The Fine Art of Living in Dubois

The landscape around Dubois made me wish I could paint. Fortunately, many here are able to satisfy that impulse, with great skill.

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LazyL&BHorsesI took this snapshot during one of our early visits to the Lazy L&B Ranch east of Dubois, sometime in the 1980s. The first time I saw these landscapes, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had never seen anything like them.

Suddenly I wanted to become a painter, to could capture this vision somehow and take it home. For the first time, I understood why painters have to do what they have to do.

I didn’t follow up on that impulse. But many others do, and a fair number of them gravitate to Dubois. Some of the greats, notably Gary Keimig and Tom Lucas, live and work here full time. Many others live and paint here part of the time, and some just travel through to attend workshops.

Instragram must be packed with snapshots from the Wind River Valley, but it’s also a magnet for professional photographers, notably Jeff Vanuga and Claude Poulet.

The variety of views is so immense. It’s so isolated here. You can really get away, and concentrate.

The rest of us lucky residents get to enjoy the results. Here, in one of the most remote towns in the United States, our calendar is crowded with top-rank art shows and photography exhibitions.

SKB2Here’s just one of the dozens of paintings on display last weekend, during the annual Susan K. Black Foundation workshop. (The foundation supports art education.) This was not one of the prize winners during that workshop. It is a fair example of the quality of work in the show.

In New York City, I love the way my perception of the cityscape is transformed immediately after visiting an art gallery or museum. The light seems different, and I notice juxtapositions that I didn’t see before.

That doesn’t happen here. Almost any time I step outside, whatever I’ve been doing, the view stops me in my tracks.

Here is one of the prize winners at the SKB show, followed by another painting I particularly liked. Evidently I still don’t know that much about painting.

SKB4SKB3

During other shows, such as the annual quilt show and the photography exhibition. visitors as well as judges are invited to vote for their favorites.

I don’t like to do it. That’s always a tough call.

At the recent photography show, while trying to fill out my ballot, I made a new acquaintance. Molly came to Dubois several times for the SKB workshop and, like me, found she couldn’t stop coming back. Now she lives here.

Want to read more about living in Dubois WY? You can read weekly updates via email using the link at the top of the right column.

© Lois Wingerson 2015

Guns, Murders, and Schizophrenia in Wyoming

Yeah, lots of people out here have guns. Look what we’re (not) using them for.

camovestsMost of the “snowbird” summer residents are gone now, back to warmer climates. But the motels still have the No Vacancy signs on. With cooler weather, hunting is in season.

Time to change my ways. My hiking range is more confined. I have to add a vest of bright orange, a color no game would wear.

Am I annoyed? Not much.

Once I was flat-out, knee-jerk anti-hunting. I still have some trouble with the idea of flying off to an exotic location to stalk and decapitate a trophy animal. But now I have too many friends who need that license for their daily meat course to claim the moral high ground here.

Someone killed a fellow creature so I could have chicken breast, too, and I didn’t have to do it. I didn’t even have to watch. The sight of the deer carcass hanging in Pete’s garage is startling, yes, but I hardly disapprove.

Miss-Annie-Oakley-peerless-wing-shotLiving part time in Dubois and part time in Brooklyn has made a schizophrenic of me, but (I would argue) not a hypocrite. Back East, I am a staunch supporter of gun control. In that high-pressure melting pot metropolis, anything that makes it more difficult to retaliate with escalating violence in a New York minute seems like a great idea to me.

But Dubois, as I often say, is the perfect contrast. I’m hardly Annie Oakley myself, and would most likely shoot off my foot rather than any target I might aim at. But here, I do support the right to bear arms, if only so that those who know how to use them can feel safe while hiking deep in grizzly country–let alone putting meat on the table the way people have done here for generations. It’s not the same place at all.

Only a few months ago, I found good, rational support for my my split personality about gun laws. I saw an article in a local news site, bemoaning the fact that Wyoming has eighth-lowest record in the nation for carrying out mental-health background checks before issuing gun licenses.

