So much more gratifying than taking a stroll to the vending machines.
I’m sitting in my warm, bright office under the gable, admiring the view of mountains that look like they’ve been dusted with sugar.
Why would anyone want to live through the winter in Dubois? The question troubled my mind recently, during two days of uninterrupted snowfall and subzero temperatures, but just now the answer seems obvious.
I’m thinking of good friends in Texas whose pipes are frozen today, and I can think of one good reason. We’re prepared to deal with winter here.
In fact, by and large, we enjoy it. That’s why we stay, and we’re hardly the first to do so. For more than a century, some people have chosen to live out their winters in this beautiful, isolated spot.
For many of us, getting outdoors is a priority. That’s why we’re here, in fact, and why it’s such a great location for remote work. Here (as I have said often before) getting away from the desk can be a much more gratifying experience than taking a stroll to the vending machine cubicle.
An article in the Wall Street Journal this week underscores the difference. “For Better Health During the Pandemic, Is Two Hours Outdoors the New 10,000 Steps?” asks the headline.
That’s two hours a week, according to the studies, which for me and most of my neighbors is a laughably small amount of time to enjoy doing what the article calls “forest bathing.”
That would break down to 20 minutes each day except Sunday. Turn back 10 minutes after hitting the trail? Ridiculous.
The article describes a study by a Stanford University researcher who compared the effects of a 45-minute walk on two groups of people. One group went up and down some hills in “nature,” the other walked along a busy but tree-lined thoroughfare.
“There was a massive difference,” in cognitive performance afterward, the researcher said. “It’s not like they were in Yosemite or the wilderness,” but the nature walkers clearly benefited more from their stroll. “A 45-minute walk in nature,” she added, “can make a world of difference to mood, creativity, the ability to use your working memory.”
And how much greater is the benefit when you actually are hiking in wilderness, a short drive from home?
On the very same day I saw that report, I was delighted to learn that the winter outdoor pleasures near our little town of Dubois were the subject of an entire article in Forbes.
Myself, I prefer the more quiet pleasures of trekking on snowshoes, but Wendy Altschuler describes going on a snowmobile tour a bit farther up the pass.
She ends with the moment when her guide stopped at a lookout, suggested turning the machinery off, and asked “Do ya hear that?”
She shook her head no, and he smiled and replied “exactly.”
It’s so easy to get away and forget your troubles, whatever they are, by pondering the flight of an eagle across a vast swath of sky or by following a woodland trail blazed by countless deer and elk.
Is this why a new analysis by the personal finance firm WalletHub ranks Wyoming as the “least sinful” state in the nation? The rankings are based on seven indicators including anger and hatred, jealousy, greed, vanity, and laziness, as judged by all sorts of measures such as health-related habits and crime statistics.
I would rephrase that ranking for our state as “most virtuous.” Virtuous might seem a rather grandiose description for people like me and my neighbors, but to be fair I see little of those vices listed above.
And I would place a lot of the credit for that on “forest bathing.”
Or mountain biking, or rock climbing, or hiking the badlands, or fly fishing. Or, just now, trudging around in the snow all bundled up in sheepskin and wool. Even below zero, with enough layers, I’m not at all cold.
On the mismatch between Zoom and “real life,” and more …
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard of another team that formed and worked entirely on Zoom and Slack, without anyone meeting in person for the first six months,” Dennis Ellis of Microsoft said to me two weeks ago.
Ellis was referring to the leadership team of the Wyoming Technology Coronavirus Coalition (WTCC). Created last March, the all-volunteer group of several hundred tech-savvy people (including me) has been able to engage online in the most sparsely populated state in the nation, remaining productive in coordinated activities to address the pandemic, rather than just fretting about it.
We’ve made masks. We’ve made maps. We’ve built apps. We’ve prepared white papers on wastewater testing. We’ve kept very busy.
Meanwhile, during a time of tremendous divisiveness, somehow we have remained cohesive and cordial, whatever our differences in age, gender, profession, and politics. I can’t recall a single meeting when we did not resolve disagreements easily and reach consensus without conflict.
