Sunday, November 9, 2008


I recently learned about letterboxing from Holly at Unschool Days and it immediately appealed to me: stamps, notebooks, hidden treasure, Anglophilia, walks in the woods! I thought it would be cool to try, but I was still surprised by just how much fun N. and I had. We printed out clues to four boxes hidden around the Reynolda estate. Since all four were fairly close together, it took us less than an hour of rambling through the fallen leaves to stamp our little log book four times. We were sorry it was over so quickly, and N. wished I had brought more clues to follow. But I promised we'd do it again.

I've walked the trail that was the focal point of our letterbox searches many times, but always as a route from one place to another. This time, the trail itself was the destination, and as we examined the woods on either side of the trail in search of faint tracks in the leaf detritus, I was surprised to notice myself paying attention to my surroundings in a different kind of way, surprised to realize I don't always look around like this, like N. does. I usually like to think I am observant and relatively alert to the natural world. Though as a family we spend a lot of time outside walking the neighborhood, playing in the somewhat rustic park down the street, and tending to our vegetable and flower gardens, we don't spend much time in the woods, and the woods are something different. We celebrated July 4th with friends in the mountains where N.'s intense pleasure hiking the old overgrown logging roads seemed primal to me. Today's brief ramble searching for little plastic boxes hidden under logs provided another rare glimpse of life not dominated by cleared fields and settled agriculture. The irony that these moments came courtesy of logging and tobacco farming is not lost on me. As Americans we have shaped the landscape so thoroughly now that a regrowing logged tract and a shaggy, once-manicured estate pass for forests.

All of which is to say, this letterboxing adventure reminded me of how important it is to be outside with children in lots of different ways and places, whether gardening, learning explicitly about the nature's creatures and systems, or simply reconnecting with an ancient way of being human in the world. Or, as Thoreau said "Today, I took a walk in the woods."