My City and My Country, in the Eyes of an Artist

A photo exhibit wonderfully portrays the same contrasts I describe

picture of building reflected in water

Trying to plan some diversions for a house guest from New York, I stopped by the Headwaters Center here in Dubois to ask about the current art exhibit. It’s a show of photographs of Wyoming and New York City, I learned.

What could be more perfect? My visitor has degrees in fine arts and art history, and photography is one of his passions.

He’s always talking about the remarkable light and the changing cloud patterns, and regularly dashes outside to catch yet one more different image of landscape and sky. I sometimes wonder whether he visits me here mostly to take photographs.

On the Friday before July 4, we were alone in the Headwaters gallery. I knew absolutely nothing about the photographer, Amanda Fehring, and had no way to guess what my guest would think of her work.

I found most of the images attractive because I could relate to their subjects–a few of them of New York City, but most of them showing our Western landscapes. On my own, I would have looked at them briefly, in order, and then left. But I had the pleasure of an expert guide.

He kept crossing and re-crossing the room, reviewing and comparing the images, seeing them with the eye of someone who might have taken them and sometimes wished he had.

“Half of these are really fantastic,” he said before we left.

picture of an art gallery

His favorite was a picture she had called “Leaning,” a black and white image of winter-bare trees and water. I would never have noticed it, but it stopped him in his tracks. On second viewing, he said it was perfect.

“Look at the way it’s divided exactly in thirds. There’s the white on the bottom balancing the white sky on the top. And look at the way the angle of the fallen tree exactly divides the image,” he said.

“And just listen to it. There’s that silence you get in winter. Not a sound, except maybe the flowing water.”

I don’t think I’ve ever listened to a photograph before.

picture of mountain range in snow

Another, called “White Red Canyon,” shows a pastel mix of sky over a red-rock formation blanketed in snow, taken from a distance and above. It’s one of those photographs that might actually be a painting instead.

“Amazing,” he said. “You really have to wait for that light. And where was she taking that from? How did that happen?”

Again and again, he invoked the thought of patience and persistence, of the photographer going out in harsh weather, waiting for just the right moment or finding a difficult vantage point, all in search of the right image. It brought to mind some wildlife biologists I have admired for similar attributes.

“This one is really high art,” he said of an image of Lake Como in Italy, pointing out the clarity of the pine needles at the right and the cross-hatching in the water, which he traced to a jet boat that he spied as a white line and dot, barely visible at the base of the hills on the opposite shore.

“She got it so crisp,” he said. “It’s hard to get the saturation right in the shot like that, rather than just fixing it later.”

shadows of people looking at a framed photograph

In contrast, it was the un-clarity of “Wintry Wind River” that he admired, the way in which her artistry caught the frigid vapor that rises above our river on a sub-zero day. Three visual elements caught in one moment, he said: wind, water, and air.

“What’s your favorite?” he asked me after a while.

“I can’t really say,” I replied, “after hearing everything you’ve had to say about them.”

Fair enough, he granted. Looking around quickly, I pointed to the photograph she had called “Noho Stroll.”

framed photograph of woman walking down a street in New York City

“I probably like it just because it reminds me of all those times I used to walk home from work in midtown all the way to Brooklyn,” I said.

“And I like the bright colors.” I pointed out the way the bright blue and red bicycle at the center of the image echoed the walls behind and the blue dress of the Asian woman with the parasol in the center.

“I don’t like that very much,” he remarked, pointing to a yellow traffic cone near the bicycle. But you can’t just rearrange the elements of a street scene, I argued–and then he began to change his mind.

“That matches the yellow of that sign, and there’s the green of those plants. She has all the primary colors. It does have the classic perspective from two points, and the reflection on the side of that delivery van at left really opens up the sky. And also she waited for the right subject.” (He meant the woman with the parasol). “So she has done her job.”

Finally we noticed a curious, postcard-like picture of an strangely shaped building that seemed inconsistent with the others — oddly unfocused and poorly composed.

photograph of entry to Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn

“Where is that?” I asked. He peered closely at the image. Indistinctly, from the banners on either side of the door, he could discern the location.

“Greenwood Cemetery! Of course!”

We both recognized the building instantly. It’s a Brooklyn landmark.

“She was standing back to take the image from the front,” he guessed, “and then those two women in blue walked up with those gowns exactly the color of the sky. So she just took the shot.”

The image is called “Late.” Perhaps few others would get the hidden meaning. It looks like women walking into a church, but actually they’re entering a cemetery. And in fact, perhaps, Fehring herself arrived too late to compose the shot very well.

I had figured Amanda Fehring as some trust-fund kid who lives in Jackson and doesn’t really need to work. But returning home to my computer, I was surprised and pleased to learn that she’s the news director of County 10 in Riverton. She grew up in Montana, met her husband in college there, and they moved to Brooklyn together after college.

It would have been even more of a contrast for him than for me, because he comes from nearby Kinnear, a hamlet near Riverton which has a population of only about 50. They returned to the West, she told me, because “we needed a break from the big city.”

“Photography has always been a big part of my life,” Fehring said. She recalls grabbing her mother’s single-reflex camera at age 8 or 9, and she been taking pictures ever since.

“It’s never been something I tried to make money off of,” she added — and that’s still true. Every photograph in the current exhibition is priced at $175.

The exhibit closes on July 8. If you’re nearby and you like good art, hurry to catch it before it closes. At least half of the photographs are fantastic. An expert told me so.

© Lois Wingerson, 2022

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The Truth About Richard Dennison (So Far…)

Stories about him, and by him about himself.

Richard V. Dennison
Richard V. Dennison

Richard V. (Dick) Dennison was one of those enigmatic characters who came to Dubois from the East Coast, tried and failed, and then vanished without leaving much of himself behind.

Fortunately for us, someone mentioned to Grace Remington, a documentary film-maker in New York City, that she “had a grand uncle who killed someone and then fled justice to Wyoming, where he built a palatial lodge populated with celebrities.”

Curious, Grace followed up briefly over the phone with former Dubois mayor Twila Blakeman. Then the pandemic hit.

