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
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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

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Leave Bklyn for Dubois? Never! (Till Now)

Living_Room0716Our belongings were packed and the movers had been reserved. We were sitting in our favorite Greek restaurant with our good friends Gary and Anna.

It was one of my final farewells to the places and people I have loved in New York City. And I did love New York, with a fervor, for all of my adult life..

“So what is it about that place,” asked Anna, “that made you want to reinvent your lives out there?”

Nobody else had put it that way. In fact, few people even inquired why, after 8 years of splitting our time between Brooklyn and Dubois, we’ve chosen to give up living in the city altogether.

How to respond to Anna? She grew up in Italy and moved to New York City as a young woman. Like many New Yorkers, she has seen nothing of the west except California.

Most other neighbors just wished me well and said goodbye. I understood. Until recently, I too felt that choosing to leave New York City was simply not an option.

SahadisWhat could compensate for giving up regular visits to Zabar’s or Sahadi’s for your supplies of exotic nuts and olives? Who would want to lose the option to “order in” dinner from a Chinese or Thai restaurant, or to drop by the market and pick up a gourmet take-out dinner from the deli counter?

As the song goes: You just want to”be a part of it, New York NY.” You’ve been lucky enough to land in the coolest place on earth, and the buzz of the city keeps that knowledge live. Even if you don’t become “king of the hill and top of the heap” (and especially if you do), the simple awareness that you’re there is enough to render irrelevant the traffic, the noise, the high cost of living, and the many aggravations. .

My toughest moment was saying farewell at our church, which was like leaving family. In fact (definitely atypical for New York), that congregation was my most profound non-negotiable about moving away from the city. But when all else lost its luster, a beloved church home simply wasn’t a good enough reason to keep staying away from Dubois.

OFR“I just feel I’m needed so much more there than here,” I said to my fellow parishioners at an almost-tearful last coffee hour. “And we miss Dubois so much when we’re gone. Please do come visit!”

As to Anna, we wound up not actually offering an answer to her question. It’s almost impossible to convey in a few words the way in which the joys of living in Dubois gradually overshadowed the reasons for remaining in New York City. I wasn’t going to pull our my tablet at dinner and ask her to read Living Dubois. In any case, you really have to experience Dubois to understand.

Not for the first time, we urged her and Gary to come for a visit. Although they said for sure they would come, somehow we doubt they will.

My neighbors probably never heard this song, but I kept hearing it over the past few days:

They ain’t goin’ nowhere,
and they’re losin’ their share …

They must have gone crazy out there.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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Another Hero Epic from Dubois: The 21 Lifesavers

A life-and-death challenge faced us yet again. People stepped up quickly to conquer it.

One day last spring, I stopped into Mayor Twila Blakeman’s office to chat about some business.

“Please excuse me,” she said calmly. “I’m a bit distracted. The county has just decided to shut off our ambulance service.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. “What? Can they do that?” I asked.

TwilaZimmerThey could, and they tried.

It seemed the ambulance system was getting too costly for the county budget. Compared to the other towns in Fremont County, Dubois was just too small. We didn’t use the services often enough to justify the cost of emergency care.

Thus began a long series of trips down-county for our fearless Mayor, who is 80-something, nearly always good-humored, and definitely a force to be reckoned with.

My husband and I headed back to New York for our annual spring break, much downhearted. While away, we came up with several ideas that might help the situation. Once back, I stopped by Twila’s office to propose them.

“Oh, that’s all solved,” she responded, airily. “We’ve appealed for volunteers to train as first-responders, and 21 people stepped up.”

I just had to smile, and cheer inwardly. In a village that runs on volunteerism, where most regulars are already tapped out, 21 people had agreed to go the extra mile (in the middle of the night, or interrupting dinner) to deal with God only knows what disasters.

