The Crying Shame That Wasn’t

I thought it was just a sacrifice I had to make for living here

Looking around last Sunday at the Dennison Lodge, as musicians with Jackson Hole Chamber Music sailed through a string quartet with exquisite skill, I noticed all the smiles in the audience and, at times, among the performers.

What I didn’t see was my friend behind me, who was in tears. “It was so compelling,” she said later. “They just drew you in somehow.”

I also cried the first time I heard a performance by this chamber music group several years ago. I wasn’t sad at all — far from it –but tears welled up without warning.

I seldom cry. Usually when I do, it is for a loss — as my aged mother was dying, when I heard a street performer in New York City playing my late father’s instrument, the marimba, and just as I reached home after my last orchestra rehearsal. I’d left early because my shoulder pain became too intense to continue playing.

orchestra concert

The arthritis specialist had predicted that moment, and I knew I would have to give it up. I opened the door, set down my beloved viola, and burst into sobs.

When my mother grew too old to continue performing professionally, she just stopped singing. Living in New York City, she could substitute the pleasure of attending concerts. She found it gratifying simply to appreciate the excellence of a performance, note by note, even if she wasn’t involved.

I had the same compensation after I stopped playing in orchestras and string quartets—until we moved to Dubois. Relinquishing the pleasure of those fine concerts, I thought, was my penance for the privilege of being here in the land of fabulous landscape and Western folk music. Never mind leaving behind the restaurants, the theater, and the legendary New York buzz. The only loss that caused me pain was that of classical music.

Maybe that’s because I was truly born into it. (That’s me at the keyboard there, in my Dad’s gag photo of his baby.)

As neuroscience has shown over and over, music is an ancient form of animal communication, an older form of human language than language itself and one deeply seated in the emotional centers of the brain. People tend to appreciate most the kind of music they have grown up with. Sometimes just listening to that kind of music, I find myself in tears for no reason having to do with events of the day.

The tears sprang upon me suddenly at that performance in Jackson as I began listening to a string quartet by Schubert. I sat in a small performance space, close enough to enjoy every movement the musicians made.  

I wasn’t crying for a loss, but for something reclaimed. I may not be able to join the wonderful teamwork of a string quartet any more, I realized, but I could still experience it vicariously in nearby Jackson. And now, thanks to a group of music-loving friends and a partnership with the Wind River Valley Arts Guild, I can do so right here in Dubois.

Last Sunday, for the second year in a row, the musicians drove over Togwotee Pass on a beautiful autumn day, to offer the first concert of their annual chamber music season here.

Group of people in front of large fireplace
The Dubois Chamber Music committee

For the past two years, we have won grants, advertised, and made arrangements for these performances at the Dennison. It’s the perfect venue for the occasion: So authentically Dubois, so ideal as a performance space for a small musical group.

The Jackson performances are in a classy, glass-fronted building set in the pines. The Dennison has a much different feel — an old lodge built of rough-hewn log walls that support mounts of elk, moose, and mountain lions. The performers find it charming.

They’ve told me they love the splendid drive over the pass from Jackson into a landscape that some of them have never seen before, and they appreciate the excellent acoustics in our rustic space. Clearly, they also appreciate the audience, which is attentive and appreciative in return.

The listeners enjoy sitting so close to the performers that they can watch them catching each others’ glances and smiling in pleasure at their own rapport. The audience can witness the strength in musicians’ arms as they lean into a heavy down-bow, and they can perceive, as one person remarked on a survey given at intermission, that the musicians enjoy the experience as much as they do.

String quartet in the Dennison Lodge in Dubois WY

It was clear from the survey responses that the 50 people who heard them felt the same way I did a few years ago. Unanimously, they told us that they would return for a similar concert next year.

“It made my heart soar,” wrote one member of the audience.

So many others here also share what they love — dance lessons, yoga, songwriting, painting, how to weave wool into blankets. Together we weave a wonderful diversity into a tiny, remote village in the mountains.

