What could be sweeter than June in Dubois? My companions raise their glasses. No reply is needed. Nothing could.
Unbroken blue sky. Warm sun. Steady breeze. The prospect of long hikes through unspoiled wilderness, of small-town rodeos and parades, and long, warm evenings, sage, and sunshine, beside the river. We bask in the rare privilege of simply being here.
Just yesterday, I met our newest neighbors. Yet another couple from somewhere else have left everything to settle here.
Of course I said “Welcome.”. Congratulations, I should have added. You have discovered Dubois.
Yet for them to discover is the vitality of this remote small town that still echoes the “real West,” the remarkable diversity of its inhabitants, its vigorous and undefeatable community spirit. Of course they are aware of the dramatic natural beauty that drew us all here and captured us, pine forests and badlands. They will soon begin to learn the compelling history that continues to enthrall us.
I’m just back from community central (by which I mean the Friday happy hour at the “the world’s most unique bar”), where I spoke with a pair of coast-to-coast cyclists from Cincinnati, on their way from Washington DC to Washington state. Long-haul cyclists have learned on the grapevine that there’s always a welcome in Dubois. Among its many local missions, St. Thomas Episcopal church acts as host to them, offering dinner and a safe, dry place to sleep.
You never know who you might meet here, or what you might end up talking about. Tonight I didn’t see my old friends the ex-Peace Corps artist, the photographer from Paris, or the wrangler from Stockholm (who fools so many tourists by looking like the most authentic cowboy of them all). But I did see Joe again.
Joe had just arrived after the long drive from his other home in Florida. I asked Joe, the one who taught me how to conserve energy while climbing mountains, if he would be returning this year for his annual trek in Nepal. Probably not, he said. Of course he figured out how to send money to his good friends there after the devastating earthquake, but this wouldn’t be the year to return. Alaska, maybe?
Joe is a retired nuclear physicist, and a widower. How did you amuse yourself, I asked him, during that long and lonely drive this week? He cracked one of his wry smiles. He spent much of the time, he told me, pondering the relationship of faith to the concepts of kennen (acquaintance, in German) and wissen (German for understanding).
Our neighbor Mike, head of the local phone company and something of a visionary, has been important in the national effort to bring broadband to remote areas. We have him to thank for nearly flawless Internet service. This time of year, Mike stays up nights to catch vivid images of the aurora borealis over the Dunoir valley, which he posts on the Internet. (Had I only known about this one, I would not gone to bed so early.)
Down that same valley over which he caught that light show, some of the first Europeans to discover and explore the American West hiked more than a century ago. Later, homesteaders tackled snowdrifts, grizzlies, and much deprivation in order to survive in this valley, Thanks to the local historians who share their stories, we continue to marvel at what those first settlers endured.
Like us, they found the vast and sometimes desolate landscape here to be compelling and haunting. We fortunate few in Dubois somehow cannot leave it behind for long. We have found that, once having seen these sights and met these remarkable people, we can not stop coming back here. Despite our many differences, this is what never fails to hold us together.
The longer we stay, the more we see, the more we learn, the more deeply we are committed here. What could be sweeter?