For Our Eyes Only: Dubois April Art Show

Not too crowded at this off-season exhibit. Lucky us.

EmptyCowboyWell, that headline isn’t entirely true. Unlike some of the paintings on display, the three-man art show held last Sunday evening at a local church was not exactly invitation-only.

However, not too many outsiders are likely to turn up at an art show in Dubois this time of year, as you can see from this picture I took the following Friday morning in the Cowboy Cafe.

We’re hoping someday to see those tables just as occupied in the early spring as they will be a few months later, when we’re lucky to get a seat.

Meanwhile, feast your eyes below on a poor rendition of one of the paintings I saw last Sunday. Artist Greg Beecham calls the painting “Tween Dreams and Waking.”

That’s a good metaphor for the vision some local people have about the future of this equally beautiful valley. Things have turned down since the 2008 recession, but I think they’re looking up these days.

This swan is one of four wildlife paintings by Beecham that will be featured this summer in the invitation-only Prix de West exhibition at the National Cowboy Heritage and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. All four (including a grizzly, a wolf, and a falcon) were on view last Sunday.

Beecham_Swan

This is the third year that Greg has sponsored an exhibition of works by local painters in April, the quietest month in Dubois. They call it a gift to the community. It’s a chance for us to see some of the best art by our neighbors, up close and personal, at at time when we’re not all going loopy trying to serve the needs of our visitors.

Starting in about a month, the town will explode with returning “snowbirds,” many of whom are fine amateur or professional artists. But quite a few, like Greg, have chosen to live in Dubois year-round. He and his family have been here for 20 years.
Beecham041516
He told me that he and his wife Lu (who is the business manager for the local schools) “kept moving farther and farther away from the hubbub” in western Washington state two decades ago, but the hubbub kept chasing them. At a local art show in Ellensburg WA, he asked the husband of an artist from Casper where they could find a place in Wyoming that was not too crowded, had a good school for the kids, wasn’t too cold, and was beautiful.

Without hesitation, the man replied, “Dubois.”

They looked first in Colorado, because his parents came from Grand Junction. But even back then, he said, there were still too many people in Colorado.

So they detoured back through Dubois “to see if what the guy had said was true.” Within a few weeks, they had bought property in town.

Last weekend’s art show also featured works by Jerry Antolik and Tom Lucas. Antolik lives in the tiny nearby hamlet of Hudson, where he focuses his efforts on murals. But his portraits are also excellent, and as you see here he also does fine wildlife paintings.Antolik_MooseAntolik told me he was up on Union Pass quietly working beside this pond full of lily pads when the moose suddenly emerged with her calf.

Tom Lucas, who grew up nearby in Lander, is as much a historian as a painter. He’s well known locally for his monumental effort to research and recreate the methods by which the ancient Shoshone treated the horns of bighorn sheep, to craft the legendarily strong and supple bows that allowed them to be master hunters.

Travel_LucasOne of his bows was on display last Sunday, along with several of his masterful paintings of native crafts. As part of learning to paint them, as you can see from the beaded bag in this picture, he also recreates them.

Tom, whom I consider a good friend, told me he began to paint as a young lad because he was inspired by the work of Charlie Russell. “I never thought I could get to be that good,” he said, “and maybe I’m not.” But you can see how far he has come in that direction.

He also said that he hoped the show might inspire the same dream for some of its young visitors. If it does, they’re in a good place to find living mentors.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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Volunteers Help Free Sheep Caught by Muggers

Guest columnist Karen Sullivan recounts a unique adventure, her reward for being in the Dubois area during the “shoulder season.”

BighornSheepStudyRecently, I had the unforgettable opportunity to help study some of the bighorn sheep and mule deer in the Dubois area, up close. It was an incredible experience!

Along with several other volunteers, I assisted in a joint project of the National Bighorn Sheep Center, the University of Wyoming, and the state Game & Fish Department to monitor the body condition and migration patterns of these wonderful animals. Our job as volunteers was to help collect the sheep delivered by helicopter, and to protect both the biologists and the animals by holding them still while they were being examined.

Last year, several ewes were collared in order to track their movements and recapture them annually for physical examinations. A helicopter crew from New Zealand was hired to capture the sheep and bring them to the exam area near Dubois.

BighornSheepStudy1The crew used a helicopter and net gun to catch the sheep. Once the sheep were caught in the net, two muggers (yes, that is what they are called!) jumped from the helicopter to blindfold and hobble the sheep. They also wrapped them in a sturdy tarp for transport to the exam area.

