Ordeals, Ideals, and What We Stand For

What’s so special about Dubois? One Saturday in the Park tells it all.

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Here’s the start of a great day in Dubois. I came home at the end of it, full of good feelings, and then read the news about today’s violence at the white-supremacy rally in Charlottesville VA. “This is not what I fought for,” wrote someone on Twitter, “and not what America stands for.” I had been thinking how blessed we are to be far away from so many troubles. We have fires and floods and landslides, but we are spared this kind of hate. Quite the opposite, in fact.
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Here, runners set off toward the grueling 5-mile obstacle course, up the steep and dusty road to the Scenic Overlook, climbing barriers and tromping through muddy ditches. It’s the annual Run4Chance competition sponsored by the Chance Phelps Foundation, in honor of a 19-year-old Marine who gave the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq in 2004.
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There were so many themes I was going to write about today! For starters, how strong we are. Here are some friends, Mary and Larry, smiling after they finished the 5K run/walk race. They didn’t win; they were just glad to have run. My neighbors toss hay bales and ride bucking broncos. They hike for many miles to see wildflowers in the mountains. “Pain is weakness leaving the body,” read the message on the back of one T-shirt. If it’s tough, painful, or sad, they say, cowboy up. Turn out for the race to honor the memory of Chance Phelps.
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Or I was going to talk about our culture of service. We wear ourselves out, week after week, creating fun events like this, and always for a cause. It seems like nothing entertaining happens in Dubois that isn’t being done for a very good reason. Here are Jeda and Callie, who work tirelessly to make a good life for the children in Dubois, as they wait for competitors to return. The Run4Chance races fund getaway weekends for veterans.
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Gradually, the obstacle course runners began to return–exhausted and muddy, but hardly defeated–to mount the last few challenges before the finish line.
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Here’s my friend Sara, crossing the last obstacle but one, smiling as always (but you can’t see that). She won the women’s division in the obstacle race.
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Cleaned up and now quiet, we regrouped this afternoon only a few yards from that finish line to honor Chance Phelps and all the veterans from town. Chance was only one of them, but he has come to represent a culture of public service that is woven into the fabric of the community. These dignitaries (US Senator Mike Enzi, Mayor Twila Blakeman, our Wyoming Representative Tim Salazar, and Randy Lahr, head of the Chamber of Commerce) spoke at today’s dedication of the new Veterans Memorial in our Town Park.
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Culminating the 15-year effort to create the Memorial was the project of our newest three Eagle Scouts. Their names will certainly appear soon on this older memorial, not far from the new one they have created. Funded by local charities including the VFW and the Volunteer Fire Department, the Veterans Memorial was “completely constructed by the effort and generosity of our incredible town,” said Lahr at the dedication.
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A bagpiper played “Amazing Grace,” while some men in the crowd took off their hats. When have we ever heard this haunting sound in Dubois?
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There was a rifle salute, and a poignant rendition of Taps by two trumpeters, echoing each other from opposite sides of the Memorial.
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Finally, the US flag was raised. The piper started up again, and walked slowly off toward the river, the sound of his dirge gradually dying away as he moved off.
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“They say this town of a thousand people can do anything a town of 10,000 people can do,” the Mayor had said as she opened the ceremony.  I wonder how many towns of 10,000 would even have thought to do this. Senator Enzi took up the point: “I wonder if there are any towns of 100,000 that have a Memorial as good as this, created without any Federal dollars.”
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Then we lined up only a few feet farther west for the annual Buffalo Barbecue, a not-to-be-missed event always held this weekend in August in the Town Park. It’s the annual fund-raiser for those others who serve by putting themselves in harm’s way on our behalf: the volunteer firefighters.
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It’s a most serious commitment in Dubois. These volunteers not only protect our homes, they are first into the forest, protecting our precious part of paradise.
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Today they served us in a different way.
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As we were leaving, I recognized the dark-skinned man sitting on the ground at left. I spoke with him at the Post Office yesterday, where he was mailing some packages to himself. “I’m guessing you’re a hiker,” I said, and asked where he was from. He said he really doesn’t have any fixed address right now. I asked where he was heading, and again he didn’t exactly say. “I hope you’ve been having a good time here,” I said this evening, and he smiled and nodded, pointing at his buffalo burger. He seems to want to be alone, and nobody here would want to hassle him as he sat quietly minding his own business. As the NAACP tweeted today, fear doesn’t live here.

