Postill’s Believe-It-Or-Not: Construction Projects and Remote Work

Many tasks could be done remotely (and often more safely) by leveraging technology.

Is there any industry for which #remotework is irrelevant? Well, you might say … construction.

Chris Postill would respectfully disagree—as I learned when he reached out to me on LinkedIn last week, to learn about networking with other #remoteleaders.

Potential clients sometimes look at him like he’s crazy, he told me, when he explains about doing construction-project planning and oversight via remote work. They will chuckle at him, he said, like you would chuckle at the old codger at the end of the bar in some old movie who tells tall tales that nobody believes – until it turns out he was telling the truth.

“As an industry,” he told me on a Zoom call, “we are spending millions of dollars just making sure people are at work 10 hours a day, when we could save 30% of our costs by having people working from home.”

Not for hammering or welding, obviously, but for many other aspects of the work: accounting, cost tracking, project planning and management, scheduling, reviewing bids. Particularly for admin staff, he asked, “why are you forcing people to work onsite, and then sending them emails? If they’re only there for meetings, why can’t they be happily working at home? It blows my mind.”

As the conversation began, he apologized for the sound of a child crying in the background. “It’s bedtime,” he said. “They don’t want to go to bed.” I told him not to worry, that this is the new normal.

Like me, Postill lives and works in a remote rural location. He’s a mile and a half away from the highway, 15 minutes away from a town about 30 miles north of Edmonton. His region sounded a lot like my home in Wyoming: Rodeos, cattle, oil and gas, cold winters.

The longer Chris Postill spoke, the closer I listened. How many times have I heard about people in this part of Wyoming drifting away for a while, to work on a rig somewhere else in the state, or maybe way down in Texas? Or driving an oil tanker just to make ends meet? Could they learn project management skills online and work remotely for the same companies, working from home right here in the Valley of the Warm Winds in the company of  their friends and families?

Postill began as a steam-fitter and worked his way up to project manager in industries including oil and gas, chemicals, fertilizers, and uranium mining. Today he calls himself a “master planner and scheduler”.

He and his partner, Curtis Hermans, began promoting remote work in 2019, before the pandemic, when they realized it could save companies money while giving many employees a better life. The firm, Progressive Plan Inc., serves primarily the major industries in his part of Canada: energy and agriculture.

Of course, actual construction and safety control do have to take place onsite, he said. But many of the job functions that might seem to demand in-person presence could be done remotely, he added, by leveraging technology that is already available.

“With 3D onsite imaging and drone technology, you can send a drone into the site, put [its data] into a program and view it on something kind of like Google maps, that looks just like you’re there. If you can get 2 mm. accuracy, which is about as good as you can get with a tape measure–and you’re not endangering people–it’s insane not to use it.”

The word “outsourcing” can be a stopper for some clients, he admitted. But besides offering consulting by experts in planning and scheduling, Progressive Plan Inc. also provides scheduling software and certification courses in skills such as project management and team leadership for clients’ employees. These can be taken, of course, online.

The object is to focus on efficiency, not just clocking employees in and out, and avoiding the kind of mistakes that lead to people standing around idly or just doing busy work while waiting for something else to happen. “If you can schedule around having the managers and teams only go in when necessary,” Postill said, “it’s a no-brainer for me.”

Postill told me that the firm has quadrupled in size since 2019 — although many people in the industry are still stuck in the past when it comes to planning and scheduling construction projects.

“This is how we do it,” he hears over and over. “This is how we have always done it.”

Recently, representatives from a large fertilizer company were just that kind of skeptical at a meeting when they learned about the new concept. They had expected to see a proposal with nothing but numbers, Postill told me. Instead, they got a look at a drone image of a construction project with detail so clear they could make out the rungs on the ladders.

“Hold on!” they said. “If we can get that kind of detail, maybe we can plan remotely.”

Postill said that he and Hermans started their company partly because they were “tired of seeing people being treated like numbers” in an industry that often operates as much on blame as on finding solutions to cost and time overruns.

“We’re starting to get some traction now, people realizing maybe it makes sense,” he told me. “We’re betting we will win in the long run.”

© Lois Wingerson, 2021

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Signs of Spring: Bears, Birds, Bikes — and Fiber

Welcome-home messages (one much more welcome than the other)

Opening the front door after a long drive home from a visit to family in Texas, I heard a text message chime in on my phone. Busy unloading luggage, I ignored it.

