The Depth of Night in Dubois

What’s so profound about darkness?

duboissunrise2Stepping out from the warmth of our neighbor’s house after Thanksgiving dinner this evening, it wasn’t the night chill that struck me. It was the darkness.

As we drove across the highway, our headlights were the only light anywhere. The phrase “profound darkness” came to mind.

So much of what we love here has to do with light: the sunrises, the sunsets, the brilliant sunshine in a vast bright blue sky, the rainbows. What could be profound about darkness?

Darkness falls very early this time of year, near the winter solstice, but it carries more meaning here than it did in New York, the city that never sleeps.

On a moonless evening, I looked at the clock after dinner and was startled to find it was only 7 PM. The house was surrounded by complete darkness. It felt like we should already be asleep. What’s the sense of staying up? It’s dark.

I opened the back door, stepped out onto the frosty deck, and listened. Nothing. No sirens, no passing cars, not even any animal noises. To match the darkness, an equally profound silence.

It was never truly dark or quiet in the cities where I have always lived. Even the sight of a street lamp carried the comforting implication that others would be passing by before long.

At night here, I discover what it means to be really alone. Not lonely. Just alone.

nightskyWhen there is no moon here, because there are almost no lights below, the brilliance of the stars is also profound, but in another way. It instills a different sense of solitude. The longer you look, the more you see.

The sight makes me ponder how very small and insignificant I am, of course. It also makes me think about the promise to Abraham, that his children would be numbered like the stars, and I understand as never before how impossible this must have seemed.

Someone here commented recently that many people in the world never see a night sky filled with stars. “It’s true,” I replied. “In Brooklyn, we used to see about three stars at night.” That’s not an understatement. If you kept looking, you might eventually spy five, or maybe even twelve.

When my daughter turned 18, she chose to spend her birthday money in Manhattan getting a tattoo. This was legal at 18, and she knew that we would no longer forbid it.

“Don’t you want to see my tattoo?” she asked a few days later. She had had a small star burned into her shoulder.

“That’s very tasteful,” I said. “But why did you choose a star?”

“Don’t you know that stars are very important to me?” she said.

“No. Why are stars so important to you?”

“Because I remember lying in a sleeping bag staring up at them,” she said. I was so glad that our city child had wanted, at her perceived coming of age, to honor the memory of an earlier time out here, when the same darkness might have moved her to think some deep thoughts.

Like her, I grew up in a city. Back then, I thought that Milky Way was a candy bar. Sure, I learned about it, like I learned about photosynthesis and trigonometry.

Now, on any night when the moon isn’t full, I can walk into the driveway, look up, and see it spilling across the sky, a wide ribbon of luminosity.

There’s our whole galaxy, on edge. My ever-busy mind stops spinning for a moment, and I feel wonderfully empty.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

(There are some great videos of the night sky in this valley. But they don’t really tell the whole story. You have to come here to appreciate it.)

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Neversweat: The Details

Musings about an old name, and changes in communication.

postofficeOne of the many myths about Dubois is that the town originally applied to the US Postal Service to name itself “Neversweat,” and was refused.

Charming, but not exactly true. According to the definitive oral history by Esther Mockler, the US Postal Service in 1889 did deny a request to name the new town. But the name was to be “Tibo,” after the native Shoshone’s nickname for the Episcopal missionary who served them.

The Senator who served the Wyoming Territory on the Postal Service didn’t like the proposal, and named the town after himself.

It’s an interesting statement about the nature of those times, and about the nature of our town’s original residents, who wanted to honor both their priest and their native neighbors.

neversweat2Some local homesteaders actually did apply to open a new post office named “Never Sweat” in 1895, and that request was granted, albeit changing the name to one word.

The homesteaders felt that the 15 miles to Dubois from the Dunoir Valley was too far to go for their mail. The Neversweat post office operated out of the home of the first postmistress.

Back in those days, many post offices were in country stores and in people’s homes. I get the impression that being postmaster was akin to serving on a nonprofit board today: You could officially hold the mail for your neighbors if you were willing.

For the early settlers, Mockler wrote, “a letter was the only communication with the outside world. It had to come via the Union Pacific Railroad to Rawlins, Wyoming, where it was picked up by the stage driver who operated the stagecoach to Lander. It was then taken to Fort Washakie.” A local resident took it upon himself to ride on horseback to Fort Washakie to pick up the mail for his neighbors, once a month.

emailsSitting at my keyboard, I can’t help pondering how communications have changed. Most of my messages reach me today within seconds after they are sent, via a cable that runs past my house and up toward the pass.