A few months ago, with the pandemic easing, and herself now supported by a fellowship from the Jacob Burns Film Center, Grace reached out to the Dubois Museum, feeling a need to “just go and see if anyone knows anything about this guy to whom I’m distantly related and who died a long time ago.” (He was her maternal grandfather’s uncle.)

I happened upon Grace at the coffee shop, on her first morning in town. Lynn Stewart introduced us, we sorted out our coincidental connection, and she beamed her infectious smile. I’m so glad I stopped by that morning.

It happens that Grace lives about 6 blocks from my former home in Brooklyn. This revelation prompted a long and intense conversation, mostly about restaurants and ethnic food stores far from Wyoming.

She had just arrived. She sat on the white sofa, the Perch’s copy of Mary Allison’s Dubois Area History right in front of her on the table. She stayed for 3 hours after I left, as people drew her in and vice versa, the way it often happens in there.

She came to my house later (I lent her a memory card) and a few days afterwards we had lunch at the Cowboy Cafe, where I formally interviewed her and took notes. This is that story.

Dennison Lodge
Dennison Lodge

R.V.D. did leave one important thing behind: the Dennison Lodge. It’s the attractive log building that stands today between the Dubois Museum and the National Bighorn Sheep Center, across the highway from Family Dollar.

As most locals know, it used to stand 18 miles up East Fork, the center of an exclusive, invitation-only dude ranch whose guests included Clark Gable and Carole Lombard.

After Dennison died suddenly, under mysterious circumstances, and the property ended up in government hands, the building was threatened with demolition. Several influential women moved heaven and earth to get it moved into town. It’s an event venue today. (At least one barn from the property was also relocated, a few miles down East Fork, to the site of the Trial Lawyers College.)

Many long-term residents can sketch in other details, often tracing back to the account in Mary Allison’s book. A Brief History of the Dennison Lodge, published in 2000, repeats some of the same information and adds more.

They say that Richard Dennison fled here to escape prosecution after he killed someone in a hit-and-run accident back East. The lodge was fitted out with lavish, expensive furniture and mounts of African animals which Dennison, not being a hunter, had purchased. He went broke, killed himself, and the lodge stood empty.

That’s the local lore, much of it true. But the reality that Grace is teasing out is different in some details, at once stranger and oddly familiar.

Adapted from an entry in Dubois Area History, p. 200

During her visit, the town responded “in a way that was genuine and really beautiful,” Grace told me. “I got to know people, and everyone was enthusiastic to share what they have to offer.”

She visited the Dennison and the Museum and anyone she could find who had information about the history of the Lodge and its founder. Grace told me it was interesting to see “how the story plays out in a town full of stories and story tellers–reliable and otherwise.”

Richard Dennison was born in Philadelphia in December 1880, the third of 7 siblings, three of whom died in childhood. Mary Allison says he was a member of the New Jersey family that owned the Dennison Paper Company, but actually his father was president of American Oil Development Company in Pittsburgh. As Grace puts it, he was a trust fund baby.

A Brief History of the Dennison Lodge says that Dick visited “the CM Dude Ranch on Jakey’s Fork in 1913” at the age of 23. But he was actually 33 in 1913, and that was 7 years before Charles Moore founded the CM on Jakey’s Fork. Moore did run a pack-tripping operation out of the base of the Dunoir, but it was intended for boys, not grown men, and its buildings burned down sometime around 1905, according to Allison.

Her book says that he first came here in 1914, without mentioning the CM Ranch. Whatever the reality, like so many others Dennison obviously fell in love with the Wind River Valley once he saw it.

“Clearly, he had the experience of a lifetime there,” Grace said. “That must be when he decided what he wanted to do.”

Looking through records at the court house in Lander, she hasn’t yet tracked down exactly when Dick bought the ranch up Bear Creek. But only 7 years later, by 1920, he lived in Lander. In 1924, he was living back East in New Jersey, but by 1930 he was in Fremont County for good.

Dennison Lodge, then

He began living out the cowboy dream. People say he was a good rider. On the ranch, he raised Jersey cattle and thoroughbred horses.

After Grace left, I took a picture of a few pages about Dick Dennison from Esther Mockler’s memoir, and texted them to her. He “had a theory that horses raised in high altitudes would develop a larger lung capacity than low-altitude horses, and thus could win more races,” Mockler wrote. “He never conclusively proved his theory.”

Dennison Lodge, now. Same room,
slightly different vantage point.

“Seems like a good summation of Dick Dennison’s overall approach to things,” Grace wrote back, repeating the last line: He never conclusively proved his theory.

There’s also much that she may never prove conclusively.

Through a distant relative doing family genealogy, whom she learned about from the Dubois Museum, and from her own research, Grace has discovered “things that aren’t the case.” In short, much of what Dick Dennison told people here is untrue or cannot be verified.

Mary Allison wrote that he had a twin brother who died at the age of 12. There is no record of a twin brother.

He told people that he served overseas in World War I, and he chose to wear WWI-style Army boots. According to the genealogy by Grace’s relative, his death certificate says that he was a World War 1 veteran who suffered shell shock after the war. But his passport shows that he went to France in 1918 as a volunteer for the Red Cross.

At the age of 37, he would have been deemed too old to serve according to regulations at the time, and in any case the war ended shortly afterwards. Veteran or volunteer, perhaps it doesn’t matter. But he left a certain impression.

Mary Allison recorded his middle name as “venison” (see image above). “Richard Venison Dennison?” said Grace. “That’s so insane!” His real middle name was Vincent. Was she mistaken, or was he playing around?

“Who knows?” she said during our interview. “Maybe the hit and run was another fabrication, to give him some sort of ‘credibility’. Like he killed someone, but then he wasn’t to blame because it was an accident, so he didn’t have to feel guilty.” The concept “fleeing justice to the West” does have considerably more glamor than just coming West to play cowboy, doesn’t it?

Because there’s no evidence that he ever mentioned a date and a place, and by definition he would have fled the scene, Grace can’t imagine how she might validate that part of his story. He had no criminal record.

When he came to Wyoming, Grace believes, he set about to “write his own story and fashion a life for himself that was fulfilling.” She talks of a “duality of identity,” of a life not lived and experiences never had.

In a sense, she pointed out, he followed a course of action that is paralleled by “many other people, even to this day” — those who envision a new lifestyle for themselves and head West to create it.