When I looked, I saw that it was from our next-door neighbor. Her husband had just chased 4 grizzlies out of their chicken coop. We must have driven in just after he fired the warning shots into the hillside.

“Which way did they go?” I replied quickly.

“Headed your way,” she wrote back. “Or else they went into the aspen grove and on up the valley.”

“Welcome home,” she added.

We looked, but never saw them. A friend told me later that it could be the grizzly sow named Fiona, with her 3 two-year-olds.

Our local bear expert, Brian DeBolt (who identifies himself on LinkedIn as a “Large Carnivore Conflict Coordinator” with Wyoming Game & Fish), said he hasn’t heard the name Fiona. But he added that she’s probably the same grizz who passes through this time every spring with her 3 “kids” — always curious but never confrontational.

He can’t be sure, because when they once tried to fit that bear with a radio collar, she was shy and ran away. “It looks from the pictures like two of the kids had tags,” he added, which seems to tag these as the repeat visitors — but again he can’t be sure, because “we don’t collar the kids.”

The signs of spring are everywhere. It’s warm enough to take my morning bike ride up the highway.

Businesses are reopening, expanding, starting up. A shiny sign announces a new Ace hardware, opening soon. The new Honey House is already in business selling local honey, next to the Rustic Pine Tavern. Studio 207 has improved its branding with bright signs that say “hand-made goods.”

Shannon’s trendy boutique has relocated slightly westward, expanding to add a much-needed sideline managed by her husband: bicycles and bike supplies. Landscape artist Gary Keimig has reopened his gallery in her former location.

Town is already busy with visitors. The cars that passed me on the highway this morning wore plates that read Texas, California, and Florida. At Pete’s Pond this afternoon, the kids who were fishing had come from Utah and Florida.

When a friend told me the cowboy was overrun, for an instant I wanted to ask who it was and who struck him. Of course she meant, being its owner, that the Cowboy Cafe already had a line of would-be diners waiting on the sidewalk.

The wildlife is busy too. We saw robins perform a mating dance in the meadow. The “picket pins” stand upright behind the back porch, as ever in warm weather, guarding the entrance to their burrows. A male bluebird — a favorite sign of spring in this town — is just as vigilant from his perch atop the birdhouse beside the utility pole, watching his mate fly back and forth with twigs to build a nest inside.

Another pair is busy trying to reoccupy the hollow log beside the back door of our new screen porch. They abandoned it last year during the construction, and obviously didn’t welcome my presence as I worked on this laptop at the table inside the porch.

Who knew that male bluebirds have a patch of green on their backs? It was beautiful to see one so close.

However, I’m sorry to say, unless they can decide to tolerate my presence I expect this pair to find a different home. I won’t abandon my new enclosed porch for their sake.

It’s delightful to work there in the morning, with the beautiful view of the ridge and the fresh breeze passing through the doors, and just as pleasant to have tea there in the afternoon, sheltered from the wind that always picks up at midday in summer.

Now that the weather is fine, humans are at work outdoors as well. The roofer is finally working noisily overhead. A team is building a new fence along the highway.

Here’s the very welcome welcome-home message I saw when we first entered the driveway, even before I received my neighbor’s text.

Everyone over in town already has fiberoptic Internet service. Now that the ground has thawed, I guess it will soon be our turn.

The Internet here is already flawless, for our purposes, and has been for years. When that work is done, I guess it will be even better. (But what can be better than flawless?)

© Lois Wingerson, 2021

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Why Dubois Is the #YOLO Option for Some

On the daredevil spirits who make a “crazy” choice

moving truck in front of a mountain and cliff

“What is he smoking?” I asked myself. “He’s in Wyoming!”

Out West to retrieve our daughter after a wilderness program, during an idle period in what could easily be the last of many visits to Dubois, my husband had been looking around with a realtor. He called me back in Brooklyn to say, half jokingly (or so he says now), that he’d found our dream house.

The idea of upping stakes and moving to Wyoming seemed utterly loony at the time. For one thing, I liked my job. How would I ever be able to work there?

Wyoming is fabulous, I thought, but it’s for vacations — not for real life.

Gradually, as remote work became a possibility, I had a re-think. It took about 15 years for us to relocate completely.

