Former S-R outdoors editor Rich Landers reflects on hiring Ammi Midstokke as her book debuts
Wed., March 15, 2023
Ammi Midstokke has a flourishing love-hate relationship with misery. She opens doors to it; embraces, loathes and embellishes it; makes fun of it, and learns a thing or two through each grin and grimace. This is what intrigued me about her and her writing.
“There is a little tiny sliver of fate somewhere between catastrophic life-ending events and nothing happening at all,” she suggests. While pouring through these pages, you’ll realize that she leans largely on one side of that equation.
In September 2014, as the Outdoors editor for The Spokesman-Review, I reported on a freak mountaineering accident high in Idaho’s Selkirk Mountains. Ultimately, a gritty 36-year-old woman was saved by the heroic efforts of her rock climbing partner, a Priest Lake search and rescue team and an Air Force helicopter crew.
That might have been the end of the story if my interest hadn’t been snagged by the victim’s type-A personality.
This gal had a unique perspective on just about everything, plus a gift for storytelling and a sense of humor that couldn’t be squashed by a 1.5 ton granite boulder. I asked her (admittedly, I was prepared to beg) to grace my newspaper’s Outdoors section with a column. She jumped aboard and quickly developed an audience eager to read the next installment of her adventures with life, the wilds and living off grid.
Spokane writer Darin Z. Krogh summed up her allure with this letter to the editor published in August 2017: “I do not often read the Outdoors section of The Spokesman, because I am not an outdoorsy guy. I am even nervous in city parks. But recently, I happened to read Ammi Midstokke’s column. She seems to be a varied and strange person in a good way. She shoots gophers with a .22, climbs Chimney Rock, rides a bike with a 50 pound load and sprinkles her writing with a you-can-do-it philosophy, tempered by real life dissolutions and failures. What a strange person she seems to be. I will now regularly read the Outdoors section … in order to appreciate (her) curious outlook.”
Even if most of her readers weren’t aware that Ammi is pronounced with a long a, and Midstokke has a short o, her words resonated intimately in stories that examine the human condition while tickling funny bones and tugging heart strings.
Her hippie parents and their nonconventional lifestyle get at least partial credit for her instinct to adopt really bad ideas. Why shouldn’t a single mom raise a pre-teen daughter in a straw-bale, wood-heated, solar-powered cabin perched on a granite peak with a driveway that passes through heaven or hell, depending on snow conditions and whether the vehicle has enough clearance and a winch?
Why not avoid Disneyland and take that daughter on a summer break trip to Burning Man?
“That’s exactly why we need to try it,” she explains to her daughter after a sketchy call in yet another outdoor adventure, “to find out how much of a good/bad idea it is.”
Ammi is open to just about anything, with a few notable exceptions. For example: “Drinking tea is like sipping on a dead flower that lost its soul. Or supping from a puddle of grass clippings … I realize an entire population of tea drinkers may be appalled by this statement and I commend their Buddhistic ability to be so pleased with so little.”
But given the mandatory stiff jolt of strong coffee to wake the Viking blood streaming through her veins, she’s game for learning new things every day, and she’s willing to take us along for the ride.
Ammi evolves through the years as she chronicles her devotion to living life to the fullest. Initially she seems obsessed with pursuits that often result in third-degree chaffing, or ER visits. “It’s never a good sign,” she says, “when the radiology staff is on a first name basis with you and asks how the kids are.”
But soon we realize we’re tracking her many steps to finding truth and other deep matters, such as love beyond infatuation with a man’s mastery of power tools.
She offers thoughtful perspectives on being a mother, wife, sister and daughter, as well as on overachieving, aging and mortality. We learn about heartbreak and the healing quality of a dog. She touches on the sobering realities of death, suicide and even extinction. All of this gets sorted out amid her karmic magnetism for chaos.
Learning to coexist with nature outside – and inside – the cabin is a struggle if not a hoot. We get to eavesdrop on her relationships with mice, stink bugs and wasps, as well as the gophers that routinely render her garden to rubble. She tearfully calls planting seeds an exercise in “misplaced hope.” But this is only one of many reasons she endorses waterproof mascara.
Ammi demonstrates that emotional growth in finding home, meaning, satisfaction and contentment is possible without losing her bold undertones. In a crisis, she says, balance and fulfillment can always be found in chopping wood.
Although she has lived off grid, she has keen insight to what connects us all. Don’t be surprised if you laugh and cry as she navigates her way to life changing epiphanies. In one of my favorite chapters, she details how she is falling in love with her growing child all over again for different reasons than her status as a mother. Bingo.
Readers of this book gain great insight into Ammi and life in general. Only her therapist knows more.
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