Ordeals, Ideals, and What We Stand For

What’s so special about Dubois? One Saturday in the Park tells it all.

streetscene
Here’s the start of a great day in Dubois. I came home at the end of it, full of good feelings, and then read the news about today’s violence at the white-supremacy rally in Charlottesville VA. “This is not what I fought for,” wrote someone on Twitter, “and not what America stands for.” I had been thinking how blessed we are to be far away from so many troubles. We have fires and floods and landslides, but we are spared this kind of hate. Quite the opposite, in fact.
obstacle_runners
Here, runners set off toward the grueling 5-mile obstacle course, up the steep and dusty road to the Scenic Overlook, climbing barriers and tromping through muddy ditches. It’s the annual Run4Chance competition sponsored by the Chance Phelps Foundation, in honor of a 19-year-old Marine who gave the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq in 2004.
Ishak_Lawver
There were so many themes I was going to write about today! For starters, how strong we are. Here are some friends, Mary and Larry, smiling after they finished the 5K run/walk race. They didn’t win; they were just glad to have run. My neighbors toss hay bales and ride bucking broncos. They hike for many miles to see wildflowers in the mountains. “Pain is weakness leaving the body,” read the message on the back of one T-shirt. If it’s tough, painful, or sad, they say, cowboy up. Turn out for the race to honor the memory of Chance Phelps.
Jeda_Callie
Or I was going to talk about our culture of service. We wear ourselves out, week after week, creating fun events like this, and always for a cause. It seems like nothing entertaining happens in Dubois that isn’t being done for a very good reason. Here are Jeda and Callie, who work tirelessly to make a good life for the children in Dubois, as they wait for competitors to return. The Run4Chance races fund getaway weekends for veterans.
obstacle_5
Gradually, the obstacle course runners began to return–exhausted and muddy, but hardly defeated–to mount the last few challenges before the finish line.
Domek
Here’s my friend Sara, crossing the last obstacle but one, smiling as always (but you can’t see that). She won the women’s division in the obstacle race.
Dignitaries
Cleaned up and now quiet, we regrouped this afternoon only a few yards from that finish line to honor Chance Phelps and all the veterans from town. Chance was only one of them, but he has come to represent a culture of public service that is woven into the fabric of the community. These dignitaries (US Senator Mike Enzi, Mayor Twila Blakeman, our Wyoming Representative Tim Salazar, and Randy Lahr, head of the Chamber of Commerce) spoke at today’s dedication of the new Veterans Memorial in our Town Park.
EagleScouts Monument
Culminating the 15-year effort to create the Memorial was the project of our newest three Eagle Scouts. Their names will certainly appear soon on this older memorial, not far from the new one they have created. Funded by local charities including the VFW and the Volunteer Fire Department, the Veterans Memorial was “completely constructed by the effort and generosity of our incredible town,” said Lahr at the dedication.
Piper
A bagpiper played “Amazing Grace,” while some men in the crowd took off their hats. When have we ever heard this haunting sound in Dubois?
Taps
There was a rifle salute, and a poignant rendition of Taps by two trumpeters, echoing each other from opposite sides of the Memorial.
USFlag_Raised
Finally, the US flag was raised. The piper started up again, and walked slowly off toward the river, the sound of his dirge gradually dying away as he moved off.
Memorial_Front
“They say this town of a thousand people can do anything a town of 10,000 people can do,” the Mayor had said as she opened the ceremony.  I wonder how many towns of 10,000 would even have thought to do this. Senator Enzi took up the point: “I wonder if there are any towns of 100,000 that have a Memorial as good as this, created without any Federal dollars.”
BarbecueLine
Then we lined up only a few feet farther west for the annual Buffalo Barbecue, a not-to-be-missed event always held this weekend in August in the Town Park. It’s the annual fund-raiser for those others who serve by putting themselves in harm’s way on our behalf: the volunteer firefighters.
VFD_shirt (2)
It’s a most serious commitment in Dubois. These volunteers not only protect our homes, they are first into the forest, protecting our precious part of paradise.
Servers2
Today they served us in a different way.
BarbecueScene
As we were leaving, I recognized the dark-skinned man sitting on the ground at left. I spoke with him at the Post Office yesterday, where he was mailing some packages to himself. “I’m guessing you’re a hiker,” I said, and asked where he was from. He said he really doesn’t have any fixed address right now. I asked where he was heading, and again he didn’t exactly say. “I hope you’ve been having a good time here,” I said this evening, and he smiled and nodded, pointing at his buffalo burger. He seems to want to be alone, and nobody here would want to hassle him as he sat quietly minding his own business. As the NAACP tweeted today, fear doesn’t live here.

