- Associated Press - Saturday, September 23, 2017

IRENE, S.D. (AP) - Little did Sandy Highland know, a year later, her message in a bottle would bring joy to a stranger who had suffered a great loss.

In August 2016, Highland was enjoying a summer evening with her husband, Corey, on the James River, the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan reported .

“We were across the way, at one our favorite fishing spots on the Jim River,” she said, pointing to a spot near their home northwest of Irene.

Corey was fishing, and I was watching him. I was drinking wine and just enjoying the day. I really wanted to share that feeling.”

Looking down at the now-empty wine bottle, she recalled an old movie scene.



“In the movie, someone put a message into a bottle, then tossed the bottle into the water and let it flow downstream until someone found it,” she said.

Highland had never done it before, but she liked the idea and decided to give it a try.

“I found a slip of paper and decided to write something that would make the other person happy,” she said. The message went like this:

8-11-16

Fishing on the James River near Yankton, SD, with my wonderful husband.

Wishing whoever finds this, love & happiness like we have.

Happy fishing.it’s better with wine.

Corey & Sandy Highland, Irene SD

Sandy put the message in the bottle and shut it with the cork. She then gave the bottle a ceremonial heave into the Jim River, launching its journey down the slow, meandering waterway.

Corey admitted he paid more attention to his fishing at the time than his wife’s message in a bottle.

“I’m not much of a romantic,” he said, flashing a grin but noting the couple’s third anniversary was last Wednesday (Sept. 13).

After Sandy launched her message last year, the bottle went out of sight, floating down one of the flattest rivers in the world.

Corey didn’t think the bottle would go far, given the numerous crooks in the shallow river. Sandy hoped she would hear from anyone who found the floating object.

“Time went on, and I kind of forgot about it after a while,” Sandy said.

Then, the bottle and its message resurfaced a year later about 150-200 miles downstream. Sandy was notified by a third party that the bottle had been found in Nebraska.

“A girlfriend told me that I should check Facebook,” Sandy said. “It was all over a page that someone had found the bottle. I hadn’t really thought about it since I tossed the bottle into the river a year ago.”

The recipient, Angie Martin, had found the bottle floating in the Missouri River near Blair, Nebraska. Martin couldn’t be reached by the Press & Dakotan, but she shared her story with the Highlands.

Martin and her family live in Fremont, Nebraska, and were spending the recent Labor Day weekend at the Missouri River. The children were playing in the area while Martin was keeping watch over them and the beach.

Angie saw these white butterflies on the beach, which made her feel better,” Highland said. “Angie had been thinking about her premature baby who passed away. When Angie saw the white butterflies, it made her feel like a sign of life.”

Then, Martin saw a shiny object near the butterflies. She wasn’t sure what the object was, but she eventually retrieved it. As she uncorked the bottle, she found the Highlands’ intact piece of paper.

At one of the lowest times in her life, Martin read the message of unconditional joy and love.

Martin posted her find on Facebook, sharing a photo of the message that came with the bottle. She posted a “shout out” to the Highlands in the following Facebook post:

“Message in a bottle! This bottle swept up on the beach today! Pretty cool came from South Dakota and retrieved in Blair NE a year later! Here’s to you Corey and Sandy Highland Irene SD!”

Corey admitted he never expected the bottle to be found, much less make it down the James River and into the Missouri River.

“I thought it was neat (to hear about the recovery),” he said. “I just thought the bottle would get stuck in the mud when it tried to turn the first corner (in the Jim River). I didn’t think it would get more than 500 yards.”

Thanks to Facebook, Martin contacted the Highlands to express gratitude.

Angie was very excited to get the bottle and message,” Sandy said. “We sent messages on Facebook, and we talked back and forth.”

At one point, Sandy became stunned to learn about the loss of Martin’s premature baby. The news hit really close to home.

“My niece has a child that was born a preemie but is alive and well,” Sandy said. “It was a rough deal Angie is going through. Corey and I each have children, and I can’t imagine going through that (tragedy) with my own family. I can’t imagine losing your child.”

Martin has engaged in her own act of pay it forward, Sandy said.

“I saw a picture (on Facebook) where Angie and her husband threw the bottle back in the Missouri with a new message,” Sandy said. “Who knows where it may end up this time? Maybe somewhere down the Mississippi River?”

Actually, Sandy felt rewarded to learn that her message made a difference in another person’s life.

“I was glad that Angie found it, and she felt better after reading the message,” Sandy said. “It was fun and romantic to hear she found the bottle floating down the river. It more than topped off my weekend.”

For Sandy, the toss was so nice she did it twice.

“I was inspired hearing from Angie, so I decided to throw another bottle and message into the river,” she said. “I didn’t wait - I did it the night I heard from her. I wanted to do it one more time to make someone smile.”

Sandy felt it was good to share the story.

“We have so many disasters going on around us. We have mountain fires, hurricanes, floods and drought,” she said.

“With so much bad stuff going on all around us, it’s good to have something like this (message in a bottle). Everything turned out just perfect.”

___

Information from: Yankton Press and Dakotan, https://www.yankton.net/

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