The Remarkable History of Camp Dubois

Almost as free as hawks. But still, very far from home …

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POW6The snows are building in the mountains again, and the “snowbirds” with homes in Arizona are gone.

And about this time of year, more than 70 years ago, an extraordinary group of summer visitors would have been leaving Camp Dubois. It must have been an unusually melancholy return to civilization for them, traveling to the much larger base camp at Scottsbluff and leaving behind the “most beautiful time” in a place “cut off from the outside world” where, like the hawks, one man wrote, “we could lift ourselves away from the everyday life of the prisoner.”

Its name might bring to mind a summer camp for girls, but Camp Dubois was a temporary home for up to 150 German prisoners of war and U.S. military personnel. Located at about 9000 feet in elevation, far back in the woods roughly 9 miles from town as the crow flies, it was established at the request of Wyoming Tie and Timber, whose free-living American employees lived in villages in the mountains all winter, felling trees to create railroad ties. Camp Dubois was open for 14 months in the milder seasons from 1944 to 1946, helping to fill a wartime labor shortage.

POW5The POW camp was dismantled and bulldozed after the war, although fascinating traces remain hidden in the woods up near Union Pass. Thanks to the extensive records and photos of camp commander Lieutenant Harold Harlamert, to military records, and to the prisoners’ own letters, poems, diaries (and even a Skype interview of a former inmate last April) amassed by local historian Cheryl O’Brien, Camp Dubois may be one of the best-documented “branch” POW camps in the United States.

I was lucky enough to visit the site two summers ago, when I took these pictures. This article is based on a presentation Cheryl gave last August during the week before the solar eclipse.

Due to its isolation, the camp did not need to be heavily guarded. Some POWs at Camp Dubois volunteered to come, in order to escape from harassment by pro-Nazi POWs at the larger base camp. All the evidence suggests its residents were relatively content.

POW7Although they had to wash in the stream while the enlisted men who worked as guards got hot showers, the prisoners were well treated according to the strict guidelines of the Geneva Convention. Only one POW died during the camp’s existence: 19-year-old Max Stoll was killed when a gust of wind blew down a tree he was felling.

The POWs slept in wood-framed tents covered with white canvas, each of which had a wood-burning stove. They did much of the same work as the civilian tie hacks: cutting logs with two-man crosscut saws and axes, and stacking them to be taken to the river and floated down to Riverton.

They would have eaten well, especially when their food was provided by the civilian loggers. The prisoners trapped game in their spare time, and they wrote of bagging rabbits, grouse, and porcupine.

A stray dog that a POW found at one of the sawmills became the camp pet.  Their postcards home were sent postage-free through the US mail.

The life held a “special kind of romanticism,” as POW Rudolf Ritschel wrote, and they were excited to see real cowboys. But for all that, remoteness had its loneliness. And they were far from home.

POW8According to Knights of the Broadax, a book about the tie hacks, some men cried when the wife of the store manager at the civilian tie-hack village brought her infant son along on a visit. Kip MacMillan, the grandson of the President of Wyoming Tie & Timber Company, recalls being terrified when, as a young boy, he was told by his grandfather that he would be spending a night at the camp, unaccompanied. But when he got there he was treated like a long-lost member of the family. One POW even gave up his bed for Kip and slept on the floor.

After the war, the men were eventually freed, but it took months and sometimes years for Camp Dubois’ residents to return home. Cheryl knows of only one POW who revisited the camp. Fritz Hartung brought his family to Dubois in 1975, to show them where he once hiked and “swam with beavers”.

Starting two years ago, representatives of the US Forest Service began meeting with interested Dubois residents about how to preserve and provide interpretive information about the Camp Dubois site and make it accessible to visitors. Cheryl is currently working on a book about her research into Camp Dubois and the other 15 branch POW camps that once existed in Wyoming.

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Why Orange Became My New Black

I enjoyed the venison and elk burgers. I ignored the contradiction.

camovestsIt’s time to wear orange when we hike: Me in my vest and the dog in his kerchief.

