Dubois One Year After the Fire: Busy Re-storing

Last year this time, fire devastated downtown Dubois WY. Something beautiful is about to rise from the ashes.

Thanks to Joe Brandl for picture.

Prepare yourself when you turn that corner, a friend warned me last January as we neared Dubois on our return from the holidays.

Her words didn’t do much to dampen the shock. On the main street, it looked as if someone had neglected to remove a ghastly and elaborate Halloween display. Beyond the safety barricades, you couldn’t miss the sagging and crumbling black beams, the broken and charred window frames.

As many across the nation heard on the news last December 31, a huge fire had broken out in the center of Dubois the previous evening. It burned on into the wee hours. While volunteers tried to battle the flames, water kept freezing inside the hoses.

“I am certain that this most remote and greatest little town in the lower 48 will turn this disaster into a new start of something even better,” I wrote on Facebook. “The community spirit there is beyond describing. Just watch what will rise from these ashes!”

Photo: Karen McCullough

I’m no prophet. But I know our town.

All this year, the view out the front window of the Rustic Pine Tavern has looked all wrong, empty and gaping, as if the hardware store parking lot was trespassing southward. What’s going to materialize there? I wondered, and so did everyone else.

One day in the spring, I saw the property owner Jeff Sussman huddled in a corner at the Rustic with realtor Leon Sanderson. But we didn’t hear any public news, other than a promise that the site would be redeveloped.

As soon as humanly possible (given the time needed for insurance investigations, demolition, planning approval, construction contracts, and un-freezing of the ground), construction will commence on this:

Image: Wind River Land & Bldg. Co/Belkin Architects

Last summer, Mayor Twila Blakeman told me that Jeff had raised the issue of holding a town meeting about the project. She recalled telling him, “Everyone liked what you did with the rest of the buildings [in that block]. Just do what you think best.”

Jeff recalls the conversation differently. He says Twila told him to go the usual route, via the planning commission (which no doubt she also did, and he proceeded to do).

“No one in the town has been anything but positive,” he said. “Everyone wanted it to be sort of Western, but when you asked someone what do you mean: Western 1905? Western 1940? … We understood what we wanted to do.”

But this isn’t the Wild West. Anyone who says it’s wide open and you can do whatever you want to do, he hastened to add, is talking “nonsense.”

A Carl Hiaasen or God forbid Annie Proulx would have a high time with the Sussman character: A high-profile New York commercial real-estate developer who moved to Dubois to set up a cattle ranch and bought up the best property downtown. But I see him more in a Wallace Stegner novel: A man from the East captivated by and ultimately committed to the West.

Jeff and his wife, the painter Susan Sussman, found Dubois almost by accident. They were looking in Montana, but ended up dividing the Rocking Chair ranch property in Dubois with another couple who wanted only a small part of the land for a guest ranch.

Their part became the Diamond D Cattle company, which two years ago won the distinction “Landowners of the Year” from Wyoming Game & Fish for its innovative wildlife conservation efforts, largely implemented by manager Reg Phillips, in dealing with threats from wolves and bears.

“It was a great leap of faith, and we just fell in love with the place,” Jeff told me. “It was an amazing learning experience, and I’m glad we did it.” He said they were especially fortunate to have found Reg and Aline Phillips, who had been with the ranch before and made the learning experience “terrific”.

These are no absentee landlords. When they’re in town, they’re visibly in town, and they have plenty of friends. I first met Jeff when he and Susan sponsored an open bar at the Rustic on his birthday several years ago.

So what will become of the empty lot? It’s described as a mix of retail and offices. “It’s 3 buildings, but from its appearance, you’ll think 5,” Jeff said. “We used altered facades and materials. We didn’t want people to just think ‘mall’.”

Image: Wind River Land & Bldg. Co. /Belkin Architects

Jeff foresees an array of craftspeople in his shops: Saddlemakers, jewelry designers, people who make buckles, hats, and boots. “If we can get known as a place where there are lots of craftsmen, that would be great,” he said.

Reg Phillips, who is managing the construction effort, is energized by the potential to attract office tenants who will capitalize on one of the town’s best assets: Its status as a poster child for excellent Internet access in a remote area.

The plans will be out to bid next month or February latest, and ground will be broken in the spring, as soon as Nature allows.

“I’m not going to wait for tenants,” Jeff told me yesterday. “We’re going to build.”

© Lois Wingerson, 2015

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Dark Days in Dubois

It gets dark early this time of year everywhere on this side of the equator. How is this different in Dubois?

These are the gloomy days now, when there’s often just barely enough snow to be a nuisance. The darkness begins to descend in mid-afternoon and doesn’t lift until well into the morning, by rural standards anyway.

DuboisWebcam121715On the webcam that shows the center of town, I saw that it was snowing lightly this morning at 7:45 am. Only two vehicles approached the intersection on the one highway that passes through town. Soon after, someone crossed the highway on foot. I could see that it was slushy.

Of course, on this side of the equator it gets dark everywhere this time of the year. So how is Dubois different?