© 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.

Eclipse 2017, Too Close for Comfort

Indescribable, inevitable, timed to the second–and definitely unpredictable.

SolarEclipseCreditNASA_Barcroft“Have you noticed how the sun and the moon are getting closer in the sky?” Johanna asked yesterday.

I guess I’ve been too busy to look up, but last evening at around 8 PM I did. Sure enough: Hanging in the west, low to my right, was the setting sun. Just to my left, fairly high, the moon.

Definitely too close for comfort.

We’ve known for several years that the sun and the moon will meet almost directly over Dubois around midday on August 21. So have thousands of dedicated eclipse watchers, many thousands of vacationers and family members and distant friends. Some of our own relatives will be occupying every bed in our house.

Eclipse LogoA team from Google and Berkeley will be here, crowd-sourcing images of the eclipse. A reporter from National Geographic will be live-streaming the events. Untold numbers of travelers will want to nip over from Yellowstone. All these people will descend on our extraordinary little town starting about two weeks from today, all waiting to witness the total eclipse of 2017.

Months ago, when planning began, some people were calling it “the Apocalypse.” Lately, informational fliers about how to survive the eclipse have been turning up on counters in restaurants and gas stations. They’re like disaster preparedness warnings.

“With a total solar eclipse your environment changes within seconds and it’s quite startling,” said eclipse-chaser Fred Espenak in an interview on CNET, as he gushed about the unique joys of the experience–the sudden darkness, the goosebumps, the reactions of animals. We know that our environment will change too, but not merely for two minutes.

In the past year we’ve endured a fire and a flood. You’d think, given ample warning, we could prepare for this one, and we’ve given it our best shot. But as the mayor and the head of the Chamber of Commerce have been saying with a shrug, we have no idea exactly what will happen. There’s no good way to predict it, being so close to the world’s favorite national park and all.

I’ve had moments of tremendous pride in my townsfolk, who have risen to the occasion with an impressive array of events to entertain visitors for the entire weekend. We’ve addressed many questions: Will there be phone service? Do we have enough bathrooms? The two medical clinics will both be working overtime that weekend, as will police and emergency services. Armies of volunteers will be busy doing all sorts of things.

Meanwhile, we’re waiting.

CemeteryView1_042917I fervently hope the people of Dubois can retain the friendly good nature that our visitors enjoy.

Yesterday a car pulled into the driveway, carrying three adults and two adolescents from China, all of them obviously worried. A signal light was flashing on the dashboard of the rental car. None of them could speak English.

It was nothing more than a tire pressure problem. My husband got out the tire gauge, tried to convey the details with hand signals, and directed them toward a gas station in town.

Not long afterwards he encountered the same family at a gas station, in confused conversation with by another American, who was also consulting a tire gauge. “They’ve way over-inflated this tire,” he said.

This was a calm Thursday two weeks before the Big Event. I sighed when he told me about it. Multiply this vignette by a thousand or two, and you get the picture.

However, for those who have planned prudently, this could be (as it says on the Dubois Eclipse website) the best place on earth to view the total eclipse. Our views are spectacular on any normal day. Here are a two of the eclipse-viewing sites officially recommended to visitors, the Scenic Overlook and Union Pass.

I will be up at the Chariot Race track with Craig Tupper of NASA, who will be giving a play-by-play as events unfold during the eclipse. Craig and a friend specifically chose Dubois as their viewing point during a cross-country bicycle trip. He’s one eclipse watcher we’re delighted to welcome.

Those who choose that spot, for one thing, will have the advantage of hearing an expert tell them when to put their special eclipse glasses on and when it’s safe to take them off.  A few hours later, it will all be over. The next day, the visitors will begin to leave, and we will begin to take stock.

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© 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.

Frontier Fest 2017: Dammed Fun for the Kids, and More

Half the town works, the other half turns up (and visitors).