© 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.
BakeSale1
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.
Banks4
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.
Blacksmith6
Here’s Gordon the blacksmith, wowing an onlooker.
PackintheMail2
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.
Sersland1
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 …
Miniflume3
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.
Miniflume8
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.
Miniflume10
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.
Miniflume12
As this had never been done before, it was a challenge to figure out the best strategy.
Miniflume13
Competitors large and small took part.

Miniflume16

Miniflume18
It was even a challenge to figure out the optimal flow from the hoses.
Miniflume20
We had arranged for prizes, but nobody seemed to care about them. They just wanted to keep playing!

Miniflume21Miniflume22

BeanBagToss2
After we shut the water off, several kids simply couldn’t stop. They went back to the boring old beanbag toss.

BeanBagToss6

Banks3
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.

Wyoming to Africa: The Workday of a Health Information Specialist

At a remote ranch in the US West, helping Africa share its medical research.

Thanks to Julia Royall for this guest blog, part of a series about people who work remotely from Dubois.

Before first light, as I am just beginning my day in Wyoming, my colleagues in East Africa are about to end theirs.  After a first quick cup of tea, I scurry to respond to email messages. Or I take a quick look in the mirror and make the necessary adjustments to ready myself for a video meeting convened by Ernie, our project assistant based in Seattle.  In attendance: Me, in Wyoming, my coworker Becky in Maryland, and our colleagues in Africa.

They are medical librarians in Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and Mali–part of a network that has developed important projects, from an electronic training manual to a health information center for Masai people in Kenya.  Currently, they are creating an African Digital Health Library, an online repository of indigenous research, so that people anywhere who want to know about health care research in Africa can find out what has already been done on location.

Royall1

My role, for the past 25 years, has been as a facilitator. Starting in 1990 as part of a team enabling some of the sub-Sahara’s first access to the Internet and electronic health information, I have been lifting up African voices by any means possible, to present their scientific findings, their health priorities, and their proposals for new solutions to old scourges — malaria, AIDS, and TB — as well as the chronic diseases of cancer, hypertension, and diabetes.

Today, I’m working with Masimba, a young medical librarian in Zimbabwe whose library features a strong collection.  He is working to build a digital repository joining libraries around his country—and even a mobile app—that will allow worldwide sharing of research in Zimbabwe and Ministry of Health reports, priorities, and guidelines.

Of course, my work isn’t all online. Often I travel from Wyoming to Africa. At the Sheraton Hotel in Uganda, when the security guard at the gate leans into my car to ask my driver who I am, Moses says simply, “Figure 1.” The guard lets us through without a word.

I’m not sure how this code got started, but “Figure 1” is the guard code of a security firm in Kampala. It means either “white woman” or “all is well.” That says a lot about privilege, a concept I have struggled with my entire career of working and sometimes living in Africa. No matter how I cut the cake, I am a seemingly wealthy white woman from the West. The term Figure 1 presumes that as a white female, I could probably do no harm or make too many waves. It is a sign of impotent privilege.

Royall2

I was born and bred on the gentle marshes of Charleston, South Carolina, where I first came to appreciate a transported African culture through the Gullah people of the Lowcountry. I now find myself watching the wide sky from a ranch just outside of Dubois.

My husband’s mother bought properties here over 50 years ago (Spring Ranch, where we live, and Ring Lake Ranch, where she started an ecumenical retreat center), when she left the East forever and became a pastor in an even smaller town nearby.  After years of travel and interesting work in research and policy, we too, have left the high-gear life of the East coast to make Dubois our full-time base.

