Dispatch from a Distance

News from a remote region of North England that resonates with home

Cover of Reeth & District Gazette May 2022 edition

While relaxing with a beer after a long hike in England’s Yorkshire Dales, I picked up a copy of the Reeth & District Gazette. What I read was so similar to what goes on back home that I can’t resist sharing it.

Otherwise, the scene is quite different there. The buildings are made mostly of rough-cut stone, and most fields are lined with high stone walls. The thought of the strength and effort required for all that construction with native stone was mind-boggling.

Most of the livestock are sheep, not cattle. Because public rights of way cut right across the meadows (crossing those stone walls with very cumbersome stiles), most hikes lead directly through flocks of grazing ewes and their winsome lambs. All but the bravest lambs skitter off as you approach. The ewes shift a few feet away, if at all.

Sheep grazing in a meadow

Cows are still fairly rare. Back in the day when farming rather than tourism dominated the economy, it was an unavoidable but costly requirement to keep one or two cows (never mind a whole herd).

Small stone barns dot the landscape, “cow houses” built to protect that valuable investment from the elements. Some of these structures are now falling to ruin. Others are renovated for use as studios or vacation rentals.

That’s the setting. Here’s the news from the Gazette:

Editor Mike Barden begins the edition by writing sadly of the pandemic, and fretting about impact of the subsequent “frightening price increases” on anyone “just starting out into their own world” as well as on single mums and pensioners. Then he mentions the horrors in the Ukraine and the heroism there that has “so far averted WW3.”

“Can you believe what I have just written about in those sentences?” he adds. “Matters we would have never expected to happen.”

The other articles, interspersed between the small ads,  are reassuringly provincial, kindhearted, and oddly reminiscent. To wit:

Street in a rural village in Yorkshire

— The Dales Police report for March consisted of one incident of violence, 2 each of criminal damage, burglary and drugs possession, 4 reports of theft and 5 complaints of fraud (the latter mostly involving phone scams related to Amazon and Ebay). On March 8, an unknown male took 2 bottles of Jack Daniels from the Co-op in Leyburn. Someone stole cooking oil from a pub in Wensley.

— A Community Emergency Plan is being enacted to retrieve “vulnerable people” from their homes in times of power outages or natural disasters and deliver them to community centers for shelter. This is necessary to avoid “long periods of waiting in case the Emergency Services are delayed and cannot arrive promptly.”

— Volunteers are working fast to create new nesting boxes for swifts, swallows, and house martins. The options for suitable nesting spots (“nooks and crannies in cavity walls in buildings, empty barns and window alcoves”) have been declining, presumably due to development. A box-building class is on offer, and contractors are being asked to incorporate nesting sites into new structures “subject to consent.” A bird count is also under way.

— Members of SWAAG (the Swaledale and Arkengarthdale Archaeology Group) have been pondering the origins of a large cross-shaped formation of white pebbles recently discovered on Calver Hill, oriented roughly to the north. Information from Google Maps and the (US) National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, pertaining to the deviation of magnetic north over the past 300-plus years, suggests that the stones were laid in 1945 or 1946. It could be some sort of memorial. The US and UK Royal Air Forces used the area for flight practice back then, but there is no record of a plane crash. The cross remains a mystery.

Hikers on a moor in Yorkshire

— In April, Swaledale Mountain Rescue (a team of “highly trained volunteers available 24/7 in any weather, any time”) assisted:
(1) an injured hiker near the waterfall above Hawes, who was able to walk out after treatment;
            (2) a “vulnerable person” who had gone missing after being last seen at the visitor center, and was located with the help of a police helicopter and two search dogs; and
            (3) an injured mountain biker who was treated and then removed by ambulance.

Swaledale Mountain Rescue is offering to mail prints of the drawing “Sheep at Thea’s Cottage” to people who donate money to the cause.

A church in Yorkshire, England

— The huge, ancient Scots pine in Holy Trinity church yard in Low Row has to be removed because it is leaning dangerously eastward after surviving decades of high winds. The church plans to plant other trees to compensate. (Can’t you hear the grumbling from parishioners and neighbors? Something could have been done!) New trees will be planted to compensate for its loss.

— The Dales also have “badlands.” An expert from the Yorkshire Peat Partnership was scheduled to give an online talk about the restoration of three “moors that are close to her heart” — what might have caused them to degrade, the likely consequences for wildlife and water quality, and what could be done to restore them.

On May 21, a ”Peat and Poetry Event” will contemplate the same matters during a 5-6 mile trek on a nearby moor. There will also be recitals of poems about peat and a visit to the Poetry Postbox. Walkers are encouraged to contribute their own poems to the box.

The Dales are not my landscape, but I loved them anyway. I also love the way the people care about them – and about the strangers who choose to wander across them, and about each other. And about the wildlife.

© Lois Wingerson, 2022

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The Truth About Richard Dennison (So Far…)

Stories about him, and by him about himself.

Richard V. Dennison
Richard V. Dennison

Richard V. (Dick) Dennison was one of those enigmatic characters who came to Dubois from the East Coast, tried and failed, and then vanished without leaving much of himself behind.

Fortunately for us, someone mentioned to Grace Remington, a documentary film-maker in New York City, that she “had a grand uncle who killed someone and then fled justice to Wyoming, where he built a palatial lodge populated with celebrities.”

Curious, Grace followed up briefly over the phone with former Dubois mayor Twila Blakeman. Then the pandemic hit.

A few months ago, with the pandemic easing, and herself now supported by a fellowship from the Jacob Burns Film Center, Grace reached out to the Dubois Museum, feeling a need to “just go and see if anyone knows anything about this guy to whom I’m distantly related and who died a long time ago.” (He was her maternal grandfather’s uncle.)

I happened upon Grace at the coffee shop, on her first morning in town. Lynn Stewart introduced us, we sorted out our coincidental connection, and she beamed her infectious smile. I’m so glad I stopped by that morning.

It happens that Grace lives about 6 blocks from my former home in Brooklyn. This revelation prompted a long and intense conversation, mostly about restaurants and ethnic food stores far from Wyoming.

She had just arrived. She sat on the white sofa, the Perch’s copy of Mary Allison’s Dubois Area History right in front of her on the table. She stayed for 3 hours after I left, as people drew her in and vice versa, the way it often happens in there.

She came to my house later (I lent her a memory card) and a few days afterwards we had lunch at the Cowboy Cafe, where I formally interviewed her and took notes. This is that story.

Dennison Lodge
Dennison Lodge

R.V.D. did leave one important thing behind: the Dennison Lodge. It’s the attractive log building that stands today between the Dubois Museum and the National Bighorn Sheep Center, across the highway from Family Dollar.

As most locals know, it used to stand 18 miles up East Fork, the center of an exclusive, invitation-only dude ranch whose guests included Clark Gable and Carole Lombard.