Within  6 weeks of the appeal, 3 people had been fully certified as EMTs. By last June, 18 had completed the course and graduated as qualified first responders

DuboisRisingIs it any wonder that one float in last year’s July 4 parade bore the title “Dubois Rising”? The metaphor  was obvious–rising from the ashes of the January fire. But the ambulance crisis was more recent, and was doubtless on everyone’s mind a year ago.

Today, July 1 one year later, is the official start of an important new era for Dubois. The town will now be staffed with full EMS service, featuring two full-time emergency personnel (one first responder and one advanced EMT or paramedic) at all times, 24/7.

Guardian Air Medical Services, which also serves remote areas in Alaska and other states, will be assuming responsibility for emergency services throughout Fremont County. How well this five-year contract to privatize EMS will succeed in the long run is anybody’s guess, but the current arrangement certainly beats having no ambulance service at all.

I will spare you all of the political and administrative maneuvering that has accomplished this, except to say that the person originally brought in to solve the EMS financial crisis,  Joseph Zillmer, was summarily dismissed without explanation in May 2015.

Besides Dubois’ debt to the volunteers who have served so effectively for the past year, we owe immense gratitude to part-time residents Daniel and Cynthia Starks, who put up the funds to keep emergency services in effect in the Dubois area while the problem was being ironed out.

AmbulanceMatt Strauss, Guardian’s program director for flight and ground emergency services in Fremont County (where many calls require airlifting), said that services will be much easier and quicker when ambulance calls no longer bring volunteers away from home. Paid staff on call from a permanent base will be answering emergencies from the center of town.

Before, Strauss said, it could take 15-30 minutes for responders to collect their equipment and arrive at the scene. Now “you will have the ambulance rolling out of the garage in 2 minutes, and they will be on the scene within 5-10 minutes,” he said, at least for people who live right in town.

What’s more, this brings 3 new full-time positions to Dubois for qualified emergency personnel, Strauss told me, and some volunteers have expressed interest. The objective is to have the service “fully staffed with people living there,” Strauss said.

“Oh, yes,” Twila added when we spoke about it recently. “We need ambulance staff who know the community, and know the people.”

… if only, I might add, to assure that they treat our townspeople with the respect they so richly deserve.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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Nabokov and Lolita: Another Dubois Love Story?

He visited Dubois while taking notes for the novel. What entered his mind?

Back briefly in New York City on a lazy Sunday afternoon, I’m doing what I always do: Browsing the trivial special sections of the Sunday New York Times to read about, say, homes of the rich and famous and travel to places I’ll probably never see.

I idly turn to the inside page of the travel section, and–what???

Nabokov

Spread out across the fold is a huge picture of those familiar, fabulous red rock formations east of town. Not east of New York City, of course. East of Dubois.

Naturally I turn back and begin reading the article about Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita (not my usual choice in reading). The author of the travel article and his wife have driven West, following the footsteps of the controversial 20th century Russian-born novelist. And those footsteps led them right to Dubois.

Landon Y. Jones informs me that Nabokov and his own wife Vera road-tripped across the American West from 1948 to 1953, during which the author took copious notes for his novel Lolita, which itself describes the protagonist’s road trip across America (including parts of the West) with his pubescent heart-throb.

Officially Nabokov, who was also an expert on butterflies (who knew?) was traveling Wyoming in search of interesting lepidoptera, not female human “nymphets.” He hunted for butterflies along the “gorgeous Wind River,” Jones writes in the New York Times, and they stayed in what is now the Longhorn Ranch Lodge and RV Resort.

RamshornThe Joneses stayed there as well, and remained in town long enough to notice the oversized jackalope and eat at the Cowboy Cafe. “On the way,” he adds, “we found ourselves on a busy, motel-strewn street called Ramshorn — the name Nabokov modified into Ramsdale, the name of Lolita’s fictional hometown.”

For the second time: what????  Our town’s favorite landmark was the inspiration for the home of the little sexpot in that classic bumpy-covered novel?

