Lights Down. Leota’s Gone from Dubois.

She left the ranch and became a phenomenon.

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Back in the city, a neighbor’s death was the loss of one thread in a rich tapestry. There were so many others weaving in and out.

Rainbow_croppedHere, it’s more like the fading of bands in the rainbow, a loss of our brilliance. In recent weeks, our light has dimmed with the sudden absence of several townsfolk — a beloved young man lost too soon to cancer, an elderly businessman important to the town’s growth, and now Leota Didier.

With her passing, I think we’ve lost the bright vermilion stripe. Alas.

Leota had a special place in my heart, because she gave us our first glimpse of Dubois when we stayed at the Lazy L&B dude ranch 30 years ago. She and her husband Bernard, a retired Presbyterian minister, had bought the ranch 20 years earlier. That was on a side trip during a vacation in Denver, when she had thought they were headed to California.

“My husband was a funny man,” Leota told me once. “He got urges.”

LazyLB “He heard there were marvelous buys on dilapidated ranches in Wyoming,” she recalled. Having formerly run church camps, Bernard got an idea. “Before the week was over,” she went on, “we owned a ranch.”

By the time we got there, Lazy L&B was far from dilapidated, but it was folksy and friendly. Having grown up on a farm in Iowa, she knew well how to handle animals, and I guess as a minister’s wife she had also learned how to deal with people

When we returned to Dubois decades later, I was pleased to find that she was still here. I invited her to tea, and then came to know her better.

In the meantime, Bernard had succumbed to Alzheimer’s and passed away. Leota had left the ranch, moved to town, and become a phenomenon.

CuttingParty2015The “L” in Lazy L&B, Leota was hardly lazy. Among many other blessings, she helped to move the historic Dennison Lodge to the center of town, where it became an events venue (and pity the person who left a mess in that kitchen!).

She installed large bronze statues by local artists in the town square, and was heavily involved in helping to create the new assisted living center at Warm Valley Lodge, where she spent her last days.

I saw her most often when I would help out at the weekly square dance selling soft drinks. She would always sit at the door and stamp hands as people paid their fee and came in. I have great photos of my young children at the square dance decades ago, and I’m sure she must have been at the door back then.

LeotaEven last summer, after she had moved to Warm Valley, she would never miss this duty as long as someone would pick her up and take her home after.

Tall and patrician, she dressed with elegance, even as she grew stooped and slow. Always slim skirts and fitted jackets in the muted colors of the West, and always that signature hat.

I bought the sassy red hat below in the thrift-shop auction one year, thinking it must have been a donation from her. That was her style: Classy and bold.

She told me she had not donated that hat. Who knows; at that time her memory was fading. I can’t pull it off with her style, so I seldom wear it. But in any case I think of her whenever I see it.

Hats_cropped

“How are you?” I asked, the last time I saw her, only weeks ago, at church.

“About as well as could be expected,” she replied, with a gentle echo of her former husky laugh. Typical Leota: Ironic, straightforward, candid.

Her devoted wrangler, Max, posted on Facebook about her death, inspiring a flood of responses.

“Leota was a true original,” someone wrote. “She was a Pioneer and a woman of substance. She had a great heart and an energy and a drive that was legendary.”

“She did so much for so many people and the town of Dubois,” replied someone else, “and most of the time nobody knew.”

Another post said that nobody could fill her shoes.

“Or hats,” I replied. Max gave that a “like.”

© Lois Wingerson, 2018
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.

How Dubois Gets Lost Online

The highway over Togwotee Pass has disappeared!

PassHighway022514_4Have you ever been steered down an utterly ridiculous route in your own neighborhood by a digital navigator? Then you’ll appreciate this.

Helping out at the Dubois Chamber yesterday, I took a call from an unnamed man who has visited Dubois before and wanted to return.

“Have they removed the highway between Jackson and Dubois,” he asked, “the pretty one, over the Togwotee Pass?”

I laughed and said of course not, that in fact it has been recently improved.

“Well, I was looking on Rand McNally’s online map,” he said, “and that highway doesn’t exist. I thought maybe the Indians took it away.”

