Thursday, March 28, 2013

Easter Long Weekend: the unofficial start to the Ontario letterboxing season

I've noticed in the few years I've been letterboxing that this upcoming weekend seems to be the first opportunity of the season for the majority of boxers to dust off their gear and get out on the trail.  In my experience, while there certainly are a number of those who get around over the winter to nab a box here or there, most folks wait for warmer temps before making those trips.

So, I sit here myself and prep for my own letterboxing weekend.  I am lucky enough to have both the Friday and the Sunday off, although my four days are interrupted by a wedding on Saturday.  Therefore, I've been prepping for a trip out to Kitchener tomorrow to snatch some of those many boxes that were planted en masse it seems over the last year, as well as stop in to pay my respects to the Ontario letterboxing maffia queenpin.

Now, I've been gathering my clues, tagging my choices as I go on AQ, but I tend to be fairly changeable when it comes to how I bring my clues along with me.  Sometimes I print them, one at a time, as they strike my fancy.  Sometimes I just print out the clues at one shot, as well as a map with all the pins on top so I can choose an order based on location rather than how they print, and I have cut and paste clues into little cheet sheets - 20+ clues all on one page... other times I rely solely on my iPhone...  I haven't decided what is "best" for me yet; I think it just depends on my mood.

Hope everyone has a lovely letterboxing weekend and gets the chance to get out on a trail somewhere!  Bring boots for mud - or snow if there's any left.   If anyone is coming to Toronto, I can advise that we are and have been snowless for a while, but mud abounds.

Happy trails!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Letterboxing injuries

Most people get hurt letterboxing while on the trail... You know, poison ivy, bee stings, sun burns, squirrel attacks, broken ankles...

Others get hurt while making letterboxes - a slip of the knife can send you to the ER for stitches, you know. Well, yesterday, I gave myself a brutal stabbing which is still throbbing today. I was swapping out the gouge portion on the handle of my Speedball handle when all the nibs came pouring out and I instinctively tried to prevent them from going all over the floor by bringing my right hand close to my body - hoping to catch them without them falling. Problem was that my #1 gouge fell perfectly perpendicular to my hand and the force with which I brought my hand towards my body resulted in the sharp end of the nib going into the fleshy part of my hand a full centimeter. I know this because I hand to pull the thing out. Ouch.  Directly in, directly out.  Very little bleeding, but a helluva lot of pain.

I'd like to tell you the moral of the story is that when things fall, just let them hit the floor and only then go to
pick them up. Unfortunately, your brain doesn't work like that.  All our lives, our brain is programmed to catch things.  When there is no time to stop and think, your brain automatically sends signals to your hands to catch that which falls.

This very same thing happened to me in highschool electronics class.  We were working on circuits all year and were told to make sure that if one of the soldering irons were to start falling off a table, just let it fall then pick it up once it's on the ground - no burns that way.  One day, out of the corner of my eye, I see mine start sliding off the table, and instinctively my right hand darts out and I catch the thing by grasping the entire hot end in my hand.  Like the pic on the right.  Obviously, I let go of the iron almost immediately, but then I ended up curling my hand into a fist - because of the pain - which resulted in my liquid skin all fusing together.  At the ER, they had to cut my hand back open before they could treat the burn.  Worst. ER. Trip. Ever.  No scars though.  Weird.

Anyways, luckily, I am already on antibiotics for one of my patented tooth problems, and I just updated my tetanus last summer. So I'll survive. Just make sure when going out letterboxing or staying in letterboxing, you have a first aid kit available to you, or someone who can take you into emerg. Anyways, I'm off to coddle my hand some more. Toodles.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Have you hugged a geocacher today?

Before I get into it, can I please state for the record that I'm totally sick of winter.  Or at least how unpredictable the weather has been.  I've been tracking the weather for the thing this Sunday (I'm scared a lot of people will show and there won't be room in the restaurant - my hope was to chill outside, but not literally).  It's warm - it's cold - it's wet - it's dry - it's snow (wtf!) - it's dreary - it's blue... It's supposed to be spring.  I just want spring.  Where is spring?!