Last Sunday, I watched other people enjoying great music together and obviously appreciating each other as they did so. It is a far finer experience than the crowded concert halls in New York with their stiff, formal musicians performing at a distance as you sit surrounded by strangers.

At the Dennison, I leaned back, closed my eyes, reveled in the passing river of tones and harmonies, and pondered how it all travels through the air and then vanishes, this extraordinary gift to our senses. I am glad that at least 50 people here share my particular pleasure, and that they have told us it is well worth our efforts to provide it.

© Lois Wingerson, 2022

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.

My City and My Country, in the Eyes of an Artist

A photo exhibit wonderfully portrays the same contrasts I describe

picture of building reflected in water

Trying to plan some diversions for a house guest from New York, I stopped by the Headwaters Center here in Dubois to ask about the current art exhibit. It’s a show of photographs of Wyoming and New York City, I learned.

What could be more perfect? My visitor has degrees in fine arts and art history, and photography is one of his passions.

He’s always talking about the remarkable light and the changing cloud patterns, and regularly dashes outside to catch yet one more different image of landscape and sky. I sometimes wonder whether he visits me here mostly to take photographs.

On the Friday before July 4, we were alone in the Headwaters gallery. I knew absolutely nothing about the photographer, Amanda Fehring, and had no way to guess what my guest would think of her work.

I found most of the images attractive because I could relate to their subjects–a few of them of New York City, but most of them showing our Western landscapes. On my own, I would have looked at them briefly, in order, and then left. But I had the pleasure of an expert guide.

He kept crossing and re-crossing the room, reviewing and comparing the images, seeing them with the eye of someone who might have taken them and sometimes wished he had.

“Half of these are really fantastic,” he said before we left.

picture of an art gallery

His favorite was a picture she had called “Leaning,” a black and white image of winter-bare trees and water. I would never have noticed it, but it stopped him in his tracks. On second viewing, he said it was perfect.

“Look at the way it’s divided exactly in thirds. There’s the white on the bottom balancing the white sky on the top. And look at the way the angle of the fallen tree exactly divides the image,” he said.

“And just listen to it. There’s that silence you get in winter. Not a sound, except maybe the flowing water.”

I don’t think I’ve ever listened to a photograph before.

picture of mountain range in snow

Another, called “White Red Canyon,” shows a pastel mix of sky over a red-rock formation blanketed in snow, taken from a distance and above. It’s one of those photographs that might actually be a painting instead.

“Amazing,” he said. “You really have to wait for that light. And where was she taking that from? How did that happen?”

Again and again, he invoked the thought of patience and persistence, of the photographer going out in harsh weather, waiting for just the right moment or finding a difficult vantage point, all in search of the right image. It brought to mind some wildlife biologists I have admired for similar attributes.

“This one is really high art,” he said of an image of Lake Como in Italy, pointing out the clarity of the pine needles at the right and the cross-hatching in the water, which he traced to a jet boat that he spied as a white line and dot, barely visible at the base of the hills on the opposite shore.

“She got it so crisp,” he said. “It’s hard to get the saturation right in the shot like that, rather than just fixing it later.”

shadows of people looking at a framed photograph

In contrast, it was the un-clarity of “Wintry Wind River” that he admired, the way in which her artistry caught the frigid vapor that rises above our river on a sub-zero day. Three visual elements caught in one moment, he said: wind, water, and air.

“What’s your favorite?” he asked me after a while.

“I can’t really say,” I replied, “after hearing everything you’ve had to say about them.”

Fair enough, he granted. Looking around quickly, I pointed to the photograph she had called “Noho Stroll.”

framed photograph of woman walking down a street in New York City

“I probably like it just because it reminds me of all those times I used to walk home from work in midtown all the way to Brooklyn,” I said.

