Sunday, September 10, 2006

Hidden Treasures

A short visit to Moose Hill Saturday morning and an interesting discovery got me thinking about things we take from the woods and things we leave.

I only had time for a quick breakfast visit, so I headed back to my rock on Hobbs Hill. The trail to this nice spot is only about half way up Moose Hill Parkway and since I was there not too long ago (See “Faith,” August 5, 2006.), I knew I could get there and back quickly. I parked the bike, headed down the trail, went over the boardwalk and up the trail to the hilltop. Just as I approached the summit, something unusual caught my eye. In a space under a big, flat rock was a plastic food storage container. At first I thought it was trash, or that perhaps someone had stashed a lunch there. Examining the box, I quickly realized it contained some kind of log book with a rubber stamp. It was a letterbox.

I was only vaguely aware of the sport of letterboxing. I guess it’s a little like treasure hunting or geocaching. People hide these boxes in the woods, publish clues as to their locations, and folks go hunting for them. A little web searching tells me that this hobby may be quite popular, but I knew almost nothing about it. It reminded me of the log books placed at the summits of some mountain tops in the Catskills and Adirondacks of New York that I used to sign on my hikes back in the 1970’s. Peak-bagging was a serious sport for some people who, for example, would try to climb all the Adirondack peaks over 4000 feet in elevation. They called themselves, I think, “Forty-sixers.” The letterbox also made me think that we might be making progress. Where people once left their mark in the woods by carving hearts and initials in the bark of beech trees, now they can leave a stamp and a note in a sketchbook.

I guess any sport or activity that gets people outside, exercising and into the woods in a non-consumptive, low-impact way is a good thing. It’s good for the participants and, ultimately, good for the woods if it inspires people to appreciate and protect our wild places. I imagine there are those who would be so focused on finding their treasure, letterbox or peak that they might miss the wondrous details of the forest they travel through, but I would hope most take the time to look around and absorb the beauty.

I sealed the letterbox back up and put it back under the rock. It seems it has been there for several years and many people have singed the logbook, but I missed it completely on my last visit.

I walked among the hickories on the hilltop and found my breakfast rock overlooking the little valley. The morning was cool and dry enough that there were only a few not-very-aggressive mosquitoes. Crickets provided a steady background sound, but the cicadas of my last visit were quiet. I saw one chipmunk moving silently among some rocks nearby, while another was clucking in the distance. A lone robin was picking through the brown oak leaves on the ground. The soft sounds of the forest and the quiet activities of my woodland hosts helped me to ignore the human noises of voices and machinery in the far distance.

Suddenly, a new movement caught my eye. Along the draw below my vantage point, a brown bird flew among the trees, close to the ground near where I had just seen the robin. At first, I thought it was the robin, but quickly realized it was about twice as large and must be a hawk. This silent, graceful bird landed on a low-hanging oak branch, pausing long enough to give me an obstructed view with my binoculars. Based on its habitat, small size, streaked breast and banded tail, I’m pretty sure it was an immature sharp-shinned hawk. I imagine the robin was as pleased as I was disappointed when this bird-eater moved along. I see red-tailed hawks soaring overhead in the open or sitting by the roadside all the time, but these small woodland hawks are harder to spot and identify. I love seeing them, but always wish I knew more about them.

People go to the woods for all kinds of reasons. Some might leave hidden treasures and take letterbox scorecard checkmarks. Others might leave footprints and take photos and life bird lists. On one late summer morning, I was content to leave my mark in a little log book and take away a sense of peacefulness that a few moments of quiet and solitude in the forest can provide.

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At 10:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a coincidence. I just found a geocache on one of my morning walking routes. Read the log book, and looked at the treasures inside. Left a note about the morning fog.
I enjoy your blog tremendously.

At 11:52 AM, Blogger robin andrea said...

The Sharp-shinned and Cooper's hawks have been doing fly-bys in our yard over the past few days. Sometimes they fly low and hide in the fruit trees. Sometimes they perch right on the bird-feeder. I photographed one yesterday that had turned its head nearly 180 degrees to look behind him. Quite a sight.

I've never found a letterbox. I like the idea of it. Like quietly saying hello to other travelers and hikers.

At 4:53 PM, Blogger Lilly said...

Sometimes I find treasures that the woods itself gives me, like a beautiful piece of bark, or a bluebird feather. Sometimes, I leave a gift for the woods, pouring out a bit of my drink or singing a song for the trees to listen to. Sometimes, there are inadvertant gifts from our fellow human beings, like the green glass electrical insulator that rolled to my feet when I was walking in the woods a few days ago. I took that with me too, a glass mushroom.

At 1:03 PM, Blogger GreenmanTim said...

Better than a message in a bottle, but for you, just as random!

At 10:06 PM, Blogger Susan Gets Native said...

We did letterboxing once, when my husband wrote an article about it. It was fun, and it gets people out in the woods.

At 7:32 AM, Anonymous pablo said...

Out Colorado way, people want to achieve "fourteeners." I was never so successful. The highest I ever reached was about 12,000 feet, sucking air the whole time.

At 4:47 PM, Blogger lené said...

What a great little story. I have a friend whose husband and kids are big in the "geocaching" activity, which I knew nothing about until your post. I also enjoyed all of the sensory descriptions of your place.

By the way, if you want to see hawks migrating, check the weather and head up on the first day of a cold front. There were over 1200 broad wings heading south last week over Lake Champlain, seen from Mt. Philo.

At 10:01 PM, Blogger MojoMan said...

Funny thing is, Tim, "Message in a Bottle" was my original title for this post, but I changed it since I didn't have any maritime connection.

Susan: Any links to your husband's piece?

Lene: Thanks for the idea about Hawks. I'm keeping me eyes open. See my Sept. 20 post.

I agree, Lilly, that the natural gifts are the best. The more intangible, the better.

Thanks for the kind comment S. You have me thinking...maybe I should bury my own treasure and leave hints in the blog.


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