I met Ellis during coffee break at the Wyoming Global Technology Summit in Jackson Hole. All but one of the original leadership team had signed up to attend. (Nicholas was engaged elsewhere, managing a hackathon.) As a result, we had been invited to make a presentation. So in a sense the occasion was serendipity.
Most of the team drove to Jackson from Cheyenne and Laramie, in the tech-heavy southeast corner of the state. Jeremiah flew down from Cody in his own small plane, and I drove over Togwotee Pass from Dubois. Until we joined up in Jackson, we had never laid eyes on each other in the same physical space.
Long before the presentation at the Summit, we had already won public recognition from the Governor, during one of his many COVID press briefings.
Thus, despite all the debate about the practicality and effectiveness of all-remote teams, I believe we’ve shown that it’s possible to make great achievements in the purely digital space, if members are sufficiently committed, collaborative, and comfortable with the technology.
On the evening before the Summit, I was first to arrive at the restaurant where we would meet for dinner. Eager to meet my colleagues at last, I felt as if I was awaiting a family reunion, or even better than that.
I was delighted to see Lars and Tyler approaching me, in the company of a stranger. It took a few moments to register that the third man was Jeremiah, whom I knew just as well. Later, we spoke about the slight mismatch between Zoom and “real life,” and decided that it could relate to camera angle. Unless the camera is directly face-on with your face, we decided, you may seem less involved in Zoom meetings and a less-familiar member of the team..
As we all agreed afterwards, we didn’t spend enough time networking during the Summit. At the networking event after the sessions closed, we spent most of the time hanging out with each other on the terrace, rather than joining the (largely un-masked) crowd inside to make contacts.
We also chose to skip the networking breakfast at the end of the Summit, quickly agreeing that we would rather go on a hike together before driving home.
“I just said, heck, I would rather hang out with these people I’ve spent six and a half months with,” acknowledged our leader Eric Trowbridge, who is the founder of the Cheyenne-based Array School of Design and Technology. Clearly the rest of us felt the same.
On a glorious, golden Indian-summer Wyoming morning, we chatted, stopped to take pictures, and tried to avoid tripping over Tyler’s dogs as we hiked a trail at the base of the Grand Tetons. It was easy to keep a sociable distance.
During online seminars this year, I’ve heard many remote-work experts say that holding a team retreat is important to a team’s success. Of course, ours wasn’t a typical “corporate” retreat, because we spent nearly all our time together socializing. As far as I know, there was almost no talk about our business agenda.
That said, the major purpose of remote-team retreats is similar, giving coworkers who are rarely together a chance to soak in body language, subtle facial expressions, and the other kind of interpersonal impressions that happen only in person.
“We focus on the social and the casual,” said Natalie Nagele, founder of Wildbit, when she spoke during an online 2020 Running Remote conference about her own team retreats. That means replacing conference tables with couches and sofas in a communal living space somewhere, she added, and preferably not in a city where there are “so many distractions.”
My small, rural Wyoming town of Dubois would be ideal: remote, beautiful, with plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy together (and an easy drive from Jackson). In fact, I wish the WTCC team had met in Dubois before the Summit, rather than during the conference, which was a distraction too.
It wasn’t easy to say goodbye to my new old friends after the hike. But at least unlike an ordinary family reunion, I knew we’d see each other again in a few days, back on Zoom. Now the regular joke about disagreements between me and Lars feels much easier, because I know we are friends.
It’s not easy to get in, but members are glad they did.
“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.”
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.”
Bright and promising, in place of the old and familiar.
The wind has cleared away the choking haze from the Lone Star fire in Yellowstone, and yesterday we could rejoice once more in a splendid, bracing Indian summer day. Time to get back outdoors.
Tramping around in the woods, I got slightly and happily lost. I generally knew my way, because this is one of my favorite stomping grounds.
