Of Music, Longing, and Mysteries

Nostalgia for things never experienced?

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StameyCowboys roping in baseball caps, and empty spaces on McNally Maps. Dry creeks and history on the page. Sycamores and prickly pear. Barrel racers with great big hair. Horses swishing flies out in the sun.

Those aren’t my words. They’re Dave Stamey’s words.

It seems like the whole town has come out to hear the cowboy songwriter, and not just because it’s the best thing going on right now. Nearly every seat in the big room at the Headwaters Center is taken. He has us in the palm of his hand.

“It’s a place, it’s a feelin’ and sometimes it’s just a state of mind. It may not be what you were lookin’ for, but it’s here in what you find. And it’s all these things. It’s the West.”

I get just a bit choked up at that, and I’ve only been here for 10 years, for crying out loud. The words and the music reach down somewhere to grab at me the way a good song can.  Somehow I feel a longing for something that I haven’t yet lost. In fact, I’ve barely begun to experience it.

Stamey takes a pause to take several jabs at a popular old song, “Riding Down the Canyon” by Smiley Burnett, which has featured in Western films and in recordings by many famous country singers. He recites a few of those lyrics.

“When evening chores are over at our ranch house on the plain, and all I’ve got to do is lay around,” he quotes. “Well, I don’t know where that ranch is, but when evening chores were finally over at our ranch, the very last thing you’d want to do is saddle up and ride down a canyon to watch the sunset.”

There’s a knowing chuckle from the audience, and I join in — not that I’ve ever done a single chore at a ranch. My only experience at ranches was as a dude, where I relaxed while others did the chores. To folks at their radios or in movie theater seats, the song  evoked a longing for a laid-back, heavenly way of life that didn’t actually exist.

DadatPiano“These songs were not written by cowboys,” Stamey adds. “These songs were written by little bald men at their pianos back in New York.”

Well, I do know a thing or two about that. My Dad was once a guy at a piano in New York.

There he met my mother, a lovely young classical singer trying to make her way in the big city, having grown up on a farm in Nebraska. She would have enjoyed Dave Stamey.

When they met, Dad was making his living by working for a Broadway composer (who probably was a little bald man with a piano). As time went on, Dad wrote many fine songs of his own, although they weren’t cowboy songs. He had sense enough not to write about what he didn’t know.

They include this one, ironically called “City Longing,” which is actually about longing to leave the city. The frenzied, self-promoting feel of New York disenchanted my soon-to-be parents, and they left to teach at colleges in the Midwest.

FiddleMando_editedI’ve always found it ironic that New York is where I ended up spending most of my life. Being the only child of two classical musicians, of course I grew up loving that kind of music. I learned several instruments. I used to play in string quartets and orchestras.

That is one of the very few things I miss about New York. In a small way, I do long for it. Watching an orchestra performance now is a sort of bittersweet torture. Nonetheless I crave it. So I impose it on myself, when I can.

A few days ago, I took a lovely ride over Togwotee Pass to Teton Village near Jackson, to watch the dress rehearsal of Mahler’s 3rd Symphony at the Grand Teton Music Festival.

Musicians crowded the stage: 9 string basses, 10 violas. Two sets of tympani. Lost in nostalgia, while I listened I watched them at work and relived it all: the feel of the tremolo on the string, the sound of counting bars inside my head, the sense of eyes flicking up to the conductor over the top of my glasses.

This kind of nostalgia I can explain. Other feelings puzzle me.

TableMountain3

When Mahler wrote his third symphony, he  was living in his mountain retreat in Austria. He used to go there in the summer to escape the pressures of his daily work life. We lived in Germany for a few years, so I speak both his language and his language of music. And now I live in the mountains, having retreated here from the pressures of our daily working life in the city.

In the third symphony, Mahler said, “the whole of nature finds a voice.” He described the final passages as “the peak, the highest level from which one can view the world.”

