Background Checks

What isn’t obvious at first glance about Dubois.

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JacksonArch_editedThe man who had ordered the lattes was tall, patrician, lantern-jawed. He wore a fitted, aqua-blue down jacket. His female companion wore her hair cut blunt to the chin. I didn’t believe we had met.

“Where you from?” I asked (always eager to welcome visitors or newcomers).

“Jackson,” he replied. He seemed un-motivated to continue the conversation.

I explained the reason for my approach: We’re surveying tourists about how they plan their vacations. “I guess you didn’t have to do very much planning to drive over the Pass,” I said.

He gave a little laugh. “Nah. I’ve been coming out this way for years. In fact, my family is from Dubois.”

“Quite a bit different in Jackson,” I ventured.

“Oh, yes,” he said. “I could never come back here. Not enough cultural interest.”

It wasn’t the first time I’ve heard this kind of comment from someone in Jackson. The slight double-take when you say that you’ve come over from Dubois, that dull little back-country cowboy town.

His remark brought to mind the memory of breakfasts on road trips, at a diner in some small farm town. The old men in suspenders and baseball caps trading barbs with the waitress. The sense of inexorable boredom.

“You’re right,” I told the man. “You’re not likely to find a string quartet here in Dubois. I do enjoy coming over to Jackson for the summer music festival.”

JacksonSmiths“Yeah,” he said. “I hear it’s nice.”

This made me wonder exactly what he meant by the “cultural interest” he enjoys over there in Jackson. Maybe he meant the Asian tourists who crowd the Thai restaurants in off-season. To judge from the folks I see in the supermarket over there, it’s not exactly a melting pot.

I also wondered whether the owner of the coffee shop in Dubois had overheard the man’s remark as she was preparing his latte, and if so, what she was thinking about it. Being shy and soft-spoken, she wouldn’t join the banter.

As it happens, she comes here from the Philippines by way of Abu Dhabi.

Before the couple walked in, I had been telling my neighbor, a biology professor who runs the wildlife education program here. about someone she hasn’t yet encountered in town. A retired nuclear physicist, he always goes to Nepal for fun and has hiked Mount Everest several times.

One of my best friends in Dubois grew up in Pakistan and Singapore. A woman who lives up-mountain used to work for the Fed. The yoga instructor used to head a wilderness program for kids with learning disabilities. The man who takes the terrific nature photographs actually designs medical equipment by profession. Another man who worked for a long time here as a wrangler actually comes from Sweden.

Dubois1913“Tell me about yourself” usually starts a conversation well worth the time.

Dubois is in the middle of wilderness, true. Our most famous cafe is named Cowboy, and we keep our main street looking like something out of an old Western.

But there’s far more to it than you can see at first glance. One of the joys of being here is what we see as it reveals itself, but only slowly.

Lander to Dubois: The Great Surprise

A flat plateau, a sense of anticipation …

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Returning from Lander always summons a memory: the end of the long commute we used to take back from New York. (I also think of the many people on bicycle tours who head this way each summer, and of what they’re coming to.) Nearing the end of our own four-day westward journey, after enduring the madness of the eastern Interstates and the endless trek across flat Nebraska, I always had a strong sense of anticipation at this point. Crossing a long, fairly featureless plateau with rolling hills, there is a distant view of our mountains.
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Suddenly, without much warning, the highway drops into a long decline. It’s a scene of wind-blown hoodoos up close, with a distant view of hills and buttes. You start to see hints of the river valley ahead. I always love this moment. Dubois waits down there.
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You reach the bottom, and there it spreads out before you: The beauty of the Wind River Valley. I gasped the first time I saw it. This is dull November. At other times, of course, it’s green.
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Homeward. At this point, cyclists may notice only the mileage figure. The landscape offers no hint of the delights that lie ahead: the red and blue roofs on the ranch buildings in the culverts, the red rock cliffs, the striped badlands, the winding riverbed lined with willows. What lies beyond the curves are landmarks to me now, not surprises. But I never tire of them.

© 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.

 

Why a Cybersecurity Pro Chose a Cowboy Town

GarethWhitePaperI ran into Gareth a few days ago at the Cowboy Café. Over breakfast he was working on a draft of a white paper.

“There are more technology choices than ever before,” it reads, “but little certainty around which are the best investment.” Not the kind of thing you’d expect to find someone poring over in a restaurant by that name in a remote Wyoming mountain town. But I wasn’t surprised. This is the new Dubois.

