Litter

There’s something beautiful but unsettling about cloudy days in the Caribbean. You expect every day on every Caribbean island to look more or less like a Corona commercial: blue skies, turquoise water, blinding white sand. When it’s not like that, something just feels…off. And so it was that I set out on a gray, cloudy beach hike May 26th, 2011 feeling all gray and cloudy myself.

Somehow, that mood transferred to my beachcombing and it affected what I saw. I kept zooming in on stuff like this:

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The beach was littered with body parts. Arms, legs, heads. There was enough to build a Frankenstein monster–and heck, there was even a motorcycle helmet to protect its creepy head. Thinking of this today brings to mind the plastic monsters called Autons encountered by the Ninth Doctor in the Doctor Who series. You know, the first episode of the 2005 revival?

Well, anyway. It was an oddly dismal day, and this gruesome litter made for sad decor.

On I walked, thinking about plastic trash and my place in the world. Standard stuff for beachcombing these days. Where did all this stuff come from? Where did I come from? Where does this stuff belong? Where do I belong? You know–meditating.

Normally when I stumble upon a message in a bottle, there’s this bodily shock–like actually getting a slight electric jolt. But this one…well…it didn’t induce that state of panic and exhilaration. This one lay there like a corpse–and indeed it looked dead. The metal cap was battered to hell, and the paper inside was all…manky. Mangy. Grungy? It was just all stuck to the glass and plastered to itself in a hopeless-looking mess. There was a ball inside, rolling around. Was it some kind of nut? Did someone put a nut in this bottle, I wondered? Great. I found a nut in a bottle.

To give you an idea of how uninspiring the bottle was: I always, always photograph every potential message in a bottle right as I find it, on the beach. But…not this one. I did take this photo later:

Kelvin Euridge Message 2

If you zoom in, you can get a sense of this message’s disastrous state:

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There’s the “nut” on the right. On the left–see that whitish smear running up the side of the bottle just below my thumb? That’s half of the message. The other half is that grayish smudge on the bottom of the glass, below and left of the “nut”.

As I held the bottle up, I could see just a bit of terribly faded writing on the paper that was glued to the glass. Let’s see… there’s an “L” and two “T”s… Did it say “Little”?

And then it dawned on me. The word–the only word visible in this sloppy mess of a message–was the word “LITTER” all in caps, just like that. Ha.

I thought about the body parts strewn along the beach, the motorcycle helmet, the endless piles of plastic bottles, crates, nets, ropes, fishing line, toothbrushes, shoes, etc.

“Yep,” I thought. “‘Litter’ pretty much sums it up.”

But, because I am obsessive about message in bottles, and because I thrill to the challenge of these jacked up ones, I decided to bring this bottle, this “litter,” home with me. I stuffed the old Gordon’s Dry Gin bottle into my pack, turned around, and headed home, loping past various amputated plastic limbs and parts, keeping my eyes on the path ahead.

1983

Meet Kelvin and Sammie Euridge–father and daughter.

Sammie and Kelvin Overlooking Grand Valetta Harbour 1983 Close Up

Ah, wait. They’re kind of far away in that photo… let’s see… Oh! Here we go:

Kelvin and Sammie on Caribbean Universal 1983

It’s September 1983. Ronald Reagan is in the White House. Margaret Thatcher is prime minister. Sally Ride becomes the first American woman in space. Fraggle Rock airs on HBO. Michael Jordan is still in college.

A 6,000 tonne refrigerated cargo ship has just departed Savannah, Georgia, bound for Somalia, carrying a bit more precious cargo than the ship’s records reflect. The ship is white, black, and red–nothing special, just another cargo ship. But, as for what’s on board…

Caribbean Universal Docked Valetta Grand Harbour 13 November 1983

Kelvin works for the company who owns this vessel–he is Chief Engineering Officer–and the company allows Sammie to travel with him.

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By day, they work and play respectively, visit the bridge, go swimming, and more.

Sammie and Kelvin Swimming in Bitter Lakes : Suez

Sammie and Kelvin Swimming in the Bitter Lakes, Part of the Suez Canal, 1983.