Ahem.  Anyways.  Geocachers, yes, that's what I'm here to talk about, geocachers. Last weekend while I was in the park hiding a box for this weekend's event (Hi! Park), the place was pretty busy and there were folks out there participating in all sorts of activities.  And I guess some of them are geocaching.  And I guess I didn't check my locations right cuz I clearly planted my previous weekend's plant too close to a geocache which was discovered by a nice geocacher, Willipan. This kind soul did the thing that letterboxers everywhere hope a thoughtful geocacher would do: found the box, did not assume it was their cache, have a look-see, signed in, put everything away, registered on AQ, and left a wonderful comment as follows: 

I was out geocaching today and thought I'd found the cache for which I was looking about 10 metres from Ground Zero - what a surprise to find this letterbox instead! I've done geocaching letterboxes before but never a non-geocaching one and certainly never found one by accident - I had to sign up and log it! We were the first to find this one - I put in my geocaching stamp but unfortunately, didn't have my geocaching log book with me to use your beautiful stamp! We never did find the geocache we were hunting, but this was a great surprise!

I sometimes see how geocachers are talked about by the letterboxing community and it sort of makes me sad.  Listen, no one will be more irritated than me when one of my stamps gets traded out by a geocacher who is not paying attention.  But isn't that all it is?  Let's face it, all letterboxes will eventually go missing.  At least if it's a letterboxer, there's a chance they will come to our hobby as well.

And really, they're sort of like our cousins; they're just having a great time in the woods looking for tupperware just like us.  How can you be critical of that? Yes, they play the "game" differently but we all know there's no right or wrong - just different.

So, for posterity, some reasons I love geocachers:
  • When explaining letterboxing to them, unlike a muggle, they get it
  • They're blazing the path for knowledge of these types of hobbies, making it easier to come in and plant in areas that are already primed for the idea
  • They bring new folks to our hobby; let's face it, there are some amazing Ontario letterboxers who came to our community from geocaching
  • They're inspirational when it comes to clues and hides (I mean, just look at this!)
  • On the whole, they're great people just looking for a stump to hide a box in.
Have you hugged a geocacher today?

Happy trails, letterboxers and geocachers!


Friday, March 15, 2013

Lucky Lunchtime Letterbox

Yesterday, I had an unexpected break at work over lunch and given the gorgeous blue skies I knew I had to get out of the office.   And so I nabbed a letterbox on my lunch break - what luck!

The moons of Jupiter pretty much have to align in order for this type of thing to happen:
-there has to be a letterbox planted close enough to find
-there has to be sufficiently good weather to risk trails in my work clothes
-I have to have a solved clue that has a trail short enough to get there and back in my lunch break
-I have to have letterboxing gear with me

As I said, luck was on my side and even after a long time since the last finder and, ya know, winter, I had a successful find.

The clue in question was for three.trail.mice's Twin Tree Letterbox.  It's clue lists it fairly close to my office.  I didn't have a printed clue, but I did have my iPhone and two letterboxing apps, so good to go.  The weather was perfect and I did have some boots to wear... and I had my "emergency" letterboxing kit with me in my glove box.  It was on.

Clue in hand... er, in phone, I made off! Luckily, I was semi-familiar with the trail as this was the same one as my very first letterbox.  What nostalgia.

The clue was clear and concise, and though I got more mud on my pant leg that I would have liked, I found the box.  Nice and clean and dry, hand-carved stamp from a junior trail mouse, and hand-made logbook.  What more can you ask for really?

Covered up better than I found it and then made my way back to the office.  This would be a lovely lunchtime pasttime, except now the nearest letterbox is a 45 minute drive away, 1.5 hour round trip.  Don't think that would work for a lunch break.  Oh well.

Happy trails!

Spring is definitely coming...

The letterbox! You can tell what a nice day it was by how strong that shadow is - the sun was really shining!


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The dangers of transferring too soon *or* I have letterboxer's ADD

Despite the warm weather, it is currently snowing like this outside my window. Grr!
The quickest part of putting a letterbox together for me is transferring the image.  It can take many hours finding or creating the image I want to use, and perhaps twice as long still to carve, but transferring the image is actually just seconds - print, xylene, done.

But to efficient, I often print one page with many images on it so that I have them available and so I'm not wasting paper.  And in the past I've often transferred the images as well.  This is a problem. Because I have letterboxing ADD.