Perhaps the turning point for the permanent exodus was when we found ourselves trapped yet again in noisy Manhattan traffic and my husband, a lifelong New Yorker, called out, “I hate this city!” These days, pulling to the top of the driveway, he sometimes murmurs “I’ll just slip into traffic,” although no cars are visible in either direction.

empty highway in Wyoming

For biomedical engineer Bill Sincavage and his wife Lori, who lived in the Boston area, that decision also arrived fairly slowly.

Like us, they had discovered Dubois on vacation, returned several times, and eventually began to dream of living here full-time. Like me, Bill could work remotely, and Lori was ready to retire. (Soon after moving here, she returned to teaching, in our elementary school.)

Bill told me it took four or five years for them to come around to the decision to relocate to the West. Today he has a second calling: He also earns income online as a wildlife photographer.

In these almost post-pandemic days, that same impulse seems to be striking a younger generation with the same force but much more rapidly, if you can credit the words of New York Times reporter Kevin Roose. “[F]or a growing number of people with financial cushions and in-demand skills,” he wrote on April 22, “the dread and anxiety of the past year are giving way to a new kind of professional fearlessness.”

For them it’s taking place long before retirement is in the picture. He mentions a 33-year-old lawyer in Florida, a 29-year-old reporter in Brooklyn, a 29-year-old buyer for a major clothing retailer, and an unnamed executive at an unnamed “major tech company.” For all of them, Roose writes, the pandemic has spurred a YOLO (you-only-live-once) kind of decision to step off the corporate ladder and opt out of the urban rat race.

View of a fence and distant mountains in Wyoming

Due to pre-vaccine self-isolation, I haven’t yet laid eyes on my new friend Klaus Goodwin, an executive with a Boston-based pharmaceutical firm, although he moved to Dubois last October from Richmond VA. For Klaus and his husband Eriks, that relocation took only a year.

They went to see Yellowstone in September 2020, and soon began scouting all over Wyoming to find a new hometown. After visiting many other locations in the state, they chose Dubois.

“We fell in love with the Wind River Valley area,” he told me, “and decided to settle in Dubois since we found our dream house here on the top of a mountain with gorgeous views.” The mildness of the winters and the small-town feel also drew them to Dubois, as well as the fact that in Dubois they “experienced an openness for ‘otherness’ as a married, gay couple.”

Having discovered for themselves the general tolerance and cultural diversity for which Dubois is esteemed among those in the know, yet another urban couple has made the unconventional choice of moving to our tiny village at the edge of Western wilderness.

wagon train on mountain trail

A ”daredevil spirit” seems to be infecting even the “cautious over-achievers,” Roose writes in his article, “… a feeling that the economy is changing in ways that reward the crazy and punish the cautious.”

That’s actually nothing new at all. People have been taking “crazy” risks to come this way for generations. Just now, it all seems to be happening much faster.

© Lois Wingerson, 2021

Thanks for reading!

You can see every new entry of Living Dubois by email if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Who’s writing? Check out About Me.

Why Dubois Is the #YOLO Option for Some

On the daredevil spirits who make a “crazy” choice

moving truck in front of a mountain and cliff

“What is he smoking?” I asked myself. “He’s in Wyoming!”

Out West to retrieve our daughter after a wilderness program, during an idle period in what could easily be the last of many visits to Dubois, my husband had been looking around with a realtor. He called me back in Brooklyn to say, half jokingly (or so he says now), that he’d found our dream house.

The idea of upping stakes and moving to Wyoming seemed utterly loony at the time. For one thing, I liked my job. How would I ever be able to work there?

Wyoming is fabulous, I thought, but it’s for vacations — not for real life.

Gradually, as remote work became a possibility, I had a re-think. It took about 15 years for us to relocate completely.

Perhaps the turning point for the permanent exodus was when we found ourselves trapped yet again in noisy Manhattan traffic and my husband, a lifelong New Yorker, called out, “I hate this city!” These days, pulling to the top of the driveway, he sometimes murmurs “I’ll just slip into traffic,” although no cars are visible in either direction.

empty highway in Wyoming

For biomedical engineer Bill Sincavage and his wife Lori, who lived in the Boston area, that decision also arrived fairly slowly.

Like us, they had discovered Dubois on vacation, returned several times, and eventually began to dream of living here full-time. Like me, Bill could work remotely, and Lori was ready to retire. (Soon after moving here, she returned to teaching, in our elementary school.)

