When I was 8 or 9, I wrote a note and placed it in a bottle made of green glass. Then I carefully set it into the current of the Willamette River, imagining it traveling onward to the Columbia, and then finally, plopping into the Pacific Ocean. And then, I waited. What I hoped for – was a pen pal, from far across the ocean.
Instead, just over 6 months later, I received a package in the mail. I opened it to find my bottle, cork, tin foil, string and two letters: the one I had written, plus one from the sender of the package. I learned that my bottle and note were found by a man living in West Linn. In his letter, he calculated not only how many river miles the bottle had traveled from our dock in Wilsonville to where he found it in West Linn near today’s Cedar Oak boat ramp, but he calculated its approximate daily mileage. Imagine: my bottle was carried over the Willamette Falls. The man must have been an adventurer himself, as he explained in his letter that he decided to return the bottle, cork, string and foil, so that I could try again, and just maybe – it might travel farther. But I never did, although I kept the letters.
Some 25 years later as a working mom raising two small daughters in West Linn – daughters who would in fact attend Cedar Oak Elementary School – I remembered those letters. And I dug them out of my past, searching for the man’s return address. I had begun to wonder just where the finder of my bottle might have lived. One afternoon, on a lark, I sought out his house, and found it to be only a mile or two away from my own. When I knocked on the door, leaving my young daughters waiting in the car, the door was opened by a man just a bit younger than me; the son of the author of the note. I gave him the note his father had written, thinking what a special thing it might be now that his father (if I remember right) had passed on. I remember being a bit disappointed that this son wasn’t as excited as I to connect. And today I wonder why I didn’t make myself a copy of the letter? Perhaps as a busy mother, at the time it was the last thing on my mind. And today, I can’t exactly remember which house was his that I visited down off Marylhurst Drive.
My own bottle story got me wondering about other bottles carrying notes along our waterways. It was easy for me to learn about Thomas, a young Oregonian from Silverton who six years ago, received media attention after he placed a note and bottle offshore in Winchester Bay. This bottle travelled across the Pacific Ocean all the way to Hawaii! Imagine. And he too received a response, but by email rather than snail mail, beginning a new pen pal friendship with a girl named Trinity.
A bottle carrying a note: an image that incites us to imagine adventure. To meet new people in far away lands. And for me, a memory that finds me in a place eager to begin another writing project. A not fully remembered memory, that just may bloom into something far grander with possibilities still unimagined and uncreated by me. Yet.
What about you? Have you ever found a bottle with a note? Or did you write one yourself, and set it carefully in a moving current to always wonder if it was ever found?
Learn more about Dede’s 2019 novel: Beyond the Ripples.
And guess what? The character who puts the note in the bottle in Beyond the Ripples returns in Dede’s 2022 short story collection, Humanity’s Grace.