Wishes Come True: New Merchants in Dubois

Springing up like wild flowers, and just as beautiful.

WRArtisans3For a long time I have been hoping to see two new kinds of shops in town, and here they are. Maybe this came about because I finally got around to reading a Harry Potter book, and some magic rubbed off. (Or maybe it’s not about me at all.)

Last evening, the doors opened on the first new shop in the complex built on the site of the old Mercantile, which was destroyed in a famous dead-of-winter fire in late December 2014. The new business is an outgrowth of Sandy Frericks’ charming Christmas shop, Yeeha! Studio, which operated out of the old drugstore last November and December.

SandysShop4As I told Sandy yesterday, this answers my dream that Dubois would have what I’ve seen in so many other small towns on my road trips: A shop that features art and craft items by local designers.

Hey, presto! Wind River Artisans and Sky Photography now proudly faces onto our main street. (More, I hear, are coming next month.)

At least as important, but not so visible, is Scarecrow Bike & Key, operating out of a lean-to on the side of the hardware store at the back of the Mercantile site. This great idea bubbled up out of a couple of Bud Lights at the Rustic Tavern one day last winter, when Chris Wright told his buddy John McPhail that he had always wanted to open a bike shop in town.

100_0838As the official host for the many cyclists who spend a night at St. Thomas church while passing through town on cross-country bike treks, John quickly saw potential in the idea.

“Do you know how many cyclists came through town last summer?” he replied. (At least 375, in fact, who stayed at the church house. Who knows how many came through without stopping or camped out at the KOA?)

“Two weeks later,” Chris told me, “we were ordering parts.”

BikeShop 2Like two famous Wright brothers a century ago, Chris Wright was attracted to mechanics early in life. Growing up in a small California town, he and his friends built bikes from trash parts left in alleys. They saw to it that no kid in town was without a bike.

After working as a diesel mechanic in high school and at oil fields after graduation, he decided to become a fly fishing guide. Chris has worked at guest lodges near Dubois for the past four years.

John McPhail, who also enjoys making broken things work, has hoped for years to open a locksmith shop. He had seen an ad in the Roundup that said simply, “Don’t call me any more,” put there by a local man who wanted to close a locksmith shop he had been running out of his garage. John did call him, snapped up the equipment, and the other half of Scarecrow Bike & Key fell into place.

BikeShop4The bike shop opened in early May. John said they made 11¢ on the first day. (I didn’t ask what on earth had that price tag.) Not many touring cyclists reach Dubois in mud-and-slush season, and the startup was scary. But by the third week, he told me, “the floodgates opened.” (I don’t think he intended a metaphor; the actual snowmelt floods in Dubois didn’t begin until a few weeks after that.)

“We got bike after bike that had sat in a garage for ten years,” John said. “People would say, I just never wanted to take it all the way to Lander.”

BikeShop3Chris pointed out a vintage red-and-yellow model sitting outside the shop, waiting to be picked up. Its owner got it as a present for her ninth birthday. She wanted it tuned up so she could ride it again — at the age of 75.

What will happen to the business when the cycle tours end in the fall? Bicycles are always breaking, John responded calmly.

“That’s one good thing about bicycles,” Chris had said a few days earlier. “They are always repairable. And they always make you smile.”

© 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.

Telecommuter Appreciation Town: Dubois WY

Tools down, but back up leaving time for a hike.

ModemWho knew that I had chosen to down tools and leave town during Telecommuter Appreciation Week, which is set for the first week in March? Instead, I’m celebrating TelecommutING Appreciation Week.

I returned to find that my best tool, the Internet, was also surprisingly down. I recycled the modem several times, but that little light never flashed. My husband settled down to watch ordinary cable.

“Customer service won’t answer in the evening,” he said, but he was wrong. A nice fellow speaking from somewhere else walked me through the usual user-error tests, declared me correct, and gave me a work-order number.

“They should call you by early afternoon,” he said.

“Early afternoon? Forget that!” I replied. “I’ll just call DTE myself at 8 AM.”

But I never did. A nice rep from the local DTE office reached me instead, at 8:10. “I hear your Internet isn’t working?”

I laughed, and told her the last thing I’d said to the man from customer service.