Bill told me it took four or five years for them to come around to the decision to relocate to the West. Today he has a second calling: He also earns income online as a wildlife photographer.

In these almost post-pandemic days, that same impulse seems to be striking a younger generation with the same force but much more rapidly, if you can credit the words of New York Times reporter Kevin Roose. “[F]or a growing number of people with financial cushions and in-demand skills,” he wrote on April 22, “the dread and anxiety of the past year are giving way to a new kind of professional fearlessness.”

For them it’s taking place long before retirement is in the picture. He mentions a 33-year-old lawyer in Florida, a 29-year-old reporter in Brooklyn, a 29-year-old buyer for a major clothing retailer, and an unnamed executive at an unnamed “major tech company.” For all of them, Roose writes, the pandemic has spurred a YOLO (you-only-live-once) kind of decision to step off the corporate ladder and opt out of the urban rat race.

View of a fence and distant mountains in Wyoming

Due to pre-vaccine self-isolation, I haven’t yet laid eyes on my new friend Klaus Goodwin, an executive with a Boston-based pharmaceutical firm, although he moved to Dubois last October from Richmond VA. For Klaus and his husband Eriks, that relocation took only a year.

After visiting Yellowstone in September 2020, they began scouting all over Wyoming to find a new hometown. After visiting many other locations in the state, they chose Dubois.

“We fell in love with the Wind River Valley area,” he told me, “and decided to settle in Dubois since we found our dream house here on the top of a mountain with gorgeous views.” The mildness of the winters and the small-town feel also drew them to Dubois, as well as the fact that in Dubois they “experienced an openness for ‘otherness’ as a married, gay couple.”

Having discovered for themselves the general tolerance and cultural diversity for which Dubois is esteemed among those in the know, yet another urban couple has made the unconventional choice of moving to our tiny village at the edge of Western wilderness.

wagon train on mountain trail

A ”daredevil spirit” seems to be infecting even the “cautious over-achievers,” Roose writes in his article, “… a feeling that the economy is changing in ways that reward the crazy and punish the cautious.”

That’s actually nothing new at all. People have been taking “crazy” risks to come this way for generations. Just now, it all seems to be happening much faster.

© Lois Wingerson, 2021

Thanks for reading!

You can see every new entry of Living Dubois by email if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Who’s writing? Check out About Me.

A Blast Away from the Beach

Going a few extra miles could escape the obvious.

What is it about beaches in summer? You remember. That sticky salty breeze. Gooey sunscreen. Heavy trudging in bare feet. Sand in your pants. 

Is it a reflex that sends remote-work teams to the beach for their retreats? Maybe it’s because that’s where you went as a kid, for relief from the city heat.

Cape Cod. Cape May, Long Island. Monterey. It was the closest place to find a cooler breeze.

It’s the COOs and project managers in Boston, New York, Dallas, and San Francisco who are engaging most with our ads promoting the Wind River Valley for team retreats. Perhaps they feel it’s time for a cooler experience.

When Summit CPA Group escaped the beach rut last August, it took a pandemic (Cabo and Miami) and a hurricane (South Carolina) to open their minds.

Travel advisor Lillian Hocevar came up with a radical idea, and as Summit CEO Jody Grunden put it, during a podcast about team retreats, they “settled” on Jackson, Wyoming.

“We had a blast,” he went on. “It exceeded all expectations.”

Some team members went parasailing. Others rode a hot air balloon.

They they wanted a water experience? That didn’t need to mean beach volleyball. Hocevar booked white-water rafting: “It’s exhilarating, and it’s a natural team-building exercise. You have to figure out who’s rowing when.”

“It was a lot of the out-of-the-normal stuff,” said Grunden. He described what it wasn’t: Just going to a hotel and eating in this or that restaurant. Some ordinary vacation or getaway. A few typical team-building activities, like trust falls.

“It was an experience,” he added.

But not all that different an experience from being in a big city, actually: Crowds of humans and vehicles, many of them wasting time and energy just waiting in lines. For the hordes intent of visiting Yellowstone each summer, Jackson is hardly a radical idea. It’s all too obvious.

What a pity. Going a few extra miles, teams can retreat to someplace far cooler and less crowded, where the native Shoshone retreated every year, many centuries ago.

There is no salt-water beach, but there are wild rivers to raft and crystalline lakes to kayak. Rugged mountains to explore. Plenty of trout to catch. Countless stars in a vast night sky, to bring back a sense of wonder.