A few years ago, these woods were cleared in places by our own Lava Mountain fire. I mourned the “burn,” because it eliminated some of my favorite paths and views. But as a tourist pointed out to me last week, around here you don’t run out of places to hike.
Emerging into the clear, I found this glorious sight: A new aspen grove springing up among the charred trunks.
That’s the way it goes sometimes. The old and familiar is destroyed. Then, a while later, something bright and promising emerges.
Just as I was putting the phone away after snapping this image, I was startled to hear it ring. I haven’t had signal in that area before.
A cellphone call can spoil the contemplations of a hike, but I took this one. In conversation with a friend, I led the dog on up the dirt road toward the creek, where I stumbled on something equally startling.
I’m accustomed to seeing the huge spools of orange cable sitting beside the highway or traveling on the back of a truck. But I’ve never seen those cables lying on the ground in the forest, in one of my go-to hiking spots.
They trailed on up toward the creek, partly buried already.
Look how healthy the trees are right here, only yards from those charred trunks. Among other features of our landscape that were spared, the firefighters worked very hard to save the campgrounds in this forest.
Both locals and national experts about wildfires say that one reason our forests keep burning nearly out of control is because, long ago, the Powers That Be killed off most logging activity. The result was large, dense stands of aged trees that are now vulnerable to disease and fire.
The lumber mill in Dubois closed nearly a half century ago. Our town has hung on by its fingernails ever since, taking advantage of its tourism assets while awaiting a new lifesaving industry that would bring back the year-round jobs.
So I saw those cables-in-waiting as both a sign of loss and a sign of hope. For me personally, it could mean losing another isolated hiking spot close to home. But for our region, it is reason for optimism.
Certainly, good broadband will soon reach much farther up-mountain. There could also be a Wifi hub right next to the pit toilet near the campsites. That would give digital nomads — those full-time Internet workers who haven’t yet decided to settle down — the opportunity to hang out for a while in our wilderness, while discovering the joys of the Wind River region.
Here’s another go-to hiking spot that delivered a surprise, back in the summer. This is a valley where the dog and I love to hike, also not far from home. When I first saw the view you see in the image at left, I gave a sigh at the sight of those ridges pointing off toward the far distance, on either side of that empty plain.
To judge from the picture on the right, others have had the same reaction. The circles are new cabins. The dirt roads that lead to them must be pretty rutted right now, but I’m sure that will change. I’m also fairly sure these people will soon be served by another orange cable–if they aren’t already.
Do they already know, or will they soon discover the fact? This is an ideal place to pursue what is now called “remote work” in a truly remote location.
Last week, some plein air painters from the annual Susan K. Black Foundation workshop set up on our back porch. It looked like they were either peering through the smoky haze or just trying to imagine what lay beyond, as they worked to capture the image of those mountains on canvas.
Meanwhile, an instructor used our broadband to live-stream a painting demonstration for artists elsewhere who had opted out of traveling to the workshop this year, because of COVID.
The Foundation has been holding workshops here every summer for 20 years, one member told me, because they love the scenery, the serenity, and the down-to-earth people.
She nailed it. This year, they also appreciate the terrific broadband, out here in the wild at the base of the mountains.
This time of year the sky can be troubling, fascinating, or soothing. It depends…
This morning, at last, the air smelled fresh and clean. I caught the fragrance of new-mown hay. The subtle but disturbing smell of wood smoke was finally gone.
It’s that time of year when we expect the sky to turn the pale gray color of skim milk and the eyes to burn by day. Of an evening, the light show in the sky is as troubling as it is fascinating, as flashes of cloud lightning circulate the perimeter of our view. Any of them could become a fire.
Going outdoors gives us a constant reminder that there are fires out there somewhere. So far this year Dubois has been spared, but others elsewhere, we can easily tell, have not.
The tourists exploring our town don’t seem troubled at all by the close atmosphere and the hot haze. Perhaps they don’t know about the blue sky and refreshing air that they are missing.
