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The Gearboat Chronicles

Message in a Bottle

One of the guys on the weed spraying crew I was floating with on the Grande Ronde last week found a message in a bottle. An honest-to-God rolled up piece of paper stuck in a bottle, then flung in the river.

I don’t care who you are, it’s hard not to be interested in what’s on that scroll of paper somebody took the time and trouble to send into the world by tossing it on the water.

But first, a word on weed spraying via raft. The idea is to get where you can’t otherwise. We target riverbanks where no vehicle or ATV will get you, unless you’re talking helicopter. So we float down, hit the bank and the weed warriors take off wearing their backpack sprayers, on the hunt for leafy spurge, dalmation toadflax, knapweed, and some others I can’t recall the names of. All on the Most Wanted list for noxious weeds. They had a spare backpack one day, so I helped out as best I could, though I was most tempted to spray the obnoxious weeds I’m familiar with, rather than the noxious ones I don’t have quite the history with. The weeds that raise my ire are poison ivy, those beggar’s lice plants with the velcro nubs designed in Hell, and stinging nettles.

After a couple days on the river with the spray crew, it dawned on me that they look just like the Ghostbusters. Four guys carrying backpacks with hoses and wands, heading out to do battle with a nuisance that isn’t supposed to be there. These guys earn their money. Aside from being around the chemicals, there are rattlesnakes out in force, plenty of ticks, poison ivy and sundry other small nuisances. They seemed to feel sorry for me when they’d come back to the boat and I would be sitting in the shade, sipping lemonade and reading a good book. I can see where they’d think I might be bored, and they nicely offered to see about getting another sprayer so I’d have something to do to pass the time. Awfully nice of them. And then they’d compare notes on how many rattlesnakes had almost bit them, how many ticks they’d found trying to burrow into their skin, and I’d glance at my icy cold bottle of lemonade and adjust my chair in the shade and try to nicely explain that I appreciated their concern for my boredom, but not to worry themselves. Somehow I’d manage.

I did pry myself out of the shade now and then to hike down the river and scout for landing spots. I found a fair amount of flotsam on those walks. Or jetsom. I can never remember which is which. Let’s just call it trash. An inner tube, styrofoam blocks, a lady’s compact with makeup and a mirror in it. Some plastic toys. And lots of footwear. For some reason lots of shoes in the river, washed up on the bank. A flipflop. A little girl’s plastic sandal. The rubber sole to a boot. Some others. But nothing like the message in a bottle.

I’m looking at it right here. It’s a clear plastic bottle, blue screw-on cap. Inside is an orange piece of paper, half of it faded, making some of the writing illegible. It was written by a young girl. Her name’s at the top but I’m going with the confidentiality clause for messages in bottles. It reads like this:

My 4 Wishes

1. World Peace.

2. (Something-something) best friend forever.

3. My cat (something-something).

4. (Something-something-something).

So really I can only make out the first wish, and it’s a good one, young lady.

I had plenty of time to think this over, sitting there in the raft while the other guys were off spraying. And I thought, good for her, wishing for world peace. Too bad that’s not in the cards.

Before I left for that river trip, I was reading the news filled with North Korea rattling nuclear sabers, Iran and Iraq and the Holocaust museum shooting and a shocking list of unmentionable doings in Portland in the past week. It was anything but peaceful and a quick look at the headlines now, or any time, really, would seem to suggest that, no, we can’t all get along.

But why not. That’s rhetorical, because you and I both know why not. Politics. Money. Religious differences. Racial differences. Ad hominum infinitum et cetera carborundum and so on.

But still. Why not.

I don’t want to be the one to explain to a youngster why leading off her list of wishes with world peace is silly, since it ain’t never going to happen. And that’s when I came up with an idea that might get us to the point where it’s not so silly.

It’s one of those notions that makes me think I must have heard it before, it seems so obvious. So I’m putting a disclaimer on it right now: I may have seen this on a bumper sticker, or heard it in song lyrics. Quite possible. Matter of fact, I hope it’s not original, but I can’t trace it if so.

Here’s my proposal. Before any war is declared, we have to clear it first with a bunch of kids. The presidents, congresses, generals and prime ministers of the world draw up their invasion plans, but in order for any conflict to get the green light, the situation has to first be presented to a kindergarten class in their country, and if you can convince that group of kids that the alleged bad guy deserves a “time out,” then OK. Otherwise, work out your differences.

It’s naive, I know. But like I said, I had a lot of time to think down there on the river and these are the kind of things you end up with. I’m not really kidding, though. Years ago I worked as a substitute teacher in a kindergarten class in a very rough neighborhood, and those kids were still full of innocence and a good, solid sense of right and wrong. Maybe our world leaders need a schedule that includes more snack time with juice and crackers, followed by a nap.

So there’s my plan for world peace. Kids as mediators. An advisory board of kindergartners. I’ve heard of youth leadership conferences and the like, with young adults getting involved. But it may be time for the United Nations to include and consult younger kids to help sort out our differences. If we’re going to get along, that may be our best shot.

Then that wish on the message in the bottle might not be so far-fetched.

That’s the kind of thinking you get with a whole afternoon of sitting on a riverbank. Maybe I should ask for a weed sprayer so I don’t have that much time on my hands.