What We Share With The Wildlife

The return of animals in the spring brings a revelation.

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Moose_0518“How likely are we to see wildlife on the way?” asked someone passing through on the way to Yellowstone.

“You’ll certainly see deer,” I said. “You could also see some pronghorn antelope. Some locals see grizzlies on the Pass, but I’ve never seen one there.”

“What about moose?” he asked.

“Well, if you’re really, really lucky, and keep your eyes on the trees by the river, you might see one,” I replied. “I see them once in a while. But moose are pretty rare around here these days.”

SheepA recent survey of visitors to Dubois showed that wildlife viewing is their second reason for coming here, after mountains and scenery. I know from talking to visitors and reading their posts on TripAdvisor that many people come to this area hoping to glimpse wild creatures at home in the wilderness.

It has taken years for me to appreciate one privilege of living here year-round — simple time on the ground, the opportunity to encounter the animals who share this neighborhood, as an ordinary part of my daily life.

City girl that I was, I still find pleasure in seeing cattle and horses every day. Driving down the highway toward town, I enjoy watching a hawk floating on the updraft, looking for prey. We have had to relocate the dog’s walk, because the neighbor across the road has seen the moose and her calf again. She lost last year’s baby in the spring flood waters, and he says she glared at him defiantly from his back lawn the other day, as if to say, “I’m not going to lose this one!”

Deer_grazingLast week, I invited a friend for lunch. It being a beautiful day, we chose to sit on the back porch.

As we talked, we noticed a few white-tailed deer just across the fence. We enjoyed watching them graze on the willows as we munched on our salads a few yards away.

Walking the dog in the park behind the assisted living center, I encountered an old friend coming down the river walk. “Have you seen the goslings?” he asked.

GoslingsWe rounded a corner, and there they were, being herded by Mother Goose as we approached.

This afternoon, driving toward a hike up Long Creek Road, my companion said, “There’s an antelope!”

He sat immobile, not far from the dirt road. “It’s odd to see one all alone,” she remarked.

“I hope he’s not injured,” I said.

Farther along the road, she spotted more antelope in the valley, and beyond that, a few elk. I slowed the car to look, and there they were, dark against the green of the grass.

“I wonder what they’re doing here at this time of year,” she said. You’d think they would have migrated on, and moved up-mountain.

AntelopeOnHillDriving back after our hike, we looked for the lone antelope, and argued about exactly where we had seen him before. “I guess he isn’t here any more,” I said. “That’s good.”

“There they are,” she said. A few antelope grazed on a distant hill, as a larger one stood nearby, looking out across the valley.

“I guess he’s the sentinel,” I said, glad to have come up with a reason for why we had seen him alone on the way uphill.

I may talk smart now, but to be honest, when we moved here from the city I couldn’t tell an elk from a moose. It was the landscape that compelled me, not the wildlife that live here. Later, I came to value the strong sense of community in our town.

With time, I’ve come to see these silent neighbors as an important part of that community. They may be elusive, and we rarely get to know them. Some of them (like the tourists) are only passing through. But we share a love of this place, and are glad when they return.

© 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.

Why a Cybersecurity Pro Chose a Cowboy Town

GarethWhitePaperI ran into Gareth a few days ago at the Cowboy Café. Over breakfast he was working on a draft of a white paper.

“There are more technology choices than ever before,” it reads, “but little certainty around which are the best investment.” Not the kind of thing you’d expect to find someone poring over in a restaurant by that name in a remote Wyoming mountain town. But I wasn’t surprised. This is the new Dubois.

I know that most technology workers still go into concrete-block offices every day, and that the bright millennials who crowd the digital world prefer big cities with microbreweries and “coworking spaces.” But I also know that a fortunate few are finding their way here, where they can see mountains from their desks and find bald eagles and moose to post on Instagram. Gareth is one.

I met him last summer at a community meeting. I introduced myself to his wife Sharon, and was startled to hear her reply: “You want to meet my husband.” During the careful process of planning their relocation from Colorado, she had seen this blog and knew of my interest in telecommuting.

Mensing3The first step in investigating Dubois, Gareth told me this week, was contacting DTE, our Internet provider. This wasn’t so crucial for Sharon, the former head of a private school in Steamboat Springs. But it’s essential for Gareth, who is an information architect with a firm that provides cybersecurity services for large corporations around the world. His work demands peerless high-speed Internet, and the fact that DTE provides fiberoptic service in town was a strong selling point for Dubois.

Colorado’s new marijuana law was a prime reason for the relocation, Gareth told me. They had grown weary of Steamboat Springs, because it had quickly changed “from a funky family town to being party central.” This echoes what I’ve heard from tourists in Dubois over the past year: Traffic (the ordinary kind) is building in the state to the south, and it’s no longer easy to find a campsite on the spur of the moment there, or an uncrowded spot in those high Rocky Mountains.

