Wishes Come True: New Merchants in Dubois

Springing up like wild flowers, and just as beautiful.

WRArtisans3For a long time I have been hoping to see two new kinds of shops in town, and here they are. Maybe this came about because I finally got around to reading a Harry Potter book, and some magic rubbed off. (Or maybe it’s not about me at all.)

Last evening, the doors opened on the first new shop in the complex built on the site of the old Mercantile, which was destroyed in a famous dead-of-winter fire in late December 2014. The new business is an outgrowth of Sandy Frericks’ charming Christmas shop, Yeeha! Studio, which operated out of the old drugstore last November and December.

SandysShop4As I told Sandy yesterday, this answers my dream that Dubois would have what I’ve seen in so many other small towns on my road trips: A shop that features art and craft items by local designers.

Hey, presto! Wind River Artisans and Sky Photography now proudly faces onto our main street. (More, I hear, are coming next month.)

At least as important, but not so visible, is Scarecrow Bike & Key, operating out of a lean-to on the side of the hardware store at the back of the Mercantile site. This great idea bubbled up out of a couple of Bud Lights at the Rustic Tavern one day last winter, when Chris Wright told his buddy John McPhail that he had always wanted to open a bike shop in town.

100_0838As the official host for the many cyclists who spend a night at St. Thomas church while passing through town on cross-country bike treks, John quickly saw potential in the idea.

“Do you know how many cyclists came through town last summer?” he replied. (At least 375, in fact, who stayed at the church house. Who knows how many came through without stopping or camped out at the KOA?)

“Two weeks later,” Chris told me, “we were ordering parts.”

BikeShop 2Like two famous Wright brothers a century ago, Chris Wright was attracted to mechanics early in life. Growing up in a small California town, he and his friends built bikes from trash parts left in alleys. They saw to it that no kid in town was without a bike.

After working as a diesel mechanic in high school and at oil fields after graduation, he decided to become a fly fishing guide. Chris has worked at guest lodges near Dubois for the past four years.

John McPhail, who also enjoys making broken things work, has hoped for years to open a locksmith shop. He had seen an ad in the Roundup that said simply, “Don’t call me any more,” put there by a local man who wanted to close a locksmith shop he had been running out of his garage. John did call him, snapped up the equipment, and the other half of Scarecrow Bike & Key fell into place.

BikeShop4The bike shop opened in early May. John said they made 11¢ on the first day. (I didn’t ask what on earth had that price tag.) Not many touring cyclists reach Dubois in mud-and-slush season, and the startup was scary. But by the third week, he told me, “the floodgates opened.” (I don’t think he intended a metaphor; the actual snowmelt floods in Dubois didn’t begin until a few weeks after that.)

“We got bike after bike that had sat in a garage for ten years,” John said. “People would say, I just never wanted to take it all the way to Lander.”

BikeShop3Chris pointed out a vintage red-and-yellow model sitting outside the shop, waiting to be picked up. Its owner got it as a present for her ninth birthday. She wanted it tuned up so she could ride it again — at the age of 75.

What will happen to the business when the cycle tours end in the fall? Bicycles are always breaking, John responded calmly.

“That’s one good thing about bicycles,” Chris had said a few days earlier. “They are always repairable. And they always make you smile.”

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
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.

In Remote Dubois, a Quiet Revolution

The new economic base, foreseen 25 years ago: clean, quiet, almost hidden.

RodeoGrounds4This is a story of loss, and the signs of renewal.

In the late 1980s, the last sawmill in Dubois closed, plunging the town into economic crisis. (At left, the site as it looks today.)

Possibly that same year–I’ve lost track of the exact date–we came with our toddler son to a dude ranch near Dubois, to enjoy a getaway from two stressful jobs in the big city.

That was back when Bernard and Leota Didier owned the Lazy L&B, two owners and most of a lifetime ago.

LazyL&BHorses

I was awestruck by vistas I had never imagined, let alone seen. I focused on trying to stay mounted on my horse, having never ridden before, while the wranglers loped easily over the endless range ahead.

A tourist enjoying a brief getaway, I had no idea about what was happening in the town nearby. Nor, at the time, did I care.

Dubois had thrived on logging since the turn of the last century, and the tie hacks hewed railroad ties for the transport network that was uniting the country (although the railroad itself never came near Dubois). Now, the industry had abandoned the town, due to a change in logging policy at the US Forest Service and economic realities that eroded its profit.

LazyLB_editedDubois quickly set about trying to re-invent itself. The town sponsored several community projects, hiring consultants who led self-examinations and assessments of the town’s potential.

My favorite assessment was a freelance project. In 1992–exactly a quarter-century ago–an economics professor named John Murdock, who had retired to Dubois, completed an independent analysis of how the town might recover from its devastating loss.

He considered the potential of minerals, oil, and gas (virtually none in that region) and small manufacturing (nil, because of the distance to market).

Murdock concluded that the town’s only hope for economic revival was two sources who would arrive bringing their own income: (1) retirees  and (2) people who would work here remotely, using the Internet.

The Internet didn’t yet really exist.  This was two years before the creation of the World Wide Web Consortium that would set international standards so that computers on different systems could share information.

CemeteryView1_042917

Dubois waited. Retirees always arrived, but predictably, some would leave to be closer to family and others due to failing health.

In the meantime, its lifeline was tourism. The goal has been to attract people like us who wanted a brief escape from “civilization,” and to entice part of the horde bound for Yellowstone to stop here long enough to experience Dubois’ unique, enchanting qualities.

The problem with tourism (which is now the second largest industry in Wyoming) is that it can’t form the basis of a year-round economy in a location like Dubois. In the periods between the snow and the summer, the revenue stops.

We were far away as all this was evolving, and I was experiencing industrial challenges of my own, as publishing began to shift to the Internet. I had to learn how to code content for CD-ROMs meant to be read on a computer. Then I was hired to manage a “webzine” about science. I ran an online news service, and had to learn more coding. Later, I helped create a search engine.

My team was based in New York and London. We communicated by email and videoconference. At my last firm, my boss was based in Denver, with my coworkers in Baltimore, Boston, and San Francisco.

The writing was on the wall–as was a poster of the image below, which I had taken years earlier at the Lazy L&B and moved from office to office. Sometimes, looking up from the screen, I would rest my thoughts on Dubois.

Luckily, my last employer was unconcerned about where I was located while I worked. Our children grew up and left, as they do. Parents aged and passed away. Eventually, when the time was right for us, Dubois called us back.

LazyLBDrawAs we returned, the old sawmill site was being transformed. The EPA now cites it as a case study of environmental remediation.

Cleaned up with help from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, the location now houses a medical clinic, a fitness center, and an assisted living facility. A fishing pond for children should be completed soon.

In my absence, Dubois had been laying the tracks for a new kind of transcontinental network: high-speed Internet. I quickly learned that it was more reliable in Dubois than in the city, where I often had to close my laptop and reboot in a library or cafe when my signal suddenly went down.

When we first moved to Dubois, I met a few other individuals who were making their living here on the Internet. Gradually I met others, but I don’t know them all by any means.

In the past few weeks alone, during the current spring thaw, I have encountered several other telecommuters–a computer coder, a software architect, and a marketing expert–who have newly relocated to the area. All of them chose Dubois in order to enjoy Nature and solitude while earning a good living at their keyboards. Two of them have children they don’t want to raise anywhere near a city.

DTECoils2The economy that Murdock foresaw 25 years ago is in its birth pangs at this very moment. According to a recent report in Forbes, about 40% of employees are now working “remotely” most or all of the time. About 80-90% of employees surveyed say they would like to work from home.

On Twitter, I’ve discovered a thriving separate industry of “remote workers” complete with vendors of supplies and services, support networks, employment recruiters, and professional conferences. A recent article on a jobs site for telecommuters predicts that the new industry will boost employment in rural areas.

Some high-skilled technology workers who work as consultants describe themselves as “digital nomads.” They migrate from one exotic location to another, wherever there is good broadband, enjoying a combination of travel and work as their day-to-day lifestyle. There are travel agents who specialize in serving this market.

The cost of commercial real estate, combined with the exploding cost of living in major cities and long commute times to affordable areas, makes it Downtown3almost impractical to insist that employees who work largely online must come in to an office–especially if the best candidate for an online job doesn’t live anywhere nearby.

Many employees want to live in urban areas anyway. But surely some want to be in a place like Dubois, for exactly the reasons we love it: It’s small, it’s isolated, it’s placid.

The new year-round economic base of Dubois is emerging slowly, one by one and two by two. Like Dubois itself, it is clean, quiet, and tucked away in the wilderness.

Save

Save

Save

Save

© Lois Wingerson, 2017

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.

Save

Dubois Donkey Dunkers Kick Ass (or Vice Versa)

Not so easy to ride bareback holding a basketball

DonkeyBasketball6“Seriously? You only had to go 10 more feet for a layup!”

The donkey and its rider had been plodding, oh-so-slowly, toward the basket. No donkey will run unless it wants to. The rider shot, but fell short.

Announcer Joe Brandl, beloved ex-scoutmaster and Naked-but-Unafraid wilderness survival expert, kept up a steady stream of banter from the sidelines (I don’t know how he did it!), while sometimes batting back a loose basketball.

What do you do for fun in April, when town is quiet and the snow flurries just don’t stop? You crowd the school gym and watch bareback donkey basketball, of course. (For charity, of course.)

Donkey basketball — that’s right, basketball with players mounted on donkeys — is the occasional fund-raising event for Needs of Dubois (NOD), which helps residents who need emergency assistance in times of trouble. This week, NOD also helped residents who needed a good laugh, and there were plenty of them (both residents and laughs).

DonkeyBasketball2“That donkey has longer legs than you do!” Joe calls out to someone on the students’ team. “How you gonna get on?”  The donkey stands patiently, thank heaven, for what seems an eternity, as she tries to jump on its back. A referee walks over and gives a boost. The student blushes. The first game begins.

There are 3 rounds in this tournament: wilderness program participants versus students, students against teachers, teachers against phone company employees.

The rules, as posted on the NOD website, sound reasonable but are entirely ridiculous.

Players must be riding their donkeys, both feet off the ground on both sides, to shoot baskets or play defense. Players are not allowed to go anywhere on the court without their donkey, but there is no out-of-bounds for donkeys. (It seemed the donkeys knew this rule.)

DonkeyBasketball1You may dismount to catch a loose ball, but you must always take the donkey with you, keeping a hand on a rein, and you must return the ball and re-mount the donkey within 15 seconds or get a penalty.

Have you tried to hurry a donkey? The term “chasing the ball” takes on a whole new context. Not understanding this rule of the game, any donkey dragged after a loose ball seems to be working for the other team.

“Move it!” Joe shouts. “Move it! Clearly, you’re no mule whisperer.”

Bucking broncos we’re used to. But bucking donkeys? Gimme a break. The ass brays,  kicks and rumbles, and throws the player. (Ouch! That’s a gym floor, not rodeo dirt.) The action stops. The mule-buster (typical!) smiles and remounts. We hoot and cheer.

“Meanwhile,” Joe says from the sidelines, “we’re still playing basketball ….”

Until you’ve watched it, you can’t begin to understand how difficult it must be to steer a donkey, bareback, while trying to hold onto a basketball. At one point in the third round, it seems that all of the players are off their mounts, wandering around the court like lost souls. One player regains his mount, and the donkey takes off like a shot — in the wrong direction.

“Complete control,” Joe drawls. “You got this. Thanks for the entertainment.”

Actually there were plenty of scores — nothing in the high double-figures, as in any ordinary basketball game, but enough to keep up the pace. Of course there was a wide range in skill sets, from old-time wranglers to newcomers just relocated West. Adults played better than kids. Teacher Jessica was the slam-dunk champion. Center Craig kept a smile throughout (he had the easy part, always standing on both feet). Hailey looked like she was being a good sport, focused on not falling off.

DonkeyBasketball3The school-teacher Donkey Kongs kicked the phone-company DTE Assets 14-8 in a last-minute surge, to win the championship.

In case you’re wondering about the floor, the donkeys were wearing boots and this event took place near the end of the school year, just before the floor gets refinished.

Although the half-time clowns played around with the idea that something other than a ball might drop, the floor stayed remarkably clean.

© Lois Wingerson, 2017

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.

Time Travel: Jolted Back to Dubois, 1911

Two PDFs in my Inbox are a trip to the Old West

As a mother, I can’t help wondering how Mr. and Mrs. Leslie of Madison, Wisconsin, felt in 1911, when their 20-year-old daughter Elsie decided to take a job teaching school in a small village in northwest Wyoming. My own grandmother did much the same in 1919 when she moved from Michigan to Scottsbluff, Nebraska. She took along my beloved Aunt Luella, who got her teaching certificate in Laramie and took her first job at a sod-roofed schoolhouse on a ranch somewhere in the wilds of Wyoming.

Thus my own real experience connects weirdly to a history of Dubois that seems, from this week’s new perspective, rather fantastic.

Dubois1913The journey to Dubois in 1911 “must have seemed like a trip to the end of the world,” wrote the late Dubois artist Mary Back, in her 1955 brief biography of Elsie. The new schoolteacher traveled by train to Lander, then by a one-horse buckboard stagecoach to Fort Washakie, changed to another buckboard stage that took her (and the mail) to a ranch on the Wind River where she spent the night.

The next morning, she took a third stagecoach “clear to Dubois.” The driver was a man named Jim Locke. In that alien landscape, Jim must have been quite a spectacle himself: his face “long and tanned to a high color from the wind and hard weather…. a hooked nose and small blue eyes which sparkle like fire and bore like an auger,” as described by Frederick Studebaker Fish, in his account of a 1913 hunting trip near Dubois. (The guide for that trip was Elsie’s soon-to-be husband, Floyd Stalnaker.)

Jim had “a reputation of being a cranky old fool when sober, but rather genial when well seasoned with whisky,” Fish wrote, adding that “his gaze is startling until one becomes accustomed to it.” You wonder whether Jim was sober or seasoned when Elsie met him.

At the time Elsie arrived, Dubois was “a little straggling string of log houses” (as Mary Back put it), with about 60 inhabitants, two stores including Welty’s (still in operation), a hotel, a bank, and St. Thomas Church (still very active). Elsie took up rooms with the Weltys and, schooled with a certificate in home economics from the Stout Institute in Menominee, Wisconsin, began teaching nine pupils.

Weltys CaveShe was a school teacher without a school: Classes were held in the saloon dance hall, up against the cave across from Welty’s Store. The cave was used for wine storage and as a jail. (The cave entrance is near the center of this photo, with the saloon at far left, which is also still in operation.) Elsie had to clear away the classroom any time the saloon held a dance.

“No one, either students or parents, seemed to think school was very important,” Back wrote. “There was often something else to be done, rounding up cattle, hunting or fishing, helping mother.” There were two other schools nearby, she said, one of them taught by a former Dubois student despite “irregular attendance at Dubois [and] lack of educational credits.”

Elsie taught for less than a year, and never taught again. She met rancher and hunting guide Floyd Stalnaker, married him in December, and in due course had their first child. Mary Allison’s Dubois Area History says she brought her sister to Dubois to take over the class. (Again, I wonder how her parents felt, and think of my own Aunt Luella, who was also lured out west by her older sister, also a schoolteacher.)

Although she quickly became a ranch wife and busy mother, Elsie kept up a strong interest in the Dubois school, serving on the school board for many years. In 1939, when she joined the board, the students ate lunch in the Legion Hall, Back wrote, where there was no water, no sewer, and no stove. The children were kept warm with a wood-burning heater, and a wood-burning cookstove was put in for the lunches. “Wood had to be split and carried in, water had to be carried in buckets, dish-water carried out in buckets.”

Before that, Bernice Welty had been making lunches at home, carrying them in baskets to the school along with the dishes, serving the 25 children at their desks, and then carrying the dirty dishes home again.

TheStoneHotelI’ve been reading this week about Elsie and Floyd’s world, thanks to two unexpected gifts that dropped into my Inbox from their great-granddaughter, Gabby Cook. She was kind enough to scan and send me Mary Back’s typewritten biography, as well as the century-old account of a hunting trip that Floyd guided, as told in great detail by Fish.

Thus, in the middle of a busy, mundane week, I was thrust suddenly and vividly back into Dubois of a century ago, a place so like the old Westerns that it gave me the dizzying feeling of being in reality and unreality at once.

Fish describes a visit to that saloon next to the cave during his first evening in Dubois:

“The place was crowded with cow punchers and hangers-on. Everyone seemed to be having a good time for the liquid was flowing fast…One old man kept cussing at the proprietor much to the enjoyment of his drunken friends who were anxious for a fight. It did not take long to start the fracas. Slim, the proprietor, finally lost his temper and came around from behind the bar to throw the offender out. … As soon as they were parted a few hot words were exchanged and then it was decided that the drinks were on the house.”

A dance was on for later that evening, but Fish and friends decided to leave before it started. The next morning, they learned that they had missed “a terrible shooting that almost took place … over the affections of a fair lady.”

The hunters went out shortly after their elk, and for one night stayed at the Stalnaker ranch.

“Floyd has a comfortable and cosy home,” Fish wrote, “a very pretty and exceedingly nice wife and a six month old son.”

“After our delicious meal,” he went on, “Mrs. Stalnaker played the piano. Hers is the third to be bought in this vicinity so it is a very great treasure.” Later that evening, two visitors came by, one of them “a rather odd looking person who put on the appearance of being very important and business-like. He immediately called Mr. Stalnaker into another room and spent several hours in earnest and serious conversation. I afterwards learned that he … spends most of his leisure moments bothering his neighbors with trivial matters of little or no importance.”

StalnakerRanchThe hunting party had to sleep outdoors next to the shed, because the Stalnakers took in lodgers and the rooms were all occupied. (Mary Allison wrote that Elsie was a great housekeeper who often ironed her lodgers’ clothing, if they were bachelors.)

“It was a beautiful cold, starlight night,” Fish wrote, “so sleeping out was much more appealing than in a stuffy room.” This was October. Fish had changed his tune by the next morning, after a bad night during which his friend stole all the blankets.

But that didn’t sour his enthusiasm for the Wind River Valley. An heir to the Studebaker fortune, he was one of those who fell in love with Dubois during a visit, and later returned to live here. He became one of the biggest ranchers in the area.

DuboisMap_StalnakerFloyd worked for many years as a guide and ranch manager. Elsie and Floyd survived the great flood of 1919 despite great losses, briefly became mail carriers (Elsie also drove the Jeep), and then purchased the drug store, which they operated until after World War 2. Their son, Dean, was Gabby’s grandfather. Floyd was working as a carpenter in Riverton when he died of a heart attack in 1948. Elsie died in 1965, ten years after Mary Back wrote her biography.

Many of the town streets in Dubois bear the names of old families. I will probably never again pass the street that leads to the Headwaters and the Visitor Center without smiling inwardly, as I think of the Stalnakers whose name it bears, and all their adventures.

(Thanks so much again for the emails, Gabby! They were a trip.)

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
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.

How Far is Away, Starting From Remote?

cactusWe first came to Dubois to get away from the big city. Every once in a while, even when living in Dubois, we have an urge to get away from it all. So we’ve come far to the south, where New Mexico borders Arizona and both border on Mexico.

It’s a big, empty valley–another huge-sky place. A featureless, brown and yellow, Last Picture Show kind of landscape dotted with mesquite, cactus, and not much grass. The valley is segmented by a two-lane highway and an abandoned rail line, and distantly bordered by two low mountain ranges.

“You know why so many folks from the military like to retire out here?” our host asked during the first dinner. “Because you can see people coming from a long way off.”

It’s barely on the map, and mostly off the grid. Not surprisingly, plenty of places get by on solar power alone.

We attend the annual soup event held to benefit the fire department and rescue squad. Everyone is expected to contribute, to volunteer, and to turn up to shell out and partake. Brings to mind the Soupenanny scheduled for this weekend in Dubois, with a similar purpose.

We meet several people who bought a shack here so they could escape from a city on the weekend, and ended up building a house and staying here. As at home in Dubois, there’s an abundance of retired professionals who enjoy hiking and nature.

One of our friends who lives here is an academic doing research on desert sounds. She spends a great deal of time out there, far beyond civilization, listening and recording.

mesquiteA cautionary tale for me: Our friends talk too much and too eagerly about this place they’ve adopted, assuming I’ll be deeply interested. They praise the natural beauty and recount the local history: Who lives where, who does what.

They would like to take us out to dinner, but the two restaurants are open only on weekends.

The only grocery stores are small bodegas. There’s no gas station in at least 40 miles (which requires some vigilance).

The phone book is issued by the women’s club, not the land-line provider. It’s updated about every five years.

There’s almost no cell signal anywhere, and no public Wifi. There doesn’t seem to be any coffee shop where people hang around and chat.

On Wednesday evening, when it seems that every establishment in the area has been closed all day, we stop at the local bar just to explore the scene. There’s one guy hanging over the counter, chatting with the bar maid.

Just visiting, he asks, or have you moved here? Where are you from? Well, what do you think? Will you come back?

“You know what we have in Wyoming?” I respond. “Mountains. Wide valleys. Big sky. Bright stars at night. Horses. Cattle. Wildlife. Wind.”

He gets it. “And snow,” he rejoins. (Point taken.)

spiralBefore we depart, our host insists on taking me out just beyond the gate to show me the “maze,” which we had missed on our hikes. A man who used to own that property came out from England every summer and erected a huge rock pile with boulders, carrying each of them by hand, sometimes with the help of his wife.

Then they laid a massive spiral wall, laboriously, one boulder at a time, until it reached three or four feet in height. Tom urged me to take a picture from the top of the wall. I had to hold his shoulder for balance as I clambered up.

“Do you know why he went to all that trouble?” I asked. He shrugs. But I can guess at an answer: If you don’t own livestock and don’t love to hike, what else is there to do?

Now it becomes something to show visitors.

I like to think of Dubois as a remote small town, which is true by many standards. But it’s possible to leave the wrong impression. It’s remote and small, but not that remote. And not too small.

© Lois Wingerson, 2017

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.

 

Small-Town Info Central, 2017

Our online news source: a new Facebook page.

discardedtoysIf you want to sell stuff in Brooklyn, you’d put it on Craiglist and hope somebody legit would be interested.

Or on a nice day, you’d have a tag sale (we called them “stoop sales” because the front porch of your brownstone is known as a stoop). It was a lot of work to put all the items out in the hope that people would buy what you didn’t want.

Lots of passersby would cluck their tongues, remark that they were downsizing too, and walk on past.

Here in Dubois, the thing to do has been to post an ad in the Roundup, the weekly stapled package distributed by the VFW. (Popularly known as the “poop sheet.”)

roundupYou can put a little notice in the For Sale section, on the tightly packed front page, for free. Or you can make a flier about your tag sale, drop off 402 copies at the VFW (why 402? Don’t ask), and for a small fee it will be distributed to stores and offices around town along with everything else stapled to the front page.

We never miss the chance to pick up the Roundup, because it’s fun to see what all is going on. However, new technology has created a robust competitor. Facebook is already the place to go to keep up with friends here, but it’s also quickly becoming our newspaper (by another name).

Someone created the invitation-only Facebook page called Dubois, WY-Area Classifieds in October 2014. It now has 1,504 members — larger than the year-round population of Dubois. The word “Area” in the title is construed broadly: Many of them are from out of town, from Shoshone, Ethete, Riverton, even as far away as Rawlins and Rock Springs. I think lots of people look at it not so much to see what’s for sale as to see what’s going on.

duboisclassifiedsWhat’s really going on, I mean. Not just what you see in the Frontier.

It goes way beyond items for sale, but those are interesting of themselves. This week we have Black Baddie heifers, a 10-year-old gelding, and under ISO (in search of) someone looking for a backhoe. Not long ago we had a Barbie doll collection, and there are usually some Western or heavy-duty outdoor clothes on offer.

There are event announcements (the new children’s choir, a Bible study group, the snow princess contest at the Rustic Tavern, a spray tan party). And there are  items of a more personal nature: A photo of a baby in a snowsuit, with a wish that everyone will be safe in the snow, and an appeal from someone moving to town who’s looking for a place to rent.

The replies are often as engaging as the posts. For instance:

“Anyone here in town selling Girl Scout cookies yet?”

duboisclassifieds2           “Need a fix!”

“Order online!? Where?”

My favorites are the posts about lost animals, because of their human interest appeal and their immediacy. In this one, a woman in search of a lost cat has shown us a gallery of her dogs as well. (That blue heeler looks like he needs a job.)

Some time ago, I saw a post from someone out Crowheart way whose heartbroken boys had just lost their dog. Someone replied quickly that some friends of theirs had just posted about finding a similar dog trotting up the highway while they were driving over toward Jackson.

Next I saw, the family from Crowheart had posted thanks and were heading west to meet up with the other folks. I hope it was the right dog!

© Lois Wingerson, 2017

You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at .

The Beauty of Our Favorite Beast

Why open your pockets to pay homage to a mere sheep?

bash2016Last Saturday, I finally had the chance to show off some of what I brought here from New York: the slinky black trousers, my hand-painted jacket, and my fancy necklace. We had two of the 200 tickets to the sold-out Bighorn Bash, which is probably the hottest gala in town.

The minute I got through the door at the Headwaters Center, I realized what I’d left behind: My good sense. Nobody cares about my big-town duds. In Dubois, it doesn’t matter what you wear. What matters is who you are.

buckleAgain this year, I asked myself what it is that creates the wonderful clamor at the annual Bighorn Bash (which supports our own home-grown educational institution, the National Bighorn Interpretive Sheep Center). The meal ticket alone is $35, a fairly hefty sum for many people here. But the goodwill in the big room at the Headwaters is palpable during that event.

The Official Speakers orate over the hubbub, and people gasp and roar during the live auction, as bidding escalates beyond the point of reason for items bearing the image of our favorite elusive animal. Leigh paid thousands for a smallish wall hanging (and then donated it back). The anonymous $1900 bid for the little box with a ram’s head carved on ramshorn was officially deemed to be unsatisfactorily low. A few pounds of fresh-caught seafood went for hundreds.

lucasbox“I wish I was that rich,” said someone at my table. I knew she didn’t mean she really wishes to be wealthy. She meant she wished that she too could afford to bid outrageously high for the benefit of the Sheep Center.

Not only did I not get why this particular event is so popular; the bighorn sheep was never very high on my list of things to love about Dubois. We joined the Sheep Center out of general goodwill, but I have always focused instead on the incredible scenery here, the history, the geology and archaeology. On individual residents and the community spirit in general.

Why do they get so excited about a mere sheep?

The next morning, waking to yet another stunning Indian summer day, we decided to go out beyond the reach of hikes in our ATV. “I’m going to take you somewhere you’ve never seen,” said my husband, who spends more time on the four-wheeler than I do.

gorgeHe drove me out to the East Fork, that wonderful region far on the other side of town where I first fell in love with this territory, while staying at a dude ranch. We climbed up beyond the undulating red rock hills to a nearly barren, windswept ridge where we were higher than the eagles fly.

When the rocky track petered out, he turned off the engine and led me out to a precipice. As John Denver once eloquently sang, I saw everything as far as I could see. The river was way down there, dizzyingly far below my feet.

“It doesn’t get any better than this,” I said, but he didn’t hear. He had already walked back to the ATV and turned it around.

Almost as soon as we started off, he turned the engine off again. Instantly, I understood what had escaped me before.

bighorn

There, directly ahead, was a lone ram. He stood silent and erect, wearing his elegant pair of heavy horns like a crown.

He turned and looked at us for a moment, then strode off across the track and down the slope on the other side. He had the bearing of a landowner graciously ignoring two trespassers.

He and his family roam easily the places where I can venture only with great difficulty, or not at all. This landscape we love with such passion is his kingdom. That’s why.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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.