Racing Thoughts on a Winter Hike

I was a little nostalgic, but not for long.

Advertisements

JH_emptylift3A friend from back East has graciously lent me her ski condo in the late off-season. New trails take me to unfamiliar places, with sights I will not see back home in Dubois.

For instance: An unused ski lift waits motionless and silent, a ghostly reminder of another life. I recall the creak of the lift chair as it swings around to grab you from the rear. The reach back and up to grab the overhead bar and bring it down across your lap.

I recall the enforced strut of skiers in molded boots, conveying a sense of arrogance as they clattered past in the slopeside cafe.

I used to love downhill skiing. In fact, it was my enthusiasm for my first ski trip, at the age of 19, that made my husband notice me in the college dorm.

JH_emptylift1Once we took ski trips every winter, as a matter of course.

On this morning, at the spot where the lift chairs swing around and dump you off, only footprints led away. I remembered the exhilaration of the smooth, winding sail as the momentum carried you on downhill. The wonder (on the first run) of what awaited around that curve. The sense in my knees of being one with the slope.

For this one morning, I was a little nostalgic. I quit skiing a decade ago, after I got a mild knee sprain in deep powder.

JH_snowytrailWas that an early sign of aging? I don’t think so.

I didn’t want any more injuries to deter me from hiking, because I knew there are better ways to understand a mountain.

This trail led off away from the top of the motionless lift. I saw that a man and his dog had gone that way not long ago. It beckoned, and I followed.

Just as I can learn a back road far better on foot than in a car, I gain a much closer friendship with a slope by pushing off the boulders on my way uphill and sidestepping over the rocky gullies on my way back down than by gliding down a well-groomed avenue.

The challenge I seek is not for the speed downhill, but for the strength uphill.

The pleasure I’m after is not the joy of following a crowd or a well-marked route, but the difference between getting lost and just exploring.

TracksFar better than the jostle of strangers speeding past is my own solitude, and the delight of unexpected encounters. In truth, I’m the stranger this morning, to the foxes and deer who own these slopes when there are no crowds.

Yesterday, we ran across each other in person. We did not stop to introduce ourselves; we just stared. This morning, I see they’ve been here ahead of me.

© 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.

On the Meaning of Snow

Back in the city, this would have much less significance.

FirstBigSnow_110217_editedWinter dropped by yesterday morning. Evidently it plans to stay for the weekend.

Early in the morning, I watched a line of cattle trudging resolutely through the snow from their trough toward the aspen grove.

This is the time when town grows quiet and the out-of-state license plates dwindle. For all those creatures that the visitors like to watch in summer and target in the autumn, it is the start of the season of endurance.

“Are you glad to see all this snow?” I asked a man in camouflage who was filling up at the next gas pump.

“You bet,” he said. “It drives the game downhill.”

Horse_in_Snow110217Driving home, I saw large herds of antelope and deer in the fields between the houses and the highway right at the edge of town. Among them I saw a four-point buck. These game aren’t dumb, as any hunter would tell you.

Last evening, I watched horses behind the house nosing through the snow to graze.

The dog enjoyed nosing through it for fun, but his ball got lost in it. Next week, we know, the ball will emerge again and grazing will be easier for a while. This is just a brief reminder of what is to come.

For humans, it’s time to relocate the snowshoes or check the engines on the snowmobiles. Next time, we will remember to lift the wipers off the windshield when we see it coming. Home changes from breezy to cosy.

Back in New York City, this kind of snowfall would have had altogether less significance.

BrooklynSnow

The kids would have the day off school. I would take them to the park with the $10 plastic saucer sled. Someone else’s kid would ask to borrow it for a run and not return it afterwards

We would have to break out the ice melt and shovel our 14-foot patch of sidewalk. The corner grocery store would have been stupidly crowded. Some folks would complain that the mayor wasn’t sending the plows out fast enough or to the right neighborhoods.

The snowstorm would make national news coverage.

“How are you getting by?” gasped a customer-service agent over phone during one such “blizzard.” I laughed.

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

The Unanticipated Pleasures of Commuting

What’s causing this slowdown? (No ordinary jam.)

