Saint James Episcopal Church
203 E. Glendale St.
P.O. Box 1374
Dillon, MT 59725
THE MONTANA JOURNAL No. 46
December 2, 2019
A VERY CLOSE CALL
IF HEAVY SNOW, HIGH WINDS, BLACK ICE, AND ROAD CLOSINGS were all we had to face on our great adventure to Colorado and back, we would have been fine. We were patient, careful, and willing to take our time—including spending an extra day in Rocky Springs, Wyoming on the way south, and another extra day in Billings, Montana on the way home.
Leigh and I admit that we are still rookies at snow-driving, and we aren’t trying to prove otherwise. I studied the weather forecasts in the days leading up to our trip. We talked about alternative routes and learned about “511,” a real-time information service for drivers on the road. We took my vehicle because it has four-wheel-drive. The fact that it was so nimble and handled well, responded quickly to the touch, and accelerated quickly is almost certainly what saved our lives
We left Longmont on Friday morning, excited about the best Thanksgiving experience of our lives, and eager to get home to Montana. We decided to stay on interstates all the way, so that meant taking I-25 North to Fort Collins and up to Cheyenne, Wyoming. We made good time despite high winds and snow blowing across the road. We stopped in Casper for a late lunch and coffee, and then entered a long stretch of I-90 north of Sheridan that was in very poor shape. I couldn’t imagine what could justify the neglect and the dangerous conditions we had stumbled into. There was an accident just ahead on the road, stopping the few cars for a long time. Wyoming state troopers turned us around and put us on a county road for about 14 miles until it connected to I-90 again. That’s when we realized we had entered Montana and we were on the Crow Reservation. The I-90 at this point was hardly an improvement on the county road—no shoulders, steep hills, more ice and snow, high winds. It was the middle of nowhere, and I had to wonder if the federal government had turned its back again on Native Americans. It sure looked that way.
We turned into a curve and climbed a hill, going about 50 mph. There sideways across both lanes, was an unhooked 18-wheel trailer blocking an overpass! And there was absolutely nowhere for us to go. The highway was slick with ice.
In that moment, you don’t really have time to think about alternatives. I’m sure there was some instant, mostly in darkness, in which I saw no hope in going forward and no way to go around. The truck cab was somewhere nearby, but I didn’t see it. I knew we couldn’t hit the bridge abuttment and survive. So I pulled to the right, off into the darkness, down the hill, hoping there would be no trees, no water, no rocks. I didn’t have time to imagine fence, barbed wire, a fifty-foot drop-off, a grizzly bear. We bumped and bounced and miraculously came to a stop about a hundred and fifty feet away in a dense thicket.
Leigh and I looked at each other with surprise, relief, joy, amazement—and we cried and laughed and hugged each other for several minutes until a sheriff knocked on my window like we were teenagers kissing in a parking lot. We were unhurt! We were alive and well. Nothing else seemed to matter at that moment. And yes, we thanked God for saving us.
Leigh immediately climbed the hill and went to see if the truck driver was okay. Then she got everybody’s name and phone number, their insurance information, and company name.
Surprisingly, I was able to drive my vehicle out of the brush and up the embankment to the road. We will find out later how much damage was done, but it is still driveable for now.
And in the meantime, I’m going to be reluctant to drive in snowstorms, blizzards, and high winds. And I hope you will too!
Peace and blessings, Wells+
THE MONTANA JOURNAL
No. 45 – Thanksgiving Day – November 28, 2019
A VERY HAPPY THANKSGIVING!
WE WILL LONG REMEMBER THANKSGIVING 2019 as one of the best we have celebrated in the forty-two years of our marriage. Leigh and I left Dillon on Monday, bound for Rock Springs, Wyoming, a mere 630 miles southwest of Southwest Montana. We decided on the scenic route back through Teton Pass and Jackson Hole and really enjoyed the day and the open road ahead. We arrived in Rock Springs, ate a great Mexican dinner, and spent the night at a Hampton Inn. By morning, we were snowed in with news of road closures all the way to Denver, so we planned to spend a second night in Rock Springs. At supper, we learned on the 511 that I-80 was open, so we checked out and hit the highway. It was not easy by any means, but a second wave of the “Sea of Snow” was headed our way and we arrived at Leigh’s sister’s home in Longmont the early morning safe and sound. Adair is an AP English teacher at Boulder High School and a terrific mom and person. Her son Henry is ten years old, an athlete in baseball (his dad is the baseball coach at Boulder High) as well as wrestling and ice hockey. I baptized Henry at St. Dunstan’s when he was eight days old. (Some of my all-time best work ever.) Adair and Henry went to Auburn recently and visited our children and grandchildren—Jenny and Matthew, with John Wells, James, and Stella; and Margaret and Matt came from Birmingham. I’m happy and grateful that they all love each other and get along so well. For Henry’s part, he is overjoyed to have so many cousins! He was soon to discover two more …
On Wednesday morning, a visit that Leigh has been hoping and praying for years was about to happen. When she was seventeen, very much alone in the world and without any resources, Leigh gave birth to a son in Denver. Faced with those impossible choices—abortion, or raising a child on her own, or making what was for her the loving decision to place him in the adoption process—Leigh has lived with that still impossible choice all these years. So yesterday, her son and his family came to see us.
You wonder how such moments in life are going to go. You play them over and over in your mind. In Leigh’s case, she received a phone call one day from Dr. Sean McCartney. He was polite, tentative, eager to talk with her. Dr. McCartney explained that he had completed the “23andMe” profile, just as Leigh and I had done, and he had discovered that she was his biological mother! Of course, it was unmistakeable, miraculous—but it came to be much more than that.
But first I want to say more about Sean and his family. For months, Leigh and Jenny and Margaret have been talking, texting, and emailing with Sean. But that is a lot different from our meeting yesterday. Sean is in his forties, a veterinarian who works for the USDA. His wife Lisa is a biologist. They have two children, Annabelle and Sully. They are wonderful, beautiful, gentle people. Henry and Sully hit it off immediately. But then so did all of us! They live in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Annabelle is a reader, an intellectual, a dog whisperer. Sully is a gentle soul, a lover of humankind. They are both tall and slender, polite and interesting children. Lisa, their mother, shoulders most of the parenting responsibilities because their father travels.
But she does so with grace. And best of all, she is a “truth-teller,” like our daughter Jenny. Years ago, Jenny said, “Somebody has to tell them the truth, Mom, and it might as well be me.” Sean reminds me of Leigh’s grown-up Killian cousins. He shares their physical looks, but he also has their mannerisms and ways of walking, talking, smiling, laughing.
Most of all, this Thanksgiving Day 2019 has brought a reconciliation and a wholeness that my wife has not known before. She has carried guilt and sorrow deep within her. She has thought herself unworthy and undeserving—when in fact she is most worthy and deserving. And now, in being reunited with her son after all these years, Leigh feels restored, forgiven, and made whole.
God is very gracious, and we are blessed beyond all measure.