Why the Best Doctor for Dubois is a Geek

Often, people find Dubois to be exactly the right place. Less often, exactly the right people find Dubois.

Tracy Baum
Tracy Baum, nurse practitioner

Often, people find Dubois to be exactly the right place. Less often, exactly the right people find Dubois.

The person at left is my primary care doctor, Tracy Baum. She’s not your typical doctor. Okay, in fact she’s not actually a doctor at all. But at least for me, and evidently for many of us in Dubois, she’s an even better option than the alternatives.

Tracy and her husband Marty (below, right) came to Dubois recently from a part of Alaska that’s even more remote than we are. As a board-certified nurse practitioner, Tracy was the family “doctor” out there, providing all kinds of primary care for people who live in places where there aren’t any highways at all. (At least Dubois has one.)

Marty has a plane and flies it, so the lifestyle worked.

MartyBaum
Marty Baum

Tracy and Marty loved Alaska, but they wanted to live closer to their children and grandchildren in the lower 48. So, like many others who eventually end up in Dubois, they embarked on a careful research project to find the right location for a couple with their particular life requirements to settle permanently. Lucky us.

Marty, who is a furniture builder by trade, has spent the past year converting a former bait and tackle shop to the Mountain Sage Holistic Clinic. Tracy took a part-time job at the Dubois Medical Clinic, while privately in her clinic offering her skills in integrative medicine, which her website describes as “looking at the interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that can influence long-term health and complex, chronic disease.”

TracyWaitingRoom
Mountain Sage Holistic Clinic waiting room.

There’s the waiting room, at left. Maybe you can see how proficient Marty is at his own line of business, which had to take a break during the renovation process.

“Integrative medicine” may sound a bit flaky, but it began to make sense to me. This is something you simply can’t offer in an ordinary medical clinic.

Growing toward retirement age, I began to see different kinds of traditional doctors and physical therapists for my minor and ordinary health problems. All of them had different advice, and it was often conflicting and contradictory.

My first consultation with Tracy, which lasted about an hour, may have dug deeper into my pocket more than the hasty chats I can get for a cheap copay. But as a retired medical editor well familiar with reading clinical studies, I recognized quickly that Tracy knows a lot about a lot.

TracyDunoirRoom
Mountain Sage Holistic Clinic examination room

Putting all the pieces together carefully with her considerable knowledge on many medical fronts, she was able to create a picture that made a great deal of sense to me.

One day last spring I heard that that, in a shift of ownership at the main medical clinic, Tracy had been laid off. I quickly sent a text of condolence.

“I couldn’t be happier!” she texted back. “Now I can open full-time.”

TracyNewRoom
Future telemedicine center

And so she has. The clinic now accepts most kinds of medical insurance, offers a wide range of clinical testing and some medications (but not narcotics) as well as all kinds of basic primary care.

In a pinch, if a problem arises with plan #1, she can even deliver a baby.

“As a family nurse practitioner, my training does not include deliveries,” she told me. “But I spent considerable time with a family practice doctor who was aware of my plan to practice in remote areas. Her philosophy was, if you’re out in the boonies, at some point you will need to know how to catch a baby. And she was right – it has happened.”

That’s encouraging, yes. But what clearly excites Tracy is that she can now begin to lay the plans for telemedicine, online consultations with experts elsewhere in the country.

Of course!   In our small town, distant from major medical centers, with our incomparably good Internet service, our very smart and forward-thinking family “doctor” should be able consult with some of the best specialists in the country via teleconference and interactive online image sharing.

TracyStoreRoomMedicare has just changed the rules to encourage this innovative kind of medical practice for people with chronic conditions, and where the government goes private insurers often follow. Dubois is just the kind of rural area the new rules were created to serve, and yes, nurse practitioners do qualify.

Just beyond the back door at the clinic is Marty’s large workshop (shown at right). Alas, the woodworking business has continued to languish while he had to step in as business manager and temporary receptionist at Tracy’s end of this remarkable Mom and Pop shop.

Which will come first at the back end of the building: The sound of saws and hammers (beyond the door, at last), or the chirp and whirr of new electronic equipment on the clinic side?

© Lois Wingerson, 2015

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Masks, Ghosts, and Spooky Things About Retirement

Feeling like a ghost of your former self, facing truly spooky choices in the shadow of mortality.

Halloween maskIs this a Halloween mask? An outer space creature? A new Sesame Street character?

Trick and treat.  It’s the bark on a section of a felled log where I rested during a recent hike.