What does this really mean? Seeing that report, I thought about other the weekly news I read here in the Wind River Valley, compared to that I see in New York City. Then I decided to dig up some context. Here’s what I found (according to recent data from the US Census Bureau and the FBI as quoted in Wikipedia). I turned the data into a graph:

GunMurdersByStateJPG

Sorry if the image is difficult to read. That’s gun-related murders per capita, by state. Wyoming is the pair of bars at the far right of the graph.

The orange bars are gun murders/100,000 residents, and the blue bars are the percentage of state residents who own firearms.

The tall orange bar in the middle is Louisiana.

Even at a glance, you can see that even though it has the highest rate of gun ownership in the country (60%), Wyoming has one of the lowest gun-related murder rates (1.4/100,000 population, or #46 out of 51, including the District of Columbia).

So you’re very likely to own a gun in Dubois, as I suspected. But you’re extremely unlikely to have another human being as your target.

I couldn’t include Washington DC in the graph. The stats for DC are so far off the charts that the other bars would have shrunk to invisibility on the same scale. DC has the lowest rate of gun ownership in the nation (3.6%) and by far the highest murder rate involving firearms (16.5/100,000).

Pay no attention to what the screenwriters portray on the latest series of Longmire on Netflix, therefore.  Read the books by Craig Johnson instead.

Want to read more about living in Dubois WY? You can read weekly updates via email using the link at the top of the right column.

© Lois Wingerson 2015

Dubois Love Letter #3: Best Internet Anywhere?

Only one highway runs through Dubois WY, and slowly. But another one, invisible, is very speedy. Accidents are exceedingly rare.

Living in one of the most remote towns in the United States has many advantages. One of them, incredible as it may seem, is virtually flawless Internet service. Here’s why.Dubois broadband

The picture at right shows Michael Kenney’s whimsical clothesline, made from really old telephone poles and transformers. It’s funny because Michael, who is the head of our local telephone company (DTE, for Dubois Telephone Exchange), is one of the most forward-thinking and progressive people I’ve ever met. In charge of a rural phone company, he long ago began to see beyond telephones.

Michael has been a prime mover in the national effort to bring broadband to rural areas. The golden thread I’m using to transmit these words right now is a shining example of his success.

The Internet service here is fast and reliable. We watch movies on Netflix all the time, virtually without interruption. I can’t remember when I last lost service while working on a website.

Before my retirement last June, I telecommuted from Dubois and from my home in New York City for 8 years. Working in the city was a nightmare, even though we used one of the largest Internet service providers, Time Warner Cable. Service would wink out unpredictably, and customer service reps (who obviously didn’t know Brooklyn from the Bronx from Bangalore) would apologize incessantly and ineffectively. They hadn’t a clue. I became a regular at the library and at Starbucks.

Dubois broadbandHere in Dubois, one Friday evening several years ago I ran into Michael at happy hour at the Rustic Pine Tavern. I mentioned to him that my Internet service had stopped at about 3:30 (no problem, because I worked on Eastern time and that was the end of the work week back in Norwalk).

“A backhoe ran over a cable in Cody,” Michael said. “It will be fixed in 3 hours.”

Michael’s minions spent last summer laying fiber optic cable over the pass, working right past our house. Now there are multiple redundancies, Michael told me recently. If our line fails, another one will kick in. These days, the Internet never kicks out.

By the way, DTE has been running a webcam for many years at the spot in the middle of Dubois where the highway hangs a right-angle turn. This is an easy way to get a quick feel for the other kind of traffic that passes through here (much more slowly). You can watch it at http://webcam.rangefamily.net/~dubois/ .

 

Want to read more about living in Dubois WY? You can read weekly updates via email using the link at the top of the right column.

© Lois Wingerson 2015

Our Wanderers in the Wilderness

Wanderer2 The day before yesterday, just uphill, I spotted Matthew huddled by the roadside. I know his name only because I asked and he responded, grinning through his missing teeth.

So that’s how far he’s come by now, I thought. Matthew has been the subject of conversation here in Dubois: our very own homeless guy for a brief while. Not settling down here. Passing through.

