When Rediscovering Nature Meets Treasure Hunting

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Things have changed a lot since I was a kid. Unless you live on a farm, you’ll probably agree that getting outside for unstructured discovery and play seems a lot harder than it did then.  One author has even deemed it a national epidemic and coined it Nature-Deficit Disorder. I’m sure there are lots of reasons for the lack of time outdoors. Not the least of which is technology. I don’t think it's inherently evil but, let’s face it, technology gives our kids a lot of tempting alternatives to time outside. Did you know that according to a survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Fund, young people ages 8-18 spend more than 7 ½ hours a day on smart phones and computers and watching television? That's over 53 hours a week plugged into electronic media. Technology aside, sometimes we're just contrained by our location. For example, our family lives on an acre lot in a medium-sized college town. My kids just don’t have vines to swing on or dark woods to traipse through like I did growing up.

But, that doesn’t mean we can't get outside. It just means that I have to be more intentional about getting us outside.

One of my favorite solutions to our outdoor dilemma? Letterboxing.

What if you could turn a hike along a nearby trail into a treasure hunt? With clues to solve and everything? What if you found out these little treasures were hidden all over the world and that any time you left home, you could probably find one?  What if finding these hidden boxes took you along beautiful gorges and through breathtaking scenery? What if the hunt for the box so distracted and excited your kids that they barely noticed they’d been hiking for miles? And you got to learn local history and see native fauna along the way? Would you be in?

We are. We’ve been letterboxing for several years now. We have found boxes in Colorado, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky, Virginia, Ohio, and Michigan.  

According to AtlasQuest, my favorite website on the subject, letterboxing “is an intriguing pastime combining artistic ability with 'treasure-hunts' in parks, forests, and cities around the world. Participants seek out hidden letterboxes by cracking codes and following clues. The prize: an image from a miniature piece of art known as a rubber stamp—usually a unique, hand-carved creation. Letterboxers stamp their discoveries in a personal journal, then use their own rubber stamp, called a signature stamp, to stamp into the letterbox's logbook.”

All you need is a notebook, a rubberstamp, an ink pad, and a pen. You can carve your own stamp or go buy one at Hobby Lobby. AtlasQuest has a continually-updated registry of boxes. These boxes are hidden all over the world and include their own stamp and notebook. AtlasQuest will help you find a box in any postal code. Once you decide on a destination, the clues will lead you to a hidden box – often in a tree stump or under a big rock. Next you dig it out, stamp your book with its stamp and then put  your stamp impression into their logbook along with your trail name, hometown, and date. Then, you just rehide the box and go along your merry way!

I usually pack a bag with a water bottle and something yummy so that we make an additional stop on the trail for a fun snack and big swig of water. We’ve also been known to stop for an ice cream or a slushie on the way back home. We’ve had some great family times – discovering a hidden treasure, enjoying God’s bounty, and learning more about each other as we chat along the way.

Exercise, treasure-hunting, local nature, and time together. Practically for free. Need I say more?!?!