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Ammi Midstokke: The inevitability of extinction

“You’ll want to go on safari,” said my mom, “before those animals are extinct.” The extinction we’re trying to beat is Scott’s. He wants to climb Kilimanjaro before he wins that race with the animals of the Savannah.

“Kilimanjaro?” I ask. “Yeah, I’ve never been,” he says.

I’m not particularly familiar with all the good ways to die, but I suspect it’s just about the same as all the good ways to live. Ultimately, we spend our entire lives dying. We ask each other moot questions: “What would you do if you had a year to live?”

Facing mortality, even from a distance, gives that question new perspective.

If that’s the case, why am I so focused on the barn I need on my property? Having land and the tools to manage it without a structure in which to put them means I go through a lot of tarps. I do all the adult things to facilitate this barn planning – stashing money, getting quotes, drawing plans. I budget and I walk the land with the concrete guy and we say really grown-up things about structural integrity.

I consider the future and how I can appropriately allocate my work hours to “buckle down” and get through this project. As long as my blasted well doesn’t dry up again, I should manage just fine if I work hard. When you are a home owner, they say, you have to invest in your home. It’s part of being a mature adult, long-term planning, bigger picture sort of talk.

Meanwhile, Scott is dying.

I’m planning a pole barn as if it is important while he plans his exit to the greater cosmos. Like Zorba, he laughs in the face of fate (and sometimes curses and cries at it). There was a line in that book about the difference between people who live like they are never going to die and people who live like they may die tomorrow.

The former put off their dreams and hopes, their reckless ideas, their passions, in the optimistic and perhaps naive assumption that there will be a tomorrow. They work hard and plan for that tomorrow with 401Ks and retirement savings and pole barns that “increase the value of the property.” They put off the adventures. Sometimes they put off living.

They don’t think that maybe the lions and giraffes are going to be gone by the time they shuffle the kids to college, retire, and head to Africa. They don’t realize that rain forests, Sequoia, Great Barrier Reefs, and icebergs are going extinct, too. Or that it is impossible to make new memories when you’re dead.

I really need to balance my books and look at barn plans, but I have a window of time to snowshoe up a mountain with a friend. I slap my laptop shut and head out for an epic journey into the snow-covered trees. Barn plans can wait until I get home. We spend hours trudging through the snow, sharing laughter, tales of our sorrows, and a successful summit.

When I return home five hours later, face red and chapped, heart pounding, frozen smile and fatigue encompassing me, I see my dad has sent me some barn cost numbers. He says to budget for that, but leave a little room because it might cost more, it’s good to have a buffer.

“Stick to the number,” I said. “The buffer is going to Tanzania.”

“Glad to see you’ve got your priorities right,” he responded.

Ammi Midstokke can be reached at

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