On September 27, 1939, according to Mary Allison, Dick called his friend Eloise Peck saying that she should come over if she wanted to see him alive. When she arrived at 10:30 a.m., she found him dead in a chair. There was no inquest, and the rumor that he took his own life has not been verified. He was 59 years old.

He was cremated and his ashes taken to Denver. There is no information beyond that.

Grace drove to Lander to read his estate documents. In December 1939, the inventory ran to 27 pages of possessions, assessed at $100,000. But there was also a long list of creditors, and the inventory list eventually shrank to 5 pages. By that time the assessment had fallen to $33,500, “which the lawyer for his executor conveniently buys,” Grace told me.

There are rumors that many items were stolen and never recorded.

“It’s telling and poetic that what remained of Dick Dennison was a list of his stuff,” Grace said at the Cowboy Cafe. Very few pictures from the Dennison ranch in the Museum collection have people in them, she told me. Most of them show nothing but things.

Grace Remington

“But after all, the only thing that remains of any of us are the stories we tell about ourselves,” she went on, “and the stories that others tell about us.”

“Well, there IS a big lodge,” she added, with that smile.

She asked for a hug, and we parted. Grace intends to return to Dubois sometime in June.

© Lois Wingerson, 2022

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Remembering Patrick

Likeable? Not always. But remarkable.

Another piece has torn away from the wonderful crazy quilt that is Dubois. It’s difficult to believe he’s really gone.

His particular fragment in that work of art was frayed at the edges and rather dark. But at the center, it was lustrous and elegantly patterned.

Patrick would probably be unhappy if he could know that I am posting this. He was certainly a private person. But as I write that, I can hear his gruff laugh sounding from a distant place. “I don’t care what people think,” he would say. (Was it true?)

Many people knew him only as a chef, which indeed he was, par excellence. I must have met Patrick first (but not formally) when he was running the restaurant-deli called Paya with Barbara. That was when we first moved to Dubois.

Its Facebook page is still live, with tempting pictures and descriptions of that day’s offering on the steam table, and the comments.

“Best pizza in Wyoming.”

“There is no lunch like this anywhere.”

On this very blog, I myself said that Paya’s pizza was better than any I had found in Brooklyn.

They held on for years, but managing that busy main-street restaurant slowly ran them (and, I presume, their marriage) ragged. One of the last Google reviews was a complaint that vividly reveals Barbara’s frayed nerves. Paya closed in 2014.

Afterwards, Patrick tried opening another deli with another cook. When that didn’t work out, he had a succession of jobs in restaurants around town, did occasional catering, and then just stopped. He loved to prepare food, and to talk about the preparation of food, but he wasn’t on duty any more.

I would see him on the street, at the coffee shop or in the supermarket. Often, he would make some random comment that sounded nasty. I found his acerbic behavior interesting. It was as if he was testing to see if he could drive me away. I got to throwing it back at him.

At least once, Patrick complemented me about my residual New York City attitude in the course of saying that it must alienate some others. In a way, I felt like a kindred spirit. In another way, I wanted to defy his challenge.

We began to meet for lunch, and gradually I learned about his past. His mother had been French. His parents were diplomats. He had lived somewhere in Africa as a child, and in Vietnam as a teenager during the war. He well recalled their escape as US forces left the country. I wish I could remember more details about his past. He would surely tease me for forgetting them.

Patrick said that he was often dizzy and no longer had the stamina or the focus to work, which sounded like malingering. But he began to share details of his long series of visits to doctors in search of an explanation, and eventually I learned the truth. He had difficulty describing the diagnosis, but he handed me a scrap of paper on which he had written the name.

That’s how I learned he was having a series of small strokes, perhaps a hereditary problem but certainly one aggravated by his smoking. “I’m not going to stop,” he said several times, defiantly. “It’s about the only thing I can enjoy now.” The prognosis was not good, and he knew it.

By that point, he could no longer focus his eyes well enough to read or watch a screen. He never knew when he would have enough energy to cook, which he would have loved to do. Basically, all he could do any more was sit around the apartment, and he felt trapped in his life. About the only thing he could be sure to do would be to take his dog, Jasper, down by the river for a run.

When Patrick finally welcomed me to visit him at home, I felt I got to know him. You would never have guessed what was in his rooms above the laundromat: The little cast iron ship sitting on the woodstove humidifying the air through its smokestacks. The African face mask. The vast art deco armoire. I could see the fine antiques and paintings, the eclectic objects he had discovered at the Opportunity Shop, and his beloved jungle of houseplants.

I’d admire one painting, and he would tell me its history. “You must see this,” he would add, pulling something off a shelf to show me, or leading me into a back room to see another painting.

One recent Tuesday, I walked up the narrow stairs and opened the door to confront the usual rambunctious greeting from Jasper. I was expected, but Patrick hadn’t come to the corridor to greet me as usual. I found him sleeping soundly in his big chair.

I made plenty of noise as I calmed Jasper down, hoping to disturb him to alertness. But when I walked back to the chair, he was still breathing deeply. Needs his sleep, I told myself, and left quietly. I could return when he was awake.

“I stopped by,” I texted a few minutes later, “but you were sleeping so soundly I didn’t want to disturb you. Phone when you see this, please.”

He never called. I decided he must be in one of his moods, and I called to leave a voice message. Late that afternoon, someone called me with the most unwelcome news.

In the days that followed, when I said that I was sad, I began to learn about other people who had also cared about him. I had had no idea how many there were, and I suspect he didn’t, either.

© Lois Wingerson, 2021

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The Sunday Show: Roundup Time at the Buck’n’rail

… but you have to get lucky and be far from town on a chilly autumn afternoon

An adolescent girl, perhaps the one in this picture, climbed the slope toward the irrigation ditch near the fence where I sat, at the edge of our property. “They told me to tell you you’re not allowed to take pictures,” she said.

Returning from a hike on a raw and cloudy Sunday afternoon in October, I had heard whoops, hollers, and bellows from the valley just below. I guessed what was happening. It’s a sure sign of autumn when the cattle crowd that corral. I had stopped to watch the people racing around on horseback, driving the cattle in.

