The High Cost of Not Being in Dubois

Why our new hometown is central to our financial independence.

FrontierWhen we’re back in Brooklyn, besides phone calls and text messages with friends, we get updates from  the weekly edition of our hometown newspaper, the Dubois Frontier.

The news arrives a few days late, but at least we can keep up.

There are also reminders of what we’re missing out on by being away. Last week, as we packed up our remaining belongings for shipment to Wyoming, we were sadly absent from:

The Swedish Smorgasbord, an annual event organized by local churches. It commemorates the hearty welcome the Scandinavian tie hacks used to offer visitors to their camp a century ago, when the great snowmelt had happened and the railway ties began rumbling down the flumes toward the river.

The pack horse race, which we have never yet witnessed. In this event, those hardy outfitters who deliver people to a true getaway in the wilderness compete to see who can pack up quickest, arrive first at the assigned location, unpack, re-pack, and return first to the starting point.

SquareDance1The return of the weekly square dance, which offers exercise, laughter, and entertainment to locals and delighted vacationers alike on Tuesday evenings in the summer. I don’t dance much any more (bad knee), but I help to serve soft drinks and enjoy watching the newbies trying to figure it all out.

Back in New York, I wrote recently, “long ago we dropped subscriptions to opera and orchestra for the quieter pleasure of small local performances. Thus we have found that enjoyment doesn’t always correlate well with investment” in entertainment.

This appeared in a guest blog for the website “Slowly Sipping Coffee,” which is about early retirement. Writing about the financial impact of living without salaries, I didn’t specifically mention that Dubois is our not-so-secret ingredient for financial independence.

A key factor, of course, is severing ourselves from high-tax New York to resettle in a state with no income tax. But there’s much more.

DownhillView081615As I said elsewhere in the guest blog, Dubois is simply far less aggressive than New York City about trying to separate its occupants from our pocket change. After all, which location has Madison Avenue?

In Dubois, we don’t pass showy display windows on our way everywhere, luring us to buy new things we don’t need, and nobody can see whether or not I have a pedicure inside those hiking boots.

There’s also little incentive to show off all your bling or your expensive threads. In fact, there’s a bit of peer pressure against doing so. So why get them?

The free or nearly free local events are certainly an advantage. But most importantly, our community’s principal assets and daily pleasures–the majestic handiworks of God all around us, and the genuine goodwill of our neighbors–don’t cost us a cent.


Nabokov and Lolita: Another Dubois Love Story?

He visited Dubois while taking notes for the novel. What entered his mind?

Back briefly in New York City on a lazy Sunday afternoon, I’m doing what I always do: Browsing the trivial special sections of the Sunday New York Times to read about, say, homes of the rich and famous and travel to places I’ll probably never see.

I idly turn to the inside page of the travel section, and–what???


Spread out across the fold is a huge picture of those familiar, fabulous red rock formations east of town. Not east of New York City, of course. East of Dubois.

Naturally I turn back and begin reading the article about Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita (not my usual choice in reading). The author of the travel article and his wife have driven West, following the footsteps of the controversial 20th century Russian-born novelist. And those footsteps led them right to Dubois.

Landon Y. Jones informs me that Nabokov and his own wife Vera road-tripped across the American West from 1948 to 1953, during which the author took copious notes for his novel Lolita, which itself describes the protagonist’s road trip across America (including parts of the West) with his pubescent heart-throb.

Officially Nabokov, who was also an expert on butterflies (who knew?) was traveling Wyoming in search of interesting lepidoptera, not female human “nymphets.” He hunted for butterflies along the “gorgeous Wind River,” Jones writes in the New York Times, and they stayed in what is now the Longhorn Ranch Lodge and RV Resort.

RamshornThe Joneses stayed there as well, and remained in town long enough to notice the oversized jackalope and eat at the Cowboy Cafe. “On the way,” he adds, “we found ourselves on a busy, motel-strewn street called Ramshorn — the name Nabokov modified into Ramsdale, the name of Lolita’s fictional hometown.”

For the second time: what????  Our town’s favorite landmark was the inspiration for the home of the little sexpot in that classic bumpy-covered novel?

This sent me scurrying off to my Kindle to (improbably) download Lolita, in search of references to Ramsdale. Not much like Dubois: He described it as a leafy town with languid, humid summers, a lake, and a street named Lawn Street.