After Dennison died suddenly, under mysterious circumstances, and the property ended up in government hands, the building was threatened with demolition. Several influential women moved heaven and earth to get it moved into town. It’s an event venue today. (At least one barn from the property was also relocated, a few miles down East Fork, to the site of the Trial Lawyers College.)

Many long-term residents can sketch in other details, often tracing back to the account in Mary Allison’s book. A Brief History of the Dennison Lodge, published in 2000, repeats some of the same information and adds more.

They say that Richard Dennison fled here to escape prosecution after he killed someone in a hit-and-run accident back East. The lodge was fitted out with lavish, expensive furniture and mounts of African animals which Dennison, not being a hunter, had purchased. He went broke, killed himself, and the lodge stood empty.

That’s the local lore, much of it true. But the reality that Grace is teasing out is different in some details, at once stranger and oddly familiar.

Adapted from an entry in Dubois Area History, p. 200

During her visit, the town responded “in a way that was genuine and really beautiful,” Grace told me. “I got to know people, and everyone was enthusiastic to share what they have to offer.”

She visited the Dennison and the Museum and anyone she could find who had information about the history of the Lodge and its founder. Grace told me it was interesting to see “how the story plays out in a town full of stories and story tellers–reliable and otherwise.”

Richard Dennison was born in Philadelphia in December 1880, the third of 7 siblings, three of whom died in childhood. Mary Allison says he was a member of the New Jersey family that owned the Dennison Paper Company, but actually his father was president of American Oil Development Company in Pittsburgh. As Grace puts it, he was a trust fund baby.

A Brief History of the Dennison Lodge says that Dick visited “the CM Dude Ranch on Jakey’s Fork in 1913” at the age of 23. But he was actually 33 in 1913, and that was 7 years before Charles Moore founded the CM on Jakey’s Fork. Moore did run a pack-tripping operation out of the base of the Dunoir, but it was intended for boys, not grown men, and its buildings burned down sometime around 1905, according to Allison.

Her book says that he first came here in 1914, without mentioning the CM Ranch. Whatever the reality, like so many others Dennison obviously fell in love with the Wind River Valley once he saw it.

“Clearly, he had the experience of a lifetime there,” Grace said. “That must be when he decided what he wanted to do.”

Looking through records at the court house in Lander, she hasn’t yet tracked down exactly when Dick bought the ranch up Bear Creek. But only 7 years later, by 1920, he lived in Lander. In 1924, he was living back East in New Jersey, but by 1930 he was in Fremont County for good.

Dennison Lodge, then

He began living out the cowboy dream. People say he was a good rider. On the ranch, he raised Jersey cattle and thoroughbred horses.

After Grace left, I took a picture of a few pages about Dick Dennison from Esther Mockler’s memoir, and texted them to her. He “had a theory that horses raised in high altitudes would develop a larger lung capacity than low-altitude horses, and thus could win more races,” Mockler wrote. “He never conclusively proved his theory.”

Dennison Lodge, now. Same room,
slightly different vantage point.

“Seems like a good summation of Dick Dennison’s overall approach to things,” Grace wrote back, repeating the last line: He never conclusively proved his theory.

There’s also much that she may never prove conclusively.

Through a distant relative doing family genealogy, whom she learned about from the Dubois Museum, and from her own research, Grace has discovered “things that aren’t the case.” In short, much of what Dick Dennison told people here is untrue or cannot be verified.

Mary Allison wrote that he had a twin brother who died at the age of 12. There is no record of a twin brother.

He told people that he served overseas in World War I, and he chose to wear WWI-style Army boots. According to the genealogy by Grace’s relative, his death certificate says that he was a World War 1 veteran who suffered shell shock after the war. But his passport shows that he went to France in 1918 as a volunteer for the Red Cross.

At the age of 37, he would have been deemed too old to serve according to regulations at the time, and in any case the war ended shortly afterwards. Veteran or volunteer, perhaps it doesn’t matter. But he left a certain impression.

Mary Allison recorded his middle name as “venison” (see image above). “Richard Venison Dennison?” said Grace. “That’s so insane!” His real middle name was Vincent. Was she mistaken, or was he playing around?

“Who knows?” she said during our interview. “Maybe the hit and run was another fabrication, to give him some sort of ‘credibility’. Like he killed someone, but then he wasn’t to blame because it was an accident, so he didn’t have to feel guilty.” The concept “fleeing justice to the West” does have considerably more glamor than just coming West to play cowboy, doesn’t it?

Because there’s no evidence that he ever mentioned a date and a place, and by definition he would have fled the scene, Grace can’t imagine how she might validate that part of his story. He had no criminal record.

When he came to Wyoming, Grace believes, he set about to “write his own story and fashion a life for himself that was fulfilling.” She talks of a “duality of identity,” of a life not lived and experiences never had.

In a sense, she pointed out, he followed a course of action that is paralleled by “many other people, even to this day” — those who envision a new lifestyle for themselves and head West to create it.

On September 27, 1939, according to Mary Allison, Dick called his friend Eloise Peck saying that she should come over if she wanted to see him alive. When she arrived at 10:30 a.m., she found him dead in a chair. There was no inquest, and the rumor that he took his own life has not been verified. He was 59 years old.

He was cremated and his ashes taken to Denver. There is no information beyond that.

Grace drove to Lander to read his estate documents. In December 1939, the inventory ran to 27 pages of possessions, assessed at $100,000. But there was also a long list of creditors, and the inventory list eventually shrank to 5 pages. By that time the assessment had fallen to $33,500, “which the lawyer for his executor conveniently buys,” Grace told me.

There are rumors that many items were stolen and never recorded.

“It’s telling and poetic that what remained of Dick Dennison was a list of his stuff,” Grace said at the Cowboy Cafe. Very few pictures from the Dennison ranch in the Museum collection have people in them, she told me. Most of them show nothing but things.

Grace Remington

“But after all, the only thing that remains of any of us are the stories we tell about ourselves,” she went on, “and the stories that others tell about us.”

“Well, there IS a big lodge,” she added, with that smile.

She asked for a hug, and we parted. Grace intends to return to Dubois sometime in June.

© Lois Wingerson, 2022

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You can see every new entry of Living Dubois by email if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

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Science Tackles A Different Pandemic in Our Valley

Finally, a clear picture begins to emerge from the data

I’m driving over the washboard road toward the Whiskey Mountain Trailhead, when my hiking partner gasps. I brake.

“Look over there!” she says.

It’s a rare and very special sight: A group of bighorn sheep, up close. We count 26.

“Are those lambs?” she asks, spotting a few small ones. Maybe last year’s, I respond. The new lambs won’t be born for a few weeks yet.