Isn’t it beautiful? Looking at it reminded me of my own wrinkles (how much time I have spent pondering them!) and about the wonderfully wrinkled other faces I see on the aged ranchers in Dubois. Those wrinkles have great stories to tell!

The young, hip gentry back in that now-trendy city neighborhood in Brooklyn that I must visit now and again refer to Baby Boomer homeowners like us, who haven’t yet sold and moved out, as the “leftovers.” These new neighbors walk right past me on those familiar streets, as if we were both wearing masks. It makes me feel more like a ghost than a leftover, but perhaps appropriately so. The house I used to occupy began to feel haunted, by the high, noisy voices of our children who grew up there.

thicket Then I retired, intentionally making a ghost of my former self. I embarked on a journey into a spooky thicket that is treacherous and tangled, with truly endless commitments to adult children, sad and scary duties to aging parents, unforeseeable hazards and murky decisions.

One of them may be the choice of where to live out those perilous years in the shadow of your own mortality. That decision can be scary. It was for us.

A brief road trip to the Southwest has brought to mind some of the options we did not choose. For instance:

failed retirement villageThe planned retirement village, offering a quiet life in the exclusive company of other people with similar interests and lifestyles.

If you want, of course, you can guarantee that exclusion with gates and guards.

A friend at my mother’s retirement village — one of the oldest and best in the country, a nonprofit — calls it a “ghetto.” A very pleasant ghetto indeed, she says, but a self-imposed prison nonetheless.

We do have the feeling that by removing all challenges and inconveniences, this option has a way of hastening your trip into passivity.

Of course, as the sad picture above demonstrates, these communities may fail to evolve as planned.

RVParkThe opposite end of the spectrum, the RV nomad lifestyle, beckons with the pleasant thought of following the best weather everywhere and seeing new places at every turn.

We see these nomads passing through Dubois all the time, and sometimes host them at our local RV parks. Temporary communities do seem to form among the mobile homers who settle in the same seasonal location year after year, but this gypsy lifestyle would only suit me for a few weeks at a time.

We have neighbors who lived only in their large RV for nearly a decade. They finally sold it and settled in Dubois.

Nobody planned Dubois. It is what social planners have called a naturally organizing retirement community,” where people of our age group gravitate and build the resources they need for themselves.

Dubois WYWe are indeed a community of like-minded people, but just about the only opinion that we feel the need to share is the value of the community itself. At home in Dubois, I’ve found, people don’t really care where you came from or what you used to do. (In fact, a newly published oral history of the town says that a century ago it was considered rude to ask.)

What matters is who you are now and what you contribute to the village.

Which is what it really is: a village, with children and noisy, irreverent teenagers, and young adults who may make bad choices, as well as many who grew old here and others who came here to grow old.

That’s enlivening, and hopeful, and not a bit scary.

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© Lois Wingerson 2015

Dubois WY Naked and Afraid? Nah. Under-Exposed and Apprehensive

Mostly Dubois WY rests in splendid isolation, 80 miles from anywhere. Once in a while it basks briefly, if uncomfortably, in the bright light of publicity.

Mostly, Dubois WY rests in its splendid isolation, 80 miles from anywhere else. But once in a while it basks briefly, and a bit uncomfortably, in the bright light of the national media.

Six years ago, Kevin Bacon starred in Taking Chance, a movie (not actually filmed here, curiously) that honored the town’s welcome home to the body of a son fallen in Iraq. Late last December, the fire that engulfed part of the historic main street, and the heroic response of volunteer firefighters, made a great story for the post-Christmas news slump on NBC.

Dubois WY Naked and Afraid
Joe Brandl shows off a shoe he made from bulrushes. They were great until they got wet.

And last night, one of our favorite local characters won his 50 minutes of fame on the Discovery Channel series “Naked and Afraid.” I went to a celebration at the Headwaters, with some 200 townsfolk, to watch the broadcast on a big screen and to celebrate as our local tanner and Boy Scout leader, Joe Brandl, described his 21-day adventure on a remote island in Namibia. He was surrounded by swamps, armed with nothing more than his tin cook-pot and knife, and assisted by a previously unknown female companion who had brought along a fire-starter.

We all knew right away that they wouldn’t need the fire-starter. Joe has published a multi-part series in the local weekly newspaper about how to survive in the wilderness, including advice on how to create a survival kit that would fit inside a Band-Aid tin. He also wrote about how he survived a winter breakdown miles into the middle of nowhere by using his underwear and gasoline from the tank to start a fire.

He compiled all this in the first place to educate his young Scouts, who spend lots of time out in the wilderness for their own amusement.