Because it’s so far from everywhere, in Dubois it is profoundly dark. This is not all bad, mind you: When it’s not actually snowing (which is often), the show of stars is beyond describing in the winter, biblical in brilliance and magnitude.

Just as unforgettable are the snowy nights with a full moon. I love to look across the valley at bedtime on such a night, when the light bouncing off the field of snow is almost as bright as day, but also eerie and ghostly. Features of the landscape show up vividly that I feel I’m not supposed to be seeing at night.

DuboisWinterMoonHow many people in the modern world ever see this? If you’ve been a city dweller all your life, the mere thought of it haunts you. On those bright and snowy nights I also think of the animals sleeping outdoors, and the ones that are awake and hunting.

Despite all that, and however many Christmas carols we may sing at church, this is not the time of year that makes the heart sing. How fondly I remember those days last July when I had to shield my eyes from the setting sun while driving home from the square dance or the rodeo at around 9 PM!

Long after dinner, while we were beginning the slow, calm slide toward the pillow, we would watch the moon rise to the east in the slow waning of that brilliant blue.

So what is there to do in a tiny, isolated village like Dubois on a day like today, when the sun will set at 4:43 PM and dark will fall at 5:16?

DuboisQuiltShow080815_2I wonder whether this season and this isolation play a large part in the creation of the splendors we enjoy in mid-summer at the annual quilt show. (I know you’re reading, Eileen. Do you think winter and the solstice create the desire–perhaps the need–to quilt?)

One of our master quilters, Eileen responded:

You’re correct, Lois. We get a lot of quilting done during these days. Every Thursday I have a group of from 8 to 12 women come to my house to quilt. Some even leave their second machine here so they don’t have to cart them each week. Many of us have been working on our 2016 raffle quilt part time (almost ready for the long-arm quilter!) while others work on their individual projects. We affectionately call ourselves the “TQers” (Thursday Quilters). We start around 9 a.m., go out to lunch together at noon, and then return to our projects until about 2:30 or 3 p.m. You can always count on free advice when you have a problem, learn the latest news and laugh a lot! No winter doldrums here!

dinnerJust the other day I learned that we missed a neighborhood dinner party held back home in Dubois during our absence for the holidays. I can’t recall when I’ve regretted missing an event more deeply, as I thought of those good friends enjoying each others’ company on a dark winter evening.

This brought back thoughts of the last potluck dinner we attended before leaving in November. That’s my foodie picture at right: Grilled salmon, grilled asparagus, pasta with fresh-made pesto (my contribution, having harvested the last of the basil from the indoor window box). The company was even more enjoyable than the cuisine.

CAM01090After we return to Dubois in a few weeks, I know these will be our times for jigsaw puzzles, popcorn and Scrabble, and old movies on TCM. But now I wonder: How do our neighbors in Dubois spend those long and perhaps lonely winter evenings?

Are there projects you save up for these winter evenings? Does this become the time you connect with friends you were too busy to see during the high season of summer?

Are there activities in town scheduled for winter evenings that you especially enjoy? Are there any that used to happen which you wish would be revived?

Especially if you’re a reader from the upper Wind River Valley, please enter a comment (be sure you’re on the page for this article, not the home page, and scroll to the bottom to find “Reply,” below the other comments).

I’d really like to know, and so would others.

© Lois Wingerson, 2015

Our local wildman and Scout master Joe Brandl responded, far more beautifully than I could ever have written:

Ahhhhh…the winter months of Dubois. It is these months that the Bighorns are easily observed banging heads along Torrey Creek, a large herd of elk can be spotted up on Windy Mtn, big browns are hungry in the Wind River which never freezes, for the adventuous souls, ice climbing at the Natural Bridge, the sun rises are the most colorful with ice crystals in the air, numerous mule deer does lead their fawns down to the river, the large bucks hang out together in the nearby hay fields, mergansers and golden eyes float the ice free river alway diving for a meal, some nights there is little wind and the snow falls so lightly, covering the streets and we know it will gone by noon the next day when the sun comes out, Christmas day sitting on Torrey Lake ice fishing……in a tee shirt, bald eagle hunt for ducks along the river, the smell of wood smoke from the logs cut in early fall, moon light snowshoeing or skiing on Two Ocean, no tourists to wait behind at the Bistro or crowd you out of a table at the Cowboy, we sweep our porches of snow, shovels only needed in May, hundreds of chickadees, pine siskins, rosy finches and a few remaining doves keep us refilling the bird feeders, more candlelight dinners with friends, the famous Claar Christmas Eve dinner which brings friends together and so much food they provide “to go plates” for you to take home, countless goodies left in your vehicle by someone just wanting to share with you, moonlit nights so bright you can read a newspaper and stars….wow, the stars, millions and millions of them and you can still see them downtown, but on the overlook or up on Togotwee Pass…..well, you just have to experience it! We love the winter because we know spring and summer however short is seems is just ahead. But, for now, we enjoy our winter!

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Missing Dubois at Christmas

Back in New York for the holidays, amid the clamor and energy, I long for what’s going on in my Wyoming home.