“And I like the bright colors.” I pointed out the way the bright blue and red bicycle at the center of the image echoed the walls behind and the blue dress of the Asian woman with the parasol in the center.

“I don’t like that very much,” he remarked, pointing to a yellow traffic cone near the bicycle. But you can’t just rearrange the elements of a street scene, I argued–and then he began to change his mind.

“That matches the yellow of that sign, and there’s the green of those plants. She has all the primary colors. It does have the classic perspective from two points, and the reflection on the side of that delivery van at left really opens up the sky. And also she waited for the right subject.” (He meant the woman with the parasol). “So she has done her job.”

Finally we noticed a curious, postcard-like picture of an strangely shaped building that seemed inconsistent with the others — oddly unfocused and poorly composed.

photograph of entry to Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn

“Where is that?” I asked. He peered closely at the image. Indistinctly, from the banners on either side of the door, he could discern the location.

“Greenwood Cemetery! Of course!”

We both recognized the building instantly. It’s a Brooklyn landmark.

“She was standing back to take the image from the front,” he guessed, “and then those two women in blue walked up with those gowns exactly the color of the sky. So she just took the shot.”

The image is called “Late.” Perhaps few others would get the hidden meaning. It looks like women walking into a church, but actually they’re entering a cemetery. And in fact, perhaps, Fehring herself arrived too late to compose the shot very well.

I had figured Amanda Fehring as some trust-fund kid who lives in Jackson and doesn’t really need to work. But returning home to my computer, I was surprised and pleased to learn that she’s the news director of County 10 in Riverton. She grew up in Montana, met her husband in college there, and they moved to Brooklyn together after college.

It would have been even more of a contrast for him than for me, because he comes from nearby Kinnear, a hamlet near Riverton which has a population of only about 50. They returned to the West, she told me, because “we needed a break from the big city.”

“Photography has always been a big part of my life,” Fehring said. She recalls grabbing her mother’s single-reflex camera at age 8 or 9, and she been taking pictures ever since.

“It’s never been something I tried to make money off of,” she added — and that’s still true. Every photograph in the current exhibition is priced at $175.

The exhibit closes on July 8. If you’re nearby and you like good art, hurry to catch it before it closes. At least half of the photographs are fantastic. An expert told me so.

© Lois Wingerson, 2022

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.comThis only works on laptops, though, not on mobile devices.

Who’s writing? Check out About Me.

February in April — With Benefits

Musings and images about winter, which is slow to yield …

icicles descending from a roof eave

Winter has come just as the calendar ordered up spring. Days are longer but just as cold.

After teasing us for a few days, Mother Nature blessed us with snow here at the base of the mountain, day after day. (I write “blessed” because we need the precipitation to avoid drought.)

We wish this had happened a while ago.

However, this does give me occasion to share some new poems by my dear friend Mary Ellen Honsaker, who enjoys playing with haiku. Wherever you are reading this, and whatever your weather, I hope you enjoy them.


sunrise over snow
bright sun brings its warmth
but wind from the mountain snow
steals summer from us
Pine trees in snowfall
yesterday snow fell
I hoped it would continue
but it was brief lace
Foothills with a little snow
Cold sun lies of warmth
step out and disappointment
pulls your down coat close
Fireplace
Taste of fine whiskey
on a cold night warms the soul
and wakens old dreams


Bighorn sheep grazing
Red cliffs lead sheep down
like the shepherd from the fold
watered, fed, they climb

Bird on a roof

A bird, refugee
in my cold stove this morning,
bursts in, illegal

seeking warmth he came
only to find dark passage
to a strange prison

escape to windows
keeping him from sky beyond,
settled down at last

we spoke, quiet chirps
understanding only voice
that sought to ease fear

caught with soft tossed cloth,
gentle hand our only touch
carried him hidden

out through my porch door
opened folds transfixed our eyes
a moment, then gone

Did he know my heart
would have welcomed the visit
for a bit longer?