Next stop: Google, to find the basis for Jones’ assertion. I could find none. There doesn’t appear to be any town anywhere with the name of Ramsdale. Nabokov’s biographer, Dieter Zimmer, spent a fair bit of time speculating about the identity of the town that “Ramsdale” might actually represent, which he placed somewhere in New England.

So I tracked down and emailed Lanny Jones, who had said at the start of his article that he and his wife have road-tripped from New Jersey to Montana for the past 15 years (nearly double our own track record taking basically the same jaunt). Like us, they’re baby boomers. In fact, Jones himself is the originator of the term “baby boomer,” in his book Great Expectations: America and the Baby Boom Generation.

Thus began a fairly lengthy and interesting exchange. If he Googled me in return, he learned that we have still more in common: We have both worked for Time Inc.

“My linking of the names of your main street and Lolita’s home town is basically a speculation on my part,” he confessed. “It’s just hard to avoid. I probably should have qualified it as ‘may have modified’ or even ‘surely modified’ … What do you think?”
I demurred about the last question, finding it extraordinarily difficult to be objective. But I did answer a later question: In pronouncing Dubois, the accent is on the first syllable, not the second as he wrote in the Times.
Brooks082815_2In the end, I’m not sorry I scanned through Lolita. The story left me cold, or much worse, but Nabokov does write quite beautifully about my favorite haunts: “red bluffs ink-blotted with junipers, and then a mountain range, dun grading into blue, and blue into dream.”
I agree with Jones that he may have had Togwotee Pass in mind when he wrote of “heart and sky-piercing snow-veined gray colossi of stone.”
I was also amused to read that, 60 years ago, he described Jackson as “construction hell.”




Dubois Loves Cyclists, and One in Particular

Many pass through town along the main highway. She’s gone off to pedal the wilderness alone.

cyclists073115It’s that time again. The cyclists begin laboring up the hill along the highway in front of our house. For those pedaling westward, this slope is the first real hint of the challenge that faces them in the Rockies.

We see them all summer, in pairs and in groups, in the heat and the chill and, almost always, the headwind. Dubois is a well-known way station for cycle trekkers heading in both directions on one of the favorite cross-country bicycle routes.

BikeVanWhy do they go through this ordeal? Some of them are cycling for a cause: a cure for cancer, or houses for the homeless. Others are doing it for the challenge.

Whatever their reason, Dubois clearly loves the cyclists. Many of them know, through word of mouth or the Web, that they can find a place to spread out their sleeping bags overnight at St. Thomas Episcopal Church. We leave the wifi password on the whiteboard, and sometimes prepare meals for charity cycle groups.

BikeRepairStationLast summer, someone installed this bike repair station in the center of town, in the parking lot in front of the Opportunity Shop.

I once asked a cycle trekker what went through his mind when he was passed (as regularly happens) by one of those fume-spewing RVs as large as a railway carriage. The answer was not what I expected. “I wish I was riding inside,” he said.

I’ve called it an “ordeal,” but as I chat with them over dinner we’ve cooked up in the church kitchen, it’s clear they’re been having fun. These groups tend to be young folks in their gap year, finding a good way to spend time while deciding what they mean to do with themselves next.

For our very own hometown cycle trekker, a 40-ish mother of two, a much different experience awaits. She will be more likely to encounter a grizzly bear than a huge RV when she launches off tomorrow, alone, on Tour Divide 2016.

It’s a 2,745-mile race on “the world’s longest off-pavement cycling route.”  Participants travel solo and care for themselves along a trail that runs in back country, unmarked and circuitous, from Banff, Alberta, to southern New Mexico along the Continental Divide.

beckiI’m a bit worried about Becki, who is not only my yoga instructor but a dear friend from way back. I shouldn’t be.

In her pre-Mommy days, she used to cycle to work from the east side of town all the way to the top of Uphill Road 10 miles to the west. That was her commute to her job as head of the Dubois branch of SOAR, a wilderness adventure program for young people with learning disabilities. Camping out in the back and beyond was in her job description.

TourDivide 2016 is no mere cycle tour for Becki. Nor is she actually racing to win. Another cyclist called it her “once-in-a-lifetime.” Becki told me the inspiration for this dream was the sight of sheer joy on the faces of some cyclists she saw crossing Togwotee Pass on the same tour several years ago.

She writes that a bicycle was her best wedding gift, “the best piece of marriage advice i received, and … it brought me the joy that i knew was possible.” Her training for today’s challenge actually began years ago, cycling from Steamboat to Boulder through Rocky Mountain National Park, when she was one year married and newly pregnant with her first child.