Here, we can watch the badlands turn various shades of red and then fade to silhouette as night begins to fall.  Remote rural silent sunsets here in Wyoming are equal in brilliance to those I’ve seen in African countries, but there is a major difference.

Although both sunsets herald the end of day, the nights are different. In Dubois, night is blessedly silent, and usually domed with a cascade of stars.

The night sky in Uganda is also lit, but with the lights of night life in cities or fireflies in the village. The nights in Africa have a sense of urgency and action and possibility.

Africa is not the “dark continent” many still believe it to be (as evidenced by all the fly-by health mission trips and schools of “global health” that have sprung up with development dollars and under-employed graduate students from the US). If we really believed that African countries had potential, we would be supporting their capacity and their own health priorities, sharing all of our glitzy tools, rather than engaging in “development tourism” and neo-colonial research.

From the serene location of Dubois, using the Internet, I will continue to do all I can to help them move their own projects forward.

Julia Royall retired from her position as chief of the Office of International Programs at the US National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine. She continues to work as a health information specialist from Dubois.

 

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.

A Refuge From “Grinding Realities”

Not the most comfortable place to make a living, but an exceptionally fine place to make a life.

FirepotPrescott, Arizona. It’s our annual spring get-away, an opportunity to do things we couldn’t do in Dubois.

We try out new hikes in different places. We purchase the items on our long-saved list for big box stores.

We have terrific meals in specialty restaurants that probably couldn’t survive year-round in our tiny, remote village in the wilderness.

We see different views. The vistas back home are spectacular indeed, but there’s nothing anywhere to match the  Grand Canyon–and it’s a mere day trip from here.

GrandCanyon6

It’s lovely here, and we enjoy Prescott a great deal. It’s cosmopolitan. It’s a college town. We meet many long-term residents who love this more crowded and developed town as much as we love Dubois.

They also tell us how the population has exploded in the past few decades, and how many of the lovely houses are rentals or second homes. (Could this be a vision of Dubois in the distant future? Would that be good or bad?)

This getaway is also a chance to consult with medical specialists of a kind that are few and far between back home, so I take the opportunity to chase down the source of a small matter that has bothered me for some time.

My vitals taken, as I wait in the consulting room, I leaf through the stack of random old editions of People and WebMD. Deep in the pile, I’m startled to find a copy of Wyoming Wildlife from April 2011. It contains a long essay about the bargain geology bestowed upon Wyoming: Scant population, in trade for the survival of native wildlife that was gradually exterminated elsewhere, as settlers moved west.

“Even today, it’s not the most comfortable place to make a living,” wrote the author, Chris Masson, “but it is an exceptionally fine place to make a life.”

WyomingWildlifeToo true, I think, and ponder our good fortune in having settled there. Reading on, I find myself reminded why we treasure the same isolation that sometimes motivates us to leave briefly, for an escape to denser places.

“At the heart of that life is the land,” Masson wrote. “It provides resources that have faded away in most other parts of the country: herds of pronghorn, deer, and elk, bighorn in the high country, cutthroats in the creek, transparent water and air, and unobstructed view of the far horizon. Most of it all, it gives us a refuge from the grinding realities of checkbooks and emails, a place we can to savor the silence.”

Every animal he mentioned, every pleasure of that high and unspoiled country, is a description of our valley. Of course, he didn’t describe everything.

Last evening, coming home from the theater in Prescott, I looked up at the sky and was a bit dismayed to see a display of stars whose number it would actually be possible to count. Not what I’ve become used to seeing at night!

I leaf back to the front of the magazine to read the photo credits, and am in for another pleasant surprise. Cover image: Michael J. Kenney, Dubois, Wyoming. My friend and neighbor, the head of the phone company, who has given us our splendid Internet service.

Every once in a while I have delightful little moments of grace, like this one. Well put, Chris Masson, whoever you are. Thanks for the reminder.

© 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.

Hike. Reach. Step. Relax. Repeat.

yoga4“Someone asked me what kind of yoga I practice,” Becki said recently, during a morning class. “Hatha yoga? Vinyasa yoga? I told them I practice Dubois yoga.”

