Dubois Trash Tells All

Archaeologists dig around in the dirt to learn about ancient people. I examine roadside trash to paint a picture of a remote small town.

HighwayArchaeologists extricate prehistoric trash from their middens to learn about ancient people.

Sociologists go through trash cans to learn the habits of modern city dwellers.

The flotsam I see by the highway during my morning bicycle ride also has a lot to tell about Dubois.

It’s an interesting (if random and incomplete) picture of what we get up to around here.

There’s the usual kind of debris, of course: Pieces of tire tread, random paper trash, and lots and lots of beverage containers. (Why do so many people want to use the edge of our beautiful wilderness as their garbage can?)

The empties on the side of the road suggest that most people prefer BudLightbrands of beer that I don’t like. (Or are the people who like my favorite brand less likely to toss the empties out the window? Oops. Political correctness alert!)

IceTeaCan Many of the beverage containers are not for alcoholic drinks, of course.

But enough about real trash! What interested me was the items people inadvertently lose by the side of the road and never go back to retrieve. Given the prevalence of pick-up trucks on this highway, it’s easy to see how that might happen.

gloveExhibit #1. (The first item I saw, and the one that inspired this reflection. Clearly lost, not tossed. Who throws away one glove, especially such a good one?) Evidence of one of our favorite pastimes: Outdoor motor sports.

Did the owner need it for a motorcycle? Not likely, because then how did it slip away? My guess is it fell off an all-terrain vehicle, one of the most convenient ways to explore our abundant wilderness, when the vehicle was no longer on a back road.

ChainSawCover Exhibit 2: Broken and repaired, the cover to a chain saw.

Testimony to one of the oldest activities in these mountains: Logging.

This heritage is more than a century old, beginning with the tie hacks, the Scandinavian immigrants who came here to bring down and hew the huge pine trees into ties for the new railroads.

I still see logging trucks lumbering down the highway, every day, bringing out more timber from the same forest.RecycleThis

Exhibit 3: So funny! Whoever lost (or let go) this broken box clearly didn’t get its message.

Exhibit #2 bespoke history; this tells of the future. The box contained a telecommunications cable, evidence of perhaps the most important activity for Dubois’ future: Laying the fiber optic cable that delivers our flawless Internet service.

I’ve blanked out the recipient’s name on the label to protect the possibly innocent. But I read the item description and Googled the distributor to discover the identity of the contents.

VentCampingExhibit 4: Whoever lost track of the rope at left probably didn’t need those instructions.

Was it left behind on the way to a camping trip or a hunting trip? Either way, it’s totally typical of activities around here.

Exhibit 5 (at right): Some kind of vent. Can you guess what it’s from?

My theory is it fell off someone’s home-made recreational vehicle, or at least a very old one.

RVs are a major presence on our highway, and many of them stop here. Besides the pleasant RV campgrounds along the river in and near our town, many of the motels have parking lots large enough to accommodate the big rigs. Many other campers just pass through on their way to or from Yellowstone. (Their loss.)

WindRiver101715Exhibit 5: I’m delighted to report that as I crossed the bridge I noticed the Wind River beautifully clear and free of trash.

It does go the color of a nonfat latte after a major rainstorm, dirtied with Mother Nature’s refuse, not with ours. Within a day, it’s usually running clear and blue again.

I once met someone who wouldn’t let her dog go into the river. She was concerned about “all the pollution” upstream. You run into all kinds among the people passing through. (Maybe she hadn’t actually traveled in that direction yet.)

golfball Exhibit 6: Quite a surprise.

What’s a golf ball doing out here, miles from the Antelope Hills Golf Course on the west side of town?

I’m not a golfer myself, but many of the townspeople are.

The golf course holds tournaments every month during the summer.

fishingbootExhibit 7: My last discovery on this expedition. Like the first, this clearly could not have been thrown away. Fishing boots belong in pairs.

So many of my neighbors are here precisely because of the great fly-fishing on this beautiful river and its tributaries. I don’t enjoy the sport, myself, but it does affect me: All too often one of my hiking buddies begs off to go fishing.

I didn’t pick up this castoff or any of the other trash I found this morning. I was on a bicycle, after all.