The helicopter pilot’s skills were impressive, to say the least! He very gently laid the sheep on the ground, where volunteers picked them up and carried them to the biologists who would examine them. Each animal had an extensive examination, which included measuring their body fat, checking for pregnancy using an ultrasound, and collecting blood, ear, nose, and throat swab samples to test them for disease.

BighornSheepStudy2Most of the sheep were surprisingly calm throughout the process, especially considering that no tranquilizer was used.

The collars were then adjusted or replaced as needed. After this, the sheep were moved to an open area, where their blindfolds and hobbles were removed and they were set free. Volunteers were also able to help with freeing the ewes.

Once released, the ewes did not waste any time running to rejoin their herd. They are amazingly fast runners.

BighornSheepStudy3The collars on the ewes allow the biologists to track them and their lambs throughout the year and to monitor their health as well as their migration patterns.

As a new part of this ongoing statewide project, several mule deer in the Upper Wind River Valley have also been caught, examined, and collared with the same objective.

I would not have imagined that I would ever be able to get so close to bighorn sheep or be able to actually help with a project like this. I hope that the long-term results from this research will help ensure the health of these magnificent animals, and increase their population.

© 2016 Karen Sullivan. Image credits: Karen Sullivan (top), Nick Dobric (remainder)

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Dubois Spring Break: Snowy Down Time

Why it may not always be fun here, but it sure isn’t bad …

100_0140As I said nine days ago, Mother Nature messed with our heads on March 20, giving us a balmy First Day of Spring.

Today, she got serious again. It was our third or fourth day of snow in a week. This time it was snow in earnest, inches of it, deep and soft, blowing sideways from the east.

The dog was in ecstasy outside, leaping and rolling in the drifts.

A gray cloud hung like a fluffy down blanket over our heads, all day .

100_0137 (1) It’s spring break week, and down time in Dubois. The snowmobilers are gone. Many of the restaurants have closed for a few weeks. Even some hard-core full-timers have gone south, including fearless wilderness-loving Becki with her two children, off in search of the sun.

However, in theory we’re not sorry to see more snow this spring, because it means runoff later that will help to grow hay, minimize the risk of fire, and make the valley beautifully green this summer.

I stayed mostly inside, cleaning my desk and baking cookies, glad I didn’t have to go out to feed any horses or cattle.

Yesterday, I realized it’s actually spring break. Over at Town Hall, several parents were in the Council chambers with their teenagers in the morning, having shown up for the monthly visit from WYDOT to help them sign up for drivers’ permits during school break.

I had gone there to commence my divorce from New York and my marriage to Wyoming. It’s long past time to ditch that old photograph, taken way back when my own children were still children. But that’s hardly the most important reason to take this step!

DLs

“You going away this week?” asked a man waiting in front of me in the Council chambers.

“No,” said a woman who had come with her daughter. “We got an allotment up on Union Pass for this summer. Think we’ll try to get the branding done by Friday — if we can, with all the snow that’s coming. Probably they’ll all be too cold and wet still.”

WYDOT“This is such a pain,” I heard someone say behind me. “Those people [from WYDOT] are always so grouchy. They really don’t like coming all the way here from Riverton.”

I didn’t find them grouchy at all. Bureaucratic, sure, but generally pleasant–and understandably concerned about driving back home in the coming snowfall.

Of course, the people waiting to be served had lived in a small town far too long to consider this actually a fairly enjoyable experience, as I did.

“Yeah, it’s not too much fun,” said my friend Tom, resuming his laconic conversation with the people sitting around him, as he sauntered back from the counter to wait for the next step in getting his license renewed. “But at least we’re among friends.”

I thought back to the day when I had that picture taken for my New York license. I had to turn up at the Brooklyn DMV by around 7 AM in order not to have to spend all day getting the job done. I stood in a long line in a featureless corridor and waited at least an hour on my feet before we were let into a huge room with fluorescent lights and long rows of plastic seats.

The clerks behind the counter were truly surly. Nobody said anything unofficial, because we were all strangers.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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Who Owns This Valley? Hey, Ya

In which I discover the serene beauty of the Rez, the foreign territory next door.

Eastbound5I needed to run some errands “down county” in Riverton, about an hour away. It was almost balmy spring, and a different experience altogether from the wintry drive over the mountain pass to Jackson a few weeks ago.

I was driving alone. With no conversation to distract me, I had time to discover that this route has a serene beauty of its own.

Almost all of the drive is on the Wind River Indian Reservation, home of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapahoe people. This is not a desolate, barren desert of windblown sand, like the Hopi reservation we saw in Arizona last year. It’s as fertile as the rest of the valley. As you drive, you see cattle, horses, and lots of hay.

