Dining Out in Dubois: Not Badlands!

Bistro, steakhouse, cafe, barbecue. How much more do we need?

bistro5I sat at the Nostalgia Bistro one recent evening, waxing nostalgic about our wonderful trip to Sicily. I was remembering another restaurant, in the ancient city of Siracusa. We had been celebrating our 40th anniversary.

Travel-weary, happy, and a little tipsy that memorable evening a few years ago, I sat idly enjoying how the wait-staff danced around each other, pirouetting with huge heavy-laden trays or scurrying past to take an order. They never came close to colliding. They made me think of  a finely tuned machine or a well-planned military maneuver.

Same here, I thought while sitting at the Bistro. The service there is equally adept and seemingly effortless, however busy the night. But they remind me more of a busy family.

bistro2Unlike that night in Sicily, at the Bistro I always recognize the person who’s “going to be my server tonight,” and they recognize me. I can joke with Bigi or talk with Norman about something that has happened recently in town. They’re friends.

Back when we lived in Brooklyn, we enjoyed an embarrassment of riches when it came to fine restaurants. Deciding where to go out for dinner usually entailed a rather long conversation.

But after spending some time in Dubois, we realized that in Brooklyn we would almost always wind up at one of 4 or 5 favorite restaurants nearby. We seldom traveled more than a few blocks to have dinner out. So being in Dubois isn’t all that different, in fact.

The Bistro is our go-to place when we want to eat out after Happy Hour, to dine with friends, or just not to cook for ourselves that night. It has an inventive fusion menu, with a mix of comfort food like saucy ribs, delicate light fare such as tender fresh fish, and variations on international kinds of cuisine. (Shannon obviously knows what he’s doing.)

bistro3My husband has observed that Dubois is missing a Thai restaurant. But I like the Thai steak salad at the Bistro so much that I have to resist defaulting to that order every time.

The restaurant would probably succeed in the culinary battleground of our former neighborhood in Brooklyn. But it’s not our only option here, by any means.

For a change of pace, we can choose the steakhouse next to the Rustic Pine Tavern.

Is it Wednesday? My husband has to decide whether to resist the lure of going a few minutes up-mountain for the weekly prime rib special at the Wilderness Boundary Restaurant. I’m not usually a red meat eater, so I prefer their little thin-crust pizzas and their hearty soups du jour.

Football Saturday? We’re going to want the barbecue from the place near the KOA and the wings from El Jarro.

In a hurry or want take-out? It took us quite a while to discover that the kitchen at Taylor Creek Exxon west of town prepares a variety of really good meals. You’d never go to the gas station for food in Brooklyn but, hey, this is Wyoming.

PassHighway022514_4For a larger variety of choices or a more exotic option, we can always travel to Jackson or Lander, which takes about an hour – not that much longer than a trip into midtown Manhattan from our former home in Brooklyn. But there’s no reason to travel all the way to Jackson to spoil ourselves. The new restaurant at Turpin Meadows Lodge, closer than the entrance to Grand Teton National Park, served up the best meals we’ve ever had on that side of Togwotee Pass.

All of these are only counterpoints to the classic option, the Cowboy Café. It’s the obvious choice for a hearty breakfast. Later in the day, I like their sourdough sandwich with pesto and chicken breast. But when I’m feeling really peckish I go for the elk sausage and home fries.

One benefit of spending all year in Dubois is that we can easily get a table off-season.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Visits With My Neigh-bors

We generally stay out of each other’s way, but not last week.

katielbWe never kept any horses, even though our daughter fell seriously in love with them at the Lazy L&B Ranch here, many years ago. You simply can’t keep a horse in the tiny back garden of a Brooklyn townhouse.

Plenty of people in Dubois do keep horses, however. Some of them are my neighbors. Therefore, luckily, some of my neighbors are now horses.

It’s always a treat to look out our window and see the four horses that graze in the meadow across the fence. It’s even more of a treat when they all decide to run. I get to follow their trails through the aspen grove and to see where they have slept. They have a pretty nice life back there.

horses2croppedWe generally stay out of each other’s way, but not last week.

I was outside planting iris bulbs when the phone in my pocket rang. It was a friend from Philadelphia.

“Well, look at that,” I said (although of course she couldn’t). “There are cowboys rounding up cattle into the corral, not 100 yards from our back fence.”

“Real cowboys?”

“Real cowboy, yes. On horseback.”