In Mahler’s music, I felt I could hear him speaking from the grave. He wrote pictures in sound: deep, rich, and complex–sometimes ominous and foreboding, at other times whimsical or light-hearted, with the strains of forest birds and distant trumpets. Sometimes he launched into the bouncing chords of a Tyrolean oompah band.

In my work as a science writer, I learned that neuroscientists have found that music touches the same nerves in your brain (I’d rather say “strings in your heart”) that trigger deep emotion.

It’s one of those things that scientists find out which you sort of knew all along.

MahlerI truly don’t miss living in Germany at all, but (as for many people who admire Mahler) the music overwhelmed me with feeling. He swept me back to Germany and into the mountain woodlands, leaving me with a feeling that I had experienced and gained something profound. (But what?)

A few days earlier, alone on the stage strumming on one guitar, Dave Stamey had evoked the feel of the entire American West with a few simple words and quiet melodies. And he had demonstrated how music can also evoke a longing for experiences that people haven’t even experienced.

No doubt a musicologist could parse way these two different musical languages differ in their grammar. But that wouldn’t explain how they can speak so distinctly inside my one little brain, somehow triggering those little hairs inside my ears to play on my neurons in ways that can summon up two entire worlds, separated by years of time and thousands of miles.

I might start pondering that again next time I look up at the stars or out over the valley. But of course I won’t ever figure it out.

© 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.

Dubois’ Delectable New Drive-Thru

The reasons the Outpost is succeeding say a lot about our town.

MooseOutpostWhat this town needs, my husband has been saying for years, is a really good burger.

God forbid we should get a McDonald’s or a Burger King — let alone a Walmart or a big Marriott. That’s not Dubois at all.

But the drive-thru burger joint on our main street, opened a month ago by a pair of locals, fits in handsomely.

Handsomest of all is that wonderful moose out front (of which more, later).

BurgerThe Moose Outpost replaces an ice cream and coffee stand that failed last summer. The reasons why the Outpost ought to succeed say a lot about our town. It’s a commercial venture, sure, but it’s more.

Waiting for Travis to finish my car repairs today, I took the chance to nip across the street and order a cheeseburger. I was not disappointed.

Karrie and Bob Davis advertise that they’re serving fresh ingredients and hand-made orders at the Outpost. I couldn’t resist chomping down before snapping the photo.

As the patty slid around on the ciabatta bun and the tender onions tried to divorce themselves from that bright-red slice of August tomato, I had to run back inside for more napkins.

Just look at that lettuce leaf.

“So how long is your lease?” I asked Karrie, fully expecting her to say “through the end of the summer.”

“Five years,” she replied.

“And how’s business?” I asked.

Moose sculptureUnbelievable, she said. She added that even the Sysco people are surprised at how much meat and produce she is ordering. But it’s also, predictably, crazy.

Her job ads haven’t brought in enough helpers. “If it wasn’t for my church family,” she added, “we’d never be able to make it.”

Burger stand as a church mission: That fits too. The venture is crucial for the town (which needs good eateries not only in the busy tourist season but year-round) and typical of the helpful spirit in this place that seems to run on volunteers.

As I sat on the porch enjoying my burger, I admired the magnificent moose from behind. He seemed to be guarding the folks at the picnic tables. The creation of Karrie’s Dad, artist and sculptor Vic Lemmon, he used to stand outside another restaurant that her family owned elsewhere in town. For a long time, he’s lived near the highway east of Dubois, in a spot where he wasn’t noticeable.

MooseOutpost4Inbetween, Kerrie told me, he’s has been shot at, stolen (and returned),  inappropriately painted, and driven to Utah to oversee Christmas tree sales. Now he’s challenging the jackalope down the street as our town mascot.

Just yesterday, I read a post on TripAdvisor asking where to see a moose in Yellowstone. The odds aren’t great. But as they pass this way en route home, at least people can see what one looks like.

© 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.

