At home on the range

By Ann Fontaine

Sundays, I often drive 125 miles or more to church crossing the trails of the great migrations of peoples searching for a better life. In Wyoming towns are distant from one another and mostly small. Churches with over 100 members are considered large. Many counties are larger in area than the state of Massachusetts.

I grew up in a city and love cities but now I live in a town of 6,000 people. This is considered a medium-sized community. One church I serve has 4-7 average attendance. The town is called Eden and the church is Oregon Trail Memorial Church. It is located in an irrigated area of the high plateau of the continental divide. The economy was mainly ranching and hay crops but now it is on the edge of the development of vast gas and oil fields. Newcomers are arriving to work on the rigs and in construction. Long time residents know that this is the usual boom and bust cycle of Wyoming so there is hesitation to involve oneself in the life of the newcomers who will soon move on to new jobs.

There is a sense that what others do is their business. Although watching and discussing “neighbor TV” is the favorite sport, there is quite a bit of space for living as one wishes as long as you don’t tell others how to live their lives. However, when a great need arises all this independence and isolation vanishes.

Recently in Basin, Wyoming, tragedy struck. First there was a terrible car wreck. The mother was killed and the daughter gravely injured. A few months later, their uninsured family home burned to the ground. There were no injuries but everything was lost. St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church and other members of the community responded to help this family. The Diocese of Wyoming sent out a plea for assistance for the family to all the churches in the state.

The first letter was sent to the members of St. Andrew’s and then forwarded on to the Diocesan listserv:

Please send the prayer chain forward, The Durneys’ house burned down today, I don’t know how much is left, everyone is okay. Please keep them in you prayers and wishes. Everything is probably gone, anyone willing to help out please do. Clothes are going to be needed for everyone and more importantly just give them your love and prayers. They need it. Thank you and God Bless you.

We know people are wanting to know how they can help the Durney Family:

Their home was completely destroyed as was the motor home beside it. The garage is ok.

No one was hurt, but those at home were checked out and were in shock. There were 4 at home — Carrie and her little 4-yr. old, Stephen and Matt. Shannon and Alethia were in Powell.

Richard and Beka are in Virginia.

The only clothes and shoes are what they had on

Someone had found them a place to stay for now.

This is the family who lost their mother, Anne, in a car wreck recently – daughter Beka was injured. Now this.

In the letter were ways people could help and where to contribute to a fund for monetary gifts.

As reported in the Casper Star Tribune:

POWELL — Every family faces trials, but the Durney family seems to have gotten more than its share this year. On Jan. 19, the mother, Anne, was killed in an automobile accident that left one of the daughters, Rebekah, 18, suffering from severe injuries.

With Rebekah still trying to recover, the family home — on rural property about seven to 10 miles west of Basin — was destroyed in a fire on Friday. … Anne and her husband, Richard, had several children ranging in age from the late teens to just under 30 — and at least four of them were living or staying in the home at the time of the fire. Nobody was hurt in the blaze. And two of the Durneys’ sons also escaped serious injury in a recent rollover auto accident they were involved in, Alberts said. “You want to talk about bad luck, they’ve had so much of it this year,” he said.

One positive side to the story is the response of the community to the Durneys’ needs.

This is the story of one family and tragedy and community response but it is repeated over and over in Wyoming. It is still a place where people will stop and help change your flat tire as well as respond to major events in the lives of friends and strangers.

There are disadvantages to small town life and small churches. Sushi is rarely available and often our organist is a small box called a digital hymnal. People can be mean and terrible just like everywhere. Shopping is not something that can be done on a whim – malls are few and far between. Winter can happen any month of the year. But then something will happen that calls out the best in us, and I know I have a home on the range.

Driving to Rock Springs on a Sunday morning

morning sun

rising above the rim

of hills

catching the red

of a sweater worn by a woman

walking out to feed her horse.

Dry Lake sparkling with water

and bright white of pelicans

antelope racing through the sagebrush

and deer risking death

leaping across the road

bald eagle

surrounded by ravens

feasting on the night’s road kill.

briefly rising from their meal

disturbed by my passing car.

the new road

passing the old iron mine

leaping up to the horizon

leading to South Pass and the Continental Divide.

crossing paths with my twelve year old great grandmother and her family

on the Oregon trail

on their way to better days.

driving on to Farson

where travelers could buy huge ice cream cones

but no longer

the old stone building stands desolate

turning towards Eden I pass the church

where soon 2 or 3 will gather

around dry wafers

and make it bread of life

but for now I race past on my way to Rock Springs

where we sing out bravely

a cappella

our organists

traveling on a different journey this morning

The Rev. Ann Fontaine, Diocese of Wyoming, keeps the blogs Green Lent and what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

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