Selfie_1215Bklyn We’re back in New York City for the holidays. Because most of our family here has vanished (either deceased or otherwise departed), ours will be a quiet Christmas in a noisy city.

I discover that my new glasses, which looked so dorky in Dubois that I never wore them, are un-remarkably trendy here. I take a selfie on the street one evening, and surprise myself by what I see.

With a change of glasses, coat, and scarf (and facial expression) have I become someone else? Hardly.

Amid the clamor and the energy, I miss being in Dubois–even more so when friends let me know how much there is to miss. My friend and neighbor Karen McCullough sent these pictures, which make the loss all the more obvious.

She included the picture at left below, and I sent back the one at right. To be fair, she took hers first thing in the morning and I took mine at noon. I know that the temperature in Dubois often also gets near 50 at midday in the winter. It can be darn cold here too, especially around the holidays.

Back in Dubois, Karen told me, nearly all of the Christmoose cards are already gone from the little trees in Dubois’ two coffeehouses (the Perch and Kathy’s). For more than a decade, this has been the town’s version of “secret Santa.”

Christmoose1Each card contains a wish list for an anonymous needy child, identified only by age and gender. Forms to create a wish list are available at the food bank and the Opportunity Shop.

Donors take away a card, buy the gifts on the list, and return with the gifts to be distributed (also anonymously) on December 19.

Mary Ellen, who runs the program, told me today that 30 cards have been taken away. Can people guess the identities of the children from the lists? I wonder, but it doesn’t really matter. In a town as small as Dubois, it seems to me, even a secret Santa may feel quite personal.

She also reports that donations to the Salvation Army, which she and Mayor Twila Blakeman collect at the supermarket, are running particularly strong this year.

ChristmasConcert2015Speaking of Christmas spirit, here’s the scene at the Spirit of Christmas concert on Saturday evening at the Headwaters, sponsored by the Museum, the Library, and the Friends of the Library.

It shows one of the great facts about town: Given the opportunity, people actually dance together. And they donate tempting baked goods. Look at the spread they laid out for this event. I gain weight just thinking about it. Goodies

Imagine the bustle that must have preceded this scene, as Tammy worked with volunteers to set up the stage and reposition the furniture after the High Country Christmas Extravaganza on Friday.

There, I could have bought a Christmas tree already decorated by friends at the Kiwanis Club (at left, below), or one from the Chamber of Commerce with handmade ornaments showing some of the many ways you can amuse yourself in Dubois.

I would also have been tempted by the handmade toys, wreaths, and gingerbread houses. Of course there are craft fairs like this at many churches in the city, but not knowing the vendors or anyone else in the crowd, I’m rarely moved to stop by. Back in Dubois, I am always curious to see who’s been busy making what.

Naturally, I also have good friends in New York City, and it’s lovely to see them. But here the season brings traffic, bustle, incessant impersonal holiday music in the shops, noisy bars, over-hyped squalling children on the crowded sidewalks. The spirit? Entertain, or be lonely. Buy lots of stuff, or be square. Get down deep at the Christmas Eve service, but never set foot there the rest of the year.

This season is hardly a community event here. Seems in some ways it draws us apart rather than together. In my experience, the significant community events in the city are the disasters, like blackouts, big storms, or terrorist acts. Christmas is just yet another thing that turns up predictably every year, something else to amuse the children.

Tp be fair, you can’t blame the city for being a city. But at my stage in life, Christmas in Dubois seems to be much warmer, whatever the thermometer says.

© Lois Wingerson, 2015

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The Fabulous Dubois Photo Contest

Now’s your chance to show that your images can rival mine.

Can you do better? Of course!

Wouldn’t you agree that Dubois is one of the most photogenic places on earth?

I’ve been having great fun trying to prove this, here on Living Dubois. Now’s your chance to show that your images can rival mine.

(I know they can. I look at Facebook.)

Please submit your own great digital pictures of the town and its spectacular surroundings to be considered for the forthcoming upgrade of the town website, at www.duboiswyoming.org.

LazyL&BHorsesThe old website is good as far as it goes. But the subtitle (“Where real cowboys work and play”) doesn’t begin to say it all. As this blog is demonstrating, there’s far, far more to tell about Dubois (and to attract those important tourist visitors) than just its cowboy heritage.

Let’s help to portray the rest of our unique story.

Sponsored by funding from tourism taxes, and coordinated by the Dubois Chamber of Commerce and the Destination Dubois committee, the image-rich new website will feature attractions including our diverse outdoor recreation opportunities, the many local art and artisan galleries, the exhibitions and performances that we enjoy so much, and a great deal more.

SquareDance3Winning images will be published on the new site, and your image can be credited with your name if you’d like. If the pictures include identifiable individuals, the developers will need permission to use their images.

There’s no compensation for winning–other than the satisfaction of showing the best of Dubois to a worldwide audience, in all its visual glory.

Please submit high-resolution (300 dpi or better) images (or questions) by e-mail to destinationdubois@gmail.com.

Winning entries will be chosen by the website developers at Wyoming Inc.

I’ve already entered. Won’t you join me?

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