"For as long as men and ships have sailed the waters of the earth, seagoing bottles have...charted unknown seas, solved mysteries, and revealed crimes. They have delivered messages for spies, brought criminals to justice, patched up quarrels between lovers, and brought romance to people thousands of miles apart. They have spread the Gospel, brought comfort to the troubled, tracked schools of fish, and predicted the course of oil spills. They have carried wills, caused lawsuits, and promised enormous fortunes. By tracking drifting mines powerful enough to blow a ship out of the water, they have saved countless lives....
"Whether they delliver a note from a scientist seeking knowledge of the restless sea's movements or a desperate appeal from a doomed mariner, seagoing bottles will continue to travel the world's broad oceans. And one might just turn up on anybody's beach." --The Twelve Million Dollar Note and Other Strange But True Sea Stories by Robert Kraske.
Who doesn't love the idea of wandering a long a quiet beach washed by a steady surf and looking down to see a bottle half-buried in sand, or resting in a pile of rocks, or stuck in the roots of a drifting log, and then notice a piece of paper rolled up inside?
Nicholas Sparks based his novel Message in a Bottle on this premise, and there have been many more stories and books, fiction and non-fiction based on this adventurous and romantic mode of communication.
My personal favorite story inspired by the "message in a bottle" idea, was one I read when I was a teenager written by famous western writer Louis L'Amour. Instead of putting messages in bottles and sending them out on the sea, a lone woman in a rough prairie cabin with two children, yearning for adult companionship, wrote messages and tied them to tumbleweeds that carried her messages over the plains. A lonely cowboy read them and collected them, re-reading them by campfire light and fell in love with the unknown sender.
The book, Conagher, was later made into a movie starring Sam Elliot. it was a favorite movie of my mom's.
When I read Conagher I had a better understanding of my mom's sense of loneliness when I was a kid as she lived remote from all other adults, only seeing my dad once a week, weather permitting. The only humans she had to communicate with were her five children.
I remember that she used to go and sit on the rocks next to the tumbling creek and write in a journal, messages of her thoughts and feelings that she couldn't share with anyone else. She never sent them out on the sea to be carried by winds and currents.
I always wondered if you'd feel lonelier sending them out there and never hearing anything back, or if you'd feel more isolated if you kept all your messages to yourself where no one else could read them?
In the Nineties, my brother Robin was on a hunting trip that took him to one of the larger islands across the wide stretch of bay from us. While he was striding along the shore he noticed light reflecting off glass.
Since we all collect glass balls from Japanese driftnets, he stopped to take a closer look.
He found a clear glass bottle with a piece of paper inside it.
Considering the number of boating accidents that occur in Alaska every year, it could have been sent by a boater on a sinking boat, or stranded on a beach. We've known friends and relatives who have been in this situation. It could have been written by a lonely woman living alone with her five kids in the remains of an abandoned and burned down cannery. It could have been the will of a wealthy person who wanted to let where her fortune went after death be dictated by chance winds and currents.
As it turned out, it was indeed from a woman. However, she was tracking currents in Southeast Alaska and asked to be informed where the bottle came ashore. She'd sent it from Ketchikan, over forty miles to the south of where Robin found it. He wrote to her, but never heard back.
But he lives in Ketchikan now, and who knows?
One day he might bump into her and tell the story of finding a bottle with a message in it on a remote, uninhabited island....
Tara Neilson (ADOW)