Someone spotted him first out east in Crowheart, laboring forward with his overloaded shopping cart. Then he was found sleeping in the town park, and later seen shopping in the Family Dollar, loading his cart with food.

Back in New York City, overdressed homeless folks with shopping carts are a common sight, and one usually avoided rather than watched. Here people offered help, and rides, which Matthew refused. As I too found, he doesn’t want to say much and doesn’t accept offers of help.

Like everyone else, as he said he was headed up the pass I worried about exposure, and about bears. That shopping cart loaded with food is surely bear bait.

“I’ll be all right,” he said. “I know what to do.”

Wanderer3On my morning bicycle ride today, I came across another young man by the roadside with his backpack, heading the other way (toward town). “Are you all right?” I asked.

“Oh, yes!” he said brightly. Quite a different fellow indeed.

“Are you hiking the Continental Divide trail?” I asked. He nodded, and then asked how far it was to town and whether he would find cellphone signal there.

This is the second man I’ve met in as many weeks passing through town for a break from the Continental Divide trail. It’s a good place for respite: You can sleep overnight in the Episcopal church (but please behave yourself), and there are showers for a dollar at the laundromat.

Dubois feels about as far from Syria or Greece as you can get, but we do see some refugees of a sort. We are decidedly remote here. Perhaps exactly for that reason, we have migrants passing through now and again–people walking alone, on their way somewhere, or nowhere, perhaps in search of themselves as much as any particular place.

What drives these lone men to travel the highway on foot and sleep outdoors in the wilderness? Not exactly political persecution, I hope, or fear of brutality. Who knows what demons they are escaping and what refuge they seek?

Here we don’t want to intrude or probe, and won’t press anyone to accept help if refused. We wish them well on their way, and maybe worry (or pray) for a while.

Want to read more about living in Dubois WY? You can read weekly updates via email using the link at the top of the right column.

© Lois Wingerson 2015

Joys of Dubois: Mountain Shoshone Heritage (Part 1)

Those nearly traceless migrant people who left no written records clearly loved this valley and knew how to use its scarce resources to live well.

New to this valley, I quickly became captivated with its first residents: Those people with the musical name, the Mountain Shoshone.

SheepTrap5_090515 Elusive and misunderstood when they existed as a tribe, they’re now largely lost to oral history. (Some residents of the nearby Wind River Reservation may carry their blood, but their culture has vanished.)

Many people here treasure that heritage, because those nearly traceless migrant people who left no written records clearly loved this valley and knew how to use its scarce resources to live well.

The archaeologists have offered up a few relics that survive them: Bowls made of soft soapstone, flakes and points used to hunt, scant signs of their villages at treeline (of which I will tell much more later), and these: Their sheep traps, some of which are still remarkably intact.

They were sometimes known as “Sheepeaters,” because they hunted the bighorn sheep that still travel these hills. The first picture shows State of Wyoming archaeologist Dan Eakin walking along a drive line, one of the pincers of timber that the Shoshone laid over many of the high slopes to herd the sheep, passively, toward a high ridge.

SheepTrap2_090515Cresting the ridge, the sheep would find themselves wedged between lines of timber and driven with no escape route toward a pen. There by some means (I believe we still don’t know how), the hunters dispatched the sheep.

Today, with a dozen other hardy folks, I hiked a very steep slope toward a ridge to see the remains of some Shoshone sheep trap systems. “I don’t want to get personal,” Eakins called out as we were huffing our way up the slope this morning, “but I’m 57. Is anyone here younger than me?”

We called out our ages. Nobody was. The woman who organized the hike is 73.

The wood in the sheep traps has been dated to the 1760s–before the Revolutionary War, Eakins said, and well before Lewis and Clark explored this general territory in 1804-1805. He called them some of the oldest human structures in the American West. High and generally dry, they remain remarkably intact.