TrafficOne major advantage of working remotely, of course, is that you no longer have to deal with this.

(I have the impression that the word “telecommuting” has fallen out of favor. Nobody wants to think about commuting, even in the context of avoiding it.)

It’s always a jolt to return to a city while traveling somewhere, and have to encounter the reality of rush hour. There’s nothing novel about it. I did this for quite a while back in the day, on the Long Island Expressway and in New Jersey.

It was worth it at the time. I loved my job.

Then I found myself lucky enough to do a job I could love without ever having to hit the brakes. Out here there is rarely any traffic to speak of (except during total eclipses of the sun and the high summer tourist season). Once during eclipse week I actually had to wait several minutes to take a left turn onto Horse Creek Road. Shocking!

DuboisEastbound030116“I think I’ll just slip into traffic,” my husband (that native New Yorker raised in Manhattan) will intone as he pulls onto the highway, with not a car in sight. It’s rarely difficult to catch a picture like this one, which I snapped from the passenger seat as we were heading toward town.

Nearly all the roads out here are two-lane, but I’m not at all nervous about passing. You don’t have to wait long until absolutely nobody is in sight coming the other direction.

The trade-off is that often we have to commute away for errands, such as visiting the county seat, going to a medical specialist, or shopping at a big box store. The larger towns are more than an hour away. So we do have something of a commute now and again.

This seemed a burden at first, but I’ve realized that my neighbors take it for granted. You have to go “down county” on Thursday. Big deal. I used to take the subway to the Bronx to see my ophthalmologist. Took just as long on the subway, and let’s not even talk about that view.

100_0112

It can actually be a pleasure to take the drive down county, someone reminded me the other day. It’s nice to see how the view changes in different light as you cross the reservation.

I like to listen to the Native American station from Ethete, and rest my mind on thoughts of the people who crossed this plain long before my kind of folk did. How did they see these vistas?

The landmarks pass, just as they did in New York City. Not 14th Street, 34th Street, Times Square, crowds and noise and subway tiles, but Red Rocks. Crowheart Butte. Antelope there. Fort Washakie. Miles and miles of grass and sage and sky.

TogwoteeAutumnFog3Now and again we have to head over the pass to Jackson, where we can’t avoid contending with traffic. Some people like Jackson. I think of it as something I have to endure, now and again. The compensation is eating at a Thai restaurant for a change.

The destination is a grind, but the journey is a reward.  There’s the Pass in autumn, with morning fog rising from the slopes.

Again, observe the traffic.

I keep my eyes glued to the sides of the road for wildlife, but rarely see any. (More likely closer to home, I’ve found.) But neighbors told me there are grizzlies that hang around out here. I’ve seen their pictures on Facebook.

PassHighway022514_2A few miles along from here, the vista opens up and you see those Tetons, which so many people travel so far to admire. (They’re the white stripe at left in the image, sunlit beneath the winter clouds.)

Personally, I prefer our own Winds and Absarokas, but it’s always pleasure to see these peaks looming up as we head to Jackson. We drive into the tangle, accomplish our errands, and head gratefully back toward Moran Junction, hoping not to encounter another jam.

What’s causing this slowdown? Ah, there’s a moose over there and people are pulling off and pulling out their binoculars.

As my husband would say: High-class problem.

© 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.

Fake News About Dubois, and the Facts

Groceries, grizzlies, antelope farms, and more …

Most of what follows is hearsay. In the past few weeks, several people have told me about some remarkable comments they’ve heard from visitors to town. I’ve also run across some other amusing misconceptions on my own.

I decided I should set the record straight:

Outfit1. We don’t dress this way as part of a historic re-enactment. This is really how we like to dress, and for good reason. We wear brimmed hats and long-sleeved shirts for protection against the fierce sun. We wear vests because it’s just enough to keep us warm in the high-desert cool. We wear jeans because they’re comfortable and sturdy. We wear boots because they keep the rocks out. (Here’s what I might be wearing today, if I hadn’t chosen a different shirt, vest, and jeans.)