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Harried but hopeful, I hurried to town. It was early Saturday morning, time to oversee the return of our annual Museum Day, this year with a new name: Frontier Fest. Sponsored by the Dubois Museum Association, the event promotes our delightful small history museum. Luckily for all of us, it was a beautiful day.
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The favorite features of the day were back again, of course. Here, Pat O’Neal tends the griddles turning out her amazing fry bread. I’ve discovered this treat in many cultures: The Mennonite ancestors from my childhood (they called them “crullers”), my Chinese ex-brother-in-law’s family (it was something like “io-tiao”), and here, the Native American version. Yummy, whatever you call it.
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They also served who only stood and waited — for the next visitor to turn up asking for lemonade or stew. We hoped people would slide something nice into the donation jar, because the entire event is free. It takes a whole village to create Frontier Fest: Seems like half the village works, the other half (we hope) turns up and enjoys the day. Many who are new to town discover a bit of our history, and a lot of our current culture.
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Billie came in her blue bonnet to work the first shift at the bake sale, and wound up staying the whole time. On Sunday at church you see her always dressed impeccably, but she obviously got into the frontier spirit on Saturday and pulled out some period attire. (What a pity this picture doesn’t show her lovely smile!) Much of the fun, said her daughter Sandy, was the chance to chat with friends.
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Steve Banks decided to bring out all of his Mountain Man regalia and paraphernalia again this year. Steve is another of our amazing assets. He’s walked nearly every step of the early explorers’ trails, working from their letters and journals, and he seems to know everything there is to know about the early history of the area. I saw him talking all day to small groups of fascinated onlookers. He said the questions never seemed to stop.
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Here’s Gordon the blacksmith, wowing an onlooker.
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Dan Seelye and Packin’ the Mail packed them in at the Dennison Lodge, and entertained everyone outside with the music piped on to the lawn. At the end of the day, when I went in to start cleaning up, I found many people were leaning against the wall, just listening to the music.
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Here’s Dean showing off his antique machinery, as he does every year. A retired watchmaker, Dean is a mechanical genius and a master carpenter. He was the behind-the-scenes star of the show, because he constructed …
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the great mini-flume race. This idea was created by the Board members of the Dubois Museum Association, but engineered and master-minded by Dean, who was intent on using his ingenuity to turn it into a truly competitive event. See the little knobs at the base of the chute? Those are the obstacles that stop your little marker from reaching the bottom. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
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The great flume race is modeled after the flumes created by the mighty tie hacks a century ago, when they hewed pine trees in our mountains in midwinter to create railroad ties. To get them down to the river and off to the railroad, they dammed up the meltwater as the snow subsided, and then released the water and floated them down to the river along giant versions of these chutes that went on for miles.
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The sandwich board at left held a poster explaining this history. I hope some of the kids looked at it! The object here was to be first to get your mini-tie to the bottom of the flume, controlling the flow of water with these mini-dams. Dean constructed it all. including the neat hand-held “dams” with their rubber gaskets and the mini-“ties” crafted at the same dimensions as real railroad ties.
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As this had never been done before, it was a challenge to figure out the best strategy.
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Competitors large and small took part.

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It was even a challenge to figure out the optimal flow from the hoses.
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We had arranged for prizes, but nobody seemed to care about them. They just wanted to keep playing!

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After we shut the water off, several kids simply couldn’t stop. They went back to the boring old beanbag toss.

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It was a great deal of hard work for a small army of volunteers. For me, at least, the best reward is this evidence of smiles all around. Many thanks to Bill Sincavage for these images, which are just as wonderful as the day itself.

© 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.

America At Its Best: Dubois, July 4, 2017

Serious. Fun. Together. It’s what we do, over and over.

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Here we went again, enjoying the best Independence Day celebration anywhere. That designation, awarded this year by several tourists on Ramshorn Street (who were obviously delighted and astonished at their good fortune in being here), arises in large part due to the nature of the town that creates it, year after year. I second the nomination, of course. It’s just the kind of July 4 we kept wandering around New England hoping to find for our children, back when they were small. We had no idea back then that we should be thousands of miles farther west.

