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

Author Ammi Midstokke brings her passion for storytelling and introspection to Northwest Passages stage March 15

Hers was a childhood immersed in nature, unencumbered by the distractions of television and free from the shackles of formal schooling or, for that matter, electricity. Sent to find moss to insulate her family’s ramshackle log cabin north of Sandpoint, Ammi Midstokke rambled through cedar groves, passing “fairy tale creeks” and generally soaking up the natural world. Later she would scribble it down in her journal, an innate curiosity and propensity for detail blooming.

Or was it more like this?

Hers was a childhood imprinted by poverty and the stress of trying to live a nontraditional life separated, as she was, from the larger culture. A childhood that intermingled the joy of opting out and the pain of being separate. A middle child in a family stretched thin by poverty. A compulsive need to be seen fueling a tendency toward drama. Toward the extreme. Toward, as some in her family might say, a proneness to “make things up.”

Both are true, said Midstokke, the author of a new collection of short stories “All the Things: Mountain Misadventure, Relationshipping, and Other Hazards of an Off-Grid Life.”

This is the yin-and-yang at the heart of Midstokke’s writing. Striking a balance between these opposed realities is a defining theme, one familiar to anyone who has read her work which has been published in The Spokesman-Review since 2014. In one paragraph Midstokke will write guffaw-inducing prose about misadventures in the mountains only to expertly turn that humor toward some deeper, often darker truth.

This conundrum – the dark and the light – is at the core of every person, Midstokke believes. Exploring that fertile middle ground is what compels her as an author and person.

“I want to write so much. I want to write about everybody,” Midstokke said, adding later, “I believe I have a gift and the gift isn’t necessarily for writing, but perhaps for introspection and storytelling.”

Midstokke was born at home, in Santa Cruz, California, on a Sunday in 1978. She was preceded by her older brother, Kim, and several years later her parents adopted her younger sister Alison. The young family moved first to Oregon (“joined a church that was cultish, then left”), went back to California and then, when Midstokke was 7, moved to North Idaho.

The family lived two miles from power or running water in a cramped camper van. That first winter they had $75. Her parents would spend each snowy day cutting down trees and dragging them back to the homesite, slowly building a log cabin. She was homeschooled, which mostly meant “lots of reading. Lots of reading because we didn’t have electricity.”

These were wonderful times communing with nature. But there was also violence. And in retrospect some of the nature-filled adventure had a hint of neglect. She remembers climbing into a treehouse, her home for a summer, only to find a cougar already perched there.

Either way, she survived. Eventually going to high school in Sandpoint and, a first for her family, college at North Idaho College. Throughout this time, she held onto a dream of writing.

But first there was to be a “decade of disaster.”

In college, she met a German man online in the nascent days of online dating.

“I had an internet boyfriend when it was not even cool to have an internet boyfriend,” she said.

At 19 she moved to Germany. They married and then, rather quickly, divorced. She was alone in a strange land. She gained weight, eventually topping out at 250 pounds. And then her father called her: Come do a triathlon with me, he said.

Midstokke, in somewhat stereotypical zeal, joined a gym. Poor as she was, she ate powdered soup every day to afford the membership. She flew home. Competed in the triathlon with her dad and got third in her age group.

“There may have only been three people in my age group, but it was so affirming to me,” she said. “That changed my life.”

The “decade of disaster” wasn’t quite finished. There was another marriage. A stint living in Ireland and then India. But something had shifted. Midstokke had found one way of dealing with the complexity of her life: physical movement in nature.

In 2013 she moved back to Sandpoint with her child. She worked, first with her mother and then she started her own business as a nutritionist. She had blogged for years, at one point running a popular one called the Brazen Apron which focused on food and mountain biking. She wrote another blog about trying to be a vegan for a year. She moved into an off-the-grid home. All subjects that infuse her writing today.

And then she was crushed by a boulder.

In 2014 she was climbing at Chimney Rock in the Idaho Selkirks when a boulder rolled and caught her foot. She spent the night out, eventually getting rescued by helicopter. Then Spokesman-Review outdoors editor Rich Landers wrote about the story and, after reading some of Midstokke’s work, hired her as a columnist for the outdoors section.

Since then she’s written a column for the paper. Her book, which is being published by Latah Books, is a collection of stories first published in the Spokesman and Out There Outdoors. She’s currently working on a memoir, also for Latah Books.

“I admire her absence of pretension or hauteur. She is backwoods humble,” said Paul Lindholdt a professor of English and philosophy at Eastern Washington University who wrote a blurb for Midstokke’s book.

He added, “I hope she keeps writing about the land, which is her strong suit.”

Shannon Barnes, one of Midstokke’s closest friends, said that when she reads Midstokke’s work she hears her best friend speaking.

Which brings us back to the importance of story, particularly the way Midstokke deploys it. Her life, sad, joyous and beautiful as it is, is a mirror for our own complex stories. Her voice, direct and honest, speaks to the dark and the light. That, of course, is intentional. Midstokke hopes that through her writing she can help people introspect, to examine their lives critically but with compassion. That is why Midstokke is in the process of selling her business and becoming a full-time author, one focused on the dark and the light.

“I want to bring people joy,” she said “I want people to laugh but not always. And I want to bring these two juxtaposed worlds together and let people know it’s OK. They all exist all at the same time. We can be really wonderful humans and do really awful, regretful things.”