Random Thoughts on Letterboxing

November 29th, 2009

Over the past several months I’ve been analyzing letterboxing a bit — what makes a good box? what frustrates people? where do things fall apart? is it all about the journey? the stamp? Certainly the letterboxing experience is different for each person and even for the same person when in their own neighborhood where things are familiar and time is not limited versus when traveling and there is no knowledge of local landmarks, limited time and perhaps no online access, so any conclusions are of course generalizations based on my personal experience and objectives. That being said, a couple of things I have found/will be keeping in mind going forward…

- First and foremost, who is my audience? is the box I am planting intended for locals or for vacationers? this distinction makes a lot of difference in terms of type of box, placement and the presentation of clues.

- In general, I have found that travelers tend to like series of boxes in established places — i.e. a 4 box series in a state park is much more likely to tempt most travelers than 4 individual boxes located at places that are only locally known and not found on a map.

- While I am generally planted firmly in the school of thought that the journey is just as rewarding/important as the destination (or in the case of letterboxing, the box), when traveling, the pendulum does tend to swing the other way in correlation with the amount of time I have and I am particularly disappointed to find missing boxes when the hike itself provided little enjoyment or interest.

- When faced with limited time, I tend to choose boxes based on planter and find record… yes, I admit it. While I am one who wishes the “find record” had never been implemented in the first place, since it is there, I do use it when choosing boxes — why spend the few hours I have looking for a box that 5 people have been unable to find? Sure, there is a part of me that sees that as a challenge, but based on experience, the likelihood is far greater that the box is missing than that the last 5 people to look for it just weren’t so good at finding boxes. As for choosing based on planter — I am drawn to names I recognize, people who post to the lists, people I have met in person at gatherings, people who have found my boxes and sent me an email… while I realize I may be missing out on some great boxes from letterboxers who are new or just play under the radar, there is a feeling that involved boxers probably tend to maintain their boxes better (though not always true).

- There is little excuse for poorly maintained boxes. While I understand and accept the thinking that it is not necessary to provide finders with an up-to-the-minute status, I am less tolerant when it comes to maintaining boxes. When you plant a box, it is your responsibility to check on it periodically, keep the clues current with the surroundings and keep the box in good order… if you don’t have the time to keep up with all of your boxes, you have too many boxes (even if it is just a single box). In keeping with this, I am not a proponent of planting a box while visiting a place you do not get back to at least once a year, unless you are able to enlist assistance from local letterboxers in keeping the box maintained. All this being said, I admit I am guilty of letting my boxes go and admit I have more boxes than I can keep up with — this is my primary goal going forward, to scale back to a manageable number of accessible boxes that are kept in good order.

- I am more convinced than ever that ambiguous clues are evil — particularly when the guessing game is at the end of the hunt. I don’t mind if there is research I need to do to decipher the clues or find the starting point (I actually enjoy this); I don’t even mind if the clues require a certain amount of reasoning skills once I am on the trail (as long as this is the type of figuring one can do while out in the woods, away from a computer), but I absolutely abhor when I get to the end of the clue, am in the “vicinity” of where the box should be, but am given no idea as to where I should be looking for the box. At this point I feel like a geocacher and am torn between “I’ve come all this way and don’t want to go away empty-handed” and “do I really want to tear up this area more than the 15 people who were here before me already have?” I generally think like a letterboxer and ask myself “where would I put a box if I were hiding it right here?” and if a check of those places yields no box, I leave empty-handed, as disappointing as that may be. I do make exception to this thinking in the case of mystery boxes where the finder entered into the hunt with the understanding that they were facing a significant challenge *and* where searching the final area does not have an adverse affect on the environment, although I still think it is best to put the mystery elements at the front end of the search rather than the back end.

- Ink pads do not belong in letterboxes. Period.

- Placing a letterbox behind a tree covered by a small pile of leaves, bark and sticks is just asking for your box to go missing. If you’re going to plant a box, take the time to find a secure hiding spot. While we beg and complain about “rehiding better than you found it” the fact is that some people don’t, not to mention you cannot control nature itself — animals, the wind, etc. Find a place where the box is not going to be completely exposed if a muggle comes along, finds the box and just sets it back down where he found it… [sturdy] hollow stumps — either standing or fallen, rock crevices, hollow knots in trees, tree roots, log piles, fallen trees and limbs (large enough that they are not easily moved), etc.