SheridanSlush“Yeah, we upgraded your broadband, and your old modem won’t work any more,” she said. “Can you drop by to pick up the new one? Just give me a name and a password and we’ll set it up for you.”

I know I’m not the only lucky person who benefits from this kind of service. There are dozens or scores of others clacking away in these hills. DTE knows who they are, but won’t tell, of course. And we “digitanomads” aren’t much for socializing with each other.

Back to the routine: Early workout, then hit the desk. Work through until about 3:30 and then get out for a hike while it’s still light out.

There was a melt while we were away. The back road is packed by snowmobile tracks, but still really slushy. A much better workout than the elliptical, as usual.

As I trudged along, I heard the exuberant roar of snowmobiles up in the hills.

The dog zoomed around too, joyous in his untethered freedom. After a while, I caught up and found him enjoying a very large treat.

(Benny appreciates telecommuting too.)

BennywithCarcass
© 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 Place Where People Fall in Love

bigpinkheart“I just fell in love.” I can’t count how often the story ends in those four words, when I ask people how they came to be in Dubois. Sometimes “we” is substituted for “I.”

Joe and his wife were rounding the corner at the main intersection for the first time when one of them said, “This looks like a good place to retire.” And so they did.

Dorothy and her family got stalled here with car trouble on the way to Yellowstone. After a week at the campground, they returned to build a second home. Much later, as a widow, she lived here year-round.

We know many instances of young women from elsewhere who fell in love with a cowboy and ended up living here. I wonder whether the handsome young man was only part of a much larger infatuation.

I’ve also heard “I just fell in love” from a Millennial who moved here with her boyfriend, and from the mother of an eight-year-old boy who cried when leaving town after a week’s vacation. The family moved here a few months ago.

pigroast4I know not one but two couples who traveled the entire nation in their RVs looking for a place to settle, and wound up living in Dubois. One of the couples had lived here before, looked everywhere else, and then came back.

What is it about this place? The charm of the small village in the midst of this vast magnificent wilderness is what takes your breath away at first. What grabs you later and holds on? The welcoming kindness of the people, flavored by their spirits of self-assurance and independence.

We still have to be pioneers to live here (but that’s a story for another day). You sense it once you get to know the townspeople. It’s the same lure that always drew people to the West. Remarkably it survives in Dubois, intact.

It was the vast, empty spaces that won me over first. Airlifted out of a stressful job in the busiest of big cities, I was wonderfully unprepared for what I would find at the Lazy L&B.

I could ride a horse or easily climb up a draw to the top of a mesa, from which I could look out forever without seeing another human being, or even a structure. And I had never before seen anything to compare with what I was looking at.

lwlazylbWhen I went home I took along cuttings of sagebrush, which I kept in an envelope. Now and again I’d open it to sniff the fragrance, which always made me wistful.

Our courtship with Dubois was more gradual than some. We came back to the Lazy L&B several times, and at one point I took a photo looking up the draw from the river. I took it to a shop on W. 23rd St and had them enlarge it into a poster. Ever after, at several successive jobs, it hung directly across from my desk in my office. I’d look at it when the office politics got too intense.

Once, when my husband had time to kill while picking up our daughter from a wilderness program, he took a look at some real estate here. He called me back in New York with what I thought was a totally crazy idea. Years later, when the son who came along as a toddler on our first trip to Lazy L&B was in college, I surprised him by suggesting that return to Dubois and investigate it as a place to live rather than just visit.

downtown2

We stayed in town that time. I got my hair done, and listened. We went to Happy Hour at the Rustic, and listened. We went to church, and listened.

At the end of the weekend, much to my astonishment, we had bought a house.

I had been infatuated for decades. Then I fell in love.

© 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.

Today’s “Fix” for My Temptation

Studies show we just feel better out in wilderness. Lucky Dubois!

pinnaclesDriving up-mountain this morning, my husband mentioned an article he had just seen in the Wall Street Journal. Nothing about executive orders this time–unless (and I’m dreaming now) it’s an order from executives to their direct reports to get outdoors and take a walk at lunch hour.

After “good morning,” the first thing I had said today was “Can we go snowshoeing?”

I’d just looked out the window as I walked toward the kitchen. Especially on a day like this one, I simply have to get outdoors. It’s like an addiction. I’m beginning to figure it out.