Asylum granted
and promised if ever need
wings this way again


Haiku poetry © Mary Ellen Honsaker 2022

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.

Spotted While Hiking: Cables and Cabins

Bright and promising, in place of the old and familiar.

The wind has cleared away the choking haze from the Lone Star fire in Yellowstone, and yesterday we could rejoice once more in a splendid, bracing Indian summer day. Time to get back outdoors.

Tramping around in the woods, I got slightly and happily lost. I generally knew my way, because this is one of my favorite stomping grounds.

A few years ago, these woods were cleared in places by our own Lava Mountain fire. I mourned the “burn,” because it eliminated some of my favorite paths and views. But as a tourist pointed out to me last week, around here you don’t run out of places to hike.

Emerging into the clear, I found this glorious sight: A new aspen grove springing up among the charred trunks.

That’s the way it goes sometimes. The old and familiar is destroyed. Then, a while later, something bright and promising emerges.

Just as I was putting the phone away after snapping this image, I was startled to hear it ring. I haven’t had signal in that area before.

A cellphone call can spoil the contemplations of a hike, but I took this one. In conversation with a friend, I led the dog on up the dirt road toward the creek, where I stumbled on something equally startling.

I’m accustomed to seeing the huge spools of orange cable sitting beside the highway or traveling on the back of a truck. But I’ve never seen those cables lying on the ground in the forest, in one of my go-to hiking spots.

They trailed on up toward the creek, partly buried already.

Look how healthy the trees are right here, only yards from those charred trunks. Among other features of our landscape that were spared, the firefighters worked very hard to save the campgrounds in this forest.

Both locals and national experts about wildfires say that one reason our forests keep burning nearly out of control is because, long ago, the Powers That Be killed off most logging activity. The result was large, dense stands of aged trees that are now vulnerable to disease and fire.

The lumber mill in Dubois closed nearly a half century ago. Our town has hung on by its fingernails ever since, taking advantage of its tourism assets while awaiting a new lifesaving industry that would bring back the year-round jobs.

So I saw those cables-in-waiting as both a sign of loss and a sign of hope. For me personally, it could mean losing another isolated hiking spot close to home. But for our region, it is reason for optimism.

Certainly, good broadband will soon reach much farther up-mountain. There could also be a Wifi hub right next to the pit toilet near the campsites. That would give digital nomads — those full-time Internet workers who haven’t yet decided to settle down — the opportunity to hang out for a while in our wilderness, while discovering the joys of the Wind River region.

Here’s another go-to hiking spot that delivered a surprise, back in the summer. This is a valley where the dog and I love to hike, also not far from home. When I first saw the view you see in the image at left, I gave a sigh at the sight of those ridges pointing off toward the far distance, on either side of that empty plain.


To judge from the picture on the right, others have had the same reaction. The circles are new cabins. The dirt roads that lead to them must be pretty rutted right now, but I’m sure that will change. I’m also fairly sure these people will soon be served by another orange cable–if they aren’t already.

Do they already know, or will they soon discover the fact? This is an ideal place to pursue what is now called “remote work” in a truly remote location.

Last week, some plein air painters from the annual Susan K. Black Foundation workshop set up on our back porch. It looked like they were either peering through the smoky haze or just trying to imagine what lay beyond, as they worked to capture the image of those mountains on canvas.

Meanwhile, an instructor used our broadband to live-stream a painting demonstration for artists elsewhere who had opted out of traveling to the workshop this year, because of COVID.

The Foundation has been holding workshops here every summer for 20 years, one member told me, because they love the scenery, the serenity, and the down-to-earth people.

She nailed it. This year, they also appreciate the terrific broadband, out here in the wild at the base of the mountains.

© 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.












Masterworks by Dubois’ Lesser-Known Artists

Danita Sayers bustles about the rooms of the Dennison Lodge, tacking treasures to the folding screens and carefully placing the pieces of artfully painted furniture.