This picture arrived in my Inbox one second after I hit “Send” on my phone. How extraordinary! This brings to mind the stories I’ve heard from ranchers who once got together to string wires across poles down this valley so they could share a party line.

The appealing word “Neversweat” still lives on in town, in the name of the local quilter’s guild. But I think it’s high time to revive it more formally, for a different reason. We never sweat the Internet.

I can’t imagine anyone riding on horseback to Fort Washakie these days, even once a month. Meanwhile, these days our Internet service never winks out, since Dubois Telephone Exchange (DTE) ran that wire up the mountain and created multiple redundancies in our Internet service with other towns far away.

My buddy John, who works at DTE, tells me that he knows about two dozen people who telecommute quietly and anonymously from the Dubois area, 4 of them with 100 meg connections.

“All have moved here for recreation, skiing, kayaking, outdoors, the people, the safe community, the remoteness,” he remarked in an email. “I do not know of one person that moved here for the ‘telecommuting opportunities’.”

Too true. But without our flawless broadband, they wouldn’t have come.

“DTE has spent millions in the last few years,” he went on. “Fiber to The Home, Network Upgrades, Stoney Point, Union Pass, clear out to Crowheart! – relatively without fanfare … without many people noticing what’s happening, what’s happened.”

I don’t suppose DTE would consider changing its name, after all these years. But how about Neversweat Communications Services?

There’s speculation about why they  chose the name Never Sweat in the first place. I reject the hypothesis that people wanted to say you didn’t have to work out here. Anybody who knows anything about homesteading knows that can’t have been true. I prefer the theory that they were alluding to the pleasantly dry climate.

neversweat3The name for the Neversweat post office went away after a few years–but at the request of later residents, not the Postal Service.

The Dunoir residents asked to name their new post office “Union,” and to place it at the base of Union Pass. That old building still stands, according to our local historian. Here’s what it looks like.

The log structure is on private land, but you can see it from the highway if you know where to look.

 

 

 

 

 

The Beauty of Our Favorite Beast

Why open your pockets to pay homage to a mere sheep?

bash2016Last Saturday, I finally had the chance to show off some of what I brought here from New York: the slinky black trousers, my hand-painted jacket, and my fancy necklace. We had two of the 200 tickets to the sold-out Bighorn Bash, which is probably the hottest gala in town.

The minute I got through the door at the Headwaters Center, I realized what I’d left behind: My good sense. Nobody cares about my big-town duds. In Dubois, it doesn’t matter what you wear. What matters is who you are.

buckleAgain this year, I asked myself what it is that creates the wonderful clamor at the annual Bighorn Bash (which supports our own home-grown educational institution, the National Bighorn Interpretive Sheep Center). The meal ticket alone is $35, a fairly hefty sum for many people here. But the goodwill in the big room at the Headwaters is palpable during that event.

The Official Speakers orate over the hubbub, and people gasp and roar during the live auction, as bidding escalates beyond the point of reason for items bearing the image of our favorite elusive animal. Leigh paid thousands for a smallish wall hanging (and then donated it back). The anonymous $1900 bid for the little box with a ram’s head carved on ramshorn was officially deemed to be unsatisfactorily low. A few pounds of fresh-caught seafood went for hundreds.

lucasbox“I wish I was that rich,” said someone at my table. I knew she didn’t mean she really wishes to be wealthy. She meant she wished that she too could afford to bid outrageously high for the benefit of the Sheep Center.

Not only did I not get why this particular event is so popular; the bighorn sheep was never very high on my list of things to love about Dubois. We joined the Sheep Center out of general goodwill, but I have always focused instead on the incredible scenery here, the history, the geology and archaeology. On individual residents and the community spirit in general.

Why do they get so excited about a mere sheep?

The next morning, waking to yet another stunning Indian summer day, we decided to go out beyond the reach of hikes in our ATV. “I’m going to take you somewhere you’ve never seen,” said my husband, who spends more time on the four-wheeler than I do.

gorgeHe drove me out to the East Fork, that wonderful region far on the other side of town where I first fell in love with this territory, while staying at a dude ranch. We climbed up beyond the undulating red rock hills to a nearly barren, windswept ridge where we were higher than the eagles fly.

