Wildlife Management 101: Home Work

On getting along with grizzlies and other wildlife

Grizzly_Bear_sow_and_cub_in_Shoshone_National_Forest_editedYesterday, the Federal government acted to remove Yellowstone’s grizzly bears from the endangered species list. Although we do love to watch for grizzlies on Togwotee Pass from the safety of our cars, the thought of grizzly population control is not anathema to some of us who live in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, love to hike in the woods, and don’t want to carry a weapon that probably wouldn’t stop a grizzly anyway.

There are some places I just won’t hike at all, ceding them to hypothetical bears. I go for places with long sight-lines. I always take bear spray. I sing, I talk, I try not to hike alone. I don’t crash off into the woods. I look for bear sign. One reason I love to snowshoe is that I don’t even have to think about bears.

Wildlife viewing is one of the main reasons people come out this way; we know that. What I didn’t understand before is that living side by side with wildlife entails a certain degree of compromise and, now and again, sadness.

ElkInScope

Although I once worried about grizzlies trying to crash through our back door, I’ve never actually seen one nearby  (although I know others have). Where we live, we are more likely to spot moose through binoculars or elk through the telescope.

A few months ago, we heard and then saw a lone wolf near the aspen grove. Yesterday we were startled to see a scruffy coyote loping behind the garage. We watched him trot along the trail beside the buck and rail fence, until he spotted a ground squirrel and raced off to grab some lunch.

The dog and I have been compromising about where to hike for months–and not just for fear of bears. We still can’t walk into our go-to small patch of woods. The latest moose is gone; she seems to have lost her calf when it ventured into the rushing floodwaters. But now a doe is over there with twin fawns, making it eminently clear that she does not want us around just now.

RobinShe leaped about and ran back and forth past us. Don’t mess with a mother doe: She’ll kick you with hard, pointy hooves. We went home by another route.

Most of the wildlife we watch close-up are birds. “Our” robin demands no compromise. Nested, as always, right above where I store my garden tools, she watches me warily whenever I pull out the trowel. But she doesn’t even budge.

The beautiful hummingbirds hover outside the dining room window in early June and stare directly in at us, as if to demand their own dinner.
HummingbirdFeeder
So we boil up the syrupy water, get out the ladder, and hang their feeder. Our reward is to watch these tiny creatures ever-so-briefly at rest, as they sip from the little wells in the base.

A few years ago we had the delight of watching some bluebirds slowly build a nest in the crook of our gable, just outside the bedroom window, and then swoop back and forth for weeks to feed the hatchlings. We could hear the young birds chirping as we woke up in the morning, bringing to mind all the thoughts you’d expect from an empty-nester.

One weekend late in summer, we left to camp at Turpin Meadows, and returned on Sunday to the scene of a terrorist attack. Just outside the back door were the bloodied corpses of five fledgling bluebirds, already cold. This struck us like a personal tragedy, after all the effort and care we had witnessed to raise these young ones to independence. A neighbor suggested that a magpie must have attacked as they left the nest.

It nearly broke my heart to watch the beautiful mother swoop down to her dead fledglings with something in her mouth. We plugged that hole in the gable so birds could never use it again.

BirdFeederMeanwhile, this bird house sat unused on a post in our back yard for the past decade. We’ve never been in Dubois year-round before, and never took time to make it nest-worthy.

Inspired by the birth of the Dubois bluebird project, we decided to follow instructions for cleaning out a birdhouse. We opened it up, cleared out the old filthy nest mess, cleaned it with bleach, rinsed it well, left it for several days to air out, and closed it up again. Before leaving for a month in Arizona, we watched the bluebirds house-hunting all over the property.

When we returned, I was delighted to see birds hovering about the nest and going into the hole. Then someone informed us that they couldn’t be bluebirds; more likely sparrows. Bluebirds don’t like houses with a perch.

Bluebird_drivewayBut bluebirds were still flitting around, so they must have nested somewhere. We couldn’t ignore the pair that were obviously keeping surveillance on our driveway. Every time we came out the front door we’d see them, perching on the zip line or, often, just sitting in the bare gravel looking warily in the general direction of the front porch. (You can just barely make out the gray female inside the black circle in this blurry shot from my cellphone.)

Two days ago, after parking the SUV when returning from a hike, I stepped out of the car to a flurry of wings. Looking back from the porch, I saw the female dive under the car. I slid beneath the car to take a look, and she swept out past me. I’ve seen her go under there several times since then.

We took the pickup to Arizona, and left the SUV in the driveway. We think they’ve chosen to nest in a space above the spare tire, which hangs horizontally beside the two rear tires. How many rides have those eggs taken since we returned, and did they survive?

We’re told it takes about a month for bluebird eggs to hatch, mature, and fledge. Then the birds abandon the nest.