They could discover Dubois.

© Lois Wingerson, 2021

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An Ode to My Commute

On ways to spend time doing nothing.

view of mountains from a porch

“I will send you the link as soon as I boot up,”
I email on my phone,
then hurry

to get the bed made and carry the laptop
to the sun porch
where I can see the draws
on the ridge beyond the valley
still outlined in white by snow.

I remember
the long march of suits to the subway, the laptop
heavy in its vinyl case.

New York subway train entering station

The platform black with a century of grime, the lights
dim yet harsh in the early morning as the train
rumbled in.

Standing shoulder to shoulder as it lurched.

The lockstep tramp up
stairs, the hike across the lobby through that
ant-like swarm – how did we never collide? – toward
the coffee
stand.
Careful not to spill as I hurry
not to miss the 8:10.

Gazing at the ranks of buildings as the train
(or they)
sped by.

Commuters walking next to a train

The hike to the old beater in that parking lot

and then
that brief journey through a tunnel
of trees.

That other parking lot.

Returning later, tired.
Still that heavy laptop.
Watching the train loom large toward me on the open-air track
Careful not to trip.
Wondering what would happen if I did.

Commuter train pulling into a station

Then sit. Breathe.

Read, maybe, or just be
weary.
Relax an hour before

that subway crush again. That twice as long trudge homeward.

Dinner.

Bed.

Being more productive starts with finding time to do nothing
professed the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.

I work all day, I tell myself. Do I ever have time do nothing?

Willows beside a riverwalk

I ask again later as I stroll
with the dog
along the river,

the ducks
taking issue with our presence,

the buds
waiting to burst from the willows.

Yes.


© Lois Wingerson, 2021

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Remarkable Rural Retreats: Small Town, Big Plan

A unique and extraordinary option for remote-work teams

I kept glancing away from my lunch companion, avoiding her gaze. I felt things had started badly.

During our visit that morning in March, Lazy L&B Ranch had been deserted and silent. Sheets covered chairs. Mattresses leaned against walls.

It felt impossible to convey to Jennifer Pryor the life-changing sense of liberation I experienced in this cabin at that ranch many years ago, back when there was no such word as “workation,” let alone a concept or a hashtag. I was working on a book manuscript. My kids were riding horses. Seeing the vast open spaces breathed life into my work.

It will surely be the same for the many guests who fill Lazy L&B later this year, like all those who have posted 5-star reviews on TripAdvisor ever since we visited long ago. I just couldn’t bring them alive to her on this wintry day.

Jen Pryor’s visit was intended as the springboard to launch a new campaign by Wind River Remote Works: to promote Dubois as a unique and extraordinary location where companies that employ remote workers can host their team retreats. The owner of Gather Events Company, she will book those retreats.

On this day in late winter, I had the impression that to her and to anyone just passing through, it must seem that this charming village surrounded by wilderness was dying. How unfortunate, and how untrue.

She must have noticed the For Sale signs on several motels. I explained that these aren’t pandemic casualties — the owner of one is retiring, and another relocating for family reasons. But even to me, these sounded like excuses.

Just as we can’t see the buds of wildflowers yet to explode into bloom, no casual visitor can see what Jennifer eventually discovered: Dubois is burgeoning with change. Ripe to reopen.

After lunch, we launched into a busy itinerary. At 3 Spear Ranch, just at the edge of town, Creed Garnick proudly showed us how layers of sheet rock have been cleared away in the main lodge to reveal the ancient logs beneath. The team had just been installing heated flooring beneath a claw-footed bathtub in the latest cabin to be upgraded.

After a few years of soft opening, the ranch is primed to welcome outside groups to an upscale establishment that offers elegant but rustic meeting rooms, as well as so much to do after work, from wilderness hikes to horseback rides to evening dips in a hot spring.

The next morning, Jen stopped by the legendary CM Ranch, which opened more than a century ago and has been offering respite and recreation to many generations of families — just not (yet) to company retreats. (That’s Jen at left, with manager Mollie Sullivan in front of one of the cabins.)

As a resident of nearby Lander, Jen has passed through Dubois often, and stopped for lunch or to let her children use the playground in the park. “I never had any idea how much there was here that you can’t see from the highway,” she told me. We were visiting the gallery of Western art hidden away in an upper floor of the conference facility, the Headwaters Center. She said it would be a great spot for intimate meetings.