“That’s amazing,” she said. “I’m seeing exactly the same thing out my window.” That Cindy. She always was a joker.

horse_friendsLater, I walked over to the fence to take a picture of the corral in the valley, to text on over to my Philadelphia friend. One of my neighbors trotted up and poked her nose at me over the fence.

I almost dropped the phone. They’ve never come that close before.

The black one quickly loped up alongside her. I guess they wanted their picture taken too. Happy to oblige.

billyhorses2That same evening, I took the dog for a walk on the back road across the highway. He wandered over to sniff at something near Billy’s barn door, and leaped aside when it began to open.

Billy walked out with a harness and lead draped over his arm.

“My three horses got out,” he said with a resigned smile. “Don’t know how they did that. Now I gotta go find them.”

So he and his dogs joined me and mine and we walked over the little bridge. There they were, all three of his horses, grazing on someone else’s lawn.

A few deer stood watching nearby. They didn’t seem at all bothered about these domestic animals on their turf.

billyhorses1“If I get this one, the others will follow,” Billy said, walking toward one of the three.

She ran him in a small circle first, but he soon got the harness on and turned her around.

The other two lifted their heads and came along.

One of them kept nipping at my ears as he clopped up behind.

“Just clip him on the nose if he gets fresh,” Billy said.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Good-Looking New Faces in Dubois

Uplifting results with good “bones” and a facelift.

mercantile100616Probably the best sight to greet folks downtown these days is the rank of strong steel girders rising on our main street. This is the site of the great Mercantile fire of New Year’s 2015.

At last, something uplifting has replaced the chain-link fence and the empty lot between the Rustic Pine Tavern and the hardware store parking lot.

The new structure looks reassuringly solid, like a resounding answer to the midwinter devastation and the crumbling relic it destroyed.

Project manager Reg Phillips says he expects work to continue steadily this month, and we should shortly begin seeing a new facade. He hopes the front side will be looking good by the end of the month. The facade will be a mix of materials: wood, tin, and faux stone.

The object, as with all new construction here, is to have the exterior completed before heavy winter sets in (although we rarely get enough snow in town to make a buck-and-rail sag, let alone dent a roof). Here’s what the view across the street from the Rustic should look like, more or less, by the second anniversary of the fire.


Insurance money wouldn’t pay for a two-story structure, as originally planned. I think this looks more old-town western (and less like Jackson) anyway.

Who’s going to fill all those shop windows? I’ll update when I know anything.

kioskMeanwhile, another sweet facade has appeared in town, just west of the SuperFoods. It’s a face-lift on the boring old brown box that used to be the Visitor Center (which has relocated to the Headwaters).

It’s amazing what some stained planks and a front porch can do to a place! According to my sources, it’s going to become an ice cream and snack shop that also sells souvenirs.

(Anybody want to create some beautiful new Dubois branded T-shirts?)

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.


Character Reference: Celebrating in Crisis

These events in Dubois aren’t extraordinary. They’re typical.

pigroast1It was a good evening, that pig roast last Friday at the Rustic Pine. People were in a great mood.

That woman who got so angry when I touched her bumper while parking gave me a hug and a big smile and forgave me. A couple we haven’t seen in ages caught us up with their news, and I met someone new who’s just moved to town.

But above all, we helped Reggie with his medical bills.

I don’t believe I’ve ever met Reggie.  But we had heard about his shocking injury. Maybe lots of other people who were there also don’t actually know him. That’s the point.

pigroast5If I’ve learned one thing about Dubois, it’s this: If someone is in crisis, we’re supposed to do something about it.

The announcement in the tavern said “benefit,” but it also said “celebration party.” And it lived up to its billing.

The side room at the tavern was packed with townsfolk an hour after Happy Hour ended, and the mood was fairly giddy. A long food line formed behind the roasted pig. The high rafters echoed with chatter.

As we finished our meals, auctioneer Jim began his patter. Our good friend John barked out and pointed at the bidders raising their hands. My husband snared a fishing rod. I won a therapeutic massage.

Some items went for fairly ridiculous prices, considering their actual worth. Someone bid on and won a backpack, and then turned it back to be auctioned all over again. Bidders paid well above retail value for pecan pie and brownies from Julie’s bakery.


People laughed and whooped as the prices reached well into 3 figures for a framed wildlife photograph or a necklace. It was way too crowded and noisy to know who was winning what. But we hoped for the bids to rise and rise, driving down the burden of debt for Reggie and his family.

