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Two Clints, One Message in a Bottle

This story (in two parts) is about a guy named Clint. Actually, it’s about two guys named Clint, a woman named Gwen, and a message in a bottle. It’s about adventure, discovery, romance. It’s a story about family, friends, and the rewards that come from keeping an open heart and an open mind. And, in a world we can’t seem to stop trashing, it is about the treasure you can find if you slow down and look closely.

Gwen and Clint message in a bottle on the beach.


June 2013. I am with my parents on a Caribbean adventure. Every day is us spending time together, catching up, dreaming and scheming, beachcombing, always looking for something, never knowing what until it smacks us. I feel the relief of a caged animal released into the wild. I’m just a Clint in my natural environment, looking for messages in bottles as my nature commands…

One morning, the weather is funky, so my mom wisely hangs out at home. My dad and I, because we just don’t know better, decide to head out on an adventure to an uninhabited island in search of beach trash and treasure. The sky is dark, ominous. We paddle to the island in little kayaks.

Clint Buffington hunting messages in bottles via kayak.

They feel so safe and secure to our little human bodies–but on the scale of planet Earth, where the clouds that hang over us are the size of whole cities, the kayaks are little toys bobbing on the ocean. Little corks. A single rogue wave would turn us into mere memories. But there we are, paddling out to this little island that actually doesn’t even have a name on Google maps…

There’s no place I’d rather be.


SOS From Threatened Caribbean Iguanas

OK OK OK. I lied. The island is not totally uninhabited. It is home to a species of Iguana called the Rock Iguana.

Rock Iguana

This lizard is a pocket-sized dinosaur. Well, maybe if you have big pockets. They’re about as long as a conch-beater, if you know what that is. If not, imagine a baseball bat that’s had the skinny end cut off. That’s the length of the Rock Iguana. And they are so cool! But they are also threatened–the other other thing that lives here is the native mutt canine–totally adorable dogs, but, if left to live in the wild, a real menace to native wildlife.

Courtesy: Potcake Place

Courtesy: Potcake Place

To these dogs, Rock Iguanas taste like candy. For a while, this anonymous island Dad and I are visiting was thought to be barren of Rock Iguanas. Thankfully, we see several on our visit. Not a ton, but several. It’s amazing to think how many unique species may be vanishing even in places where there are no humans, simply because we’ve left other destroyers (like feral dogs, adorable as they may be) in our wake.


Seeking Treasure Among Trash

Dad and I make landfall mid-morning and charge ahead, despite the threatening weather.

Bob and Clint Buffington resting while hunting messages in bottles.

In my family, every adventure has its own particular vibe created by the sights and sounds of the day. This adventure unfolds the same way as we discover the strange gifts of the beach. We run into Minnie Mouse…

Minnie Mouse

A creepy baby with a wine bottle on a log, left by a previous visitor (minus the torso):

Creepy Baby with Wine Bottle

And the standard mucky plastic trash everywhere, silently creating a plastic layer over the earth safely out of view from most of us. Pine needles rain down, binding the plastic trash in place, covering plastic shrapnel for miles and miles…

Plastic Trash and Pine Needles

We walk on in awe of the contrast between the stunning natural beauty of these beaches we love and the staggering plastic pollution wreaking havoc on the place.

“Look at all this crap!” my dad says. “Clint, there has to be a message in a bottle somwhere…”

But I find myself wondering… will I find a message in a bottle? And if so, what will it look like? Of course, there’s no guarantee of finding anything, so I’m just hoping to find something. But the truth is…there’s this part of me that’s greedy for a big glass bottle with a beautiful sepia-toned note inside from decades ago…Wouldn’t that be cool?! Like Janet’s message in a bottle–you just don’t see that kind of thing every day!

All of a sudden, it happens–the feeling that shoots through my body like lightning where I know something important has just happened but my brain hasn’t sorted it out yet. And then I see it:

Gwen and Clint's message in a bottle in situ among seaweed on beach.

That flash of red and white rolled up inside a bottle–I know it’s a message in a bottle!

I pick it up and instantly see it’s a map of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. And there’s writing inside! We’ve got a live one! So I call in the wardrobe department before posing–you know, it’s important to look clean and fancy in these moments:

Clint Buffington holding message in a bottle on an overcast beach.

Clint holding message in a bottle on an overcast beach.

The paper looks supple enough that I could take it out of the bottle right then, but I decide to take it home first.

Dad and I continue hiking for a while before heading home. I find one more bottle with shredded fragments of ancient paper–a hopeless case, but I bring it home anyway.

We load our packs and ourselves back into the kayaks, and paddle back through the increasingly choppy waves, against the wind. By the time we reach the home island, we are whipped.


Clint Opens a Bottle Containing a Message and Another Clint

By the time we get cleaned up, mom is waiting for us, examining the bottle.

“Well, Clint, are you gonna open that message in a bottle or just look at it?!” she says. Mom is the number one instigator of opening messages in bottles right NOW! I so often have to disappoint her because so many of them are fragile and need to be opened in my “lab” at home.

But this time, we all agree that the paper inside this bottle does look supple enough to be removed without damage. So we give it a try!

Clint Buffington opening Gwen and Clinton's message in a bottle.

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Clint unrolling message in a bottle to discover map of St. Johns.

When we lay the message out flat, here’s what we find (with home address blocked, of course!)

Gwen and Clint's message in a bottle.

Gwen and Clint’s message in a bottle.

A beautiful message in a bottle! The ink is still clearly visible, and there’s tons of writing! AND it’s on a map! I remember at first we thought it might be a treasure map–kudos to Clinton and Gwen for choosing a great piece of paper to write on 🙂 This message in a bottle map is going to be right at home in my message in a bottle museum!

Clinton and Gwen… wow–this guy had my same name! I, Clint, just opened a message in a bottle from another Clint! That’s a first!

To be boringly accurate, my name is just Clint (not Clinton), but still! I wonder if he goes by Clint? They life in a place called Peterlee… Where could that be?

You may notice that the send date of the message is March 13th of 2013, and I found it in June 2013. For a lot of people, this would make the message less powerful or meaningful, since it is so young and hasn’t been floating around for decades. For me, though, it makes no difference. In fact, the youth of Gwen and Clint’s message in a bottle gives me hope that I will be able to find them. Besides, surviving even a few months at sea is an impressive accomplishment for a plastic bottle, since they fall apart so quickly in the ocean environment.

All night, I can’t stop thinking about Gwen and Clint, their message in a bottle. Will I be able to find them? Will we get along? What are the chances of the sender and finder of a message having the same first name–and a fairly uncommon name at that?

My parents and I hang out with the bottle all night, wondering who these people are, imagining the story that lies ahead. It feels like having company over! Another family adventure, in the bag. Sounds like Gwen and Clinton had an adventure, too! Finally we head to bed, and when I close my eyes, I just see messages in bottles for miles on the shore…

I have a good feeling about what’s to come.

Click here to see Clint finding the Clint behind this message in a bottle!

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