A.C. Dearden holds up the message in a bottle with Clarence Strait behind her. Tara Neilson | For the Capital City Weekly

A.C. Dearden holds up the message in a bottle with Clarence Strait behind her. Tara Neilson | For the Capital City Weekly

Alaska for Real: Message in a bottle – the return

We thought it would be a good day for bird watching and beachcombing, even though it was overcast and threatening to rain. It was spring, after all, so more diversity in birds could be expected, and we’d had some big storms lately that could have brought in some interesting drift. Sadly, all we seemed to find were eagles, crows, robins, and garbage.

My companion in adventure, 13-year-old A.C. Dearden, pointed a condemnatory finger at a cherry red, plastic Folger’s coffee container on one beach and picked up a Dave’s Killer Bread bag on another and held it up to me with an I-am-so-not-amused look.

I told her it could be worse. During the summers when fishermen and tourists continuously passed by we had been known to fill multiple fifty gallon garbage bags with trash bearing out-of-state brands.

We turned a corner and came upon a plastic deck chair half buried in gravel at the end of a drift log. “We should dig that out,” A.C. decided. At least we’d have something useful to show for our trek.

I obligingly started digging. Within seconds I pulled up one leg, the arm, and part of the back of a green plastic deck chair.

“More garbage,” she said gloomily.

We crossed through a small gap in the rocks where drift logs had gathered, but found nothing. “Let’s go out to the point,” she suggested. It stuck out into where three different bodies of water converged and could be counted on to snag drift all year around.

A couple crows teased a nesting eagle with raucous cries as the sticky pop weed burst under out boots sending musky tidal scents into the air. “Pop weed is like bubblewrap,” A.C. philosophized. “You can’t come across either without wanting to pop every bubble.”

We found ourselves on another gravel beach, above which an old weathered building used to stand, before it had collapsed and been reclaimed by the forest years ago. Sometimes we found antique bottles and old-fashioned shoe leather that eased their way out from the buried ruins. Sometimes we found perplexing drift items on the beach below.

Last summer my sister and I discovered a swimming pool cleaning kit. What was a swimming pool cleaning kit doing out in the middle of the wilderness? All we could figure was that it had somehow gotten lost overboard from a passing cruise ship. Its black plastic case had provided a home for barnacles so it must have been traveling the Inside Passage for years.

This time, with A.C., I found something else in the exact same spot where the swimming pool cleaning kit had been found nearly a year ago. A plastic water bottle, a bit dented.

A.C. turned away disgustedly. “More garbage!”

“Um. Not quite,” I said. Inside it was a rolled up piece of paper protected by a Zip-Lock bag. “It’s a message in a bottle.”

A.C. perked up and took it from me to stare at it eagerly. I also stared at it, having a private Twilight Zone moment.

It looked familiar.

Longtime readers of this column may remember that exactly one year ago I wrote a column about a message in a bottle. The column told about strange occurrences where a message in a bottle was found by someone who had a connection to the sender or to the bottle it was sent in.

Then I revealed that I’d sent off a message in a bottle the year before, also in April, and it had been found more than 50 miles away by a man who worked in the very store where I’d bought the bottle. He wrote to me and told me that he intended to add his own message and would throw the bottle back in the water to see who found it next.

“I think…I think this is my own message,” I told A.C. in disbelief.

She wasn’t as skeptical as I expected her to be. “Gilligan had that happen,” she said. “When they were trying to leave the island he sent a message in a bottle and he was the one who found it later.”

I was used to her talking about the characters of “Gilligan’s Island” as if they were real. I wanted to know, however, if anyone besides a fictional marooned TV character had ever found their own message in a bottle. Before I could unlimber my tablet and boot up a search engine to find out, A.C. was carrying off the prize to share it with my parents.

“Wait, don’t you want to open it first?”

“We’ll open it when we get home,” she decreed.

The walk home had never been so long. We even had to stop and burst some pop weed on the way. But finally we strode inside my parents’ floathouse.

“Look what we found!” A.C. held the battered sea traveler aloft. “A message in a bottle!”

They oohed and aahed, delighted for her.

“I think it’s mine,” I said. They were intrigued at the possibility and we all urged A.C. to open it. She did so, with maddening deliberation.

Finally I was looking over her shoulder as she read aloud the somewhat damp words I’d penned in April of 2016. However, it wasn’t the message in a bottle that had been found and re-interred in the sea last April.

I hadn’t mentioned it in my other column, but I’d actually send out two different messages in a bottle. One had been found a year ago on the islands to the north of us. Its twin had, apparently, been traveling the currents and seeing the sights for two years before it had returned home to its sender.


• Tara Neilson lives in a floathouse between Wrangell and Ketchikan and blogs at www.alaskaforreal.com.


The author’s sister, Megan Duncanson, finds a barnacle-encrusted swimming pool cleaning kit last year. All of the vials were unbroken. Tara Neilson | For the Capital City Weekly

The author’s sister, Megan Duncanson, finds a barnacle-encrusted swimming pool cleaning kit last year. All of the vials were unbroken. Tara Neilson | For the Capital City Weekly

Thirteen-year-old A.C. Dearden holding up the message in a bottle. Tara Neilson | For the Capital City Weekly

Thirteen-year-old A.C. Dearden holding up the message in a bottle. Tara Neilson | For the Capital City Weekly

A.C. Dearden reads the message written in April last year. Tara Neilson | For the Capital City Weekly

A.C. Dearden reads the message written in April last year. Tara Neilson | For the Capital City Weekly

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