I read the Wall Street Journal article after we returned home. People feel better and do better the more they spend time outdoors, it said, and ideally, outdoors somewhere in the countryside.

“Many experts agree that there seems to be a dose curve for the benefits of nature,” it read, under the headline ‘To Fight the Winter Blues, Try a Dose of Nature‘. “In general, the more time you spend in nature, the better you will do on measures of vitality, wellness and restoration.”

Pulling up at the trailhead, we found to my delight that the trail had been freshly groomed. A smooth new highway in the snow wound through the unoccupied campground, and we would be the first to travel it.

groomedtrailfallsWe ambled through a silent forest. The view ahead was a palette of four colors. The trees that waved above us were, of course, forest green. Beyond them, the sky was an uninterrupted swath of deep periwinkle–except for a contrail high above, which the wind had spun into a ribbon of lace. Each step drew us into the shadows of deep purple and the snow, which was of course pure white.

I had brought along hand-warmers and toe-warmers, but they stayed in my pocket. Eventually I shed my hat and my gloves, even though a stiff wind would blow up now and again to chase the loose snow around. It never fails to amaze me that I get warm while snowshoeing, even on the coldest days.

After a while, we heard voices and a motor. It was the volunteers from DART (Dubois Association for Recreation and Trails), returning from their grooming run. I stopped and kissed them both on the cheek, to thank them for coming out early to do this work. Of course, they’re getting their outdoor fix as well.

gymBack when I worked in an office in Manhattan, it was my habit to spend lunch hour at the gym whenever I could. I’m a firm believer in the many benefits of regular exercise (and it helped that I kept reading about them in my job as a medical editor).

The benefits of just being outdoors took longer to dawn on me. After I while, I began taking long random walks at lunch hour instead. I thought I was just enjoying the bustle of the city and the diversity of its people. But it always seemed I would head for a pocket park or for a wide view across one of the rivers.

Being outside in the city is better for your well-being than staying indoors, said the article, but country or the wilderness is best. Many city people may avoid going outdoors, it added, “because a chronic disconnection from nature causes them to underestimate its hedonic benefits—that is, how much it will contribute to their happiness.”

When I telecommuted from Dubois, I used to work from 7:30 in the morning to 3:30 in the afternoon, during the office hours of my coworkers back East. This gave me the delightful prospect of a hike in the woods each day after work. I’m afraid I used to gloat about it.

I’ve heard friends say that they just feel happier here in Dubois, although they’re not sure why. For myself, I know that I’m happier when I’m able to hike outdoors every day, even — and maybe especially — in the dead of winter.

snow2The benefits of exercise and exposure to nature aren’t the whole story. Numerous studies have shown that sunshine itself acts as an antidepressant. The duration and intensity of sunlight have a direct effect on the rate of production of serotonin, the chemical messenger in the brain that causes depression if it’s in short supply.

Is it any wonder I get blue around Christmas time, when there’s so little sunshine? Or that I’m so happy here in the summer, when the days are so long, the skies so clear, and the sun so bright?

“Regional and national parks, wild coasts and wilderness areas are the places where we can best reflect and recover from the stress of work and the news,” the article concluded. (Perhaps our distance from the East Coast is not only the factor that shields us from the post-election stress of 2017.)

It ended with a quote from the great nature writer John Muir: “Come to the woods, for here is rest.”

© 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 I’m Dreaming of a Wild Christmas

A cowboy, not a fashion model, it sucks it up and holds on.

christmastree122216Here’s our first Christmas tree in Dubois.

It’s anything but perfect: a bit lopsided and tippy, with lots of gaps between branches and not many of those in the first place. We had to run two guy-lines away from the trunk to keep it stable.

It’s so sparse because you’re not supposed to cut pine trees in the forest that are standing alone, which of course are the ones that are thick and symmetrical. This one was in a group of four, so what looked dense from a few feet away turned out to be the branches of all four trees, intertwined.

We paid the princely sum of $8 for the Forest Service permit, and then headed off toward the woods–stupidly leaving our snowshoes behind. “I’m hip-deep here!” I called out to my husband, after clambering over the bank left there by a snow plow. “I know!” he called out from close behind me.

