Wacky Wyoming Winter: Quicksnow and Ghost Lights

That white vastness beckons, promising adventure. And it keeps its promise.

Advertisements

snowdrifts2Is it snowing or just blowing? That’s often my question first thing in the morning, when I look out the window.

Either way, white stuff is sailing past horizontally, and nature is busy creating what Ralph Waldo Emerson called “the mad wind’s night-work, the frolic architecture of the snow.”

That white vastness beckons, promising adventure. And it keeps its promise.

It’s best to avoid driving on some days like this. The road may be perfectly dry, because the wind has blown the snow away from the surface. But the landscape beside it is a Sahara of snow, which will swirl across the road in huge white clouds without warning.

snowdrifts1Suddenly all you can see is white. The headlights of approaching cars emerge from the white mist like pairs of ghosts. You navigate by watching the vertical roadside markers. Thank heaven the highway department adds a few extra feet at the top this time of year.

Where is all that snow so busy going? Oh, here and there. Who knows?

The question of the day will be whether to shovel out the drifts that are in your way or wait until later, because your tunnels will surely blow in again a few days hence.

Either way, it’s not the kind of labor that engenders coronaries. For the most part, the shoveling is like hefting gigantic spoonfuls of confectioners sugar.

snowshoesThe genuine labor is snowshoeing, as I find when I head off toward a neighbor’s house so my dog can play with his dog. The elliptical and exercise bike gather dust in the house, because this excursion across the back yard is a far better workout.

Last week’s trails have drifted in and some of them are invisible now. I never know whether the next step will be solid, more or less, or whether I will sink to my hips where the snowy slope appears gentle over a sudden drop in the terrain.

It’s all too possible to find yourself tipping sideways and sinking to the chest in “quicksnow,” the winter version of quicksand. Believe me, it can be difficult to lift two snowshoes to the surface when they carry with them several feet of powder!

snowdrifts3All too often, the dog follows close behind me and steps on my metal heels, adding to the workout. But sometimes he gets bored with my tramping and decides to run around me.

This morning the snow was as tall as he is, and for a moment he fell into quicksnow, momentarily as stranded as  a sedan stuck in a snowdrift.

There are two wonders to this wonderland: the fact that it seldom seems cold if I wear warm gloves and enough layers, and the randomness of that architecture of snow. Here, the surface is swept entirely clean. But right there stands a snow sculpture, trapping the little sports car in the garage.

Just as well. I wouldn’t dare take it out in this anyway.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016
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.

Why I’m Dreaming of a Wild Christmas

A cowboy, not a fashion model, it sucks it up and holds on.

christmastree122216Here’s our first Christmas tree in Dubois.

It’s anything but perfect: a bit lopsided and tippy, with lots of gaps between branches and not many of those in the first place. We had to run two guy-lines away from the trunk to keep it stable.

It’s so sparse because you’re not supposed to cut pine trees in the forest that are standing alone, which of course are the ones that are thick and symmetrical. This one was in a group of four, so what looked dense from a few feet away turned out to be the branches of all four trees, intertwined.

We paid the princely sum of $8 for the Forest Service permit, and then headed off toward the woods–stupidly leaving our snowshoes behind. “I’m hip-deep here!” I called out to my husband, after clambering over the bank left there by a snow plow. “I know!” he called out from close behind me.

We realized quickly that our chosen tree did not have all the branches we were seeing, but we were already too cold to change our minds. He sawed it off near the base, and then had to lug it back for about 30 feet through hip-deep snow.

For the first time in my decade here, I had a scintilla of understanding for the tie hacks who worked in these mountains all winter a century ago, felling and processing huge pines trees to make railroad ties. Not for the first time here, I pondered how easy we have it now.

brooklyntreeHere’s the last tree we had in Brooklyn. It looks like a fashion model in comparison to the rangy, lanky specimen we have in Dubois. But it dropped needles like crazy. This year’s tree sucks it up from the tree stand like beer and holds on like a cowboy at the rodeo.

All those trees we bought in Brooklyn were dense and beautiful, farmed like carrots or potatoes and then trucked down to the city from somewhere in New England. Choosing one was just another shopping experience: You’d have the guy with the gloves rotate one after another until you found the one you liked best.

Every year for more than a decade, in a tradition started by my daughter as a child, I’d deliver hot chocolate or tea every evening to Luke and Anners from New Hampshire, who were selling the trees at the church up the block. We got to be good friends. Luke would always give me a break on the cost of the tree, which could get close to 3 figures retail, if it was tall.

tiehackWhen we got our less-than-perfect tree into the Wyoming house, snow was still falling from the branches and there was ice on the trunk. Of course we had to re-cut the trunk. I got on the other side of the saw, and pulled ineptly, holding onto the trunk as we sawed through about four inches of sticky, sappy wood.

I felt a bit ridiculous doing this in our warm living room, as I thought again of those valiant tie hacks. (Thanks to the Dubois Museum for the poster.)

A tie hack would fell a suitable tree without assistance, using a one-man crosscut saw, write Robert and Elizabeth Rosenberg in wyohistory.org, and then remove the limbs with a double-bitted ax. Finally, he’d hew it to the final dimensions with a seven-pound broadax. He would drag the finished tie to the logging road using a tool with a metal point on one end, and add it to a stack.

A good tie hack could do this 25 times in a day. Assuming an 8-hour day, that’s about 20 minutes to topple a huge tree, limb it, slice it up and drag it to the pile.

In my heated living room, I used my large pruning shears to “limb” our tree at the bottom, so I’d have greens to add to the ornaments on the mantel. I also nipped some extra branches from fallen pine trees near our house. The greens this year are free. In Brooklyn, the garland I used in my living room cost about $10 a foot.