Mensing1It’s only a six hour drive north through Baggs and Rawlins to reach Dubois, but for Gareth and Sharon, the trip took far longer. Finding their next home, Gareth said, required “a lot of traveling in our RV.”

Having lived in 17 other states, mostly in the East, Gareth had a fairly strong feeling for where he didn’t want to live. During our chat over breakfast, he recalled the daily commute that took place at 80 miles an hour. I get the picture.

They looked carefully at the West Coast. He kind of liked San Francisco, but Sharon hated it. They explored Oregon and Washington, but no place sat exactly right with them.

“We began to realize that the closer we got to the mountains, the happier we were,” Gareth said. “We could just feel it.”

What drew them to Wyoming, besides the mountains, was the fact that there are no taxes to speak of, and that the cost of living is generally low. But why Dubois?

“We’ve always liked small towns,” he said. “The fact that there’s no traffic. New York burned us out for that.”

They did look at Jackson Hole, but the sight of the real estate prices quickly inspired a look away. They drove over the Pass to Dubois, and came home.

Mensing4“Dubois has everything Jackson Hole has to offer,” Gareth told me. “You just hop into the car, and you’re in the Tetons. It’s all great.”

The move offers Gareth plenty of opportunity to pursue his off-duty passion: photography. As for Sharon, she has joined two nonprofit boards here as well as setting up www.wyophoto.com, a website that sells images of Wyoming. It’s the source of the beautiful pictures on this page.

© 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.

Fake News About Dubois, and the Facts

Groceries, grizzlies, antelope farms, and more …

Most of what follows is hearsay. In the past few weeks, several people have told me about some remarkable comments they’ve heard from visitors to town. I’ve also run across some other amusing misconceptions on my own.

I decided I should set the record straight:

Outfit1. We don’t dress this way as part of a historic re-enactment. This is really how we like to dress, and for good reason. We wear brimmed hats and long-sleeved shirts for protection against the fierce sun. We wear vests because it’s just enough to keep us warm in the high-desert cool. We wear jeans because they’re comfortable and sturdy. We wear boots because they keep the rocks out. (Here’s what I might be wearing today, if I hadn’t chosen a different shirt, vest, and jeans.)

2. Whatever that person in Jackson may have said, there’s no need to stock up before heading this way. Dubois does have an amply stocked grocery store, a gas station (well, actually four of them), and many places to buy a cup of coffee (or even a latte, a cappuccino, or a chai).

3.  There probably isn’t a grizzly bear in the Town Park just now.  Our bear expert Brian does say that, in theory, except in the dead of winter, a grizzly could be anywhere. But a grizzly doesn’t want to see you any more than you want to see her. We know better than to leave trash around for her to find, and she prefers to be in the forest anyway. Everybody knows how to recognize the signs that a bear has been around, and if any had been seen recently, you can bet that (1) everybody would be talking about it and (2) it would have been taken care of long before they began talking.

Antelope_1006174. We do not “farm” deer, antelope, bighorn sheep, or other animals you may see behind fences near town. This is actually the wildlife you have come all this way to view. They come here of their own free will, probably because they like it around here as much as we do. They leap the fences, live in peace with the livestock, and like to graze our fields. (Please drive with care.)

5. We’re not all cowboys in Dubois. Indeed there are many working cowhands, retired cowboys, former cowboys, and would-be cowboys. But the population also includes (off the top of my head) a computer architect, a designer of medical devices, a lobbyist, and many painters and photographers.

stopsign6. Dubois does have stop signs.“There’s not even really a stop sign in town,” Jeda Higgs said on the video “Chasing Totality: Making the Eclipse Megamovie.” I probably would have been dazzled by the exposure too, but that was hyperbole. More accurately, there is no stop sign, yield sign, or traffic light for cars making the 90-degree turn on the highway as it passes through the center of town. They have the right of way (and locals know it). People do face stop signs as they enter the highway from many side streets in town, and there are more in the residential parts of the village.

7. Dubois is not the most remote town in the lower 48 states. I dealt with this long-held and much-quoted myth in a previous post. The following is true: Dubois is more than an hour’s drive from the nearest large towns. A remarkable proportion of the surrounding landscape is publicly owned wilderness. The nearest Interstate is about 3 hours away. On the other hand, goods and services are easily accessible and residents take the commute to big-box stores and other conveniences as a fact of life (just as people elsewhere endure traffic, which we don’t have). Besides, those “commutes” are unusually scenic. But by any published criterion, Dubois is not the most remote town in the US. Maybe the most interesting or most charming or most authentically Western or most friendly remote town in the lower 48, but not the remotest.

100_06658. Winters aren’t brutal in Dubois (generally). Last winter may have been tough, true. But in general, temperatures here are several degrees warmer than in Jackson. Most of the snow (usually) gets dumped on that side of Togwotee Pass or on the Pass itself, giving us wonderful opportunities for snowmobiling and snowshoeing. The dry climate keeps winter temperatures surprisingly tolerable. And the air is magically 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.

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.