A Tinier Dubois, in the World Next Door

Watching the parade and pondering their future.

genoa2The brutal heat was easing as the sun sank. Waiting for the barbecue to be ready, we’d been talking with the couple next to us ­­­­about horses, and about brucellosis in buffalo. I changed the subject.

“So what’s the population of Genoa?” I asked Sue.

“It’s pronounced ge-NO-ah,” she said. Ah yes, like it’s DEW-boys, not du-BWAH. No hifalutin’ European here, either

­­­­”About 275,” she replied. “Or tonight,” she said with a chuckle, “325.” She gestured toward all the RVs tethered to their hookups nearby, one of them being ours.

I felt like I was channeling those folks who turn up in Dubois in high summer, unprepared, hoping for a bed. We had been barreling north toward Denver on that summer Friday, yearning toward home, over a vast flat plain covered with crops and studded with new wind turbines.

It was as I feared: No RV spots available anywhere in the parks that turned up high on the Google searches, well-reviewed.

So we washed up on the sand of this bare, empty lot that has been newly fitted out with water hoses and power outlets, as well as two one-stall toilets. We were a little out of our way, east of Denver.

genoa4The new RV parking lot sits on the site of the former school, whose dated playground equipment remains, on the other side of a dirt lane. Some children were playing merrily on the kind of merry-go-round that has gone out of favor elsewhere, as the adults enjoyed Haden’s barbecue dinner under the metal shelter.

“Yeah, Haden is saving our town,” Sue said. “These folks are so nice! We’re so glad they came.”

And that’s what they are: Nice. Haden, the owner of the park, is much younger than us, extremely laid back and untroubled. He wears a T-shirt that says something like  “Colorado Springs. Rocky Mountain High.” He doesn’t take credit cards for reservations over the phone; just give him your name, and he’ll hold the spot. He comes by later in his golf cart, in person, to collect your fees.

The playground is flanked, predictably, with a ball field and a basketball court. Behind them, Sue’s husband Tom pointed out the shiny huge silos built last year to store the bumper crop of wheat.

The large barn behind, Sue said, is full of marijuana plants.

Sue and her husband Tom used to ranch; now he does drywall and she works for the state. Genoa seems never to have had an industry other than agriculture. But Sue tells me it’s considering a new future, as a bedroom community for distant Denver.

“It’s so much cheaper here,” she told me. “And that’s the problem. I know it may not seem like much to you, but I know a single mother who’s looking for a place to live with her two kids. She used to pay about $350 a month, but now it’s gone up to $700. Crazy. She can’t afford that.”

Haden’s sister-in-law scurried around the tables serving potato salad and bison burgers. She and Haden’s brother came here a few months ago, all the way from Tampa, to help out with the new RV park.

“We were really over living in the city,” she said. “We came out here and saw this and said, Why not? I mean, the kids are grown and they don’t care where we are. It’s so nice here, and quiet.”

genoa3It’s also flat, with not much visible to commend it — except that it’s close enough to what is attractive.

“I guess you know everyone in town,” I said to Sue.

“Oh, sure,” she replied, “and everyone in Hugo and Limon. There’s only 5,000 people in the whole county. We all know each other.”

I asked Tom how often he drives the hour and a half to Denver. “Oh, once in a while, when I need a big box store,” he said. The nearest Walmart is about the same distance away in a different direction.

“Where’s your grocery store?”

“Limon,” he said.

“So what do you have here in Genoa?”

“An RV park!” He chuckled.

A large fifth-wheeler was making a lumbering U-turn at the entrance. There was a murmur at the next table, and a young boy spoke up. “Closed out? What does that mean?”

“That means there’s no place left for them here,” his Dad replied.

genoa1“But where will they go?” the boy asked. I wondered too, having booked the second-last spot here and perhaps in the whole region.

“Crazy,” the father said thoughtfully. “I don’t know where all these people are coming from.”