It’s that season again. On the highway, pickups now outnumber the huge RVs from out of state. I’ve begun to hear rifle practice in the distance once in a while. The bow hunters have gone up into the hills.

When autumn comes around, I’ve learned, many of my friends will be away for a while. For them, this is not negotiable. Everyone understands.

Everyone except me, that is. Much as I love tramping around in the wilderness, I’ve found it difficult to relate to this custom of going out into the woods, tracking animals down, and killing one.

As the child of two teachers in a Midwestern city, hunting was never part of my experience. I lived for a while in England after my marriage. Over there, I thought of hunting as something done by the nobility (whom I never met), chasing a fox while riding horses (which I had never done).

At the sound of the word “hunting,” I reacted instinctively with disapproval, as if someone had tapped my knee with a hammer.

Then, much later, we moved to Dubois. I made many good friends here–earnest, deeply moral people. Some of them, I soon learned, go out hunting every fall.

As I enjoyed venison and elk burgers, I didn’t spend time thinking about the contradiction–any more than I have thought much afterwards about a conversation with a vegan who discussed the living conditions of the animals that provide the eggs and milk I buy at Superfoods.

There are cattle right over there in the valley out my window. I am aware that they are future steaks. But I wouldn’t want to shoot one or extract the meat. We all choose our own moral imperatives, and this one just doesn’t run very deep with me, one way or another.

Lucas6And I’m very interested in the people who were hunting here as early as people arrived here in the first place. I’ve hiked up to the remains of ancient hunter’s blinds. I’ve visited sheep traps where they presumably bludgeoned wild sheep for their tribe’s dinner.

I’ve heard the artist and historian Tom Lucas describe his decades of effort learning to make some of the swiftest and strongest bows ever made, just the way the native Shoshone must have done it, from bighorn sheep horns.

That’s him in the picture, talking to some bow-hunters who were deeply interested in his craft and skill. Until we moved to Dubois, I had no idea that many people still hunt wild game with bows.

I can’t imagine the skill involved in taking down a huge elk with a mere bow and arrow of any kind. But I’ve come to understand that the passion goes much deeper than mere sport.

“It’s the challenge,” Michael said when I asked him why he enjoys hunting. “I mean, I go way, way up into the wilderness — above 10,000 feet. I set up my little camp, with the tent and the PVC tube running out from a stream for my drinking water.

“It’s wonderful. When I’m out there I don’t see another soul. I don’t even care if it snows. You can’t imagine how many elk I see, huge ones, dozens of them. Until the last day, I just let them pass, because I don’t want to have to go back down earlier.”

gorgeI like the way his eyes crinkle when he smiles.

“So it’s the mountain man thing?” I asked. “The survival?”

“Well, not just that. You know, my grandfather was a commercial hunter. I must have been 4 when I shot my first quail. This goes way back for me.”

So there’s a strong element of family tradition and nostalgia as well. I can relate to that; it’s just not my history.

Also, he actually needs the meat. Like so many here, Michael is in a seasonal business, and his wages don’t come in year-round. Just like the ancient Shoshone, many local hunters are going out to put food on the table. But Michael mentioned that reason last.

“So how do you get up there?” I asked. “Do you go in a four-wheeler?”

“Naw,” he scoffed. “I walk. I love the walk.”

Now that I can relate to.

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

The Inestimable Loss of Esther Wells

A precious link to the first of my kind who came to know and love this valley

EstherWellsPretty worn out when the last of our guests for the Great Eclipse of 2017 departed last Thursday, I determined to take it easy and stay home. We had skipped church on Sunday to take everyone out into the wilderness. Thus, sadly, I learned only from an obituary in the Frontier that Esther Wells had passed away and that I had missed her funeral.

I would certainly have gone. Farewell, Esther. It was a pleasure and a privilege to know you.

One of the last survivors of the homestead era, Esther Clendenning Pickett Wells was older than the town of Dubois–either 102 or 106 years old, depending on which record you prefer. The last time I saw her, only a few years ago, she was completely blind but nonetheless bright-eyed. Also still quite sharp and articulate. Not to mention kind and sweet to me, almost a stranger, and seemingly always cheerful.

