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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Message in a film canister leads to a lasting connection

By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

In December 1999, John Luppert of Spokane flew to Hawaii to join his brother’s Coast Guard ship for the final leg of its return to Seattle.

“The Coast Guard has a program which allows crewman to invite guests for short cruises,” Luppert said.

He’d taken his 35mm camera with him and snapped lots of photos. One day, on a whim, he wrote his name, address, and location coordinates on a sticky note, tucked it into a plastic film container, and tossed it overboard.

“We were halfway between Hawaii and Seattle,” he said. “I’d put messages in bottles a few times before and never heard anything. I thought this was just another one of my lost causes.”

Months passed – then years. Luppert wondered if the film canister had been swallowed by a big fish or smashed on some rocks.

After a while, he stopped wondering.

On July 2, 2018, Trina Nation was beachcombing on the Dall Islands in Alaska. Nation and her husband own Treasure Hunters Lodge in Klawock on Prince of Wales Island. They offer guided hunting trips and charted fishing expeditions.

Nation is a beachcombing enthusiast.

“It’s what I love to do most,” she said.

On this July day, she was scrabbling around the beach at Kaigani Harbor. It was the first time she’d explored that spot.

“I’m always looking for the beachcomber’s ‘holy grail’ – a Japanese glass fishing float,” said Nation. “Right now, I’m finding a lot of Croc shoes.”

The rocky coastline of the pine-shrouded harbor was littered with branches and tree debris. Salal, or Oregon wintergreen, shrubs crowd the area.

“I don’t normally climb into the salal,” she said. “It’s dense and scratchy.”

But something caught her eye, and she maneuvered her way into the undergrowth.

“Suddenly, I was nose-to-nose with a film canister!”

Intrigued, she carefully opened it and gently pulled a sticky note. One edge was frayed, but the handwriting was still legible.

After 18½ years, Luppert’s message had been found.

Nation took a photo of the container and the note exactly where she found it. When she returned home, she immediately sent a letter to the address Luppert had provided.

“I look in all the bottles I find,” she said. “I was enchanted by the possibility that this might lead to a connection.”

Luppert was astonished to receive her letter.

“I couldn’t believe it!” he said. “I was thrilled it survived and that I could see the spot where it was found.”

He quickly replied to the email address Nation provided and they struck up a friendly correspondence.

“From the first letter, I thought, ‘I’ve got to meet this guy,’ ” Nation said.

Her in-laws live in Montana, so she’d driven through Spokane but never stopped. She also has a friend who’d moved here, so she decided a Spokane visit was in order. The pandemic, however, postponed her original trip.

Finally, on Sept. 28, she pulled up in front of Luppert’s South Hill home.

Nation has found several messages in bottles while beachcombing and reached out to those who left addresses, but this was the first time she’d met one of the messengers in person.

Nation, 49, and Luppert, 76, greeted each other like old friends. She reached into her bag and pulled out the film container with the note still tucked inside.

Luppert held it and marveled.

“If it could talk, what kind of story would it tell about where it’s been?”

Nation charted the coordinates on the note to the location where she’d found it.

“It had traveled 602 nautical miles – nearly 700 miles,” she said.

Luppert is delighted with the results of his long-ago “lost cause.”

“I got to meet a fascinating person,” he said.

He’d written on the note, “If found, please send to …” but Nation said the first rule of beachcombing is “finders keepers.”

She kept the note but brought Luppert a Japanese glass fishing float she’d purchased at a gift shop. Her holy grail still eludes her, but she said she’s found something even better.

She smiled at Luppert.

“At the end of the day, all you have are your memories and the connections you’ve made.”

Contact Cindy Hval at