Before I get to the letterboxing, I have to tell you about a recipe I tried this weekend that I got from Heidi at Foxgloves, Fabric and Folly.  I made it for the picnic lunch at our church campout, and it was an enormous hit.  When I told Heidi I was going to use the recipe, I mentioned that I have a reputation to uphold–EVERYONE raves about my cooking, and I wanted to make sure it was that kind of recipe.  She assured me it was, and she was right!  Go here and get the recipe and make it!  It is called Apple Cake Doris, and it’s heavenly!  (She has a beautiful picture there, so I didn’t bother.)

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Now about letterboxing.  After mentioning it in my last post, I had quite a few comments about it, so I decided to do this long overdue post.  (It is overdue because when I was thinking about starting a blog, Prince Charming suggested my first post be about letterboxing because it encompasses so many of my interests and loves.  I was really going to do that, but the blog started on a whim, and I just wrote whatever my whim was that day.)

First, I will explain letterboxing a little.  It began a very long time ago in Dartmoor, England.  I learned about it when my cousin sent me an article that had originally been published in Smithsonian Magazine.  It totally clicked with me, but my life just did not go in the direction it needed in order for me to get started.  Five years later I learned Prince Charming and I were going to be doing a little international travel, so we decided we better get serious about letterboxing so we could do it on our trips.  At the last minute, one of those trips dematerialized, but we did it on the other.  We also letterbox around where we live and on any other type of trip we take.

Chic in park we found

So back to what it is…  Letterboxes are weatherproof containers which hold a rubber stamp (preferably hand-carved) and a log book.  They may include ink or possibly another item, but the stamp and logbook are the only essentials.  The stamp may be carved to reflect the location of the box (scenery of the area, local animal, whatever) or just be anything.  The box is hidden, and clues are posted on the Internet for finding it.  (Major websites for this are here and here.) The clues can be incredibly cryptic or quite straight-forward.  The person who makes the box is called the “planter.”  My family has never planted any boxes, but we have all kinds of places in our minds that we would like to do it.  We just have been too lazy a little to get the carving materials a little hesitant about carving the stamps.

Letterboxing is somewhat similar to geocaching, but my family does not geocache.  Although I like the idea of the GPS locations, I like the way letterboxing finds are recorded (with hand-carved stamps). 

My family finds the planted letterboxes.  Whenever we have a weekend we can devote to it or are ready to travel, Prince Charming finds all (or a lot) of the relevant letterboxes in the area.  He prints the clues, and we go in search of the boxes.  We take with us our own logbooks, ink, cleaning supplies, a compass and our own personal stamps.  Personal stamps can be whatever one wants.  The best ones are hand-carved.  Mine is something I drew, but I had the stamp made because I knew I did not have the skills to carve anything like I would want. When we find a box, we stamp the box’s stamp in our personal logbooks and record date and other relevant information, and we stamp our personal stamps in the box’s logbook.  This way the box has a record of our being there, and we have our own record of the places we have been.  We then clean all the stamps, carefully re-hide the box, and move on to the next one.

So why do we love this so much?  First, it is just the whole concept.  I love rubber stamps; they are my business.  I love being outside.  The combination is perfect.  And who does not love having clues to find a treasure?

Cave at Tent Rocks

Cave at Tent Rocks

We also love it because our entire family does it together and enjoys every aspect of it.  We found our first letterbox when Chic was 5 and Chicklet was 2-1/2.  They think it is fun and ask when we are going if it has been a while since our last letterboxing excursion. 

Our log books are “pretty.”  They are not pretty because things are neatly recorded (they are not), but because they are filled with art.  Many letterboxers are amazing artists.  (Many are not, so it is not something about which to be intimidated.)  The different stamps in different colors are just pretty.  And each one has a hike (very short to long) and memory attached.  Logbooks are compact souvenirs that are priceless to me.

Subdivision trail near CO Springs

Subdivision trail near CO Springs

The thing I think we love most about letterboxing is the places we have been and the things we have seen that we would not have without letterboxing.  We have found parks and hiking trails near our neighborhood that we would have never found without hunting for a letterbox.  (And the hunt is the key.  I would say we find 2 out of 3 that we search for.  But the missing 1 is still a hike and still something new.)

Above and below are a just a few of things things that made it onto film that we would never have experienced without this hobby. (Most pictures will enlarge if clicked.)  The first picture is a nature preserve in Colorado.  There we saw many birds and had a fun hike.  (And got lots of mosquito bites!)  The second picture is a park that is inside a cul de sac in a neighborhood near out development.  The girls LOVED this place.  The third is a Tent Rocks National Monument.  We actually go there once or twice a year to hike, but we had never been on the trail for this cave until we were hunting for a letterbox.  The next picture is from a series of incredible hiking/biking trails that run through a development near Colorado Springs.  It was the most elaborate subdivision/development trail system I have ever seen.  What a treat for those who live near it!  And apparently the rodent population is well-fed there as well!

The next picture is a hilltop in Estes Park, CO.  In the spring it is covered with elk mothers and babies.  It was a short, fun trail, and we loved these ruins.

hilltop in Estes Park

hilltop in Estes Park

The hotel that  inspired the book (later a movie), The Shining, by Stephen King is also in Estes Park. We got this picture of it while searching for a letterbox.

The Shining Hotel

The Shining Hotel

Next has to be one of my favorite letterboxing finds.  We were led through an old cemetary with clues on the gravestones.  This group of stones was for the children in a family who died within weeks of each other.  How utterly horrible, but I know it used to happen all the time.  I loved these stones.  They made me feel like the parents realized how special their children were.

The Torkelsons

The Torkelsons

When Prince Charming and I went to Bermuda last spring, we spent two days letterboxing.  One of the locations was at an old fort (Bermuda is covered with them).  The beautiful ocean views are a dime a dozen in Bermuda (and worth more than every dime!), but the forts added interest to the trip and the scenery.

Bermuda sea through gunport

Also in Bermuda there were lots of feral chickens, but we would have never seen them had we not gotten off the beaten path to go letterboxing.  Besides this very proud rooster, we saw many hens with chicks.

When I travel to a specific area of the United States (as a National Park) or a foreign country, I have two main souvenirs:  A book about the region with lots of excellent photography and a book about regional flowers.  When searching for said regional books, we saw pictures of a Bermuda Longtail (Phaethon lepturus catesbyi).  We never saw one in real life, however, until we went on a hunt for a letterbox. If you do not enlarge any other photo, please enlarge this one.  I believe it is worth it!

Bermuda Longtail

Bermuda Longtail

My last picture is from our letterboxing trip on Labor Day.  There is a nature park/animal refuge about an hour from our home.  We never heard of it until we found it housed letterboxes.  We had a terrific time there, and I loved being so close to the animals.  All their animals are in captivity due to injury or some other reason that makes them unable to survive in the wild.  I cannot remember which hawk this was, but it was enormous, and I especially loved its eyes.  They look intelligent.  Many small birds do not have intelligent eyes, but the large birds of prey definitely do.  I have never before been able to be that close to such a bird.

hawk at Wildlife West Nature Park

hawk at Wildlife West Nature Park

And finally, I love letterboxing because it is something Prince Charming and I can do even when we are old.  We may not be able to climb some of the paths we do now, but there will be plenty of things to find, plenty of places to go and plenty of adventures to be had.  Letterboxes are all over the United States and in many other countries.  If it is not in your country, get it started!  It catches on quickly.  And if I visit your country and you have a box there, you can bet I will be looking for it!

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