I resist the urge to add what I learned recently, at the Annual Meeting of the National Bighorn Sheep Center in Dubois.

So far, from what Rachel Smiley and Brittney Wagler said at the meeting, I assume that none of these sheep that gaze at us in the spring sun are infected. With luck, they never will be.

Smiley and Wagner, both graduate students at the University of Wyoming, are somewhere high in the mountains right now, working to capture female bighorns which will be tested and then released. After a long, slow process, they have amassed enough data points to draw some conclusions about what should be done.

As most locals know, these sheep are just a remnant of the core native herd of bighorns in the greater Yellowstone region. Before 1990, the Whiskey Mountain herd was so large that almost 2000 wild sheep were transferred out of here to populate other parts of the Mountain West. That stopped abruptly after the herd suffered a die-off in the 1990s. It has never recovered.

Drawing of bighorn sheep near mountains

Scientists and interested local volunteers have spent decades trying to understand the problem. Only in the last few years, with the same DNA technology used to test for COVID, has research identified the root cause: the bacterium Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae. (Researchers shorthand this to “Movi”.)

 It  affects sheep worldwide, both domestic and wild, causing a form of pneumonia. Movi is easily transmitted and (especially in this area, for some reason) often fatal in bighorns.

The parallel to COVID isn’t lost on researchers, who observe that sheep don’t wear masks, have a habit of sniffing each other’s noses, and behave with the opposite of social distancing. There is no vaccine against Movi.

There’s another poignant parallel for the Sheep Center. Its Director (who is also, like Wagler and Smiley, young and very fit) nearly died last year from pneumonia due to a form of plague that she caught from her sick cat.

Like so many other pathogens, Movi came to America with the Europeans – specifically, with their sheep. It jumped easily to wild sheep. There aren’t any domestic sheep near here these days, but Movi has persisted. It isn’t the only respiratory pathogen now endemic among local bighorns, which may harbor any or all of 5 different varieties. It’s just the most deadly.

Since 2015, a multi-agency project begun in coordination with the Sheep Center in Dubois has been pursuing a coordinated effort to come up with solutions. As part of it, Smiley and Wagler capture ewes in December and March and test them for Movi as well as for their physical condition, having fitted each one with a radio collar and a vaginal implant transmitter (VIT) that signals when they give birth.

Since 2020, they have also been capturing and collaring newborn lambs. Much of the time, off-schedule, they go back in when sheep (or sometimes just their collars) have died. Every reading and result becomes a point in a larger image.

Bighorn lamb

“Every one of those data points has a ton of effort that has gone into it,” said project advisor Kevin Monteith PhD at the Sheep Center Annual Meeting. But he didn’t expand on that. I was able to learn more from a long interview with Smiley and Wagler posted on the Artemis Podcast in 2020.

This was just after they had begun to radio-collar lambs, which in their rugged high-mountain habitat is a matter of tactics, stealth, endurance, and extreme physical agility. Smiley, a recreational rock climber, often relies on those skills.

“Sometimes it seems crazy that they choose to do what they do,” she said. “A cliff edge is their favorite place in the world.”

When a VIT signals a new birth, they have to race to wherever the GPS reads, because both sheep may easily move away. Some ewes favor giving birth near Down’s Lake, at 12,000 feet in the back and beyond of the Wind River range. “We go up on the old Glacier trail,” said Wagler, “steep, steep, steep switchbacks and then across Goat Flat, which is like 4 miles of rock-hopping. By the end of the summer, we’re all pretty just drained of doing this hike over and over again.”

Other ewes seem to want to give birth just after a snowstorm rolls through, so Smiley always waits for VIT signals after a spring blizzard. Occasionally, she has gone out on skis to find a newborn lamb.

Getting there is only part of the fun. Usually a spotter joins two people going out for the capture, all in contact by radio. They need to creep up as close as possible to the ewe and her newborn, then race in for the capture the instant the sheep spot the humans.

Lambs only a few hours old are quite mobile, and can easily dash out of sight in seconds or leap a 10-foot cliff, climbing and scrambling over rocks and steep snowbanks that no sensible human would attempt.

The researchers also have to trek out to retrieve carcasses, hoping to learn the cause of death. Sometimes the remains are too far gone to accomplish this. And sometimes they wonder what’s actually watching them.

Once, Smiley went out alone to pick up a collar only a few miles from the highway up a ravine. She found herself staring up into the steady gaze of the mountain lion that must have just swallowed the collar, along with the unlucky lamb.  (She backed away, very slowly.)

All the data points gathered in this challenging effort have documented what the Sheep Center already knew: Nowhere near enough lambs are surviving to guarantee the Whiskey herd a future. Around half to three-fourths of lambs born to the Gros Ventre herd near Jackson survive to adulthood. Last year was a banner year for Dubois: Two lambs actually made it through to winter.

The first few weeks of life are perilous for any bighorn lamb. Although predators do kill some lambs, including some that are healthy, most lambs born to the Whiskey herd die of pneumonia, the team has found.

Graph showing early life mortality in bighorn lambs
Adapted from a graph created by the Monteith team

The problem is most grave in the Red Creek sub-herd, the bighorns that can be seen sometimes grazing dangerously near the highway beside the huge red-rock formations at the eastern edge of the Wind River Reservation.

One member of the herd, Sheep 108, was caught for the first time in March 2019 and twice since then. Each time, she has tested positive for Movi. She has never recovered.

(However, escape is possible: Sheep #1, also a member of the Red Creek sub-herd, has been tested 9 times and never tested positive. Many sheep in herds elsewhere catch the bacterium and do recover. What makes the difference? The team would like to know, and hope to learn.)

Sheep #6 was first caught in March 2015. She tested positive for Movi a year later, and then began to harbor the other 4 pathogens. Although she never appeared sick, she tested positive ever after, and died last December. At necropsy, her lungs were full of tissue killed by pneumonia. She also had a sinus tumor. These tumors, invisible to human observers in the live animal, are known to harbor bacteria.

Among the 10 lambs born to ewes that chronically tested positive for Movi among the Red Creek herd, only one survived to the next winter–and it had been born to a ewe that first tested positive only afterwards. The chronically infected ewes are not contributing to the herd. Instead, they are endangering it.

Obviously, it is not only the lambs born to infected mothers that are at risk of catching Movi. “Essentially any lamb is susceptible to dying of pneumonia if there is Movi in that subgroup,” said Daryl Lutz, wildlife management coordinator for Wyoming Game & Fish, at the Sheep Center meeting.

Brittney Wagler, Rachel Smiley, and Daryl Lutz on Zoom
Wagler, Smiley, and Lutz on Zoom at Sheep Center Annual Meeting

Over the Zoom screen, Lutz and Monteith looked troubled at times. Beginning his remarks, Monteith signaled the unhappy conclusion that was ahead. “When we engage in working to address difficult questions like this, we often hope to find a silver bullet, and oftentimes things are complex enough that maybe there’s not a silver bullet. I think this is one of those instances.”

