Nathan Foote has pulled empty bottles out of the water from the banks of the Grand River countless times, but never came across anything quite like what he found Thursday.
The aging liquor bottle bobbing amid debris near the Smithville Dam that morning wasn't empty. There was a small piece of paper rolled up tightly inside it.
"It looked like a white cigarette in the bottle," Foote, 60, said.
But he knew it wasn't.
Foote was with dam ranger Terry Hanson, one mile east of Eaton Rapids High School off Smithville Road. He used the rake they'd brought to clean litter out of the algae-covered water and pulled the bottle out.
"The bottle was slimy," he said. "Like it'd been in the water for years."
More than three decades, as it turned out.
When Foote managed to remove the cap on the bottle he found a tiny string tied around the paper.
"It was heavier than notebook paper, but lighter than construction paper," he said. "It had become very, very brittle, like parchment. As I unrolled it it was breaking up in my hands."
"To whomever this may concern," read the hand-written message on the paper. "I am writing this letter to see how far it will get. Please write me at this address."
In careful cursive script it was signed by Marcia Polly, who included an address in Rives Junction, just 12 miles down the river near Jackson.
In the right-hand corner of the note Polly had written the date, March 30, 1981 — 35 years ago.
"I thought, 'No way,' " Foote said. "It thrilled me at first. I was hoping she would still live in the area."
He said he believes the message took its time traveling to Eaton Rapids because downed trees and debris likely slowed the bottle's trip.
"It just fascinates me, the fact that it finally arrived here," Foote said.
The message was a meaningful find, he said.
Foote grew up near the river in Eaton Rapids and bought a home on the water 11 years ago.
The story behind Polly's decision to drop her message in the water is one he wants to learn.
"I think it represents history, someone trying to connect with someone else," Foote said. "To me, it's kind of like tying a message to a balloon and letting it go."
Now he's trying to find Polly, and thinks he may succeed.
Thursday Foote looked her up on Facebook and found several leads. He sent messages to several people with the same last name who live near Rives Junction. Friday he heard back from one of them, who believes they may be related to the woman Foote is trying to find.
"I'm very confident that I'll find her and I'll get to place this message in her hands," Foote said Friday. "I just wonder if she remembers sending it off."