She didn’t elaborate, but we know what this means. The farthest thing from competitive yoga. Healing yoga. Restorative yoga. Respect your body yoga.

“Any injuries today?” she asks.

I tell her that yesterday I hiked too far, too fast. “Someday you’ll stop telling me things like that,” she replies. If Becki can respect my body, why can’t I?

Becki has said that everyone in Dubois has very tight hamstrings, because we spend so much time hiking uphill. Her gentle “work-ins” are there to help us help our bodies recover from the hard physical work of enjoying our wilderness, whether we’ve spent time pitching tents or pitching hay to horses.

Before she gave birth to her first child and needed yoga to recover, Becki was the head of our local wilderness-adventure program for adolescents, after working as a counselor who took them on treks into wild places. Last year, she took a solo mountain-bike trip from Canada to Wyoming down the Continental Divide.

Yoga2Our tai chi instructor, Matt, is the local plumber. He gladly tells us how he wracked up his body as a younger man working in construction, to the point where he could barely walk, and how tai chi slowly helped him to recover.

He’s giving classes, he says, to make sure he keeps doing it himself.

This isn’t the kind of dance-like tai chi you see in a city park. It’s Tai Chi-Chi Kung, deeply rooted in the martial arts. He translates many of the complex moves into self-defense maneuvers, but the motions he leads us through are not combative. They’re gentle, quiet, self-aware.

Becki helps us to recover from clambering over this rocky ground. Matt helps us to prepare.

“Hiking,” he interrupts himself to say. “You think: This foot first, now that foot. I’m over this foot now. Pretty hard to lose your balance.. I used to turn my ankle all the time. Do this enough, and you won’t.”

MassageCabin

When the muscles get too tight to tolerate, I treat myself to a session with Reenie. Here’s the charming small cabin she uses for therapeutic massage, a setting that is therapy in itself.

That’s a joy of living in Dubois year-round. In high tourist season, you’re lucky to be able to get any of her time at all — and Reenie likes to give it abundantly, and with care.

When I ask her what she’s finding, Reenie always prefaces her answer by saying something like: “Well, I’m not sure I have enough knowledge to advise you about this.” Meanwhile she has found places I didn’t know I had, let alone that they were hurting, and made them better.

I’ve learned more about myself from these three people than from any of the fine doctors I saw back in New York  — and feel much better for it. But then, they probably don’t know much about hiking up rocky mountain trails.

© 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.

Dubois Gets Lucky, and Gets Fresh

Quiz: What’s warm and green where it’s high and dry?

greenhouse1It could go without saying that Wyoming is not the garden state. We’re high and dry, which is a fabulous climate for people to enjoy in the late spring and summer, but not so much for garden vegetables.

So it was truly big news last week when Mary Ellen Honsaker told me that the Community Garden had been offered the use of a large greenhouse near the center of town.

FarmersMarketHaulHooray! The Community Garden supplies the Farmers Market, which funds the Food Bank. Now the Farmers Market, which opens in June, will be able to offer produce that is larger, more abundant, and presumably also more fresh.

Normally, setting aside the local gardeners who sometimes offer part of their harvest and whatever Mary Ellen brings in by car from other farmers’ markets in Jackson, Lander, or Riverton, the main source for the Farmers Market has been the Dubois Community Garden’s outdoor garden. Located beside St. Thomas church, it’s vulnerable to those enemies of gardeners everywhere: deer and frost.

greenhouse6Proudly, on a gray day in late April, Mary Ellen showed me around the greenhouse, which was warm and already showing many signs of green. Use of the greenhouse is the generous gift of Debbie Phillips, who acquired it with the house she and her husband bought when they moved to Dubois last year.

Debbie put in those scallions a while ago, but the tomatoes at upper left belong to the Farmer’s Market. The Community Garden is free to use the other beds, and will maintain Debbie’s plants in exchange, whenever she is out of town.

The Community Garden’s broccoli plants are barely big enough to see. But much to Mary Ellen’s delight (and mine), we found that the tomato plants are already blossoming.broccoli_tomatoes

© 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.