When the rocky track petered out, he turned off the engine and led me out to a precipice. As John Denver once eloquently sang, I saw everything as far as I could see. The river was way down there, dizzyingly far below my feet.

“It doesn’t get any better than this,” I said, but he didn’t hear. He had already walked back to the ATV and turned it around.

Almost as soon as we started off, he turned the engine off again. Instantly, I understood what had escaped me before.

bighorn

There, directly ahead, was a lone ram. He stood silent and erect, wearing his elegant pair of heavy horns like a crown.

He turned and looked at us for a moment, then strode off across the track and down the slope on the other side. He had the bearing of a landowner graciously ignoring two trespassers.

He and his family roam easily the places where I can venture only with great difficulty, or not at all. This landscape we love with such passion is his kingdom. That’s why.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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Pumpkin Recycling, Cold Angry Birds, and a Highwayman

What happens on Halloween in this remote small town

brooklynhalloween“Even if you’ve had fun smashing your pumpkin, I’ll gladly take them off your hands!” someone posted in Dubois’ online classifieds today. “My goats and chickens will happily make use of them!”

That’s quite a change from the Halloweens we celebrated all those years in Brooklyn, where ours was one of the safe go-to neighborhoods for trick-or-treating!. From late afternoon to the gloaming, the street was jammed with small and outrageously tall beggars.

I never gave treats to a teenager who turned up without a costume, and I always dreaded walking the dog that evening, when I had to steer him away from countless dropped candies. We would see crumbling pumpkins in the trash for weeks afterwards.

halloween2016_2What happens in one of the most remote small towns in the lower 48? Children do trick-or-treat in Dubois, someone told me. If you live on one of the paved streets with lighting, you know you have to buy candy for that evening.

But the place to be is the Halloween celebration in the town park, where adult volunteers cobble together scary and not-so-scary displays for the young, of course featuring candy.

I thought the Kiwanis event was the most fun, at least for children. They were meant to hurl a beanbag via slingshot at the stack of cans, but quickly the kids decided the game was to aim at one of the brightly dressed “Angry Birds” sitting behind the cans on the truckbed.

halloween2016_4My friends Judy, Karen, and Michelle were hopping up and down in their winter gear and holding their elbows close as they helped with the event. (It turns pretty cold when the sun drops off this time of year.) Karen said she still felt cold the next day.

Judy told me later that some of the anonymous “Angry Birds” had pretty big bruises as their reward for this service to the community.

I hear the haunted tent from the Opp Shop won the prize for best display. But whoever decided to set up a firepit for s’mores deserved a special prize.

orangebagAnother curiosity reminded me about Halloween long before the day. I began seeing bright orange bags beside the highway. Surely they were filled with trash, not candy. But they seemed to set the mood.

It was puzzling: The sign clearly says that stretch of Adopt-A-Highway is unclaimed. So who was that guy spearing the litter and dragging the trash can, and what was his affiliation?

adoptahighwayI stopped to inquire. CM relocated to Dubois a few months ago. He moved from New York state to Jackson decades ago, right after high school, intent on living in the real West. Then Jackson began to feel like a big city. Lately, he promised himself that after retirement he would move out here.

He reminisced a bit about what Jackson used to be like, back in the day. Now that he’s finally retired and built a home here, CM told me, he feels he ought to help out. So he’s chosen this as his unpaid and unsung service to the community: picking up the trash.

Right around Halloween, curiously, he switched from orange bags to plain black. Maybe they ran out of orange.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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 on Camera: Small Town, Small World

How our ISP serves the community anywhere anytime.

calebetcThe more time I spend in Dubois, the less remote it feels.

The other day I asked my friend Chris how his son Caleb is doing. Caleb is in Spain for a semester abroad.

Chris told me he heard from Caleb last Friday while he was at the high school watching the Lady Rams, the girls’ volleyball team.

“I’m looking at Mom,” Caleb texted.

“How are you looking at your mother?” Chris asked.

“I’m watching the game on the Internet,” Caleb replied. His mother, who was there as a line judge, was distantly visible on the screen.

volleyballChris passed a message to the announcer, Bill Guthrie of DTE, who was live-streaming the game up in the projection booth. Bill gave a shout-out to Caleb, and later took a closeup of Caleb’s Mom, who smiled and waved. The news about Caleb spread back through the stands.

“Right away I texted my brother in Australia about it,” Chris told me. “Just think about it. Spain, Australia and Wyoming. It’s amazing how the world has changed.”

