One of the first goals that came to mind for my upcoming #GoAustralia trip for Go Mighty was to send a message in a bottle.
The currents off the Eastern coast of Australia near Sydney are perfect for tossing a bottle into the ocean and having it actually end up on another continent – and I had this romantic idea of writing a really great poem and then having a stranger come upon it on a beach somewhere exotic and hidden.
Thinking I should probably try to be a decent world citizen in this creative endeavor I started researching different bottles. If I’m going to litter I should at least make sure I’m being a responsible trash-thrower, right? A floating bottle is one thing, a floating whale carcass is another. I don’t want my romantic gesture to murder anything! (Except deer. I would definitely consider murdering some deer.)
In my attempt to find a guilt-free solution I did come across a variety of earth-friendly, self-composting plastic bottles, but the problem is they don’t look nice like a corked wine bottle. They literally look like garbage. Nobody would take the time to peek inside if they found one of these – they would curse the idiot who didn’t recycle it and throw it in the nearest bin.
So I researched sea glass, and found that wine bottles are actually the safest and most earth friendly option for a message in a bottle! Floating around they don’t look like a delicious jellyfish the way plastic bottles can. If the bottle does break, the ocean waves and sand grind the glass down so quickly that it poses no danger, and if some animal does ingest the glass it passes through with no effect.
For a short time I was excited that the original wine bottle was the best choice, but I still didn’t feel right. It seemed wrong and bad and terrible to throw anything, even if it was well intentioned and artsy and safe, into the ocean.
While fishing commercially for several years as a young woman, I saw some of the awful things that happen to the ocean every day. Did you know for instance that Joy brand soap is the best choice if you want to hide an oil slick from the feds? Just buy a case of it and squirt it all around your boat and voilà! No $50,000 fine. Too many seals ripping into your expensive net trying to steal your hard-earned catch? A quick look around to make sure nobody’s watching and out comes the shotgun. Head backed up and no dock in sight? When you gotta go you gotta go, whether you’re man, woman or boat.
I shouldn’t be too hard on commercial fishermen – they actually do look out for the ocean in many ways that count. They know that their diminishing livelihoods depend on it. But I saw other things, too. Isolated shorelines, far from any humans, with litter and trash piled up. Vast clouds of algae and non-native seaweed, growing where there used to be none, choking off the local species. And so on. It’s pretty depressing, really.
Even though my poem in a bottle started out as a happy, carefree gesture, thinking about actually making one in real life started to make me sad. I just don’t want to add another fingerprint to our exhausted oceans. The life-giving sea that loves us so, rolling over again and again to let us do our bidding even though it has the worst headache in the history of the world.
I thought more about why I wanted to send this message in a bottle, and realized the idea actually has nothing at all to do with water – it’s about communicating with a stranger. Giving the gift of an unexpected piece of art and asking for nothing in return. The giddy feeling of imagining who might come across my little treasure, what they might feel when they open it, what they will do after they read the contents. Will they share it? Will they be inspired to do the same? Will they shrug and toss it away?
I still plan on doing my message in a bottle in Australia – but this plan has evolved into something more. I am so enamored with this idea of leaving a surprise tidbit of art for a stranger that I think I’ll plant several – within the city of Sydney, Australia. I’m not sure of the container yet (glass bottles and pavement don’t get along) but my new plan is to write a poem, draw a picture and maybe something else – and leave them in unexpected yet easily accessible spots where they won’t be found right away, but eventually a person will come across them. Can’t wait to see what happens!