“I had 4 days alone … on my bike over high mountain passes in some Rocky Mountain fall weather to process and reconstruct my world into one that had a baby in it,” she wrote, “a wee taste before my world was rocked into smithereens.”

She has been training for this challenge with “consistent inconsistency” ever since then, in all conditions, just by the way she lives and where she goes with her children, on skis and snowshoes, on foot, on a hunt. And also of course on her bike.

beckiartShe raised funds for the trip by selling her art, hand-appliqued T-shirts, and block-printed cards. (Who knew she is also an artist?)

I imagine her waiting now at the top of the trail, one foot on a pedal.

“can i do this?” she wrote recently on her blog. “i can’t do this, but i’m gonna say out loud that i can…to participate in the trajectory i set for myself, i must give it a whirl at impossible things.”

You go girl! And come back home to us, safe and triumphant.


Why the Definition of Memorial Day is Dubois WY

Thanks to a fallen son, and a powerful movie, the town has become a symbol of its true meaning.

MemorialDayBrooklyn3croppedBack briefly in Brooklyn for a business matter, I took the chance to attend the Memorial Day service in our local park. It was a pleasant surprise.

A few years ago, only a dozen old-timers bothered to show up. This year there were more like 100 people, including police officers and firefighters as well as some veterans, but not (as far as I could see) any current members of the armed forces.

Many children were there too, dutifully waving flags provided by the Court Street Merchants Association rather than racing around the monument on their scooters, oblivious to its purpose. Ceremony organizer Joanie D’Amico, owner of a local coffee shop, specifically thanked parents for bringing their kids, and urged them to teach their children that Memorial Day means much more than department store discounts and trips to the beach.

No such reminder would be needed in Dubois, at least not in the lifetimes of today’s children. Its people may have always understood military sacrifice in a meaningful way. But 7 years ago, they gained national prominence for the way they paid homage to a local son fallen in Iraq.

Chance Phelps

In the 2009 HBO movie Taking Chance, Kevin Bacon portrayed Lt. Col. Michael Strobl, who volunteered to accompany the body of 19-year-old Marine private Phelps Chance, returning to Dubois for his funeral. Phelps was killed on Good Friday, 2004, in Ramadi, Iraq, while manning a machine gun.

The movie  recounts Strobl’s journey to Dubois, ending with the funeral and the subsequent reception at the VFW post. Strobl himself described this all in detail in a post on the website of the San Francisco Chronicle.

“I wondered how many people would be at this funeral if it were in, say, Detroit or Los Angeles,” he wrote. “Probably not as many as were here in little Dubois, Wyo.”

DuboisMemorialDay1Sure enough, on Monday there seemed to be about as many people attending Memorial Day services in little Dubois (population less than 1,000) as in our part of Brooklyn (population about 44,000).

Chance Phelps must have been on everyone’s mind: He’s buried in that cemetery.

Among those present were numerous local veterans (some of whom offered the rifle salute), members of a motorcycle club who travel to Dubois every year specifically for this ceremony, and a woman named Shanna Muegge, 31, who currently serves in the Colorado National Guard.DuboisMemorialDay3

Ironically, the movie Taking Chance wasn’t actually filmed in Dubois. I’ve heard it said that this was partly because people didn’t want to risk disrespecting the Phelps family in any way.

But the film, and the publicity that followed it, certainly honored the actual town. A man called Thomas Stout, who attended the funeral, described in detail the respect for Phelps and his ultimate sacrifice that he perceived in the people of Dubois, even in the adolescent girls who watched the funeral parade soberly rather than opening up their cellphones.

In a letter to the Dubois Frontier, he described what he saw in Dubois as “patriotism, independence, a belief in progress through hard work, community spirit, and a bond between neighbors”–the embodiment of an “Americana” he had always revered but never before witnessed.

DuboisMemorialDay2“It is such a wonderfully powerful thing to believe in,” he added. “It was a strong enough belief for me to want to dedicate my life protecting it. Unfortunately, never did I see it until last weekend.”

“Thank you Dubois,” he concluded. “Thank you for confirming to me that Americana really exists.”

© Lois Wingerson, 2016. Thanks to Darlene Wimmer for permission to use her images from Dubois.

Want to learn more about Dubois? Follow this blog by signing up at the top of the right column.