Blogging, memory, music, South America, Sudamerica

The power of a song ~ ~ ~ Musical journeys in my mind

Every day, I’d look at the volcán Villarica. At night, there was a glow in the sky above it, from its lava lake.


A little over a year ago, I was living in Chile, teaching English to school kids.

I think about my time there quite often, but whenever I try to write down my impressions of that country, I find it very difficult.


I arrived, and dove right into it, caught up in a fast-paced orientation program, then moving to a small town in the foothills of the Andes, during the wintertime. I got off the bus, found my host family and moved into their hostel.

Next day, started teaching, often bewildered by the constant shifts in language. Textbook Spanish, to “schileno,” to some indigenous Mupache words, to “huaso” (a “cowboy” dialect used by the rancher kids), to “flaite” (ghetto slang).  My Spanish was so-so, and elements of “Spanglish” had crept in, from my City Year in a Milwaukee school.   Chile’s “English Opens Doors” program is taught entirely in English, in theory, but I was the only native English-speaker in the school, and needed to communicate with the staff, as well as the kids.

I was using every bit of spare time to think about creating lessons, to travel, find a hot shower, visit friends. I never took time to consider or reflect about my experience in Chile, until I was no longer there.

Now, I can look back, peering at that place and time in my mind’s eye, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to being able to describe it in a meaningful way.

Take Santiago, for example.

A fascinating place, but I don’t think I can really describe that city, apart from a series of brief memories. A walk up the Cerro Lucia hill, or the eerie silence of the city from atop the Torre de Americas, the tallest building in Latin America.

photos of the hillsides by Paul Quealy


But these memories already feel distant, like I’m watching a movie. Snippets of memories from Chile are vivid, but mostly they seem like a well-edited video.



I didn’t take many pictures, and most of those were taken with a cheap cellphone, and are clearly low resolution.  But I can close my eyes, and recall countless images, in clear high definition.

I can recall an emotional link (as you may get during a good movie), but as I replay these experiences in my mind, I cannot bring them back to life.



In an instant, I can conjure up a stream of images, that blend and flow seamlessly into each other, but they feel like a picture gallery, beyond reality.



That is, anyway, until I listen to music.

People often talk about scents, the aromas and smells that evoke memories. But for me, music is the strongest link to memory. Places, people, and even emotions come alive again when I’m listening, and it’s the sounds that are extremely evocative.

You usually don’t get to call the tune. For me, Chile is a song I would never have heard, had it not been for my fellow teacher, and good friend Paul, from Dublin.

Assigned as roommates in Santiago during training, by chance, we ended up posted to the same region of Chile, in towns on either side of Lake Villarica.

He was teaching the kids his kind of English, with a strong Irish accent, and would talk about his family in Dublin. And he introduced me to the music of an Irish singer I’d heard of, but never actually listened to, James Vincent McMorrow.

And like soda bread, or mutton stew, McMorrow is very much an acquired taste.

Not my usual rock & roll, or Motown soul.  I heard a high, light voice, like someone quietly singing to themselves.  Usually described by music critics as “delicate,” or even “whispy.”   It was good to hear someone singing in English, but McMorrow was really not my cup of tea.  At first, if I had to pick a single word for this terse, falsetto style, it might be “strange”.

And yet, the first song I heard, “Get Low,” immediately stuck in my head, and became the song of Chile for me.

I’d like to relate, that my theme song for Chile was a hauntingly beautiful folk tune, in 3/4-time, for the traditional cueca, the national dance.  But instead, every time I did anything by myself – riding the bus to Villaricca or Temuco, walking along the beach, on my way to school, when I got out bed – it was this almost airy Irish tune that played in my head.

And when I didn’t hear Get Low in my mind, this persistent, odd song, I’d put on headphones, and listen to it.

Chileans are a welcoming bunch.  Sincere, kind, and generous.  The teachers I worked with, the kids, and people I met day-to-day, were all honest and straightforward folks who love life.