What’s more, just as I took the picture of the boot I was distracted by the sudden din coming from the other side of the buck-and-rail fence: Bellowing, roaring, whistling, shouting. It may have nothing to do with my topic of trash, but I can’t resist including this other occupation common to Dubois. Some of us do round up cattle now and again.Cowboys101715_1The bellows and roars came from the creatures visible as a black mass at left here. The whistles and shouts came from the cattle-management experts indicated by the two arrows. I couldn’t get close enough to take a better picture until the cattle were already in the corral.Cowboys101715_2

I’m not calling them “cowboys”  because I noticed that two were wearing hot pink sweatshirts and one had very long black braid. (Political correctness alert: Maybe these days some Wyoming cowboys are wearing hot pink sweatshirts and long black braids. But somehow I doubt it.)

Notice the dog in the circle at right, who is also an expert and evidently an important factor in the roundup.

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© Lois Wingerson 2015

Wyoming Wool Works. Wow! (Who Knew?)

I never even noticed this charming shop which would fare well on the streets of trendy Brooklyn. Why is it so invisible in Dubois?

wyowool10How could I have lived in Dubois for 8 years without even knowing about Wyoming Wool Works? Because it was in hiding.

A neighbor new to town diverted me into this charming shop on the way back from a hike in the badlands. I probably never would have gone in there otherwise, because I don’t knit or crochet.

Besides, it’s in a nondescript location: the block-like old Masonic Temple building, out beyond the main intersection on the way toward the town dump.

I stop all the time at the Opportunity Shop right next door, but I’ve never noticed Wyoming Wool Works. It has no display windows, and not even a real sign. The only clue that it is inside is a small text-only black and white placard on the stair rail.

We had to turn a corner into an office-like corridor to reach the shop door. And then: Oh, my goodness. I caught my breath.

wyowool2Wyoming Wool Works is no mere purveyor of yarns and crochet hooks (although you can buy those, including one made from a ram’s horn).

You can also buy hand-knitted woolen hats, sweaters, and jackets. Hand-painted aprons. Crocheted rugs. Delightful huge baskets made from large strips of felt. There are also a few antiques.

The proprietor’s excellent taste is unmistakeable. Given more visibility, this shop would stand up well on Madison Avenue or on the trendier streets of Brooklyn where I still spend a little time.

It’s a very high-end little treasure chest, curiously hidden from view.

“I get how to run a shop,” said Anita Thatcher, when I got up the nerve after a few days to ask why she keeps such a low profile. What I heard was a love story with some plot elements that are fairly familiar.

Anita started out in New York City. Sometime in the late 1980s (like me) she booked a vacation near Dubois, at what we now politely call a “guest ranch.”

During her visit, the cook quit, was fired, or fell ill — I don’t recall the details. Anita offered to help with the cooking. This is somewhat outré for a guest at what we called a dude ranch back then. But her offer was accepted. She returned the next summer, as the cook.

wyowool6Like me, she fell in love with the area.

Unlike me — but like many other wives I know here — she also fell in love with a cowboy. They bought a ranch in nearby Crowheart, where a neighbor woman, also from New York City, was raising sheep.

Thus began Anita’s love of all things wool (third chapter in this love story). Eventually she and two friends opened a yarn shop in Dubois. But her culinary skills were still in demand locally, and for several decades she has been catering events for hosts of distinction in Dubois.

wyowool1“My husband once asked me if I ever tried to relax,” she said. “I told him I don’t know how.”

Anita’s husband died a while ago. He went the way many cowboys go, she told me, taking too many knocks. She relocated from the Crowheart ranch to Lander and then to Dubois, where she opened Wyoming Wool Works in its current out-of-the-way location, serving a small clientele of local and mail-order customers and offering knitting and weaving classes.

Opening the shop only a few days a week, she admitted, has been one way of intentionally keeping it nearly invisible. A woman only has so much energy, after all. Anita still caters the weekly Kiwanis Club breakfast. She will always do catering for some longstanding clients, she told me, but “it’s time for me to stop carrying food all over the county.”