Long since, like many others here, Joe has learned to start fires the original way (as another castaway, Tom Hanks, showed us in a different movie), by spinning a stick rammed into some fragile kindling.

Banks
Steve Banks in mountain man regalia.

Joe said he was fascinated by mountain men from an early age. “I tried not to just read it, but to live it,” he told us.

The guy operating the sound system last night lives by exactly the same motto. A retired telecommunications engineer and amateur local historian, Steve Banks has not only studied the journals of mountain men like John Colter, he has made a pastime of walking every step they walked and seeing the very vistas they described. Banks knows the trails of the Yellowstone Basin better than I know the back of my own hand.

Probably nobody in the room would have doubted that Joe Brandl would make it through his 21 days in isolation not only unscathed, but triumphant. (It was a set-up anyway, of course. The camera crew was ever-present, and medics checked the pair every day.) Nonetheless, we listened fascinated as he described finding nothing to eat for the first 12 days but grubs, minnows, chameleons, and one dove egg.

The crowd roared with cheer as we heard Joe tell producers on his audition video, “In Dubois, we have the toughest-ass Scout troop in the United States. No doubt about it.”

We murmured with assent when he dismissed the threat from 4-ton hippos that live in that swamp and regularly crossed “his” island. “Scared?” he said. “No. I live every day with grizzlies [nearby]….Where I live now tests me every day.”

We were silent later, as we watched our 55-year-old tough-guy neighbor on the screen, by then himself grizzled and filthy, staring with a deeply furrowed brow and moist eyes at the tiny woman young enough to be his daughter. She had broken down when sharing the experience during her job as a beat cop that had broken her heart. After vowing not to touch her without her consent, Joe reached out and gently stroked her arm.

We had seen the words “Dubois WY” exposed, so briefly and so rarely, to the entire vast continent. Everyone saw them there, proudly tattooed in pixels over Joe’s living embodiment of our “brand”: Tough as nails, in many ways remote, yet deeply compassionate when someone is in trouble.

The simile goes beyond even that. Like Joe himself on that virtual reality show, we people of Dubois are fundamentally concerned about our town’s survival, and always intent on assuring it — but at the same time uneasy about getting too much visibility.

Before the film rolled, Joe had shared with us the mission statement that had kept him and his companion going during those kinda lonely 21 days. Here’s part of it:

“To thrive, not just survive, and to do so with passion and compassion.”

Did you notice that all three of my examples of national media attention have told very positive stories? Enough said.

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© Lois Wingerson 2015

Wyoming Wool Works. Wow! (Who Knew?)

I never even noticed this charming shop which would fare well on the streets of trendy Brooklyn. Why is it so invisible in Dubois?

wyowool10How could I have lived in Dubois for 8 years without even knowing about Wyoming Wool Works? Because it was in hiding.

A neighbor new to town diverted me into this charming shop on the way back from a hike in the badlands. I probably never would have gone in there otherwise, because I don’t knit or crochet.

Besides, it’s in a nondescript location: the block-like old Masonic Temple building, out beyond the main intersection on the way toward the town dump.

I stop all the time at the Opportunity Shop right next door, but I’ve never noticed Wyoming Wool Works. It has no display windows, and not even a real sign. The only clue that it is inside is a small text-only black and white placard on the stair rail.

We had to turn a corner into an office-like corridor to reach the shop door. And then: Oh, my goodness. I caught my breath.

wyowool2Wyoming Wool Works is no mere purveyor of yarns and crochet hooks (although you can buy those, including one made from a ram’s horn).

You can also buy hand-knitted woolen hats, sweaters, and jackets. Hand-painted aprons. Crocheted rugs. Delightful huge baskets made from large strips of felt. There are also a few antiques.

The proprietor’s excellent taste is unmistakeable. Given more visibility, this shop would stand up well on Madison Avenue or on the trendier streets of Brooklyn where I still spend a little time.

It’s a very high-end little treasure chest, curiously hidden from view.

“I get how to run a shop,” said Anita Thatcher, when I got up the nerve after a few days to ask why she keeps such a low profile. What I heard was a love story with some plot elements that are fairly familiar.

Anita started out in New York City. Sometime in the late 1980s (like me) she booked a vacation near Dubois, at what we now politely call a “guest ranch.”

During her visit, the cook quit, was fired, or fell ill — I don’t recall the details. Anita offered to help with the cooking. This is somewhat outré for a guest at what we called a dude ranch back then. But her offer was accepted. She returned the next summer, as the cook.

wyowool6Like me, she fell in love with the area.