I laughed again, thanked him heartily and looked it up. Sure enough, that household name of highway maps and atlases, Rand McNally, routes people from Jackson down to Farson, across South Pass, through Lander, across the Reservation, and back west toward Dubois. A 287-mile, six-hour trip that ought to take about an hour and a half:

RandMcNallyDirectionsJacksonDubois

US Highway 26/287 does not appear on their map. The (more or less) straight line from A to B has vanished.

Needless to say, I immediately contacted Rand McNally’s online support about this problem, pleading with them not to rob Dubois of its lifeblood, as tourism so important to our town’s economy.

In return, I’ve received ticket number 1094112 and a promise that my submission will be reviewed.

I probably couldn’t hope for any response at all from Google Maps, which directs everyone wanting to go from Denver to Jackson to head straight west on boring old I-80. It doesn’t even suggest the possibility of heading north at Rawlins and exploring beautiful Wind River Country, heading up that gorgeous valley past the Wind River Reservation and through that lovely green stripe between Dubois and Jackson at the top there:

GoogleDirectionsJacksonDenver

At least MapQuest offers both routes, with the information that the route through Lander takes an hour longer. Of course, nobody looking at the online maps would understand the difference between an overnight in Rock Springs and an overnight in Lander or Dubois. Pity there’s no easy way to convey the scenery en route.

Maybe this will come along with virtual reality  mapping.

DuboisWebcam121715Last evening I attended a town meeting to consider a new project to improve traffic flow through Dubois. My husband and I cast sidelong glances at each other when the consulting engineer from another town spoke about potential “loss of service” and the results of traffic monitoring, which showed little evidence of traffic jams.

We knew this already.

Part of the objective is to prepare for future increases in traffic. I didn’t think to ask whether he has any contacts at Google or Rand McNally. Perhaps he knows something I don’t know.

© Lois Wingerson, 2018
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.

Dubois Old Town and the Spirit of the West

Charm is a state of mind.

CemeteryView4_TrueWestThis is Dubois. It has a new distinction this year, being recognized by True West magazine as the town with the best-preserved Western architecture.

I don’t think the award was meant to designate the oldest residential part of town. But I think it deserves recognition.

Like many new settlers from far away, I don’t actually live in Dubois, although I usually say I do. So many of us who move here choose a house that is new-built, with a view, miles outside the town limits. We don’t often venture into the original housing section.

IMG_0745The main road bypasses the old part of town, which is also the low-rent district. For years, I never went over that way, except to go to the library.  Unless you know someone who lives there or you have children at the school (which is also in that direction), there’s little reason to visit the original village.

I began doing so lately. At first glance it appears unkempt and unattractive. But the longer I spend there, the more I have come to appreciate it.

IMG_0726“Can you help us get someone on the Town Council who will do something to clean up the town?” a friend asked me a few weeks ago.  I asked her to explain what she meant by “clean up.” One thing she mentioned was the trailers.

True, there are lots of old house trailers and double-wides in the old town. Mayor Blakeman told me that you’re no longer allowed to set up a new house trailer in Dubois. The ones in the old part of town are “grandfathered in.” Today, she said, to erect a dwelling you have to put up something made of “sticks.”

IMG_0725By and large, the properties with trailers are well-kept (in a dusty, not-much-will-grow-here way).

Many of the double-wides aspire to resemble suburban tract houses. Put on blinders and narrow the focus, in some spots, and you can envision yourself in a subdivision. But you’d have to ignore the fact that many of the streets are unpaved.

Notice how the mountains loom over the old village, as they do everywhere in Dubois. Here also, it’s quite possible to have a view.

IMG_0744Lots of the houses are small, old, insubstantial, and have a thrown-together appearance. Many have large stacks of firewood in the yard. It’s the only source of heat for many people, because out here in the wilderness electricity is expensive and there aren’t many jobs that pay well.

Some homes also have several vehicles in the yard besides the pickup. A camper, say, and a horse trailer. This is not especially attractive, but it doesn’t mean we are trashy. It means that we like to get out into the woods, and many of us do love horses.

