On staying

By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
Reader Staff

There’s a sense of awe surrounding North Idaho’s demographics. 

“Where have all the young people gone?” you ask, and then blame this anomaly on lack of affordable housing and job opportunities.

The answer is actually much simpler: You told us to go.

Courtesy photo.

The post-high school path for Bonner County students is either explicitly or implicitly “anywhere but here.” As a semi-recent product of the local school system, I can confirm that the adults in my life — whether they meant to or not — made it clear that in order to make anything of myself, I had to leave the comfort of my hometown, and to look back was a weakness.

I listened, and after earning my degree, set my sights on the great beyond: Missoula, Portland, maybe even the East Coast.

Chance — a couple of local jobs, a new relationship, little to no money — kept me home, sleeping on the bottom bunk while my baby sister slept above me. For every bit I enjoyed this time, I also felt guilty. Wasn’t I moving backward?

I’ve since traded the bunk bed for a rental and the new relationship for a marriage, and those local jobs have turned into careers both in journalism and coaching. I also since realized that moving “backward” was actually a homecoming worth celebrating.

I am proud to be from here and, after some soul-searching, I am proud to be someone who stayed. I am thankful to the people who made my upbringing an enriching experience, and I want to carry on that tradition. 

The people of North Idaho raised me, and I aim to be among the ranks who raise the next generation.

Of course, millennials aren’t being pushed out entirely by the “anywhere-but-here” rhetoric. Housing and jobs are legitimate roadblocks, and I count myself among the fortunate with connections and the capability to piece together enough gigs to pay the bills.

But without my generation able to remain local, who will solve these issues for future North Idaho kids? Who will fight for this place — a place where people live and let live, trust one another and treat the natural environment as the hallowed ground that it is — if the only people left are those who could afford to buy their way in?

These are my thoughts as I drive down my childhood road, slowing down and swinging wide to give bikers, joggers and dog walkers plenty of room. These days it seems I’m braking and moving over three times as often as I did when I first got my license. I don’t recognize most of them, but I still wave at every single one. We share this road and, for me, that is enough to call them a neighbor.

Of every five people, maybe one waves back. Most often, they look down at their phones, up the hill at some imaginary spectacle to avoid eye contact or they stare back at me blankly, either unintentionally rude or — worse — too good to offer a simple wave to acknowledge our shared existence in this awesome place. 

I set aside my annoyance at this reality and resolve to do something about it. If North Idaho is to keep any semblance of what makes it special, there have to be residents with local roots willing (and able) to lead the way.

We need to give local kids reasons to stay, and we need to ask them to do so.

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