“Who’s in charge?” I asked. She mentioned two names I didn’t recognize.

“We’re rounding up the cattle in this valley for the people who own them,” she went on. “They do this every year.”

“I know,” I said. “I live here.”

I stopped taking pictures after that, and nobody in this one is identifiable. (I took the rest of these at other times.) But it’s difficult to imagine that I’m forbidden from taking pictures of the landscape adjacent to my own property. If the cattle have an issue, they may consult legal counsel.

I wonder why these folks objected. Perhaps they thought I was an animal-rights activist.

The reason for my interest is outright ignorance. I see cattle every (nonwinter) day from my windows, and I have seen cowboys in many movies riding around among cattle. But I have never watched an actual roundup in action. As you may recall, I was a city girl.

Tourists sometimes stop in town to ask where they can see real cowboys at work, and we locals glance at each other before responding politely. You’d have to get lucky, be fairly far from town, and probably not go looking for them on a lovely afternoon in midsummer. I got lucky one chilly Sunday in October, and I had that privilege.

They must have been rounding these cattle up all day, I thought. It’s a very long valley.

The neighbor’s five horses and a mule had gathered between me and the corral, sometimes looking up at me as they grazed. A woman bundled up in parka and scarf walked a toddler around by the hand among the three livestock trailers parked near the corral. Two small dogs trotted around outside the corral, busy as if on errands.

It was loud where I sat many yards away, so it must have been almost deafening for the people helping to herd the cattle. (I don’t say “cowboys” because a few of them were women and the others were not boys). The cattle were objecting loudly to being penned inside the corral, of course, not to mention the whinnying of the horses and the cowhands’ own yells and whistles.

As I took my perch on the fence, two men on horseback were expertly cutting one huge black beast out of the herd as the others were trapping the rest of the animals inside the corral. They drove it off to one side and out the gate. It went in the wrong direction, and they barked and shouted as they wheeled around and galloped toward it. It leaped one fence with surprising agility, then another, and wandered off toward the river.

Meanwhile, the other cowhands busied themselves inside the corral, urging their captives into one pen or the other. One of them galloped back and forth inside the pen, cleaning cows out of a far corner. After a while, only he was on horseback. The others just walked behind the cattle, sometimes urging them forward with lazy sweeps of a rope.

I wondered why they had divided them into groups, only to open the gates and let them crowd back into the largest pen together again. Then I overheard a shout: “Write down 112!” They had been counting, of course.

Soon after, I heard someone  call out “115”.

By historic standards, just over a hundred head is a fairly small herd for this region. Frank Welty, Sr. (1874-1958) reports in Recollections of the Upper Wind River Valley that he had a herd of 1800 head in 1919, but a drought followed by a hard winter reduced the herd to 150. That was “a sad end to a big business,” he said. I won’t attempt a digression now into the current economics of cattle ranching in this valley and why herds are smaller now. As I said, I’m ignorant.

Eventually, someone got into a pickup and backed one of the three livestock trailers toward the corral. The cowhands separated three or four of the cattle, closed them beyond a gate from the rest of the herd, and drove them into the trailer. The truck and trailer lumbered toward the highway and went off. (Were these few, I wondered, part of the wages?)

After a while, two men mounted their horses, headed back down the valley, and surrounded one of the few cattle that were still grazing out there. Is this the one they had cut out before? Why, I wondered, did they do that in the first place?

Now they turned it around, and it loped toward the corral, objecting. Handily, they steered it into the empty pen closest to the valley, then coaxed it into the largest pen with the rest of the herd.

There seemed to be a lot of standing around afterwards. Saddles were slung into pickups. Some of the horses were led into another trailer and driven away. Others were tied to the remaining trailer. People walked back and forth.

Sometimes, all at once, the cattle fell silent. Then one would moan and the others would start up again.

A few of the cowhands walked over to a fence near the corral and engaged in a long conversation with two men who had been watching from the other side. I could hear their voices, but not what they were saying. Negotiating terms or just shooting the breeze?

I waited for rest of the cattle to be driven into the other trailers. How would they all fit? Then I realized (knucklehead!) the trailers are for transporting all their horses, not for cattle. It’s their job to round the cattle up, not to transport them somewhere else—especially not after they have spent all day chasing them out of the valley. Others would pick up the rest of the cattle the next day, no doubt. (And sure enough, the cattle were still there the next morning.)

It was growing more breezy on my perch at the property line, and my gloved hands were cold. I gave up waiting for them to load the remaining horses into the last trailer, and headed home.

By the time I was seated by the window with a cup of tea, our neighbor’s five horses and mule had returned to the meadow by the aspen grove. I guess the show was over.

© Lois Wingerson, 2021

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Two Homecomings – One Sweet, One Bitter

A joyful cry, a reckless run, and at the end a silent drive home.

Small boy with a ladder beside small airplane.

Our oldest grandchild came for a visit last week. He has refused to accept my statement that everything he saw here – not just our house – is called “Wyoming.”

This was his first time away from home without his parents.

He is not yet four, but we can already see who he is becoming.

At least right now, he’s fascinated with airplanes. Flying here was a huge excitement for him.

Misty and Mike Cavanagh kindly let me bring him to visit their hangar up at the small Dubois airport, where he was fascinated with the aircraft, but even more so with all the tools.

The airplanes were a bit scary. The tools were not, being much more familiar. “Here’s a screwdriver,” he said, handing one to Misty. Our son-in-law is in construction.

After leaving the hangar, he suddenly burst into tears.

“I want to see my Daddy!” he moaned.

“Soon,” I said. “Not just yet.”

Small boy sitting on an airplance.

He’s such a bundle of apprehension and courage, confusion and acceptance.

I saw all of these in the Denver airport, as we endured the security line and raced toward the plane that would bring him home. The rushing crowds. The scary escalators. The noisy terminal. The frightening little gap between jetway and airplane. The startling chimes from above and the bumps when we were in the air.

He was very good.

Then the long trek from the gate to the curb, and at last, the sight of the big black pickup, the cry of joy and the reckless run toward Daddy’s big embrace. A woman waiting nearby called it a multi-hankie reunion.