2. Whatever that person in Jackson may have said, there’s no need to stock up before heading this way. Dubois does have an amply stocked grocery store, a gas station (well, actually four of them), and many places to buy a cup of coffee (or even a latte, a cappuccino, or a chai).

3.  There probably isn’t a grizzly bear in the Town Park just now.  Our bear expert Brian does say that, in theory, except in the dead of winter, a grizzly could be anywhere. But a grizzly doesn’t want to see you any more than you want to see her. We know better than to leave trash around for her to find, and she prefers to be in the forest anyway. Everybody knows how to recognize the signs that a bear has been around, and if any had been seen recently, you can bet that (1) everybody would be talking about it and (2) it would have been taken care of long before they began talking.

Antelope_1006174. We do not “farm” deer, antelope, bighorn sheep, or other animals you may see behind fences near town. This is actually the wildlife you have come all this way to view. They come here of their own free will, probably because they like it around here as much as we do. They leap the fences, live in peace with the livestock, and like to graze our fields. (Please drive with care.)

5. We’re not all cowboys in Dubois. Indeed there are many working cowhands, retired cowboys, former cowboys, and would-be cowboys. But the population also includes (off the top of my head) a computer architect, a designer of medical devices, a lobbyist, and many painters and photographers.

stopsign6. Dubois does have stop signs.“There’s not even really a stop sign in town,” Jeda Higgs said on the video “Chasing Totality: Making the Eclipse Megamovie.” I probably would have been dazzled by the exposure too, but that was hyperbole. More accurately, there is no stop sign, yield sign, or traffic light for cars making the 90-degree turn on the highway as it passes through the center of town. They have the right of way (and locals know it). People do face stop signs as they enter the highway from many side streets in town, and there are more in the residential parts of the village.

7. Dubois is not the most remote town in the lower 48 states. I dealt with this long-held and much-quoted myth in a previous post. The following is true: Dubois is more than an hour’s drive from the nearest large towns. A remarkable proportion of the surrounding landscape is publicly owned wilderness. The nearest Interstate is about 3 hours away. On the other hand, goods and services are easily accessible and residents take the commute to big-box stores and other conveniences as a fact of life (just as people elsewhere endure traffic, which we don’t have). Besides, those “commutes” are unusually scenic. But by any published criterion, Dubois is not the most remote town in the US. Maybe the most interesting or most charming or most authentically Western or most friendly remote town in the lower 48, but not the remotest.

100_06658. Winters aren’t brutal in Dubois (generally). Last winter may have been tough, true. But in general, temperatures here are several degrees warmer than in Jackson. Most of the snow (usually) gets dumped on that side of Togwotee Pass or on the Pass itself, giving us wonderful opportunities for snowmobiling and snowshoeing. The dry climate keeps winter temperatures surprisingly tolerable. And the air is magically clean.

© 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.

Watching for Wildlife on the Road

Encounters of surprise and delight (we hope)

SheepAs a volunteer, I’ve been helping the Chamber of Commerce to survey visitors to Dubois about their vacation plans. What, asks the questionnaire, have you come here to experience?

The same three words recur: Mountains. Scenery. Wildlife.

Mountains and scenery are guaranteed, but not the latter, unless visitors are willing to go out of their way and out of their comfort zone. It’s fairly rare to see creatures other than cattle near the highway (although we must watch out for deer). We don’t have an elk preserve, after all, and the bison are all on the other side of the pass.

Stay around long enough, however, and they do come your way. These encounters are often moments of surprise and delight — like the time I came upon these bighorn sheep at the base of the red rocks.

But we hope not to have any encounters of surprise and terror. A neighbor caught a mountain lion in her night camera. I once saw a lone wolf at the edge of the aspen grove from the safety of my dining room window. I have yet to see a bear up close and personal, and I do all I can to avoid it.

Here’s what turned up on the back road beside a neighbor’s house last week. My hiking companion took this picture, and showed it that evening to a friend who is a wildlife specialist.

BearScatAs we had suspected from the color and the contents: Bear scat. Probably a small bear, said our expert. All week, everyone who drives that back road has been detouring around this specimen, as if the evidence itself is dangerous.