This sent me scurrying off to my Kindle to (improbably) download Lolita, in search of references to Ramsdale. Not much like Dubois: He described it as a leafy town with languid, humid summers, a lake, and a street named Lawn Street.

Next stop: Google, to find the basis for Jones’ assertion. I could find none. There doesn’t appear to be any town anywhere with the name of Ramsdale. Nabokov’s biographer, Dieter Zimmer, spent a fair bit of time speculating about the identity of the town that “Ramsdale” might actually represent, which he placed somewhere in New England.

So I tracked down and emailed Lanny Jones, who had said at the start of his article that he and his wife have road-tripped from New Jersey to Montana for the past 15 years (nearly double our own track record taking basically the same jaunt). Like us, they’re baby boomers. In fact, Jones himself is the originator of the term “baby boomer,” in his book Great Expectations: America and the Baby Boom Generation.

Thus began a fairly lengthy and interesting exchange. If he Googled me in return, he learned that we have still more in common: We have both worked for Time Inc.

“My linking of the names of your main street and Lolita’s home town is basically a speculation on my part,” he confessed. “It’s just hard to avoid. I probably should have qualified it as ‘may have modified’ or even ‘surely modified’ … What do you think?”
I demurred about the last question, finding it extraordinarily difficult to be objective. But I did answer a later question: In pronouncing Dubois, the accent is on the first syllable, not the second as he wrote in the Times.
Brooks082815_2In the end, I’m not sorry I scanned through Lolita. The story left me cold, or much worse, but Nabokov does write quite beautifully about my favorite haunts: “red bluffs ink-blotted with junipers, and then a mountain range, dun grading into blue, and blue into dream.”
I agree with Jones that he may have had Togwotee Pass in mind when he wrote of “heart and sky-piercing snow-veined gray colossi of stone.”
I was also amused to read that, 60 years ago, he described Jackson as “construction hell.”

 

 

 

Dubois Loves Cyclists, and One in Particular

Many pass through town along the main highway. She’s gone off to pedal the wilderness alone.

cyclists073115It’s that time again. The cyclists begin laboring up the hill along the highway in front of our house. For those pedaling westward, this slope is the first real hint of the challenge that faces them in the Rockies.

We see them all summer, in pairs and in groups, in the heat and the chill and, almost always, the headwind. Dubois is a well-known way station for cycle trekkers heading in both directions on one of the favorite cross-country bicycle routes.

BikeVanWhy do they go through this ordeal? Some of them are cycling for a cause: a cure for cancer, or houses for the homeless. Others are doing it for the challenge.

Whatever their reason, Dubois clearly loves the cyclists. Many of them know, through word of mouth or the Web, that they can find a place to spread out their sleeping bags overnight at St. Thomas Episcopal Church. We leave the wifi password on the whiteboard, and sometimes prepare meals for charity cycle groups.

BikeRepairStationLast summer, someone installed this bike repair station in the center of town, in the parking lot in front of the Opportunity Shop.

I once asked a cycle trekker what went through his mind when he was passed (as regularly happens) by one of those fume-spewing RVs as large as a railway carriage. The answer was not what I expected. “I wish I was riding inside,” he said.

I’ve called it an “ordeal,” but as I chat with them over dinner we’ve cooked up in the church kitchen, it’s clear they’re been having fun. These groups tend to be young folks in their gap year, finding a good way to spend time while deciding what they mean to do with themselves next.

For our very own hometown cycle trekker, a 40-ish mother of two, a much different experience awaits. She will be more likely to encounter a grizzly bear than a huge RV when she launches off tomorrow, alone, on Tour Divide 2016.

It’s a 2,745-mile race on “the world’s longest off-pavement cycling route.”  Participants travel solo and care for themselves along a trail that runs in back country, unmarked and circuitous, from Banff, Alberta, to southern New Mexico along the Continental Divide.

beckiI’m a bit worried about Becki, who is not only my yoga instructor but a dear friend from way back. I shouldn’t be.