 

 

Dubois WY July 4
For one thing, as someone who came all the way from Cody pointed out, you don’t have to stake out your spot the night before to get a good view. An hour ahead of start time will do. Ramshorn Street is unusually crowded, but the scene is just about right: Festive, but not frenzied.
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We saw Daniel Starks’ fleet of Army tanks laboring slowly down the highway shoulder as we drove in. Seems like he sent out three times more this year than last.
Dubois WY July 4
They set the pace in the parade, a powerful and sober reminder of what we celebrate on Independence Day. I wonder what, if anything, parents said to children about that. What would I have said to mine?
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Meanwhile, a neighbor kept making passes with his helicopter, just to add atmosphere. This sound normally means med-evac. Today, just more fun, and in the sky.
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What an odd juxtaposition against the century-old motel! Somewhere in the back of the mind: How far out of harm’s way we are. How many of own neighbors ready to put themselves in harm’s way for us–whether it’s mortar fire, forest fire, or house fire.
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Same location, much less thought-provoking display. Friendly wranglers from the CM Ranch turn up every year. This is what brings people here first–the image easiest to sell to the outside world, and least difficult to convey persuasively.
July 4 parade Dubois WY
“It’s great to celebrate July 4 in a town that is happy to be patriotic,” a visitor remarked. (Now that brings up a lot of thoughts this year!) I like the fact that nobody around here goes out of the way to tell me what my patriotism should mean to me. Just show the flag, and put your hand over your heart. We take it for granted you deeply feel what you feel. Whatever it may be.
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Someone chose to honor a fallen veteran in this wonderful old pickup. Another reminder that freedom is not free.
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Could it ever be a July 4 parade if there were no kids chasing free candy? So much of it! I asked for a little Tootsie roll. Someone didn’t want to share, but Mom shamed him into it.
Fire trucks Dubois WY July 4
Uh-oh! Here come the fire hoses! Loudspeakers warn: “You WILL get wet!” The crowd begins to thin as people take cover.
Fire trucks July 4 Dubois WY
Some older folks complain about the fact that the firefighters don’t always aim the hoses straight up. Some younger folks seem eager for the harmless adventure. (Hey, it’s hot out here!)
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“Come under here!” urges a friendly gentleman, and I duck into the garage at Bull’s Conoco. (I’m not afraid of the water, but my camera is.) You can see that Dubois’ Bravest can be straight shooters when duty calls for it.
Fire trucks July 4 Dubois WY
I’ve never known a place more fond of its firefighters, except perhaps New York right after 9/11. Dubois’ Bravest are volunteers, of course. These are the same guys who came out in frigid subzero temperatures at midnight a few years ago, trying to save the old Mercantile. When we hear a siren in Dubois, everybody’s ears perk up and I’m sure many people think a prayer.
Dubois WY July 4
There’s an ice cream social on the church lawn, just after the parade. (This picture is from last year, but the scene was the same.) I’d hitched a ride down to the middle of town with Randy, who was driving his SUV at the rear of the parade. He was exhausted after an early start to his day. After dropping me off, he would circle back and clean up the orange cones to let the traffic get through. “This event must really bring the town together,” a stranger from Riverton said to me, as he was enjoying his ice cream. Well meant, but I had to stop and think about that. “Um, I don’t really think so–no more than usual,” I said finally. “The town is together already. This is just what we do every year on July 4.” Along with everything else we do together every year. (Randy wasn’t present for ice cream, having gone home for a nap.)
Square dance, July 4 Dubois WY
Was there going to be a square dance on July 4? Well, of course! If it’s a Tuesday in the summer, there’s a square dance in the back room at the Rustic. I helped to serve soft drinks at the bar last Tuesday, as I often do. A quarter for a Pepsi or a 7-Up. The proceeds go to local charities.
Square dance Dubois WY July 4 2017
It’s fun to watch the dude ranch folks trying to figure it out, and slowly succeeding. But the best part of it all is the square that always forms in front at the right. The 8 young locals who turn up every week seem to have reserved that spot. They know what they’re doing, and they clearly enjoy doing it. I love how they take it very seriously and keep getting a kick out of it, at the same time. This is the very definition of good, clean fun.
Square dance Dubois WY
The lovely teenager at left began the evening helping out with the soft drinks. The Bob Marley shirt was an act of defiance. (“I’m not wearing any of those stupid Western clothes!” she had told my friend, whom she’s visiting.) And she refused to dance, saying she can’t. Once mother of a teenage girl, I found this all quite familiar. One of the young people saw the stranger at the bar, came on over, and pulled her onto the floor. (Friendly just isn’t something you can sell in a travel guide. You simply have to be here and witness it. Then you’re hooked.)

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.

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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.

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© 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.

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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

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