We had been dry-camping, and my phone began to run out of juice. Then I didn’t take the right power cords along to the airport. (Corralling a 3-year-old has a way of distracting you from other realities.) So I was mostly on childcare duty and off the grid, saving phone power for important messages. For a few days, I left the world behind.

View of Denver suburb from a car.

My return journey after dropping him off with his father was more restful, of course. As the plane slowly descended toward Denver from the west, I watched the vast, rumpled mountain carpet of peaks and furrows as they passed below. It was a calming sight. They looked untouched and unapproachable.

Gazing out the passenger window the next morning as we drove north, I saw the suburbs spread out at the base of the same Front Range I had flown across the day before. Many of the people in those houses came here to be near that wilderness. But how close can they get, how often – and driving through what kind of traffic for how long?

Denver always makes me yearn for home.

As almost everywhere during that trip last week, the rural road we followed was lined with sunflowers. As you see, it was a beautiful day just short of autumn.

Sunflowers beside a highway

This feels like the most hopeful time of year, full of the promise of new projects, the days brightened by the shimmer of glowing aspen leaves and the enchantment of clean, crisp air. Those masses of yellow blossoms seemed to be bright faces nodding at me as we sped by, headed for home.

Finally, I picked up my phone and checked back into the world of adulthood.

A long list of emails, including this, from the Governor’s office:

That announcement brought a jolt to the heart. World news is not supposed to come this close. 

I had to wait for signal to return before I could learn more about the late Lance Corporal from Wyoming. He had been guarding the entrance to Kabul airport in that mayhem during the evacuation. He was 20 years old.

To my grandmotherly eyes, the person gazing back from the news photos looked like a mere boy. But he was a man in every sense. He chose to serve our country, knowing he might give his life, and he did. His young wife is expecting their first child in a few weeks.

Arriving in town late in the evening, we made a quick stop at the grocery store.

The cashier and the customer ahead, both of whom I know, were fixated on each other in in an intense conversation. The customer had been crying. Being only a few feet away, I could not help overhearing.

She said something about babysitting and playing together, and that she was sad about how her son must be taking the news.

“You mean he lived in Dubois?” I asked, not needing to specify who I meant by “he.”

She nodded. “Before they moved to Jackson. When he was real small.”

It was Rylee’s lifelong dream to become a Marine, his father told reporters. Ever since he was 3. That number jumped out at me, of course.

American flag at half staff

One pleasure of being in this remote town is our distance from the existential crises of the world at large. We look to the mountains from whence cometh our help, but not always, not always quickly, and not for everyone.

We drove silently home. As I walked toward the door with the groceries, I heard my husband say, “I ought to put the flag at half-staff.”

He turned and walked toward the flagpole.

© Lois Wingerson, 2021

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You can see every new entry of Living Dubois by email if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

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Flights of Fancy at the Dubois Airport

Weather doomed the fly-in. But the aircraft on the ground were amazing.

On Saturday morning, the clouds hung low and heavy over Dubois. Nearly everyone around here was glad to have some rain, to dampen the risk of fires here and the haze of smoke from fires farther west. But the people at the airport weren’t so pleased.

Sadly, the weather had not been kind to Wyoming’s Third Highway Into Dubois Fly-In and Community Aviation Day.

“You should have come earlier,” said Cathy, when I reached her canopied stand. “There was quite a crowd for the pancake breakfast.” But probably the main point of the occasion was the fly-in, and under those conditions nobody would be landing at our small airport to drop by.

Silently, I wished for better luck next year, and walked on.

Inside a small hangar, a band was cheerily playing “Here Comes the Sun,” which did not seem to be the case. A few people stood nearby and chatted. Some small children carried balloon sculptures.

This facility on a plateau west of town was unfamiliar territory for me. I had come to the event mostly out of curiosity. I certainly wouldn’t sign up for flying lessons that day; my interest in aviation ends with boarding a big aircraft to get somewhere quickly, and I leave the details to the crew.

Toward the western end of the little taxiway, I saw a modestly built man pushing a tiny biplane out of a hangar, with about the same effort someone would use to wheel a Harley Davidson away from the curb. The black and white aircraft looked like it might have been pieced together from shoeboxes.

“Jungster 1” was painted on its side. It weighs 700 pounds and runs on a battery pack.

“Some old man in Ohio made it a long time ago,” Mike Cavanagh told me. After buying it and taking a short flight, Mike decided it needed to be rebuilt. He finished putting it back together last week, and won’t take it up again until it passes an inspection. He had brought it out of the hangar just to taxi around for the occasion. He let a five-year-old boy sit inside the cockpit and give his mother a thumbs-up for the camera.

The hangar behind him was jammed with somewhat larger aircraft, all painted in bright colors and as shiny as the new models in an auto dealership. One is a glider. Another is a plane made in Lithuania in 1985 that the Russians used for training.

“Quite a toybox you’ve got here,” said a man who stopped to look in.

Mike is a retired professional pilot who began flying solo at the age of 14. His wife Misty was standing inside, surrounded by the machines. She seemed a bit shy, until I asked her about the bright green and yellow plane backed into the far corner.

“This was built by the Navy for training during World War II,” Misty told me. “Mostly, the military buys aircraft from manufacturers, but this one was actually built by the Navy. It’s really cool. It’s made of material from dirigibles.”

“Almost nobody realizes that before World War II the Navy used dirigibles. They would transport Sparrowhawk planes using the dirigibles and do what they called parasite launch or landing.”

As explained by the website How Stuff Works, small biplanes would dock onto a “trapeze” hanging below the dirigible, and fly off again from this perilous platform. Why did they dream up this challenging early aircraft carrier and then dare to use it?

 “Probably, we can make the leap to say the parasite aircraft launch is indicative of the mental development of that era in flight,” she said with a laugh. “There were wing walkers, people climbing out on the wing to walk to and board another plane without a parachute, and pilots willing to fly planes with some truly sketchy building techniques with notoriously unreliable engines.”

N3N aircraft

Misty proudly rattled off the other features of the N3N model behind her – the relative weighting of its nose and tail, the fact that the spar and wings are made of extruded aluminum recycled from dirigibles, that one side of the plane is made of aluminum while the other side is fabric. Why fabric? To save weight, she said. Then why aluminum on the other side? So that panels could be lifted off easily for repairs inside the body, without damaging the structure.