In her pre-Mommy days, she used to cycle to work from the east side of town all the way to the top of Uphill Road 10 miles to the west. That was her commute to her job as head of the Dubois branch of SOAR, a wilderness adventure program for young people with learning disabilities. Camping out in the back and beyond was in her job description.

TourDivide 2016 is no mere cycle tour for Becki. Nor is she actually racing to win. Another cyclist called it her “once-in-a-lifetime.” Becki told me the inspiration for this dream was the sight of sheer joy on the faces of some cyclists she saw crossing Togwotee Pass on the same tour several years ago.

She writes that a bicycle was her best wedding gift, “the best piece of marriage advice i received, and … it brought me the joy that i knew was possible.” Her training for today’s challenge actually began years ago, cycling from Steamboat to Boulder through Rocky Mountain National Park, when she was one year married and newly pregnant with her first child.

“I had 4 days alone … on my bike over high mountain passes in some Rocky Mountain fall weather to process and reconstruct my world into one that had a baby in it,” she wrote, “a wee taste before my world was rocked into smithereens.”

She has been training for this challenge with “consistent inconsistency” ever since then, in all conditions, just by the way she lives and where she goes with her children, on skis and snowshoes, on foot, on a hunt. And also of course on her bike.

beckiartShe raised funds for the trip by selling her art, hand-appliqued T-shirts, and block-printed cards. (Who knew she is also an artist?)

I imagine her waiting now at the top of the trail, one foot on a pedal.

“can i do this?” she wrote recently on her blog. “i can’t do this, but i’m gonna say out loud that i can…to participate in the trajectory i set for myself, i must give it a whirl at impossible things.”

You go girl! And come back home to us, safe and triumphant.

 

Why the Definition of Memorial Day is Dubois WY

Thanks to a fallen son, and a powerful movie, the town has become a symbol of its true meaning.

MemorialDayBrooklyn3croppedBack briefly in Brooklyn for a business matter, I took the chance to attend the Memorial Day service in our local park. It was a pleasant surprise.

A few years ago, only a dozen old-timers bothered to show up. This year there were more like 100 people, including police officers and firefighters as well as some veterans, but not (as far as I could see) any current members of the armed forces.

Many children were there too, dutifully waving flags provided by the Court Street Merchants Association rather than racing around the monument on their scooters, oblivious to its purpose. Ceremony organizer Joanie D’Amico, owner of a local coffee shop, specifically thanked parents for bringing their kids, and urged them to teach their children that Memorial Day means much more than department store discounts and trips to the beach.

No such reminder would be needed in Dubois, at least not in the lifetimes of today’s children. Its people may have always understood military sacrifice in a meaningful way. But 7 years ago, they gained national prominence for the way they paid homage to a local son fallen in Iraq.

Phelpschance
Chance Phelps

In the 2009 HBO movie Taking Chance, Kevin Bacon portrayed Lt. Col. Michael Strobl, who volunteered to accompany the body of 19-year-old Marine private Phelps Chance, returning to Dubois for his funeral. Phelps was killed on Good Friday, 2004, in Ramadi, Iraq, while manning a machine gun.

The movie  recounts Strobl’s journey to Dubois, ending with the funeral and the subsequent reception at the VFW post. Strobl himself described this all in detail in a post on the website of the San Francisco Chronicle.

“I wondered how many people would be at this funeral if it were in, say, Detroit or Los Angeles,” he wrote. “Probably not as many as were here in little Dubois, Wyo.”

DuboisMemorialDay1Sure enough, on Monday there seemed to be about as many people attending Memorial Day services in little Dubois (population less than 1,000) as in our part of Brooklyn (population about 44,000).

Chance Phelps must have been on everyone’s mind: He’s buried in that cemetery.

