Today’s “Fix” for My Temptation

Studies show we just feel better out in wilderness. Lucky Dubois!

pinnaclesDriving up-mountain this morning, my husband mentioned an article he had just seen in the Wall Street Journal. Nothing about executive orders this time–unless (and I’m dreaming now) it’s an order from executives to their direct reports to get outdoors and take a walk at lunch hour.

After “good morning,” the first thing I had said today was “Can we go snowshoeing?”

I’d just looked out the window as I walked toward the kitchen. Especially on a day like this one, I simply have to get outdoors. It’s like an addiction. I’m beginning to figure it out.

I read the Wall Street Journal article after we returned home. People feel better and do better the more they spend time outdoors, it said, and ideally, outdoors somewhere in the countryside.

“Many experts agree that there seems to be a dose curve for the benefits of nature,” it read, under the headline ‘To Fight the Winter Blues, Try a Dose of Nature‘. “In general, the more time you spend in nature, the better you will do on measures of vitality, wellness and restoration.”

Pulling up at the trailhead, we found to my delight that the trail had been freshly groomed. A smooth new highway in the snow wound through the unoccupied campground, and we would be the first to travel it.

groomedtrailfallsWe ambled through a silent forest. The view ahead was a palette of four colors. The trees that waved above us were, of course, forest green. Beyond them, the sky was an uninterrupted swath of deep periwinkle–except for a contrail high above, which the wind had spun into a ribbon of lace. Each step drew us into the shadows of deep purple and the snow, which was of course pure white.

I had brought along hand-warmers and toe-warmers, but they stayed in my pocket. Eventually I shed my hat and my gloves, even though a stiff wind would blow up now and again to chase the loose snow around. It never fails to amaze me that I get warm while snowshoeing, even on the coldest days.

After a while, we heard voices and a motor. It was the volunteers from DART (Dubois Association for Recreation and Trails), returning from their grooming run. I stopped and kissed them both on the cheek, to thank them for coming out early to do this work. Of course, they’re getting their outdoor fix as well.

gymBack when I worked in an office in Manhattan, it was my habit to spend lunch hour at the gym whenever I could. I’m a firm believer in the many benefits of regular exercise (and it helped that I kept reading about them in my job as a medical editor).

The benefits of just being outdoors took longer to dawn on me. After I while, I began taking long random walks at lunch hour instead. I thought I was just enjoying the bustle of the city and the diversity of its people. But it always seemed I would head for a pocket park or for a wide view across one of the rivers.

Being outside in the city is better for your well-being than staying indoors, said the article, but country or the wilderness is best. Many city people may avoid going outdoors, it added, “because a chronic disconnection from nature causes them to underestimate its hedonic benefits—that is, how much it will contribute to their happiness.”

When I telecommuted from Dubois, I used to work from 7:30 in the morning to 3:30 in the afternoon, during the office hours of my coworkers back East. This gave me the delightful prospect of a hike in the woods each day after work. I’m afraid I used to gloat about it.

I’ve heard friends say that they just feel happier here in Dubois, although they’re not sure why. For myself, I know that I’m happier when I’m able to hike outdoors every day, even — and maybe especially — in the dead of winter.

snow2The benefits of exercise and exposure to nature aren’t the whole story. Numerous studies have shown that sunshine itself acts as an antidepressant. The duration and intensity of sunlight have a direct effect on the rate of production of serotonin, the chemical messenger in the brain that causes depression if it’s in short supply.

Is it any wonder I get blue around Christmas time, when there’s so little sunshine? Or that I’m so happy here in the summer, when the days are so long, the skies so clear, and the sun so bright?

“Regional and national parks, wild coasts and wilderness areas are the places where we can best reflect and recover from the stress of work and the news,” the article concluded. (Perhaps our distance from the East Coast is not only the factor that shields us from the post-election stress of 2017.)

It ended with a quote from the great nature writer John Muir: “Come to the woods, for here is rest.”

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
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Nail File: Getting Glam, Dubois vs NYC

tammyssalonI dropped into Tammy’s new salon again for a manipedi. (I’m the daughter of a Nebraska farm girl; I learned the term only a few years ago in New York City. It means manicure and pedicure.)

Three other women were already in the salon when I got there, two of them getting new hairdos from Tiffany, and the third present apparently just for moral support or for fun.

Although I hadn’t met any of them before, they welcomed me into their friendly conversation, the kind of chat women everywhere have when they’re kicking back. We  moved from fresh-vegetable delivery services to the latest about Melanie’s young husband and his medical treatment in Denver, and on to what kind of shops we would like to see  in the new storefronts that are replacing the burnt-out Mercantile.

We need something like the original Mercantile, everyone agreed: A place to buy good jeans and strong boots, you know. Carhartt jackets. Maybe another place that sells local handmade crafts, like Sandy did in the pop-up shop over Christmas, as well as sewing and craft supplies.