After Smiley and Wagner painstakingly laid out the results of their research, Lutz had the more difficult task of explaining the consequences.

The collaborative team had already sought and won approval for its strategy from the Intertribal Council, the elected governing body on the Wind River Indian Reservation, which is part of the herd’s habitat. The jargon they use for the strategy is “test and remove.” It has shown some success in infected herds in Idaho, South Dakota, and British Columbia. (The Sheep Center is hosting a webcast about test and remove on April 9.)

“Remove” means to kill the chronically infected “super-spreaders” – in this case, three who had never produced a viable lamb since becoming chronically infected with Movi — because there’s no good option for actually relocating a very sick bighorn. (Nature has already removed the fourth, Sheep #6.) The team intends to examine the ewes that have been culled, anticipating they will find more sinus tumors.

I think a more appropriate euphemism would be the one we used back when I was doing cancer research on laboratory mice:  Sacrifice. That research provided no advantage for the rest of the mice, but in this case the ewes are indeed being killed for the potential benefit of the rest of the herd.

The decision entailed “a lot of thought, a lot of discourse, and also angst on my part and I’m sure others felt it too,” Lutz said, “because what we’re talking about doing is a pretty aggressive management tool.”

Tally of bighorn sheep viewed in Wind River Valley
Bighorn tally on display at Sheep Center

Twice he stressed that the decision was not “cavalier,” adding that he hates killing any animal unnecessarily. “But I do think we’re at a point where this is the best thing to do.”

Someone asked whether it might be possible to treat the sick animals and isolate them instead. But there are no effective antibiotics or good place to keep bighorns in captivity, Monteith said. There is simply no time left to take any chances with this herd, Lutz added.

There’s no guarantee that the strategy will rescue the sub-herd at Red Creek, in part because the herd there is already so small. But it may help to protect others nearby, like those we saw last week.

Many questions remain.

Although Movi doesn’t survive outside a living body the way Coronavirus can, the outdoor environment may still play a role. Oddly, bighorns in the Absaroka range just across our valley test positive for the same number and kind of bacteria as the ones on the Whiskey Mountain side. But that herd is thriving, numbering around 1000, while the Dubois herd has been dying off for decades.

One reason might be nutrition. But then why did the Whiskey Mountain herd thrive before the 1990s, and not after?

Bighorn sheep

Smiley and Wagler have found that ewes in the Whiskey herd don’t gain as much fat during the summer as bighorn ewes on the Gros Ventre side near Jackson. They’ve been systematically gathering samples of forage in both locations.

Their initial findings won’t surprise hikers in the Winds and the Tetons: Plant life is much less abundant in the mountains around Dubois than in the greener terrain over the Pass.

It could be that the lambs here are more susceptible simply because they (and the pregnant ewes) aren’t fed well enough. What to do about that, if it’s true, is yet another question to address.

Often, Wagner said during the podcast, people told them that what Montieth had assigned them to do was impossible.

“He just said we’re going to get it done. And yeah, we’re getting it done. It is possible.”

© Lois Wingerson, 2022

Thanks for reading!

You can see every new entry of Living Dubois by email if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

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Midsummer 2021 in Dubois: Good, Bad, and Scary

Of vanishing produce, disappearing pastries, locusts, picket pins, blue coyotes, and more.

I remember the day when Dubois was a sleepy little hamlet, hidden away in a peaceful mountain valley … like, last April.

Feels like that time has gone for good, along with dial telephones.

Stopping for lunch at the Lone Burrito on Thursday, I couldn’t see a single parking spot anywhere. This is extraordinary.

I found a spot by driving behind the official tourist parking area in Lamb Park and around to the gravel lot at the back of Ace Hardware. I felt very glad to be a local who knows a workaround.

This situation is not unique to Dubois this summer, as many people will tell you. All of the gateway towns near National Parks here out West are overrun. Some visitors from Alpine told me it’s just the same on the other side of Teton Pass, where different tourists are heading to flee the crowds in Jackson Hole.

I went into Superfoods on Wednesday to buy some berries and radishes. The produce shelves were nearly empty. It reminded my of my travels inside the Eastern bloc decades ago, when the Berlin Wall was still intact.

“I know what you’re planning to do with that!” laughed my friend Tammy from the cash register, when she saw me snap this photo.

“Darn right!” I said.

Tammy said the staff were completely at a loss to explain this. They received the usual shipment on Monday, and they have been ordering extra for the season. It’s as if locusts had descended.

The annual Museum Day last weekend was a roaring success. I helped out for a while serving the Indian tacos made with fry bread, which seemed just as popular as the authentic chuckwagon stew of prior years. But I soon left, because it was clear there were plenty of volunteers.

Reportedly there were also a record number of visitors. The guest count was about 500, and revenues were high.

But spooky things were going on.

The buzz around town is about the theft. Someone bought a pie at the bake sale, and asked to have it held for later. The buyer’s name was duly attached using a piece of tape, as usual, and it was stored on a table in the kitchen inside the Dennison Lodge. When he or she returned for the pie, it had disappeared.

“I was very disappointed,” said Mary Lou, who ran the bake sale. “People in Dubois don’t do things like that.” (I ran that bake sale for several years, and I can agree.)

Maybe Dubois people don’t, but there are other suspects. Mary Lou told me that she kept having to shoo the same fat and persistent “picket pin” (AKA ground squirrel, genus Citellus) out of the bake sale prep area inside the Dennison. Finally she gave up, closed the door, and put up a sign that said something like “Please come in. Picket pins not welcome.”

Perhaps the picket pin brought some buddies and dragged the pie away after hours. I wouldn’t put it past them. (Like the tourists, they seem to be around in record numbers this year.)

An unsubstantiated rumor (we specialize in these in Dubois) regards a different bake-sale purchase, a plate of pastries. Reportedly someone substituted a different kind of bar for the brownies, leaving the rest of the plate intact. I can’t imagine blaming the picket pins for that.

In other news:

The Perch is closed this weekend. They’re not saying why, but my guess is Sheila and family are taking a well-deserved break. This proved a good opportunity to try out one of the two new options that have shown up to relieve the shock to our caffeine-addicted system.

The face in the top image belongs to Monica Furman, who serves it up with a smile at the Dubois branch of Pinedale-based Pine Coffee Supply. The truck is parked beside the new fly fishing shop across from the Black Bear Inn, which is owned by her in-laws.

Monica, a wedding planner by profession, grew up in Arizona. She and her husband didn’t expect to find full-time work in Dubois, but he landed a job as the manager at Nana’s Bowling and Bakery (soon to open). She found the coffee job, and now they’re here to stay.

