DOUGLAS, Alaska – “My name is Ansel Resneck. I am 3½ years old. I like rockets, bulldozers, trucks, penguins & sausages.”
So began a one-page missive written in marker and cast into Juneau’s Gastineau Channel on a particularly cold, miserable Saturday afternoon.
The note had been scrawled in my hand, taking dictation from my toddler son. This was an attempt at combating cabin fever amidst the pandemic. An affliction that often bests us in the dead of winter, this mid-January weekend being no exception. It’s a challenge all parents face; in Southeast Alaska it can be especially fraught amidst horizontal rain and gale-force winds.
The bottle’s contents were simple enough: Ansel had made a few sketches on which I wrote a few sentences. We sealed it inside a heavy glass Scotch whisky bottle wrapped in electrician’s tape. I am not sure if the colorful tape does anything but it did improve its curb appeal and I hoped it would keep it from being easily shattered on the rocky shoreline.
His older sister Imogen and I had cast away a similar message-in-a-bottle a year or two ago but had yet to receive a reply. Still, it seemed like a good way to kill a couple of hours. Ansel liked writing the letter and decorating the bottle. But when it came back to actually suiting up and venturing outside in the rain and ice he was less enthused. In fact, he fought me every step of the way in a manner that the saccharine sweet social media posts that followed would never suggest (but every parent intuitively knows had to have been a part of the creative process).
At first we’d planned to drop it off the Douglas Bridge, the 620-foot span that connects our island with mainland Juneau. It’s a good 60-feet from the waterline and I expected it’d be a satisfying drop. But a few steps out of the car we realized how impossible that would be. The footpath was completely iced over.
So we headed to Douglas Island’s Sandy Beach near the ruins of the Treadwell Mine where his sister and I had tried this before. It wasn’t easy making our way to the strand; the ice was thicker than I’d anticipated. Still, some dog walkers had thrown enough grit on the glare surface that we were able to make our way to the shoreline as gracefully as a drunken toreador with a case of vertigo.
After a few false starts we finally managed to get the bottle into the channel where it bobbed listlessly. We high-tailed it home to dry out in front of the woodstove.
That evening, we bragged about it a bit at the dinner table. I made a Facebook post to be shared with 1,288 “friends” the next day. Then we promptly forgot about it. Until about 13 days later that I received an email, even though we hadn’t provided one in our message. After all, this activity had meant to be a 19th century communications exercise, a solution to 21st century doldrums.
“A brightly taped bottle washed up on the Eastside of Horse Island today, facing Young Bay,” it began.
That’s about 15-20 miles around the back side of Douglas Island.
They said they had taped it back up and cast it off again for someone else to find, which seemed like a good idea.
But then it continued: “We have a small YouTube channel and were out filming when we came across the bottle. It will come out on Sunday if you’d like to show Ansel. It was a joy finding our first message in a bottle. Hope you all have a great day.”
I had expected this whole message-in-a-bottle to be a sort of American Boys Handybook type of experience, a throwback to before the digital age dictated our patterns of leisure. But as with most of my battles with technology, I was no match. It was incredibly enjoyable as we watched it together for the first time.
“Is that what happened with our bottle?” Ansel asked. But he got it and was pretty enthused to see his handiwork on the big screen and me plotting on the map our bottle’s progress so far.
So much so that the following weekend Ansel, Imogen and I wrote notes and drew pictures in an empty rye whiskey bottle. The next day, Ansel and I cast it off into the gloom of Gastineau Channel to watch it bob furiously and drift away on the ebb tide of late morning.
Ansel tells me he’s looking forward to someone finding this one. And seeing their movie when they do.