Dubois WY Naked and Afraid? Nah. Under-Exposed and Apprehensive

Mostly Dubois WY rests in splendid isolation, 80 miles from anywhere. Once in a while it basks briefly, if uncomfortably, in the bright light of publicity.

Mostly, Dubois WY rests in its splendid isolation, 80 miles from anywhere else. But once in a while it basks briefly, and a bit uncomfortably, in the bright light of the national media.

Six years ago, Kevin Bacon starred in Taking Chance, a movie (not actually filmed here, curiously) that honored the town’s welcome home to the body of a son fallen in Iraq. Late last December, the fire that engulfed part of the historic main street, and the heroic response of volunteer firefighters, made a great story for the post-Christmas news slump on NBC.

Dubois WY Naked and Afraid
Joe Brandl shows off a shoe he made from bulrushes. They were great until they got wet.

And last night, one of our favorite local characters won his 50 minutes of fame on the Discovery Channel series “Naked and Afraid.” I went to a celebration at the Headwaters, with some 200 townsfolk, to watch the broadcast on a big screen and to celebrate as our local tanner and Boy Scout leader, Joe Brandl, described his 21-day adventure on a remote island in Namibia. He was surrounded by swamps, armed with nothing more than his tin cook-pot and knife, and assisted by a previously unknown female companion who had brought along a fire-starter.

We all knew right away that they wouldn’t need the fire-starter. Joe has published a multi-part series in the local weekly newspaper about how to survive in the wilderness, including advice on how to create a survival kit that would fit inside a Band-Aid tin. He also wrote about how he survived a winter breakdown miles into the middle of nowhere by using his underwear and gasoline from the tank to start a fire.

He compiled all this in the first place to educate his young Scouts, who spend lots of time out in the wilderness for their own amusement.

Long since, like many others here, Joe has learned to start fires the original way (as another castaway, Tom Hanks, showed us in a different movie), by spinning a stick rammed into some fragile kindling.

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Steve Banks in mountain man regalia.

Joe said he was fascinated by mountain men from an early age. “I tried not to just read it, but to live it,” he told us.

The guy operating the sound system last night lives by exactly the same motto. A retired telecommunications engineer and amateur local historian, Steve Banks has not only studied the journals of mountain men like John Colter, he has made a pastime of walking every step they walked and seeing the very vistas they described. Banks knows the trails of the Yellowstone Basin better than I know the back of my own hand.

Probably nobody in the room would have doubted that Joe Brandl would make it through his 21 days in isolation not only unscathed, but triumphant. (It was a set-up anyway, of course. The camera crew was ever-present, and medics checked the pair every day.) Nonetheless, we listened fascinated as he described finding nothing to eat for the first 12 days but grubs, minnows, chameleons, and one dove egg.

The crowd roared with cheer as we heard Joe tell producers on his audition video, “In Dubois, we have the toughest-ass Scout troop in the United States. No doubt about it.”

We murmured with assent when he dismissed the threat from 4-ton hippos that live in that swamp and regularly crossed “his” island. “Scared?” he said. “No. I live every day with grizzlies [nearby]….Where I live now tests me every day.”

We were silent later, as we watched our 55-year-old tough-guy neighbor on the screen, by then himself grizzled and filthy, staring with a deeply furrowed brow and moist eyes at the tiny woman young enough to be his daughter. She had broken down when sharing the experience during her job as a beat cop that had broken her heart. After vowing not to touch her without her consent, Joe reached out and gently stroked her arm.

We had seen the words “Dubois WY” exposed, so briefly and so rarely, to the entire vast continent. Everyone saw them there, proudly tattooed in pixels over Joe’s living embodiment of our “brand”: Tough as nails, in many ways remote, yet deeply compassionate when someone is in trouble.

The simile goes beyond even that. Like Joe himself on that virtual reality show, we people of Dubois are fundamentally concerned about our town’s survival, and always intent on assuring it — but at the same time uneasy about getting too much visibility.

Before the film rolled, Joe had shared with us the mission statement that had kept him and his companion going during those kinda lonely 21 days. Here’s part of it:

“To thrive, not just survive, and to do so with passion and compassion.”

Did you notice that all three of my examples of national media attention have told very positive stories? Enough said.

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© Lois Wingerson 2015

The Fine Art of Living in Dubois

The landscape around Dubois made me wish I could paint. Fortunately, many here are able to satisfy that impulse, with great skill.

LazyL&BHorsesI took this snapshot during one of our early visits to the Lazy L&B Ranch east of Dubois, sometime in the 1980s. The first time I saw these landscapes, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had never seen anything like them.

Suddenly I wanted to become a painter, to could capture this vision somehow and take it home. For the first time, I understood why painters have to do what they have to do.

I didn’t follow up on that impulse. But many others do, and a fair number of them gravitate to Dubois. Some of the greats, notably Gary Keimig and Tom Lucas, live and work here full time. Many others live and paint here part of the time, and some just travel through to attend workshops.

Instragram must be packed with snapshots from the Wind River Valley, but it’s also a magnet for professional photographers, notably Jeff Vanuga and Claude Poulet.

The variety of views is so immense. It’s so isolated here. You can really get away, and concentrate.

The rest of us lucky residents get to enjoy the results. Here, in one of the most remote towns in the United States, our calendar is crowded with top-rank art shows and photography exhibitions.