Suddenly I flashed back to a private-school benefit auction I attended once in a hotel ballroom in Manhattan, as a favor for someone. The room was hushed as bids rose to 5 figures for a stay in someone’s country home, say, or a private backstage tour. The competition, all too obviously, was not for the items themselves but for the claim to the fattest wallet.

pigroast2Years ago, before we bought our house in Dubois, we spent a few days here evaluating the town as a place to settle in rather than just visit over and over. That weekend, I saw posters for a fund-raiser to help a young mother who needed a transplant. This wasn’t an appeal to pay her medical costs, but to allow her family to stay nearby during the far-away operation and recovery.

I saw that as a sign of the town’s character, and it was. These cheery, spontaneous charity events in Dubois aren’t even very remarkable. They’re typical.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Small Town Small Talk in Dubois

knightdedication“I’ve had enough of small towns,” said our dinner guest last Tuesday, a friend of a friend. “I know what they’re like. I grew up in one. Small-minded people with boring lives.”

How many people, we asked, do you know in Dubois?

“Oh, not many. I mostly go to the Superfoods and the post office, sometimes the Cowboy. And then home.”

You should try to meet a few, we suggested.

“How would I do that?”

Oh, maybe go to Happy Hour. Or volunteer for something. There should be some way you could help out.

pict0113One day later, invited to dinner at someone else’s home, we noticed the photos of Italy rotating on the digital frame on her kitchen’s island. And then a few from somewhere in eastern Europe.

What is it about Dubois, we asked ourselves. So many people here with so much interesting history. There are so many fascinating back-stories, once you start to ask. For instance, these weren’t vacation snapshots. She worked for a federal agency and traveled the world on business.

Someone in New York asked me once if there’s diversity in Dubois. Well, not in the usual politically correct sense of the word. Our minister is a black woman, but she doesn’t feel like “diversity” because she grew up here. You don’t see Latinos on the street every day, or people from China or Korea or even Native Americans. But yes: There is tremendous diversity in another sense.

We lived many kinds of lives in many other places, and then at some point decided to take that crazy leap and follow the dream that we had been cherishing for so many years. And here we all are.

billyshouse101515Those who have always lived here are just as worth engaging in many long conversations: The orphan wrangler who married the debutante from out east, and happily settled down on the ranch. The logger who kept on lumbering and built a life after the sawmill closed, because leaving was just not an option. These are just the first two who come to mind.

It’s also great fun to talk to the younger people who have landed here for one reason or another. So many hope to find a way to stay.

This evening I went for a book signing, to celebrate a new biography of local artist and historian Tom Lucas. It’s written by someone who moved here a few years ago (she and her husband just couldn’t stay away), became intrigued by his life, and decided to document it all.

lucas-bookAs I expected, the event was packed, with people spilling out from his gallery onto the sidewalk and lined up inside to buy the book. I can’t wait to read it, even though I know Tom well and count him a good friend. There must be lots I still don’t know.

Tom is a remarkable person, and well deserving of this distinction. But come to think of it, so many fascinating biographies could be written here. The mind boggles.


© Lois Wingerson, 2016

You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.



The Lady and Her Knight

It’s her birthday, so she gives a gift to Dubois. A very large one.

john_and_knightIt was her 92nd birthday, so Leota Didier gave Dubois a present: a life-sized bronze statue of a cowboy. He now stares steadfastly off to the north from the front of the log-hewn Dennison Lodge, one of our favorite gathering places.

So typical: It’s Leota’s birthday, so she gives a big present to the town. The sculpture is an enlargement of the knight figure from a chess set that her former neighbor, artist John Finley, created in 1979, using Western-themed characters.

“I wanted to be sure to get this done while I still had time,” Leota said, in her deep, gruff voice. “I saw a statue like this in a town somewhere else, and I said: Dubois needs something like that.”

Like what? “Something that represents the spirit of the town.”

John is a diffident fellow, but also an old friend. Somehow she persuaded him to undertake the arduous task of recreating a chess piece as a monument.

chess-setLeota has already given much to her hometown. In fact, she was important to the historic Dennison Lodge itself, throwing herself into the effort to bring it to town when it was threatened with demolition in the 1990s. Out in the wilderness where she used to ride, it had been part of a dude ranch where notables such as Clark Gable and Carole Lombard once stayed.

Like so many others devoted to Dubois, Leota is a transplant. She was born in Iowa, and first came to town in 1970 when her husband Bernard, a Presbyterian minister, diverted them here from Denver during a vacation.