Oh, well. We have other vehicles to drive.

© 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.

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.

In Remote Dubois, a Quiet Revolution

The new economic base, foreseen 25 years ago: clean, quiet, almost hidden.

RodeoGrounds4This is a story of loss, and the signs of renewal.

In the late 1980s, the last sawmill in Dubois closed, plunging the town into economic crisis. (At left, the site as it looks today.)

Possibly that same year–I’ve lost track of the exact date–we came with our toddler son to a dude ranch near Dubois, to enjoy a getaway from two stressful jobs in the big city.

That was back when Bernard and Leota Didier owned the Lazy L&B, two owners and most of a lifetime ago.

LazyL&BHorses

I was awestruck by vistas I had never imagined, let alone seen. I focused on trying to stay mounted on my horse, having never ridden before, while the wranglers loped easily over the endless range ahead.

A tourist enjoying a brief getaway, I had no idea about what was happening in the town nearby. Nor, at the time, did I care.

Dubois had thrived on logging since the turn of the last century, and the tie hacks hewed railroad ties for the transport network that was uniting the country (although the railroad itself never came near Dubois). Now, the industry had abandoned the town, due to a change in logging policy at the US Forest Service and economic realities that eroded its profit.

LazyLB_editedDubois quickly set about trying to re-invent itself. The town sponsored several community projects, hiring consultants who led self-examinations and assessments of the town’s potential.

My favorite assessment was a freelance project. In 1992–exactly a quarter-century ago–an economics professor named John Murdock, who had retired to Dubois, completed an independent analysis of how the town might recover from its devastating loss.

He considered the potential of minerals, oil, and gas (virtually none in that region) and small manufacturing (nil, because of the distance to market).

Murdock concluded that the town’s only hope for economic revival was two sources who would arrive bringing their own income: (1) retirees  and (2) people who would work here remotely, using the Internet.

The Internet didn’t yet really exist.  This was two years before the creation of the World Wide Web Consortium that would set international standards so that computers on different systems could share information.

CemeteryView1_042917

Dubois waited. Retirees always arrived, but predictably, some would leave to be closer to family and others due to failing health.

In the meantime, its lifeline was tourism. The goal has been to attract people like us who wanted a brief escape from “civilization,” and to entice part of the horde bound for Yellowstone to stop here long enough to experience Dubois’ unique, enchanting qualities.

The problem with tourism (which is now the second largest industry in Wyoming) is that it can’t form the basis of a year-round economy in a location like Dubois. In the periods between the snow and the summer, the revenue stops.

We were far away as all this was evolving, and I was experiencing industrial challenges of my own, as publishing began to shift to the Internet. I had to learn how to code content for CD-ROMs meant to be read on a computer. Then I was hired to manage a “webzine” about science. I ran an online news service, and had to learn more coding. Later, I helped create a search engine.

My team was based in New York and London. We communicated by email and videoconference. At my last firm, my boss was based in Denver, with my coworkers in Baltimore, Boston, and San Francisco.

The writing was on the wall–as was a poster of the image below, which I had taken years earlier at the Lazy L&B and moved from office to office. Sometimes, looking up from the screen, I would rest my thoughts on Dubois.

Luckily, my last employer was unconcerned about where I was located while I worked. Our children grew up and left, as they do. Parents aged and passed away. Eventually, when the time was right for us, Dubois called us back.

LazyLBDrawAs we returned, the old sawmill site was being transformed. The EPA now cites it as a case study of environmental remediation.

Cleaned up with help from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, the location now houses a medical clinic, a fitness center, and an assisted living facility. A fishing pond for children should be completed soon.

In my absence, Dubois had been laying the tracks for a new kind of transcontinental network: high-speed Internet. I quickly learned that it was more reliable in Dubois than in the city, where I often had to close my laptop and reboot in a library or cafe when my signal suddenly went down.

When we first moved to Dubois, I met a few other individuals who were making their living here on the Internet. Gradually I met others, but I don’t know them all by any means.

In the past few weeks alone, during the current spring thaw, I have encountered several other telecommuters–a computer coder, a software architect, and a marketing expert–who have newly relocated to the area. All of them chose Dubois in order to enjoy Nature and solitude while earning a good living at their keyboards. Two of them have children they don’t want to raise anywhere near a city.

DTECoils2The economy that Murdock foresaw 25 years ago is in its birth pangs at this very moment. According to a recent report in Forbes, about 40% of employees are now working “remotely” most or all of the time. About 80-90% of employees surveyed say they would like to work from home.

On Twitter, I’ve discovered a thriving separate industry of “remote workers” complete with vendors of supplies and services, support networks, employment recruiters, and professional conferences. A recent article on a jobs site for telecommuters predicts that the new industry will boost employment in rural areas.

