Message in a Bottle

Macreau and I had been “at the paddle” from sunrise to sunset for 2 solid days.  Across 5 uninhabited lakes, and over 3 portages until we landed on, and set up camp, on the Southern-most of the “Six Weird Sisters” island chain on North Spruce Lake. I was finishing off the last vestiges of a flu bug and so had a near empty bottle of Robitussin brand cough medicine in my packsack.  Once camp was set up, we went in search of firewood and food.  Both were easily acquired in this remote location. That was where I learned that Northern Pike will strike at anything.  Macreau’s single pleasure was an orange (as mine was the bottle of cough syrup).  We always allowed ourselves one totally illogical, energy eating, weighty, packsack space wasting extravagance on each of our trips.

We sat in the the canoe, letting the wind be our trolling motor while we fished for our supper.  Macreau indulged himself with his hard worked-for orange.  He tossed the peelings over his shoulder with considerable gusto as we sang the Monty Python “Lumberjack Song” together.  As I watched the peels floating downwind behind Macreau, I saw the furthest one suddenly engulfed in a huge maw of teeth, then, the next one, then the next. Getting closer and closer, the beast continued to snap up the orange peels as I reeled in my line and asked Macreau for a piece of orange peel.  He obliged and continued singing.  I quickly pierced the peel with the hook and tossed the line back into the water.  It barely hit the water before the most impressive set of jaws I’ve seen on a fish snapped it up, scaring the crap outa Macreau as it was only a foot away from his elbow.  It put up a helluva fight, but we eventually won and dragged it ashore.  Neither of us could bring ourselves to harm it further.  We’d brought sufficient food for the week, so we just let it go.

By the next day, I’d pretty-much lost it and gone native.  Macreau was sitting on the West shoreline reading a Nietzsche pocketbook (which he claimed wasn’t an extravagance, but a necessity), while I ran around the perimeter of the island, screaming like a lunatic. You gotta understand, I used to be kinda hyperactive.  Whenever I got a chance to release pressure, I had to do it.  Eventually, I calmed down/burned out, and started whittling a piece of driftwood with my trusty bowie knife.  I carved a miniature representation of the pike I’d caught. I took the last swig of the cough syrup from the bottle I’d brought, rinsed it out and began to pack it away for the return trip Home when it occurred to me …

That bottle was glass.  The island was lousy with birches, cedars and pitch pines.  What if we were to write a message and seal it in the bottle for future generations to find ?  And that’s exactly what we did.  We wrote a message describing ourselves, the date, the route we took to the lake, the weather during our stay, and we sealed it in the bottle with my fish carving.  The only part of the message I clearly remember was, with regard to the date we wrote “in the year of our scientific technology” as opposed to the classic “in the year of our Lord”.

We harvested cedar bark, wrapped the cap with it, applied gobs of pine pitch and sealed the bottle closed.  Before we departed the next morning, we held a ceremony for the launching of our time capsule.  I wished it well, and threw it off the North end of the island.  We watched as it bobbed up and down in the choppy waters on its journey to the swampy North end of North Spruce Lake … I’m sure never to be gazed upon by human eyes again.  Looking over my shoulder as we paddled away, I watched the tiny bobbing beacon fade into the distance of both topography and memory.

That was over 40 years ago, but you know, I often think of that bottle, that time capsule.  I think of it more often than I think of old girlfriends, or even old friends.  I can still see it bobbing on the waves of that distant lake in a distant time.  A time capsule is a wonderful thing.  We’ve all heard the stories of time capsules re-discovered by accident after they’d been forgotten, decades after they were supposed to be opened.  I’ve often thought a great tourist gimmick for the East Coast would be for fishermen to take tourists out and launch “Messages in a Bottle” into the Gulf Stream to be carried about the Atlantic until they eventually make shore with the potential of contact from persons and places afar.   We’ve all heard of “the woman” who tossed a message in a bottle into one of the great lakes and years later received a phone call from some guy in Norway who found it.  They corresponded for awhile, and eventually met and married.  More romanticism than truth no doubt, but doesn’t it just warm your heart thinking about it ?  Computer dating be damned eh ?!

However, on the subject of computers, they can provide a sort of time capsule as well.  Pictures, videos, are all available on some very hearty devices these days.  I still maintain the best gift a parent can give their kid is a digital camera.  Download their pics and vids every day, and save them for decades.  That’s a nice way to preserve some memories for the kids to view on whatever a TV will be called by then.

But you know, speaking as an Old Guy, there’s nothing quite like holding a piece of history in your hand.  A personal article like my wood carving. Even if you create a time capsule for yourself, but never get the chance to retrieve it, the very fact that you created it personally will make it personal to whoever finds it.  You just might affect the Life of someone you’ll never know.


One comment

  1. bruno pecile · · Reply

    And oh, the river runs swifter now;
    The eddies circle about my bow:
    Swirl, swirl!
    How the ripples curl
    In many a dangerous pool awhirl!
    And far to forward the rapids roar,
    Fretting their margin for evermore;
    Dash, dash,
    With a mighty crash,
    They seethe and boil and bound and splash.

    Pauline Johnston The song my Paddle Sings


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