SKB2Here’s just one of the dozens of paintings on display last weekend, during the annual Susan K. Black Foundation workshop. (The foundation supports art education.) This was not one of the prize winners during that workshop. It is a fair example of the quality of work in the show.

In New York City, I love the way my perception of the cityscape is transformed immediately after visiting an art gallery or museum. The light seems different, and I notice juxtapositions that I didn’t see before.

That doesn’t happen here. Almost any time I step outside, whatever I’ve been doing, the view stops me in my tracks.

Here is one of the prize winners at the SKB show, followed by another painting I particularly liked. Evidently I still don’t know that much about painting.

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During other shows, such as the annual quilt show and the photography exhibition. visitors as well as judges are invited to vote for their favorites.

I don’t like to do it. That’s always a tough call.

At the recent photography show, while trying to fill out my ballot, I made a new acquaintance. Molly came to Dubois several times for the SKB workshop and, like me, found she couldn’t stop coming back. Now she lives here.

Want to read more about living in Dubois WY? You can read weekly updates via email using the link at the top of the right column.

© Lois Wingerson 2015

More to Love in Dubois: The Farmers Market

Another charitable venture, the farmers market offers nothing but the best from midsummer, and usually draws a crowd …

Granted, the high mountain desert of the upper Wind River Valley is not the most fertile ecosystem on the planet. We are fairly well supplied with produce FarmersMarket2_080615by the supermarket, and some residents keep their own greenhouses. But when the weekly Farmers Market opens at 5 PM Thursday a long line builds quickly at the checkout.

Volunteers manage the farmers market. The office manager of St. Thomas’ church drives to Jackson and back early Thursday morning, bringing back farm-fresh delights from as far away as Utah and Oregon. Later in the season she drives the same distance in the other direction to Riverton, after the local growing season kicks in there.

A small, jam-packed and well-tended garden beside the church provides fresh greens and some vegetables, picked on the spot for farmers market customers. Look at the crazy carrot someone pulled last week!Carrot

Below you see my haul from last Thursday’s market — or part of it, anyway. We’ve enjoyed several peaches and quite a few greens over the weekend.

The farmers market is another mission of St. Thomas Episcopal Church. As usual in Dubois, the proceeds from our pleasures go to charity. In this case, cash profits go to the local food bank. Most unsold produce goes to the food bank or the senior center.FarmersMarketHaulWant to read more about living in Dubois WY? You can read weekly updates via email using the link at the top of the right column.

© Lois Wingerson 2015

More to Love in Dubois: The Annual Quilt Show

You learn a great deal about the skill and patience behind this great art. Some are for sale, often for affordable prices.

Want to read more about living in Dubois WY? You can read weekly updates via email using the link at the top of the right column.

 

© Lois Wingerson 2015

Be There or Be Square Dance Night

It’s the place to be on Tuesday summer evenings, even for local adolescents. Good clean chaotic fun. Experience not required!

SquareDanceGals You just gotta love it: This is the place to be for many adolescents on summer Tuesdays in Dubois, at the square dance in the back room at the Rustic Pine Tavern. At the start, just after 8 PM, the girls often hang together separate from the guys, as you can see here.SquareDanceGuys

But square dancing is all about partners, and sooner or later they begin to mingle. It’s wonderful to behold how expert these young dancers are who have come every week, perhaps for almost as long as they remember.

From my vantage point behind the soft-drink bar, it’s great fun to watch the teens laughing, bragging, whispering secrets.

Meanwhile the caller, who has been doing this for decades, tries to lure the more timid tourists who hang on the sidelines: “We need another couple here! Don’t worry! Nobody else knows how to do it either!” (Not quite true…)

SquareDance1As the minutes pass, visitors from guest ranches begin to “get” the moves.  This is silly stuff, actually, but great exercise and entirely wholesome fun. Some of the most enthusiastic participants are the young children.SquareDance3SquareDance5

Every once in a while, of course, order deteriorates into a certain degree of mayhem, as here. The natural reaction is to laugh.SquareDance6

The Episcopal Womens Guild of St. Thomas Church has been sponsoring the square dances for many decades in Dubois. Like almost all entertainment here, the proceeds go to a charitable cause. SquareDance7

Want to read more about living in Dubois WY? You can read weekly updates via email using the link at the top of the right column.

© Lois Wingerson 2015

Shakespeare in the Winds

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Shakespeare returned to the Wind River Valley last night, with a riotously engaging performance of Taming of The Shrew at Dubois’ Dennison Lodge.
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Petruchio arrived in this attire, more a cowboy than a count. He did, of course, get his gal.
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Directed by Diane Springford, the production by the Wyoming Shakespeare Festival Company was supported by the Wyoming Arts Council and presented by Friends of the Library. It’s been several years since the company has come to Dubois. We were very glad to have them back.

Want to read more about living in Dubois WY? You can read weekly updates via email using the link at the top of the right column.
© Lois Wingerson 2015

Midsummer Surprises: A Museum Day Storybook

It was a dark and stormy morning. What a strange start to a Dubois story! Who would ever expect rain in in the high mountain desert, in mid-July, preparing for one of the town’s favorite annual celebrations: Museum Day?

Want to read more about living in Dubois WY? You can read weekly updates via email using the link at the top of the right column.
© Lois Wingerson 2015