On the Boardwalk in Dubois

You could gain fame if not fortune by buying a small piece of downtown Dubois.

MonopolyFor most of my life back East, this was the only thing that used to come to mind when I heard the word “boardwalk.” The hottest property on the Monopoly board. High rent district!

You could gain a little fame, if not fortune, by owning a piece of a different kind of boardwalk in Dubois: the one that acts as a sidewalk in the tiny downtown business district.

I love to look at the names on the boards to see which I can recognize. I don’t know when they were laid down, but the names on many of the boards have faded considerably under the pressure of countless feet over the years.

Quite a few of the boards disappeared recently, either torn or burned away as a result of the great New Year’s fire of 2014. What’s going to happen to those historic planks? I asked property manager Reg Phillips last January.

“We are planning on putting the boardwalks back,” he replied.  “The names that are still legible will be noted and when the new boards go in, those names will be re-branded.  Any boards that are not legible will be available for sale.”
Boardwalk082615Presumably, this will offer an attractive new opportunity for newbies like us who would like the privilege of literally putting our brand down in downtown Dubois.

Back when the boardwalk was first created downtown, you could have had your name inscribed on one of the boards for a mere $75 donation to Dubois Volunteers Inc. (which uses part of the funds for routine repairs). But that honor had long been sold out when we moved to town.

Instead, we got the family name on the bridge that crosses the river in the town park. For some reason having my last name there made me feel more like part of the town.

I wonder whether there will be competition for the available boards when the new building is complete, and how and whether DVI will manage that. It’s fun to speculate.

This past week, volunteers coordinated by the Dubois Museum Association have been busy fixing the a different damaged boardwalk–the one that connects the charming historic cabins across the parking lot from our equally charming museum. They will have completed the project just in time to assure the safety of the visitors at the start of the summer season, which begins this weekend.

MuseumBoardwalk2The DMA and museum staff provided the sweat equity. Funds for the pressure-treated lumber and screws came from a Wyoming Community Foundation grant.

Here you see the old boardwalk being removed, on a beautiful spring day. The new boardwalk is nicer than the old one, Visitor Services Coordinator Johanna Thompson told me, because instead of zigging and zagging, it winds like a stream.

No names are inscribed on the new museum boardwalk, at least not yet. What would you like to see inscribed there? Might be fun to add dates of important events in local history.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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Property Rights and Wrongs, WY and NY

On forgiveness for excessive borrowing, or for wandering out of bounds …

St.Thomas1I’m quietly amused every time I say the Lord’s prayer, which is at least once a week.

At St. Thomas in Dubois, we say “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” It is, by the way, the oldest congregation in Dubois, established in 1901 by the Episcopal priest who came to the area as a missionary to the Native Americans.

OFRAt Old First Reformed Church in Brooklyn (established by order of Peter Stuyvesant in 1654, so that Brooklynites didn’t have to cross the river every Sunday just to get to church), the oldest congregation in town doesn’t talk to the Lord about trespassing. They say “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

Get the chuckle?

IMG_0140How bizarrely appropriate that in the world capital of financial markets we worry about monetary obligations,  while in Wyoming we are fretting about venturing wittingly or inadvertently onto terrain we are unauthorized to enter.

But is it really any wonder? The most important property in New York City is money. The most important property in Wyoming is property.

TrespassingSignFortunately for those of us who love to hike, there’s so much wilderness about Dubois that there’s really no need to wander out of bounds.

What a pity that both versions of the prayer seem to reduce God almighty to the role of a mediator in property disputes.

I much prefer the version I learned as a child in Iowa (shall we call that the middle ground?): Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

That’s more open to self-interpretation than the other versions, it seems to me. Less politically or theologically correct, perhaps, but much more clear.

We don’t all trespass. We’re not all in debt. But we’re all sinners, and we all need to forgive each other for something.


© Lois Wingerson, 2016
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Ghost Rodeo in Dream-Time Dubois

About a rural recreation and the way of life it celebrates, which most of us can scarcely imagine.

RodeoGrounds5It’s not the right day for an ambitious hike. So you wander out into the rodeo grounds, where the dog can sniff around and discover the ghosts of bulls and broncos.

But he probably can’t hear the inaudible echoes that haunt the surreal silence: the announcer’s calls not coming from the booth today, the imaginary whistles from the invisible crowd, the loud thump of nonexistent hooves.

What a great show the Dubois rodeo was, and will be again! But not just now.

Our rodeo is a remarkable phenomenon, one that too many people miss because they choose to approach Yellowstone through Cody or Jackson rather than coming this way. It’s a true small-town event, with some outsiders but also the same locals week after week. This is not show business. It’s rural recreation.

RodeoGrounds1On an early spring day, it’s my chance to go where I’m otherwise forbidden. Here’s where the livestock mill around, out of my view on the far side of the caller’s booth, while I’m sitting idly on my bench across the arena.

Can you see those men whipping flanks to drive the bulls into the chute?

Here’s where so much business happens, just before the gate finally opens and the rider lurches out straddling a mount that is mightily incensed and all too temporary.

