How Far is Away, Starting From Remote?

cactusWe first came to Dubois to get away from the big city. Every once in a while, even when living in Dubois, we have an urge to get away from it all. So we’ve come far to the south, where New Mexico borders Arizona and both border on Mexico.

It’s a big, empty valley–another huge-sky place. A featureless, brown and yellow, Last Picture Show kind of landscape dotted with mesquite, cactus, and not much grass. The valley is segmented by a two-lane highway and an abandoned rail line, and distantly bordered by two low mountain ranges.

“You know why so many folks from the military like to retire out here?” our host asked during the first dinner. “Because you can see people coming from a long way off.”

It’s barely on the map, and mostly off the grid. Not surprisingly, plenty of places get by on solar power alone.

We attend the annual soup event held to benefit the fire department and rescue squad. Everyone is expected to contribute, to volunteer, and to turn up to shell out and partake. Brings to mind the Soupenanny scheduled for this weekend in Dubois, with a similar purpose.

We meet several people who bought a shack here so they could escape from a city on the weekend, and ended up building a house and staying here. As at home in Dubois, there’s an abundance of retired professionals who enjoy hiking and nature.

One of our friends who lives here is an academic doing research on desert sounds. She spends a great deal of time out there, far beyond civilization, listening and recording.

mesquiteA cautionary tale for me: Our friends talk too much and too eagerly about this place they’ve adopted, assuming I’ll be deeply interested. They praise the natural beauty and recount the local history: Who lives where, who does what.

They would like to take us out to dinner, but the two restaurants are open only on weekends.

The only grocery stores are small bodegas. There’s no gas station in at least 40 miles (which requires some vigilance).

The phone book is issued by the women’s club, not the land-line provider. It’s updated about every five years.

There’s almost no cell signal anywhere, and no public Wifi. There doesn’t seem to be any coffee shop where people hang around and chat.

On Wednesday evening, when it seems that every establishment in the area has been closed all day, we stop at the local bar just to explore the scene. There’s one guy hanging over the counter, chatting with the bar maid.

Just visiting, he asks, or have you moved here? Where are you from? Well, what do you think? Will you come back?

“You know what we have in Wyoming?” I respond. “Mountains. Wide valleys. Big sky. Bright stars at night. Horses. Cattle. Wildlife. Wind.”

He gets it. “And snow,” he rejoins. (Point taken.)

spiralBefore we depart, our host insists on taking me out just beyond the gate to show me the “maze,” which we had missed on our hikes. A man who used to own that property came out from England every summer and erected a huge rock pile with boulders, carrying each of them by hand, sometimes with the help of his wife.

Then they laid a massive spiral wall, laboriously, one boulder at a time, until it reached three or four feet in height. Tom urged me to take a picture from the top of the wall. I had to hold his shoulder for balance as I clambered up.

“Do you know why he went to all that trouble?” I asked. He shrugs. But I can guess at an answer: If you don’t own livestock and don’t love to hike, what else is there to do?

Now it becomes something to show visitors.

I like to think of Dubois as a remote small town, which is true by many standards. But it’s possible to leave the wrong impression. It’s remote and small, but not that remote. And not too small.

© Lois Wingerson, 2017

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.

 

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The Place Where People Fall in Love

bigpinkheart“I just fell in love.” I can’t count how often the story ends in those four words, when I ask people how they came to be in Dubois. Sometimes “we” is substituted for “I.”

Joe and his wife were rounding the corner at the main intersection for the first time when one of them said, “This looks like a good place to retire.” And so they did.

Dorothy and her family got stalled here with car trouble on the way to Yellowstone. After a week at the campground, they returned to build a second home. Much later, as a widow, she lived here year-round.

We know many instances of young women from elsewhere who fell in love with a cowboy and ended up living here. I wonder whether the handsome young man was only part of a much larger infatuation.

I’ve also heard “I just fell in love” from a Millennial who moved here with her boyfriend, and from the mother of an eight-year-old boy who cried when leaving town after a week’s vacation. The family moved here a few months ago.

pigroast4I know not one but two couples who traveled the entire nation in their RVs looking for a place to settle, and wound up living in Dubois. One of the couples had lived here before, looked everywhere else, and then came back.

What is it about this place? The charm of the small village in the midst of this vast magnificent wilderness is what takes your breath away at first. What grabs you later and holds on? The welcoming kindness of the people, flavored by their spirits of self-assurance and independence.

We still have to be pioneers to live here (but that’s a story for another day). You sense it once you get to know the townspeople. It’s the same lure that always drew people to the West. Remarkably it survives in Dubois, intact.