I’m watching now for the fourth chapter in this love story. At an age when Anita needs to slow down, and when many other women are playing golf or enjoying travel, it may be that she has decided to bring Wyoming Wool Works out of the shadows.

wyowool5“I thought for a while about only operating through the website,” she said. “But then I asked myself, what are you really doing here?”

For the love of Dubois! I do hope she devotes the same creative energies to the future of her delightful shop that she has lavished on her husband and her catering business.

wyowool8She told me with some delight about a recent phone call. A woman from Jackson wanted to bring a group of friends over here to go Christmas shopping. Would Anita open the shop for them?

“Would I?” she said with a chuckle. “I’d even serve scones and tea!”

What a day trip! Escape the crowds. Take a great hike in the morning, have lunch at the Nostalgia Bistro or the Cowboy Cafe. Then stop by that great little yarn shop to see what you can’t resist.

Shopping therapy is a time-honored restorative. In this location that offers respite to so many, I think Anita Thatcher is morally obligated not to keep denying her therapeutic skills to all those people who turn that corner in the middle of town, entirely unaware of what is only a block away.

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

Two Beautiful Days in September: 9/11/01 and 9/28/15

Like 9/11 in Brooklyn, this was a beautiful day one moment and in the next, devastation. How was it different in Dubois?

Both days began the same, wonderfully–a flawless blue sky and the kind of mildly warm weather that make you wistful at the loss of summer. One moment, it was a bittersweet and beautiful day. In the next, I saw devastation.

National_Park_Service_9-11_Statue_of_Liberty_and_WTC CrookedCreek1Both times the sign was a column of smoke.

On that first September day, 14 years ago, I turned a corner in Manhattan and watched, dreamlike, as the huge cloud of smoke surged up into that blue sky. I couldn’t take my eyes off it, but I also couldn’t watch too long.

Last Monday, I was on the phone at my desk. I turned toward the window. This cloud of smoke didn’t so much surge as billow upwards. After a summer of fire catastrophes in the West, forest fire had come home to me–or nearly so.

Much as I loathe using the Nazi Holocaust as a literary gimmick to generate pathos, I resist comparing these two fires. Nothing in my life compares to 9/11. However, experiences during one inevitably bring back images and emotions from the other.

First, the smell. In both cases, our house was downwind only a few miles from the fire. The days and months after 9/11 were redolent with the inescapable odor of burning plastic and something else, unidentifiable and acrid. As Ground Zero smoldered, seemingly forever, we could not get away for a moment from that reminder of tragedy, and the knowledge that life had changed incalculably.

BeetleKillThe smell of this week’s Crooked Creek fire was, of course, burning wood. Even as I was hosing off our shingle roof to deter sparks from the fire that could in theory destroy our log house, I was smelling memories of campfires, of sitting around the firepit on our own deck with a glass of wine.

This was threatening to be sure, and a call to urgent action by me and–far more important–a small and well-organized battalion of brave firefighters. But it was also, most of us assumed, merely the result of one human’s careless action combined with the results of misguided forest-management policy. Nature, benign and dispassionate, combined with mere human stupidity. Not colossal malevolence.

Next, the airplanes. All that night, September 11, I could not sleep for the sound of airplanes clattering over the house. I knew these were military aircraft, that all other flights over the area had been banned. Still, I found the sound deeply frightening. Even now, when I see a commercial jetliner soaring high over Prospect Park in Brooklyn, I remember how that looked to me in the months after that event.

CrookedCreek3Two days ago, my annual autumn hike up the tall ridge beside our valley was unusual for the constant sound of aircraft nearby. The noise went on all week, small planes and helicopters doing reconnaissance, dropping off fire jumpers, lobbing “bombs” of fire retardant slurry over the fire that puffed and fumed two ridges away, off to the southwest. I could easily see them, flying low and circling back, over and over. The sound of planes was reassuring, wonderful.

And above all, the nature of the fear. Fourteen years ago I lived through days and months of gradually waning terror. I’ll never forget the sight and sound of deserted Manhattan that evening, as if someone had dropped a neutron bomb and only the (rest of the) buildings survived. All of the people had gone underground, or at least home. There was almost nobody on the streets. Midtown Manhattan, the city that never sleeps, was literally silent.