We realized quickly that our chosen tree did not have all the branches we were seeing, but we were already too cold to change our minds. He sawed it off near the base, and then had to lug it back for about 30 feet through hip-deep snow.

For the first time in my decade here, I had a scintilla of understanding for the tie hacks who worked in these mountains all winter a century ago, felling and processing huge pines trees to make railroad ties. Not for the first time here, I pondered how easy we have it now.

brooklyntreeHere’s the last tree we had in Brooklyn. It looks like a fashion model in comparison to the rangy, lanky specimen we have in Dubois. But it dropped needles like crazy. This year’s tree sucks it up from the tree stand like beer and holds on like a cowboy at the rodeo.

All those trees we bought in Brooklyn were dense and beautiful, farmed like carrots or potatoes and then trucked down to the city from somewhere in New England. Choosing one was just another shopping experience: You’d have the guy with the gloves rotate one after another until you found the one you liked best.

Every year for more than a decade, in a tradition started by my daughter as a child, I’d deliver hot chocolate or tea every evening to Luke and Anners from New Hampshire, who were selling the trees at the church up the block. We got to be good friends. Luke would always give me a break on the cost of the tree, which could get close to 3 figures retail, if it was tall.

tiehackWhen we got our less-than-perfect tree into the Wyoming house, snow was still falling from the branches and there was ice on the trunk. Of course we had to re-cut the trunk. I got on the other side of the saw, and pulled ineptly, holding onto the trunk as we sawed through about four inches of sticky, sappy wood.

I felt a bit ridiculous doing this in our warm living room, as I thought again of those valiant tie hacks. (Thanks to the Dubois Museum for the poster.)

A tie hack would fell a suitable tree without assistance, using a one-man crosscut saw, write Robert and Elizabeth Rosenberg in wyohistory.org, and then remove the limbs with a double-bitted ax. Finally, he’d hew it to the final dimensions with a seven-pound broadax. He would drag the finished tie to the logging road using a tool with a metal point on one end, and add it to a stack.

A good tie hack could do this 25 times in a day. Assuming an 8-hour day, that’s about 20 minutes to topple a huge tree, limb it, slice it up and drag it to the pile.

In my heated living room, I used my large pruning shears to “limb” our tree at the bottom, so I’d have greens to add to the ornaments on the mantel. I also nipped some extra branches from fallen pine trees near our house. The greens this year are free. In Brooklyn, the garland I used in my living room cost about $10 a foot.

As I said, my wreath in Brooklyn got a “free” bow from Anners, for the price of all that hot chocolate and tea. I did shell out a little last week in Dubois: I bought a few fancy bows and a pine-cone wreath from Sandy’s great pop-up shop downtown.

sandysshopwithcaptionThe house looks and smells wonderful inside, and there’s a winter wonderland outside. Since we put up and decorated the tree, I have seen through that back window behind it two moose, a rabbit, many deer, the usual cattle, and a lone wolf crying out to find a mate.

Have a very merry Christmas, or whatever you celebrate this time of year. Thanks so much for sharing my pleasures.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016
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.
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Wilderness, Desert, Heaven, and Here

In a better world, I wouldn’t need to carry water. But still …

bennybellringer“I don’t know what it is,” Andrea said to me the other day. “There’s just something about it. You get out there and you just feel happy.”

She was talking about the outdoor environment in this valley, actually. My dog, shown here at the entrance to the grocery store this morning, didn’t look too happy (even though he attracted considerable interest and perhaps some generosity toward Salvation Army). He wanted to be outdoors running around in the snow.

But for me, this volunteer duty is a joy. Today the shoppers were just plain cheery as they chatted with the cashier. I saw many old friends, made a new one, and witnessed again the generosity of my neighbors. The big red bucket got so full that people were having difficulty sliding their bills into the slot. I had to use a plastic spoon to tamp it all down.

nodlogoI have been known to remark that Dubois resembles the kingdom of heaven, because so many of our entertaining events take place for the benefit of charity.

We support a remarkable number of nonprofits:  48, I believe, in a town with fewer than 1000 permanent residents. The Salvation Army helps locals and people passing through who fall into difficulties of some kind. Needs of Dubois helps residents in times of crisis. There’s a food bank, a senior center, a Boys & Girls Club, charities that welcome survivors of various calamities to enjoy respite time in the valley, and much more.