When Esther was young and small, growing up, Dubois was also young and small. She survived two husbands. For a time she owned a ranch in Paraguay, where she founded a school that is still in operation. But what I admired most about Esther Wells was her legacy as a wife, mother, and co-manager of a ranch farther up that same steep glacial valley I see out my window, back when absolutely nothing about living around here was easy.

And yet, she said she loved it. She was a precious living link to the first of my kind who came to know and enjoy this place at a time when doing so was more of a challenge than a mere adventure.

CharlieRichardsGraveI first met Esther after she had stopped coming to church because she’d moved into assisted living. She must still have had some vision at that time, because she asked to come to our open house for one last look up that valley. I remember men carrying her up the front steps in a wheelchair, and setting her down facing out the window.

Someone pointed her out to me and suggested I greet her. Just to make conversation, I asked her if she knew anything about Charlie Richards, the early settler buried in an unmarked grave across the highway. I like to hike up to it now and again. Back then I used to entertain romantic visions of the man who wanted his grave to face out over that splendid valley.

“Why, sure I knew him,” she said, without a hint of admiration. “His wife was my mother’s best friend. They had the next ranch over. She was always borrowing pots and pans, because she had nothing to cook in but old tin cans.”

Mrs. Richards had to run the ranch all by herself, Esther said, and they were poor as church mice. Charlie was always out prospecting and was no help at all around the ranch. (A futile effort: More recent geology reports say there’s nothing of any mining value up there.) So much for my charmed estimation of Charlie! Although perhaps I should not allow my sympathy for his wife to rule out some compassion for his constant disappointment.

EstherWells2Thank goodness the Dubois Museum Association has preserved on videotape an interview with Esther about those early days when you couldn’t get down the valley all winter. We have learned that she was not bored as a child with no store-bought games, because old Mrs. Burlingame loved making toys. We also heard that geraniums were everywhere back then, because they were the only flowers that could survive the climate.

We learned to be especially grateful for soft fleece and Thermasilk, because something else Esther remembered was the cold. Just think about trying to layer cotton and canvas against these winds! “We didn’t have all the fabrics we have now,” she said. And fires never kept the whole cabin warm.

Later, Esther and her husband owned and managed what would become Brooks Lake Lodge, up the mountain. Today it’s a luxury getaway. Back then, life was elemental. She told of swiping a grizzly bear out of her kitchen with a broom, and then she laughed at the memory.

It matters only to me that I missed Esther’s funeral. What matters to everyone is that she is gone, and with her some of the strength, courage, and good humor that laid the human foundation for this valley.

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Tiny Dubois Shines Through the Great Eclipse

