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

Ammi Midstokke: Raising a generation of accidental conservationists

Ammi Midstokke is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review writing about off-the-grid living. (The Spokesman-Review)
By Ammi Midstokke For The Spokesman-Review

“Are we democrats or republicans?” asked my 10-year-old on our way out to Pinnacles National Park in California.

Honestly, I’d rather have the talk and dive into the mechanics of reproductive systems than label our family with any political alignments. I admired her loyalty to the unit, however.

And so we talked about values. We talked about values in the context of what we value as individuals – which is interesting when you’re 10 and spend your days skipping rope and asking for food. I share her value of good food, vegetables, and learning to Double Dutch.

At the park, we checked the message board and maps. The Peregrine falcons and condors have recently nested in the area and we wanted to make sure we do not hike or climb in their space.

We talked about how we value the animals. We talked about how we value having our own nesting space on the granite hilltop of minor catastrophes and major plumbing.

We stuffed our packs with water bottles and snacks and talked about how we value clean water. Our well water at home tastes as delightfully as expensive as it was to source. We had just read about South Africa’s depleted water supply.

It’s hard to relate to something that doesn’t affect us and seems so nearly improbable. The 10-year-old was quite concerned and wondered how we could transport some water to those in need. She values others and their livelihood.

Our climbing gear and rations loaded, we wandered down the trail together with my family. We were visiting my brother and his toddler, headed out for a Family Climb Day – which means we mostly exercise patience and climb very little. We talked about safety on the rock and how much we value a working body with all its parts still attached.

B questioned the validity of this for me as I seem to be on a mission to nearly lose body parts. Maybe this makes me value them even more. So far, I’ve managed to keep them all, including internal organs. I value these because I’m pretty sure things like gall bladders and the appendix are not there by accident.

We dropped our ropes and our bags at the bottom of a shaded cliff on a clear Central Valley day, warm breeze blowing the blond hair on all the Midstokke heads. We laughed and shared boiled eggs and stories. We encouraged – and possibly bribed – tiny beings to the tops of climbs. We celebrated their achievements and tried not to rush their trembling legs.

We wound our way through the caves later and hiked the trails below the nesting place of the falcons, hearing their cries above us as we breathed the fresh air and soaked up a sun we hadn’t seen since Idaho winter arrived.

We determined that we valued time with our family and the sensations we experience in the great outdoors.

On the way out, B explained to an uninterested, 2-foot-tall munchkin that National Parks were made to preserve wonders of nature and a place where we can go with friends and family to have a good time.

She pointed out that this is why he must pick up his trash, pay park fees, and not eat all the bugs. He responded by offering her a soggy Cheerio. It seemed a gesture of solidarity to me.

Ammi Midstokke can be reached at