Mystery surrounds two near-identical bottled messages found in Russian River
If there’s an afterlife, Brian Bricker figures his old friend Michele Coutin is there now having a hearty laugh, watching folks on Earth struggle to unravel the curious mystery she left behind.
It’s probably futile, since she’s not here to ask about what are now two nearly identical bottled-up messages recovered several years apart in different parts of the Russian River, directing whoever might find them to contact the three Bricker children of Norman, Oklahoma.
Those three siblings, now pretty much grown-up after spending most of their lives in Santa Rosa but for 3½ years in the Sooner State, might have been amused as youngsters by a stranger’s letter from far away in answer to a message in a bottle.
That, apparently, was what drove Coutin during years of wanderings late in life to launch an unknown number of missives leading back to the Brickers, their parents say.
What can’t be determined now is just how far Coutin, who died in 2012 in her 80s, was willing to go to ensure the dream she carried for her three young friends became a reality.
Is it just a coincidence that two letters, both marked January/February 2006 — one “from Maui” and one “from California” — were found in the same river, albeit one in Jenner and the other near Geyserville? Or was Coutin so eager to see her dream fulfilled that she planted a passel of them in the Russian River hoping at least one would make its way into human hands?
“Ultimately,” Brian Bricker said, “I just don’t know.”
It seems questionable at this point, however, that a worn plastic bottle ostensibly cast into the Pacific Ocean during a visit Coutin made to Hawaii years ago traveled all the way from there to the Russian River estuary, where Cloverdale resident Eric McDermott found it on the river bank last April during an Earth Day cleanup event. McDermott shared his discovery with The Press Democrat in a story published earlier this month.
The account led to the recent disclosure by a Geyserville man, Dave Kelly, that he’d found a similar note in a bottle five or six years earlier in a debris pile at the edge of the river while fly-fishing near his home. Kelly has been trying intermittently ever since to locate the family he thought must be awaiting word.
“I pictured in my heart and mind, a family staying up at a river beach, and the mom writing this,” said Kelly, 60, who kept the letter thumbtacked to his garage wall for years. “I was not obsessed with it, but just kind of felt like it was my duty, like these kids were playing on the beach up river from me — Cloverdale or whatever.”
Like McDermott, Kelly first tried to find the Brickers in Norman, only to learn they had sold their home there. Then, armed only with the names of the children — Allyson, now 23, Dylan, 20, and Alexis, 17 — he tried periodically running their names in Facebook and Google, without success. To make matters worse, the name of the oldest, Allyson, was misspelled in both letters, one of which appears to be a slightly modified photocopy of the other.
Kelly, who moved from a rental home to a fixer-upper earlier this year, even moved the letter he had kept from one abode to the other, after first putting it on a pile of stuff headed for the trash. “I remember throwing it in the garbage two or three weeks ago, and then I pulled it back out,” he said.