But I was just desperate to hear English. It was exhausting to think and operate entirely in another language, especially when complicated by an unfamiliar accent, dialects and two distinct sets of slang, and there were times I felt like I was unable to think, unless I would be listening to music in English. So I would listen to any tune, any sort of dreck, so long as it was sung in English. Some of it, really terrible.

But, every day, I also listened to Get Low.


Now, over a year since I left Chile (almost to the day), when I hear that song, Chile is brought back to me in vibrant Technicolor! And with it, the memories of my friends, students, fellow teachers, glimpses of the landscapes from a bus window, the walks around town, all tinted with a happy glow. It all comes flooding back to me. I listen, and, during the span of that three-and-a-half minutes, I am revisiting Villaricca.



I can picture walking along the Costenera, see the volcano in the distance across the lake, the children running along the cold water on the black sand beach. I can picture coming up on the big terminal of the Jac Bus station, built from large wooden beams, which signaled that I had arrived back in town. I can picture the walk to Paul’s house, up the hill apart from all the other houses, back along the windy back roads.


My village, Pucón, sitting next to an active volcano, often felt creepy, despite being a “eco-tourist hub” with its trendy bars, tour stands, even a nightclub, its legions of bikers and hikers, getting gear on, getting a buzz on, loading up the trucks and buses for their guided outdoor “adventures.”  The teachers and kids were wonderful, but their town, during the winter months, is a dark, rainy place, saturated in smog from the countless wood stoves.  Some days you could taste the air, a pea soup of green wood smoke and carbon monoxide, with a soupçon of formaldehyde and ashes.

Across the lake, Villarica felt like a balanced, happier place, furthering my theory that Pucón’s volcano exerted some sort of magnetic pulse that negatively influenced my mood and emotions. There was a constant disorienting feeling of the surreal in Pucón, a sense of unreality.


Villaricca felt normal and safe, apart from the scattered remnants of the old city, most of which was burned during a Mapuche reprisal attack in the 1570s. A local told me the history of the region, and his in-depth recitation of its wars and slaughter also left me with a feeling of unease. The Mapuches, never subdued by the Incas or conquistadors, are resistant to colonization to this day;  some of the church-burnings prior to the Pope’s recent visit were blamed on extremist Mapuche factions.

But back to the music.

As the song plays, Chile suddenly becomes real to me.

I can picture going out for a beer and fried potatoes with onions and cheese (sounds bad but tastes good) with Paul and our local friend, Valentina. I can picture walking on the old concrete of a former dock, trying to dodge the waves off the lake as the wind picked up. I see the church, which meant I was lost, as I only ever saw it when I wandered in the wrong direction. The clothing stores, surprisingly nice and high-end. Fruit stalls that struck me as honest and authentic, with their colorful concrete walls, stacks of oranges, apples, and other fruits. I went there for cheap fruit frequently, at least until I was informed by Paul that the stacks of boxes harbored a considerable colony of rats. I never saw evidence of them, but figured that he was better informed.


While the music plays, I feel and recall everything .

We had a party in Villaricca, well, really more of a low-key get together, some of the English tutors and some locals. I can smell the gas of the heaters, feel the chilly biting cold wind, and hear the endless baying of the black-faced ibises on the rooftops around us.


Some of the English Opens Door teachers.

But, the song does more for me. Perhaps as my discrete, detailed memories fade and meld into one single dream-like experience, I listen now and see more.

I can see, all at once, the entire journey from Santiago to Valparaíso and everything in between, six months of memories and experiences, compressed into a few minutes.



I listen and recall our side trip to Argentina, riding bikes into the mountains, the lakes azure blue in the dry heat and the resinous smell of the pines and monkey puzzle trees. I clearly see Valparaíso, perhaps the highlight of my time in Chile. A place that felt magical, and was one of the more amazing cities I have been – very much a place in the here-and-now, and also a place off in a kind of time warp.