Eastbound3I’ve met a few of these distant neighbors, but I don’t have any friends among them. “The Rez” feels like foreign territory, which I suppose it actually is.

In Dubois, we maintain a cautiously respectful and distant regard for the people on the reservation. They do not hasten to engage us, for understandable reasons.

The Shoshone knew this temperate valley from ancient times. For many generations, they migrated through it and occupied seasonal villages around here, long before their descendants were forced to settle here permanently. Their revered leader Chief Washakie and his advisors astutely negotiated the Wind River Valley as a reservation for their people 1868.

Eastbound6The most prominent landmark on the drive is Crowheart Butte. You can see it in this picture, rising from the valley floor. I have no idea how the butte came to be on that flat plain, but nearly everyone here knows how it got its name.

The Shoshone and their enemies the Crow were in constant battle. Chief Washakie proposed ending the conflict with a man-to-man fight with the Crow leader on top of the butte. Legend says that Washakie won the fight, killed the foe, and ate his heart–hence “Crowheart.” I read somewhere that when someone asked old Chief Washakie if this was true, he chuckled and replied, “It sounds like something I might have done when I was young.”

There’s no cellphone signal on the drive across The Rez, and radio coverage is spotty. I kept pushing the scan button and finally came across a strong signal. The melody was repetitive, supported by a drum. The lyrics were at once strange and familiar: Hey-ya-ya-ya. Hey-ya-ya-ya. The music carried me along for a few miles.

Eastbound2

I found myself imagining a woman standing in her kitchen, listening to the same music and looking at this austerely beautiful vista as she cooks. She is not a symbol or a character from geopolitical history. She is part of a real community that occupies this land as surely as I occupy our few acres, cooking her dinner as surely as I cook mine. Of course her tie to the valley that I have come to love would be vastly stronger than mine, who first saw it only a few decades ago.

Maybe she appreciates this gold and blue landscape on a far deeper level than the way I enjoy the view out my own window, I thought.

The DJ announced a new song, with a similar lilting melody and drum rhythm, but this one had words whose meaning I could understand.

Like I told you before
I don’t love you any more.
Stay away from me.
I don’t need you any more.
Hi-yo-yo. Hi-yo-yo.

Her family isn’t locked up in the history I keep in my mind along with the images of petroglyphs and the sheep traps, I thought. Their culture evolves as ours does, but I will probably never know who they are. We slide past one another in Riverton or on the highway, aliens to each other for reasons still too deep to resolve.

Eastbound1My mother, who grew up in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, often lamented the travesty our ancestors had done to the Native Americans. But I was a child growing up in the Midwest when she raised me. I never saw a Native American (to my knowledge), or a reservation. Her words meant almost nothing to me then. I understood them, but I did not.

Gradually the road returning to Dubois begins to dip and rise, winding toward the striped and wrinkled backdrop of the badlands. It slides you gently around a huge curve, and then the other huge landmark suddenly rises in front of you: the red rocks.

RedRocks

On a midsummer day, backed by a jewel-bright blue sky, they are even more arresting than this.

They are the western end of this part of The Rez. Chief Washakie wisely insisted on holding onto these fabulous formations. On any of our long journeys back from somewhere farther to the east than Riverton, I see them as the finale.

Beyond the red rocks, I am at home.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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Dubois WY: Consultant’s Dream Come True

Is the ability to work from Dubois a stroke of genius, or just a stroke of incredible good luck?

As the owner of Recreational Resources LLC of Dubois, Rick Collignon putters away all day on his computer, fax, and cell phone. What the folks on the other end of the line may not realize is that during a conference call he may be on horseback at an altitude of around 10,000 feet, nowhere near the rest of the office.

CollignonThis avid outdoorsman has the best of both worlds. He spends his free time fishing, hiking, and hunting in Wyoming, in the Wind River Valley, but spends some of his working hours as a consultant to the Fish and Game Department for a different state–South Dakota.

Rick is a great example of how the high-quality Internet service in Dubois allows residents here to succeed as consultants and business owners from what looks on the map like the middle of nowhere.  Like so much else about living in Dubois, this arrangement suits only a specific kind of personality.

“Telecommuting requires a certain type of person to be successful,” says Rick. “A tremendous amount of self-discipline and drive, good organizational skills, and the ability to work alone a vast majority of the time.”

As with any job, he adds, you must make your work time accommodate your clients’ hours. So you can find yourself talking to DC in the early AM and the West Coast late into the evening. It’s also about your creativity, he adds: The ability to not only think outside the box but also to create a marketable product—yourself. What can you offer that beats the next guy?

