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.

Time Travel: Jolted Back to Dubois, 1911

Two PDFs in my Inbox are a trip to the Old West

As a mother, I can’t help wondering how Mr. and Mrs. Leslie of Madison, Wisconsin, felt in 1911, when their 20-year-old daughter Elsie decided to take a job teaching school in a small village in northwest Wyoming. My own grandmother did much the same in 1919 when she moved from Michigan to Scottsbluff, Nebraska. She took along my beloved Aunt Luella, who got her teaching certificate in Laramie and took her first job at a sod-roofed schoolhouse on a ranch somewhere in the wilds of Wyoming.

Thus my own real experience connects weirdly to a history of Dubois that seems, from this week’s new perspective, rather fantastic.

Dubois1913The journey to Dubois in 1911 “must have seemed like a trip to the end of the world,” wrote the late Dubois artist Mary Back, in her 1955 brief biography of Elsie. The new schoolteacher traveled by train to Lander, then by a one-horse buckboard stagecoach to Fort Washakie, changed to another buckboard stage that took her (and the mail) to a ranch on the Wind River where she spent the night.

The next morning, she took a third stagecoach “clear to Dubois.” The driver was a man named Jim Locke. In that alien landscape, Jim must have been quite a spectacle himself: his face “long and tanned to a high color from the wind and hard weather…. a hooked nose and small blue eyes which sparkle like fire and bore like an auger,” as described by Frederick Studebaker Fish, in his account of a 1913 hunting trip near Dubois. (The guide for that trip was Elsie’s soon-to-be husband, Floyd Stalnaker.)

Jim had “a reputation of being a cranky old fool when sober, but rather genial when well seasoned with whisky,” Fish wrote, adding that “his gaze is startling until one becomes accustomed to it.” You wonder whether Jim was sober or seasoned when Elsie met him.

At the time Elsie arrived, Dubois was “a little straggling string of log houses” (as Mary Back put it), with about 60 inhabitants, two stores including Welty’s (still in operation), a hotel, a bank, and St. Thomas Church (still very active). Elsie took up rooms with the Weltys and, schooled with a certificate in home economics from the Stout Institute in Menominee, Wisconsin, began teaching nine pupils.

Weltys CaveShe was a school teacher without a school: Classes were held in the saloon dance hall, up against the cave across from Welty’s Store. The cave was used for wine storage and as a jail. (The cave entrance is near the center of this photo, with the saloon at far left, which is also still in operation.) Elsie had to clear away the classroom any time the saloon held a dance.

“No one, either students or parents, seemed to think school was very important,” Back wrote. “There was often something else to be done, rounding up cattle, hunting or fishing, helping mother.” There were two other schools nearby, she said, one of them taught by a former Dubois student despite “irregular attendance at Dubois [and] lack of educational credits.”

Elsie taught for less than a year, and never taught again. She met rancher and hunting guide Floyd Stalnaker, married him in December, and in due course had their first child. Mary Allison’s Dubois Area History says she brought her sister to Dubois to take over the class. (Again, I wonder how her parents felt, and think of my own Aunt Luella, who was also lured out west by her older sister, also a schoolteacher.)

Although she quickly became a ranch wife and busy mother, Elsie kept up a strong interest in the Dubois school, serving on the school board for many years. In 1939, when she joined the board, the students ate lunch in the Legion Hall, Back wrote, where there was no water, no sewer, and no stove. The children were kept warm with a wood-burning heater, and a wood-burning cookstove was put in for the lunches. “Wood had to be split and carried in, water had to be carried in buckets, dish-water carried out in buckets.”

Before that, Bernice Welty had been making lunches at home, carrying them in baskets to the school along with the dishes, serving the 25 children at their desks, and then carrying the dirty dishes home again.

TheStoneHotelI’ve been reading this week about Elsie and Floyd’s world, thanks to two unexpected gifts that dropped into my Inbox from their great-granddaughter, Gabby Cook. She was kind enough to scan and send me Mary Back’s typewritten biography, as well as the century-old account of a hunting trip that Floyd guided, as told in great detail by Fish.

Thus, in the middle of a busy, mundane week, I was thrust suddenly and vividly back into Dubois of a century ago, a place so like the old Westerns that it gave me the dizzying feeling of being in reality and unreality at once.

Fish describes a visit to that saloon next to the cave during his first evening in Dubois:

“The place was crowded with cow punchers and hangers-on. Everyone seemed to be having a good time for the liquid was flowing fast…One old man kept cussing at the proprietor much to the enjoyment of his drunken friends who were anxious for a fight. It did not take long to start the fracas. Slim, the proprietor, finally lost his temper and came around from behind the bar to throw the offender out. … As soon as they were parted a few hot words were exchanged and then it was decided that the drinks were on the house.”

A dance was on for later that evening, but Fish and friends decided to leave before it started. The next morning, they learned that they had missed “a terrible shooting that almost took place … over the affections of a fair lady.”

The hunters went out shortly after their elk, and for one night stayed at the Stalnaker ranch.

“Floyd has a comfortable and cosy home,” Fish wrote, “a very pretty and exceedingly nice wife and a six month old son.”

