brought me a folder with vocabulary I am not to use when talking to potential buyers – something about equal housing opportunity. Which means I have to be rather subtle as I interview people so she doesn’t get sued. Thankfully, I see very little in there about firewood chopping experience and willingness to pee outside in the snow. There’s one bathroom and ten acres, which is far more flexible than a bath-and-a-half, if you ask me.

So far, no one has come even near close to being cool enough. This very week someone asked me if the power system was going to be adequate enough to run their teenagers’ gaming computers.

“Oh the inverter can only tolerate Twister and Cribbage,” I lied. “Maybe they can power them with stationary bikes?”

I wanted to end the tour right then. Obviously, those priorities seem incongruent with, you know, the lifestyle this home and property embraces. One doesn’t have to be a tree-hugger necessarily, but at least a tree-feller.

“You don’t have a TV, eh?” another asked. “Too much on the inverter?”

I’m no electrician, but the last time I checked, a well pump drawing from a few hundred feet below and the spin cycle on my washer pull more amps than a TV. People just cannot imagine life without the box. I cannot imagine life with one. Sometimes I am around a TV and I get sucked in, like all the functioning parts of my brain have gone catatonic, and I find myself utterly absorbed in a story, only to discover it’s an insurance commercial. That is how sheltered I am.

“How’s your internet connection up here?”

“Elon’s satellite train rolls by at 7:48 PM and I suppose if you had a good flashlight, you might Morse code something in their general direction,” I say.

“How long does it take to drive to town?”

“Three Van Morrison songs, four if the turkeys are in the road.”

“Do you have any pest problems?”

“Uhm, only if you read The Spokesman-Review.”

I tell them the creatures of the woods and I have come to a common understanding: If I were a better shot, there would be fewer of them. And there are no birds because my cats ate them all.

I explain that yes, there are cougars, but I never see them and neither did anyone who got eaten by one. The moose are the most dangerous thing, particularly when they stand between your car and the front door and you already have your Van Morrison playing. And I tell them that the steep ledge we call our driveway is not as treacherous as the deer down on Highway 2. You speed up for one of them, slow down for the other.

I want to make an application now for anyone interested in seeing the legendary hilltop house, some way to filter out the forced-air-softened, the plowed-road-optimists, and anyone who thinks presto logs are a smart way to get through winter. I once broke up with a man who brought those things to my door. There were other reasons, but that was at the top of the list.

“My Application for Acceptance of New Homeowners” will include the completion of a skills course of slack-lining over the pond in winter, testing for live wires by touching them, and geeking ground squirrels. Also: Sledding down the “driveway” without a helmet.

“Have you ever lived off-grid before?” I asked another.

“We have a van,” they say. I flip through my vocabulary list. “#Vanlife” is not on it.

“Okay, I’ll show you around, but first you have to start a fire,” I will say. And I won’t warn them about the wasps that nest in the pipe all summer. Because if any skill is truly necessary for this life, it’s the ability to expect the unexpected. Then respond without getting hysterical. I’m still working on that last part.

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at

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