“We paint on whatever we can find to paint on,” she says, as I pause to admire the portrait of a horse standing in a swale. It has greatly elevated  the status of an ordinary TV tray the artist found at the Opportunity Shop.

A giant glider, a sliding bench made from horseshoes and wagon wheels, dominates the room. It’s the creation of a 6th grader.

Danita has spent the month transporting these artworks and displaying them statewide, bringing back the honors and the ribbons that prove their worth. Of 40 pieces submitted to the State Art Symposium this year, 21 won awards.

The Governor’s wife picked 2 from our little school for the First Lady’s Choice Awards. This year, Danita told me, the Dubois school got Congressional Artistic Discovery awards in both the 2D and 3D categories, and one was for a photograph, which is rare. These will go on tour for a year, and then hang in a gallery in Cheyenne.

Now she’s putting them on display, 166 artworks chosen by herself and her pupils (except for those award winners that have been held back elsewhere), during the annual school art show.

The owner of a local curio shop is helping out, while scoping the show for items she might be able to purchase resell in her shop. In other years, Danita says, art dealers and art professors have come from far away to look for acquisitions at this show.

The annual Dubois K-12 Youth Art Show has gone on for decades. This was the first time I saw it–someone who, like most parents, once thought her own young children were truly exceptional artists. What most takes my breath away here are the works by children who are just learning to read.

Dubois has more than its fair share of top-ranked artists and photographers, but its youngest don’t get much publicity and have no commercial websites. Danita, who is the art teacher in our school, bursts with pride in her students and the passion to share how special they are.

The student who created this sculpture was blind, she tells me. Would I believe that?

This peacock was the seventh-grade artist’s first oil painting. “She doesn’t even know it’s good,” Danita says with a smile, and repeats herself.

Slowly, I come to realize why so many locals like to point out the works by their favorite school-aged artists at the national art show that comes to the Headwaters in mid-summer.

These artists are growing up in one of the most remote towns in the lower 48. Some of them go home to ranch chores after school. and think the biggest event of the year is branding the calves.  The  parents are contractors and bank clerks and restaurant owners — precious few with a strong history in the liberal arts. Their home town is a place where kids waste time on a lazy summer Sunday by tooling around the main street on their bikes doing wheelies.

Unlike my children’s classmates three decades ago in New York City, some of these artists may find the thought of even visiting a city a bit frightening. Many have ridden a horse, shot a gun, been to a rodeo, and camped out overnight, but very few if any have seen a renowned painting by a great artist in an art museum.

What they do see every day is the mountain landscape and the wildlife. Instead of visiting galleries, they go on camping trips with botanists to study wildflowers.

In the primary and middle school my children attended, a short distance from the Brooklyn Bridge, the distinctions between the tough guys, the future CEOs, and the arty kids were clearly defined.

Walking past these panels, it is clear that it’s not an issue. Everyone does art, and many do it exceedingly well.

“A lot of our best artists are ranch kids, wrestling club guys,” Danita says.  She points across the room to a landscape. “The guy who made that painting was in wrestling and football. He won a blue ribbon [for the painting], but he also excels in sports.”

My guess is he knows the terrain quite well because he probably goes hunting up there in the fall.

As Danita puts it, at this school art is not placed in a “gentle” category alone. The school mascot is a ram. Clearly they can paint them as well as they can butt helmets on the field.

© Lois Wingerson, 2019

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

Skip Ewing Gets to the Heart of Dubois

The famous song writer could live anywhere. He moved here.

What’s the force behind the magnet that draws people to Dubois and holds them here?

It’s no challenge to capture part of it:  the spectacular wilderness landscape. Photographers capture that all the time, and scenes from this valley are  all over Instagram. Another pull is the history, from the tectonic collisions to Indians and cowboys and Butch Cassidy, from mountain men to homesteaders and lumberjacks.