Some high-skilled technology workers who work as consultants describe themselves as “digital nomads.” They migrate from one exotic location to another, wherever there is good broadband, enjoying a combination of travel and work as their day-to-day lifestyle. There are travel agents who specialize in serving this market.

The cost of commercial real estate, combined with the exploding cost of living in major cities and long commute times to affordable areas, makes it Downtown3almost impractical to insist that employees who work largely online must come in to an office–especially if the best candidate for an online job doesn’t live anywhere nearby.

Many employees want to live in urban areas anyway. But surely some want to be in a place like Dubois, for exactly the reasons we love it: It’s small, it’s isolated, it’s placid.

The new year-round economic base of Dubois is emerging slowly, one by one and two by two. Like Dubois itself, it is clean, quiet, and tucked away in the wilderness.

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© 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.

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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.

How My Remotest Dream Came True

A pioneer telecommuter on the trail West

bedroom“Tell your coworkers where you’re calling from,” Ed said at the team meeting.

My heart stopped for a New York second, while I re-played what I had just heard. Was he really asking me to reveal the closely guarded secret?

Following my boss’s orders about teleconferences, I was speaking behind a closed door, from the phone in the bedroom. I was terrified that people back at the Connecticut office would hear the dog or any other noise in main part of our open-plan log house.

But you wouldn’t say no to Ed, the charismatic and innovative new head of the division.

“You really mean it?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said. “Go ahead.” And thus I blew my own cover.

This was a decade ago, in another era, ages before a BBC interview interrupted by the speaker’s toddler went viral online. (As soon as I saw it on Twitter last month, I wrote “Just shows that telecommuting is the new normal.” Several people re-tweeted my comment.)

When I began to work remotely from one of the most remote towns in the lower 48, it was a singular privilege–even at an global communications company where most internal communications were by email.

NorotonI had been commuting two hours each way, by subway, commuter train, and beat-up station car, from our home in Brooklyn to division headquarters in Connecticut. My boss and I were a new product team, just him and me in that office, working on a high-tech online project.

One day he asked me into a conference room. I wondered why we couldn’t talk in my cubicle.

Steve told me that he had gained permission to relocate to California, where his children and grandchildren lived. “That’s great!” I replied. “Does that mean I can stop commuting here from Brooklyn?”

“You know, I never thought of that,” he said. It was just him and me, after all, collaborating mostly by teleconference with some coworkers in Massachusetts and London. I had some esoteric skills that weren’t easy to replace in that corner of Connecticut. And thus I got unprecedented permission to work “remotely.”

Remote from head office in the suburbs, that is. Hardly remote in the other sense–from my home in one of the busiest cities on earth. It’s interesting that “remote work” was forbidden, while the office was in the distant suburbs, because real estate and living costs in the nearest city were so high. The employees with the right skills didn’t all live in that bedroom community. So many of us had long commutes.

Back in Brooklyn, I crowded my laptop desk into a corner of the kitchen, and later moved Nook3to a larger space in a dark, quiet, dusty corner of the basement which I hung with dried flowers to make it look more cheery.

Here in Dubois, I work in a large loft-like space with a grand view out every window.

How we came to be in Dubois is a story for another time. Suffice it to say that for years I had kept a poster across from my desk that showed a view up the draw into the badlands east of here. I used to gaze at it when things got too intense around the office. I also had an envelope full of old sagebrush in my drawer that I would open and sniff at when I got wistful.

I guess that was the start of the dream that we might live in Wyoming someday, although back when I first hung that poster after a vacation, the possibility didn’t even occur to me. It evolved slowly, from a wistful longing to the beginnings of a plan.

I telecommuted (responsibly and productively) from Brooklyn for several years before we bought a second home in Dubois. Luckily, the division head was willing to consider allowing me to work from Wyoming because I was doing well from Brooklyn. (Why did they care where I was, actually?)

But my boss’s rules were still strict, conveyed by phone from his new home in California: Arrive early for teleconferences. Sit in a quiet room where nobody on the line will hear house noises. And for heaven’s sake keep it a secret! Otherwise everyone will want to work from home. He had really gone out on a limb for me.

At first we lived part time in both locations, and took the four-day commute back and forth twice a year. I used vacation time for travel, but slowly I began to witness in person the mind-bending growth of broadband.

RidgelineRearEndI’ll never forget completing an assignment for my graduate course on digital media management, as we were traveling on the Interstate toward Wyoming. I was reading on my laptop, via wireless Internet, an online reference in my coursework which predicted that soon you’d be able to work online while riding in a car. The future was happening, even as I read about it!

Eventually I was able to continue working all the way across the country, while my husband drove. By that time my situation was common knowledge, so I could tell folks back in Connecticut that I was about to enter a dead zone and that I’d get back to them in about an hour.