- While I delight in finding skillfully crafted hand-carved stamps, I realize stamp-carving is not every letterboxer’s forte. However, I personally would rather find a very rudimentary hand-carved stamp than a store-bought stamp, unless the store-bought stamp is unique and specifically suited to the location or theme of the box.

- Lock-n-locks are great and while they do keep boxes safer and drier, you still need to put the contents in baggies inside the box. On the other hand, outer bags do more harm than good.

Nothing profound… just organizing my thoughts and thinking out loud.

Boxing Report: Goddard SP

November 28th, 2009

Seems my life is so busy with work and grandchildren these days that letterboxing rarely makes it to the top of my list when making weekend plans so it’s been a while since I’ve spent an entire day out in the woods looking for letterboxes. But I do like to try and fit in a little boxing while away from home, just for the exposure to boxes from people I am less familiar with, so seeing as I’m out here in Rhode Island for a week and the weather is still quite pleasant for November, I decided to spend the day on the trails at Goddard State Park in Warwick.

I carefully plotted and mapped the day’s itinerary, including 3 series of boxes at the park, a couple boxes on the way down and a couple on the route back up. First stop on the way down was the Sherwood Forest? box in West Warwick. A quick find and I was ready for more. My next planned stop didn’t pan out so well — it was a series of urban boxes, admittedly not really my thing in the first place. Upon arriving at the parking area for the first box only to find an employee taking his coffee break at the very point where I was supposed to stealthily duck behind a concrete wall, I asked myself why I was wasting my time trying to sneak around in parking lots and between store dumpsters when the trails at Goddard State Park were waiting. Scrap that entire series and head to the park…

I arrived at the park and headed to the starting point for the first 3-box series. It was a planter I was not familiar with, but I liked the theme. After a bit of walking I easily located the first box. Unfortunately, the box had gotten wet and there was a soupy mess of green ink inside the box, and the stamp was broken into several pieces, some of which appeared to be missing as there was no way to fit together the three pieces in the box to form an image that resembled anything. Judging from comments in the almost-full logbook, the ink had been leaking and the stamp had been broken for quite some time. I stamped the pieces, cleaned up the ink as best I could with limited supplies, returned the box to it’s hiding spot and headed toward box #2 only to arrive at the end of the clue to find I had no idea where I should be looking for the box. In a wooded area full of pine trees and trees matching the description of a “bumpy Y tree” using those things as landmarks is a bit ambiguous, especially when there is no mention as to where one should be looking once they found the “lone pine tree.” I checked a few places that looked like possible hiding spots and then decided it wasn’t worth tearing up the area any further than the 15 letterboxers who had been there before me had already done and proceeded on in search of box #3. Again I was disappointed as I easily came to the indicated spot, only to find the woods so full of overgrown tangles of waist-high brambles that one could not possibly proceed. One for three in this series, I retraced my steps back to the vehicle and set my sights on the next series of clues I had with me.

Easily I found the landmarks leading to box #1 and felt a twinge of hope upon spotting the familiar green of a rubbermaid lid peeking through the leaves at the indicated spot, only to be let down once I realized the lid was not attached to anything. I hunted around the area for the rest of the box, but didn’t find anything. I left the lid so the next finder would realize they had found the spot and not tear apart the area looking any further. Box #2 in this series was easily spotted from the trail sitting under the indicated fallen log with no covering whatsoever. Excitedly I opened the box to find an unwrapped stamp and a couple pieces of paper that another finder had torn out of their logbook and left in the box. Disappointing, but at least there was a box. I stamped in and returned the box to its hiding spot, adding some bark and leaves as covering. The clues provided a pretty specific location for box #3 and upon arriving there, by the well-worn pathway along the length of the moss-covered log, it appeared that many others before me had also easily found the spot, but there was no box. One for three in this series also, I headed across the parking lot to the starting point for the next series.