IMG_0734A herd of deer also seems to regard the old village as home. They cross the streets with the proprietary air of homeowners out on a stroll, and sometimes lounge on porches in the sun. They like to graze in the empty lots.

Mayor Blakeman says there are still empty lots because people hold onto property in the old town as an investment, waiting for it to appreciate. She adds that some of the empty lots have begun to sell. Among the double-wides and bungalows, you also see some charming new log homes.

It’s fascinating to see the new interpretations that some people have made of their house trailers as they added on for more space. Is that what this is, in the image below? I especially like it, however it began.

IMG_0753_editedSome folks might like to spruce up the old part of town so that it looks more like a “historic district.” But as I walk these streets, I’ve come to think that the architecture of old town, if you can call it that, truly preserves the spirit of the Old West in the sense that True West magazine intended.

It’s a place founded by people without much money who intensely wanted to be here, and set up housekeeping in the best way they could, with what they had. There hasn’t been much by way of town planning and regulation, because this too is the spirit of the old West.

IMG_0739If it speaks of anything, the old town speaks of individualism — and that is truly who we are.

The other day I enjoyed a movie set in a hill town in Sicily, a part of Italy that we visited a few years ago. I saw the facades of peeling stucco on a town square, glowing in that special light you get in Italy, and I grew wistful for those ancient surroundings.

Would we still seek out those old villages, I wondered, if Disney World went in and repaired the stucco and paved the cobbled streets?

Then I thought of the old part of Dubois, which we could also cherish for its very imperfections.

© Lois Wingerson, 2018
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 Dubois Jackalope: A Unique Genetic Variant?

Adding to controversy about a remarkable hybrid

As a former science writer with a special interest in genetics, I hardly expected to find something of professional interest in my tiny, remote home town of Dubois, Wyoming. My hearfelt thanks to the Riverton friend who sent me a document someone left on the photocopy machine in her workplace. This gives me a rare and unexpected opportunity to revive my old skills.

I have traced the document to Steven J. McAllister, a biology professor at Central Wyoming College. It contains a description of the genetic characteristics of “the rarely seen and little studied Dubois Jackalope.” I was aware that the elusive jackalope is sighted throughout the state of Wyoming, but not that there is a specific Dubois variant—let alone that it has been the subject of scientific study.

JackalopeThe Dubois Jackalope is beloved of tourists, who like to take selfies on a statue of the creature, which has stood for years outside a small private museum dedicated to the animal. In fact, my own husband recalls passing through on vacation as a child and begging his parents to stop and let him ride the jackalope.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” he says they told him. “That’s just a tourist trap.”

Not so! Described as a hybrid between an antelope and a jackrabbit, the creature had an illustrious history long before biologists began to document its genetic characteristics. Accounts by cowboys describe a fearless and ferocious “warrior rabbit” that fought with its horns and could imitate the songs they sang around the campfire.

Kathy Weiser writes in Legends of America  that the “antlered species of rabbit” are  “brownish in color, weight between three and five pounds, and move with lighting speeds of up to 90 miles per hour.”

HornedHareAccording to Weiser, our esteemed local explorer John Colter, who passed through here en route to what is now Yellowstone Park, was the first to report sightings of the antlered rabbit in North America. But it has a much longer history in Europe. The Flemish painter Joris Hoefnagel included the image at right in his book Animalia Qvadrvpedia et Reptilia (Terra) [Terrestrial Quadrupeds and Reptiles], published around 1575.

I have discovered information about jackalope genetics in three college tests, which we can assume refer to reports that the students have read in preparation for the tests. Unfortunately,  none of these quizzes offer journal citations to the relevant publications.

However, they do provide a fascinating glimpse of this esoteric field.

As always in science, there is considerable controversy about the genetic qualities of the jackalope – especially with regard to coat color, as I will describe later.

Inheritance of other jackalope characteristics seems to follow the simplest rules of Mendelian genetics: Each parent possesses two genetic factors (known as “alleles”) for a property, of which one is passed on to offspring. Inheriting one from each parent, the young have two copies of each allele. “Dominant” alleles always win out over “recessive” alleles; the only way to inherit a “recessive” characteristic is by getting a recessive allele from both parents.

