From far away, I couldn’t help wondering …
I have been away. Far, far away, and for a long time.
“Nous habitons une petite ville en Wyoming,” I’d say when people asked, “pres de Yellowstone Park?”
By the time I got to that implicit question mark, I would usually see a spark of recognition in the other person’s eyes. But even to me, after a few weeks, the place I was describing began to seem unreal and other-worldly. Which, from that distance, it actually is.
Passing through so many different places, all of them fascinating and enticing, I would ask myself: So what’s so special about Dubois? When we could live almost anywhere, why did we choose there?
One of the reasons came visibly to mind as the home-bound plane approached Jackson: The boundless sky, the bright sunshine, the wonderful sunrises and star-scapes.
Behind me now were the predictably endless gray, gloomy days from fall through spring, which don’t actually deliver precipitation but instead a sort of long-lasting mild depression. I am familiar with this; we lived over there twice. I swore I never wanted to live in Europe again, for that very reason.
In Dubois, I knew, the weather presents an honest challenge. You recognize it when it’s coming, and you may have to deal with it–like now, when the forecast bodes a full week of snow. But then it’s over and the huge blue sky returns. You can often glimpse it beyond the cloud cover.
The weather, however mood-altering, is ultimately trivial. What was it that I found so compelling about Dubois, compared to all the remarkably different places I had seen (and lived)? So long away, I had begun to wonder.
It took a journey through the stack of weekly newspapers that had accumulated ito remind me, as I endured the fog of jet lag. Mercifully perhaps, there wasn’t much local news. But there were profiles.
The school has a new principal, a Wyoming native, who said he has dreamed of holding that job in Dubois ever since he passed through as a child, on a school trip to Yellowstone. After living and working in Korea and Missouri, he finally made it here–joining so many others who have seen Dubois and been tugged back as if by a magnet.
But why? I don’t believe the article even mentioned the magnificent mountains or wonderful wildlife that we enjoy. “The people here, they are good people,” Tad Romsa told the Frontier. “Dubois is a special place.”
He said he loves the “family atmosphere” at the Dubois K-12 school, the high teacher-student ratio, and the “positive energy.”
“It seems like the kids want to be at school,” he added.
I recalled a recent conversation in a small hotel in the Basque region of Spain, when an English wine merchant and his wife wondered aloud why we had landed here, of all places. There are things you can say, but it isn’t simple to explain.
Tad Romsa knew the quiet joys of Wyoming from childhood. For Aaron and Nicole Coleman, profiled in the Frontier the following week, that knowledge grew slowly, after a great leap of intuition.
Nicole has an online banking job, but years ago she began selling crafts online in her spare time. Her husband Aaron, who has degrees in linguistics and international studies and spent a long time in the military, has joined her efforts in the company that evolved from this venture, Shotgun Paul, which makes and sells high-quality durable items such as aprons and bags made from canvas and leather.
As their business began to grow online, they sensed a need for a brick-and-mortar storefront. When their daughter arrived in 2016, the Colemans “were ready to leave the coast, crowds, and lifestyle of California for somewhere more family friendly,” says the Frontier.
Their business was mobile, so they were free to take it anywhere. Where they went was Dubois.
Because Aaron has a lifelong friend who lives in Dubois, they had visited often and got to know others here. “These connections, as well as the high quality of the outdoor life in Dubois, convinced them that the pros of a small, remote town far outweighed the cons,” the article says.
Nicole is often present behind the counter at the shop on the main street, stitching away at something. Aaron comes forward to greet new customers. You hope to find that that curly-towheaded Billie is on duty too, charming the clientele.
Walking the dog in the town park a few days after our return, as so often happens I ran into another dog-and-owner pair whom I’ve never met. This was the pup Sadie, followed on her erratic course by Sarah Walker.
Sarah is director of the Friends of the Bridger-Teton, a nonprofit that supports the national forest just over the Pass. She travels a lot, and works online.
Sarah too could actually live anywhere, but she has insisted on Dubois.
She and her husband discovered the town when he was posted here with the Forest Service. When he was transferred away, Sarah says she told him they had to return after two years; non-negotiable. She found her job with the nonprofit, and he is back at another Forest Service post nearby.
Today, says the nonprofit’s website, “they’re lucky enough to enjoy the Bridger-Teton and Shoshone National Forests just out their backdoor every chance they get.” Another important factor was the flawless high-speed Internet in Dubois.
“I couldn’t live without it,” Sarah called back as she chased Sadie on down the riverwalk.
An invisible glue holds Dubois together, despite our challenges and our differences. For many and the same reasons, when most of us could easily live elsewhere we have chosen to be here, and we all know it.
There’s something very precious about that.
© Lois Wingerson, 2019