Can we ever hike in the back woods again? “Don’t be chickenshit!” said another neighbor. “Of course you can! We’re all going to die sometime! Just make lots of noise.”

(Bear scat. Chicken shit. That night all my dreams were of animal waste. It was not a pleasant sleep.)

That day, we decided to turn away from the woods and on up the back road, where we had a reward of sorts. “Look!” gasped my companion, who is an amateur birder. “There’s a grouse!”

grouseEvery once in a while, I scare up a female in the sage–usually in the spring, when she flits about protecting a nest I haven’t seen. This one was a resplendent male.

Amazingly, the dogs didn’t even see him. He stood stock still watching us warily, and eventually decided to strut right across the road, only a few yards ahead.

That was a safe road crossing, back between the second-home cottages. Where I live, it’s a perilous passage.

Early this evening, I took my cup of tea out to the front porch to keep the dog company as he sniffed around the yard in the fading light of the day. While he was hunting up an old bone somewhere, I saw movement on the other side of the garage. I was startled to watch as a small herd of white-tailed deer emerged: two females and three fawns grown large after a wet summer.

Four of them moved slowly toward the highway, grazing. But the female at the back sensed me there, and turned. I sat frozen.

The last thing I would do would be to run back into the house for my camera! All I have to show here is the empty scene.

DrivewayI watched with some concern as the small herd headed up the drive toward that highway. Traffic is light this time of year and that time of day, but it is also fast — especially the semi trucks racing downhill toward town. And the light was fading.

What should I do if, as so often happens, one of them was struck while crossing the road? I’ve never witnessed that particular surprise and terror as it is happening.

As they neared the highway, I stood up for a better view. They stopped to graze again on the other side of the gate. Now and again the large doe looked back warily. But they had no concern as they began to amble across the highway, as if they had all the time in the world. I heard the hum of tires uphill.

A small white SUV approached from the west. It slowed, and then stopped on the other side of the highway, pulling to the shoulder. It waited there several minutes. Some lucky visitors got their wish. (Thanks to their vigilance, I also got mine.)

© 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.

Why Orange Became My New Black

I enjoyed the venison and elk burgers. I ignored the contradiction.

camovestsIt’s time to wear orange when we hike: Me in my vest and the dog in his kerchief.

It’s that season again. On the highway, pickups now outnumber the huge RVs from out of state. I’ve begun to hear rifle practice in the distance once in a while. The bow hunters have gone up into the hills.

When autumn comes around, I’ve learned, many of my friends will be away for a while. For them, this is not negotiable. Everyone understands.

Everyone except me, that is. Much as I love tramping around in the wilderness, I’ve found it difficult to relate to this custom of going out into the woods, tracking animals down, and killing one.

As the child of two teachers in a Midwestern city, hunting was never part of my experience. I lived for a while in England after my marriage. Over there, I thought of hunting as something done by the nobility (whom I never met), chasing a fox while riding horses (which I had never done).

At the sound of the word “hunting,” I reacted instinctively with disapproval, as if someone had tapped my knee with a hammer.

Then, much later, we moved to Dubois. I made many good friends here–earnest, deeply moral people. Some of them, I soon learned, go out hunting every fall.

As I enjoyed venison and elk burgers, I didn’t spend time thinking about the contradiction–any more than I have thought much afterwards about a conversation with a vegan who discussed the living conditions of the animals that provide the eggs and milk I buy at Superfoods.

There are cattle right over there in the valley out my window. I am aware that they are future steaks. But I wouldn’t want to shoot one or extract the meat. We all choose our own moral imperatives, and this one just doesn’t run very deep with me, one way or another.

Lucas6And I’m very interested in the people who were hunting here as early as people arrived here in the first place. I’ve hiked up to the remains of ancient hunter’s blinds. I’ve visited sheep traps where they presumably bludgeoned wild sheep for their tribe’s dinner.

I’ve heard the artist and historian Tom Lucas describe his decades of effort learning to make some of the swiftest and strongest bows ever made, just the way the native Shoshone must have done it, from bighorn sheep horns.