For an instant, I felt caught up in a surreal otherworld: A transient place where it’s hot as an oven and everyone is in transition—traveling here and there, relocating, retiring, or doing this or that job now and then.

Not long afterward, the large party at the next table stood up to leave. Haden came over to collect their fee and say goodbye. Turned out that the father and son and their family are no more locals than we are.

“You sure you won’t stay another night, on the house?” Haden said. “We’d love to have you.” But they had to keep going.

Haden told me that next year his park will be only for tourists; no more full-timers. “But where will they go?” I ask.

“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “The hi-tech interns will go back to college in September. All those trailers” – he pointed off toward the end of the lot – “those are just the installers for the wind turbines. They’ll be gone in a few months too. Out of sight, out of mind.”

“But it will just be seasonal,” I said.

“That’s right,” he agreed. His eyes twinkled at the prospect. He went on to tell how he plans to plant trees and install showers. Oh, yes. I was only thinking of the mountains; I’d forgotten the huge draw represented by the big new barn behind the grain elevators.

The tables gradually emptied, as people returned to their rigs. I had taken them for townspeople enjoying a warm summer evening in a new picnic shelter. But they were just a group of travelers like us —  the transient third of the populace that comes and goes.

Meanwhile, GeNOa watches the parade and ponders its future. Crazy.

© 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.

Red, White, and Blooms in the Dubois Desert

Explosions of color in what looks like dead landscape.

A few weeks ago, I hosted some visitors from England. We hiked up a long draw in the badlands. They were especially interested in seeing the red rocks up close.

IndianPaintbrush

Turning a corner toward a steep ridge, we encountered masses of bright red Indian paintbrush. “You’re very lucky,” I told them. “Usually we only see these much higher in the mountains.”

They took out their phones and snapped away, as did I.

They had been worried about encountering snow in late June, and it was not a foolish concern. The ground underfoot was slippery with mud — an unusual feeling in this desert climate.

Flowers060516Back on June 5, at Sheridan Creek, I had encountered my first harbinger of spring: This tiny white blossom. I don’t know its name.

I found it hiding in the straw-like dead grass. There were no signs of green yet.

It had burst forth only a few feet from some remaining patches of snow.

Recently, I took my cousin and a friend on the same hike I had enjoyed with the visitors from England. The ground was already dry and cracked.

Badlands_062418I couldn’t resist a calling out in pleasure: “The lupines are out!” These lush blue flowers — my favorite of the wild flowers we see every year — had arrived in force, to join the Indian paintbrush.

Could I write about mere flowers on Independence Day? Of course, I realized earlier today: The first flowers I saw during my wanderings this year were red, white, and blue.

I have so many pictures of flowers that I never get around to posting here: Small orange blossoms hidden beneath the sagebrush, purple daisy-like blooms that pop up on the sides of dirt roads, yellow cactus flowers that bloom and are gone in a few days. I can’t resist taking their pictures, because to look from a distance (say, in a passing car) this landscape often appears dead, or at least boring.

We know that many visitors want come to this area hoping to see wildlife, and we do see plenty of it crossing the fields on four legs or swooping across the sky. But this, I remind myself, is another wonderful form of wild life — and one which many passersby will miss.

JadeLakeWildflowers0817_5Soon, if not already, at higher elevations the wildflowers will burst out in explosions of colors, as bright and extravagant as any fireworks we see on this day every year.

A friend told me that it sometimes makes her feel wistful to see these vistas, thinking of others who are no longer fit enough to get up into the mountains to see them. I also feel sad for those who don’t know, or don’t bother.

Seize the day, and always cherish your independence …

BrooksLakeWildflowers_0817_2

© 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.

Cybermagic Brings a Drugstore to Dubois

After a half century, an actual main-street pharmacy.

Drugstore_Exterior I was in a meeting yesterday when someone texted me that the pharmacy was open. I rushed over as soon as I could. Co-owner Lisa Bailey, who was standing on the boardwalk in front of the store, smiled at me.