“Bernard was a funny man,” she told me recently. “He would get these urges. We came to Wyoming and he fell in love with it.”

She had thought they would be traveling on to California, but Bernard changed his plan. He had read somewhere that dilapidated ranches were going for marvelous prices in Wyoming. They came here instead, and a week laterlazylb they owned a ranch.

For many years, they ran the Lazy L&B Ranch (the “L” is for Leota) just down the East Fork valley from the Finleys. Two owners later, it’s still a very successful guest ranch.

(I owe my presence in Dubois to Leota, as I love to remind her. We stayed at the Lazy L&B nearly 30 years ago, and never stopped coming back to this area. I was delighted to see her still here when we finally moved to town.)

When Bernard passed away, Leota sold the ranch. As she aged, she slowly gave up her beloved horseback riding and moved to town. You see her often, always elegantly dressed and wearing one of her signature cowboy hats, whether at the rodeo, at church, or checking guests in at the weekly square dance in town (which devotes its earnings to charity).

leotaIt seemed like the whole town had turned out at the Dennison yesterday, to celebrate with Leota and join in as Reverend Melinda Bobo gave a blessing.

I was late for the ceremony. “What did you bless?” I asked Melinda.

“The statue,” she said. “The town. The community.”

One of its great blessings sat on a folding chair near the door, evidently enjoying her birthday celebration, and wearing her signature smile.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

A Perspective on Distance from Dubois

Thoughts during a long visit with my aged mother back East.

Mom in her room

I’ve been back East for a long visit with my aged mother, which is how we will continue contact after  the great leap westward. Instead of driving from New York once a month, I’ll fly out from Dubois to see her regularly, and stay for a while.

Of course there are trade-offs to choosing a life in Dubois, however wonderful its benefits. This is one of them.

“Don’t tell me you didn’t think of bringing your mother with you!” said a good friend when she heard about the move. This sent me into a frenzy of inquiries.

No, I hadn’t considered it. Mom is no longer mobile. The nurses use a lift to transfer her from chair to bed.

Just transporting her to Dubois, I found, would probably require a medical airlift. Then how would we care for her? Dubois has a wonderful assisted living facility, but the nearest skilled nursing units are an hour away (and have waiting lists with indeterminate endpoints). Finding or importing private day nurses  would be a tremendous chore–not to mention an impossible expense.

I agonized for a while, and then decided it truly doesn’t make sense. Mom lives in an exemplary facility. She chose this retirement community for herself to limit the burden on me, her only child, after living with our family for decades. Back when it would have been possible for her to rejoin us, Mom wanted to be independent. Now that she can’t be, it’s no longer possible.

Mom on a visit to Dubois with the family, years ago.

I chose to extend my visit through Labor Day weekend, to see how she fared over a holiday break. (The usual staff weren’t all replaced with strangers, and the weekend was fine.) What I saw was what happens when adult children stop by for the day to visit to Dad or Mom, as we used to do before the move.

The usual peace and quiet gives way to a frenzy of activity. There are earnest, all-too-public updates on events in the family and entreaties to finish meals. There’s a pause from the TV noise in the lounge while someone’s daughter plays piano, too loudly and too long. (“This is truly awful,” remarked one resident who usually can’t find the right words.)

Today it will return to the day-to-day rhythm of events, and the regular flow of visitors. Some residents go for weeks without seeing anyone from outside the unit. A few, whose spouses live elsewhere in this planned village, have a visit every day.

A new find: Mom and me.

It’s not necessarily uncaring neglect that leaves some residents without visitors. One woman here has a son whose job took him to the West coast (and who phones often). Her widowed daughter-in-law comes as often as she can, while also tending to her father who has dementia. An adult grandchild lives nearby but is institutionalized with a severe disability.

I will continue my flying visits as long as Mom needs me. It’s one cost of living in Dubois that I will gladly pay.

I’ve spent the past month going through photo albums with Mom, discovering heart-stopping old snapshots I never knew existed. We’ve eaten many meals together (although I eat far more than she does). I’ve been reading to her (either from the Bible or a travel book, as she chooses), bringing her wildflowers from the roadside, taking her outdoors in her wheelchair, talking to her (and interpreting for her in conversations with others now that she can’t speak for herself), and reading what she writes to me in her notebook.

The words “remote” and “distance” have two meanings, it occurred to me. One of them describes my relationship to my mother. The other does not.
© Lois Wingerson, 2016

You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.