Another important key factor is to maintain your network of business relationships, to assure that you’re in the right place at the right time to win the deal, even if that place is one of the most remote in the lower 48 states.

And place is important to the mix. Another key to successful telecommuting is to locate yourself in an area–be it city or country, mountains or beach—that will put you in the most productive frame of mind, whatever that means for you. If you can’t maintain the focus of your thoughts in the city, then perhaps solitude is the key.

It certainly has been for Rick. After months of hard work (predominantly over the phone or email), he successfully negotiated the Missouri River Land Transfer for the State of South Dakota. His success enabled Rick and his wife to purchase the KOA campground in Dubois and revamp the facility–something they are both enjoying.

cid_836“Dubois is one of those places,” as he put it, “where a consultant has all the quality access and communication links to the world through the Web needed to successfully compete in today’s markets, while providing an outstanding life space which stimulates those invaluable creative talents needed to excel in this line of work.”

I also telecommuted from Dubois for 8 years before I retired last June, and obviously I continue to take advantage of the great Internet here. Everything Rick says rings true, and he and I are hardly the only people around here who are taking advantage of the opportunity.

The cost of living is low, the quality of life high. Just a few weeks ago, the financial website bankrate.com designated Wyoming the best state to retire for the second year in a row. The factors it cited (low taxes and prices, low crime rates, beautiful environment) are just as important to self-employed individuals who work on the Internet as they are for retirees. And the Internet here, as I keep saying, is second to none.

For people whose hearts sing at the thought of mountain peaks, open skies, and true solitude and serenity right out the back door, is the ability to work from Dubois a stroke of genius or just a stroke of incredible good luck?

I don’t know how Rick would answer. As for me, I put it down to the grace of God, and give thanks every morning when I look out the window.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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The Velvet Ribbon Out of Dubois

The trip across the mountain pass is perhaps less of an adventure now, but still exhilarating.

PassHighway022514_1Time to leave town. I have to head over the pass to catch a plane. (As they say in Brooklyn, you gotta do what you gotta do.)

It’s barely light when we turn uphill to catch the 9 AM departure. In clear weather like this, we know, the drive will take about 90 minutes. The moon is still visible in the sky, and the road is silent.

Plenty of our neighbors go over Togwotee Pass to Jackson all the time, for a shopping spree, to catch a ski lift or a show, or to visit a specialist. We rarely bother to head into that tourist hot spot, except to catch a flight.

Still, the trip across the mountain is usually a  delight–especially now that they’ve taken a little of it down to widen the highway.

We used to approach road cuts like the one below with trepidation. The lanes were narrow, the plunge off the far side was steep, and you couldn’t see what was barreling down on you from the other direction. Especially on a wintry day like this, the drive could be pretty nerve-wracking.

PassHighway022514_3No more. Today, the highway is smooth, fast, and (as you see from the pictures) well cared-for even in the winter. We’re going all the way over the Continental Divide here, above 10,000 feet and back down. Thanks in large part to the interests of the snowmobilers, it’s going to be an easy trip today.

The succession of vistas make you catch your breath, beginning with the monumental granite walls of the pinnacles, climbing to and passing across vast high mountain valleys, then drifting downward through a green tunnel of pines that open to views of the Tetons.

This pleasure came at a price. Not long ago, we had to endure hour-long waits to cross miles of washboard gravel, while the huge orange toys moved big chunks of rock from here to there, scooped the gravel flat and frosted it with asphalt.

Even back at home, we had nuisances to endure. Trucks burdened with boulders or tons of gravel would groan uphill past me as I finished my morning bike ride, and then growl noisily downhill using their jake-brakes on the way back down.

The reward for our patience is a smooth, wide ribbon. Thank you, Albright Sand & Gravel PassHighway022514_4and Oftedahl Construction. And thank heaven.

The heavy equipment that goes up and down the road most often this time of year, other than the logging trucks, are the snowplows. We see them out even at times when it’s bone dry where we are–a welcome sign that the snowshoeing farther uphill is still good.

In warmer months, this road becomes a scenic detour for those travelers who miss the turn at Moran Junction. Every so often a stranger pulls into our driveway and asks how far it is to Yellowstone. Told that the best option is to enjoy that same wonderful view again in the opposite direction for another hour or so, the driver often asks whether there’s another way around.

In fact, there is. It’s a great trip via Thermopolis and Cody, through a memorably beautiful canyon. But it reaches the northeast entrance to the park, and takes the better part of a day.