Among those present were numerous local veterans (some of whom offered the rifle salute), members of a motorcycle club who travel to Dubois every year specifically for this ceremony, and a woman named Shanna Muegge, 31, who currently serves in the Colorado National Guard.DuboisMemorialDay3

Ironically, the movie Taking Chance wasn’t actually filmed in Dubois. I’ve heard it said that this was partly because people didn’t want to risk disrespecting the Phelps family in any way.

But the film, and the publicity that followed it, certainly honored the actual town. A man called Thomas Stout, who attended the funeral, described in detail the respect for Phelps and his ultimate sacrifice that he perceived in the people of Dubois, even in the adolescent girls who watched the funeral parade soberly rather than opening up their cellphones.

In a letter to the Dubois Frontier, he described what he saw in Dubois as “patriotism, independence, a belief in progress through hard work, community spirit, and a bond between neighbors”–the embodiment of an “Americana” he had always revered but never before witnessed.

DuboisMemorialDay2“It is such a wonderfully powerful thing to believe in,” he added. “It was a strong enough belief for me to want to dedicate my life protecting it. Unfortunately, never did I see it until last weekend.”

“Thank you Dubois,” he concluded. “Thank you for confirming to me that Americana really exists.”

© Lois Wingerson, 2016. Thanks to Darlene Wimmer for permission to use her images from Dubois.

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Dubois Spring Break: Snowy Down Time

Why it may not always be fun here, but it sure isn’t bad …

100_0140As I said nine days ago, Mother Nature messed with our heads on March 20, giving us a balmy First Day of Spring.

Today, she got serious again. It was our third or fourth day of snow in a week. This time it was snow in earnest, inches of it, deep and soft, blowing sideways from the east.

The dog was in ecstasy outside, leaping and rolling in the drifts.

A gray cloud hung like a fluffy down blanket over our heads, all day .

100_0137 (1) It’s spring break week, and down time in Dubois. The snowmobilers are gone. Many of the restaurants have closed for a few weeks. Even some hard-core full-timers have gone south, including fearless wilderness-loving Becki with her two children, off in search of the sun.

However, in theory we’re not sorry to see more snow this spring, because it means runoff later that will help to grow hay, minimize the risk of fire, and make the valley beautifully green this summer.

I stayed mostly inside, cleaning my desk and baking cookies, glad I didn’t have to go out to feed any horses or cattle.

Yesterday, I realized it’s actually spring break. Over at Town Hall, several parents were in the Council chambers with their teenagers in the morning, having shown up for the monthly visit from WYDOT to help them sign up for drivers’ permits during school break.

I had gone there to commence my divorce from New York and my marriage to Wyoming. It’s long past time to ditch that old photograph, taken way back when my own children were still children. But that’s hardly the most important reason to take this step!

DLs

“You going away this week?” asked a man waiting in front of me in the Council chambers.

“No,” said a woman who had come with her daughter. “We got an allotment up on Union Pass for this summer. Think we’ll try to get the branding done by Friday — if we can, with all the snow that’s coming. Probably they’ll all be too cold and wet still.”

WYDOT“This is such a pain,” I heard someone say behind me. “Those people [from WYDOT] are always so grouchy. They really don’t like coming all the way here from Riverton.”

I didn’t find them grouchy at all. Bureaucratic, sure, but generally pleasant–and understandably concerned about driving back home in the coming snowfall.

Of course, the people waiting to be served had lived in a small town far too long to consider this actually a fairly enjoyable experience, as I did.

“Yeah, it’s not too much fun,” said my friend Tom, resuming his laconic conversation with the people sitting around him, as he sauntered back from the counter to wait for the next step in getting his license renewed. “But at least we’re among friends.”

I thought back to the day when I had that picture taken for my New York license. I had to turn up at the Brooklyn DMV by around 7 AM in order not to have to spend all day getting the job done. I stood in a long line in a featureless corridor and waited at least an hour on my feet before we were let into a huge room with fluorescent lights and long rows of plastic seats.