By night, they have another tradition–sending messages in bottles together. Of course, Sammie is too small to reach over the side of the ship herself, so Kelvin holds her up, and she throws the bottle. This tradition takes place at night so they can watch each bottle glitter red or green in the ship’s running lights as it falls to the sea. Every time, Kelvin asks Sammie, “Red or green?” If she wants the bottle to turn red, they go to the port (left) side of the ship; if green, they head to the starboard (right) side of the ship.

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One night, when the ship has chugged far enough away from Savannah that it is cruising in the Gulf Stream–that highway of the North Atlantic–they decide to throw two messages in bottles. Maybe Sammie wants to see bottles turn both colors this night. Maybe Kelvin and friends have emptied a few extra bottles… Hard to say. But, in any case, the bottles go overboard to disappear in the dark ocean waves, and the ship keeps chugging along.

Along the way, memories are made that Kelvin will never forget, and in Sammie, something–some desire to see the world, to explore every corner of the earth and sea–germinates and begins to grow. By age 3, Sammie swims in each of the world’s great oceans, and completes a trans-Atlantic crossing by ship. The world is her playground.

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***

When the ship reaches its destination, Kelvin and Sammie keep right on exploring.

Sammie Euridge on the Equater 1983

Sammie at the Equator in Somalia, 1983.

That’s because they are a very inquisitive team. Just look at Sammie, investigating the shallow seas. Jacqueline Cousteau.

Sammie Euridge at Chismayo : Kismayo Port 1983

Sammie at the Port of Chismayo (Kismayo), 1983.

Even at this moment, as Sammie peeks into the underworld of the ankle-deep sea, the bottles she threw overboard with her dad outside Savannah, Georgia, have been floating in the merciless, harsh ocean for months. Does she remember them? Does she think of them as she goes poking around in tidal pools?

How could something so fragile ever survive on earth as we know it?

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***

Kelvin and Sammie reach home after their journey. However, the bottles they sent off the coast of Georgia remain drifting, floating toward an uncertain future, carrying their own precious cargo.

And here, we zoom out from the bottles. At first, you see them up close, wet and glistening in the sunny sea as waves quietly lap over them. As the camera pulls back, we float straight up from the bottles and watch as they shrink to smaller and smaller dots below us–a shiny spot, now just a white fleck glinting on that deep blue water, and now gone. These invisibly small vessels are forgotten and left to ride the ocean’s currents unseen, anonymous, lost to time and the whims of the sea.

9 Awesome Messages in Bottles Found in 2015

I was totally blown away by how many cool stories there were this year about real messages in bottles. It’s downright inspiring!

Here are some of the coolest stories I came across this year, in no particular order. In 2016, I hope to carry with me the spirit of camaraderie and friendship, hope, healing, peace, and love embodied by these messages and the people (and pups!) who sent and found them.

#1: A Friendship Reignited by a Message in a Bottle

In this story, a group of old friends who hadn’t seen each other much lately finds their friendship revived by the arrival in the mail of a message in a bottle they’d sent together in 1999. It was found in the Philippines and returned just recently. Sweeeet!

Old Friends Note

Photo: KING 5 News


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Top 5 Stories From the Sea in 2015

The ocean was a busy place this year! Lots of incredible, wonderful, terrible, inspiring, alarming, and just downright fascinating stuff happened in the high seas. Here’s a rundown of what I see as 5 of the biggest sea stories this year, delivered countdown style.

#5: The Oldest Message in a Bottle…So Far

Winkler 108 Year Old Message in a Bottle

Photo Credit: Marianne Winkler and Winkler Family

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A Tale of Two Clints – Meeting in Marseille

Marseille Shoreline

Marseille’s shoreline glitters under the Mediterranean sun. Legend has it the first messages in bottles were sent in these very waters a couple thousand years ago by a Greek fellow named Theophrastus who hung out with both Plato and Aristotle.
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A Tale of Two Clints

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I am a sucker for the underdog–the unlikely champion, the surprising winner.
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Reunion in Dresden

Dresden… Dresden… Dresden…

Dresden Dresden Dresden Heart

I thought of the city daily for months before my trip to Europe. I was enchanted by the place, and had been since I was a kid.
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