The Bright Side of the Dark in Dubois

I’m not very good at patience, but I had nothing else to do …

I really, really needed my sleep last night. But when my mind came close to the surface at 4 AM,  the Geminid meteor shower drifted in.

I had read about the event in my news feed, and had wished I could witness it.

After a while, I gave up trying to sleep. I got up, made a cup of herbal tea, and drew a chair up to the window.

These are the dark times in Dubois, when daylight ends in late afternoon and we try to find ways to stay alert through the long dark evenings until bedtime. There are two compensations for this: 1. It’s also the holidays, and 2. We’re blessed to live in a dark sky location. The sky is not just dark; it’s  profoundly dark. It feels as if you can see all the stars there are.

Back in Brooklyn, when I thought of God’s promise to Abraham that his descendants would number like the stars, I had the impression that God meant he’d have 3 or 4 grandchildren. But as I approached the window last night, in every direction I looked, the sky above our wilderness was a riot of stars. They glittered in the windy air.

Out to the east, one star — or was it a planet? — gleamed especially bright and steady. I thought of the Wise Men. How long, I wondered, would I have to wait to see a “shooting star”? Would this be a fool’s errand, a waste of perfectly good sleep time?

The news site had warned us to dress warmly, as this is December. But the night sky here is so dark I could sit cozily indoors, in the dining room, wrapped only in my bathrobe.

I’m not very good at patience, but it was silent and dark and I had nothing else to do at that moment if I wasn’t going to sleep. I sat looking out the window with the largest view — the one that faces Cody and Saskatchewan — and soon a narrow flash of brilliance zoomed past, low on the horizon, just above the windowsill. A good omen.

Were those faint swipes in my peripheral vision tiny meteors, or just my imagination? Giving Nature the benefit of the doubt, I counted both of them: Two.  Three. Then, closer to my center of vision, numbers 4 and 5.

My neighbor, who began watching at 2 AM (having set an alarm), told me she saw 61 in an hour or so. I began later. My count was a mere 17, but then I spent some time making more tea and trying without success to get a picture of the stars on my phone. (These images are public domain, from Wikimedia Commons.)

This image does look very similar to the night view from my window, but I didn’t see anything that looked like a fireworks display.

A meteor shower isn’t like what you take in the bathroom after a hard hike, I discovered. It’s a drop here, a splash there.

As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I began to trust the fainter flashes that would travel about a millimeter’s apparent distance across my field of vision. They vanished much too quickly to be wished upon.

But meteor number 10 was a superstar of falling debris: It began above my head and swooped slowly “northward,” toward the horizon, blazing downward for 2 or 3 whole seconds. I almost imagined I could hear a whooshing sound.

I was too amazed to make a wish.

©Lois Wingerson, 2018

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.

Escape from the Jingle Bells

The strolling tourists depart. Town is quiet, the summer houses are dark and empty, and the Thanksgiving turkey is all gone. Nighttime sets in during late afternoon.

I resign myself to the thought that the slow, sleepy period has begun. Then, with surprising speed, another busy season is upon us.

Back East in the city, it arrived like an invasive weed. At some point,  and far too soon, I’d be aware of background music with the sound of jingle bells. Before long, it was everywhere on the shopping streets. The sound made me literally agoraphobic: afraid of the market. Shoppers seemed stressed out. Carols intended to make me reverent made me want to flee.

The holidays are also busy in Dubois, but with a notably different feel. This is, after all, a town of 1,000 permanent residents with a reputation for friendliness, and about 50 nonprofit organizations, many of them devoted to charity.

My first sound of the season this year was the barely perceptible strain of classical background music in the Opportunity Shop (which raises many thousands of dollars each year, all of it given back to the community).

“Oh, yes,” I thought. “Christmas is coming.” And then quickly forgot about it.

Songwriter Skip Ewing, who used to hold workshops here and moved to town last spring, took it upon himself to open the season formally with a concert in the Dennison Lodge on December 1.

I wasn’t in the spirit at all when I bought tickets–not to celebrate the season, but to listen to Skip.

The Dennison was decked out for the event, and was packed for both performances. Here, we are waiting for him to start the first one.

Skip began by saying that he had brought us there to get us into the Christmas spirit, and warned that eventually, like it or not, we would all be singing too. After a long series of his county favorites (some of them top of the charts in their day), he segued into his new holiday songs — some silly, some sentimental, others solemn.

“In the meadow we can build a snowman,” he croons,
“and pretend he’s Santa bringing toys.
When he asks us ‘Are you naughty?’ we’ll say No, man,
’cause everybody’s nice here in Dubois.”

His last was “Silent Night.” Skip began simply and quietly, and sure enough some of us began to sing along. Gradually his voice grew softer and ours louder, until all that came through the microphone was the sound of his guitar. Then that fell away too, leaving nothing but our voices–and the spirit.

It’s the season of open houses now, at the bank, the phone company, the museums and the community centers. There’s no need to go far to find Christmas cookies.

People don’t speak of being stressed out by the shopping. We can gift shop online, of course, and the FedEx and UPS guys are visibly busy. We can find Western-themed gifts at Olsen’s, or a handmade item at the Christmas extravaganza in the Headwaters or at Anita’s shop, Wyoming Wool Works. Or we can treasure-hunt at the Opportunity Shop, which is actually fun.

The other day I sat on a stool in Superfoods wearing a silly elf’s hat and now and again ringing a little bell. At that very moment, some unlucky folks were certainly standing in front of Bed, Bath, and Beyond next door to my former office building in Manhattan, ringing their bells without a pause. In that context, it was another irritating noise of the season.

Just one particle in a floodstream of pedestrians, I used to pass by without paying them any attention at all. They rang like automatons, and looked cold and miserable. I didn’t know them or the people they helped. I supported other causes.

Superfoods graciously allows us to sit indoors next to the shopping carts. Most of the Salvation Army bell-ringers here are volunteers affiliated with other nonprofits.

This year I’m ringing on behalf of the Dubois Museum. Shoppers pass me one by one as they enter the store. I greet them all, and many are personal friends.

About half of the people drop something into the bucket on their way out, and now and again a rather large bill. I love their generosity. Almost everyone greets me again upon leaving the store. A few apologize for not contributing, or say they donated last time.  The sum of donations seems to increase every year.

As the sign beside me says, all the funds remain in Dubois. I know the person who runs Salvation Army here, and I have met some of the people that it quietly helps: Cross-country backpackers who have had a turn of bad luck in this remote location. Travelers stranded after a breakdown without enough funds for a motel. Impoverished old folks without the skills to navigate the social networks.

My favorite part of this gig, other than the obvious charitable benefit, is watching the banter and chatter that goes on in Superfoods.

“The way you mumble and with my hearing problem, we could probably start World War III,” jokes one guy.

“Let’s leave that to the oligarchs,” says the other.

Fortunately, the oligarchs are very far away. What we have is peace on this small part of the earth, and plenty of good will to go around.

© Lois Wingerson, 2018

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.