North Idaho

Time goes by so fast, doesn’t it?

Recently I had the chance to read Eula Biss’s essay “Time and Distance Overcome.” She gives the reader a quick history of the telephone and the multi-year long fight to get the poles placed and remain placed. Biss’s full essay becomes a powerful look into violence against Black people through instances of lynching using telephone poles.

I bring up the essay because as I read about the “war on telephone poles” in 1889, a quote in particular stood out. “Wherever telephone companies were erecting poles, homeowners and business owners were sawing them down, or defending their sidewalks with rifles.”

Time moves so fast, and yet people are ever the same, aren’t they?


Let me tell you about North Idaho, where I lived for many years. Idaho is not famous for much. Not many “good” things – things that don’t force me to add an asterisk to my words and the phrase, but “not like that.

I was home-schooled, but *not like that. Yeah I go to church, but *not like that. I’ve owned guns, but *not like that. Yeah, my sister has home births, but *not like that. I’m from North Idaho, but I’m *not like that.

I’m not, really.

O, Idaho. Headquarters of the KKK West. Home to cults beyond number. To gun toters and gun hoarders. To Ruby Ridge and FBI showdowns.

Anybody with a hometown worth a damn should know the *not like thats.

And it is worth a damn. It’s my favourite place in the whole wide world so far, and I’ve lived in a few places: The Oregon coast as well as northeastern Oregon, Louisville, KY, the UK, and currently I reside in Minnesota. Each place has its own beauty, its own spirit and life.

But North Idaho: hilly plains that brighten and fade throughout the year, surrounded by mountains and canyons. Windy currents wave through the wheat on the rolling slopes of the Palouse, an agricultural area that had to develop its own machinery to harvest the steep angles of its terrain and is also the native habitat to the Appaloosa horse. There are sandy lakes that quiver jade and amber in the breeze.

It snows feet upon feet in the winter. Blizzards shut down the one freeway which heads up to the Canadian border, and the snaky, vein-like county roads. The terrain didn’t allow for squared segments during the land grabs and roads twist and curve with the mountains and rivers. Trestle bridges still shake with lumber trains. And the evergreens. Oh, the evergreens.

It’s a western heaven. It makes sense it calls to those who chafe under the strain of urban bustle and corporate greed. North Idaho is laissez-faire. God is feared by some, but mostly it’s up to nature and your bootstraps to get through. People feel listened to and important in their communities – it’s easy to get along with your neighbour if they stay five miles away.


It must be in the water, you know, the *like that tendency. That or the meth.

Or maybe it’s a kind of wild that begins to seep into you during the star bright nights that even my bravest of friends admit still spook them. After the warm vanilla-pine scented days of hiking, and the fireside drinking, and the crickets have gone quiet, the sky lights up with trillions of galaxies swarming in the incredible stillness. And joy can turn to fear as comprehension sinks in. You control nothing.

Fear motivates many of the *like that in North Idaho. I wonder if it can all be tracked back to that first beneath-the-expanse experience. People are faced with their own insignificance and have to find their way back to the joy. Some, it seems, choose to stay afraid.

The government is a thing to be afraid of. It’s an oldie but a goodie. And a two for one. They’ll take your guns and your money.

Outsiders, or “Not-from-around-heres”, are another feared entity. They’ll take your land if the government doesn’t get to it first.

Bathrooms with no gender specifiers, terrifying.

Crying. NO ONE is supposed to cry, regardless of gender.

The fear for the constitution’s purity is practically palpable in every bar, where the Pabst is still $2 for a quart jar. The Confederate flag repels many Not-from-around-heres, which is unironically hung next to the American flag. If you’re lucky, a black and white American flag with a blue line will grace the corner above the two pool tables and the shuffleboard. Cops are the new veterans. Well, they’re all actual veterans, even the rez cops. But neither side talks to each other anymore. 

Vaccines have skyrocketed up the fear charts since the late 80s and had a monumental spike during the pandemic. For some, the COVID-19 vaccine is the mark of the beast.

Today, masks are feared because they’re an extension of the government and for others, one more sign of the end times. Yet another mark of the beast. Don’t get caught with your neighbour’s vaccinated spouse or a face mask. Straight to hell.

5G made the list at the start of the pandemic, as many acquaintances on Facebook, the most fearful of the afeard’s primary method of communication, confirmed thousands of American deaths due to the 5G government testing that started the pandemic. Bill Gates, the lead mastermind, and to some, the Antichrist, is sneaking tracking chips into masks and nanochips into the vaccine. It gets fuzzy here because cooperation with China is pertinent at some point, and “A-Rabs” at some point, and I think the Russians were putting chips in the masks? It’s confusing. You know how politics are. And, of course, the Antichrist had to go and divorce the Whore of Babylon.

I make light of this, because how can you not?

But North Idaho does not.

Pictures circulate of people from my home protesting with their AKs and ARs, and maybe even with their great grandfather’s old Remington. Punisher bandanas and blue-line shirts wander the crowd. Tribal tattoos adorn many bodies – though most of those bodies haven’t stepped foot on anything but a reservation gas station. Skol rings. Red Hats. Black vests. Bald heads circulating with beady eyes. 5G won’t get past them, no sir. That sidewalk is protected.


Like humans from many eras, what is out of our control, what is difficult or at times impossible to understand, is worse than death. Fear of the unknown, fear of having one pulled over on us by our enemies, has rallied us for years. When I read the Biss essay, I laughed at that image, the defenders of the sidewalk. Telephone poles are from the Devil! Make America Pole-less Again!

Maybe there is something else we can learn from Biss. Technology is often a harbinger of death. I say this banking on having no skill at prophesying. It’s not a stretch though to observe the progression of humanity and watch our incredible capacity to create and destroy with the same object. We are connected, globally, by the inevitability of change, and the ineptitude to agree.

I love North Idaho. There are people who are genuine neighbours and caring individuals, regardless of their political bent. Of course, I want to see a place that I love stay lovely. Of course, it’s scary to watch more people stream in from California and the Portland/Seattle area. When a hill you ran up as a kid, splintering wheat as you went, is now a row of carbon copy houses in pastel hues, you’re going to pause and mourn just a little at what was.

Here’s the thing with the unknown though. It’s unknown. And there is an unknown, unknown. Unknown, once removed. We, individually and collectively, can’t control so many things. We don’t know who will move into those houses. Who or what will tear them down? Who will choose to rebuild, or not?

We don’t know what asterisks will be put by our names. Who can pass and leave behind a name without one? I liked her work, *even though she was like that.  We could choose to spend our lives measuring out the chances, the statistics, and clutching at the spotlight of control. Or we could choose to live content with the asterisks we know we’ll get, to mend and cultivate the ones in progression. We could choose to come back to that first campfire and learn to let go of trying to read the stars and read the faces gathering warmth beside you. We can show grace to the neighbors – the sugar sharing and the engine revving. We can turn into our tents and say goodnight to the crickets and the breeze and fall asleep under the glow of beauty, connected to each other by much more than telephone poles, but leaning into the joy of even the simplest of connections *like that.

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