How we conquered the Eclipse invaders

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The emotion was just the same as I had felt while being wheeled into the operating room. This is real. This will happen. This is not just some story we have been telling.
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Would our village triple in size during Eclipse weekend? Would 10,000 people turn up, diverted from Yellowstone? Would nobody come after all? We would shrug our shoulders. Who could say? But we worked so hard to make it a great visit. Only a few dozen turned up on Friday to hear local amateur historian Steve Banks describe how to live like a mountain man.
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But they were clearly captivated, as he loaded and fired an antique rifle and then started a flame, right before their eyes, using nothing more than flakes of rock and dried grass.
Dubois WY eclipse
The crowd had grown by Saturday. Tom Lucas had an attentive audience as he told how the ancient Shoshone must have used bighorn sheep horns to make their legendary bows, using water from hot springs and stone tools. Or so he thinks. Nobody knows for sure. They left no records or direct descendants to tell us how. “I never meant to become a bow maker, but somehow I did” said Tom, who is skilled at making Native American crafts but better known for his oil paintings. (The town had run out of folding chairs, so his listeners sat on hay bales and cardboard. Nobody seemed to mind.)
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Meanwhile in the background, the joyful but unfamiliar noise of many children playing at once. The Kiddie Karnival sponsored by the Boys & Girls Club was a brilliant plan to please parents and children who had so many hours to kill while waiting for the Big Event.
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The flow of car traffic passing through town was steady. I actually had to wait several minutes to make a left turn off the highway. But the classic car show had only a handful of entries, and viewers were few. We are a very tiny town, I thought. We’ve done the best we can to amuse you. We are who we are, and proud of it.
Dubois WY eclipse
But tempers were also frayed, and old rivalries emerged. This was probably inevitable. We were already exhausted when it came time to set up for the concert, which would take place on that big stage at left. No instructions came along with this huge canopy! We spent a long time figuring out the geometry, then had to take it all apart again to fit the hooks for the canopy into the right little holes! Then we moved it back and forth, unsure where it was supposed to stand. One of the event planners had a family emergency, and disappeared.
Dubois WY Eclipse
Meanwhile a bomb scare was taking place nearby, when a cameraman from the Google Megamovie Project left his equipment (complete with battery and timer) unattended in the park. Here, the other planner was shouting at the volunteers: “Alternate the Honda banners with the Chance Phelps banners, one per section! Not too low! Make them straight!” I took her aside for a moment, forced her to stand still, and ordered her to breathe deeply from the base of her abdomen out the top of her head, three times. She smiled. We will survive this! Really we will.
Dubois WY eclipse
Only a few hundred people turned up to hear our great local guitarist Mike Dowling on Saturday evening, not the thousand we had been hoping for. Some of them seemed to be leaving during the break. I had to leave too, because our relatives from out of state had arrived, so I missed Sarah Darling. Everyone obviously enjoyed the music, but I ached. My muscles ached, sure, but I ached more for those who would have to take everything down afterwards while I was having dinner with family. And the question remained: Where is everybody?
Dubois WY eclipse
The answer dawned on me Sunday morning, during this hike in the badlands with my niece. A few people did enjoy the events we had worked so hard to plan. But many more chose to enjoy the entertainments Mother Nature has been providing for visitors long before we arrived. She blessed us during the Eclipse week: The skies were gloriously clear throughout. Our family did not attend any events in town. They went mushroom hunting on Union Pass, which was packed with people out dry camping. Other relatives drove toward Yellowstone, hoping to see bison. Some folks in this picture enjoyed parasailing over our badlands.
Dubois WY eclipse
The big day arrived, clear and cheery. Nobody was trying to park on the side of the highway as I closed the gate behind my car, so the dire predictions of hordes descending from Yellowstone had proved false. I raced to town to help Scott arrange the sound system for our expert speaker from NASA, Craig Tupper. Craig was already speaking when I arrived, without benefit of technology. Both he and the eclipse watchers, of course, had arrived early.
Dubois WY eclipse
Others chose to skip the play-by-play in favor of a higher elevation. But the view was great from either vantage point.
Dubois WY Eclipse
So what’s he going to say? I wondered beforehand. “It’s 10% now. There you go, it’s 15%!” But Craig was fascinating. He talked about the shadow bands and the corona. He told why it didn’t make sense to try to take pictures (though people did). He talked about his cross-country cycle trip. He answered many questions. He joked around.
Dubois WY Eclipse
Here, people are watching for shadow bands on a white sheet, as Craig had suggested, as totality approached. (Can you see how the bright sky has begun to dim?) The bands we saw undulating all over that rocky ground were even more eerie.
Dubois WY eclipse
A crew from the NBC TV station in Salt Lake City turned up to film the total eclipse from Dubois. Here, the camera turned on Craig.
Dubois WY total eclipse 2017 Craig Tupper
He had realized that he’d been talking about the partial eclipse but never looking. So he paused, put on the glasses, and looked skyward. For all his expertise, he seems just as awed as the rest of us.
Dubois WY total eclipse 2017
“Can you feel a chill?” someone asked. And the sky began to darken. At first, I think we were quiet.
Dubois WY total eclipse 2017
It’s not possible to describe the quality of the light at totality. It’s like twilight, but not really. It seemed much darker than this as I was wandering over the uneven ground, hoping to capture people’s reactions on camera. All around me, I could hear them. Oh my gosh, this is unbelievable. Wowwwww. Amazing! I was probably saying these things myself.
Dubois WY total eclipse 2017
We had barely two minutes of totality. Somehow it seemed longer. It was startling how quickly the light re-emerged. And then it was over.
EclipsePlanViewSouth
The rest of my family were watching from the top of Table Mountain, where the view is spectacular but the viewing point is difficult to reach. I think it rivals the Grand Canyon. I took this shot a week earlier, while we were scoping out the location.
prairiedog
I suppose this permanent resident of Table Mountain and his relatives went underground for the Big Event.