“After our delicious meal,” he went on, “Mrs. Stalnaker played the piano. Hers is the third to be bought in this vicinity so it is a very great treasure.” Later that evening, two visitors came by, one of them “a rather odd looking person who put on the appearance of being very important and business-like. He immediately called Mr. Stalnaker into another room and spent several hours in earnest and serious conversation. I afterwards learned that he … spends most of his leisure moments bothering his neighbors with trivial matters of little or no importance.”

StalnakerRanchThe hunting party had to sleep outdoors next to the shed, because the Stalnakers took in lodgers and the rooms were all occupied. (Mary Allison wrote that Elsie was a great housekeeper who often ironed her lodgers’ clothing, if they were bachelors.)

“It was a beautiful cold, starlight night,” Fish wrote, “so sleeping out was much more appealing than in a stuffy room.” This was October. Fish had changed his tune by the next morning, after a bad night during which his friend stole all the blankets.

But that didn’t sour his enthusiasm for the Wind River Valley. An heir to the Studebaker fortune, he was one of those who fell in love with Dubois during a visit, and later returned to live here. He became one of the biggest ranchers in the area.

DuboisMap_StalnakerFloyd worked for many years as a guide and ranch manager. Elsie and Floyd survived the great flood of 1919 despite great losses, briefly became mail carriers (Elsie also drove the Jeep), and then purchased the drug store, which they operated until after World War 2. Their son, Dean, was Gabby’s grandfather. Floyd was working as a carpenter in Riverton when he died of a heart attack in 1948. Elsie died in 1965, ten years after Mary Back wrote her biography.

Many of the town streets in Dubois bear the names of old families. I will probably never again pass the street that leads to the Headwaters and the Visitor Center without smiling inwardly, as I think of the Stalnakers whose name it bears, and all their adventures.

(Thanks so much again for the emails, Gabby! They were a trip.)

© 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.

Alone and Connected, At Home on the Mountain

A coder and an attorney find peace and quiet.

Riverwalk_Snow2I met “Jack” in the park on Saturday evening because our dogs wanted to play together. Otherwise I’m sure he would have left me alone.

Jack is clearly into privacy. That’s fine in Dubois. We understand that some people prefer solitude and a certain degree of anonymity. We’re good with you whoever you are, as long as you have a decent character.

I can’t give him a cowboy name like Dustin or Cody. He’s clearly not a cowboy type. He’s young, but he doesn’t walk with a swagger and a smile. He and “Lynn” weren’t on their way to the Dubois Outfitters’ annual benefit pig roast and auction in the nearby Headwaters Center, as I was. That wouldn’t be their kind of scene.

At first I thought Jack and Lynn were visitors, because I’ve never seen them before. But they’ve been here for three years, hanging out in a house up in the hills near town.

They’d stopped in the park to give “Rusty” a romp after waiting in the car while they bought groceries. Normally they just hike in the public land right outside their door, but it’s been really muddy there after the recent snowmelt, so (like me) they’ve been using the paved Riverwalk in the park lately.

Both dogs were on the leash, but jumping around and eager to play. So we walked over the bridge to the large empty patch of sage and sand, at the back side of the Riverwalk, where they could be free.

“What brought you to Dubois?” I asked.

“We wanted a house in Wyoming,” Jack said simply.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

They’re from Los Angeles, but wanted to get away from the noise and the density. First they moved to Laramie, but they found Laramie also too crowded and noisy. Somehow, they discovered Dubois. (I didn’t ask how.)

Modem“It’s really nice in Dubois,” Lynn volunteered.

Even in tax-free, low-cost Wyoming, I figure, the only way that two people that young could afford to live for three years in a house in the woods would be on a trust fund, or telecommuting.

“So what do you do?” I persisted.

(I cringed; that’s a New York City question, but enthusiasm got the best of me. I’d like to think I’m not naturally nosy, just a bit too friendly with strangers in Dubois. In any case, Jack seemed willing to be tolerant as long as I behaved myself, so I think he will fit in well here.)

Jack told me he makes his income doing computer coding. Lynn is an attorney, still working for clients back in LA.

She also volunteered shyly that she’s expecting her first child in a few months. I couldn’t have guessed. Her shirt was loose. I asked if she had family nearby. “Chicago,” she said. We had a little polite girl-talk about babies, and then I asked them how it was going, this Internet life in the backwoods.

“Fine,” Jack said. He told me that DTE installed high-speed Internet service at 10 megabytes per second (Mbps) almost immediately after they moved into their new mountainside home, and he praised their customer service.

Mike Kenney at DTE has told me that they can provide 10 Mbps service to anyone who wants is, and if it isn’t easy, they’ll find a way.

BrandlHouseViewThere are several dozen people working remotely around Dubois, according to DTE, but of course DTE won’t share their identities. I already knew about a few; now I’ve stumbled on two more.

If you just want to be alone while you’re connected, we’re good with that too.

The dog and I hope I we run into Jack and Lynn again, but we’ll leave them to themselves.

(Lynn: I’m sure you know how to take care of yourself. But if you need something as that baby comes closer, please send an email. We’re here for you.)

© Lois Wingerson, 2017

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

The Place Where People Fall in Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

downtown2

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

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

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

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.