Afterwards, we met in the Headwaters lobby with Robert Betts and his sister Lindsey Judd. Robert runs the Cutthroat Fly Shop, which is located in a historic building at the main intersection of town. Lindsey and her husband manage the Absaroka Ranch, which has hosted retreats for nonprofit organizations for many years.

They seemed glad for the chance to see each other, and spoke about collaborating more. Meanwhile, we learned that Robert plans to expand the fly shop this summer, to offer much more gear and to rebrand the business as “booking central,” a one-stop shop where visitors can reserve outdoor adventures such as guided wilderness hikes and float trips.

Next I took Jen to an unmarked building near the west edge of town, which is Never Sweat Lodge. If you hadn’t found it online, you’d never know that behind that red door is a space beautifully fitted out for snowmobile and wedding groups, with lodgepole pine beds, a large kitchen with a huge board table, a bar, a pool table, and 6 bedrooms (with much more lodging available right next door at the Super 8 motel). Owner Logan Vaughan is eager to add remote-work teams to his customer base.

The fortress-like edifice rising next to the Post Office is also not what it appears from the street. Family Dollar is not expanding; Nana’s Bowling Alley and Bakery has been rising behind it. Who knows? Bowling might also have some appeal as a team-building activity.

Personally, I would prefer hiking in the wilderness, as regular readers know. But then, Dubois stands ready to appeal to all sorts of people with many different preferences.

Maybe not surfing, I remarked to Creed Garnick, as he showed us where the swimming hole will fill up at 3 Spear Ranch later this spring, after he drops the dam wall in front of the stream.

“I don’t know,” he replied with a smile. “We’ll look into it.”

© Lois Wingerson, 2021

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Why We Love Forest Bathing in the Snow

So much more gratifying than taking a stroll to the vending machines.

I’m sitting in my warm, bright office under the gable, admiring the view of mountains that look like they’ve been dusted with sugar.

Why would anyone want to live through the winter in Dubois? The question troubled my mind recently, during two days of uninterrupted snowfall and subzero temperatures, but just now the answer seems obvious.

I’m thinking of good friends in Texas whose pipes are frozen today, and I can think of one good reason. We’re prepared to deal with winter here.

In fact, by and large, we enjoy it. That’s why we stay, and we’re hardly the first to do so. For more than a century, some people have chosen to live out their winters in this beautiful, isolated spot.

For many of us, getting outdoors is a priority. That’s why we’re here, in fact, and why it’s such a great location for remote work. Here (as I have said often before) getting away from the desk can be a much more gratifying experience than taking a stroll to the vending machine cubicle.

An article in the Wall Street Journal this week underscores the difference. “For Better Health During the Pandemic, Is Two Hours Outdoors the New 10,000 Steps?” asks the headline.

That’s two hours a week, according to the studies, which for me and most of my neighbors is a laughably small amount of time to enjoy doing what the article calls “forest bathing.”

That would break down to 20 minutes each day except Sunday. Turn back 10 minutes after hitting the trail? Ridiculous.

The article describes a study by a Stanford University researcher who compared the effects of a 45-minute walk on two groups of people. One group went up and down some hills in “nature,” the other walked along a busy but tree-lined thoroughfare.

“There was a massive difference,” in cognitive performance afterward, the researcher said. “It’s not like they were in Yosemite or the wilderness,” but the nature walkers clearly benefited more from their stroll. “A 45-minute walk in nature,” she added, “can make a world of difference to mood, creativity, the ability to use your working memory.”

And how much greater is the benefit when you actually are hiking in wilderness, a short drive from home?

On the very same day I saw that report, I was delighted to learn that the winter outdoor pleasures near our little town of Dubois were the subject of an entire article in Forbes.

Myself, I prefer the more quiet pleasures of trekking on snowshoes, but Wendy Altschuler describes going on a snowmobile tour a bit farther up the pass.

She ends with the moment when her guide stopped at a lookout, suggested turning the machinery off, and asked “Do ya hear that?”

She shook her head no, and he smiled and replied “exactly.”

It’s so easy to get away and forget your troubles, whatever they are, by pondering the flight of an eagle across a vast swath of sky or by following a woodland trail blazed by countless deer and elk.

Is this why a new analysis by the personal finance firm WalletHub ranks Wyoming as the “least sinful” state in the nation? The rankings are based on seven indicators including anger and hatred, jealousy, greed, vanity, and laziness, as judged by all sorts of measures such as health-related habits and crime statistics.