I never used to get a manipedi in Dubois. Here, my feet are in boots all the time, and since I play mandolin and fiddle, I have to keep my fingernails very short. Anyway, who wants a manicure when you go hiking every day?

640px-fifth_av_14st_bk_jehI would wait till I got back to New York, where manipedis are essential to normal grooming if you don’t want to feel like white trash. Back in our Brooklyn neighborhood, there’s literally one nail salon per block. They’re even more prevalent than Starbucks.

In there, you wouldn’t exchange any words with the stranger flipping through InStyle at the next station. The only conversation took place with your manicurist. “Choose color. Square or round? File or cut?”

Sometimes I would try to strike up an actual conversation with the young woman working so intently on my hand. (Or, more embarrassing, my feet. Visions of Jesus and the disciples would come to mind, and the implications of servitude.) The conversation often failed, because the young woman spoke so little English.

Most of the clients are fairly affluent. Nearly all the manicurists in New York City are recent immigrants from Asian countries, most of them in their teens or early 20s. They wear name tags that say Nancy or Mandy or Susie, but you know that’s not the real name. It’s there in the hope that you can remember them when you come back. But who does?

A few years ago, I read an article in the New York Times about abuses in the nail salons that made the relationship even more awkward. It reported that some salon owners charged high “training fees” before a young woman would be allowed to work there, that many of the employees earned only tips, not  salaries, and that usually they lived crammed several to a bedroom, in basements or wherever.

I’d sometimes ask my manicurist about her working conditions, but who knew if she was telling the truth? You wouldn’t dare to ask about their living conditions.

Tammy, the manicurist in Dubois, is somewhere near my own age. With the demeanor of an ancillary health professional, she discusses the physical state of my keratin and my cuticles: why I shouldn’t cut cuticle (infection risk), whether I’m going to lose the nail on that finger I slammed in the car door (probably).

nailsGiven the ugly smashed nail (it makes Tammy’s tummy hurt to look at it), we decide on wacky dark teal polish that looks close to black. As she works, we discuss how she came to open the salon.

Tammy used to own the coffee shop downtown. She sold the business because she wanted something easier to leave behind when her husband gets around to retiring. She noticed that there was no manicurist in Dubois, so she got herself trained, got a certificate, and opened the shop.

The wacky blackish manicure lasted only a few hours. I ruined it putting on my snowshoes later that afternoon. Oh, well. I’m more the kind to just wear that ruined nail, or a Bandaid.

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
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Snowstorms in the Real West: Whiskey, Outlaws, and More

Nah, that was nothing this week. Think about snowstorms of the past …

driveway011217After three days of whiteout and steady snowfall, we woke up this morning to a crystalline vista beneath blue skies–just as the forecast promised.

The snow crunched and glistened as I tramped my way out to the car, parked at the far end of the driveway near the highway, like so many others.

In town, people were all smiles, freed again to buy groceries and pick up the mail. We traded stories about being snowbound. Wives grumbled about men too slow to clear the driveway. All the talk was of snow: snowshoes, snowplows, snowbanks, snowdrifts.

The old-timers say they haven’t seen a snowstorm like this in 30 or 40 years.

Last night at bedtime I gazed out the window, mesmerized at the brilliant, bleached-out scene beneath the full moon. Watching the clouds clear away above the white slope rising beyond the valley, I began to think of O.M. Clark, buried somewhere right out there.

The first settler in this area, O.M. Clark staked his homestead claim in that very creekbed, sometime in the 1870s.

drift101217To the old homesteaders like Clark, this was just the way it was in winter. They had no weather apps to warn them of what was coming, either.

O.M. met his end during just such a long winter storm in 1910, as Esther Mockler recounts in her oral history Recollections of the Upper Wind River Valley.

Sometime in the winter of 1910, after a snowstorm had lasted for two days, neighbors noticed that no smoke was rising from O.M.’s cabin in the valley. Someone saddled up and rode over, to find Clark dead in the cabin, and frozen solid.

O.M. had been feeling poorly for some time, and every time he went to Lander he had been stocking up on whiskey for his own wake. Notified of his death, five neighbor men came out to the cabin, shaved and dressed his body, placed it on a plank in a storage shed, and brought wood back to the cabin to build his coffin.

Intent on honoring his dying wish, the men also retrieved the whiskey from the cave where O.M. had stored it.

That night they built a coffin, played poker, and drank O.M.’s whiskey. The next morning, they trudged uphill to the spot O.M. had chosen for his grave. The ground, of course, was frozen.

They hacked away all day, taking breaks for more whiskey. By the time they had finished, it was too late to bury the body.