I watched the footage for a long time, but I didn’t hear the shout-out or see Paula wave. However I did catch the screaming and foot-stamping, the leaps and the dives, and all the raw excitement of high school varsity sports.

DTE (Dubois Telephone) has been live-streaming high school games for several years, not just volleyball but also basketball and football. Caleb is hardly the first long-distance viewer, Bill told me.

Jeff was watching football games while he was serving in Iraq, he said. Someone else’s Dad has been watching from an oil rig in the Bering Sea.

webcamshot102816The service is also handy for parents supporting a visiting team if they can’t get to Dubois to catch the game, Bill said.

The games are archived and can be watched on a YouStream subchannel on Roku.

You can also watch DTE’s webcams online to see what’s happening downtown, out west at the base of Union Pass Road, or at the top of Union Pass.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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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Dining Out in Dubois: Not Badlands!

Bistro, steakhouse, cafe, barbecue. How much more do we need?

bistro5I sat at the Nostalgia Bistro one recent evening, waxing nostalgic about our wonderful trip to Sicily. I was remembering another restaurant, in the ancient city of Siracusa. We had been celebrating our 40th anniversary.

Travel-weary, happy, and a little tipsy that memorable evening a few years ago, I sat idly enjoying how the wait-staff danced around each other, pirouetting with huge heavy-laden trays or scurrying past to take an order. They never came close to colliding. They made me think of  a finely tuned machine or a well-planned military maneuver.

Same here, I thought while sitting at the Bistro. The service there is equally adept and seemingly effortless, however busy the night. But they remind me more of a busy family.

bistro2Unlike that night in Sicily, at the Bistro I always recognize the person who’s “going to be my server tonight,” and they recognize me. I can joke with Bigi or talk with Norman about something that has happened recently in town. They’re friends.

Back when we lived in Brooklyn, we enjoyed an embarrassment of riches when it came to fine restaurants. Deciding where to go out for dinner usually entailed a rather long conversation.

But after spending some time in Dubois, we realized that in Brooklyn we would almost always wind up at one of 4 or 5 favorite restaurants nearby. We seldom traveled more than a few blocks to have dinner out. So being in Dubois isn’t all that different, in fact.

The Bistro is our go-to place when we want to eat out after Happy Hour, to dine with friends, or just not to cook for ourselves that night. It has an inventive fusion menu, with a mix of comfort food like saucy ribs, delicate light fare such as tender fresh fish, and variations on international kinds of cuisine. (Shannon obviously knows what he’s doing.)

bistro3My husband has observed that Dubois is missing a Thai restaurant. But I like the Thai steak salad at the Bistro so much that I have to resist defaulting to that order every time.

The restaurant would probably succeed in the culinary battleground of our former neighborhood in Brooklyn. But it’s not our only option here, by any means.

For a change of pace, we can choose the steakhouse next to the Rustic Pine Tavern.

Is it Wednesday? My husband has to decide whether to resist the lure of going a few minutes up-mountain for the weekly prime rib special at the Wilderness Boundary Restaurant. I’m not usually a red meat eater, so I prefer their little thin-crust pizzas and their hearty soups du jour.

Football Saturday? We’re going to want the barbecue from the place near the KOA and the wings from El Jarro.

In a hurry or want take-out? It took us quite a while to discover that the kitchen at Taylor Creek Exxon west of town prepares a variety of really good meals. You’d never go to the gas station for food in Brooklyn but, hey, this is Wyoming.

PassHighway022514_4For a larger variety of choices or a more exotic option, we can always travel to Jackson or Lander, which takes about an hour – not that much longer than a trip into midtown Manhattan from our former home in Brooklyn. But there’s no reason to travel all the way to Jackson to spoil ourselves. The new restaurant at Turpin Meadows Lodge, closer than the entrance to Grand Teton National Park, served up the best meals we’ve ever had on that side of Togwotee Pass.

All of these are only counterpoints to the classic option, the Cowboy Café. It’s the obvious choice for a hearty breakfast. Later in the day, I like their sourdough sandwich with pesto and chicken breast. But when I’m feeling really peckish I go for the elk sausage and home fries.

One benefit of spending all year in Dubois is that we can easily get a table off-season.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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What Home Feels Like, Reconsidered

Why do so many of us fall in love with the wide open spaces? There’s a theory.

FoulkewaysAugust01Back east visiting my aged mother, I find myself again in that verdant country in high summer.