But of course it’s not perfect here, as I was reminded last Sunday. In the Old Testament reading for the Third Sunday in Advent, the prophet Isaiah in Chapter 35 foresees a time when

cactusflowerswaters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes … No traveler, not even fools, shall go astray [I heard a few chuckles at these words]. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come upon it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.”

In some better future, therefore, I won’t need to carry water or bear spray when I hike any more. And our local Search and Rescue volunteers won’t need to keep putting themselves in harm’s way for the hapless lulus who wander out without a map, proper clothing, and a good walking stick.

So it’s not really the kingdom of heaven here, I guess. But it still makes me pretty happy.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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.

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Neversweat: The Details

Musings about an old name, and changes in communication.

postofficeOne of the many myths about Dubois is that the town originally applied to the US Postal Service to name itself “Neversweat,” and was refused.

Charming, but not exactly true. According to the definitive oral history by Esther Mockler, the US Postal Service in 1889 did deny a request to name the new town. But the name was to be “Tibo,” after the native Shoshone’s nickname for the Episcopal missionary who served them.

The Senator who served the Wyoming Territory on the Postal Service didn’t like the proposal, and named the town after himself.

It’s an interesting statement about the nature of those times, and about the nature of our town’s original residents, who wanted to honor both their priest and their native neighbors.

neversweat2Some local homesteaders actually did apply to open a new post office named “Never Sweat” in 1895, and that request was granted, albeit changing the name to one word.

The homesteaders felt that the 15 miles to Dubois from the Dunoir Valley was too far to go for their mail. The Neversweat post office operated out of the home of the first postmistress.

Back in those days, many post offices were in country stores and in people’s homes. I get the impression that being postmaster was akin to serving on a nonprofit board today: You could officially hold the mail for your neighbors if you were willing.

For the early settlers, Mockler wrote, “a letter was the only communication with the outside world. It had to come via the Union Pacific Railroad to Rawlins, Wyoming, where it was picked up by the stage driver who operated the stagecoach to Lander. It was then taken to Fort Washakie.” A local resident took it upon himself to ride on horseback to Fort Washakie to pick up the mail for his neighbors, once a month.

emailsSitting at my keyboard, I can’t help pondering how communications have changed. Most of my messages reach me today within seconds after they are sent, via a cable that runs past my house and up toward the pass.

This picture arrived in my Inbox one second after I hit “Send” on my phone. How extraordinary! This brings to mind the stories I’ve heard from ranchers who once got together to string wires across poles down this valley so they could share a party line.

The appealing word “Neversweat” still lives on in town, in the name of the local quilter’s guild. But I think it’s high time to revive it more formally, for a different reason. We never sweat the Internet.

I can’t imagine anyone riding on horseback to Fort Washakie these days, even once a month. Meanwhile, these days our Internet service never winks out, since Dubois Telephone Exchange (DTE) ran that wire up the mountain and created multiple redundancies in our Internet service with other towns far away.

My buddy John, who works at DTE, tells me that he knows about two dozen people who telecommute quietly and anonymously from the Dubois area, 4 of them with 100 meg connections.

“All have moved here for recreation, skiing, kayaking, outdoors, the people, the safe community, the remoteness,” he remarked in an email. “I do not know of one person that moved here for the ‘telecommuting opportunities’.”

Too true. But without our flawless broadband, they wouldn’t have come.

“DTE has spent millions in the last few years,” he went on. “Fiber to The Home, Network Upgrades, Stoney Point, Union Pass, clear out to Crowheart! – relatively without fanfare … without many people noticing what’s happening, what’s happened.”

I don’t suppose DTE would consider changing its name, after all these years. But how about Neversweat Communications Services?

There’s speculation about why they  chose the name Never Sweat in the first place. I reject the hypothesis that people wanted to say you didn’t have to work out here. Anybody who knows anything about homesteading knows that can’t have been true. I prefer the theory that they were alluding to the pleasantly dry climate.

neversweat3The name for the Neversweat post office went away after a few years–but at the request of later residents, not the Postal Service.

The Dunoir residents asked to name their new post office “Union,” and to place it at the base of Union Pass. That old building still stands, according to our local historian. Here’s what it looks like.

The log structure is on private land, but you can see it from the highway if you know where to look.