I know that most technology workers still go into concrete-block offices every day, and that the bright millennials who crowd the digital world prefer big cities with microbreweries and “coworking spaces.” But I also know that a fortunate few are finding their way here, where they can see mountains from their desks and find bald eagles and moose to post on Instagram. Gareth is one.

I met him last summer at a community meeting. I introduced myself to his wife Sharon, and was startled to hear her reply: “You want to meet my husband.” During the careful process of planning their relocation from Colorado, she had seen this blog and knew of my interest in telecommuting.

Mensing3The first step in investigating Dubois, Gareth told me this week, was contacting DTE, our Internet provider. This wasn’t so crucial for Sharon, the former head of a private school in Steamboat Springs. But it’s essential for Gareth, who is an information architect with a firm that provides cybersecurity services for large corporations around the world. His work demands peerless high-speed Internet, and the fact that DTE provides fiberoptic service in town was a strong selling point for Dubois.

Colorado’s new marijuana law was a prime reason for the relocation, Gareth told me. They had grown weary of Steamboat Springs, because it had quickly changed “from a funky family town to being party central.” This echoes what I’ve heard from tourists in Dubois over the past year: Traffic (the ordinary kind) is building in the state to the south, and it’s no longer easy to find a campsite on the spur of the moment there, or an uncrowded spot in those high Rocky Mountains.

Mensing1It’s only a six hour drive north through Baggs and Rawlins to reach Dubois, but for Gareth and Sharon, the trip took far longer. Finding their next home, Gareth said, required “a lot of traveling in our RV.”

Having lived in 17 other states, mostly in the East, Gareth had a fairly strong feeling for where he didn’t want to live. During our chat over breakfast, he recalled the daily commute that took place at 80 miles an hour. I get the picture.

They looked carefully at the West Coast. He kind of liked San Francisco, but Sharon hated it. They explored Oregon and Washington, but no place sat exactly right with them.

“We began to realize that the closer we got to the mountains, the happier we were,” Gareth said. “We could just feel it.”

What drew them to Wyoming, besides the mountains, was the fact that there are no taxes to speak of, and that the cost of living is generally low. But why Dubois?

“We’ve always liked small towns,” he said. “The fact that there’s no traffic. New York burned us out for that.”

They did look at Jackson Hole, but the sight of the real estate prices quickly inspired a look away. They drove over the Pass to Dubois, and came home.

Mensing4“Dubois has everything Jackson Hole has to offer,” Gareth told me. “You just hop into the car, and you’re in the Tetons. It’s all great.”

The move offers Gareth plenty of opportunity to pursue his off-duty passion: photography. As for Sharon, she has joined two nonprofit boards here as well as setting up www.wyophoto.com, a website that sells images of Wyoming. It’s the source of the beautiful pictures on this page.

© 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.

On the Meaning of Snow

Back in the city, this would have much less significance.

FirstBigSnow_110217_editedWinter dropped by yesterday morning. Evidently it plans to stay for the weekend.

Early in the morning, I watched a line of cattle trudging resolutely through the snow from their trough toward the aspen grove.

This is the time when town grows quiet and the out-of-state license plates dwindle. For all those creatures that the visitors like to watch in summer and target in the autumn, it is the start of the season of endurance.

“Are you glad to see all this snow?” I asked a man in camouflage who was filling up at the next gas pump.

“You bet,” he said. “It drives the game downhill.”

Horse_in_Snow110217Driving home, I saw large herds of antelope and deer in the fields between the houses and the highway right at the edge of town. Among them I saw a four-point buck. These game aren’t dumb, as any hunter would tell you.

Last evening, I watched horses behind the house nosing through the snow to graze.

The dog enjoyed nosing through it for fun, but his ball got lost in it. Next week, we know, the ball will emerge again and grazing will be easier for a while. This is just a brief reminder of what is to come.

For humans, it’s time to relocate the snowshoes or check the engines on the snowmobiles. Next time, we will remember to lift the wipers off the windshield when we see it coming. Home changes from breezy to cosy.

Back in New York City, this kind of snowfall would have had altogether less significance.

BrooklynSnow

The kids would have the day off school. I would take them to the park with the $10 plastic saucer sled. Someone else’s kid would ask to borrow it for a run and not return it afterwards

We would have to break out the ice melt and shovel our 14-foot patch of sidewalk. The corner grocery store would have been stupidly crowded. Some folks would complain that the mayor wasn’t sending the plows out fast enough or to the right neighborhoods.

The snowstorm would make national news coverage.

“How are you getting by?” gasped a customer-service agent over phone during one such “blizzard.” I laughed.

© 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.