I would rephrase that ranking for our state as “most virtuous.” Virtuous might seem a rather grandiose description for people like me and my neighbors, but to be fair I see little of those vices listed above.

And I would place a lot of the credit for that on “forest bathing.”

Or mountain biking, or rock climbing, or hiking the badlands, or fly fishing. Or, just now, trudging around in the snow all bundled up in sheepskin and wool. Even below zero, with enough layers, I’m not at all cold.

Really.

© Lois Wingerson, 2021

Thanks for reading! You can see every new entry of Living Dubois by email if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

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Want To Advance Your Teamwork? Retreat to Dubois

Cancer survivors, veterans, artists, photographers — why not coders and other techies?

The idea is so obvious I’m annoyed that I didn’t think of it myself.

How can we reach remote workers who would be grateful to know about Dubois, our charming Wyoming village surrounded by wilderness, with world-class Internet service?

How, indeed? Invite remote-work employers to hold their team retreats here.

Duhhhhhh …….

Dubois has all the facilities for these retreats–many different options–and unmatched opportunities for activities to inspire innovative ideas and team-building after the day’s work is done.

The suggestion came from Highest Peak Consulting, a marketing firm that doesn’t actually exist. It was invented as part of a senior-year project by a team of marketing students at the University of Wyoming, whose professor kindly offered me the opportunity to present our challenge to her class.

Four young people put their heads together and came up with a very bright idea.

What’s most irritating is that I already knew what they didn’t: Dubois has been a retreat center for generations. Some groups come back every year, drawn by our very remoteness, our spectacular and varied landscape, and our charming facilities.

Most of these events are sponsored by nonprofits, not businesses. The participants are cancer survivors, veterans with PTSD, songwriters, photographers, dancers, and people in search of spiritual renewal.

Why not also remote-work teams? It is becoming a best business practice to hold remote-team retreats at least once a year, to improve communication and instill collaboration among coworkers who meet most often via email, Slack, and Zoom.

Probably the first “retreat” sponsor in the Dubois area was Charles Moore. The son of a local trader, he returned to Wyoming after graduating law school in Michigan and founded the Ramshorn Ranch and Yellowstone Camp in 1912. Meant to inspire citified boys with the wonders of the West, the ranch sat in a stream-side grove of trees that happens to be visible from my dining room.

Years later, when that burned down, he founded the CM Ranch, a few miles to the east, which has hosted generations of families every summer for welcome escapes from the madness of city life. These aren’t actually retreats; they’re vacations. But the impulse and the outcome are similar.

One of the longest-running retreats in the area is the artists’ workshop run by the Susan K. Black Foundation, held every year in September at the Headwaters Center. After their first workshop in Colorado, they’ve been coming here for 20 years.

The Foundation’s board had planned to travel to a different location every year. But after coming to Dubois, “we enjoyed it so much we never left,” said director of education Wanda Mumm.

What keeps drawing them back? The diversity of the landscape, she said, all the history of the region, the fact that every year she wants to find a different kind of landscape to paint and “it never fails me.”

There’s also the reality that “we need a reasonably priced area for artists who don’t have a lot of money. Dubois allows us to do that.”

Many organizations retreat to guest ranches in the back country. Others, like the Susan K. Black artists, meet at the Headwaters Center and stay at one of the many motels in town. Their annual workshop usually draws about 125 participants, Mumm told me, about 75-80% of whom are repeat attendees.

“They’re always so enthusiastic about coming to the area,” she added. “It’s interesting how even after 20 years, the artists keep looking forward to it.”

For many of them, she said, “It’s kind of like a family reunion.”

Of course, software engineers and IT consultants need to regroup and renew their inspiration and creativity every bit as much as writers, painters, sculptors. The magic in these mountains can work for anyone.

© Lois Wingerson, 2021

Thanks for reading! You can see every new entry of Living Dubois by email if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com. Who’s writing? Check out About Me.

Digital Nomads No More? What This Could Mean for Dubois

Pondering the needs of community for them and us

I am writing from a small chicken farm just outside a distant suburb of Austin, Texas, where we have relocated for a few months (for reasons that have nothing to do with this blog or with Dubois).