The second picture shows some of my friends at the end of another drive line, admiring a catch pen. The next picture shows the catch pen itself. A tree has grown up inside it, long after the last sheep was bludgeoned inside. SheepTrap3_090515

It’s sort of fallen in, but can you see the ramp that the animal had no choice but to climb?

Below you see the trap from the side. From a distance, it may look like a pile of rubble. But close up, it’s clear that this was built intentionally. But built by non-white people, long ago, almost certainly: There are no signs of ax marks, and certainly no nails. All of it was dead wood, put to very good use.

SheepTrap4_090515For years the purpose of these structures (and in fact the identity of the builders) was mere conjecture, because nobody ever found arrowheads, or bones, or any signs of butchery nearby. But a few years ago Eakin and others found a sheep processing center near Greybull, to the north, filled with artifacts identified with the Shoshone.

Why locate the processing center remote from the sheep trap? Makes sense, Eakin said. It was probably smelly. Might have spooked the sheep away from the drive lines somehow.

Anyhow, it probably wasn’t so far back in the day. Now it’s about a 4-hour drive around to Greybull, but the Mountain Shoshone didn’t drive around. They walked the ridgelines, which are much more direct.

Want to read more about living in Dubois WY? You can read weekly updates via email using the link at the top of the right column.

© Lois Wingerson 2015

Of Scissors and Sisters: Beyond Shopping

Scissors2Back in New York City, if I needed something, I would find the store that sold it, take the subway there, buy it and take it right home.

Here in Dubois, I often need to be more patient. But when I finally come by the item, it may arrive with much more meaning.

The big scissors came from Sandy, who used to sell jams and jellies as a vendor at the weekly farmers’ market. She was wiry, gruff, and plain-spoken, and she had a ready laugh. When I think of her, I think of courage and good cheer.

One week Sandy asked me if I needed anything. We all knew that Sandy was dying of cancer, and she knew it too. She was downsizing, divesting herself of many things. No point in holding a yard sale: She didn’t have anyone to inherit the cash.

I was making curtains for our house at the time, and my good sewing kit was still back in New York City. The next week Sandy turned up at the farmers’ market with these fine, substantial sewing shears. Every time I cut fabric, of course, Sandy comes to mind and I work with a smile.

A few weeks ago, I needed to replace a zipper. I did have small scissors, but the points weren’t sharp enough to pull Scissors1thread from a zipper seam. So I called my neighbor Anna, who lent me her own neat little sharp-nosed snips.

Soon after, I ran into Anna at the photography show. “Thought I might see you here,” she said, reached into her bag, and pulled out the small pair of scissors in my picture above. (See how neatly they fold up and collapse so the points can stay needle-sharp in the sewing kit?)

“What do I owe you?” I asked.

“Oh, nothing,” she said. “I found them today in the Op Shop and thought of you. They’re a gift.”

Each time I see them I think of her thoughtfulness. A truly small item has gained extra importance, and the thought will probably smooth those pesky little sewing jobs from now on.

Well worth the wait.

Want to read more about living in Dubois WY? You can read weekly updates via email using the link at the top of the right column.

© Lois Wingerson 2015

Fall Comes to Fremont County

Autumn

Last year about this time I wrote a poem. (It’s the last entry in my print journal, which I suppose this blog has replaced.)

This spectacular country reminds you
matter-of-factly, persistently,
that death
is a fact of life.

If nothing else, you cannot miss
the landscape mellowing
from green to gold to gray.

The aged, tapped-out cowboy
hitch-hikes through Yellowstone
to see a friend once more
in Montana
and regrets the effort.
The pain has driven him back.

The friend drives him back.
He has to cowboy up to reality, at last

Not least there are the dried-out bones
and those still wet with sinew
that delight the dog.

The bluebird soars joyously
into the plate glass image
of endless sky
and — gone! — plummets.

Coyotes yap at night
in celebration.
We know why.

Even the mountains melt or crumble
in their time.

The iridescent night sky,
endless, deep beyond measure,
reminds you that your time is small.

Want to read more about living in Dubois WY? You can read weekly updates via email using the link at the top of the right column.

© Lois Wingerson 2015