Once long ago, growing up in the Midwest, I loved these steamy late-summer days. They spoke to me of indolent lassitude, of the seemingly endless stretch of uncommitted time. I tried not to think of the start of school, only weeks away.

One of my favorite songs paints a word picture of this pleasant torpor induced by humid heat:

It’s a lazy afternoon
And the farmer leaves his reaping.
In the meadow cows are sleeping,
And the speckled trouts stop leaping up stream
As we dream

FoulkewaysAugust02Today, I took a short hike in the woods behind that meadow. For many years, it seemed like a luxury to take a long walk under such a canopy of trees, with the crunch of dead leaves underfoot and the wisps of fragile greenery brushing at my ankles.

I texted these pictures to my daughter in Florida. “I miss forest,” she wrote back.

“I miss mountains and sagebrush,” I replied.

After spending several summers in our Wyoming house, I realized that the tree-lined New England back roads that I used to find charming had begun to close in on me and now seemed vaguely threatening. I was amused to find that another Wyoming transplant, the writer Annie Proulx, had the same reaction.

“Trees bothered me,” she wrote about Vermont in an essay after she moved  to Wyoming,  “their dense shade, their impenetrable jungles of seedlings, the claustrophobic looming that cut off all but a small piece of sky.”

WheelbarrowsA few years ago, shoving our rusty wheelbarrow across the rocky ground beside the house, I suddenly had a vision of an old picture I had seen of my grandmother. She was a Nebraska farmwife, and told me about the land of coyotes and rattlesnakes, and about leading my young mother and her brother on hikes for picnics on top of the tall bluff. I learned a few years ago (to my surprised delight) that her husband, my grandfather, grew up in Casper, in northeast Wyoming.

Is it a mere coincidence that I experienced a conversion, late in life, to a deep love for that desolate scrub-covered landscape beneath mountains and under an endless sky? Or is it written somewhere in my genes, inherited from that grandfather and grandmother?

Being a retired science writer, I couldn’t resist looking it up.

GreenGenes082815I found this review article, which I got around to reading while my husband was somewhere out there on Brooks Lake fishing with friends.

“[I]t is commonly assumed that restorative responses triggered by exposure to natural elements and settings are ultimately adaptive traits originating from our species’ long evolutionary history,” wrote Joye and van den Borg in 2011, in their analysis of the psychology of landscape preferences.

One theory, they said, is that we humans like wide-open spaces surrounded by a defined border because, harking back to our distant ancestors on the savannah, we find them non-threatening. They are not frighteningly endless; they have a boundary, and the trees have the promise of forage. But being able to see open land around us, according to the theory, gives us ample opportunity to detect threats. (Anyone who has hiked in grizzly country can appreciate this.)

This doesn’t account for my exultant sense of the transcendent as I watch a leaden bank of storm clouds move across the mountain peaks, followed by a rainbow. I wouldn’t see something like this in Connecticut.

Whatever the reason, I’d far rather be in this kind of landscape now, whatever the season. No contest.

RainbowView

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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Adventures Away From the Fire

Discoveries in a tiny “wilderness” close to home, but beyond the smoke of a forest fire.

One gratifying fact about our wilderness is that there’s always somewhere else to go.

Mercifully, the Lava Mountain fire is almost history now, and the heroic crews have gone elsewhere to defeat other flames. But back in the day, a few weeks ago when we had no idea which way the fire would go, I needed to escape the smoke and the threat.

Hike072516That day I chose a trail I had scarcely explored before, although it’s on public land very close to home. It’s a very tiny “wilderness”close enough to hear the highway, and far too small an area to entice me most days. You either quickly run into dense undergrowth or are forced uphill toward a steep back road that I know all too well.

No mysteries, or so I thought. On that day, though, it passed the most important challenge: It was not down-wind from the fire.

We set off down the trail, dog and I, in search of new discoveries–he in search of scents and with luck carcasses, and me of new sights. Especially, I wanted to find a route to the river this time.

Before, I had always failed to reach the riverbank here. Wherever I walked, it was  hidden beyond dense thickets of underbrush or too far down a rocky slope to reach on foot. (What drives me to set a goal of reaching the riverbank? Food for thought some other day.)

TreeandRockI decided to deviate into a small thicket of trees, off the trail, where we’d never explored before. We scared up a few deer and a rabbit, but came quickly back to that steep slope toward the well-known road.

So I turned the other way, and quickly found a narrow game trail leading up the side of a steep ravine.