It’s true: The pharmacy is open, in what website developers would call a “soft launch.” There’s no ice cream at the fountain, no greeting cards, and no gauze pads on the shelves as yet. But I’ll be darned if you can’t get a prescription filled in Dubois today.

When we first heard that a pharmacy was coming to town, we didn’t really believe it. That old sign “Dubois DRUG Sundries” (with its implied lie) had hung above the store so long that we no longer even saw it. We knew that all you could buy in whatever store was there would be hats, purses, and ice cream. The explanations to tourists were awkward.

The misleading sign went up in 1964, when new owners began to operate the “drug store” without a pharmacist for the first time since it opened 1932. I guess “drug sundries” was meant to signify over-the-counter pills.

SandysShop2When we first moved to town, you could actually buy nonprescription pills and first-aid supplies in the store where Ian and his wife sold mostly ice cream cones and souvenirs. Later, Fawn opened a sandwich shop and curio store called Serendipity at the site. When her family left town, Grandma Kathy and a friend reopened the ice cream fountain, selling all sorts of vintage items on the side (but no pills).

Briefly there was a pop-up Christmas shop in there. But never, we knew, any drugs or even any Band-Aids. You got Advil at Superfoods. Real medicines? The Walgreens in Riverton would mail them over, or you could drive an hour to pick them up.

An actual pharmacy coming back to main street in Dubois, after a half century? It seemed too fantastic to be true.

Drugstore_ConstructionIt was true that Wyoming passed a law last year to allow telepharmacy — prescriptions filled by a pharm tech, working online at a satellite location, linked to a licensed pharmacy somewhere else. We know Dubois has the digital mojo to support such an operation (after all, Mountain Sage Clinic already offers specialty visits online), as well an eager supply of customers. But a pharmacy here? Really?

Ladders appeared inside the old drug store, and some painting went on. But then, for many months: Nothing.

“Are we ever going to have a drug store?” I asked Reg, the property manager. He would smile and shrug.

It seems that staffing problems back at Frontier Pharmacy in Big Piney delayed the grand (soft) opening in Dubois, but at last Lisa and Rob Bailey, a licensed pharmacist, are open for business here.

Pharmacy1Yesterday, Rob seemed to want to assure me that he has the right intentions for our old-West town: He talked about where he found that vintage “prescriptions” sign back in his home town of Palmer, Nebraska, and the charming old American Greetings display yet to appear. But when a neighbor peeked in the door to say welcome, I knew that the broad smile on her face wasn’t about greeting cards.

“Tell everyone our phone number is simple to remember: It’s 2400,” Rob said. “And it’s really easy to transfer your prescriptions over.”

The counter and stools are still in place, and ice cream may actually return too, once they figure out all those food-service regulations. But the Baileys already know all about medications, which is what really matters.

© 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.

Life on the Edge at High Water

Flood reports on the radio and other concerns.

A neighbor who keeps track of these things tells me that the river has crested. It seems to be true.

Last week, approaching a section of the riverwalk around a curve, I had a sense that something was wrong. The river wasn’t where it should be in that direction. Today, it had receded considerably. Soon I’ll be able to walk across there again.

FloodedRiverwalk“Risk of flooding in Dubois,” I’d hear on Wyoming Public Radio a week or two ago, and friends down-county would ask with concern: So how is it in Dubois?

WindRiverFloodingDuring Hurricane Sandy, I watched on Twitter videos as the East River filled subway stations in New York. During hurricane season last year, I worried as my daughter fled her apartment a few blocks from the beach in Fort Lauderdale.

We listen with horror about people in Hawaii who are airlifted away from the lava flows.

This is not that. This is the snow melt coming down, urged on after spring thunderstorms, as it does every year about now.

The river turns to chocolate milk and roars merrily along, breeching its banks at every turn. Sometimes a piece of the bank calves off, and someone’s backyard becomes a transient lake as it slows the surging water.

