The Lay Minister, the Library, the Luddite, and Linux

How some lucky people in Dubois WY learned to understand computers, and got a free one in the bargain.

MaryEllen041516_1 Mary Ellen Honsaker creates beautiful paintings of wildlife. She also feeds the hungry, helps the homeless, rescues abandoned animals, and sometimes delivers sermons.

Now she can tinker with the guts of her computer as well.

“I have held my motherboard in my hand,” she told me proudly. Coming from Mary Ellen, this evokes an oddly comforting image.

Mary Ellen retired recently as secretary of St. Thomas Episcopal Church, and this presented a problem. She continues to manage the food bank, the community garden, the farmers market, the backpack program that provides school lunches for needy families, and Salvation Army services in Dubois. She needs to write grant applications and homilies. Of course she needs email.

But her computer was very old and dying. Now on a fixed income, she couldn’t afford a new one.

At the risk of putting words in her mouth, she might call this the grace of God: She saw an ad in the newspaper that the local library was giving computers away for free, just for the cost of attending a few classes.

All she had to do was learn how to give her new computer a brain.

At the risk of amusing him, let’s consider John McPhail the angel who made that possible. I won’t include a picture of John, who calls himself a “closet Luddite” even though he is an IT guy with the local phone company, DTE.

cardcatalogJohn was the one who helped the Fremont County Library System with another problem: The libraries were upgrading their computers. Their IT director didn’t want to simply put the old ones in the landfill, but she couldn’t just give them away loaded with the Windows operating system, either. That would violate the license agreement.

He met the director of the Dubois branch for lunch at the Cowboy Cafe. “I said, why not give a class on how to install a new operating system, from scratch?” he recalled. (He was thinking of the open-source software Linux, which mirrors Windows but is totally free.)

Many people over the age of 50 are threatened by computers, John knew. Before sending them home with one, he suggested, he’d teach them how to “take it apart and get to know it. There’s nothing inside there but copper, steel, silicon, and plastic.”

“Cool!” she replied. “Would you do that?” He has now completed classes for all three libraries in the county, and the computers have gone home with new “brains”.

MaryEllen041516_2In the first of the two half-day classes, Mary Ellen said, John taught his students how computers work and how to care for them. They took the machines apart and put them back together. In the next class he taught them how to install the new Linux operating system, Ubuntu. She says it’s almost like the Windows she was familiar with, and works well.

One of the last things he did in class: He demonstrated how to google.

Like many of his students, John can remember the day when he went to the library to look things up in a card catalog. “Here,” he said, “the local library just sent people home with a whole set of encyclopedias, for free.”

How cool is that?

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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Close Encounters of the Herd Kind

How do you know it’s spring in Dubois WY? You see neighbors that don’t usually turn up nearby.

Sheep060816_4How do you know it’s spring in Dubois?

The animal neighbors turn up nearby, joining the livestock to sample the new grass.

Later on, most of them will vanish up-mountain. But for now, we get to enjoy their company.

Many of the creatures we are delighted to see are quite young. It’s that time of year too.

Last week, returning from Fort Washakie, I passed a herd of 17 bighorn sheep right beside the highway, just west of the red rocks.

This was a red-letter day for me. In nearly a decade here, I’ve only seen these wild sheep once or twice, and then only one or two at a time.

ISheep060816_3t was also troubling, because they were within feet of the highway. I pulled off to the shoulder and tried to motion passing cars to slow down.

When it was safe, I pulled a U-turn, got out of the car, and herded the sheep over the fence by approaching them. They say it’s not possible to herd bighorn sheep. Maybe I’m just a really scary person.

Of course I knew that when I continued on toward Dubois, they would leap back over the fence and keep grazing.

Calves2Last Thursday, heading toward town for a meeting, I was startled to see several calves wandering toward the highway near town, spilling out from a road that led into one of the fields. Slowing, I could see that the gate had been left ajar.

Again I pulled a U-turn, and again I got out and shooed the creatures back to the safe side of the fence. This time, after closing the gate, I could be certain I’d left them safe.

Two evenings ago, my husband called me to the window to watch two eagles and another large bird, perhaps a hawk, hovering over the aspens. Then he gasped as one of the eagles took a plunge toward the treetops.

BeaverTreesThe other, considerably smaller, bird was attacking the eagles repeatedly in mid-flight. Eventually the eagles  descended into the land beneath the grove. We wonder whether they found the hawk’s nest, or just gave up.

Yesterday on a hike in Long Creek Valley, we never saw any beavers. But we certainly saw what they had been up to.

As we stood contemplating the perfection of this lumber work, wondering what led the animals to stop midway, one of us turned around and spied the work in progress. What an engineering feat!

Sad to think, as someone remarked, that the Game & Fish people are sure to disassemble this. How lucky we were to find it!


A few weeks ago, we saw hundreds of elk loitering uphill from our house, easily visible, en route up the Dunoir Valley back toward Yellowstone, thick as aphids on a leaf.