We didn’t see the cleanup crews. Who would enter that area voluntarily, even if we could? In a sense, in the following weeks, we also didn’t see each other. Yes, the city pulled together as it always does in crisis. On the other hand, back then you wondered who the other person really was.

CrookedCreek4This week, the first responders were, of course, our own highly prized volunteer firefighters. We know who they are. They’re friends. And look at this: The teams that came in later put up pup tents in our town park and ate their meals in the same Headwaters Center where we have our own community events, all the time.

They didn’t camp in the ball field, so as not to interfere with practice. The cost unit leader for the incident management team actually lives in town. I see her at church. The public information officer for the team comes from Melrose, Colorado, but he has come here to fish.

The team had nearly vanquished the Crooked Creek fire when I took this picture in the park, and a few days of rain have certainly doused it for good. It’s all over, I’m sure.

That’s the real difference between those two different events on two beautiful September days. This one is certainly over, thank heaven. I wonder if that other one will ever be.


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: The Midtown Mountain Overlook

It certainly says something about the hiking trails around Dubois that I could begin to find the views from the town overlook boring.

Overlook4 It certainly says something about the hiking opportunities in and around Dubois: By now,  the scenic overlook in the middle of town seems a bit of a bore to me, because I’ve traipsed so much of it so often.

But heavens, what you can see here!

You can drive to the top, or take the rather steep trail up from the parking lots halfway up, as you see in this picture.

The huge two-level butte is literally in the middle of town. It looms over the main section of Dubois, ascended by a steep dirt road that you reach by taking a right turn from the highway, just as you begin to head west out of town.

Overlook1Here’s what you see from the top, looking east. (That’s the top of the foot trail at the lower left.) You may want to stop a moment and sit on the log guard rail to catch your breath. There are informational signs about what you’re looking at.

You can see much of the town off to your right (not visible here), or the eastern edge of town in front of you (visible in the center of this photo).

But what really pops are the mountains all around you. This is one of the few places on earth where you can see all three mountain-building processes from one location, according to geologists at the Miami University of Ohio field station near Dubois. In the photo above, at right, you can see part of the range above Whiskey Basin, rises from a wonderful valley filled with lakes dug out by a glacier. There’s a splendid hike to a glacial lake isolated at the top.

The Absaroka mountains are volcanic (dumped by the massive Yellowstone eruption about 640,000 years ago), are easily visible from the western edge of the Overlook (not shown)Overlook7.

Here, in the third photo, you see in the distance the Owl Creek Mountains to the north and east, which are tectonic (the result of subsurface plates sliding over each other).

Behind you, looking to the south from the Overlook, you would see the long hump of the Wind River Range, which is sedimentary, rising behind the town. These mountains have  eroded over the ages from a time when this area was, incredibly, ocean floor.

I’m told you can still find marine fossils over there. Haven’t had time to investigate.

Overlook6From many vantage points on the Overlook, your closer view takes in these fabulous badlands. I’m always tempted to go sliding down one of these draws. (It’s difficult to envision a steady stroll down.)

Once in a while, if it’s hot, I’ll venture down a few yards to let the dog have a rest in the shade of a sagebrush plant. I never tire of seeing these magical formations.

Overlook2Last year Dubois Area Rails & Trails added a bike route up here. It was startling to see many new avenues where I used to blaze my own way. Haven’t seen many bikers up there yet, but I did see plenty of bike tracks as I walked the trail.

It’s intriguing to inspect the rocks dropped along the Overlook3trail over the millennia. Did this one sit at the bottom of an ancient ocean, or did a glacier drop it? I have no idea. Like so many other stones on so many paths in the Wind River Valley, it’s intriguing in its own right, however it got here. (Kinda like most of my neighbors, come to think of it.)

Overlook5One thing I’ve never observed here is quadrupeds, other than my faithful canine companion and other dogs brought up here for the chance to sniff around.

But evidently other mammals are here sometimes when we’re not.

The other exception, occasionally, is horses (as you can tell from the roadside sign below). The race course is on the second level, appropriately rustic and informal. The shack sells beer and hot dogs.

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

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.

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.


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:


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