The clerks behind the counter were truly surly. Nobody said anything unofficial, because we were all strangers.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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Dubois K-12: A Hidden Gem

Two substitute teachers tell what they’ve found. It’s remarkable.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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SchoolHouse
Schoolhouse cabin at the Dubois Museum

Think of a schoolhouse in Wyoming, in the middle of nowhere. Drafty logs and a sod roof, maybe? One room, full of kids who have dirty faces and scraped knees, most of them destined for a life of pitching hay? Maybe one headed for college?

I didn’t ask my teacher friends, Karen and Lori, what they expected to find when they volunteered to substitute at the Dubois school. I asked what they found. It was nothing at all like Little House on the Prairie.

They started with the basics: the stuff. Not only is the K-12 school building brand new, everything else is state of the art, said Lori, who previously taught elementary school in a “fairly affluent town” south of Boston.

100_0105
The actual K-12 school in Dubois

In Dubois, every student has a portable computer of some kind. Elementary-school students were taking Chromebooks to art class, she told me. Back in Massachusetts, “each kid there didn’t have his own computer.”

My friend Karen has taught junior-high school biology in Dubois, and she’s waiting to teach more classes. She also still has her appointment as an assistant professor of microbiology at Louisiana State University, and she teaches online courses for a Louisiana college, working from her home just outside Dubois. (See “Best Internet Anywhere” and “Consultant’s Dream Come True.”)

“The science labs [in Dubois] were incredible,” she told me. “The fume hoods were better than we had at LSU. I’ve never seen microscopes that advanced in high school.”

Not only do they have the high-tech microscopes; the students know how to use them. She found they also knew a surprising amount about the bacteria they could see through the lens.  They had learned to extract DNA from strawberries.

The equipment, of course, is only the sizzle. The meat of the issue is the class size, which in a town of 1,000 is very small.

100_0085
Lori teaching. (Why the funny hats? It was Dr. Seuss Day.)

The kids at primary level are “sweet and eager to learn,” Lori told me, but as anywhere, there are always a few “who need extra attention. With only 7 or 9 kids in a class, it’s easier to do that.”

The junior high classes are about the same size. Karen spoke about the pleasure of being able to interact with each student in the lab, to get each of them excited and motivated. “Also, I was surprised at the level of respect in the classroom,” she said. “They’re all so polite. It was amazing.”

Clearly this is an environment that takes teaching seriously, and gives it latitude.

In Massachusetts where Lori taught full-time, she told me that basically all a substitute teacher had to do was show up in the morning. To substitute here in Dubois, not only did she have to fill out an application, she had to document her certification to teach, to be fingerprinted, and to take a course on the Wyoming and US Constitutions.

100_0102
Sign in the corridor outside a classroom.

When she arrives early in the morning, a lesson plan is waiting for her. “I’m not just going in to babysit,” Lori said. “I’m teaching them.”

The full-time teachers seem happy, she told me, not overloaded or stressed. “You get to think up the curriculum design and plan your own courses,” she added. “It’s amazing. Wonderful.”

Another advantage occurred to me recently: For a high school student with good grades in this remote little town in the least densely populated state in the lower 48, getting into college outside Wyoming must be a slam-dunk, because all colleges want to optimize their “mix.” A good applicant from Dubois must be unusually interesting and attractive compared to one from Boston or New York City. (What’s more, I’ve heard that there are more college scholarships available around here than applicants to receive them.)

I mentioned the college-admissions benefit to a good friend whose high school-aged son went to Oxford, England, for a summer program last year. “I know,” he said with a smile.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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14 Reasons to Love Dubois, Wyoming

Again and again, people come to this remote town not far from Yellowstone and fall in love. How does this happen?

DuboisWYValentineYou hear about it again and again:  Someone came to this remote town not far from Yellowstone and fell in love. How does this happen?

Let me count the ways. Those lucky folks who discover Dubois are:

1. Stunned by the scenery: A too well-kept secret. Granite peaks that rival the Grand Tetons for their splendor. The fascinating, slowly melting red desert. The quiet forests and mountain streams. The vistas never fail to astonish.