The first box was easily found, although I had to double back to it due to a curious dog-walker who seemed to be following my every turn. Again, no logbook, only pieces of paper left behind by an earlier finder. Although the stamp was wrapped in this box, everything was together in a single baggie in need of replacing. As I had no extra supplies with me, I returned it as it was and proceeded up the trail. Finding a few places along the trail that matched the criteria for box #2, I checked them all — one place matched better than the others and judging by the trampled vegetation and leaves cleared away along the edges of the log, it appeared to have been thoroughly searched previous to my visit, but no box was found. By this time I was extremely frustrated and my feet were getting tired, so I abandoned the search for box #2, skipped box #3 (the clues had indicated this box was unavailable) and headed on to box #4. After checking all 5 instances of the “single white birch tree” that I came across, I found the box in the indicated spot lying behind a tree covered loosely with a couple of small twigs. Again a bunch of loose paper in the box and a need for baggies. I stamped in, put it all back and found a larger branch to cover it with when I put it back behind the tree. A bit disappointed — 2 for 4 on this series, 4 for 9 at the park — I dragged my tired feet back to the vehicle, having walked the entire trail system twice not being familiar enough with the park to realize the overlap of series.

I left the park and as it was beginning to get dark, decided to attempt only one of the two boxes planned for the route home. Upon arriving at the location, where the clues indicated I should park along the road at the end of a dead-end street, I was met with liberal postings of “no parking either side of street” signs. Deciding it unwise to illegally park my daughter’s vehicle while I trapsed down the beach in search of a letterbox in the near-dark, I turned around and headed home, ending the day finding only 5 of the 10 boxes I actually searched for. Of the 5 boxes found, there was 1 store-bought stamp, 1 crumbled stamp and 3 basic hand-carved stamps; 3 of the 5 boxes had no logbooks, just random pieces of paper left behind by previous finders; 1 was a mess of green ink and 4 were in need of baggies; 2 of the 5 boxes were exposed in their less-than-secure hiding spots. On the other hand, the park was beautiful and despite the disappointing letterbox findings, it was an enjoyable day on the trail.

MI Fall Gathering F.A.Q.

October 1st, 2008

It’s nearly here! The MI Fall Gathering is only a little over 2 weeks away. Boxes are arriving at my doorstep daily and the first batch will be planted this weekend — let me tell you… if you’re planning to attend the gathering, you are definitely in for a treat because there are some really awesome letterboxes here!

I’ve been getting an assortment of questions about a variety of things, ranging from letterboxes to tickets to food to the “cake walk” game. Since the format of this year’s gathering is a little different, based on the County Fair theme, I’ve collected the questions and compiled a F.A.Q. that will hopefully give you all of the info you need!


See you in a couple of weeks!

A Letterboxer’s County Fair

August 10th, 2008

Plans are coming along nicely for the MI Fall Gathering. The location has been finalized and this year we will be back at Pigeon Creek County Park in West Olive, MI. I was a little hesitant about going back to the same place another year, but it’s hard to beat the great enclosed lodge and wonderful trails. But just because this year’s event is in the same location as last year’s event, don’t think it will be the same ‘ol thing!

The year’s event theme is “A County Fair” and it promises to provide lots of old-fashioned family fun with themed boxes, food and activities. In addition to purchasing clues with tickets, attendees will have the option of participating in a variation on the cakewalk game, a traditional carnival favorite.

Although we are working hard to develop the carnival theme and atmosphere, in keeping with the tradition of the MI Fall Gathering, the day will be for the most part unstructured. With the exception of an early-morning group activity and the noon potluck, the rest of the day is open, leaving plenty of time for exchanges, socializing and hitting the trails in search of the event boxes.

Complete event details are available at AtlasQuest. Stay tuned for clues and information on how to earn extra tickets…


Missing Boxes

August 5th, 2008

I find lately that I am doing a lot of apologizing to people for missing boxes and quite frankly it is a little irritating. I plant letterboxes for people to enjoy. I spend my time breathing life into an idea, carving a stamp, finding a hiding spot, writing [hopefully creative] clues and maintaining my letterboxes. Despite my best efforts, boxes go missing. Although I follow up on missing box reports and keep the status of my boxes updated on the clues as best as I can (and still have a normal life where I work, eat, sleep, etc.), I am not usually able to immediately run out and replace missing boxes, nor do I feel that I owe it to anyone to do so.

When I note on my clues that a box is missing and will be replaced, this is my intention, but that is not to say that it will be next week, next month or even next year. I would consider the replacement of a missing box to be something I can do at my convenience, particularly if it is not near where I live.

So why do I get e-mails from people grumbling because such-and-such letterbox is missing and has not been replaced yet? And why an earth do I apologize to them for this?

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