I have now been hunting messages in bottles for 8 years. That’s almost a third of my life. It’s no wonder this work has become such an important part of my identity.
What amazes me, though, is how it keeps teaching me about people and our planet. I have learned about ocean science, humans, the history of bottle making, and the history of messages in bottles (not to mention other forms of secret/hidden messages and communication); I have learned how to reveal invisible writing–I’ve basically had to become an amateur detective, and it has probably earned me as many real friends as any other pursuit I’ve engaged in. It never gets old!
On this last expedition, a really astonishing thing happened. I found 24 messages in bottles in two weeks. That’s a ridiculous number even to me, and I was TRYING to find them! The sheer amount of time, care, and forensic work that will go into opening, preserving, and investigating these messages boggles my mind. It’s surreal to have such a “backlog” of messages in bottles sitting around—but if I want to respect them and handle them with care, it’s going to take a while (months) to work with these.
Here’s the second message in a bottle I found on this most recent expedition. In this bottle is a business card plus what appears to have been a piece of paper, probably with a message on it.
This is an odd situation: I can read the name and contact info of the sender on the business card, but the other piece of paper is soaked and deteriorated to the point that I’m not sure any information is recoverable. So…do I smash it open or not?
Now, there was a time when I would have been driven mad by desire for the paper inside. No matter how wet and fragile it is (I used to think) I MUST HAVE IT!
But I’ve learned a lot over the years. Today, in my view, breaking a message in a bottle open is the last resort—like surgery. That may sound strange, but if you think about it, breaking the bottle is a severely traumatic experience for the bottle and the message. I have torn messages by breaking the bottle, for example. And even in the best case scenario, the message will be covered in glass shards.
So, I’m choosing to pursue this bottle without breaking it. That means I may never know what was written on the message itself, but the risk is too great, and the reward uncertain.
At the end of the day, what’s important for me is the connection made possible by the message, and in this case, I can explore that connection without breaking the bottle and putting the message at risk. It’s a Rolling Stones kinda thing–I can’t get what I want, but I can get what I need!
This bottle is a great example of a lesson I’ve been a long time in learning: Many times I have destroyed what I cherish out of a desire to hold it closer. Respect is the only antidote to the intoxication of desire.