Anglers know it’s not time yet to tie flies and pull out the rods. The river is much too wild just now. The air may be warm, but this is still spring.

NewHouse“Seems to be a lot of building on that flood plain,” said a visitor in passing. “Not a good idea.”

Actually, it’s a perfectly good one. We know how the river rises and falls, and we know where it tends to run aground.

This is not the Hamptons or Cape Cod. These folks aren’t tempting fate; they (or their realtor and contractor) have been around here long enough to know the ups and downs of the Wind River.

WildIrisesBut there are small surprises. In one of my go-to short hike spots today, a small pond had materialized in the duff beneath the pines. The dog had a wade. Little rivulets were wandering across the meadow trying to create new islands, and my boots got wet.

Those fragile wild irises were flamboyantly abundant, as they are this time of year. They too will subside and sink into the silt after a few days, alas.

© 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.

What We Share With The Wildlife

The return of animals in the spring brings a revelation.

Moose_0518“How likely are we to see wildlife on the way?” asked someone passing through on the way to Yellowstone.

“You’ll certainly see deer,” I said. “You could also see some pronghorn antelope. Some locals see grizzlies on the Pass, but I’ve never seen one there.”

“What about moose?” he asked.

“Well, if you’re really, really lucky, and keep your eyes on the trees by the river, you might see one,” I replied. “I see them once in a while. But moose are pretty rare around here these days.”

SheepA recent survey of visitors to Dubois showed that wildlife viewing is their second reason for coming here, after mountains and scenery. I know from talking to visitors and reading their posts on TripAdvisor that many people come to this area hoping to glimpse wild creatures at home in the wilderness.

It has taken years for me to appreciate one privilege of living here year-round — simple time on the ground, the opportunity to encounter the animals who share this neighborhood, as an ordinary part of my daily life.

City girl that I was, I still find pleasure in seeing cattle and horses every day. Driving down the highway toward town, I enjoy watching a hawk floating on the updraft, looking for prey. We have had to relocate the dog’s walk, because the neighbor across the road has seen the moose and her calf again. She lost last year’s baby in the spring flood waters, and he says she glared at him defiantly from his back lawn the other day, as if to say, “I’m not going to lose this one!”

Deer_grazingLast week, I invited a friend for lunch. It being a beautiful day, we chose to sit on the back porch.

As we talked, we noticed a few white-tailed deer just across the fence. We enjoyed watching them graze on the willows as we munched on our salads a few yards away.

Walking the dog in the park behind the assisted living center, I encountered an old friend coming down the river walk. “Have you seen the goslings?” he asked.

GoslingsWe rounded a corner, and there they were, being herded by Mother Goose as we approached.

This afternoon, driving toward a hike up Long Creek Road, my companion said, “There’s an antelope!”

He sat immobile, not far from the dirt road. “It’s odd to see one all alone,” she remarked.

“I hope he’s not injured,” I said.

Farther along the road, she spotted more antelope in the valley, and beyond that, a few elk. I slowed the car to look, and there they were, dark against the green of the grass.

“I wonder what they’re doing here at this time of year,” she said. You’d think they would have migrated on, and moved up-mountain.

AntelopeOnHillDriving back after our hike, we looked for the lone antelope, and argued about exactly where we had seen him before. “I guess he isn’t here any more,” I said. “That’s good.”

“There they are,” she said. A few antelope grazed on a distant hill, as a larger one stood nearby, looking out across the valley.

“I guess he’s the sentinel,” I said, glad to have come up with a reason for why we had seen him alone on the way uphill.

I may talk smart now, but to be honest, when we moved here from the city I couldn’t tell an elk from a moose. It was the landscape that compelled me, not the wildlife that live here. Later, I came to value the strong sense of community in our town.

With time, I’ve come to see these silent neighbors as an important part of that community. They may be elusive, and we rarely get to know them. Some of them (like the tourists) are only passing through. But we share a love of this place, and are glad when they return.

© 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.