Last week we drove over the mountain to Jackson. Those grand Tetons had entirely disappeared behind the airport. It was as if someone had dropped a huge light-gray blind in front of the mountain range. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
A plane glided down toward the runway, and I thought about the disappointed tourists inside, unable to have a first glimpse of the legendary mountain range they had come to see.
Especially this difficult year, the days of late summer arrive with a tinge of regret–for the lovely days lost to working indoors, for intentions unfulfilled and friends not seen for months, for the simple inexorable passage of time.
Days are shorter now, as the light begins to fade ever closer to dinnertime. But there are compensations. Now I can sit on the back porch and watch the stars without staying up past my bedtime.
On any relatively moonless night in this dark environment, the sky is freckled and sequined with them. The real star-spangled banner is the Milky Way, spreading lazily and visibly across the entire sky above our house.
My view of the night sky is to the north, which is where the action is, both in legend and in reality. There’s a domestic drama up there: Casseiopeia sits eternally on her throne (or rocking chair, in my impression of the image) just to the west of her husband Cepheus. Casseiopeia angered the god Poseidon by bragging too outrageously about her own beauty and especially that of her daughter Andromeda, whose constellation appears just below Casseiopeia.
As the story goes, Andromeda’s venal parents cut a deal with Poseidon: He would back off if they allowed him to chain beautiful Andromeda to a rock in the sea. Perseus cut her loose, rescuing her from a sea monster, and married her.
His constellation appears to the east of Andromeda, living forever below his inlaws and anchoring one end of the Milky Way. In that direction, if you’re lucky, for about a week this time of year you can see some real action: The Perseid meteor showers, which are remnants of a comet falling across the sky.
I wasn’t either patient or lucky this year, and I caught sight of only two or three faint “falling stars” while watching for a few minutes. But on other evenings I have watched some very bright meteors blazing across that sky: So. Slowly. As. To. Beg. A. Wish.
If I take time to rest and watch for a while, I see other bright spots moving across and between the constellations. These are either satellites or airplanes, too distant to hear but recognizable by the rhythmic flash of their light. I lean back on my porch and send a wave of sympathy to the people inside that metal tube, doubtless tired and eager to return to earth.
Around me, all is silence. The deer are settling down in their nests of trampled grass. The hawks must be resting on branches out there somewhere.
I am resting too. My mind is wandering somewhere in the black, silent, and incomprehensibly distant depths, where my insignificant regrets and disappointments vanish.
It took a long time to restore the Stars and Stripes to the flagpole in our driveway, after the wind captured and snared the far end of its tattered predecessor to create something that looked like a symbol of anarchy, hanging twisted and partly upside down.
My husband first tried to tear it loose by yanking on the cord, but it was too tightly caught in the finial at the top. Then, one Saturday morning, he asked for my help.
He had driven our little RV around and parked it adjacent to the flagpole. First, he duct-taped together two long poles, and attached a knife to one end. Using the ladder at the back of the camper, he climbed to the roof and asked me to hand the pole up to him.
Not surprisingly, it wobbled wildly. He could not get it in position near the finial, much less create the pressure at the top necessary to cut the flag free.
Next, I helped him to lift a stepladder to the top of the camper, and then climbed up there myself. He put the ladder in position, grabbed the long pole, and put his foot on the first step of the ladder. I grabbed the uprights of the stepladder and braced my legs.
In decades of marriage, you learn some things you should not say to your husband. Instead I began to pray. Fervently.
Then he stood back. “You know,” he said. “This is insane.” I breathed out.
Back in the house, he identified someone in town who could bring out a cherry-picker to solve the problem. He couldn’t make it before Tuesday.
I was relieved, but only somewhat. Friends back East were remarking that they are so upset with current events that they just wanted to leave the country — and they didn’t mean “leave for the country” as we have.
In this political climate, displaying a distorted flag even inadvertently made me very uncomfortable.
The next day, we took a long hike up Bonneville Pass with some friends. What a splendid way to escape the heat (in more senses than the obvious one).
The wild flowers were a riot of red and yellow. There were still patches of snow here and there. As we reached the valley at the top of the Pass, quite a wind kicked up.
