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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Off the Grid: Being in nature has no prerequisites

By Ammi Midstokke For The Spokesman-Review

There are times when I wonder if I even belong in the outdoors.

My thighs rub together, my shorts are always riding up, sometimes I walk the hills, I’m scared of wooden mountain bike features, I ate corn salsa and a melted chocolate bar for breakfast and I’m carrying the collective calories of three weeks of Italian gluten-free pasta.

Also, someone in Rome figured out celiacs like gelato. I made up for years of deprivation.

True outdoors people, I imagine, eat more salads, go faster and farther and have fewer holes in their socks.

They must jiggle less. I know this because I see them in the media and even with all the new inclusivity and representation campaigns, their matching bra/yoga pants combinations keep them firmer.

The firmest thing about me this week is all the “al dente” noodles I ate.

The front of magazine covers, social media and stories sponsored by Red Bull are the intimidating billboards of any person hoping to explore the outdoors.

Whether it’s a park or a trail or a cliff side, there appears to be unwritten rules about who has a right to access them and just what they should be doing with that access.

We’re not a nation short on opinions these days.

Going outside is not a competition, but I hear so often from clients, friends and the general public that they are somehow unworthy of this birthright.

As if one is a kind of imposter for strolling in the woods or just sitting in them. When did we decide that the only way we can be outside is extremely?

This lends one to consider that a significant amount of dog owners never even wanted a dog, but a justifiable reason to go outside without being judged or owning a matching track suit.

And yet, if studies show that everyone benefits from exposure to nature, more of us should be outside getting some in whatever form feels most delightful to us.

This was my argument as I dragged my jet-lagged, pasta-logged body out of bed with a promise to get back out there for some of that scientifically proven mojo.

I wondered if someday I would have my last walk in the woods and would I know that it’s my last walk in the woods?

Will you know your last day outside? Did you already have it? If we consider it through that frame, how does it change our behavior?

There are other avoiders of nature as well: those who are waiting until … (they lose enough weight, they can move in perceived acceptable ways, they get a dog) and those who used to … (run, have better knees, active friends).

But the great thing about nature is how little it requires of us and how accessible it is to most, even as we lose abilities or gain prosthetic hips.

There is, of course, room for improvement.

We need safe spaces for all, wide trails for those with supportive equipment, paved and gentle trails for the prone-to-plummet or the road-riders of wheelchairs and walkers.

The more we go out and represent ourselves, the more we can have a voice in these matters, the more organizations supporting accessibility and thigh-hearty apparel will respond to those voices.

Granted, basking in the bliss of nature does not have to be a political statement.

It can just be a kindness to oneself. Studies show that even greenery from a window improves our cognition and mental well-being.

If all we can do is go lie beneath a tree, we ought to do just that.

Sometimes, surprising things happen.

Today, I promised myself I could just walk and that was enough, that I could stay within view of my car, that all I needed to commit to was a few deep breaths of the dense forest air.

I even forgot about the jiggling.

After that first breath, my lungs and head filled with richness of late spring, how the soil still smells thick and the cool morning is perfumed with pine and cedar boughs.

And that was enough.

Though somehow it compelled me to explore the possibilities a little more – the next corner, the blossoming lupine fields – until the early morning gave way to a high sun and that brown dog urged me onward and an hour in reverie had joyfully passed.

I don’t know when it will be my last day outside or my last breath for that matter, but with any luck, the two will closely coincide.

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at