The lower image shows the new tiny-house version of the former coffee shop called Coyote Blue, which closed at the start of the pandemic. That’s its familiar logo to the right of the window.

Ali’s trailer is parked in front of Never Sweat Lodge, just west of the Super 8. She’s serving her signature breakfast sandwiches again, just as she did at her previous location. (You can’t see her here because I snapped this picture late in the day, when the truck was closed.)

Another Dubois rumor holds that Joe Brandl has sold his shop. This I can confirm.

I caught that wonderful guy in town yesterday, spraying weed killer outside the shop. We haven’t seen much of Joe since he moved over to Crowheart, and his talk turned quickly to haying — not antiques and animal hides.

There will be a closeout sale in the fall, Joe told me, and probably a tag sale out back afterwards, for what hasn’t sold up front. (Clean out your storage sheds, Dubois! This is your chance.)

He also confirmed that the buyer is his son. Joe has no idea what is planned for the space.

So why is that big For Sale sign still out there? “I haven’t gotten around to taking it down,” he said with one of his smiles–and then he offered to sell it to me.

Which of this news is good, or bad, and which is scary? It’s a matter of opinion — and there are plenty of those in Dubois, any time of year.

© Lois Wingerson, 2021. Thanks for reading!

You can see every new entry of Living Dubois by email if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

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Status Report, Dubois June 2021: Joint Jumpin’

Of bad news, good news, exciting events and turning points …

These are the days when I recall with a sense of enchantment what drew us here in the first place. The skies are endless and clear. While everywhere else in the nation seems to be sweltering, here it is blessedly cool.

The sun comes up early, hangs about all day, and doesn’t seem to want to let go of the day and set down.

Neither do we.

Town is overrun with visitors. We read that over there next door, Yellowstone Park has half again as many visitors as before the pandemic, and we can believe it. They began arriving in mid-May, somewhat to the consternation of local businesses that are accustomed to using that month for sprucing up.

It’s also bustling with new residents. I seem to meet someone new every week. Reportedly housing is in very short supply, if it’s available at all. We will soon see how many newcomers intend to remain year-round — and of those who do, how many will decide after all that they just can’t tolerate the dust, the wind, or the realities of small-town life.

It’s that time of year when cars with out-of-state plates stop unpredictably at the main intersection, and you may have to honk (a sound we never hear here, otherwise) to tell them to move along. It can be tough to find a parking spot at SuperFoods, and drivers are always pulling out onto the highway from the entrance.

People wander up and down the sidewalk looking lost, hoping to find a place for dinner where the wait isn’t so long. Last year, we wanted to patronize the restaurants to keep them going. These days, it’s probably kinder not to eat out. It seems that every business in town is advertising for employees, and those already at work are run off their feet.

The former steakhouse next to the Rustic Pine Tavern has reopened as the Honey House, where the Millers of Crowheart have installed beeswax products of all kinds as well as a real-live beehive complete with informational signs about the species. Our son, who visited a few weeks ago (and dropped a bundle there, Christmas shopping in June) informs me that the price of beeswax candles is considerably lower than back in New York City.

The bad news: Although that terrace on the left is still open and equipped with tables and chairs, because the Honey House is not a restaurant you can’t enjoy al fresco refreshment out there any more. The Rustic Pine Tavern (out of the picture to the right) won’t allow you to carry your drinks to the patio. This has something to do with state laws about carrying glasses outdoors.

But the good news, as you can see in the picture, is that the Rustic (under new ownership) is now serving brisket and pulled pork as well as barbecue. So there’s one more option for those hungry tourists.

The square dance was outdoors last night, with the street beside the Opportunity Shop closed off for the occasion. It was the first weekly Tuesday on the Town event, to be followed in coming weeks by a flea market, a children’s evening with face painting and balloons, an artists’ show, and a car show.

Clearly, the new officers at the Chamber of Commerce are full of energy and good ideas.

The most exciting event I have seen so far this summer was opening day at the new Ace Hardware. It felt like a party. The cashiers were all smiles, greeting customers by name. Manager Chris Sabatka was beaming, shaking hand after hand, as people congratulated him for returning to work in town. He has been traveling to Jackson for years, to run a different store there, when we urgently needed his business talents here. With him at the helm, we can be confident that Ace Hardware is here to stay.

One friend knew her husband would be so overjoyed at the opening that she made it a birthday occasion for him. She asked him to wear a blindfold, and then took him on a drive with many diversions before turning into the parking lot. Then she walked him through the door, positioned him at one end of an aisle, and took it off so he could see all the temptations.

Another reason for good cheer: The incoming kindergarten class next month will number all of 22. Small-town dwellers know that the size of the school population is a robust indicator of economic health, and this is surely a boost.

This news flash came from Jason Kintzler, a Wyoming native and entrepeneur whose family has finally achieved their longtime dream of moving to Dubois. Giving the keynote address at the annual fund-raising event for the Boys & Girls Club, he shared that exciting statistic, followed by his assertion that Dubois is reaching a turning point. No doubt the Kintzlers are helping to propel it there.

The founder of LifeKey, a “smart” wristband that provides access to health data and emergency contacts, Jason and his family tried living in bustling Jackson for two years. (He referred to it as a “sentence” he had to live out.) Last winter, they relocated eastward across the Pass, adding four new students to the Dubois school roster. His wife Jasmine has now opened Dubois Provisions on the main street, adding another trendy business to the strip of shops across from the Rustic.

I will certainly buy Mrs. Meyer’s hand soap there from now on, rather than ordering it online. I may be able to get anything I need from Amazon Prime via UPS. But I’d so much rather stop in for a chat with Jasmine than bang away at this keyboard.

© Lois Wingerson, 2021

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Why Dubois Is the #YOLO Option for Some

On the daredevil spirits who make a “crazy” choice

moving truck in front of a mountain and cliff

“What is he smoking?” I asked myself. “He’s in Wyoming!”

Out West to retrieve our daughter after a wilderness program, during an idle period in what could easily be the last of many visits to Dubois, my husband had been looking around with a realtor. He called me back in Brooklyn to say, half jokingly (or so he says now), that he’d found our dream house.

The idea of upping stakes and moving to Wyoming seemed utterly loony at the time. For one thing, I liked my job. How would I ever be able to work there?

Wyoming is fabulous, I thought, but it’s for vacations — not for real life.

Gradually, as remote work became a possibility, I had a re-think. It took about 15 years for us to relocate completely.

Perhaps the turning point for the permanent exodus was when we found ourselves trapped yet again in noisy Manhattan traffic and my husband, a lifelong New Yorker, called out, “I hate this city!” These days, pulling to the top of the driveway, he sometimes murmurs “I’ll just slip into traffic,” although no cars are visible in either direction.

empty highway in Wyoming

For biomedical engineer Bill Sincavage and his wife Lori, who lived in the Boston area, that decision also arrived fairly slowly.