Pulling into the driveway, I saw to my relief that the same wind had ripped the end of the old flag loose and it was flapping free, albeit raggedly. That’s kind of the way I feel myself these days. The old flag will go to rest at the VFW, where they take proper care of them. Call me Pollyanna, but the clean new flag looks like a symbol of hope.
On another front, for regular readers I should set the record straight about my brush with high fever and exhaustion, which I assumed were a sign of Covid-19 infection, until the tests came back negative.
“Could you have been bitten by a tick or another little critter?” commented a former coworker from Connecticut. I asked to be tested for tick-borne diseases, and the results came back strongly positive for Lyme disease.
Earlier this spring, I shed plenty of ticks after hiking. I never noticed a bite or the tell-tale bullseye rash that is the classic sign of Lyme disease. But while being very vigilant about the pandemic, it looks like I was too careless about something else.
Isn’t that a creepy critter?
How ironic! After working and spending weekends in Connecticut for years, Lyme got me in Wyoming.
Unlike Covid-19, at least there is a good treatment for this. Although my “flirtation” with Coronavirus delayed treatment somewhat, thanks to my friend Natalie I got it soon enough to avoid major consequences, and now I feel fine.
Sometimes I need to be even more remote than I already am.
“They don’t even talk about Yellowstone,” said someone about the couple who were staying in her rental cabin in Dubois. “They just want to escape because they’ve been cooped up for four months.”
Although I live in the very place where they have come to escape, I do sympathize. But it’s not four walls I want to be away from. It’s four mountain ranges, the ones that surround our home–the Winds, the Absarokas, the Tetons, the Owls.
I need to be even more remote than I already am. Completely off the grid for a while. To see canyons I never saw before and hike trails with unfamiliar views in a different world. That’s it, I realize: I want to live in a different world for a while. To escape the news of pandemic and panic, of pillagers and police.
We pack our toothpaste and face masks. We shut down, turn off, lock the doors behind us and head off toward the Bighorn Mountains, to camp out where we are distanced in earnest.
Soon we’re shooting northward out of the top of Wind River Canyon and onto the huge, flat plain called the Bighorn Basin. Ahead, off in the distance, are unfamiliar ridges and ranges.
Reading Roadside Geology of Wyoming as we cross the flats, we learn again about folding and faulting, and recall the reasons why the oldest rocks are at the peaks of mountains, not in the valleys below. We read why this barren desert plain is a vast oilfield now: because once, ages ago, it was all a huge seabed.
Or so we thought. Then a brown sign on a nearly deserted highway near the base of the Bighorn Mountains grabs us and turns us around. Dinosaur tracks! Now there’s something new to us – and like most of Wyoming, of course, also very, very old.
We rumble five miles down a gravel road past beautifully striped badlands (not that different from the ones near home, but smaller) to reach the Bureau of Land Management Paleontology Area near Red Gulch.
It’s one of those spots that only locals knew about, until four hikers noticed three-toed impressions in the rock at their feet, recognized what they were looking at, and told the experts, who ventured out here, found more, and put up lots of signs.
We learn that that this spot has overturned the accepted concepts about that ancient prehistoric seabed. In Roadside Geology we read that back in the Jurassic era about 160 million years ago, before the continents split apart, all of what is now the Rocky Mountain region was submerged under a vast inland sea.
But here’s something old and new: In this particular location, now near base of the Bighorn range, there must have been a reef-like island with wet sand at its edge, where dinosaurs once walked back and forth.
We too walk back and forth along the ancient draw, where the silt long ago turned to stone, and we begin to see the three-toed tracks for ourselves, as well as others that seem to include the imprint of a bony heel. The longer we look, the more we find.
This has a way of distancing one from the concerns of the moment.
Fast forward 100 million years. This was still before the huge volcanic pile that we can see from our living room, the Absarokas, formed after a huge eruption. About 60 million years ago, the foundation of the land at that spot we had left behind was driven eastwards by an underground collision from the west, slowly grinding its leading edge beneath the basement of the land that we were about to ascend, which rose to become the Bighorns.