But there’s one special pull which is nearly impossible to describe. You have to feel it for yourself. Tourists responding to a survey last year said they liked the people, and called Dubois “friendly.” A hiking buddy told me that she retired to Dubois because the people here had grabbed her and held her close.

Skip Ewing, the country singer and songwriter, calls it the “heart.” He should know, because the heart is his business, and his passion.

Skip says he felt that tug most strongly in 2004, during his benefit concert for the new medical clinic. He decided to auction off a shirt that cowboy Ty Murray was wearing when he won a rodeo championship. Skip suggested that people in the audience might pool their bids and donate the shirt to the clinic, rather than one lucky bidder taking it home for bragging rights.

rodeo shirt
Ty Murray’s shirt
hanging in the clinic.

Together, for no personal reward, people gave away $5,000 for the shirt to benefit the community. It now hangs in a frame in the clinic.

“That gave me a sense for the kind of heart, the generosity of people here,” he said. “That’s the same kind of heart Dubois had when I first came here.”

“If we can be part of that heart,” he added, “I’m about that.”

So Skip and his partner, photographer Linda Gordon, have settled down in Dubois.   They’re in a position to live anywhere in the world they want to, Skip told me. And they’re here.

Skip doesn’t throw his credentials around (which wouldn’t gain him many fans here, anyway). But they’re impressive: Five of Skip Ewing’s country love songs have placed in the top 20s on the country-music charts. In 2000, he was named Songwriter of the year by Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI), and he’s won the Country Music Association Triple Play Award for three number 1 songs within a year.

They’re the kind of love songs that somehow grab you where it hurts a bit, like “Love, Me” and “Little Houses.” (The announcers wouldn’t credit Skip, the songwriter, of course. They’d mention the singers, names like Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson, Conway Twitty, Merle Haggard, Kenny Chesney, and Reba McIntyre. )

I ran into Skip and Linda at the Perch coffee shop sometime around Thanksgiving. He looked vaguely familiar, and I was puzzled to see him chatting with the locals as if he knew them (which he did). I felt I ought to recognize him, but I didn’t (it’s my failing to have a poor memory for faces as well as names). Someone introduced him as Skip Ewing and, city girl though I used to be, at least I recalled his name.

Probably about a decade ago, I had heard Skip at a concert in the back room at the Rustic Pine after one of his retreats for song-writers. But I had no idea that his was the creative mind behind some of the songs I liked best, after I began listening to country music on the radio.

The workshops (he called them “Horse and Writer” retreats) brought would-be songwriters to the Lazy L&B Ranch up East Fork, which he first visited when he wanted to give his five-year-old daughter a good place to ride horses. They went on for about a decade. I never saw Skip after that one concert, but he had been coming back to Dubois, whether there were retreats or not.

Skip Ewing and Linda Gordon

As the child in a military family and then a country singer, Skip Ewing has traveled widely. Quite a while ago, he sold his home in Nashville. He and Linda had multiple homes and were traveling a lot when Linda got a job offer that made them consider settling down somewhere.

They asked themselves whether that was what they really wanted. Skip had this dream that involved horses, which he isn’t ready to talk about yet. Eventually, they decided to settle here.

Grandson of a thoroughbred rancher, Skip learned to love horses as much as he loved country music. “The more time I spend on horses, he says, “the happier I am.” He hints that horses will have an important part in the next phase of his life’s work, but for the moment he intends to use his music to help the town.

Just after I ran into Skip and Linda at the Perch, they began shooting the first of five videos about Dubois that he has posted on Facebook. They are long, leisurely conversations with people in the town.

“This is Dubois, Wyoming, my home town now. I love it here,” he opens in the first one. “I love it here!”

From Skip’s first Dubois video

He was already booked for his early December Christmas concert at the Dennison Lodge, which attracted fans from as far away as Texas, Utah, Louisiana, and California. His goal seems to be not so much self-promotion as planting firm roots in this new ground.