Like us, they had discovered Dubois on vacation, returned several times, and eventually began to dream of living here full-time. Like me, Bill could work remotely, and Lori was ready to retire. (Soon after moving here, she returned to teaching, in our elementary school.)

Bill told me it took four or five years for them to come around to the decision to relocate to the West. Today he has a second calling: He also earns income online as a wildlife photographer.

In these almost post-pandemic days, that same impulse seems to be striking a younger generation with the same force but much more rapidly, if you can credit the words of New York Times reporter Kevin Roose. “[F]or a growing number of people with financial cushions and in-demand skills,” he wrote on April 22, “the dread and anxiety of the past year are giving way to a new kind of professional fearlessness.”

For them it’s taking place long before retirement is in the picture. He mentions a 33-year-old lawyer in Florida, a 29-year-old reporter in Brooklyn, a 29-year-old buyer for a major clothing retailer, and an unnamed executive at an unnamed “major tech company.” For all of them, Roose writes, the pandemic has spurred a YOLO (you-only-live-once) kind of decision to step off the corporate ladder and opt out of the urban rat race.

View of a fence and distant mountains in Wyoming

Due to pre-vaccine self-isolation, I haven’t yet laid eyes on my new friend Klaus Goodwin, an executive with a Boston-based pharmaceutical firm, although he moved to Dubois last October from Richmond VA. For Klaus and his husband Eriks, that relocation took only a year.

They went to see Yellowstone in September 2020, and soon began scouting all over Wyoming to find a new hometown. After visiting many other locations in the state, they chose Dubois.

“We fell in love with the Wind River Valley area,” he told me, “and decided to settle in Dubois since we found our dream house here on the top of a mountain with gorgeous views.” The mildness of the winters and the small-town feel also drew them to Dubois, as well as the fact that in Dubois they “experienced an openness for ‘otherness’ as a married, gay couple.”

Having discovered for themselves the general tolerance and cultural diversity for which Dubois is esteemed among those in the know, yet another urban couple has made the unconventional choice of moving to our tiny village at the edge of Western wilderness.

wagon train on mountain trail

A ”daredevil spirit” seems to be infecting even the “cautious over-achievers,” Roose writes in his article, “… a feeling that the economy is changing in ways that reward the crazy and punish the cautious.”

That’s actually nothing new at all. People have been taking “crazy” risks to come this way for generations. Just now, it all seems to be happening much faster.

© Lois Wingerson, 2021

Thanks for reading!

You can see every new entry of Living Dubois by email if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Who’s writing? Check out About Me.

Why Dubois Is the #YOLO Option for Some

On the daredevil spirits who make a “crazy” choice

moving truck in front of a mountain and cliff

“What is he smoking?” I asked myself. “He’s in Wyoming!”

Out West to retrieve our daughter after a wilderness program, during an idle period in what could easily be the last of many visits to Dubois, my husband had been looking around with a realtor. He called me back in Brooklyn to say, half jokingly (or so he says now), that he’d found our dream house.

The idea of upping stakes and moving to Wyoming seemed utterly loony at the time. For one thing, I liked my job. How would I ever be able to work there?

Wyoming is fabulous, I thought, but it’s for vacations — not for real life.

Gradually, as remote work became a possibility, I had a re-think. It took about 15 years for us to relocate completely.

Perhaps the turning point for the permanent exodus was when we found ourselves trapped yet again in noisy Manhattan traffic and my husband, a lifelong New Yorker, called out, “I hate this city!” These days, pulling to the top of the driveway, he sometimes murmurs “I’ll just slip into traffic,” although no cars are visible in either direction.

empty highway in Wyoming

For biomedical engineer Bill Sincavage and his wife Lori, who lived in the Boston area, that decision also arrived fairly slowly.

Like us, they had discovered Dubois on vacation, returned several times, and eventually began to dream of living here full-time. Like me, Bill could work remotely, and Lori was ready to retire. (Soon after moving here, she returned to teaching, in our elementary school.)

Bill told me it took four or five years for them to come around to the decision to relocate to the West. Today he has a second calling: He also earns income online as a wildlife photographer.

In these almost post-pandemic days, that same impulse seems to be striking a younger generation with the same force but much more rapidly, if you can credit the words of New York Times reporter Kevin Roose. “[F]or a growing number of people with financial cushions and in-demand skills,” he wrote on April 22, “the dread and anxiety of the past year are giving way to a new kind of professional fearlessness.”

For them it’s taking place long before retirement is in the picture. He mentions a 33-year-old lawyer in Florida, a 29-year-old reporter in Brooklyn, a 29-year-old buyer for a major clothing retailer, and an unnamed executive at an unnamed “major tech company.” For all of them, Roose writes, the pandemic has spurred a YOLO (you-only-live-once) kind of decision to step off the corporate ladder and opt out of the urban rat race.

View of a fence and distant mountains in Wyoming

Due to pre-vaccine self-isolation, I haven’t yet laid eyes on my new friend Klaus Goodwin, an executive with a Boston-based pharmaceutical firm, although he moved to Dubois last October from Richmond VA. For Klaus and his husband Eriks, that relocation took only a year.

After visiting Yellowstone in September 2020, they began scouting all over Wyoming to find a new hometown. After visiting many other locations in the state, they chose Dubois.

“We fell in love with the Wind River Valley area,” he told me, “and decided to settle in Dubois since we found our dream house here on the top of a mountain with gorgeous views.” The mildness of the winters and the small-town feel also drew them to Dubois, as well as the fact that in Dubois they “experienced an openness for ‘otherness’ as a married, gay couple.”

Having discovered for themselves the general tolerance and cultural diversity for which Dubois is esteemed among those in the know, yet another urban couple has made the unconventional choice of moving to our tiny village at the edge of Western wilderness.

wagon train on mountain trail

A ”daredevil spirit” seems to be infecting even the “cautious over-achievers,” Roose writes in his article, “… a feeling that the economy is changing in ways that reward the crazy and punish the cautious.”

That’s actually nothing new at all. People have been taking “crazy” risks to come this way for generations. Just now, it all seems to be happening much faster.

© Lois Wingerson, 2021

Thanks for reading!

You can see every new entry of Living Dubois by email if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Who’s writing? Check out About Me.

Digital Nomads No More? What This Could Mean for Dubois

Pondering the needs of community for them and us

I am writing from a small chicken farm just outside a distant suburb of Austin, Texas, where we have relocated for a few months (for reasons that have nothing to do with this blog or with Dubois).