That’s him in the picture, talking to some bow-hunters who were deeply interested in his craft and skill. Until we moved to Dubois, I had no idea that many people still hunt wild game with bows.

I can’t imagine the skill involved in taking down a huge elk with a mere bow and arrow of any kind. But I’ve come to understand that the passion goes much deeper than mere sport.

“It’s the challenge,” Michael said when I asked him why he enjoys hunting. “I mean, I go way, way up into the wilderness — above 10,000 feet. I set up my little camp, with the tent and the PVC tube running out from a stream for my drinking water.

“It’s wonderful. When I’m out there I don’t see another soul. I don’t even care if it snows. You can’t imagine how many elk I see, huge ones, dozens of them. Until the last day, I just let them pass, because I don’t want to have to go back down earlier.”

gorgeI like the way his eyes crinkle when he smiles.

“So it’s the mountain man thing?” I asked. “The survival?”

“Well, not just that. You know, my grandfather was a commercial hunter. I must have been 4 when I shot my first quail. This goes way back for me.”

So there’s a strong element of family tradition and nostalgia as well. I can relate to that; it’s just not my history.

Also, he actually needs the meat. Like so many here, Michael is in a seasonal business, and his wages don’t come in year-round. Just like the ancient Shoshone, many local hunters are going out to put food on the table. But Michael mentioned that reason last.

“So how do you get up there?” I asked. “Do you go in a four-wheeler?”

“Naw,” he scoffed. “I walk. I love the walk.”

Now that I can relate to.

© 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.