Unlike me — but like many other wives I know here — she also fell in love with a cowboy. They bought a ranch in nearby Crowheart, where a neighbor woman, also from New York City, was raising sheep.

Thus began Anita’s love of all things wool (third chapter in this love story). Eventually she and two friends opened a yarn shop in Dubois. But her culinary skills were still in demand locally, and for several decades she has been catering events for hosts of distinction in Dubois.

wyowool1“My husband once asked me if I ever tried to relax,” she said. “I told him I don’t know how.”

Anita’s husband died a while ago. He went the way many cowboys go, she told me, taking too many knocks. She relocated from the Crowheart ranch to Lander and then to Dubois, where she opened Wyoming Wool Works in its current out-of-the-way location, serving a small clientele of local and mail-order customers and offering knitting and weaving classes.

Opening the shop only a few days a week, she admitted, has been one way of intentionally keeping it nearly invisible. A woman only has so much energy, after all. Anita still caters the weekly Kiwanis Club breakfast. She will always do catering for some longstanding clients, she told me, but “it’s time for me to stop carrying food all over the county.”

I’m watching now for the fourth chapter in this love story. At an age when Anita needs to slow down, and when many other women are playing golf or enjoying travel, it may be that she has decided to bring Wyoming Wool Works out of the shadows.

wyowool5“I thought for a while about only operating through the website,” she said. “But then I asked myself, what are you really doing here?”

For the love of Dubois! I do hope she devotes the same creative energies to the future of her delightful shop that she has lavished on her husband and her catering business.

wyowool8She told me with some delight about a recent phone call. A woman from Jackson wanted to bring a group of friends over here to go Christmas shopping. Would Anita open the shop for them?

“Would I?” she said with a chuckle. “I’d even serve scones and tea!”

What a day trip! Escape the crowds. Take a great hike in the morning, have lunch at the Nostalgia Bistro or the Cowboy Cafe. Then stop by that great little yarn shop to see what you can’t resist.

Shopping therapy is a time-honored restorative. In this location that offers respite to so many, I think Anita Thatcher is morally obligated not to keep denying her therapeutic skills to all those people who turn that corner in the middle of town, entirely unaware of what is only a block away.

Want to read more about living in Dubois WY? You can read weekly updates via email using the link at the top of the right column.

© Lois Wingerson 2015

Dubois Love Letter #3: Best Internet Anywhere?

Only one highway runs through Dubois WY, and slowly. But another one, invisible, is very speedy. Accidents are exceedingly rare.

Living in one of the most remote towns in the United States has many advantages. One of them, incredible as it may seem, is virtually flawless Internet service. Here’s why.Dubois broadband

The picture at right shows Michael Kenney’s whimsical clothesline, made from really old telephone poles and transformers. It’s funny because Michael, who is the head of our local telephone company (DTE, for Dubois Telephone Exchange), is one of the most forward-thinking and progressive people I’ve ever met. In charge of a rural phone company, he long ago began to see beyond telephones.

Michael has been a prime mover in the national effort to bring broadband to rural areas. The golden thread I’m using to transmit these words right now is a shining example of his success.

The Internet service here is fast and reliable. We watch movies on Netflix all the time, virtually without interruption. I can’t remember when I last lost service while working on a website.

Before my retirement last June, I telecommuted from Dubois and from my home in New York City for 8 years. Working in the city was a nightmare, even though we used one of the largest Internet service providers, Time Warner Cable. Service would wink out unpredictably, and customer service reps (who obviously didn’t know Brooklyn from the Bronx from Bangalore) would apologize incessantly and ineffectively. They hadn’t a clue. I became a regular at the library and at Starbucks.

Dubois broadbandHere in Dubois, one Friday evening several years ago I ran into Michael at happy hour at the Rustic Pine Tavern. I mentioned to him that my Internet service had stopped at about 3:30 (no problem, because I worked on Eastern time and that was the end of the work week back in Norwalk).

“A backhoe ran over a cable in Cody,” Michael said. “It will be fixed in 3 hours.”

Michael’s minions spent last summer laying fiber optic cable over the pass, working right past our house. Now there are multiple redundancies, Michael told me recently. If our line fails, another one will kick in. These days, the Internet never kicks out.

By the way, DTE has been running a webcam for many years at the spot in the middle of Dubois where the highway hangs a right-angle turn. This is an easy way to get a quick feel for the other kind of traffic that passes through here (much more slowly). You can watch it at http://webcam.rangefamily.net/~dubois/ .

 

Want to read more about living in Dubois WY? You can read weekly updates via email using the link at the top of the right column.