What was once deep, fundamental, and subterranean eventually became lofty and ascendant, pointing right to the sky. How long, I wonder aloud, did this take?
A thousand ages in Thy sight are like an evening gone, short as the watch that ends the night …
“I think modern humans have no concept of the mountain-building that is going on right now,” replied my husband. Or of their destruction, I think, as right now, when the Wind River turns the color of caffe latte, bringing some of those mountains down.
Leaving the dinosaur tracks behind, we climb a long chain of switchbacks up a granite-rimmed canyon toward the meadows at the summit of the Bighorns. Some of the oldest rocks on earth rise from these meadows, white boulders sparsely draped with evergreens. The meadows themselves are a carpet of spring green just now, decorated with large patches of blue lupine and yellow asters.
Next to our campsite rises an imposing jumble of granite blocks. This is home to a russet-colored creature with a fluffy tail that clambers cat-like across the boulders: A marmot. We learn that it likes walnuts, and will come quite close to retrieve them.
We seem to spend a fair bit of time gazing. We gaze at the marmot resting on a warm rock in the sun, and it gazes back. We gaze at moose as they chew placidly on willows near streams, ignoring us. I spend long periods just gazing at the forest across the stream beside the campground, listening to the birds.
It occurs to me that though we have no signal, I might actually work. Even write this. My laptop is in the camper, and its battery is charged. But I resist.
Instead, I hike to exhaustion in order to reach a tall formation of ancient lava, and follow a moose trail toward its top.
Leaving the campground, we grind slowly back down the switchbacks. Long before we reach cellphone signal, I sense a subtle groundshift, a change in perspective.
Obligations that seemed daunting a few days ago now feel workable. I find later that certain problems have resolved in my absence – not the monumental problems that have been troubling everyone, but a few smaller ones that had puzzled me. Meanwhile, some interesting new challenges have materialized.
During a miniscule sliver of geologic time while I went out of range to find repose at the top of a distant range, the world kept spinning without my assistance. The mountains are rising and falling, the flowers keep blooming in the high meadows, the wildlife are living their wild lives, and they will continue to do so whatever I decide to worry about.
After a phone call with a friend who’s in quarantine, I went out snowshoeing.
I had hoped the clouds would part and the sky turn blue, but soon I was actually enjoying the misty sky and gentle snowfall.
It was like an enchanted forest. Wearing a heavy crown of snow, the log-built restroom in the empty campground looked like a hut in a children’s story book. There was silence but for the patter of the snowflakes and the call of a distant duck.
A few days ago, the Governor closed down all public places in Wyoming for two weeks. It seems that nobody informed Mother Nature.
As in the early spring of any year, we are suddenly seeing animals other than the hardy livestock that tolerate cold and snow. Small calves are romping in the roadside meadows now, and I’ve seen my first pair of bluebirds.
Driving down-county last week, going in the direction away from Yellowstone, I had the rare pleasure of catching a glimpse of bison on the open range on the reservation.
The Native Americans have succeeded in bringing them back to the rez, and I always look for them. But I very seldom see them near the highway out there (though other bison are regulars along the route to Jackson).
Unlike what we expect in the summer when we head to Jackson, this time there was no traffic jam. Nobody else stopped to take a picture. Besides, going that way off-season there are hardly any other cars, anyway.
Coming back from dinner at a restaurant up-mountain last week (when dinners out were still allowed), we were remarking what a shame it is that you seldom see moose any more. We turned a corner and there, among the willows: Not one, but three!
We stopped and watched them enjoying their own evening meal. The dark spots at left are the two that are hiding out in the willow bank.
A few days later, taking the same route, I saw one of them again, again a dark shape among the russet willow branches. I pulled over and watched for a long time as it grazed in the late afternoon sunlight.
It stood still for a while afterwards, and then it sat down beneath the willows. I drove on, feeling rather fortunate.
The other day, our daughter spoke some words I never thought I’d hear her say: “I wish I lived in Dubois right now.”