It was the vast, empty spaces that won me over first. Airlifted out of a stressful job in the busiest of big cities, I was wonderfully unprepared for what I would find at the Lazy L&B.

I could ride a horse or easily climb up a draw to the top of a mesa, from which I could look out forever without seeing another human being, or even a structure. And I had never before seen anything to compare with what I was looking at.

lwlazylbWhen I went home I took along cuttings of sagebrush, which I kept in an envelope. Now and again I’d open it to sniff the fragrance, which always made me wistful.

Our courtship with Dubois was more gradual than some. We came back to the Lazy L&B several times, and at one point I took a photo looking up the draw from the river. I took it to a shop on W. 23rd St and had them enlarge it into a poster. Ever after, at several successive jobs, it hung directly across from my desk in my office. I’d look at it when the office politics got too intense.

Once, when my husband had time to kill while picking up our daughter from a wilderness program, he took a look at some real estate here. He called me back in New York with what I thought was a totally crazy idea. Years later, when the son who came along as a toddler on our first trip to Lazy L&B was in college, I surprised him by suggesting that return to Dubois and investigate it as a place to live rather than just visit.

downtown2

We stayed in town that time. I got my hair done, and listened. We went to Happy Hour at the Rustic, and listened. We went to church, and listened.

At the end of the weekend, much to my astonishment, we had bought a house.

I had been infatuated for decades. Then I fell in love.

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
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.

Small-Town Info Central, 2017

Our online news source: a new Facebook page.

discardedtoysIf you want to sell stuff in Brooklyn, you’d put it on Craiglist and hope somebody legit would be interested.

Or on a nice day, you’d have a tag sale (we called them “stoop sales” because the front porch of your brownstone is known as a stoop). It was a lot of work to put all the items out in the hope that people would buy what you didn’t want.

Lots of passersby would cluck their tongues, remark that they were downsizing too, and walk on past.

Here in Dubois, the thing to do has been to post an ad in the Roundup, the weekly stapled package distributed by the VFW. (Popularly known as the “poop sheet.”)

roundupYou can put a little notice in the For Sale section, on the tightly packed front page, for free. Or you can make a flier about your tag sale, drop off 402 copies at the VFW (why 402? Don’t ask), and for a small fee it will be distributed to stores and offices around town along with everything else stapled to the front page.

We never miss the chance to pick up the Roundup, because it’s fun to see what all is going on. However, new technology has created a robust competitor. Facebook is already the place to go to keep up with friends here, but it’s also quickly becoming our newspaper (by another name).

Someone created the invitation-only Facebook page called Dubois, WY-Area Classifieds in October 2014. It now has 1,504 members — larger than the year-round population of Dubois. The word “Area” in the title is construed broadly: Many of them are from out of town, from Shoshone, Ethete, Riverton, even as far away as Rawlins and Rock Springs. I think lots of people look at it not so much to see what’s for sale as to see what’s going on.

duboisclassifiedsWhat’s really going on, I mean. Not just what you see in the Frontier.

It goes way beyond items for sale, but those are interesting of themselves. This week we have Black Baddie heifers, a 10-year-old gelding, and under ISO (in search of) someone looking for a backhoe. Not long ago we had a Barbie doll collection, and there are usually some Western or heavy-duty outdoor clothes on offer.

There are event announcements (the new children’s choir, a Bible study group, the snow princess contest at the Rustic Tavern, a spray tan party). And there are  items of a more personal nature: A photo of a baby in a snowsuit, with a wish that everyone will be safe in the snow, and an appeal from someone moving to town who’s looking for a place to rent.

The replies are often as engaging as the posts. For instance:

“Anyone here in town selling Girl Scout cookies yet?”

duboisclassifieds2           “Need a fix!”

“Order online!? Where?”

My favorites are the posts about lost animals, because of their human interest appeal and their immediacy. In this one, a woman in search of a lost cat has shown us a gallery of her dogs as well. (That blue heeler looks like he needs a job.)

Some time ago, I saw a post from someone out Crowheart way whose heartbroken boys had just lost their dog. Someone replied quickly that some friends of theirs had just posted about finding a similar dog trotting up the highway while they were driving over toward Jackson.

Next I saw, the family from Crowheart had posted thanks and were heading west to meet up with the other folks. I hope it was the right dog!

© Lois Wingerson, 2017

You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at .

Wyoming Women on a Winter Detour

Getting around a roadblock in the wide open spaces is no small matter.

rawlins10:45 AM: The state trooper was adamant, like they are. “I’m reopening it at four.”

We sat dumbfounded, looking at the gate lowered across the highway just north of Rawlins. We were five female friends in two cars, en route home from a meeting in Cheyenne,  stopped dead with about 200 miles still to go.