It’s great to have free eggs from these free-range chickens. But it was a rude surprise to find that here, only an hour from one of the hottest Internet hubs in the nation, the Internet signal in our guest cottage was so weak that I couldn’t use video on a Zoom call.

I don’t merely miss the flawless Internet back home. I miss hiking trails that don’t resemble eroded garden paths for giants with badly hewn stone staircases, where you can never look around because you must always look down. I miss my routine. I miss our community.

Perhaps this is how you feel as a digital nomad, one of those vagabonds who works on the Internet and travels the world with no fixed home. Given the challenges of the pandemic, social media groups about digital nomads are abuzz with the disadvantages of that lifestyle. Sampling vacation spots and writing posts from a beach chair may sound idyllic, but there are realities that begin to pixelate that rosy image.

Even before the pandemic, travel could be a headache. Besides that and the risk of spotty Internet, there’s the inconvenience of packing and unpacking in new places all the time.

Like a perpetual tourist, you never have sufficient time to connect with the local community. Your only community lives on your screen.

In a blog about the future of remote work, one of the original digital nomads, Pieter Levels, talks poignantly about why he gave up the wandering life. He predicts that when the pandemic is behind us, tech workers who are able to live anywhere “will NOT be fast-traveling from place to place, but instead will relocate longer-term to remote work destinations.”

What could this mean for communities like Dubois, which rely heavily on tourism?

Until now, I’ve focused on attracting digital workers who already have a home base elsewhere, and on whether or not Dubois should establish a co-working space for them. But this week I learned of something that reordered my thoughts.

It was an online conversation between Rowena Hennigan, who comes from Ireland but lives in Spain, and Gonçalo Hall, who is in Portugal. Both are remote-work advocates, and I’ve spoken separately with each of them on LinkedIn about our project to promote remote work in Dubois.

In a recent podcast, Rowena interviews Gonçalo about a government-sponsored plan to build a new community for digital nomads on the remote Portuguese island of Madeira, located west of the coast of Morocco. He says that the island is (like Dubois) “practically unexplored by any digital nomads or remote workers.”.

Gonçalo goes on to describe the same kind of loneliness that Pieter Levels portrays so poignantly. “Lisbon has a lot of digital workers just now,” he says, “but it’s not a community, because it’s just too big. I miss being with people. I miss the sense of belonging…. I think other digital nomads and other remote workers miss it too.”

So he intends to build a whole new village for them on Madeira.

The project will be based in the town of Ponta do Sol, which (quite unlike Dubois) has “no life to the village,” except for the tourists who come to see the sun set over the ocean. Afterwards, he said, they go down to the village looking for something, and find nothing.

“It should be full of people living there,” he said. “… We want them to create co-working spaces and co-living spaces. … It’s not just a project, it’s a sustainable future.”

Dubois already has its own case study of a former digital nomad, in the person of travel blogger Di Minardi. Perhaps a few readers will remember her name, because last spring I spent a great deal of effort searching for a place where she could stay.

Di approached me via LinkedIn a year ago, having seen my posts about Dubois. She proposed to come for the summer and to feature the area on her blog Slight North. Because the blog is targeted to remote workers, I jumped at the offer.

Naturally, we kept in close touch after that. Why, I asked, was she interested in Dubois, of all places? (If you don’t know the town yet, check out the link.) Because it sounded interesting, she said–but that wasn’t the whole story.

For reasons related to the pandemic, Di had to cancel the plan, and we agreed to revisit the idea after this crisis is over. She re-contacted me a few weeks ago, but for a different reason: To ask for a recommendation to a program in environmental writing at the University of Wyoming.

During the long, forced pause of the pandemic, Di told me, she began to realize that she needed a real-life community of mentors who could help her advance her skills, in the direction of a career with more impact than just describing places to visit.

Why that particular program? Because of the curriculum and the instructors, but also because of the location. Di told me that she has wanted to visit Wyoming for a long time, and was eager to experience living here.

As a science writer and now a friend, I was pleased to write the letter.

Of course, I’ll invite Di to come to Dubois once the “new normal” sets in. Then I will also ask her what we could do to make Dubois an attractive home base for her, and for other online workers who have tired of the wandering life. How can we fulfill their desires for their own community, not just for ours?

Our basic needs do align: They want something more than just a place to visit, and we want to be that.

© Lois Wingerson, 2020

Thanks for reading! You can see every new entry of Living Dubois by email if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Who’s writing? Check out About Me.