You can go outdoors anytime, she went on, and always find something interesting to do. So true.
If he was older and could understand exactly what she means, this young fellow might agree with his mother. (Now there’s another wild creature I wish I could see more often.)
Out walking the dog yesterday, I encountered a friend and we hiked on together up a lovely country road, socially distant as per CDC advisories, well apart but happily together nonetheless.
In our small rural town, an irony of the Coronavirus crisis
“New York is going to be on lockdown next week,” says our son on the phone.
“We already are,” I respond.
“How would you know?” my husband quips, and I laugh.
It’s mud-and-slush season, the time of year when our small rural town near Yellowstone Park falls very quiet, even under normal circumstances.
Few visitors pass through. We don’t get out much ourselves. We love to be outdoors, but spring here is just wet and slippery. My hiking boots will hang out outside the front door until mid-June.
Yesterday was typical for mid-March: Bright sunshine interspersed with waves of heavy, wet snow. It will all be gone by tomorrow.
Not so this pandemic, evidently.
The first known case of Coronavirus-19 has popped up in our thinly populated county. It’s the second case in Wyoming. Suddenly all my local meetings are video conferences, public places are closing down, and everyone seems to be staying indoors. (But we would be anyway.)
Taking the dog out for a walk, I chat with a neighbor taking out his garbage. His attitude is typical for rural Wyoming: Either you’ll catch it and survive, or you’ll catch it and die. I wave at another friend who is just back from a road trip. She tells me they have put themselves in self-quarantine after contact with all those strangers.
As for solitude, ironically the odds are good that I will be less lonely than usual as I continue to connect with people from my laptop. I’ve sat in on quite a few online conferences in the past few months, and made numerous new friends on video calls while growing my network of remote-work advocates — people riding the wave of the telecommuter economy.
This pandemic has their community buzzing, as so many public health and corporate leaders are encouraging people to work from home.
A few days ago, I got together for a Google chat with some new friends on GrowRemote, an international collaboration of towns working to take advantage of the growth of remote work. (It began to expand long before the current crisis, and I was part of that long ago).
There I am in the image, saying something that clearly has the attention of the other three on this screen, and it seems to be troubling to them. I don’t recall what it was. We had begun by talking about the current crisis and how each of our own locales was faring.
“We now live in a world in which we have to live in isolation,” Jonny had said.
Someone remarked about the difference between remote-work experts who were offering guidance to companies newly moving to remote work, and those entrepeneurs who were “monetizing” the crisis by promoting their online products to these companies. “We need to be high-minded right now,” he added. “Not individualistic.”
Rose mentioned that some hotels in Ireland were offering to deliver free meals to elderly people. “That’s what we need,” June replied. “Good news, because so much bad news is going on.”
It was very cordial, and although I’ve met only Rose before, by the end of the hour it felt almost as if we were all friends. Or if not exactly friends, at least colleagues meeting for the first time.
I’m invited to a virtual happy hour this Thursday on Zoom, the free video conference app. Besides Mitch and Stephanie from New York, I’m likely to meet Tyler from Fort Wayne, Nico from Tampa, Will from Boston, and Brandi from San Diego. Not to neglect Per in Poland, Bhagyashree in Germany, and Sherisa in Johannesburg.
How Daniel in New York will coordinate the drinking hours is an interesting question. Looks to me like Sherisa could join at midnight while Brandi gets an early start at 3 PM.
Coordinating time zones is one of the challenges of remote work — or, in this case, of relaxing remotely. So is loneliness and isolation. But I suspect my network will grow considerably as more and more remote-work advocates are in lockdown, wherever they are.
Looks like even in my remote, rural village in Wyoming, social events will be dropping away for a while. But if we get lonely, we can still do what we always do anyway: Invite someone out for a hike.
No physical contact, adequate clothes cover, friendly conversation. Good exercise and fresh air. Just clean your boots afterwards.
Actually close friends and new virtual friends. As June says, there can be good news in the midst of bad news.