The driver’s next question: Is this a bed and breakfast?

Sorry, no. (But there are nice motels and good restaurants 10 minutes farther on, in town. Why don’t you take a look around and enjoy yourselves?)

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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14 Reasons to Love Dubois, Wyoming

Again and again, people come to this remote town not far from Yellowstone and fall in love. How does this happen?

DuboisWYValentineYou hear about it again and again:  Someone came to this remote town not far from Yellowstone and fell in love. How does this happen?

Let me count the ways. Those lucky folks who discover Dubois are:

1. Stunned by the scenery: A too well-kept secret. Granite peaks that rival the Grand Tetons for their splendor. The fascinating, slowly melting red desert. The quiet forests and mountain streams. The vistas never fail to astonish.

2. Seduced by the climate:  The weather is most often pleasant and dry. The sun shines most of the time. Days are generally mild in winter, and cool in summer.

Petro 93.  Fascinated by the history … and the prehistory. From the mysterious carvers of the petroglyphs to the courageous and resilient Mountain Men and homesteaders, the people of the past never fail to amaze.

4.  Charmed by the people of the present:  The welcoming instincts of Dubois’ townspeople and their impulse to help themselves and each other make it difficult to resist loving the whole community, once you get to know it.

5.  Awed by the animals:  The other beautiful residents of this valley appear unexpectedly, and leave you catching your breath in awe. You’d surely be poorer if you never saw an eagle fly–or watched an elk bound away, or glimpsed a mighty moose in the willows.

6.  Healed by the hikes (or the horseback rides):  Whatever the little misery that clouds your vision, it will vanish as soon as you can step outdoors, pause for a deep breath, and take the first few strides.

wintertrail.7.  Silenced by the snow: The noisy burdens and pressures of daily life melt away when you can get out into the soft, deep white of it, whether you’re marching on snowshoes, gliding on skis, or sailing along on your snowmobile. (It’s all good–and never too cold, as long as you stay out of the wind and wear enough layers. Don’t forget the sunglasses!)

8.  Romanced by the remoteness: It takes about an hour’s drive to find yourself in traffic or in a crowd. What does surround you? The beauty of nature, most of it accessible as public land. That said, there are plenty of good places to buy a meal or even an espresso.

9.  In love with the location:  Smack-dab in the middle of the great American West. It’s about an hour’s drive to Yellowstone in one direction and to a restored ghost town and gold mine in the other, stopping to visit Sacajawea’s grave on the reservation along the way. You’re a few days easy driving from Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Glacier National Park … I’ll stop there, for now.

1200px-US_map_-_geographic10.  Drawn to the artists:  You may not be skilled at capturing what you see on canvas (or film), but so many others are. Plenty of them have not resisted the lure of living here, and you have ample opportunities to admire their work on display at art or photography shows, or in local galleries.

11.  Overcome by events:  Did you think there would be nothing to do out here in the middle of so much wilderness? I find I actually welcome a quiet evening at home, after last night’s lecture on animal migrations, the jam session the night before, my neighbor’s dinner party followed by cards, and on and on. I must be sure to be rested up before the Soupenanny next weekend! I’m so sad I was closed out of that free course on early Native American art and elected to miss the hike about animal prints in the snow. Thank heaven it’s still midwinter, when not much is going on. So many choices, so little time!

12.  Beguiled by the benevolence:  There are at least 30 nonprofit organizations in a town that has not quite 1000 residents, as of the last census. Nearly every event is a benefit for one cause or another, and when we run into a true crisis — a catastrophic fire in the middle of the business district, the threatened cancellation of our ambulance service — the way Dubois pulls together to rise and recover is almost beyond descriptions.

DuboisQuiltShow080815_213.  Captivated by the creativity: Knitters and quilters. Guitarists and fiddlers. Woodcarvers and antler sculptors. Jewelry designers and master caterers. (So what is lacking here in Dubois? Walmart.)

14.  Finally, found by new friends:  I heard someone recently describe meeting people in this town as like opening a box of chocolates and finding that they’re all truffles. Among the good friends I have met here are a nuclear physicist, a retired cowboy, a Parisian photographer, a Swedish schoolteacher-turned-wrangler, a great hairdresser (“Excuse me, where do you get your hair cut? Oh, Wyoming. Where’s that?”), a computer wizard, several lawyers and a dentist, numerous artists (of course), and a microbiologist. My hiking buddy grew up in Singapore and Pakistan. Our newest neighbors have moved here from Baton Rouge.

So different, yet we all get along remarkably well. Why? We all share our love for this one remarkable place.