June 25, 2015 § 8 Comments

I have now been hunting messages in bottles for 8 years. That’s almost a third of my life. It’s no wonder this work has become such an important part of my identity.

Meditating on Messages in Bottles Identity

What amazes me, though, is how it keeps teaching me about people and our planet. I have learned about ocean science, humans, the history of bottle making, and the history of messages in bottles (not to mention other forms of secret/hidden messages and communication); I have learned how to reveal invisible writing–I’ve basically had to become an amateur detective, and it has probably earned me as many real friends as any other pursuit I’ve engaged in. It never gets old!

Finding Messages in Bottles Still Cool After 8 Years_REV_2

On this last expedition, a really astonishing thing happened. I found 24 messages in bottles in two weeks. That’s a ridiculous number even to me, and I was TRYING to find them! The sheer amount of time, care, and forensic work that will go into opening, preserving, and investigating these messages boggles my mind. It’s surreal to have such a “backlog” of messages in bottles sitting around—but if I want to respect them and handle them with care, it’s going to take a while (months) to work with these.

Here’s the second message in a bottle I found on this most recent expedition. In this bottle is a business card plus what appears to have been a piece of paper, probably with a message on it.



This is an odd situation: I can read the name and contact info of the sender on the business card, but the other piece of paper is soaked and deteriorated to the point that I’m not sure any information is recoverable. So…do I smash it open or not?

Now, there was a time when I would have been driven mad by desire for the paper inside. No matter how wet and fragile it is (I used to think) I MUST HAVE IT!

But I’ve learned a lot over the years. Today, in my view, breaking a message in a bottle open is the last resort—like surgery. That may sound strange, but if you think about it, breaking the bottle is a severely traumatic experience for the bottle and the message. I have torn messages by breaking the bottle, for example. And even in the best case scenario, the message will be covered in glass shards.

So, I’m choosing to pursue this bottle without breaking it. That means I may never know what was written on the message itself, but the risk is too great, and the reward uncertain.

At the end of the day, what’s important for me is the connection made possible by the message, and in this case, I can explore that connection without breaking the bottle and putting the message at risk. It’s a Rolling Stones kinda thing–I can’t get what I want, but I can get what I need!

This bottle is a great example of a lesson I’ve been a long time in learning: Many times I have destroyed what I cherish out of a desire to hold it closer. Respect is the only antidote to the intoxication of desire.

Desire and Respect

Talking Trash and Treasure With BYU Radio

July 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

I had a blast stopping by the Morning Show on BYU Radio! Got to talk about a lot of bottles and connect the dots between messages in bottles and flotsam. Have a listen to this fun interview–it’ll help you procrastinate :-)

Message in a Bottle Hunter on BYU Radio

Sleuthing an MIB With the Salt Lake Tribune

July 7, 2014 § 4 Comments

The work I do with messages in bottles (MIBs) is often solitary work. Occasionally, the stars align and I have help with the work. This May, I had special visit from the Salt Lake Tribune who helped me track down the sender of a particularly elusive bottle. This one:

Andy Pelicano Bottle 2Andy Pelicano Bottle 1

This bottle had been troubling me for some time. I found it back in 2012, and even then, there was no visible writing on the paper. I thought I could see impressions left by a pen, but the waviness of the glass made it hard to be sure.

When the Salt Lake Tribune heard about my connecting with Clinton (yes Clinton!) and Gwen Bennett live on BBC Radio, we decided it would be fun to document the process of opening an MIB live for the paper.

When reporter Erin Alberty and photographer Melissa Majchrzak arrived, I gave them a tour of some of my MIBs that have survived and turned out well and others that were ravaged by the sea and sun. I wanted them to be prepared for best and worst case scenarios. Then, I picked out the above bottle, borrowed a laparoscopic surgery tool from my girlfriend, and got down to business.

I’m not going to recount the remaining details of that day because Erin Alberty did such a good job in the article she wrote on the experience called “Messages in Bottles are Treasure Hunts for Utah Man,” but I certainly hope you read it! They document the whole process from start to finish.