Skip told me that, when he first visited Dubois, he knew he’d come to the right place almost as soon as the plane landed. This brought echoes of one my Skip Ewing favorites: “You Had Me From Hello.”

“… Your smile just captured me.
You were in my future far as I could see
And I don’t know how it happened but it happens still.
You ask me if I love you, if I always will.

Well, you had me from hello…”

© Lois Wingerson, 2019

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.


An Exhilarating Farewell to Summer

Live. Jam. Funk. Free. This looked promising.

PerfectFallDayPark“I’m so sad to see the end of summer,” friends will say, as the fields turn to gold and the air grows crisp. Not I.

The smoke has cleared. Most of the tourists are gone. The skies are blue and the days are warm.

September is the most wonderful time in Dubois, and I do not dread the end of summer. I begin to think of the brilliant beauties of winter.

Last Friday, I was musing about how so many others elsewhere would be spending their Labor Day weekends: Dressing light on account of the humid heat, getting out the suits and shovels for a trip to a beach somewhere that would deposit sticky sand in every crevice, packing food to keep the ants out of the picnic. Here in Dubois, we added another layer to the T-shirts to prepare for the cool of evening and headed off for Coyote Blue, where Alli and Noah had set out a gift for the entire town in the back yard of their coffee shop.

SneakyPetePosterThe text and look-and-feel of their poster said it all: Live. Jam. Funk. (Free.) Nothing like our usual laid-back country music band strumming away as a few old-timers shuffle around the dance floor doing the two-step. This looked promising.

We arrived right on time, which of course is not the coolest time to arrive. Sneaky Pete and the Secret Weapons were still warming up on the platform behind the coffee shop, as people slowly began to filter in across the blocked-off side street.

It brought to mind our annual block party in Brooklyn, one of the few things I miss about the city I’ve left behind. There’s something special about reveling to music outdoors on the street with your neighbors, who aren’t the people you usually choose to get down with on a weekend evening. You never know who will turn up. It felt like that.

We nursed our beers and watched the band or gazed across the highway at the foothills of Whiskey Basin, talking about not much as the shadows lengthened. Small children were chasing each other around on the lawn behind the building. Parents felt no urgent need to be vigilant.

EarlyCrowdAllie and Noah were briskly selling brisket from a food van at the back, which quickly ran out — but nobody seemed to care. There was plenty of the crucial element: beer.

Somehow the funky jazz enhanced our wistful sense of general goodwill as we savored the slow decline of a beautiful thing–the day, the summer, the season.

Then the sun went down, and the feeling changed. Many older folks got chilly and went home. Many younger ones finished their workdays or the left the bar and dropped by to check out the scene. The canopy of strip lights went on. And as it got darker, the band got hotter.

Eventually, almost nobody could resist the growling bass line and the beat. This band was really remarkably good. The dance floor filled to capacity and spilled over onto the gravel and the lawn. It seemed that every body–young, old, inbetween, or small enough to carry–was literally moved by the music.

Dancing1For a brief few hours, we all shared a remarkable sense widespread exhilaration. This is not something I’ve experienced before in Dubois. I may witness others’ joy in beauty, often a sense of relaxation or the peace of rest after hard work, the pleasure of a good, hard hike–but never anything quite like this. Not here.

For all that everyone did a year ago to make an even bigger thing of the total eclipse in our tiny town, this event was more memorable. Alli told me that she and Noah decided to create the evening simply to celebrate the end of a summer of hard work. She added that they intend to do it again next year.

I heard others that evening express my feeling that we must find ways to offer more small free outdoor dance events that bring out all ages and all tastes, and give us us a chance to enjoy a collective sense of good-natured abandon. The few tourists who stopped by seemed to have a good time also.

