No one is sure why, but bottles with photographic images of hands have been drifting onto the shores of Clopper Lake in Seneca Creek State Park this summer.
Dan Gross/The Gazette
Ranger JoAnn Berisford holds one of the bottles containing a photograph of a hand that was found in Clopper Lake this summer.
So far, rangers at the Gaithersburg park have found six bottles, which are each about the size of a wine bottle. Each bottle is made of clear glass and has a double-sided photographic image of a left hand printed on thick paper hanging from the cork.
The hands are reddish on the back and gray on the palm. Each reddish side is marked with six or seven stamps and postmarks from countries like France and Romania. There is black stitching on the right side of the middle finger and on the bottom of the hand, opposite the thumb.
A different, cryptic message is printed in black and red ink on the palm of each hand.
One reads, "Your question holds more than its answer."
Another states, "You look for an answer as your question waits."
All six messages found by park rangers this summer have incorporated the idea of questions and answers.
Another message about dreams is printed on the back of the hand below the stamps and is sometimes partially covered by a "Par Avion Air Mail" sticker. That message is the same on each hand, except that it is sometimes written partially in French, and it is sometimes printed backwards.
The message reads, "Dreaming, he remembers. Awake, he writes the question on his palm. Dreaming, he reads the answer he holds. Awake, you discover his recreated hand. Dreaming, you find the quest he grasps. Awake... you forget."
The words "Lac Clopper," meaning "Clopper Lake" in French, are printed along the index finger.
Black sewing thread is wound many times around the outside of the bottle, and a skeleton key is attached to the thread on the outside. Half of a skeleton key also hangs from the hand inside the bottle.
The teenage staff at the boat center, which has found each of these bottles drifting along the shore of the lake, have appreciated the summertime diversion from daily renting and washing boats.
"I like it," Steve Cover, 17, of Gaithersburg, joked. "It gives us something to do."
Katie Wong, 16, of Germantown, found the first bottle in mid-May. She was picking up trash around the lake when she saw it drifting in the cove to the left of the boathouse.
"I thought it was pretty cool," she said, "because it was so weird."
Wong said a friend of hers thought the bottles possibly had something to do with voodoo. She said her friend, who has studied voodoo, told her that the keys, the stamps and the hand trapped in the bottle were symbolic of keeping two lovers apart.
But Janie Inglis, who owns The Walnut Tree, a Wiccan store in Gaithersburg, looked at pictures of the bottles posted on the Internet and concluded that they were not voodoo-related.
"There does not seem to be anything 'magical' in nature to these photos," Inglis wrote in an e-mail. "Rather they seem to be artistic expression, even performance art. Instead of a performance by the artist, the performance is created by the audience. ... [T]he reactions of the audience have been curiosity, fear (i.e. voodoo curse) and more. Like the artist says, 'The answer will only change the question.'"
Pictures of three bottles were posted online, in June, in the Lost and Found section of Craig's List, an online bulletin board catering to jobs, personal ads and miscellaneous items.
"We treat this as a curiosity," park service Sgt. Susan Hatter said. "It's simply someone who's got a lot of free time and chooses to express it in art."
Technically, leaving bottles adrift on the lake is considered littering, park rangers said.
A boat could hit a bottle and the glass could break, or it could break along the shore and harm a visitor, said Ranger JoAnn Berisford, who is in charge of the "investigation." However, there really is no investigation, Berisford said.
"We're not really concerned with who is behind it," she said.
While Berisford said she might cite somebody for littering, Hatter said she doubts anyone will attempt to press charges, even if the person behind all of this is found.
"It was sort of a curious thing," Hatter said. "We didn't think anything of it until we found more and more and more."
Seneca Creek State Park's history is not devoid of creepy occurrences. It was also the filming site for part of the "Blair Witch Project," the 1999 fake documentary about three student filmmakers who disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Md., while shooting a film. The park's forest and mill were used in the filming.