Here are some photos from that day that Melissa and the Tribune have been kind enough to let me reproduce here:


Photo Credit: Melissa Majchzak


Photo Credit: Melissa Majchzak


Photo Credit: Melissa Majchzak


Photo Credit: Melissa Majchzak


Photo Credit: Melissa Majchzak

Clint Buffington pulls out one of his messages in a bottle for the first time.

Photo Credit: Melissa Majchzak


Photo Credit: Melissa Majchzak


Photo Credit: Melissa Majchzak

I promise they aren’t paying me to tell you this next part–but I have to say it. Erin and Melissa are rare people. They understood the complexity of the whole MIB thing. They understood the excitement and magic of it, and they also understood that there is a dark side to this: for every message in a bottle I find, I find several tons of life-threatning, toxic trash, most of which is plastic. I wish that MIBs were the only things floating around in the ocean and washing up on shore, but that is far from the truth. Melissa and Erin got that, and documented it well.

By the way–if you are concerned about plastic trash in the sea, I recommend the books Plastic Ocean by Charles Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, and Flotsametrics, a book written by a world renowned oceanographer and a man I am proud and honored to call a friend named Dr. Curt Ebbesmeyer. He’s among the rare folks who understand both the magic and allure of messages in bottles as well as the fact that they are harbingers of a serious pollution problem.

Erin interviewed Curt for the article, included some tips from me on how to send an environmentally low-impact message in a bottle, and in general, did a great job of capturing the detective work involved with what I do. Many thanks to Melissa, Erin, and the Salt Lake Tribune.

In case you’ve missed the embedded links in the article above, you can check out the Salt Lake Tribune article (which even includes a little video!) here:

Message in Bottles are Treasure Hunts for Utah Man

Melissa Majchzak’s professional photography web page here (did I mention she’s the photographer for the Utah Jazz? Yeah, her photos are basketball cards!):

Melissa’s Photography

And you can follow super-reporter Erin Alberty on Twitter here:

Erin Alberty on Twitter

And one last thing! Many of you are beachcombers, and I think you’d really enjoy receiving Curt Ebbesmeyer’s newsletter called Beachcomber’s Alert! It’s a worldwide network of beachcombers (including you, me, etc.) who write in to Curt with stories and photos of interesting things they have found. Then Curt collects these stories, gives readers some scientific context for understanding their significance, and makes it all into an entertaining read along the way! You can sign up for it here: Beachcombers’ Alert!

Mystery Cameras

May 12, 2014 § 5 Comments

Well there I was, walking along a deserted beach, wondering about my place in the world—wondering what would come of all my messages in bottles and whether I’d get to do anything like a book or a movie with them before we drown ourselves in plastic trash—when a waterproof camera appeared on the beach!

Fuji Camera on Beach 2013
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Help Me Find Keith McComas and Kristy Suttle!

January 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

In 2009 my dad found a message in a bottle. Look at this thing! For My Waiter Bottle

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John E. Freeland Leaves His Card Part Three: Maggie Valley and the Butterfly Effect

January 7, 2014 § 4 Comments

After learning everything I learned in the last post, I knew I had to meet Phil in person. So, one day in August 2011, I loaded up the car and headed to Maggie Valley.

The night before I hit the road, I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking about everything I wanted to ask him and tell him, wondering whether we would really get along, and wondering–on the scale of crazy–just how crazy it was that I was about to walk into the home, the actual dwelling place, of a complete stranger… Is that, like, really really crazy? Or just a little crazy?

Crazy Scale

In any case, I went.

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John E. Freeland Leaves His Card Part Two: Phone Calls, Almost-Friends, and Crazy Dances

December 3, 2013 § 6 Comments

No one answered my phone call. I was jittery before I tried the number—I always get a little shaky when I’m on the verge of finding a sender.

Maybe it’s the coffee. I am, admittedly, an addict.

I Love Coffee!

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