The next day, when they tried to drag the coffin uphill through the deep snow on a sled, it kept sliding off and heading back downhill. Eventually they gave up and returned it to the shed.

By the third day, the whiskey had run out, the men were sober, and O.M. Clark was finally laid to rest.

For the families of laborers who cut railroad ties in these mountains in the first half of the last century, snow was an important fact of life. They lived and worked in it all winter, and sent the ties downhill in its runoff in the spring.

tiehackcabinMeanwhile, they might have to dig their way out of the cabin each morning to get to work and school. (This shows what remained of one tie-hack cabin last summer.)

In December 1937, the Riverton Review reported that all of the remote tie hack communities above Dubois were snowed in. “From now until spring, the residents will have no way of leaving their homes other than by skis or using horse-drawn sleds. There is considerable rueful dismay because the snow came so unusually early this year.”

The skis were no gleaming, curved fiberglass runners, by the way. They were slats of sanded wood, sometimes lined with animal fur to make it easier to get back uphill.

One of my favorite winter stories, also from the Mockler oral history, features our local outlaw and rancher, Butch Cassidy. It also involves one of the original loggers, a local homesteader named Hank Boedeker, who lived alone at the time in a small cabin remote in the mountains near Dubois.

butch_cassidy_mugshotAt work one day in the middle of a very cold winter, Boedeker was trapped under a rolling log and injured so badly he couldn’t mount his horse. Cassidy came along the trail and helped him back to his cabin, Boedeker said. Cassidy stocked the cabin with food and firewood, cooked the meals, and stayed until Boedeker was well enough to work again.

In 1894, Boedeker was one of the guards who accompanied Cassidy to prison in Laramie, where he served a term for stealing three horses. When they reached the prison after a long and difficult trip, Cassidy was sent in alone to report to the warden.

“That’s a hell of a way to deliver a prisoner!” the warden said.

“I just wanted to prove to you that there is honor among thieves,” Boedeker replied.

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
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City Girl Spends Holiday Week in Winter Wilderness Wonderland

wintersunriseHolidays in the city were crowded with strangers and the nerve-jangling noise of false holiday cheer in background music. Here, there was the crunch of snow, and abundant visits from animals we seldom see, who for a change came down to where we live.

It seems to be the time of year to count creatures. With the hunters gone, Wyoming Game & Fish has been out scouting for deer, and reports that the deer herd in Dubois is healthy and growing steadily. (We could have guessed; they seem to own the highways, to know how to look both ways, and often strut across with the you-slow-down-fella insolence of New York jaywalkers.) The mule deer population outnumbers the town’s by 50%.

A new pair of (human) friends who are also spending their first full year in Dubois stayed outdoors all of New Year’s Day in Crowheart  counting birds, as part of the Audubon Christmas bird count.

“It was wonderful,” my friend said the next day.”We saw 20 different species, and a lot of waterbirds I’d never seen before, as well as bald and golden eagles and two kinds of hawks.”

audubonThis was the second Audubon Christmas bird count in the area; another one took place a week before Christmas.

I see that the Audubon web page features a child from Wyoming.

The large four-footed beasts may get more press, but Wyoming has been in the forefront of protecting birds. It was the first state in the nation to adopt legislation to protect songbirds, according to an article in last month’s Wyoming Wildlife.

I too have been keeping track of birds. Here’s my unofficial count:

  • One hawk, seen today soaring just above the riverwalk in the town park. “Where’s he going?” asked my companion.
  • Three ducks, who startled me as much as I startled them while walking beside the river. (Despite all the snow and subzero temperatures, the river is still warm and steaming, thanks to an upstream geyser.)
  • Many geese, seen grazing along with the cattle and the deer in the field just west of town.

mooseOn Christmas night, after playing Yahtzee with some friends, my husband gasped as he walked out the door ahead of me. Strolling past in the driveway was a huge, young moose.

He ambled silently past with the arrogant gait of a teenager in ski boots, ignoring us completely.

I didn’t have a camera or the presence of mind to take a picture, but Ree Brown Beavers of Wind River Property Group did the other day, when a similar fellow came into her back yard. He looks a lot like the one we saw.

You don’t normally mess with moose, and I’ve never seen one so close.

Another impressive visitor had turned up a few days before Christmas, early in the morning. We heard an unfamiliar, repetitive noise coming from the valley. It took us a while to spot him.

aspensA lone wolf stood facing west, toward this barren aspen grove, howling piteously. We assume he had been tossed out of his pack and was out in search of a new mate. It’s that time of year for wolves.

We don’t mess with those critters either, and this is the first wolf I have ever seen here. We don’t ever hear them, either, but we hear about them, and not often in a sympathetic way.

This fellow did tug at my heart strings, but those were not the ones he wanted to reach. After a while he gave up and trotted on up the valley.

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
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