“Look at this,” she said, pointing out a plastic tube hanging down from the underside of the wing above the cockpit. “This is the gas gauge. You just look up to see it.”

This remark prompted Misty to reflect on the joys of piloting in the open air. “It’s so much better for training,” she said. “You can really see around, and you get a much better feel for the way the plane is responding.”

Kind of like when I drive my Miata with the top down, I suggested, rather than being inside the Rav4. Her already bright eyes flashed a bit more. “Yes, that’s right,” she said. “You can really feel the road. It’s the same thing.”

Misty grew up in Oklahoma and used to train horses, until her first husband got into flying. “I had to know what he was doing,” she said, and things took off from there.

“Airplanes are so much better than horses,” she said as we were parting. I asked why.

“You don’t want to give your horse away to someone you don’t like,” she said at first, but then decided she had spoken too quickly.

“Airplanes aren’t subjective,” she went on. “They don’t have bad days. Sure, there can be an engine failure, but that’s just mechanical. If you’ve had a bad day, an airplane won’t respond to that. There’s no mix of personalities.”

Driving away from the airport, I thought about Mike, soon to be aloft in his 700-pound toy, and Misty’s joy at sitting in the open air hundreds or thousands of feet up, feeling a large machine moving around her. I reflected on the difference between the Cavanaghs’ passion for flying and my mix of mild apprehension and indifference at the very thought of it.

Passing through the exit, I saw a hawk playing in the currents beyond the top of the slope nearby, plunging and then rising with the updraft, as if dancing.

How lovely to be able to do that, I thought. How often have I wished I could?

© Lois Wingerson, 2021

Thanks for reading!

You can see every new entry of Living Dubois by email if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Who’s writing? Check out About Me.



Midsummer 2021 in Dubois: Good, Bad, and Scary

Of vanishing produce, disappearing pastries, locusts, picket pins, blue coyotes, and more.

I remember the day when Dubois was a sleepy little hamlet, hidden away in a peaceful mountain valley … like, last April.

Feels like that time has gone for good, along with dial telephones.

Stopping for lunch at the Lone Burrito on Thursday, I couldn’t see a single parking spot anywhere. This is extraordinary.

I found a spot by driving behind the official tourist parking area in Lamb Park and around to the gravel lot at the back of Ace Hardware. I felt very glad to be a local who knows a workaround.

This situation is not unique to Dubois this summer, as many people will tell you. All of the gateway towns near National Parks here out West are overrun. Some visitors from Alpine told me it’s just the same on the other side of Teton Pass, where different tourists are heading to flee the crowds in Jackson Hole.

I went into Superfoods on Wednesday to buy some berries and radishes. The produce shelves were nearly empty. It reminded my of my travels inside the Eastern bloc decades ago, when the Berlin Wall was still intact.

“I know what you’re planning to do with that!” laughed my friend Tammy from the cash register, when she saw me snap this photo.

“Darn right!” I said.

Tammy said the staff were completely at a loss to explain this. They received the usual shipment on Monday, and they have been ordering extra for the season. It’s as if locusts had descended.

The annual Museum Day last weekend was a roaring success. I helped out for a while serving the Indian tacos made with fry bread, which seemed just as popular as the authentic chuckwagon stew of prior years. But I soon left, because it was clear there were plenty of volunteers.

Reportedly there were also a record number of visitors. The guest count was about 500, and revenues were high.

But spooky things were going on.

The buzz around town is about the theft. Someone bought a pie at the bake sale, and asked to have it held for later. The buyer’s name was duly attached using a piece of tape, as usual, and it was stored on a table in the kitchen inside the Dennison Lodge. When he or she returned for the pie, it had disappeared.

“I was very disappointed,” said Mary Lou, who ran the bake sale. “People in Dubois don’t do things like that.” (I ran that bake sale for several years, and I can agree.)

Maybe Dubois people don’t, but there are other suspects. Mary Lou told me that she kept having to shoo the same fat and persistent “picket pin” (AKA ground squirrel, genus Citellus) out of the bake sale prep area inside the Dennison. Finally she gave up, closed the door, and put up a sign that said something like “Please come in. Picket pins not welcome.”

Perhaps the picket pin brought some buddies and dragged the pie away after hours. I wouldn’t put it past them. (Like the tourists, they seem to be around in record numbers this year.)

An unsubstantiated rumor (we specialize in these in Dubois) regards a different bake-sale purchase, a plate of pastries. Reportedly someone substituted a different kind of bar for the brownies, leaving the rest of the plate intact. I can’t imagine blaming the picket pins for that.

In other news:

The Perch is closed this weekend. They’re not saying why, but my guess is Sheila and family are taking a well-deserved break. This proved a good opportunity to try out one of the two new options that have shown up to relieve the shock to our caffeine-addicted system.

The face in the top image belongs to Monica Furman, who serves it up with a smile at the Dubois branch of Pinedale-based Pine Coffee Supply. The truck is parked beside the new fly fishing shop across from the Black Bear Inn, which is owned by her in-laws.

Monica, a wedding planner by profession, grew up in Arizona. She and her husband didn’t expect to find full-time work in Dubois, but he landed a job as the manager at Nana’s Bowling and Bakery (soon to open). She found the coffee job, and now they’re here to stay.

The lower image shows the new tiny-house version of the former coffee shop called Coyote Blue, which closed at the start of the pandemic. That’s its familiar logo to the right of the window.

Ali’s trailer is parked in front of Never Sweat Lodge, just west of the Super 8. She’s serving her signature breakfast sandwiches again, just as she did at her previous location. (You can’t see her here because I snapped this picture late in the day, when the truck was closed.)

Another Dubois rumor holds that Joe Brandl has sold his shop. This I can confirm.

I caught that wonderful guy in town yesterday, spraying weed killer outside the shop. We haven’t seen much of Joe since he moved over to Crowheart, and his talk turned quickly to haying — not antiques and animal hides.

There will be a closeout sale in the fall, Joe told me, and probably a tag sale out back afterwards, for what hasn’t sold up front. (Clean out your storage sheds, Dubois! This is your chance.)