2. Seduced by the climate:  The weather is most often pleasant and dry. The sun shines most of the time. Days are generally mild in winter, and cool in summer.

Petro 93.  Fascinated by the history … and the prehistory. From the mysterious carvers of the petroglyphs to the courageous and resilient Mountain Men and homesteaders, the people of the past never fail to amaze.

4.  Charmed by the people of the present:  The welcoming instincts of Dubois’ townspeople and their impulse to help themselves and each other make it difficult to resist loving the whole community, once you get to know it.

5.  Awed by the animals:  The other beautiful residents of this valley appear unexpectedly, and leave you catching your breath in awe. You’d surely be poorer if you never saw an eagle fly–or watched an elk bound away, or glimpsed a mighty moose in the willows.

6.  Healed by the hikes (or the horseback rides):  Whatever the little misery that clouds your vision, it will vanish as soon as you can step outdoors, pause for a deep breath, and take the first few strides.

wintertrail.7.  Silenced by the snow: The noisy burdens and pressures of daily life melt away when you can get out into the soft, deep white of it, whether you’re marching on snowshoes, gliding on skis, or sailing along on your snowmobile. (It’s all good–and never too cold, as long as you stay out of the wind and wear enough layers. Don’t forget the sunglasses!)

8.  Romanced by the remoteness: It takes about an hour’s drive to find yourself in traffic or in a crowd. What does surround you? The beauty of nature, most of it accessible as public land. That said, there are plenty of good places to buy a meal or even an espresso.

9.  In love with the location:  Smack-dab in the middle of the great American West. It’s about an hour’s drive to Yellowstone in one direction and to a restored ghost town and gold mine in the other, stopping to visit Sacajawea’s grave on the reservation along the way. You’re a few days easy driving from Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Glacier National Park … I’ll stop there, for now.

1200px-US_map_-_geographic10.  Drawn to the artists:  You may not be skilled at capturing what you see on canvas (or film), but so many others are. Plenty of them have not resisted the lure of living here, and you have ample opportunities to admire their work on display at art or photography shows, or in local galleries.

11.  Overcome by events:  Did you think there would be nothing to do out here in the middle of so much wilderness? I find I actually welcome a quiet evening at home, after last night’s lecture on animal migrations, the jam session the night before, my neighbor’s dinner party followed by cards, and on and on. I must be sure to be rested up before the Soupenanny next weekend! I’m so sad I was closed out of that free course on early Native American art and elected to miss the hike about animal prints in the snow. Thank heaven it’s still midwinter, when not much is going on. So many choices, so little time!

12.  Beguiled by the benevolence:  There are at least 30 nonprofit organizations in a town that has not quite 1000 residents, as of the last census. Nearly every event is a benefit for one cause or another, and when we run into a true crisis — a catastrophic fire in the middle of the business district, the threatened cancellation of our ambulance service — the way Dubois pulls together to rise and recover is almost beyond descriptions.

DuboisQuiltShow080815_213.  Captivated by the creativity: Knitters and quilters. Guitarists and fiddlers. Woodcarvers and antler sculptors. Jewelry designers and master caterers. (So what is lacking here in Dubois? Walmart.)

14.  Finally, found by new friends:  I heard someone recently describe meeting people in this town as like opening a box of chocolates and finding that they’re all truffles. Among the good friends I have met here are a nuclear physicist, a retired cowboy, a Parisian photographer, a Swedish schoolteacher-turned-wrangler, a great hairdresser (“Excuse me, where do you get your hair cut? Oh, Wyoming. Where’s that?”), a computer wizard, several lawyers and a dentist, numerous artists (of course), and a microbiologist. My hiking buddy grew up in Singapore and Pakistan. Our newest neighbors have moved here from Baton Rouge.

So different, yet we all get along remarkably well. Why? We all share our love for this one remarkable place.

 

 

 

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