I'm going to describe something to you and you're undoubtedly going to think it very quaint. Nevertheless, I'm a bit of an old soul in an increasingly vapid world, so nostalgic adjectives are rarely a negative with me. I'm going to tell you about something I was introduced to a few weeks ago that has flitted about my mind ever since. It is called letterboxing, and it has produced an entire secret world that exists all around us everyday.

Letterboxing apparently began on the bleak moors of Devon, England that are now part of Dartmoor National Park. Legend goes that a Victorian-era gentleman out walking the soggy ground placed his calling card in a bottle one day and left it to be found by other hikers who also placed their cards in the bottle. Slowly, this singular act, gave birth to an eccentric pastime wherein modern letterboxers create personalized rubber stamps that they carry with a small logbook and a set of clues. The clues, which can range from straight forward orienteering directions to cryptic stories or puzzles, lead to small water-tight boxes that also contain a carved rubber stamp and a small logbook. Upon finding the box the letterboxer stamps their book with the stamp found in the letterbox, and then they leave an impression of their personalized stamp in the logbook found in the box. In this way, both the letterboxer and the box contain evidence of a successful deciphering of clues. The letterboxer goes home with another stamp that will serve as a snapshot of their time that day, and the box carries a record of all those who've visited before.

In essence, letterboxing is an amalgam of hiking, orienteering, craft, and problem solving. It is a treasure hunt that permits the hunter to also create their own treasures to hide. Many letterboxers not only hunt for stamps, but also fashion their own letterboxes to stash away at favorite locations. Clues in England are apparently much more closely guarded than clues in the States, where simply visiting www.letterboxing.org allows one to search for boxes state by state. The stateside letterboxing phenomenon is very young and can be traced back to a 1998 article in The Smithsonian about the hard-core letterboxers of Devon. 

While American letterboxes might be more free with their clues, most do still abide by a set of principles established by our friends across the Atlantic. In short: letterboxing should follow a 'leave no trace' policy in order to protect the natural world, private property and hallowed grounds should always be respected, and spoilers who post pictures of stamps from various locations deserve no less than to become pariahs of the online letterboxing community. Furthermore, every letterboxer should take care to protect the secrecy of box locations, even to the point of lying to other hikers who may inquire about what you are doing sitting in the middle of a muddy trail making rubber stamp art. 

As I'm relatively new to the hobby I feel that I should honor the mildly goofy entreaty for secrecy and avoid posting my actual stamp and trail name with this entry. Instead I will share with you this awesome drawing from our household collection of juvenilia. If you can decipher what would happen to this flightless bird were it to go on a hunger strike you'd have the key to my secret identity.

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