He also confirmed that the buyer is his son. Joe has no idea what is planned for the space.

So why is that big For Sale sign still out there? “I haven’t gotten around to taking it down,” he said with one of his smiles–and then he offered to sell it to me.

Which of this news is good, or bad, and which is scary? It’s a matter of opinion — and there are plenty of those in Dubois, any time of year.

© Lois Wingerson, 2021. Thanks for reading!

You can see every new entry of Living Dubois by email if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Who’s writing? Check out About Me.

Status Report, Dubois June 2021: Joint Jumpin’

Of bad news, good news, exciting events and turning points …

These are the days when I recall with a sense of enchantment what drew us here in the first place. The skies are endless and clear. While everywhere else in the nation seems to be sweltering, here it is blessedly cool.

The sun comes up early, hangs about all day, and doesn’t seem to want to let go of the day and set down.

Neither do we.

Town is overrun with visitors. We read that over there next door, Yellowstone Park has half again as many visitors as before the pandemic, and we can believe it. They began arriving in mid-May, somewhat to the consternation of local businesses that are accustomed to using that month for sprucing up.

It’s also bustling with new residents. I seem to meet someone new every week. Reportedly housing is in very short supply, if it’s available at all. We will soon see how many newcomers intend to remain year-round — and of those who do, how many will decide after all that they just can’t tolerate the dust, the wind, or the realities of small-town life.

It’s that time of year when cars with out-of-state plates stop unpredictably at the main intersection, and you may have to honk (a sound we never hear here, otherwise) to tell them to move along. It can be tough to find a parking spot at SuperFoods, and drivers are always pulling out onto the highway from the entrance.

People wander up and down the sidewalk looking lost, hoping to find a place for dinner where the wait isn’t so long. Last year, we wanted to patronize the restaurants to keep them going. These days, it’s probably kinder not to eat out. It seems that every business in town is advertising for employees, and those already at work are run off their feet.

The former steakhouse next to the Rustic Pine Tavern has reopened as the Honey House, where the Millers of Crowheart have installed beeswax products of all kinds as well as a real-live beehive complete with informational signs about the species. Our son, who visited a few weeks ago (and dropped a bundle there, Christmas shopping in June) informs me that the price of beeswax candles is considerably lower than back in New York City.

The bad news: Although that terrace on the left is still open and equipped with tables and chairs, because the Honey House is not a restaurant you can’t enjoy al fresco refreshment out there any more. The Rustic Pine Tavern (out of the picture to the right) won’t allow you to carry your drinks to the patio. This has something to do with state laws about carrying glasses outdoors.

But the good news, as you can see in the picture, is that the Rustic (under new ownership) is now serving brisket and pulled pork as well as barbecue. So there’s one more option for those hungry tourists.

The square dance was outdoors last night, with the street beside the Opportunity Shop closed off for the occasion. It was the first weekly Tuesday on the Town event, to be followed in coming weeks by a flea market, a children’s evening with face painting and balloons, an artists’ show, and a car show.

Clearly, the new officers at the Chamber of Commerce are full of energy and good ideas.

The most exciting event I have seen so far this summer was opening day at the new Ace Hardware. It felt like a party. The cashiers were all smiles, greeting customers by name. Manager Chris Sabatka was beaming, shaking hand after hand, as people congratulated him for returning to work in town. He has been traveling to Jackson for years, to run a different store there, when we urgently needed his business talents here. With him at the helm, we can be confident that Ace Hardware is here to stay.

One friend knew her husband would be so overjoyed at the opening that she made it a birthday occasion for him. She asked him to wear a blindfold, and then took him on a drive with many diversions before turning into the parking lot. Then she walked him through the door, positioned him at one end of an aisle, and took it off so he could see all the temptations.

Another reason for good cheer: The incoming kindergarten class next month will number all of 22. Small-town dwellers know that the size of the school population is a robust indicator of economic health, and this is surely a boost.

This news flash came from Jason Kintzler, a Wyoming native and entrepeneur whose family has finally achieved their longtime dream of moving to Dubois. Giving the keynote address at the annual fund-raising event for the Boys & Girls Club, he shared that exciting statistic, followed by his assertion that Dubois is reaching a turning point. No doubt the Kintzlers are helping to propel it there.

The founder of LifeKey, a “smart” wristband that provides access to health data and emergency contacts, Jason and his family tried living in bustling Jackson for two years. (He referred to it as a “sentence” he had to live out.) Last winter, they relocated eastward across the Pass, adding four new students to the Dubois school roster. His wife Jasmine has now opened Dubois Provisions on the main street, adding another trendy business to the strip of shops across from the Rustic.

I will certainly buy Mrs. Meyer’s hand soap there from now on, rather than ordering it online. I may be able to get anything I need from Amazon Prime via UPS. But I’d so much rather stop in for a chat with Jasmine than bang away at this keyboard.

© Lois Wingerson, 2021

Thanks for reading!

You can see every new entry of Living Dubois by email if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

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Why Dubois Is the #YOLO Option for Some

On the daredevil spirits who make a “crazy” choice

moving truck in front of a mountain and cliff

“What is he smoking?” I asked myself. “He’s in Wyoming!”

Out West to retrieve our daughter after a wilderness program, during an idle period in what could easily be the last of many visits to Dubois, my husband had been looking around with a realtor. He called me back in Brooklyn to say, half jokingly (or so he says now), that he’d found our dream house.

The idea of upping stakes and moving to Wyoming seemed utterly loony at the time. For one thing, I liked my job. How would I ever be able to work there?

Wyoming is fabulous, I thought, but it’s for vacations — not for real life.

Gradually, as remote work became a possibility, I had a re-think. It took about 15 years for us to relocate completely.

Perhaps the turning point for the permanent exodus was when we found ourselves trapped yet again in noisy Manhattan traffic and my husband, a lifelong New Yorker, called out, “I hate this city!” These days, pulling to the top of the driveway, he sometimes murmurs “I’ll just slip into traffic,” although no cars are visible in either direction.

empty highway in Wyoming

For biomedical engineer Bill Sincavage and his wife Lori, who lived in the Boston area, that decision also arrived fairly slowly.