Now, when I hear Get Low, while I see mostly Pucón and Villariccca, a third town Temuco floats into the recollection, a place where I spent a fair bit of time. A little regional capital, with limited things to do and see, but a place where I was happy.

It’s not that the song is great. The song isn’t great, in fact I find McMorrow’s voice a bit weak and whispery, and the tune has become annoying, or at least, it is, when it’s playing endlessly in my head.

But as a tool, as a means of recalling and reliving highlights of the past, it is phenomenal.


The view from Volcán Villarica (in Mapuche, Rucapillán) 2,860 m.


You can take a chairlift most of the way up the Villarica volcano, and then hike up the snow-covered bit. Coming back down is faster, and fun – you can slide on your back, using the ice ax as a brake.


I have other songs. I recall Hong Kong with “We Were Kids” by Turtle Giant. I can listen to tunes to remind myself of college, or to recreate various trips. One piece of electronica instantly takes me to my college library, third floor, right side, fifth window from the bathrooms, overlooking the quad, with my countless books about the Iroquois stacked all around me.

The furthest back I can go with this trick, is six years ago, a trip through the Southwest, and specifically to Colorado, with The Killer’s “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine,” and a song called “Roya Re” sung by a Punjabi whose name escapes me. Both tunes provided by my Venezuelan friend Luis, with traveled with two things: a big collection of tunes on an iPod, and even bigger knife, and who took the time to introduce me to some new music.

I am now in Boston, and I am still waiting for the song that will define this city for me, but that will come in due time. I don’t even have to listen for it, it will just start playing one day.



P.S.  If anyone is interested in the “English Opens Doors,” here is the link

It’s a wonderful program – the concept, the staff, and the volunteers –  run by Chile’s Ministry of Education and the U.N., and here’s a bit from their website:

The National Volunteer Center is a branch of the English Opens Doors Program and is supported by the United Nations Development Programme-Chile. The National Volunteer Center recruits native and near-native English speakers to work as teaching assistants in Chilean classrooms, specifically to improve students’ listening and speaking skills. Volunteers also assist with other initiatives of the English Opens Doors Program, such as debates and English Camps.
Volunteers teach and encourage the study of English while living with Chilean host families and interacting with members of the local community.

McMorrow “Get Low”


And War with “Low Rider


Blogging, Clean Waters, Message in a Bottle

Message in a Bottle ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ A Big Soggy Blog of Moist Musings

A few years ago, a woman living in Berlin, named Angela Erdmann, 62, received a postcard.

It had been written by a 20-year-old man, out for a nature walk.

And a whole lot of people, all around the world, heard about this piece of mail.




What made Angela’s postcard “noteworthy,” was that it had been mailed, in a sense, 101 years before, by a grandfather she’d never known.


In 1913, Richard Platz placed a card in a bottle, and tossed it into the Baltic Sea.

A century later, when a fisherman found the bottle in his net, near Kiel, the International Maritime Museum tracked down Richard’s grand-daughter Angela, and delivered his message.

Good job, museum guys, I think that’s pretty cool.  Richard had passed away, in 1946, before Angela was born, but I’m sure he would have been delighted with this posthumous greeting.

(You can read more articles about this in The Guardian.   One of the best newspapers, of course, and it seems to have made something of a specialty of stories about messages in bottle, a bit odd, coming from landlocked Manchester.    See the P.S. I added 3/9/18 for the new record-holder.)


Even more poignant, was a message found in ginger beer bottle.  A young soldier headed to the front in 1914, Private Thomas Hughes wrote a note to his wife (“Ta ta my sweet for the present, your hubby“), tossed it into the Channel, and died two days later in France.   His wife died in 1979, having never received the letter, but it was fished out of the Thames in 1999, and delivered to his 86-year-old daughter, who’d been a two-year-old on the day he wrote it.


Notes in bottles were recovered from passengers lost when the Lusitania and the Titanic went down.  A note from the latter ship, written by a 19-year-old who didn’t survive the sinking, washed up on a beach a year later, very near his home in Ireland.  His parting thought was placed in a bottle his mother had given him on departure, containing holy water.



