Through The Lens For March 14
Last week a story ran on the evening news told of a woman finding a bottle on the west coast of Australia. Now, finding a bottle along the ocean is probably not an unusual occurrence as you may think. In fact, in my younger days, I placed messages in bottles and sent them down Fishing Creek. Stories of treasure maps and secrets messages may have been on my mind as I tossed it into the creek. I can remember one time in particular: it was probably the Dog Days of summer, and the water in the creek never moved. In fact, the next day it had only drifted closer to the far shore. Being a kid, I tossed stones at the stagnant bottle. It was too far and remained undamaged and unmoved until the next rain came along. You may wonder what my message was and what happened to the bottle? I have no idea, only that it was one of the bottles I tossed into the creek during my childhood.
The bottle that was found last week was tossed in to the ocean from a ship headed to Macassar, South Africa. It was not tossed overboard on a whim such as mine. This bottled message had a very scientific purpose. I have learned that it was not uncommon for mariners to place messages in bottles and then toss them into the vast oceans. Later, if the bottle was found, the information inside was often returned. Not to the seaman, but to a place that could chart the bottle’s course during its journey. This valuable information was used to determine currents in the ocean. The 137-year-old message asked that it be returned to the Naval Observatory in Hamburg, Germany.
When you understand why they did such things, it makes more sense. Today, mariners use satellite and GPS tracking to help sail the oceans. But, in 1886 the captain of the German ship used a sexton, compass and a clock to guide his ships’ course. In fact, the captain’s message in the bottle contained his ship’s position on the ocean.
I thought to find such a bottle with a message must be unusual. I guess I figured people today would not take the time and resort to such a primitive way of communication. Today they would rather toss it on to some form of social media and have it spread around the world in minutes. Still, I needed an answer to my question about messages in bottles. I went online and found 405 results. Apparently the need to toss a message into the ocean and hope somebody finds it, is still alive even in this electronic world.
As I thought about the bottle, I remembered a mission sent into the vast oceans of outer space aboard Voyager space crafts. In 1977, they were launched with the mission of exploring the outer planets. After they completed their exploration of our solar system, they continued into distant space. As they went beyond our known space, they carried messages recorded on gold records. It is hoped by scientists the messages will be found. It is not likely we alive today will ever know the answer to that question. But, in many ways the Voyager missions were not much different than the bottle tossed overboard long ago. It tells the Voyagers finders of our location in the vastness of space.
When I was stationed in the southwest, Mary and I would take weekend hikes into the desert to explore the arid landscape. In a few areas, we found petroglyphs on rocks. Long before this country was discovered by Europeans, the Native Americans of the area had left messages for future peoples. Those inscribed messages still remain after thousands of years. Unfortunately, the Native American people who left those messages have passed into history. I wonder if the messages played a role in those Early Americans disappearance. Then I remember the Voyagers heading out into space and those who might find the map to our world, I wonder what our messages may say to them?
I have come to believe throughout my lifetime that one of the strongest desires of the human race is to pass on our acquired knowledge to the future. Hoping that information will make it easier for those who follow us to navigate the world around them. Will the found message in the bottle make a difference? Not likely, especially after all the time that has passed, still it is an important part of the history of the sea.
That bottle I tossed into Fishing Creek 60 years ago, I wonder, is it still waiting to be found? If some day it is, will the message improve the life of those who find it? Unlikely, but they will know there once was a boy who stood by a creek and just wanted to say hello to someone he’d never meet. I think that is a good thing to look for Through the Lens.