I don’t have a picture of that. I just couldn’t tear my eyes away.



For Our Eyes Only: Dubois April Art Show

Not too crowded at this off-season exhibit. Lucky us.

EmptyCowboyWell, that headline isn’t entirely true. Unlike some of the paintings on display, the three-man art show held last Sunday evening at a local church was not exactly invitation-only.

However, not too many outsiders are likely to turn up at an art show in Dubois this time of year, as you can see from this picture I took the following Friday morning in the Cowboy Cafe.

We’re hoping someday to see those tables just as occupied in the early spring as they will be a few months later, when we’re lucky to get a seat.

Meanwhile, feast your eyes below on a poor rendition of one of the paintings I saw last Sunday. Artist Greg Beecham calls the painting “Tween Dreams and Waking.”

That’s a good metaphor for the vision some local people have about the future of this equally beautiful valley. Things have turned down since the 2008 recession, but I think they’re looking up these days.

This swan is one of four wildlife paintings by Beecham that will be featured this summer in the invitation-only Prix de West exhibition at the National Cowboy Heritage and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. All four (including a grizzly, a wolf, and a falcon) were on view last Sunday.


This is the third year that Greg has sponsored an exhibition of works by local painters in April, the quietest month in Dubois. They call it a gift to the community. It’s a chance for us to see some of the best art by our neighbors, up close and personal, at at time when we’re not all going loopy trying to serve the needs of our visitors.

Starting in about a month, the town will explode with returning “snowbirds,” many of whom are fine amateur or professional artists. But quite a few, like Greg, have chosen to live in Dubois year-round. He and his family have been here for 20 years.
He told me that he and his wife Lu (who is the business manager for the local schools) “kept moving farther and farther away from the hubbub” in western Washington state two decades ago, but the hubbub kept chasing them. At a local art show in Ellensburg WA, he asked the husband of an artist from Casper where they could find a place in Wyoming that was not too crowded, had a good school for the kids, wasn’t too cold, and was beautiful.

Without hesitation, the man replied, “Dubois.”

They looked first in Colorado, because his parents came from Grand Junction. But even back then, he said, there were still too many people in Colorado.

So they detoured back through Dubois “to see if what the guy had said was true.” Within a few weeks, they had bought property in town.

Last weekend’s art show also featured works by Jerry Antolik and Tom Lucas. Antolik lives in the tiny nearby hamlet of Hudson, where he focuses his efforts on murals. But his portraits are also excellent, and as you see here he also does fine wildlife paintings.Antolik_MooseAntolik told me he was up on Union Pass quietly working beside this pond full of lily pads when the moose suddenly emerged with her calf.

Tom Lucas, who grew up nearby in Lander, is as much a historian as a painter. He’s well known locally for his monumental effort to research and recreate the methods by which the ancient Shoshone treated the horns of bighorn sheep, to craft the legendarily strong and supple bows that allowed them to be master hunters.

Travel_LucasOne of his bows was on display last Sunday, along with several of his masterful paintings of native crafts. As part of learning to paint them, as you can see from the beaded bag in this picture, he also recreates them.

Tom, whom I consider a good friend, told me he began to paint as a young lad because he was inspired by the work of Charlie Russell. “I never thought I could get to be that good,” he said, “and maybe I’m not.” But you can see how far he has come in that direction.

He also said that he hoped the show might inspire the same dream for some of its young visitors. If it does, they’re in a good place to find living mentors.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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Dubois’ Bravest Risk Life and Limb Again

Our wonderful firefighters always stand ready to race out of their comfort zone for our sakes. But usually not just for our amusement.

The Fireman’s Dance on Saturday night was billed as an opportunity for our brave volunteers to thank the town of Dubois for its support (and ask for more). I turned out because, of course, I support our extraordinary fire-fighters but also, to be truthful, because not much else is going on just now.

Dancing aside, the chief entertainment on offer was the prospect of seeing our brave young men compete in a race on toy tricycles. I had no idea they would be racing in full fire-fighting gear including helmets! I also didn’t expect a small catastrophe …

You can read my full account of the event, in the form of a sports report, which appeared yesterday on the County 10 website (Dubois Volunteer Firefighters Rise to the Challenge Again). Here, you can enjoy the other pictures I wasn’t able to post there.

There’s nothing to tell about my dancing skills. I didn’t dance (though others did, and it was a pleasure to watch). I was too busy taking pictures.

Firefighter Chris Sabatka tries out one of the racers in a pre-heat spin.
Mike Franchini’s bike explodes on contact. Sabotage? Terrorism? Faulty design?
Reassembled by his crewmates, Franchini’s bike survives a trial lap.
Local businesses contributed and decorated the bikes. Mexican restaurant El Jarro’s came complete with sombrero and pinata.
El Jarro’s bike on the move, complete with sombrero’ed rider.
At the starting line, ready to roll.
Heading for one of the many collisions in the race. As I said, our guys are always ready to risk life and limb (but not usually just for our amusement).

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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