As I said, my wreath in Brooklyn got a “free” bow from Anners, for the price of all that hot chocolate and tea. I did shell out a little last week in Dubois: I bought a few fancy bows and a pine-cone wreath from Sandy’s great pop-up shop downtown.

sandysshopwithcaptionThe house looks and smells wonderful inside, and there’s a winter wonderland outside. Since we put up and decorated the tree, I have seen through that back window behind it two moose, a rabbit, many deer, the usual cattle, and a lone wolf crying out to find a mate.

Have a very merry Christmas, or whatever you celebrate this time of year. Thanks so much for sharing my pleasures.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016
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.
Save

Wilderness, Desert, Heaven, and Here

In a better world, I wouldn’t need to carry water. But still …

bennybellringer“I don’t know what it is,” Andrea said to me the other day. “There’s just something about it. You get out there and you just feel happy.”

She was talking about the outdoor environment in this valley, actually. My dog, shown here at the entrance to the grocery store this morning, didn’t look too happy (even though he attracted considerable interest and perhaps some generosity toward Salvation Army). He wanted to be outdoors running around in the snow.

But for me, this volunteer duty is a joy. Today the shoppers were just plain cheery as they chatted with the cashier. I saw many old friends, made a new one, and witnessed again the generosity of my neighbors. The big red bucket got so full that people were having difficulty sliding their bills into the slot. I had to use a plastic spoon to tamp it all down.

nodlogoI have been known to remark that Dubois resembles the kingdom of heaven, because so many of our entertaining events take place for the benefit of charity.

We support a remarkable number of nonprofits:  48, I believe, in a town with fewer than 1000 permanent residents. The Salvation Army helps locals and people passing through who fall into difficulties of some kind. Needs of Dubois helps residents in times of crisis. There’s a food bank, a senior center, a Boys & Girls Club, charities that welcome survivors of various calamities to enjoy respite time in the valley, and much more.

But of course it’s not perfect here, as I was reminded last Sunday. In the Old Testament reading for the Third Sunday in Advent, the prophet Isaiah in Chapter 35 foresees a time when

cactusflowerswaters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes … No traveler, not even fools, shall go astray [I heard a few chuckles at these words]. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come upon it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.”

In some better future, therefore, I won’t need to carry water or bear spray when I hike any more. And our local Search and Rescue volunteers won’t need to keep putting themselves in harm’s way for the hapless lulus who wander out without a map, proper clothing, and a good walking stick.

So it’s not really the kingdom of heaven here, I guess. But it still makes me pretty happy.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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.

Save

Remote Shopping: Spending (and Saving) in Dubois

How do we get what we need or can’t resist? Count the ways …

We had to deliver some boxes of documents to a friend in Oklahoma, which gave me the chance to revisit a guilty pleasure: Wasting time in big box stores.

Back when I worked in Manhattan, I used to spend my lunch hours on stressful days wandering the aisles of Bed, Bath, and Beyond and being tempted by things I didn’t need. “Get back to work,” I’d whisper to myself after about an hour.

Can’t do that any more. But the trip to Tulsa did give me a chance to roam the aisles of Target and Lowes, and to find exactly the right iron-black knobs and handles  to replace the  shiny faux brass vanity hardware that looked so out of place in a bathroom in our log house.

Now, what to do with the old ones? I could just donate them to the Op Shop, but it did cross my mind to put them up for sale on that wonderful new marketplace, the Dubois, WY Classifieds group on Facebook.

duboisareaclassifieds

It’s fun to wander these virtual “aisles,” just to see what’s on offer, from trailer hitches to horses and hiking boots to curling irons. The site is also a sort of community central where people can post ISO (in search of) items, seeking babysitters, strong guys to do repair jobs, and even lost cats and dogs.

Not long ago, some children in Crowheart were reunited with their lost puppy when some friend of a member saw a post from travelers en route to Jackson who had picked up a young dog trotting along Highway 26. They were happy to wait in Jackson if someone would drive over and retrieve it. The last I saw, local people heading that way (for shopping?) were offering to help.

roundupThe time-honored place to announce items for sale, along with tag sales and events such as wine tastings and art shows, is the Roundup (aka the “poop sheet”), put out weekly by the VFW and delivered to shops around town. We always pick up the Roundup on Wednesday or Thursday, and scan it eagerly.

The serendipity is just as enjoyable as my previous forays into Ikea, but generally much less costly. It’s far easier to put the Roundup down on the kitchen counter than to return all that stuff you have already put into your shopping cart. But our garage also contains evidence that sometimes we have succumbed.

Of course, I could easily have found my new drawer pulls and knobs on the Internet. If you really need it soon, and you can’t get it from one of the hardware stores here or from Family Dollar, you can order it online and UPS or Fedex will drop it at your door. There’s one important difference from Internet shopping in Brooklyn: I haven’t heard that anybody here follows the truck around and nicks the box before you can get to the door to retrieve it.

And if you don’t really need it soon, maybe you don’t need it anyway. This is yet another reason we save money by living in Dubois.

There are plenty of large retail outlets about an hour away, in Riverton, Lander, or Jackson. People going “down county” or over the pass often ask whether neighbors need something from over there. I’ve also heard that Walmart in Riverton will make announcements on the PA system asking if anyone in the store at that moment could take something back to Dubois for someone who’s buying on the phone.

100_0591

On the other hand, new temptations are always turning up right here. Sandy and some of her friends have opened a charming pop-up holiday shop downtown, and the storefronts on the site of the burned-out Mercantile look like they’ll be finished, at least on the outside, by the anniversary of the Great New Year’s Fire of 2014. We don’t know who’s planning to set up shop, but the empty windows are already appealing.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016
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.