© Lois Wingerson 2015

More to Love in Dubois: The Farmers Market

Another charitable venture, the farmers market offers nothing but the best from midsummer, and usually draws a crowd …

Granted, the high mountain desert of the upper Wind River Valley is not the most fertile ecosystem on the planet. We are fairly well supplied with produce FarmersMarket2_080615by the supermarket, and some residents keep their own greenhouses. But when the weekly Farmers Market opens at 5 PM Thursday a long line builds quickly at the checkout.

Volunteers manage the farmers market. The office manager of St. Thomas’ church drives to Jackson and back early Thursday morning, bringing back farm-fresh delights from as far away as Utah and Oregon. Later in the season she drives the same distance in the other direction to Riverton, after the local growing season kicks in there.

A small, jam-packed and well-tended garden beside the church provides fresh greens and some vegetables, picked on the spot for farmers market customers. Look at the crazy carrot someone pulled last week!Carrot

Below you see my haul from last Thursday’s market — or part of it, anyway. We’ve enjoyed several peaches and quite a few greens over the weekend.

The farmers market is another mission of St. Thomas Episcopal Church. As usual in Dubois, the proceeds from our pleasures go to charity. In this case, cash profits go to the local food bank. Most unsold produce goes to the food bank or the senior center.FarmersMarketHaulWant to read more about living in Dubois WY? You can read weekly updates via email using the link at the top of the right column.

© Lois Wingerson 2015

More to Love in Dubois: The Annual Quilt Show

You learn a great deal about the skill and patience behind this great art. Some are for sale, often for affordable prices.

Want to read more about living in Dubois WY? You can read weekly updates via email using the link at the top of the right column.

 

© Lois Wingerson 2015

Dubois Love Letter #2: Living in a Postcard

“You come back,” said my new friend Jimmy. “And you come back.” It gets very difficult to resist. Then you decide to stay.

CAM00338“You come back,” said my new friend Jimmy the snowmobile repairman from Massachusetts, the guy on the next stool yesterday at happy hour. “And you come back.”

He paused. “And you come back.”

Later yesterday evening, as I served soft drinks during the weekly square dance, I met a man who said he had been coming back to the CM Ranch every year since 1988. I didn’t have time to ask why he hasn’t, like so many others, just seen the light and moved in here.

My family first came to the Lazy L&B guest ranch in about 1988. We came back. And we came back. And we came back.

It becomes very difficult to resist coming back, and eventually you ask yourself whether you have to leave at all.

You hear the same story over and over. People come to Dubois and they fall in love … with Dubois.

After all, as Jimmy so eloquently put it, you’re living in a postcard. The scenery is the catch, but that’s only the start of it, as I will explore in future love letters.

So watch out, new visitor Jerry Straussbaugh of Spring Hill, Kansas, who sent the love letter pictured above to the Dubois Frontier a few weeks ago. During a 3-day visit, he wrote, “I was able to pack in a lifetime of adventure. Words can’t express my feeling for your community and region.”

“I don’t think I have ever visited a place where I have felt more immediately welcome,” he concluded.

Come back, Mr. Straussbaugh. Do come back. This is not a dream, and it’s not a postcard.

This is the life.

Want to read more about living in Dubois WY? You can read weekly updates via email using the link at the top of the right column.

© Lois Wingerson 2015

Dubois Love Letter #1: A Study in Contrasts

cropped-petesgate.jpg Fifteen minutes’ drive west of Dubois, you are hiking in high alpine forest.

The scent of sage mixes with the fragrance of pine. The air is so cool you may need an extra layer in midsummer.

Your eyes behold the most beautiful color combination in nature: sagebrush and lupine.

You’re only a few miles from the Continental Divide here.

Just a mile or two east of this spot the spectacular red-rock badlands begin. They rise stunningly over the center of town, and continue to a long distance to the the east, standing above the valley like a vast array of monuments.

hikers_072215From a distance they look like solid rock, but up close you find that they are slowly dissolving sand. My husband calls them “melting ice-cream,” in geologic terms.

These hikers have just completed a hot and dry hike up Mason’s Draw and back, stopping often to give the dogs (and themselves) a drink of water.

Where they turned back at the top of the draw, it seemed as silent as the back side of the moon, except for the breeze.

Here you see the kinds of flowers that dominate in one landscape (left) and the other, just a short drive away (right).

RocksNFlowers2

Want to read more about living in Dubois WY? You can read weekly updates via email using the link at the top of the right column.
© Lois Wingerson 2015

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