Visiting the head office from time to time, I noticed that the place was ever quieter, and ever more of the cubicles were empty. Coworkers were being allowed to work from home for all sorts of reasons, at least part of the time. It seemed that many of them didn’t feel the need to say exactly when they’d be back in the office. To someone who used to work in a newsroom full of typewriters, this was rather eerie. That’s only one of many reasons why I preferred my office at home.

Finally we saw no need to continue to tolerate the crowding and noise of New York City and that extraordinarily long commute. The Internet out here is far more reliable, the cost of living is far lower, and the views are indescribable. I get to go hiking on my lunch break. I can be as productive as I want to be, right out here next to wilderness.

cid_836We’ve entered a new era since I became a digital pioneer. These days, social media is packed with content for and by telecommuters: advice about remote work, products to make home-based workers more productive, link after link to articles talking about the “workplace of the future,” which (of course) is already here.

There’s one thing that still puzzles me. Why do so many people still assume that remote workers have to live in cities? (Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?)

© 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.

Kickstarting Tumbleweed, and Other Joys of Spring

I’d rather leave spring to Nature, and be surprised.

WindRiverSnowAvoiding the dreaded “mud and slush” season, we would always head back East about now. Just in time to see the crocuses popping above ground and the trees turning spring green.

Brooklyn positively erupts with spring, all at once it seems, the small patches in front of old brownstones suddenly cluttered with daffodils and irises planted the previous fall. The flowering trees make a bright palisade of the streets. Allergies burst forth too.

I’m not missing it. Not at all.

Staying here, I can watch as the Wind River slowly emerges from its blanket of snow. The massive drift in our driveway dwindled, day by day, to a few tiny white mounds under the gravel.

Most of my go-to hiking spots are closed to me, because the back roads haven’t yet been plowed. My old stand-by was passable this week, a combination of dry dirt road and snow-cone slush — heavy to walk on, but packed solid enough by armies of snowmobiles that are now long gone. I wonder how long it will take to disappear.

BennyRibAs we gain access to formerly snowbound spots, we make great discoveries. The dog found a whole ribcage, probably elk, that was nearly large enough for him to walk through.

Over the coming days it was pulled apart, and he later found individual ribs buried deep in the snow. I let him enjoy one of them until he had chewed it all down. It looked like it had just come out of the freezer (as I guess it had), the bone pure white and the marrow still red and clean.

My own best “find” (so far) is a shelter made of branches pulled over a fallen tree, complete with fire pit, in a tiny patch of public land near our house. We hadn’t been in there since the Great Snowfalls, because that bit of back road had not been plowed. I found the shelter when the snow shrank back enough to walk in.

ShelterandFirepitThere was no sign of charcoal on the stones, so there may have not been a fire. But I could see that those pine branches would have made a dandy hut, when they were still green with needles. And the structure is very solid. It will be interesting to see how long it stands. I’m sure nobody will be motivated to take it down.

Who built this hut in a tiny spot of forest, behind an abandoned house, in the dead of winter? Did someone actually sleep here? And why? I doubt I’ll ever know.

More discoveries await as the bare ground heaves up objects long buried by erosion and blown dirt, then covered by snow. These may be only interesting rocks, but ancient arrowheads or grinding stones might also pop out. This was once the Times Square of the West, after all, criscrossed by countless natives long before they showed the trails to the Europeans.

SpringSnow033117This morning we awoke to a typical spring surprise: A few inches of wet snow. By mid-day it was gone, and the sky was mostly blue. That’s spring for you: Nothing if not fickle.

What a difference from yesterday morning, when I walked the property lines with the dog, enjoying a heady mild March breeze and the satisfaction of walking over bare ground.

And the sudden riot of birds! The bluebirds, as bright as chips of the sky itself, out house-hunting once again. The raucous cries of the geese muscling their way past overhead, busy going somewhere.

As I completed my circuit, I noticed with a sudden sense of disgust the line of tumbleweed plants on both sides of the driveway. In summer they are a pleasing diaphanous green and purple, but by autumn they’re ugly, and prickly too. In the spring, they seemed an insult.

I kicked at the base of one, and off it tumbled, freed from its roots. I spent the next hour liberating all those tumbleweeds, giving each one a kick-start over to Nebraska. I carried them all, one by one, to a flat spot where they would blow right across the valley, rather than piling up at the base of the little ridge.

How satisfying! Good exercise, leaving behind a lovely clean border on the driveway and an open space for grass and sage to occupy. So much more rewarding than kneeling in the dirt to plant bulbs in the autumn, when all I would want to do was drink cider and eat popcorn.

I’d rather leave spring to Nature, and be surprised by the results.

© 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.