What was that interesting shape foundering at the edge of the ravine? We soldiered on, dog and I, and came to a wonderfully gnarly old tree that had spent its life in combat with a boulder.

Life often persists and triumphs out here despite daunting odds. Reminds me now of the firefighters who finally brought the Lava Mountain Fire to 90% containment, driving it off into the wilderness, without the loss of a single structure or, more importantly, a life. (But I didn’t know that then.)

I could clearly hear that elusive river, chattering along below.

We returned to the meadow at the end of the main trail, and set off crashing in the general direction of upriver. The dog was hoping for a way to charge toward the water — no hike is complete for him without a swim — and I kept directing him away from banks that looked to steep for him to climb back after his dip.

WatergateEventually, a small break in the brush appeared, with a rocky descent of just a few feet down to a nice beach. I urged him on, and followed carefully. After he had paddled back and forth and explored for a while, he bounded back up the slope.

Not so easy for me; I had to grab at some tree roots and hope for the best.

That was how, on all fours, I came to notice this ancient water gate just upstream, rusting and hidden deep in the undergrowth–a relic of someone’s efforts to manage the river, long ago.

Why does this seem a treasure? Because it’s something I found that few people must know about these days. I won’t be able to travel that nearby section of road without thinking about it.

Back in the meadow, I looked up at the sky. No smell of smoke, but there it certainly was, still invading a typically heavenly day in July in Dubois.

However, I was content. We’d gotten away, explored, and made discoveries within a few hundred yards, only a few miles from home. All would be well, I felt at that moment. And eventually, it was.

FireClouds072516

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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.

 

Summer and Smoke

Adjusting to the reality of wildfire in the National Forest nearby.

It’s high season again in Dubois. There’s almost too much going on: Museum Day, the art show, the Day of the Cowboy, the square dance, the rodeo. The town is packed with strangers, there’s lots of traffic, and the joint is jumping.

But the one event on nearly everyone’s mind is …

IncidentBase

… the Lava Mountain fire. To fire officials, it’s another “incident”, which seems far too benign a word. Nearly 600 acres have burned so far, not far from all those ranches about 30 miles west of town, on the way to the pass. And there’s no end in sight.

It began with a lightning strike 4 days ago. The first flames were too remote to reach in that forest wilderness. It’s too dense and hot for firefighters on the ground to approach the epicenter, so they’re hitting the edges from the air, while the ground-based firefighters focus on protecting structures that might be in harm’s way.

We see helicopters every afternoon, trailing buckets of water on very long lines, and fixed-wing aircraft that circle and drop orange clouds of retardant. (Why wait until afternoon? Because that’s when the wind blows up and the fire starts to move again.)

There’s no rain in the forecast.

FireCommand071916

Here’s the camp they have set up in the town park for the firefighters. The experts have descended from Montana and other places.

I saw a truck for rodent control, and wondered why it was there among the emergency vehicles. Do they try to protect the ground squirrels as well? The poor ground squirrels …

Smoke has already been a feature of our lives for part of every summer. Even fires from Idaho and Oregon send yellow clouds our way and make our noses tickle. This year, it’s closer.

In New York City, people adjust their lives to avoid crime. In California, they worry about earthquakes. Many people in other places somehow going on living with the fact of war or terrorism. Here, amid beautiful historic forests, we have to expect wildfires. This is our reality.

What effect does this have on us?

Last year, we pulled a lot of weeds and laid gravel around the house. Yesterday, we ordered 2 air purifying machines on the Internet.

DumpHike1We’ll need to adjust our schedule to account for the smoke that hangs in the valley in early morning, clears in late morning, and billows again in mid-afternoon.

Among other inconveniences, the fire has ruled out some of my go-to hiking trails west of town. I’ve always hiked in late afternoon, when the air cools. I’ll have to rethink that.

Yesterday morning, I had errands in town (miles farther east, away from the fire). Afterwards, the dog and I set off for one of my other go-to hiking haunts: Behind the town dump.

I believe the plateau beyond the landfill has the most spectacular views in the area. Turn in any direction, and the view is fabulous. You feel you’re on top of the world.

DumpHike4

Someone told me that somewhere Dubois has been granted the distinction of having the nation’s best road to the dump. The road beyond, although rutted, is even better. It leads on and on for many miles. I’ve been briefly lost up there.

Here you see my dog in the foreground with some long-dead nonhuman remains. The landfill is in the background, at center. (It’s not really visible in this picture, but that’s where I saw it when I took the shot.)