A document from the Missouri University of Science and Technology describes this phenomenon in mating experiments between long-horned and short-horned variants of the jackalope. The inheritance patterns suggest that the gene for long horns is dominant. Therefore long horns will be far more common among jackalopes than short horns. (This makes sense, as long horns would help them to be fierce fighters.)

Jackalope_croppedThe Wyoming report also describes a quality that follows this pattern: ear length. The Dubois jackalope has long-eared and short-eared variants, it says, with short ears being recessive (and therefore much less common). For whatever it’s worth, both jackalopes represented in the museum in Dubois appear to have long ears.

Controversy has arisen about the inheritance of coat color. A test question from the American School of Warsaw says that the fur color of jackalopes is inherited through “incomplete dominance,” in which an animal that inherits one dominant and one recessive allele winds up with a color that is a mix of the two. In this case, it says, the alleles are for red or white, but the heterozygote (which inherits both) turns out pink.

Another document about jackalope genetics, this one from North Central College in Napierville IL, concurs that coat color is inherited through incomplete dominance, but describes the colors differently. Jackalopes can inherit alleles for either brown or white, it says, and animals with one brown and one white allele have gray fur.

Descriptions of color are always subjective; one wonders whether these two reports describe different subtypes or just use different words for the same thing. Of course “red” and “brown” can sometimes be conflated (note that Weiser described the color as “brownish”.)

However, it is difficult to see how gray and pink can be confused as the same color. Most likely, heterozygous jackalopes in Poland are indeed pink and those in Illinois are actually gray. These kinds of geographic variations are common in nature, as Charles Darwin himself recognized.

Jackalop_sketchThe Dubois test, not available online, describes a different system for inheritance of coat color: Orange as recessive and gray as dominant. Is “orange” equivalent to the “pink” of Warsaw jackalopes? Or is the evidence behind the Dubois report in error?

Do the “orange” jackalopes in Dubois actually represent incomplete dominance, not recessive inheritance? Or is it just that, like so much else in Dubois, the Dubois jackalope is unique? One hopes the scientists involved can reconcile these issues.

In the interests of completeness, I must report that alternative theories for the origins of the jackalope have been reported elsewhere. These arguments hold that horns arising on the head of ordinary jackrabbits are the result of a disease (appropriately called “jackalopism”) caused by a papilloma virus, which induces tissue to harden on the top of a rabbit’s head.

In his book A Planet of Viruses (University of Chicago Press, 2011), my fellow science journalist Carl Zimmer described experiments in the 1930s that validated this theory. A scientist ground up the horns of a creature with this condition, dissolved them and filtered the solution so viruses could get through. He applied the liquid to the heads of other rabbits which, sure enough, grew horns.

Are there genetic factors that determine susceptibility to this virus? How do they relate to ear length and, more importantly, coat color? I will end with the conclusion common to so many scientific reports: Further research is necessary.

© Lois Wingerson, 2018
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.

Capturing Night Stalkers in Dubois

Who has been casing the joint while we’re asleep?

Bunnytracks

In Dubois, we sleep soundly and don’t fear intruders in the middle of the night. But we do know that often someone is out there casing the joint while we’re snoozing.

It’s easier for us to track them, of course, in the dead of winter. This morning we woke to discover that a rabbit had been exploring the back porch.

fox night Dubois WY

Our neighbors across the highway set up a night camera, to capture images of these visitors that come by while we are quietly tucked in bed.

The folks to the north sometimes lose one of their chickens during the summer when the birds are free to range in the yard. This critter must be a bit hungry this time of year, when they’re safely cooped up.

mountain lion Dubois WY

Now here’s a startling image!

We know that mountain lions are indigenous to the area, and some people have actually seen one.

But who knew that they wander so close to our homes?

I wonder how this fellow lost his team, and came out so far ahead of schedule. I do hope they have located him by now, and have him well fed and ready to travel again.

Rudolph reindeer Dubois WY

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
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.

Holiday Special on a Mountain Top

I wondered why a horse would be on the loose so far up-mountain.

JacksonView_121117When I came down the steep, snowy slope a few minutes later, leaning on my walking stick, I could see why she had started to run.

