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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:

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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.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE 3RD AND FINAL PART OF THIS STORY.

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