The Lumberjill: Idaho — love it or leave it?

By Jen Jackson Quintano
Reader Columnist

If you don’t like Idaho’s values, then leave.

This rhetorical dead end, usually aimed at anyone feeling a modicum of consternation regarding our state’s political climate, was directed at me recently. It was in response to an opinion piece expressing my fears about raising a daughter in a climate of legislated misogyny.

Apparently, misogyny is an “Idaho value.” One worth liking. One worth defending.


If you don’t like it, leave, the readers urged.

As if retreat were that simple. As if a life built of family, friendships, business associations, teachers and mentors, support networks and landscape love can simply be dragged and dropped elsewhere. As if community doesn’t take time and devotion to develop. As if a business doesn’t require a decade of sweat and striving to succeed.

Jen Jackson Quintano. Courtesy photo.

If you don’t like it, leave.

As if discomfort were something to run from and dissension an existential threat. As if life is meant to be all softness and no edges, with “like” as our ultimate raison d’etre and “dislike” a kind of perdition. As if life imitates social media. 

If you don’t like Idaho’s values, then leave.

As if Idaho had an immutable set of values, cast in stone, Ten Commandments-style. As if our state were a static and homogeneous entity rather than an ever-evolving heterogeneity. As if dogma were geographically defined.

If you don’t like Idaho’s values, then leave.

As if our nation weren’t founded upon the interplay of conflicting views. As if thinking in lockstep were a sign of greatness rather than stagnation.

Idaho: Love it or leave it.

As if resisting and remaining were incompatible.

Let me assure you: They’re not.

The thing is, I do love Idaho, my dissatisfaction with elements of its governance notwithstanding. I love it for my community, my home, these landscapes, the relative emptiness and wildness. I love it for the way my daughter is supported, the way our business is valued, the way core residents unite to nurture those in need. I love it enough that I refuse to leave. I love it enough to fight to make it a more equitable and empathic place to call home. 

What if loving one’s home is not blindly rolling over when you think it’s in the wrong? What if loving your home is staying? What if it’s fighting the bullies telling you to do otherwise?

I often think back to an interview I heard earlier this spring in which a Russian citizen, at odds with her nation’s brand of governance, shared her dissident’s creed: 

“You’re useless in prison or dead. But as long as you’re not in prison or dead — and you’re not facing a significant risk of going to prison or being dead — make a difference where you are.”

As the famous line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail goes, “I’m not dead yet!” So don’t toss me on the handcart for disposal elsewhere, even if Idaho’s current ideological shifts feel like some kind of deadly plague.

It’s one I haven’t yet succumbed to. I can still make a difference where I am. And I’d rather ruffle some feathers in Idaho than add to an echo chamber of West Coast virtue signaling.

I do not want to live in an echo chamber. I want to live in Idaho.

I actually enjoy inhabiting places that can accommodate dissenting views. I like having my opinions challenged. And by challenged I don’t mean via statements of the love-it-or-leave-it variety, but in actual civil discourse. Conversation in which we can be open about our fears, our hopes and how they drive our beliefs.

Such conversations today are all too rare.

Let me attempt to begin one.

I work on behalf of bodily autonomy now — on behalf of women — because of my experiences not having such autonomy, of having my body policed, my form seemingly belonging to the collective rather than to me. I do this work because of my experience wearing a heavy cloak of shame for decades — shame over my appearance, my sexuality, my decisions and my boundaries (or lack thereof) — and I don’t want my daughter to grow up in a similar world where ownership of her body and worth are in question. 

These are the hopes and fears that drive my work.

Rather than telling me to leave, tell me what my staying makes you fear. Tell me what hopes my words are threatening. Tell me, as Helene Cixous writes about the worthiest of word-based endeavors, what “makes you tremble, redden, bleed.” Let’s not stay safe in the realm of “like” together; let’s bleed. Together. In a world where the art of debate has resorted to a limited palette of finger paints, let’s pull out the scalpel and make some hard-won collage, shall we?

If you don’t like Idaho’s values, then leave.

I admit it: We talk about it, my husband and I. We talk about leaving. Yet, for me, it is still an idle thought experiment, play acting with “what ifs.” Even as others depart, I’m not there yet. I’m not dead yet. All it takes is a walk through the woods — awareness cradled by moss and mist and unfurling ferns — for me to dig in anew, plant my flag, stand my ground. 

My husband and I wed under a canopy of hemlocks. Our daughter, still small, lay underneath those trees and gazed at greening constellations of new growth, mesmerized. Our love story is firmly rooted here. Why would we — why should we — ever leave?

I love Idaho, and I think it can do better. Is it really too much to want one’s home to return to civility? To expunge extremism in favor of empathy? 

Yes, I look at the recent debacles at North Idaho College, West Bonner County School District, the library board race and more, and I feel disheartened. But these are signs of a community in flux. A community that needs all the help — all the fight — we can muster.

If you don’t like Idaho’s values, then leave.

Oh, were it so simple. But it’s not. So you’re stuck with me.

I’m not dead yet. I’m not giving up.

Jen Jackson Quintano writes and runs an arborist business with her husband in Sandpoint. Find their website at See more of Quintano’s writing at

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