Reading these little stories, while stuck inside on a rainy afternoon, prompted a web-search, and here’s another news flash:  there are an incredible number of stories on this theme, A Message in a Bottle, including frequent mentions in newspapers from the 1800’s.


The Victorians, those speed maniacs and travel enthusiasts, grabbed “Around the World in 80 Days” (1873) and sailed off to inspect their far-flung empires, diving into “leisure” with their usual industriousness.  After all the explorations and invasions, came real terror – – they created Tourism.  As these indefatigable Victorians roamed the globe on recreational voyages and journeys, with the same zeal they brought to missionary work and imperial exploitation, they were fascinated by the oceans’ complex network of currents, and constantly reported their “message bottle” findings in the newspapers.


The scientific ones are called “drift bottles” and supposedly this  began in 310 BC with Theophrastus, who was curious to see if the Mediterranean flowed into the Atlantic.  He was a Greek scientist, who’d studied with Plato and Aristotle.  He did receive responses to some of his bottles, but always written in Phoenician, which he didn’t understand – – frustrated, he became a philosopher and vegetarian.



A century adrift, of course, is unusual, but there’s a never-ending stream of these stories:

  • Last November, men clearing debris from a dam on Michigan’s Grand River found a message from a Marcia Polly, who’d mailed it on March 30, 1981 from River Junction. In 35 years, it had only traveled twelve miles.  (Livingston County Press)
  • August 2007. After a beachfront wedding, the newlyweds bottled up their vows and launched them into Lake Michigan.  The couple who found the bottle, just a few weeks later, had also been married on a beach, on exactly the same date, 28 years before.  (AP)
  • A message found on the Likiep Atoll in the Marshall Islands in March 1994, had covered 3,000 miles since leaving Baja California in February 1993 (LA Times)
  • One of my favorites, from the August 2, 1993 Palm Beach Post (Florida), was a bottle that beat air mail.  Launched July 10th during a cruise off the coast of Cuba, the bottle was picked up near Fort Lauderdale on the 15th .  The same person had also sent a postcard by regular mail from Jamaica on the 8th, to a friend in Florida, who received it on the 27th.
  • In 2012, divers in Lake Huron recovered a bottle with simple note “Having a good time at Tashmoo” (a local park), written by two young ladies in 1915.
  • A bottle found on Little St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, had traveled from Fernandina Beach, just over the line in Florida.  It’s an hour and a half on I-95, but the bottle had taken about 36 years.
  • A well-publicized Canadian entrant apparently traveled from 1985 Nova Scotia, to 2013 Croatia.  Let’s think about that:  across the Atlantic, south along the coast of Europe, then past Gibraltar, up the length of the Mediterranean, and into the Adriatic.   “Mary – You really are a great person.  I hope we can stay in correspondence.  Your friend Jonathon.  Nova Scotia ’85”    (I don’t mean to be critical, Jonathon, but 1. this is a pretty tepid love note, and 2.  this is maybe not the best way to “stay in correspondence”.)
  • In 2011, a sailor cleaning up a beach on Hawaii found 4 origami flowers and a note dated 3/25/06, from Saki Arikawa, a student in Kagoshima, Japan, about 4,000 miles away.

ETC.   Fan mail from a flounder?  If anyone is interested, I’ll attach a few more of these tales, on the tail end of this piece.


“Bottle up” is synonymous with repression, keeping secrets, entrapment, and keeping things inside yourself.  Like everything to do with Human Nature, sometimes the motives for creating these bottles seems confusing or even self-contradictory.  I guess for some people, casting out unsigned messages may be a chance for confession and washing away regrets. Some Jewish folks practice Tashlikh, an atonement ritual during the High Holy Days, based on the book of Micah: “You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea”. Bits of bread are tossed onto flowing water, by people symbolically ridding themselves of sins and regrets, and clearing the decks, to do better in the new year.  And I think some people employ the bottles in a similar way, sometimes.