The Irish poet Seamus O’Sullivan captured the feeling:

A piper in the streets today
Set up, and tuned, and started to play,
And away, away, away on the tide
Of his music we started; on every side
Doors and windows were opened wide,
And men left down their work and came,
And women with petticoats coloured like flame.
And little bare feet that were blue with cold,
Went dancing back to the age of gold,
And all the world went gay, went gay,
For half an hour in the street today.

The tide of the music. Let’s find a way to do this again. And often. Please.

© 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.

On Quilts, and the Respect They Deserve

Why it isn’t enough to call them art.

IMG_1367Entering the annual quilt show at the Headwaters, I used to pick up my ballot and dutifully try to choose my favorite. But I’ve given up on that.

Decide which I find to be most lovely or finely crafted? It’s impossible. Besides, who am I to judge?

The show crowds the large room at the Headwaters with masterworks of stitchery —  an overwhelming display of artistry and skill.

IMG_1362 (1)The sponsors of the show, and creators of many of the quilts, are the good women of the Never Sweat Quilt Guild. Making one probably doesn’t entail sweat, but it is certainly labor.

It requires a special space, a large collection of fabric, many special threads, and a special kind of creativity and discernment. Not to mention lots and lots of time.

I’ve spoken to some quilters who were actually afraid to start.

I file my digital pictures of quilts in the folder on my laptop named “Art.” From my first visit to the show, when I saw the magnificent display of quilts by artist Mackie d’Arge and her mother, I considered these creations to be works of art, and thus well deserving of the price tags (on those available for purchase).

But I’ve recently decided that art isn’t really what we’re buying in a quilt — nor is it all of their value. Like many quilters, Mackie and her mother created them largely for the pleasure of working together, not in order to make a few extra bucks.

BlueTorontoQuiltMy husband bought this simple blue patchwork as a gift for me during our first year of marriage, knowing I wanted a quilt. It’s faded and rumpled, and the edges are frayed. I believe he paid $10 for it.

For years I used it casually, until I noticed the meticulous, even parallelograms hand-stitched across the machine-joined patchwork. Someone actually put a lot of effort into it. Now I treat it with more respect.

Quilt_BlanketsThe quilt on the guest bed came from a tag sale at our former church in Brooklyn, where I was working as a setup volunteer and therefore entitled to purchase items ahead of the sale. I had wanted a larger, finer quilt for our guest bed in Dubois.

“What do you think this is worth?” I asked the woman in charge.

She shrugged. “Oh, I don’t know. Ten dollars?”

Umbrella Girls QuiltSome years later, a friend of mine who is a quilter pointed out what I and my fellow parishioner never noticed in our ignorance: It is entirely hand-stitched. (I sent a substantial additional donation to the Brooklyn church.)

I used to think that the simple blue patchwork quilt was the first one I ever owned. I had completely forgotten about these little girls, who sat folded and zipped inside a plastic bag in my linen closet in Brooklyn all the years we lived there. I found the quilt again when we packed to move to Wyoming.

My grandmother, and heaven knows how many friends in her small Mennonite village, pieced it together, and she gave it to my parents when I was born. Of course it later came down to me, being mine in the first place.

After hanging this charming quilt in our Dubois house, I began to view the two blue quilts in my guest room differently. They aren’t just bed coverings. They are stories to me now. And I wonder about the other stories behind them that I will never know.

IMG_1361At the quilt show, I’ve begun to inquire about some of the quilts that are marked “NFS” (not for sale). Are they being reserved for someone in particular?

There is value in the skill and the artistry of a quilt, indeed. But what the buyer also gains is a piece of history, often unknown, and a semblance of family devotion. That was what I wanted as a young bride — not realizing I already had it.

What’s in the beauty of a quilt? I think of Carol, working out her grief by making quilts from her late husband’s shirts. Or of Helen, who makes a different one for each of her grandchildren, piecing together her joy. And of my own grandmother, patiently stitching away as she hoped for me.

© 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.

Of Music, Longing, and Mysteries

Nostalgia for things never experienced?

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.

%d bloggers like this: