Of Music, Longing, and Mysteries

Nostalgia for things never experienced?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TableMountain3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Lois Wingerson, 2018
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Dubois’ Delectable New Drive-Thru

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just look at that lettuce leaf.

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

“Five years,” she replied.

“And how’s business?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Lois Wingerson, 2018
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Cybermagic Brings a Drugstore to Dubois

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Lois Wingerson, 2018
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Dubois’ Delightful Toxic Waste Site

The health care facilities are merely useful. This will be magic.

PetesPond_WillowForegroundAs spring brings life to the valley, an enchanting new creation is unfolding beside the highway, just east of the rodeo grounds. What makes the place seem even more magical is that it used to be a toxic waste site.

It’s difficult to imagine what might have been toxic about the sawmill that gave life to this community, until it closed in 1988. But an EPA document describing the “brownfields” cleanup project says the site was contaminated with petroleum byproducts including benzene and diesel fuels.

PetesPond_RiverwalkTen years after the mill closed, a local family bought the site and donated it to the Nature Conservancy, stipulating that it should be used for the “health and enjoyment of the citizens of the greater Dubois community and its future generations.” After the town gained numerous grants, the cleanup began five years ago.

The medical clinic, fitness center, and assisted living facility on the site clearly qualify in the health category, but as mere buildings they would not inspire the words “enchanting” and “magical.” As the dog and I enjoy the eastern end of the river walk, I’ve seen something emerging that will clearly deserve that description.

PetesPond_BenchViewThe good folks of Dubois Anglers and Wildlife Group (DAWGS) are busy completing Pete’s Pond, the dream of Pete Petera, a former director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department who retired to Dubois. I knew the bright-eyed gentleman all too briefly before he passed away, too early to see the project begin.

Pete wanted a place where children could enjoy fishing safely. The need for this becomes clear as I follow this part of the river walk in late May, watching the surging water breach its banks and crash past, frothing and muddy.

PetesPond_RiverFlowDAWGS long ago made the river accessible for handicapped anglers along this riverwalk. Now, on the landward side of the walk, they’re busy with backhoes creating not just a pond, but a whole new park. There’s a small stream at the inlet, and islands in the center of the pond.

What astonishes me is the sylvan aspect of the scene, where a few years ago this was hard-packed tan dirt overgrown with weeds and sage, the kind of desolate landscape so many people think of when they hear the word “Wyoming.”

PetesPond_ReflectionsIt’s a pleasure to think that this is what future travelers will see first as they pass into Dubois headed toward Yellowstone and Jackson. After that long desert drive from Rawlins or Casper, they will be enticed as they reach Dubois to stop and enjoy birds and gently lapping water, lined by trees and bordering the river.

It doesn’t yet look as green as it will, because it’s only early spring here, and the work is still under way. But I can already hear the laughter of the children.

Somewhere over there under the water is a ball that the dog lost in the weeds last summer. He’s certainly forgotten about it.  I’m very pleased to make the sacrifice.

© 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 Dubois, New York, and Hollywood

One up-side of remoteness: The high cost of production.

IMG_0140Back when I first lived in New York City, it really used to trouble me that there was so much violence in films set in my home town. But as time went by, I stopped caring about that.

In decades of living there, I never personally witnessed gun play or other violence (setting aside 9/11, of course). The French Connection was released way back in 1971, the same year I fell in love with my husband and his home town. Starting then, I grew accustomed to ignoring the bad rap about violence and crime that frightens so many tourists about New York. So what? I know better.

These days, I really enjoy watching films set in New York. It’s fun to recognize the intersection the cops are running through or the exact spot where the lovers are kissing. I enjoy trying to figure out whether the housing project on the screen is in the Bronx or on the Lower East Side. For absolutely nothing, I can get a free trip back to the city.

A few days ago, trolling around Netflix, I gave a little gasp. “There’s Wind River,” I said, seeing the icon for a film I always wanted to watch but never ran across in a cinema. (Well, I don’t “run across” films in a cinema any more. I have to travel an hour and a half to visit one. With Netflix, YouTube, and TCM, why bother?)

100_0141 (1)

I vaguely recalled someone telling me not to bother with that film. But there I sat in front of the TV. Why not?

It was off to an interesting start, with a woman’s voice reciting a poem as what seems to be a Native American woman runs across the snow. But the fact that the film is set in our beautiful valley in the dead of winter, always with whistling winds and deep snow, should have tipped me off: This was not going to end well.

The scenes are a snowmobilers’ dream, because our protagonists in law enforcement get to sled everywhere at high speed, passing spectacular stands of evergreens. They remind me of the footage our winter visitors like to put on YouTube after their trips to Togwotee Pass.

But the plot entirely robs the landscape of its beauty. A story of brutality against women by ignorant drunken men (not drunken Native Americans, I hasten to add), it ends in a shootout with high-powered weapons. The cinematographer revels in the contrast of the bloodbath against the pure white snow.

100_0724“So much for the image of our valley,” said my husband as the film ended.

This isn’t actually our valley, because the film was set down-county in the reservation. But the river that runs through our town has the same name, and if you Google “Wind River” today the top results, of course, link to pages about the film.

As to our town of Dubois, my son (who still lives in New York) commented in a recent visit that the village looks like a movie set. True West magazine endorses that view, having given Dubois its 2018 award for the best architecturally preserved Western town.

HonorGuardBut the only film ever set in Dubois wasn’t a “Western,” and it wasn’t actually filmed here. I’m gratified to say that Taking Chance, starring Kevin Bacon, was the deeply affecting true story of the return of a fallen Iraq soldier to Dubois and his burial in our local cemetery.

This image is not from the film. It’s an actual honor guard at the actual Dubois cemetery, on Veterans Day. Even though locals including Chance Phelps’ family worked hard to bring production here, the Western scenes were filmed in Montana.

The business incentives in Wyoming weren’t as good as elsewhere. But also, the costs of bringing the production to this remote area were too high to be practical.

This used to trouble me, but as time goes by, I have changed my view. Dubois was extraordinarily fortunate that the one film to feature it gave an accurately positive image of its character–even though the images didn’t actually show our town or our landscape. But it may be a blessing that it is a challenge to bring film producers here.

There are many reasons to value our remoteness in this valley. That it discourages the media that might send the wrong message about us is one of them.

© 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.

Lights Down. Leota’s Gone from Dubois.

She left the ranch and became a phenomenon.

Back in the city, a neighbor’s death was the loss of one thread in a rich tapestry. There were so many others weaving in and out.

Rainbow_croppedHere, it’s more like the fading of bands in the rainbow, a loss of our brilliance. In recent weeks, our light has dimmed with the sudden absence of several townsfolk — a beloved young man lost too soon to cancer, an elderly businessman important to the town’s growth, and now Leota Didier.

With her passing, I think we’ve lost the bright vermilion stripe. Alas.

Leota had a special place in my heart, because she gave us our first glimpse of Dubois when we stayed at the Lazy L&B dude ranch 30 years ago. She and her husband Bernard, a retired Presbyterian minister, had bought the ranch 20 years earlier. That was on a side trip during a vacation in Denver, when she had thought they were headed to California.

“My husband was a funny man,” Leota told me once. “He got urges.”

LazyLB “He heard there were marvelous buys on dilapidated ranches in Wyoming,” she recalled. Having formerly run church camps, Bernard got an idea. “Before the week was over,” she went on, “we owned a ranch.”

By the time we got there, Lazy L&B was far from dilapidated, but it was folksy and friendly. Having grown up on a farm in Iowa, she knew well how to handle animals, and I guess as a minister’s wife she had also learned how to deal with people

When we returned to Dubois decades later, I was pleased to find that she was still here. I invited her to tea, and then came to know her better.

In the meantime, Bernard had succumbed to Alzheimer’s and passed away. Leota had left the ranch, moved to town, and become a phenomenon.

CuttingParty2015The “L” in Lazy L&B, Leota was hardly lazy. Among many other blessings, she helped to move the historic Dennison Lodge to the center of town, where it became an events venue (and pity the person who left a mess in that kitchen!).

She installed large bronze statues by local artists in the town square, and was heavily involved in helping to create the new assisted living center at Warm Valley Lodge, where she spent her last days.

I saw her most often when I would help out at the weekly square dance selling soft drinks. She would always sit at the door and stamp hands as people paid their fee and came in. I have great photos of my young children at the square dance decades ago, and I’m sure she must have been at the door back then.

LeotaEven last summer, after she had moved to Warm Valley, she would never miss this duty as long as someone would pick her up and take her home after.

Tall and patrician, she dressed with elegance, even as she grew stooped and slow. Always slim skirts and fitted jackets in the muted colors of the West, and always that signature hat.

I bought the sassy red hat below in the thrift-shop auction one year, thinking it must have been a donation from her. That was her style: Classy and bold.

She told me she had not donated that hat. Who knows; at that time her memory was fading. I can’t pull it off with her style, so I seldom wear it. But in any case I think of her whenever I see it.

Hats_cropped

“How are you?” I asked, the last time I saw her, only weeks ago, at church.

“About as well as could be expected,” she replied, with a gentle echo of her former husky laugh. Typical Leota: Ironic, straightforward, candid.

Her devoted wrangler, Max, posted on Facebook about her death, inspiring a flood of responses.

“Leota was a true original,” someone wrote. “She was a Pioneer and a woman of substance. She had a great heart and an energy and a drive that was legendary.”

“She did so much for so many people and the town of Dubois,” replied someone else, “and most of the time nobody knew.”

Another post said that nobody could fill her shoes.

“Or hats,” I replied. Max gave that a “like.”

© Lois Wingerson, 2018
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

How Google Came to Love Dubois (Too)

The real action behind the great Eclipse Megamovie took place right here.

MegamovieCapture12We knew beforehand that a Google team was coming to Dubois to watch the Eclipse. But only weeks afterwards, when I saw their video on YouTube, did I hear what I had thought was too good to be true.

Our hometown was actually the base of operations for the great Eclipse Mega-Movie project.

Thousands of people around the country took pictures during the total eclipse, and Google has melded them all into one video. The eclipse images submitted by volunteers will offer astronomers unprecedented views of the corona, the edge of the sun, that will vastly increase our knowledge about the sun’s activity.

But the real action took place right here.

“It was part happenstance, part location,” project manager Calvin Johnson told me today. “We were looking for a place that was on totality, where the weather was predicted to be good and where we could hang out beforehand and not spend a lot of time getting ready.” It was important to be in one place in case something went wrong.

MegamovieCapture45But they also wanted to watch the eclipse together in just the right location, “not so much for the project as for the experience,” said astronomer Laura Peticolas of University of California-Berkeley, one of those who dreamed up the project in the first place. (That’s Johnson and Peticolas in the image, watching with wonder from the top of the Scenic Overlook, as totality was fading.)

Lucky for Dubois (and for Google), just as the Google team began looking for the right location, Lisa Bivens was opening the newly remodeled Chinook Winds Motel, and was hoping to fill all the rooms during Eclipse Week. She had the initiative to reach out to astronomers by emailing places like NASA and Sky & Telescope Magazine. The listing made it into an astronomy listserve, where another member of the Google team saw it.

So they took over the entire motel: An engineer, an astronomer, the project manager, some camera operators, a few undergraduates, and some family members. The team stayed in constant contact with engineers at Google’s offices in Mountain View CA during the eclipse, checking to make sure the pictures were uploading and formatting properly and dealing with any technical issues.

If you haven’t done so already, do log onto YouTube and set aside 15 minutes to watch “Chasing Totality: Making the 2017 Eclipse Megamovie,” if only for some of the best images of the total eclipse crossing our valley. About 90,000 other people have already seen it, and they have had a huge dose of what’s wonderful about our town.

MegamovieCapture13

They hear Johnson describing it as a “tiny little cowboy town” about an hour from Jackson, and see Jeda welcoming visitors with her customary enthusiasm. “We still have that old-West mentality of everybody’s welcome at the campfire,” Monte says, and you see him at his piano. Twila talks about the Eclipse as an exciting time for the town.

Meanwhile, the team sits around a campfire. You see some of them throwing horseshoes.

To tell the truth, they actually spent much of their time scouting for locations before settling on the obvious: the top of the Overlook. Some of them went to the Museum. A few rode the jackalope. They all went to the rodeo.  Peticolas called it “amazing, so crazy!” She said she had worried a lot for the riders, but then she added, “I guess they sign up for this.”

The team also drove across the pass to the Tetons, which gave everyone a chance to see more of what we love about our location.

MegamovieCapture44I asked Johnson whether the ride over from Denver had been boring, after he got this side of Rawlins. “It may be boring for you-all that live there,” he replied, “but it was beautiful for all of us. Much more beautiful than Boston [where he lives and works]. I would love to spend unlimited time there.”

“I fell in love with Dubois,” said Peticolas, “the painted hills, the valley, the beautiful mountains. It was so serene at the time of the eclipse.” A “small-town” girl who grew up in Oregon and spent several years in Alaska, she describes her current home town of San Francisco as “all cement and cars.” She says she will definitely return to explore more around Dubois.

“I can’t imagine having found a better place,” she added. “There are a handful of places I want to go back to. Dubois is one.”

© 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.