In a spot like that, when you have strong legs and plenty of traction, it’s only natural to take advantage of gravity and momentum.

It was a beautiful winter day, but I hadn’t set out on my workout hike with a sense of joy or anticipation. You know how they say to seize the day? Sometimes it’s the day that seizes you.

For me this far, it had been all uphill. I had been keeping a close watch on the time, and my knees were complaining. A half hour up, I told myself, and then back down.

At the point when I’d clocked the half hour, I could see the road curve ahead and dwindle to a trail. I couldn’t resist. In hopes of a splendid view, I went on.

Then suddenly, the sound of galloping. Briefly I wondered why a horse would be on the loose, way up here on the mountain. But of course this was no horse.

Moose_121117There she was, huge and beautiful. She skidded to a halt, and I stopped too. We looked at each other, motionless.

I have never had the privilege of looking a moose in the eyes before. I do not try to get close to moose. They are powerful and unpredictable, I know. But we were staring.

Her gaze was like my dog’s–gentle, brown, and intent. I sank down on the steep slope beside the trail, hoping to look as much as possible like a boulder (an eggplant-colored Thermasilk-lined boulder with a fur-edged hood, wearing a houndstooth visor cap).

I risked snapping a picture. She watched quietly.

Moose_121117_croppedAfter several heart-pounding moments (my heart, I mean), she moved slowly toward me on the trail, then stopped and stared again. She turned hugely around and paced back uphill a ways. Then she reversed course and came slowly toward me.

What would she do? Was she going to sniff me? Or kick me?

Perhaps five feet away, she turned again and ambled down the slope into the woods.

I watched her descend and disappear into the trees before I rose from my crouch and regained the path. She didn’t turn to look back at me.

MoosetracksShadow2_121117I stopped to take a picture of her huge hoofprints at full gallop in the snow.

Then I continued on up into the woods whence she had come, returning later down that same steep slope that had set her off on her joyous run.

 

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
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.

Racing Thoughts on a Winter Hike

I was a little nostalgic, but not for long.

JH_emptylift3A friend from back East has graciously lent me her ski condo in the late off-season. New trails take me to unfamiliar places, with sights I will not see back home in Dubois.

For instance: An unused ski lift waits motionless and silent, a ghostly reminder of another life. I recall the creak of the lift chair as it swings around to grab you from the rear. The reach back and up to grab the overhead bar and bring it down across your lap.

I recall the enforced strut of skiers in molded boots, conveying a sense of arrogance as they clattered past in the slopeside cafe.

I used to love downhill skiing. In fact, it was my enthusiasm for my first ski trip, at the age of 19, that made my husband notice me in the college dorm.

JH_emptylift1Once we took ski trips every winter, as a matter of course.

On this morning, at the spot where the lift chairs swing around and dump you off, only footprints led away. I remembered the exhilaration of the smooth, winding sail as the momentum carried you on downhill. The wonder (on the first run) of what awaited around that curve. The sense in my knees of being one with the slope.

For this one morning, I was a little nostalgic. I quit skiing a decade ago, after I got a mild knee sprain in deep powder.

JH_snowytrailWas that an early sign of aging? I don’t think so.

I didn’t want any more injuries to deter me from hiking, because I knew there are better ways to understand a mountain.

This trail led off away from the top of the motionless lift. I saw that a man and his dog had gone that way not long ago. It beckoned, and I followed.

Just as I can learn a back road far better on foot than in a car, I gain a much closer friendship with a slope by pushing off the boulders on my way uphill and sidestepping over the rocky gullies on my way back down than by gliding down a well-groomed avenue.

The challenge I seek is not for the speed downhill, but for the strength uphill.

The pleasure I’m after is not the joy of following a crowd or a well-marked route, but the difference between getting lost and just exploring.

TracksFar better than the jostle of strangers speeding past is my own solitude, and the delight of unexpected encounters. In truth, I’m the stranger this morning, to the foxes and deer who own these slopes when there are no crowds.

Yesterday, we ran across each other in person. We did not stop to introduce ourselves; we just stared. This morning, I see they’ve been here ahead of me.

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
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.