Tiny Dubois Shines Through the Great Eclipse

How we conquered the Eclipse invaders

Dubuois WY Eclipse
The emotion was just the same as I had felt while being wheeled into the operating room. This is real. This will happen. This is not just some story we have been telling.
Dubois WY eclipse
Would our village triple in size during Eclipse weekend? Would 10,000 people turn up, diverted from Yellowstone? Would nobody come after all? We would shrug our shoulders. Who could say? But we worked so hard to make it a great visit. Only a few dozen turned up on Friday to hear local amateur historian Steve Banks describe how to live like a mountain man.
Dubois WY eclipse
But they were clearly captivated, as he loaded and fired an antique rifle and then started a flame, right before their eyes, using nothing more than flakes of rock and dried grass.
Dubois WY eclipse
The crowd had grown by Saturday. Tom Lucas had an attentive audience as he told how the ancient Shoshone must have used bighorn sheep horns to make their legendary bows, using water from hot springs and stone tools. Or so he thinks. Nobody knows for sure. They left no records or direct descendants to tell us how. “I never meant to become a bow maker, but somehow I did” said Tom, who is skilled at making Native American crafts but better known for his oil paintings. (The town had run out of folding chairs, so his listeners sat on hay bales and cardboard. Nobody seemed to mind.)
Dubois WY eclipse
Meanwhile in the background, the joyful but unfamiliar noise of many children playing at once. The Kiddie Karnival sponsored by the Boys & Girls Club was a brilliant plan to please parents and children who had so many hours to kill while waiting for the Big Event.
Dubois WY eclipse
The flow of car traffic passing through town was steady. I actually had to wait several minutes to make a left turn off the highway. But the classic car show had only a handful of entries, and viewers were few. We are a very tiny town, I thought. We’ve done the best we can to amuse you. We are who we are, and proud of it.
Dubois WY eclipse
But tempers were also frayed, and old rivalries emerged. This was probably inevitable. We were already exhausted when it came time to set up for the concert, which would take place on that big stage at left. No instructions came along with this huge canopy! We spent a long time figuring out the geometry, then had to take it all apart again to fit the hooks for the canopy into the right little holes! Then we moved it back and forth, unsure where it was supposed to stand. One of the event planners had a family emergency, and disappeared.
Dubois WY Eclipse
Meanwhile a bomb scare was taking place nearby, when a cameraman from the Google Megamovie Project left his equipment (complete with battery and timer) unattended in the park. Here, the other planner was shouting at the volunteers: “Alternate the Honda banners with the Chance Phelps banners, one per section! Not too low! Make them straight!” I took her aside for a moment, forced her to stand still, and ordered her to breathe deeply from the base of her abdomen out the top of her head, three times. She smiled. We will survive this! Really we will.
Dubois WY eclipse
Only a few hundred people turned up to hear our great local guitarist Mike Dowling on Saturday evening, not the thousand we had been hoping for. Some of them seemed to be leaving during the break. I had to leave too, because our relatives from out of state had arrived, so I missed Sarah Darling. Everyone obviously enjoyed the music, but I ached. My muscles ached, sure, but I ached more for those who would have to take everything down afterwards while I was having dinner with family. And the question remained: Where is everybody?
Dubois WY eclipse
The answer dawned on me Sunday morning, during this hike in the badlands with my niece. A few people did enjoy the events we had worked so hard to plan. But many more chose to enjoy the entertainments Mother Nature has been providing for visitors long before we arrived. She blessed us during the Eclipse week: The skies were gloriously clear throughout. Our family did not attend any events in town. They went mushroom hunting on Union Pass, which was packed with people out dry camping. Other relatives drove toward Yellowstone, hoping to see bison. Some folks in this picture enjoyed parasailing over our badlands.
Dubois WY eclipse
The big day arrived, clear and cheery. Nobody was trying to park on the side of the highway as I closed the gate behind my car, so the dire predictions of hordes descending from Yellowstone had proved false. I raced to town to help Scott arrange the sound system for our expert speaker from NASA, Craig Tupper. Craig was already speaking when I arrived, without benefit of technology. Both he and the eclipse watchers, of course, had arrived early.
Dubois WY eclipse
Others chose to skip the play-by-play in favor of a higher elevation. But the view was great from either vantage point.
Dubois WY Eclipse
So what’s he going to say? I wondered beforehand. “It’s 10% now. There you go, it’s 15%!” But Craig was fascinating. He talked about the shadow bands and the corona. He told why it didn’t make sense to try to take pictures (though people did). He talked about his cross-country cycle trip. He answered many questions. He joked around.
Dubois WY Eclipse
Here, people are watching for shadow bands on a white sheet, as Craig had suggested, as totality approached. (Can you see how the bright sky has begun to dim?) The bands we saw undulating all over that rocky ground were even more eerie.
Dubois WY eclipse
A crew from the NBC TV station in Salt Lake City turned up to film the total eclipse from Dubois. Here, the camera turned on Craig.
Dubois WY total eclipse 2017 Craig Tupper
He had realized that he’d been talking about the partial eclipse but never looking. So he paused, put on the glasses, and looked skyward. For all his expertise, he seems just as awed as the rest of us.
Dubois WY total eclipse 2017
“Can you feel a chill?” someone asked. And the sky began to darken. At first, I think we were quiet.
Dubois WY total eclipse 2017
It’s not possible to describe the quality of the light at totality. It’s like twilight, but not really. It seemed much darker than this as I was wandering over the uneven ground, hoping to capture people’s reactions on camera. All around me, I could hear them. Oh my gosh, this is unbelievable. Wowwwww. Amazing! I was probably saying these things myself.
Dubois WY total eclipse 2017
We had barely two minutes of totality. Somehow it seemed longer. It was startling how quickly the light re-emerged. And then it was over.
EclipsePlanViewSouth
The rest of my family were watching from the top of Table Mountain, where the view is spectacular but the viewing point is difficult to reach. I think it rivals the Grand Canyon. I took this shot a week earlier, while we were scoping out the location.
prairiedog
I suppose this permanent resident of Table Mountain and his relatives went underground for the Big Event.

Sheridan Creek Dubois WY
At last, we could all exhale. For a day or two after the Eclipse, the stream of cars passing through in both directions was almost uninterrupted. The restaurants in town were still packed. I took the dog and escaped to one of our familiar hikes. As we walked back toward the car, I had to stop often and pull the dog aside to let the departing campers come past, on their way down from Union Pass. I waved each time, smiled, and gave a thumbs up. Everyone seemed to have a great time. And we survived intact.

© 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.