It’s great to have free eggs from these free-range chickens. But it was a rude surprise to find that here, only an hour from one of the hottest Internet hubs in the nation, the Internet signal in our guest cottage was so weak that I couldn’t use video on a Zoom call.

I don’t merely miss the flawless Internet back home. I miss hiking trails that don’t resemble eroded garden paths for giants with badly hewn stone staircases, where you can never look around because you must always look down. I miss my routine. I miss our community.

Perhaps this is how you feel as a digital nomad, one of those vagabonds who works on the Internet and travels the world with no fixed home. Given the challenges of the pandemic, social media groups about digital nomads are abuzz with the disadvantages of that lifestyle. Sampling vacation spots and writing posts from a beach chair may sound idyllic, but there are realities that begin to pixelate that rosy image.

Even before the pandemic, travel could be a headache. Besides that and the risk of spotty Internet, there’s the inconvenience of packing and unpacking in new places all the time.

Like a perpetual tourist, you never have sufficient time to connect with the local community. Your only community lives on your screen.

In a blog about the future of remote work, one of the original digital nomads, Pieter Levels, talks poignantly about why he gave up the wandering life. He predicts that when the pandemic is behind us, tech workers who are able to live anywhere “will NOT be fast-traveling from place to place, but instead will relocate longer-term to remote work destinations.”

What could this mean for communities like Dubois, which rely heavily on tourism?

Until now, I’ve focused on attracting digital workers who already have a home base elsewhere, and on whether or not Dubois should establish a co-working space for them. But this week I learned of something that reordered my thoughts.

It was an online conversation between Rowena Hennigan, who comes from Ireland but lives in Spain, and Gonçalo Hall, who is in Portugal. Both are remote-work advocates, and I’ve spoken separately with each of them on LinkedIn about our project to promote remote work in Dubois.

In a recent podcast, Rowena interviews Gonçalo about a government-sponsored plan to build a new community for digital nomads on the remote Portuguese island of Madeira, located west of the coast of Morocco. He says that the island is (like Dubois) “practically unexplored by any digital nomads or remote workers.”.

Gonçalo goes on to describe the same kind of loneliness that Pieter Levels portrays so poignantly. “Lisbon has a lot of digital workers just now,” he says, “but it’s not a community, because it’s just too big. I miss being with people. I miss the sense of belonging…. I think other digital nomads and other remote workers miss it too.”

So he intends to build a whole new village for them on Madeira.

The project will be based in the town of Ponta do Sol, which (quite unlike Dubois) has “no life to the village,” except for the tourists who come to see the sun set over the ocean. Afterwards, he said, they go down to the village looking for something, and find nothing.

“It should be full of people living there,” he said. “… We want them to create co-working spaces and co-living spaces. … It’s not just a project, it’s a sustainable future.”

Dubois already has its own case study of a former digital nomad, in the person of travel blogger Di Minardi. Perhaps a few readers will remember her name, because last spring I spent a great deal of effort searching for a place where she could stay.

Di approached me via LinkedIn a year ago, having seen my posts about Dubois. She proposed to come for the summer and to feature the area on her blog Slight North. Because the blog is targeted to remote workers, I jumped at the offer.

Naturally, we kept in close touch after that. Why, I asked, was she interested in Dubois, of all places? (If you don’t know the town yet, check out the link.) Because it sounded interesting, she said–but that wasn’t the whole story.

For reasons related to the pandemic, Di had to cancel the plan, and we agreed to revisit the idea after this crisis is over. She re-contacted me a few weeks ago, but for a different reason: To ask for a recommendation to a program in environmental writing at the University of Wyoming.

During the long, forced pause of the pandemic, Di told me, she began to realize that she needed a real-life community of mentors who could help her advance her skills, in the direction of a career with more impact than just describing places to visit.

Why that particular program? Because of the curriculum and the instructors, but also because of the location. Di told me that she has wanted to visit Wyoming for a long time, and was eager to experience living here.

As a science writer and now a friend, I was pleased to write the letter.

Of course, I’ll invite Di to come to Dubois once the “new normal” sets in. Then I will also ask her what we could do to make Dubois an attractive home base for her, and for other online workers who have tired of the wandering life. How can we fulfill their desires for their own community, not just for ours?

Our basic needs do align: They want something more than just a place to visit, and we want to be that.

© Lois Wingerson, 2020

Thanks for reading! You can see every new entry of Living Dubois by email if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Who’s writing? Check out About Me.

How One (P)lucky Dubois Woman Found Freedom in Remote Work

With a simple set of tools, she built herself a new future …

“You should really talk to Micki about this remote work thing,” said a mutual friend. “She wants to get into that.”

Well, he is a good friend, but at that point Micki Herbert was merely my acquaintance. All I knew about her was that she also came from Michigan, that she had asked me for advice when buying a new laptop, that she made her living as a cleaning person, and that she was concerned about catching COVID when cleaning motel rooms.

I called her right away, and asked what she wanted to know about remote work. Answer: Everything. It had been her dream for years to work from her home—not in other peoples’ homes, and not in motels.

“What kind of job are you looking for?” I asked. “What experience do you have?”

Customer service, she replied, and then elaborated about her history in Michigan before coming to Wyoming. Slam dunk, I said to myself–if she has the grit to do what’s required.

So I gave her a data dump. Showed her how to create a profile on LinkedIn. Sent her some articles I had saved from remote-work influencers online. I emailed her a glossary of remote-work buzzwords from GrowRemote, so she would have the required vocabulary.

Then I left her alone, and didn’t raise the topic again. Now she’s in paid training for a remote job with a global company.

This story is not to boast about myself, because what I did was simple. It’s to cheer for Micki, who obviously has bucketloads of grit. I gave her a simple set of tools, and she built herself a new future–in a remarkably short time.

You’re going to be a poster child, I told her recently. This is what other people could do to keep living here, if they want to overcome the seasonal work problem.

When her marriage fell apart, Micki had been selling cars at a dealership in Traverse City, Michigan. She was “really good at it,” she told me, because she liked to talk to people and hear their stories. She knows how to draw people out, and that can build relationships that lead to productive followup, to sales, and to satisfying customer service. But although she kept at the job for 10 years, she hated it.

“Why don’t you take your own advice,” asked her adult son, “and do what makes you happy?”

So Micki came to Wyoming and took a menial job at a guest ranch, where she could get outdoors and (with any luck) ride horses. One day, squeezed into a day ride with some guests, she found herself at the top of a mountain looking down at a guest ranch that overlooks a placid lake ringed by pearl-white cliffs.

“What’s that place?” she asked.

The first time I saw that view, I felt I was looking into heaven.

Micki finished out the season where she was working, then went to culinary school and got a job at that lodge beside Brooks Lake. Soon after starting there, she drove down-mountain to Dubois to look around, and she saw a woman playing alpenhorn on Ramshorn Street in front of Welty’s Store.