RodeoGrounds2 I always wondered what it looked like for the bull or bronco riders waiting on this side of the gate. I can’t imagine what it feels like to be one of them.

But then how could I? I never was part of that strong and stoic male culture. My Dad was a professor, not a wrangler or a rancher.

“Rodeo isn’t really about roping and riding, Ranches are about roping and riding,” James Galvin wrote in his wonderful novel Fencing the Sky. which is based in this general region of Wyoming. “Rodeo is about damage and vast quantities of physical pain.”

I don’t like to dwell on this part of our charming small-town rodeo. I enjoy watching the skill of the barrel racers, and the antics of the guest-ranch guests as they compete to grab the ribbon off the racing calf and sprint back with it to the starting point. But the real point of the rodeo is the part where you hold your breath and then roar aloud with admiration and incredulity at the brave fellows who hold on for dear life and hope to beat the clock.

RodeoGrounds3“Even people who don’t know much about rodeo,” Galvin also wrote, “know that whatever happens … the cowboy has to rise from the dust into an ocean of pain and make it on his own to the rail as if nothing at all has happened.”

I’m one of those who doesn’t know much about rodeo. But I have seen that.

I noticed this crumpled beer can on the inside of the gate. If it were me on that animal, I would have been drinking whiskey to wash down the handful of Advil.

To outsiders, this may all seem like foolhardy bravado. But at base it commemorates the life that created this little settlement over a century ago, in which injury was part of the bargain–in a way probably no cowboy at work today could truly understand. People drowned crossing rivers before there were bridges, got stranded outdoors and died of exposure or an animal attack, and sustained occupational injuries as a matter of course.

“When one works with horses he is bound to get hurt,” said Dubois’ first cowboy Andy Manseau, who came to the area in 1881. He told of being kicked by a horse he wanted to break, which broke his leg in two places and knocked his knee out of joint. It took him three hours to mount his saddle horse, after which he rode a half mile to a neighbor who got him to a doctor.

“I was laid up for a while,” he said, “but as soon as I could I went back to riding again.” After that he goes on to tell about his last accident, which was even worse, the one that finally made him stop.


Just across the river from the rodeo grounds sits Warm Valley Lodge, the new assisted living facility. It came to be there partly so that older ranch folks who can’t get along by themselves any more can still enjoy the vistas they have always loved.

I wonder what the retired cowboys living in there think when they hear the rodeo on Friday night. Does it make them long for the roping and riding? Or does it merely make them remember ancient aches and pains? I should ask sometime.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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The Provisions Problem Way Out in Wyoming

Question: How do you get food out there? Answer:

Superfoods6Sometimes you just have to chuckle. An acquaintance from New York City this week cautioned me against opening our bedroom window at night because of the risk from all those white supremacists out in the West.

A more common misguided concern about our lives in remote Wyoming is that we must find it difficult to get groceries. I politely explain that, while we do live 15 miles away (not a block, as in Brooklyn), there is a good grocery store in town.

Proprietor Steve Williams calls SuperFoods a “country store.” This is true, strictly speaking. But the cracker-barrel gestalt must have gone away more than 40 years ago, when the Grubbs split off the grocery business from the rest of the old Dubois Mercantile general store.

They reopened it in the former bowling alley up the road. This tips you off that SuperFoods is a supermarket, not really a “country store”—and a surprisingly large one for a town the size of Dubois.

Superfoods3But it still is a small-town store, or as Steve’s business card puts it, “Your friendly home-town grocer.” To survive, he has to meet two challenges: Competition from the larger supermarkets down-county in Lander and Riverton, and what he called the “Tale of Two Cities” problem.

“There is the crazy busy summer months when Dubois mushrooms to over 3,000 people and then shrinks back down to 950 or so when the tourists and 2nd home owners leave,” he wrote, in an open letter to the community prompted by some critical posts on Facebook. “How does a business triple their staff and capacity and cut back by 70% in the winter?” A motel can close some rooms in the slow season. But can the supermarket shut down from Monday through Wednesday?

Superfoods’ response has not been to cut the quality or quantity of goods in the slower months, let alone eliminating open days. Quite the contrary.

A few weeks ago, I comparison shopped while running other errands in Riverton. The prices on the produce were not uniformly lower at Smith’s or Safeway, and the quality was no better. Safeway didn’t even have any fresh ginger root (I inquired of the produce manager), which I never have trouble finding at Superfoods.

Yes, pistachio nuts were less expensive down county, but the stuff you can’t wait to buy was not.

And among the 20,000 items Steve says he has in stock, I’m seeing more of those tasty gourmet condiments you wouldn’t expect to find in the back-and-beyond.

(If what I’m after is elk or venison or even smoked mozzarella, of course there’s Wind River Meats just up the road.)

Superfoods1We used to take hour-long trips down county with our big cooler to buy produce in Riverton. No more.

Dubois SuperFoods may not have the rare mushrooms or huge bins of fresh green beans we could find in a Korean vegetable store in Brooklyn. But even if I can’t always find exactly what I want, what I do find is usually fine–even in the slow season.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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