Sheridan Creek Dubois WY
At last, we could all exhale. For a day or two after the Eclipse, the stream of cars passing through in both directions was almost uninterrupted. The restaurants in town were still packed. I took the dog and escaped to one of our familiar hikes. As we walked back toward the car, I had to stop often and pull the dog aside to let the departing campers come past, on their way down from Union Pass. I waved each time, smiled, and gave a thumbs up. Everyone seemed to have a great time. And we survived intact.

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

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

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

FrontierFest2017_4
Harried but hopeful, I hurried to town. It was early Saturday morning, time to oversee the return of our annual Museum Day, this year with a new name: Frontier Fest. Sponsored by the Dubois Museum Association, the event promotes our delightful small history museum. Luckily for all of us, it was a beautiful day.
FryBread3
The favorite features of the day were back again, of course. Here, Pat O’Neal tends the griddles turning out her amazing fry bread. I’ve discovered this treat in many cultures: The Mennonite ancestors from my childhood (they called them “crullers”), my Chinese ex-brother-in-law’s family (it was something like “io-tiao”), and here, the Native American version. Yummy, whatever you call it.
Lemonade2
They also served who only stood and waited — for the next visitor to turn up asking for lemonade or stew. We hoped people would slide something nice into the donation jar, because the entire event is free. It takes a whole village to create Frontier Fest: Seems like half the village works, the other half (we hope) turns up and enjoys the day. Many who are new to town discover a bit of our history, and a lot of our current culture.
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Billie came in her blue bonnet to work the first shift at the bake sale, and wound up staying the whole time. On Sunday at church you see her always dressed impeccably, but she obviously got into the frontier spirit on Saturday and pulled out some period attire. (What a pity this picture doesn’t show her lovely smile!) Much of the fun, said her daughter Sandy, was the chance to chat with friends.
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Steve Banks decided to bring out all of his Mountain Man regalia and paraphernalia again this year. Steve is another of our amazing assets. He’s walked nearly every step of the early explorers’ trails, working from their letters and journals, and he seems to know everything there is to know about the early history of the area. I saw him talking all day to small groups of fascinated onlookers. He said the questions never seemed to stop.
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Here’s Gordon the blacksmith, wowing an onlooker.
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Dan Seelye and Packin’ the Mail packed them in at the Dennison Lodge, and entertained everyone outside with the music piped on to the lawn. At the end of the day, when I went in to start cleaning up, I found many people were leaning against the wall, just listening to the music.
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Here’s Dean showing off his antique machinery, as he does every year. A retired watchmaker, Dean is a mechanical genius and a master carpenter. He was the behind-the-scenes star of the show, because he constructed …
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the great mini-flume race. This idea was created by the Board members of the Dubois Museum Association, but engineered and master-minded by Dean, who was intent on using his ingenuity to turn it into a truly competitive event. See the little knobs at the base of the chute? Those are the obstacles that stop your little marker from reaching the bottom. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
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The great flume race is modeled after the flumes created by the mighty tie hacks a century ago, when they hewed pine trees in our mountains in midwinter to create railroad ties. To get them down to the river and off to the railroad, they dammed up the meltwater as the snow subsided, and then released the water and floated them down to the river along giant versions of these chutes that went on for miles.
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The sandwich board at left held a poster explaining this history. I hope some of the kids looked at it! The object here was to be first to get your mini-tie to the bottom of the flume, controlling the flow of water with these mini-dams. Dean constructed it all. including the neat hand-held “dams” with their rubber gaskets and the mini-“ties” crafted at the same dimensions as real railroad ties.
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As this had never been done before, it was a challenge to figure out the best strategy.
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Competitors large and small took part.