“That made me realize what an eclectic and wonderful place it was, and I wanted to learn more about it,” Micki told me. “After that, I just couldn’t get enough of it. I always returned to Dubois.”

The strategy of working at guest ranches lost its appeal after 5 years. She grew tired of having to move all her belongings every few months, and especially of the communal living that was required for guest-ranch staff, which wore thin for a mature woman.

After a particularly horrible season at a guest ranch in Washington State, she began to dream of finding a way to work from home, on her own terms. Being around Dubois had given her a taste for what she wanted, and what she wanted was more of it.

“I’ve been on snowmobiles on the top of mountains where you can see the curvature of the earth,” she told me. “I never thought I would do that. I’ve cooked on pack trips when I rode 30 miles into the wilderness and stayed for a week. Anything I wanted to do here, I’ve been able to do.”

A dogsled trek is still on her bucket list. But here, that’s eminently possible.

To stay in Dubois, Micki took a job cleaning at a local motel and supplemented it by cleaning private houses. But she continued to dream of finding a way to work from home. What she wanted was to be independent, and to ride horses whenever she felt like it.

A sudden need for surgery forced her to quit working for a while, and the down-time of recuperation gave Micki the swift kick she needed to get serious about it. “The universe was saying: Mick, open your eyes and pay attention,” she told me. “You have all this time to work toward your goal. “

Micki opened the emails I sent her. She got to work creating a LinkedIn profile and applying for jobs—but only, she said, those she thought she would be good at “right off the bat.”

“LinkedIn was amazing,” she said. “I could not believe how many jobs hit my email every day.”

After only a few weeks, she was contacted by a global services firm that provides customer service for Fortune 500 companies. That’s the job she has begun now, providing a modest but steady income as well as another laptop, free paid training (which she is now completing), in addition to health insurance.

The training was “frustrating a first, because I have purposely stayed away from technology,” she told me recently. “But that’s also a good thing, because they don’t have to un-teach me. I’m learning it the way they want it to be done.”

Micki will continue cleaning houses to supplement her income, but now she has a steady base for a year-round living in our tourist-based economy, as well as achieving her primary goal: The ability to do what she wants when she wants to.

At some point down the road, she wants the option to travel and work at the same time, and this job will provide her with the credentials to strive toward becoming a digital nomad.

I do hope she will return to Dubois now and again, because Micki has become a friend and I would miss her.

“I want to be free,” she told me. “That’s what this remote work thing is about: freedom.”

© Lois Wingerson, 2020

Thanks for reading! You can see every new entry of Living Dubois by email if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Who’s writing? Check out About Me.



An Exclusive Club for Certain Remote Workers

It’s not easy to get in, but members are glad they did.

rocking chair and view of ocean

“Can you do better than this?” somebody posted on LinkedIn. There was an image of a beach, and text about going out to surf in the morning before starting work at a home office.

“Sure, I can,” I wrote. “How about this?”

… and then I clicked away to find exactly the right previous post from this blog, intending to add a link to it. Surely, many times I have written about my custom of signing off and shutting down at 3 PM to go for a hike in the nearby national forest.

I couldn’t find what I was looking for, and by clicking away from his post, I lost it and could not complete my reply. Oh, well.

The sun was beaming through the window over my shoulder, moving slowly down toward the back side of the ridge. I noticed that it was about 3 PM.

These heavenly mild autumn days will not last forever, I said to myself. I signed off from LinkedIn, shut down, called the dog, and headed outdoors.

The aspen are going out in a blaze of color, the same hue as the stripe down the middle of the highway, the leaves like fragments of the sun quaking in the breeze. Out there, my worries slip away.

“Work From Home is more accurately titled Work From Anywhere,” wrote Jocelyn Kung in Entrepeneur, “a cafe, a beach, a different country. People can choose where they live based on their desired quality of life without sacrificing career opportunities.”

The pandemic has made this option ever more obvious and appealing. Survey after survey has shown that a large majority of the people allowed (or forced) to work from home want to continue doing so.

And many of them are reconsidering where “home” is going to be. If they don’t need to go into headquarters, then why must they live nearby?

“The allure of the city has been eroded by technology,” wrote remote-work advocate Chris Herd on LinkedIn, listing observations based on his recent survey of about 1,000 companies. “You can easily spend time there without living there … Cost of living has made [cities] irrational.”

Under the heading “Rural living” he added that “world-class people will move to smaller cities, have a lower cost of living & higher quality of life.”

These advantages came up in conversation a few weeks ago, during the first online meetup sponsored by Wind River Remote Works, our new organization dedicated to promoting remote work in this area. But with a local population that tops out at about 3,000 in the height of summer, Dubois is hardly what he would call a “small city.”

Downtown Dubois, Wyoming

How can we ever hope to attract new residents if we don’t (yet, at least) provide the amenities so many remote workers expect from urban life, like microbreweries and communal work spaces?

The remote workers who live here already offered some fresh ideas at the meetup.

We should “own” our lifestyle differences, suggested one.

Make the challenge of finding and living in Dubois an advantage, agreed another. (He had just been contending that it was not much of an inconvenience to drive 80 miles to the airport.)

“It’s not an easy place to live,” he added, “and if you live here, you’re in the club.”

He’s one of countless residents who, once he got to know this out-of-the-way village, couldn’t get Dubois out of his mind. He and his family moved here two months ago.

I was one of those as well. But I’ve lived here so long now that the special-ness of achieving that goal has faded. I’d never thought to describe living in Dubois from his perspective, as a community of independent spirits who can recognize a diamond in the rough and then embrace isolation and inconvenience in order to obtain it.

He’s very right: Dubois is an exclusive club. Those of us who live here do recognize that, even if we don’t describe it as such.

The membership criteria include first understanding and then embracing our unique culture and our lifestyle. This goes far beyond the mere pleasures of effortless access to beautiful wilderness.

But how can we ever convey that elusive reality to others–deliver to them such a vision of an authentic Western village (quite different from so many “tourist traps”) that they will be compelled at least to visit and begin to discover it? That’s our challenge now.

“It is too bad … that America knows the West from the roadside,” wrote the great chronicler of the West, Wallace Stegner, in The Rocky Mountain West, “for the roadside is the hoked-up West, the dude West, the tourist West ….”

“I have taken to traveling whenever possible by the back roads, and giving up the comforts along with the billboards,” he went on. “That is one way of getting behind the West’s roadside face.”

“Another is to live in some part of it for a while, sample it as a human dwelling place, as the formative stage of a unique civilization, as a place to go to, not through.”

(Digital nomads: Are you listening?)

© Lois Wingerson, 2020

Thanks for reading! You can see every new entry of Living Dubois by email if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Who’s writing? Check out About Me.

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