But that’s getting awfully philosophical, and I want to talk about whiskey and wine now.  Especially Port, because the name seems appropriate, and the port bottles have always been made for export, so they’re good and sturdy.  I have a dark green one I’m going to be using.



Seen through the bottom of a glass, darkly. 

Modern messages, based on my scientific survey, are almost inevitably found in bottles that used to contain some form of alcohol.

Late one night, while polishing off a bottle of furniture polish/champagne/rum / gin / whiskey / spar vanish / Sterno….

                    …a Thought came to them  

                          …they were Struck with a Plan …      

                              … It Popped Into Their Heads….” 

On the rare occasions I’ve helped empty such a container, I too have suddenly had some original thoughts and plans.


Thoughts which were deep, complex, and brilliant, but also kind of fluid, even watery somehow.  And often forgotten as soon as I’ve had a cup of coffee and shared my thoughts with someone sober.

And maybe some of these genius ideas, are best kept bottled up, like glassy-eyed, dysfunctional genies.  And, like lawyers, best dropped into the sea.

And while we’re drowning things, here’s another Message in a Bottle, that needs to be tipped into the vasty deep, securely fastened to concrete blocks – – that horrible song by The Police.


But the actual message-in-a-bottle concept is almost universally appealing, and goes back a long, long time.

I guess it would be a stretch to mention the Dead Sea Scrolls, since they weren’t placed in the water?

It mostly seems like innocent fun.  And the bottles are still sometimes used in scientific studies of ocean currents.



A Shilling for Your Thoughts

And that brings us to an even older bottle than Angela Erdmann’s.

On November 30, 1906, George Parker Bidder dropped a bottle into the North Sea.

Tragically, he then waited, disconsolate, for a response,until he passed away in 1954, aged 91, a bitter and disappointed man.

No, don’t be silly, that’s crap, I just made that up.

He was actually a highly respected marine biologist, who launched over a thousand special research bottles that day.  He was at the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth, founded in 1884, which still exists, and imagine the thrill, when they received one of G. P. Bidder’s self-addressed postcards, after more than 108 years!!  The bottle was found by a Marianne Winkler, on one of the North Frisian islands, two years ago.  The 1906 card promises a shilling reward, so someone at the association went onto Ebay, to get one for Frau Winkler.

Perfect, somehow, that the finder of a 108-year-old message, was a retired postal worker.



The previous record-holder in the Guinness Book of World Records listed a bottle found 2013, off the Shetlands, after almost 98 years at sea, launched by the Glasgow School of Navigation in June 1914 (They only offered sixpence reward, but there was a war on, for heaven’s sake.)  Out of 1,890 bottles, 315 have been returned.  So far.


Hard to believe, but the exact same fishing boat hauled in the previous record holder, in 2006.

And that bottle was from the same 1914 batch.


Bowling Balls & Rubber Duckies

But the articles sometimes mention all the other crap that’s tossed in the oceans.

June 8, 1990 Wall Street Journal summarized a national beach sweep, which found nine messages in bottles.  Also a staggering 860 tons of debris, including 605 hard hats,  164,141 plastic cigarette butts, 18,251 balloons – altogether 1,895,502 plastic pieces.

From an April 23, 2006 article in the Seattle Times, I learned that bowling balls, up to the 12 pound version, will float.  (I know that 16-pounders sink, because my barber, Eddie, confessed one day, that after a really bad tournament, he crossed the highway to the old Kingdom Road Bridge, and dropped his ball into the canal.)



Cargo ships have lost loads of hockey gloves (34,000), bathtub toys (29,000 including yellow ducks), and the famous Nike Sneaker Tsunami, where currents took the left shoes to one beach, and the rights to another.  Less amusing, in fact horrifying, was the discussion of beautiful seabirds who died with stomachs full of plastic bits, including an albatross who’d eaten a Bakelite tag from a WWII Navy plane.