Like us, they had discovered Dubois on vacation, returned several times, and eventually began to dream of living here full-time. Like me, Bill could work remotely, and Lori was ready to retire. (Soon after moving here, she returned to teaching, in our elementary school.)

Bill told me it took four or five years for them to come around to the decision to relocate to the West. Today he has a second calling: He also earns income online as a wildlife photographer.

In these almost post-pandemic days, that same impulse seems to be striking a younger generation with the same force but much more rapidly, if you can credit the words of New York Times reporter Kevin Roose. “[F]or a growing number of people with financial cushions and in-demand skills,” he wrote on April 22, “the dread and anxiety of the past year are giving way to a new kind of professional fearlessness.”

For them it’s taking place long before retirement is in the picture. He mentions a 33-year-old lawyer in Florida, a 29-year-old reporter in Brooklyn, a 29-year-old buyer for a major clothing retailer, and an unnamed executive at an unnamed “major tech company.” For all of them, Roose writes, the pandemic has spurred a YOLO (you-only-live-once) kind of decision to step off the corporate ladder and opt out of the urban rat race.

View of a fence and distant mountains in Wyoming

Due to pre-vaccine self-isolation, I haven’t yet laid eyes on my new friend Klaus Goodwin, an executive with a Boston-based pharmaceutical firm, although he moved to Dubois last October from Richmond VA. For Klaus and his husband Eriks, that relocation took only a year.

They went to see Yellowstone in September 2020, and soon began scouting all over Wyoming to find a new hometown. After visiting many other locations in the state, they chose Dubois.

“We fell in love with the Wind River Valley area,” he told me, “and decided to settle in Dubois since we found our dream house here on the top of a mountain with gorgeous views.” The mildness of the winters and the small-town feel also drew them to Dubois, as well as the fact that in Dubois they “experienced an openness for ‘otherness’ as a married, gay couple.”

Having discovered for themselves the general tolerance and cultural diversity for which Dubois is esteemed among those in the know, yet another urban couple has made the unconventional choice of moving to our tiny village at the edge of Western wilderness.

wagon train on mountain trail

A ”daredevil spirit” seems to be infecting even the “cautious over-achievers,” Roose writes in his article, “… a feeling that the economy is changing in ways that reward the crazy and punish the cautious.”

That’s actually nothing new at all. People have been taking “crazy” risks to come this way for generations. Just now, it all seems to be happening much faster.

© Lois Wingerson, 2021

Thanks for reading!

You can see every new entry of Living Dubois by email if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Who’s writing? Check out About Me.

Why Dubois Is the #YOLO Option for Some

On the daredevil spirits who make a “crazy” choice

moving truck in front of a mountain and cliff

“What is he smoking?” I asked myself. “He’s in Wyoming!”

Out West to retrieve our daughter after a wilderness program, during an idle period in what could easily be the last of many visits to Dubois, my husband had been looking around with a realtor. He called me back in Brooklyn to say, half jokingly (or so he says now), that he’d found our dream house.

The idea of upping stakes and moving to Wyoming seemed utterly loony at the time. For one thing, I liked my job. How would I ever be able to work there?

Wyoming is fabulous, I thought, but it’s for vacations — not for real life.

Gradually, as remote work became a possibility, I had a re-think. It took about 15 years for us to relocate completely.

Perhaps the turning point for the permanent exodus was when we found ourselves trapped yet again in noisy Manhattan traffic and my husband, a lifelong New Yorker, called out, “I hate this city!” These days, pulling to the top of the driveway, he sometimes murmurs “I’ll just slip into traffic,” although no cars are visible in either direction.

empty highway in Wyoming

For biomedical engineer Bill Sincavage and his wife Lori, who lived in the Boston area, that decision also arrived fairly slowly.

Like us, they had discovered Dubois on vacation, returned several times, and eventually began to dream of living here full-time. Like me, Bill could work remotely, and Lori was ready to retire. (Soon after moving here, she returned to teaching, in our elementary school.)

Bill told me it took four or five years for them to come around to the decision to relocate to the West. Today he has a second calling: He also earns income online as a wildlife photographer.

In these almost post-pandemic days, that same impulse seems to be striking a younger generation with the same force but much more rapidly, if you can credit the words of New York Times reporter Kevin Roose. “[F]or a growing number of people with financial cushions and in-demand skills,” he wrote on April 22, “the dread and anxiety of the past year are giving way to a new kind of professional fearlessness.”

For them it’s taking place long before retirement is in the picture. He mentions a 33-year-old lawyer in Florida, a 29-year-old reporter in Brooklyn, a 29-year-old buyer for a major clothing retailer, and an unnamed executive at an unnamed “major tech company.” For all of them, Roose writes, the pandemic has spurred a YOLO (you-only-live-once) kind of decision to step off the corporate ladder and opt out of the urban rat race.

View of a fence and distant mountains in Wyoming

Due to pre-vaccine self-isolation, I haven’t yet laid eyes on my new friend Klaus Goodwin, an executive with a Boston-based pharmaceutical firm, although he moved to Dubois last October from Richmond VA. For Klaus and his husband Eriks, that relocation took only a year.

After visiting Yellowstone in September 2020, they began scouting all over Wyoming to find a new hometown. After visiting many other locations in the state, they chose Dubois.

“We fell in love with the Wind River Valley area,” he told me, “and decided to settle in Dubois since we found our dream house here on the top of a mountain with gorgeous views.” The mildness of the winters and the small-town feel also drew them to Dubois, as well as the fact that in Dubois they “experienced an openness for ‘otherness’ as a married, gay couple.”

Having discovered for themselves the general tolerance and cultural diversity for which Dubois is esteemed among those in the know, yet another urban couple has made the unconventional choice of moving to our tiny village at the edge of Western wilderness.

wagon train on mountain trail

A ”daredevil spirit” seems to be infecting even the “cautious over-achievers,” Roose writes in his article, “… a feeling that the economy is changing in ways that reward the crazy and punish the cautious.”

That’s actually nothing new at all. People have been taking “crazy” risks to come this way for generations. Just now, it all seems to be happening much faster.

© Lois Wingerson, 2021

Thanks for reading!

You can see every new entry of Living Dubois by email if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Who’s writing? Check out About Me.

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