They went looking for trash. What they found was pure treasure.
Linda and David Humphries were cleaning up Nanny Goat Beach–which obviously has the best beach name ever–in the wake of Hurricane Irma on October 14th, 2017, when David stumbled upon a piece of paper in a bottle.
Linda was kind enough to write to me about this experience, and here’s what she had to say:
“David carefully fished out a note with a child’s handwriting. Though the paper was damp, the first lines were still crisp:
Hello My Name is Miranda Dawn Moss. I am 8 years old. I am in third grade at Foster Park Union, S.C….I came to Edisto Beach for a weekend….
Unfolding the paper revealed a map of Edisto Beach with a handwritten notation of where her family stayed on their visit. The bottle had been tossed from Edisto Beach, South Carolina, not so far away as to be remarkable. My first thought was ‘This little girl will be so excited to find out that her letter was found!’ I decided that writing back would be a fun thing for our teenage daughter, Olivia, to do. Then I saw the date, September 26, 1988! I was floored. This message was from 29 years ago!”
Normally, I would argue that the bottle must have traveled clockwise around the whole Atlantic before ending up at Nanny Goat Beach, which is south of Edisto beach, because currents in the North Atlantic flow clockwise–generally, a message in a bottle found south of its starting point will have found its way there only after drifting around the North Atlantic.
However! (Skip this paragraph if you hate science 😉 )There’s something called a “coastal frontal zone” along Georgia’s shore that explains how something released close to shore (like this bottle), could actually drift a short distance south. At certain times of year, the wind blows north along the coast, while at other times, the wind blows south. This bottle was dropped at the end of September 1988–right around the time of year that the winds change from blowing mainly north to blowing mainly south. So it seems like the bottle was blown about 100 miles south before washing ashore at Nanny Goat Beach. But that only makes sense if it was lying there for most of the past 30 years, and was somehow uncovered by Irma, rather than washing up with the storm. If, instead, it was blown ashore by Irma–that could be a different story entirely. In that case, it probably would have gone around the whole North Atlantic. Of course, we’ll never know for sure, but my guess is that since the bottle was plastic and still intact, it had been lying ashore for decades before being found (since plastic bottles floating at sea fall apart in a matter of months or a few years). There’s also the fact that plastic bottles are far more influenced by wind than glass, since they are lighter and stick up out of the water more, like little sails.
So, yeah–this one probably caught the wind and sailed southwest before beaching and hiding out on Nanny Goat Beach. Man–that name. I really hope there are nanny goats there!
Anyway, Linda continues:
“As soon as we were home, we started the search using websites that were for finding people. We had a maiden name, an age, and the town where she had once lived, which were enough to narrow down that we were looking for Miranda Dawn Moss Chavez, still in South Carolina. David and I were able to come up with three possible phone numbers, but they were dead ends.Then I posted our story of David finding the letter on my Facebook page, and things exploded. Within a short time, someone messaged me a screenshot of Miranda’s Facebook page. I contacted her through Instant Message and got a response right away, ‘Oh wow!!!! Yes!!! That’s me!!! That’s so amazing!’
Why she didn’t show up when I first searched, I can’t say, but the fact that all of these friends were sharing with their friends, and so on, shows how connected we are.
Within a very short time I heard from her best friend in high school, who also wanted to find her, and her Aunt. Her elementary school music teacher also saw the letter and chimed in. And people are still sharing it, whether they know her, or just think that it is an amazing story.
Miranda is 37 now and has three boys, who think this whole thing is ‘super cool’. We will be sending her letter back to her with a few other treasures from Sapelo Island.”
Linda and David did send Miranda a killer care package, including her original message and Sapelo Island schwag!
It’s worth remembering that Linda and David only had this magical experience because they long ago dedicated themselves to helping keep the beach clean and the local environment healthy. There’s litter everywhere, of course, but coastal areas suffer from a special kind of pollution different from anywhere else–i.e., in your local city park, the litter you see has been left by local residents, and there’s only so many of them; on the coast, however, litter washes up from countless millions of people living along the ocean’s perimeter, AND from those of us inland whose trash so often ends up in rivers, which then flow on into the sea, to say nothing of cruise ships dumping garbage at sea and so on.
So, if you want to experience this kind of magic yourself, consider teaming up with a coastal cleanup crew, and spend some time on the beaches picking up junk. In addition feeling great about your service and revealing the beauty of the place, you just might strike gold now and then. After all, you could find a message in a bottle tomorrow if you help out picking up beach trash–but if you send one? It might be 30 years before you hear back–bearing in mind that less than 10% of messages in bottles are ever found.
As Linda explains,
“‘Friends of Sapelo’ routinely sends volunteers to the Island to clean the beaches, repair or re-paint structures, and maintain natural areas. We find it rewarding to be a part of this hardworking service organization, which allows us to spend some time on beautiful Sapelo. To find a treasure such as this letter is icing on the cake.”
Linda, David, and Miranda have been in contact, and plan to meet soon.
It never ceases to amaze me how messages in bottles have the bizarre power to make friends out of total strangers. Magic, magic, magic.