The Lumberjill: In praise of trees, exertion and Metallica T-shirts

By Jen Jackson Quintano
Reader Columnist

I feel like I spend a lot of time in this column focusing on the fears and frictions generated by the interplay of my work and myself. From my feelings on work/life balance and gender roles, to concerns about finances and health, my relationship with my vocation is complex. And since a portion of my day can be mindless grunt work — dragging branches from Point A to Point B — I have the time to think these things through (on good days) or perseverate (on bad days). 

Jen Jackson Quintano. Courtesy photo.

I am, by nature, an introspective person, sometimes to a fault. On days of monotony at work — cut, haul, chip, repeat ad nauseum — I can get sucked down some deep rabbit holes. (However, I am also capable of replaying episodes of Parks and Recreation in my head all day; my brain has many tricks up its sleeve.) 

The beauty of my work as an arborist, though, is that every single day is different. The monotony never lasts. Just when I get really drawn into some compelling line of self-critical thinking (or remembering a Ron Swanson monologue, a.k.a. “Swanologue”), it is time to direct all my attention to a new task, whether it be rigging for a complex limb removal or planning workflow so we’re not playing a terrible game of pick-a-stick at the end of the day.

I love my job for its variety.

I love it, too, for how it challenges me every single day. I am always at my edge at work, sometimes physically (bringing a giant ponderosa from lake’s edge up a narrow stairway to the far-away driveway), and many times mentally (which ropes and knots and blocks are necessary and in what configuration so that we don’t squish a house). The stakes at work are sometimes quite high. I start most days with a knot in my stomach. 

Then, having found my edge, I also find my rhythm, my confidence and my stamina. The end of the day arrives and a beer is well-deserved.

I love my job because it pairs well with beer. Not on the job, of course (yikes), but afterward. There is no better way to prepare one’s palette for a cold one than by first becoming bone-weary and cortisol-depleted.

I love my job because I am bone-weary at the end of almost every single day. As someone who is addicted to physical exertion and the resultant endorphin rush, I’m kind of a junkie for my job. Hardly a workday goes by without me hiking between five and 10 miles from trees to chipper. I play tug-of-war with tangled ponderosa limbs. I toss firewood rounds around. In looking at the events for the World’s Strongest Man competition, I do a variation of each of them, but with trees instead of anvils or cars. My job is my gym. Hooray for that.

And my gym is outside. I love my job because I am outdoors all day, every day, rain or shine. I get to witness North Idaho in all her shades of season. I get to take note of the details — which birds nest when, the arrival of each season’s mushrooms, the waxing and waning of wildflowers and weeds, the shift between various pollens on the wind, the seas of green in June and the islands of gilded larch in October. I come home covered in sap and sawdust, smelling of soil and cedar. I am awash in this place, and I’d have it no other way. I enjoy an intimacy with the landscape that feeds my heart and soul.

I love my job because it nourishes me. It keeps my body healthy (if a tad overworked). It keeps my mind agile. Nearly every day I learn something new about the trees themselves or the methods of their removal. I am a student of these forests. It keeps me feeling young and it keeps me rooted in this place and down to earth.

I love my job because it teaches me humility. I am humbled by all the skills I have yet to learn. I am humbled by the limits of my body. I am humbled by the tasks that require me to check my ego at the door: painstakingly raking twigs out of a gravel driveway, scooping dog poop from the work area, gathering hundreds of spruce cones by hand from an immaculate lawn. I am sometimes humbled by the trees themselves, their perseverance and strength and size and age. 

I do this work because I love trees, and it is supremely humbling to cut one down and discover it was as old as our nation. This work is good at providing perspective and helping me understand my smallness in the grand scheme.

I love my job because sometimes wearing a Metallica shirt to work is enough to garner respect and cooperation from nearby heavy equipment operators.

I love my job because sometimes my clients have hidden talents or knowledge that make my world broader and brighter.

I love my job because sometimes there is no closer heaven than a peanut butter sandwich eaten in a field of oxeye daisies, the warm sun piercing cool air, swallows swooping overhead, quiet camaraderie with coworkers and muscles grateful for respite. 

Beyond the fears and frictions my work creates, I love my job because it fills my cup. And that is something worth drinking to… after work, of course.

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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