We knew there were major snowstorms up north. But nothing here hinted at a reason to close the only northbound road for many miles around. There was scarcely a breath of wind, a lovely blue sky, and a mere dusting of snow.

Back east, I tried never to stand still for a road stoppage. In a New York City traffic jam, I’d peel off to the right and take any back street until I found a way through the grid. Out of town, the next exit off the Interstate always leads to some random country road that quickly leads into a network of small roads that eventually leads home.

Here in Wyoming’s wonderful wide-open spaces, there are far fewer options. You don’t take a detour lightly.

getaroom11:00 AM:  “Get a room,” texted my husband from Dubois, where it had been snowing steadily all day. “Before they are all gone.” Of course I complied, but I would cancel it shortly.

The dear man was completely powerless in the situation. I was held benignly hostage by my friend Cathy, who had let me park in her driveway in Riverton and hitch a ride to Cheyenne. The decision wasn’t mine to make.

12 PM: We went to lunch, to wait and deliberate. There we met a man who had just come through southbound on that same highway. No snowpack whatever, he told us. Clear all the way, except for a massive rogue snowdrift. He had barely sneaked past before they closed the highway to start plowing it out of the way.

caseycathypaula

We watched our phones. We checked the highway alerts obsessively, hoping the road would reopen at 1 PM, not 4. We looked for workarounds.

Google Maps showed no easy dirt-road detour around that gate, and no good northbound option anywhere nearby.

Someone checked the weather radar. “There’s a huge storm, stalled right over Dubois,” she said. “It’s like a stripe that goes across Lander, but that’s moving on. Over Dubois, it just sits there.”

What amazed me, in my passive circumstances, was the cheerful, unflappable nature of the decision-making. Back east, your greatest peril in a snowstorm is the other drivers, but these people know the rules: Go slow, don’t turn quickly, try not to brake. We’d get through this together–maybe not without some trouble, but without harm.

1 PM:  We hit the highway, in the wrong direction. They had decided to venture on in convoy, in case of trouble, westward toward Rock Springs–a 100-mile diversion on I-80, and then a drive northward over South Pass. That’s well-known as the first mountain crossing to close in our area whenever the winter weather gets dicey, but all the apps suggested that South Pass was still passable. Only the road to Dubois was dicey.

3:00 PM: We turned northward off the Interstate at Rock Springs with a few hours still left to go and that pass to cross. Here, the road was fine. Cathy did her best to keep up with  our friends, who were trying to making up for lost time.

paintedhillswinter

We kept up a cordial chat about business, politics, and memories. In the car ahead, one passenger was writing an article on her laptop. The other took a nap.

Sure enough (trust the apps!), the road north from Farson wasn’t bad at all, just packed snow. Even South Pass wasn’t scary. Just snowy.

The skies were gray, but not threatening, and the sights out the window were ever more lovely the farther we came. Cathy kept seeing bald eagles. I marveled at the broad white vistas, as fresh as a new sheet tossed across a bed, and at the Christmas-card conifers.

5:00 PM:  We tooted farewell to our friends at the turnoff in Lander, and reached Riverton just before dark. Cathy kindly offered me her guest room.

“You won’t believe the snow here,” my husband said, when I phoned to let him know we were safely north. “It hasn’t stopped snowing for two days, and it’s still snowing really hard. Let me know when you leave Riverton in the morning.”

9:00 AM:  I set off for Dubois under bright blue skies, on a dry highway. The road was clear to the Lander turnoff, gradually more snow-packed toward Crowheart, and then dusted with unpredictable clouds of lightly blowing snow.

downtownwinter020217_2Just beyond the Red Rocks, a herd of bighorn sheep skedaddled across the road in the swirling powder in front of me. I braked in time, and then smiled. Welcome home.

10:45 AM: It was snowing lightly when I reached Dubois. “For the love of God, make it stop!” said a friend I saw at the Post Office.

Two or three feet of new snow greeted me alongside our newly plowed driveway. My hard-packed snowshoe trail to the neighbor’s house had vanished completely. In places, the buck and rail fence seemed about to disappear.

wintergaragesnowsculpture2I looked out the front door at bedtime to find a new work of art in the garage light.

They say this is the worst snow in about 40 years. Every conversation seems to begin with how much you think you got and how long it took you to get out.

It’s not politically correct to say so in town just now (and I guess herewith I’ve blown my cover), but even for all the shoveling and plowing and knee-deep trailblazing, I love this world.

It was beautiful on my long journey home, and it’s even more beautiful here.

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
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.