Way out beyond the landfill you can see teepee rings, evidence of people who lived there many centuries ago. They circles are hard to identify among all the other rocks lying around. It was years before I could persuade a friend to take me up there and point them out.

DumpHike6

I found yet another promising trail behind the dump. It led over the knife-sharp top of a ridge, and sank promisingly into the folds of the badlands. I couldn’t spare time to follow it very far yesterday. (A tempting prospect for the future.)

The badlands are always fascinating to explore. I love to follow the draws to the top, and to rest in the shade in the overhangs.

How I wish there was a way to capture depth in these images! You can’t see how  high I am, and how far we will clamber down someday to reach the bottom.

My route  home took me right toward the location of the fire (though not anywhere near it). From the highway, you’d have no idea there was a raging conflagration somewhere out there, dead ahead. Just billowy summer clouds, and that beautiful valley. This was at 1:45 PM.

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© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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Another Hero Epic from Dubois: The 21 Lifesavers

A life-and-death challenge faced us yet again. People stepped up quickly to conquer it.

One day last spring, I stopped into Mayor Twila Blakeman’s office to chat about some business.

“Please excuse me,” she said calmly. “I’m a bit distracted. The county has just decided to shut off our ambulance service.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. “What? Can they do that?” I asked.

TwilaZimmerThey could, and they tried.

It seemed the ambulance system was getting too costly for the county budget. Compared to the other towns in Fremont County, Dubois was just too small. We didn’t use the services often enough to justify the cost of emergency care.

Thus began a long series of trips down-county for our fearless Mayor, who is 80-something, nearly always good-humored, and definitely a force to be reckoned with.

My husband and I headed back to New York for our annual spring break, much downhearted. While away, we came up with several ideas that might help the situation. Once back, I stopped by Twila’s office to propose them.

“Oh, that’s all solved,” she responded, airily. “We’ve appealed for volunteers to train as first-responders, and 21 people stepped up.”

I just had to smile, and cheer inwardly. In a village that runs on volunteerism, where most regulars are already tapped out, 21 people had agreed to go the extra mile (in the middle of the night, or interrupting dinner) to deal with God only knows what disasters.

Within  6 weeks of the appeal, 3 people had been fully certified as EMTs. By last June, 18 had completed the course and graduated as qualified first responders

DuboisRisingIs it any wonder that one float in last year’s July 4 parade bore the title “Dubois Rising”? The metaphor  was obvious–rising from the ashes of the January fire. But the ambulance crisis was more recent, and was doubtless on everyone’s mind a year ago.

Today, July 1 one year later, is the official start of an important new era for Dubois. The town will now be staffed with full EMS service, featuring two full-time emergency personnel (one first responder and one advanced EMT or paramedic) at all times, 24/7.

Guardian Air Medical Services, which also serves remote areas in Alaska and other states, will be assuming responsibility for emergency services throughout Fremont County. How well this five-year contract to privatize EMS will succeed in the long run is anybody’s guess, but the current arrangement certainly beats having no ambulance service at all.

I will spare you all of the political and administrative maneuvering that has accomplished this, except to say that the person originally brought in to solve the EMS financial crisis,  Joseph Zillmer, was summarily dismissed without explanation in May 2015.

Besides Dubois’ debt to the volunteers who have served so effectively for the past year, we owe immense gratitude to part-time residents Daniel and Cynthia Starks, who put up the funds to keep emergency services in effect in the Dubois area while the problem was being ironed out.

AmbulanceMatt Strauss, Guardian’s program director for flight and ground emergency services in Fremont County (where many calls require airlifting), said that services will be much easier and quicker when ambulance calls no longer bring volunteers away from home. Paid staff on call from a permanent base will be answering emergencies from the center of town.

Before, Strauss said, it could take 15-30 minutes for responders to collect their equipment and arrive at the scene. Now “you will have the ambulance rolling out of the garage in 2 minutes, and they will be on the scene within 5-10 minutes,” he said, at least for people who live right in town.

What’s more, this brings 3 new full-time positions to Dubois for qualified emergency personnel, Strauss told me, and some volunteers have expressed interest. The objective is to have the service “fully staffed with people living there,” Strauss said.

“Oh, yes,” Twila added when we spoke about it recently. “We need ambulance staff who know the community, and know the people.”

… if only, I might add, to assure that they treat our townspeople with the respect they so richly deserve.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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