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

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

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

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

America At Its Best: Dubois, July 4, 2017

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

DuboisWyomingJuly4
Here we went again, enjoying the best Independence Day celebration anywhere. That designation, awarded this year by several tourists on Ramshorn Street (who were obviously delighted and astonished at their good fortune in being here), arises in large part due to the nature of the town that creates it, year after year. I second the nomination, of course. It’s just the kind of July 4 we kept wandering around New England hoping to find for our children, back when they were small. We had no idea back then that we should be thousands of miles farther west.

 

 

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

Nature Brings the Mountains Down

Melting snow hurries past, any way it can.

WindRiverFlooding“Hydrogeology in action,” said my neighbor Anna, with her usual wry wit, as she pointed out the high-water mark where the river was lapping up onto her lawn.

Well put.

Last winter’s record snowfall has been coming down the mountain this week, bringing plenty of the mountain down with it. The Wind River and its tributaries, which are normally crystal clear, are muddy and brown. The banks have disappeared. The water is level with the land.

For neighbors with riverside property, this is no mere curiosity. My friend Mary left home 3 days ago, and has been  sleeping on someone else’s cot.

Her worry wasn’t just that her lawn is now a lake. Like many of us, she had heard about uprooted trees coming downstream, possibly with catastrophic consequences. She didn’t want to wind up like old Doc Welty. He drowned in the worst of nightmares during great flood of 1919, when his cabin was dislodged overnight as Horse Creek swelled and rose.

Living well above the river, I (and my dog) find the flood only a minor inconvenience. Favorite hiking spots are denied to us.

RiverwalkinFlood

In the Town Park, the dog’s beloved Riverwalk is awash in both directions on the south side of the footbridge. So we’re limited to the more public north end of the Park, where he’s not free to run and roam. And I won’t even let him dash down and paddle in the river as usual, lest he be swept away.

The back half of the beautiful Wind River Access site west of Stony Point, where we like to wander around in the pine duff under a forest of conifers next to the river, is now inaccessible (unless I want to get my feet wet). A charming stream has wandered across the peninsula, turning that area into an island.

But the flood has granted unexpected pleasures. I turn off the dirt road at Sheridan Creek and the dog and I follow a game trail off into the woods. Father along under the trees, in a low spot we have always crossed on foot, a whole new lake has materialized — crystalline blue, complete with several floating ducks.

Waterfall

Here’s a little waterfall I’ve never seen before because it hasn’t existed, at least not for the past decade or so. Now it’s trickling merrily down a slope toward the highway, in a spot I pass every day on my morning bike ride.

You know how you can learn about something in school, and read about it later on, and be able to explain it to someone else, but somehow never really get it? For some reason, at the sight of that little waterfall, with the memory of a record snowfall, the light finally dawned.

Ah, yes! The melting snow has to get down the mountains any way it can. Here it happens to be digging this little ditch a little deeper. I think of the Grand Canyon, which I saw only last month. Same concept. (Duh.)

Some afternoons, as usual, a crazy wind blows up and gusts a lot of dust around. Downwind comes a fraction of the badlands, being carved by that invisible sculptor. It also roils the already swollen river, and more of the banks fall away.

OxbowsWhere the land is flat, the onrush of water carves new islands in the oxbows and creates little swamps. The river is changing course.

Every day, we’ve been watching the distance between the surface and the under-side of a particularly low bridge. Yesterday there were barely two inches of clearance. This afternoon there was about a four-inch gap.

News sources predicted the flood would be at its worst last night, and I haven’t heard any reports of fresh disaster. Presumably life will return to normal again, until the next time Nature decides to bring up something else to keep us busy.

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
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