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Ladybug Beetles: LETTERBOXING–Follow the Clues!

By Kitty Keller, Naturalist, Huntley Meadows Park

The boulders and hemlocks create a feeling of closeness as I make the steady climb. I’ve come to this stream valley in search of a letterbox, a grown-up version of treasure hunting. Though to be honest, it is almost like being a kid again. From my field pack I pull the clues I printed from the Letterboxing website. It has directed me to some wonderful excursions. I unfold the paper and with a deep breath full of the scent of an approaching rain, my adventure begins.

Harriman Tracks #2 Beaver
Follow the unmarked woods road north.
Take the unmarked trail on the right
soon after the waterfalls on the left.
Notice the beaver lodge, beaver trails
and stump on the left.

There it is, the waterfall. And there’s the path just beyond. The stump is pretty weatherworn. This box must have been here for some time. The creek’s gos-siping encourages me to linger and listen for the tales from upstream. My search can wait. The point of this hunt, after all, is to enjoy the journey. The titmice and the chickadees animate the trees overhead and beyond the stream the trout lily is just poking through the rich soil.

I sit for a short time but the damp chill of the moss-covered rocks begins to seep through my jeans and I need to get moving. On I go, my hunt continues.

Take the unmarked trail on the right
Go up to Lake Wanoksink and turn left
onto a narrow footpath along the lake.
Stop at the beaver lodge to the right
of the footpath.

The lake sits calm and still under the weight of the gray sky. I have to wonder how many people have paused here, witnesses to the coming and going of the days and the seasons. I check the directions again, now crumpled and a bit worse for the wear in my hand.

55 paces along the footpath see a second lodge at 310 degrees
and a 3rd across the swamp at 17 degrees

Here’s where the real adventure begins. Though I’ve completed several letterboxing hunts, some far more complex and puzzling than this, this will be the first that has required the use of a compass. …53 …54 …55 degrees. There’s the second lodge, looking unused, and the third with remains of a cache of winter food.

Return to the woods road.
Note the sawed-off post
Beaver track is under the rocks at 288 degrees

There’s 288 degrees and… shouldn’t there be rocks? Maybe I need to go off the trail a bit; there are rocks a bit further. I decide to check the compass again. I know these clues rarely take you off trail, there’s a definite “leave no trace” rule in letterboxing. It’s a good thing my survival is not based on the use of a compass. My adjusted course brings me to the intended rocks within reach of the trail. My heart quickens a bit; I brush away the leaves and reveal the treasure.

It’s a simple plastic box, weatherproof not fancy. I peel back the lid and there inside is the stamp and a small notebook. From my field pack, I pull out my own notebook and add the beaver tracks stamp from the box to the next blank page. I think back to what I saw along the way and add a note to return and take the trail along the other side of the lake.

I pull out my own stamp, a dragonfly. The wings are a bit squared on one side where I slipped a bit while carving it. I thumb through the letterbox note-book, glancing at its history. People from all over have left their marks. Some quite elaborate, some simple. There’s an owl from Maine and a sunflower from Ohio. There’s the slightly smudged bear from a four-year-old who accompanied his granddad, the trout. I reach a blank page and leave my dragonfly. The ink bleeds in spots as I add a note, “The spring rains have started.”

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