We 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.
A 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.)
Before 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.