A garbage patch in the Atlantic, running from Virginia to Cuba, in some areas has 250,000 plastic bits/square mile.

There’s an amazing guy named Chad Pregracke, who started Living Lands & Waters, which for ten years has been coordinating volunteer efforts to clean up American’s waterways.  Over nine million pounds, including 78,000 tires, 268 TV’s, 13 hot tubs, 13 prosthetic limbs.  And 105 bowling balls (I’m going to ask Eddie about that, he may have an anger management issue).   And this organization now has the largest collection of Messages in Bottles, 78.


Quid Pro Quo

So why am I advocating for throwing more stuff into the sea?  Well, I have a proposal to float by you.

Here’s the deal.  I’ve run across articles about people who’ve made the Message in the Bottle into a daily ritual – a crane operator at Boston harbor, a guy named Harold Hackett on Prince Edward Island, etc.  Personally, I’ve never done this before, and this will be my first bottle.  And it’s glass, not plastic, so should it break, it will be polished into “sea glass” or eventually, back to sand.  And when I toss it in, I’m going to also find a least a couple of things to fish out.  OK?  Deal?  Bottle goes in — then a tire, shopping cart, old bike, that snowmobiler who went through the ice last winter, whatever, will come out.  Back to my soggy blog.

The urge to post a letter has been steadily waning in our society, in a culture of email, texts, snapchat, and twitter – offering immediate gratification and instantaneous “feedback”.


“The Village Post Office” 1873


The Stamp Act

The decline in letters has been going on for many years.  As Stephen Fry pointed out recently, the American Revolution started in part, because colonists didn’t like paying taxes on stamps.

And if you think about it, who wouldn’t resent that, especially because there were no mailmen, so what was the point. Every day, people would come home and ask, “Any post, was there, perchance?” and there never was.  You had to wait for the town crier to come around, yelling random proclamations and plague warnings.  The entire colonial era was pretty frustrating.


(Quick digression:  Ben Franklin, our first Postmaster General, used drift bottles to study the Gulf Stream, but I cannot figure out how to work that into this article.  Also, Aladdin and I Dream of Jeannie, just couldn’t find a niche for Barbara Eden, sorry.)



But writing a message in a bottle, now, that’s different than regular mail.   Like mailing a postcard from Italy or Canada, you don’t know when, if ever, anyone will receive it, and that’s OK.   It’s rarely anything urgent, although there are a few stories of rescuing survivors stranded on islands, etc.  But generally, as you read countless stories of these bottles, most are very mundane.

“Hi!  We’re throwing this bottle in the water.  Let me know when you find it, Bob.”  

Although, if you think about it. . . Bob is a perfect name for a floating bottle.


People also find confessions, vows, suicide notes, farewells to the recently departed, voodoo spells, and love notes.

It’s not a deep or original thought, but I do keep thinking of blogging as akin to these bottles – – random messages drifting along.  We toss out our opinions, float our proposals, and cast our half-baked ideas upon the water.

I just received a little notice from WordPress, telling me my site was launched two years ago, and by coincidence, this is my 100th post.  I haven’t written that much, really, and certainly nothing of significance, but you never know when some unknown person, anywhere in the world, might read it.

Pretty cool.  A message in a digital bottle, a life-raft of stories, adrift indefinitely. Or at least, until I pull the plug on my subscription.

The popular bloggers, O Captain! My Captain!, commanding respect, send forth their fleets of incisive thoughts, and they circulate among all the smart folks.  Tall ships on a digital Gulf Stream.

Others, like me, stick our soggy thoughts onto a virtual bowling ball, sometimes with digital chewing gum, when we can’t find the dratted duck tape, and toss them into the Sea of Anonymity, and watch them sink without a trace.  But who knows.  Perhaps years from now, stranded on a desert island (deserted, but with wifi), someone might peruse the useless, moist musing I’m scribbling right now.

Sometimes, it feels OK to let your mind wander, ideas wash over you, and just see where your drifting thoughts take you.

You’ll be gratified to learn, that this “bottle mail” exists in a digital fantasy world, too.  A website where messages are written, bottled, and wash up on a virtual reality beach, to be opened and read at random, called (seriously).




Metaphors, Tangents, Digressions, etc.  SETI, METI, YETI

I’m sure you’ve experienced this – – you see or hear about something, or read something, and immediately begin to see connections and parallels everywhere.  Messages in bottles,in myriad forms, began to appear everywhere.

The Sunday NY Times had an article about scientists sending signals out into space, to see if any aliens respond.

SETI is the listening program, trying to detect aliens’ signals.

METI is the broadcasting program, where we send out signals.

YETI is the Abominable Snowman, who never writes, and has nothing to do with any of this, I just liked the alliteration.


Marconi sent his first transatlantic message on December 12, 1901, and apparently by now, our radio signals are 200 light years out. My grandfather talked about seeing TV for the first time, at the 1939-40 World’s Fair (where his mother was working), but broadcasts started in the ’20’s.  In Carl Sagan’s book “Contact“, the aliens re-broadcast Hitler’s opening speech from the 1936 Olympics, because that was the first TV signal strong enough to break through our planet’s ionosphere.  Hopefully the aliens are watching other stuff, too, of course.  It seems like a Nazi speech was a bad start, but pretty much anything we broadcast could be worrisome, and annoying to our neighbors — war movies, opera, soap opera, “reality TV,” politics, all of it.  I especially worry that the cooking shows, stuffed with scenes of us eating our fellow creatures, will give them bad ideas.

When my parents were in college, during the Late-Medieval ’70’s, NASA sent out Voyager I, and like them, it’s  currently drifting along in interstellar space.  Carl Sagan helped choose the content for an info disc inside the spaceship, recorded onto a gold-plated platter:  words, diagrams, landscapes, magnified DNA, music (Bach, Johnny B Goode, Indian raga, gamelan, etc.).   “The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced spacefaring civilizations in interstellar space. But the launching of this bottle into the cosmic ocean says something very hopeful about life on this planet.”  


A couple of weeks ago, the cover article in the New York Times Magazine was called What If We’re Not Alone.   I read about the Arecibo Message, some rhythmic noises blasted into space in 1974.  Last year, the European Space Agency sent a similar, more complex, time capsule off toward Polaris, as an interstellar radio message.  

Personally I think this “What If We’re Not Alone” is exactly like watching a scary movie, when you want to yell at the idiot walking into danger.  I don’t remember being asked, if I thought it was a good idea, to attract the attention of alien life forms.  Stephen Hawkins has commented, that any creature capable of traveling to Earth, most likely would be bad news for humans.

Gee, the storm knocked out the lights, and the electric fence around the research facility next door, so I’ll just go down the stairs of the haunted house to the dark, creepy cellar to look for the fuse box, I’ll call out loudly for the last three people who came down and didn’t come back up, I’m sure the hideous hissing/scraping/growling noises are just the furnace acting up…

When Stephen Hawkins and Elon Musk tell you, it might not be a good idea to bother the neighbors, you really ought to listen.


But who knows.

Part of the attraction of these things – – blogging, tossing bottles in the sea, or inviting alien death rays —  is that it appeals to our curiosity, and our love of gambling.

You just toss things out there, and see what happens.


P.S.  3/7/18 NY Times  “After 131 Years, Message in a Bottle Found on an Australian Beach”  Megan Specia

Wow!   The article points out that when the bottle was launched, Grover Cleveland was President, and Queen Victoria was close to celebrating fifty years of rule.  The bottle was tossed from a German ship, on its way from Wales to Indonesia, on June 12, 1886 and was found this January.  The message was a form from the German Naval Observatory in Hamburg, asking that it be returned, as part of their study of ocean currents.

The folks in Hamburg hadn’t received one of these messages for a while.

84 years in fact.