I have a small stack of transferred images that I've now resigned myself will never be carved.  Unless I can scrub the images off (mixed success), the rubber has gone to waste.  When I first printed and transferred the image, I really wanted to create whatever that image was.  The problem is that over time, for whatever reason, I grow bored of whatever that idea was and it goes to the wayside.  Sad really.

I look at that small stack and see it as a sort of Island of Lost Toys.  They'll never be loved.

And so my resolution for 2013 was this: do not transfer unless I am immediately starting to carve that image.  I can print them out to my heart's desire, but no transferring until I'm ready to carve. It is a rare stamp that starts getting carved but not finished (I can only actually think of one).

Poor little stamps.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Book review: Night Circus

I don't really intend to start doing book reviews here, but i just wanted to make mention of a book I read a little while back that really stuck with me: Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

While it isn't the best book I've ever read, mostly because I love a strong plot and in this book I couldn't really tell what the plot was... Was it a love story? Was it about the masters? Was it about the game? Was it about the circus? Was it about the circus's followers?  I'm still not sure, but there's probably some metaphor in there I'm missing.  I'm a literalist and don't always catch everything.

However, I love this book anyway because of the amazing and vibrant imagery... and can't help but see the parallels in our hobby.

I do recommend you read it, but I don't think I'm spoiling it if I explain part of the book: the Night Circus itself is a travelling circus of oddities and magical things that has a close cult of followers (why and how the circus and its performers is important, but not for this post).

Part of the intrigue of the circus is never knowing where it is going to be; the circus suddenly shuts down and vanishes, only to arrive unannounced and unexpectedly somewhere else.  While anyone can go see the circus, those that are the followers of the circus love it because they understand the magic of it all better than others.  They know about the hidden world and help others stay in contact.  And so they form a network to relay messages of where the circus has been and where it has arrived so that they can enjoy it as much as possible.  And while all of the performers in the circus wear only black and white, the followers imitate by wearing the same, but with an additional red item to let performers and other followers know that they too are followers of the circus.

As I said, I wasn't too taken with the plot - because I wasn't clear what it was - but I did love the eccentric characters, the vivid world, and the lingering mood of this book.  It's worth the read.  I'm likely going to plant a box in honour of this book, just be sure to ink it in black, white, and red.

Happy trails!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Interesting discussion going on across the pond...

There has been a short but interesting discussion over at the Dartmoor Letterboxing forum that I've been following.  It started with some comments regarding Tanda Stamps closing its doors.  Tanda was a supplier of custom stamps - I surmise that a lot of the Dartmoor stamps are not hand carved - but not commercial buys of Hello Kitties either, more machine-made custom stamps.  (Google is your friend.)

Anyways, the discussion veered on a tangent into a discussion about the state of the hobby there and whether or not to move to an electronic-based system (and the costs of implementation if it were to come to that).  Although I follow the forum there from time to time, I certainly won't be pipping in on the discussion (with: hey, come on over to AtlasQuest! it's lovely and allows box restrictions...) as I feel that the tenor of the hobby might be different there and who am I to have an opinion anyway?  As a relative late-comer to the game, I do feel that the North American letterboxing community owes itself to the original Dartmoor crew, and I certainly wouldn't want to be airing my opinions on how they might want to move forward in the future. I can see the charm and tradition of a clue book; but love the practicality of AQ.

Visiting England again and getting down to Dartmoor to do some letterboxing is something that has percolated in my brain for quite a while.  Although it's on my list of things to do in the mid-future, it's not quite as easy to do as it is letterboxing anywhere else where I can pull clues off of AQ and go.  It's a different culture there and I wouldn't even know where to begin.  Good or bad? Not sure.

Just food for thought.  Tonight, planting and scouting; tomorrow, letterboxing!

Happy trails on this beautiful weekend!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Listmakers Anon

Did you know that I have a list? A big master list of all the letterboxes that are planned - and have a location? Right now, I have 48 letterboxes that have an idea, image, and location in the works.  Some are only in the ether at the moment, others have the images transferred, some are mid-carve, others are sitting on my coffee table at home waiting to be planted (right now, that coffee table list sits at seven - waiting a good day to plant!).

Moving again got my creative juices going again big time.  I'm also really busy at work, which somehow also gives me great ideas.  Don't ask me how that works.  But many a sticky note come home with me from work with new ideas on it.

I also have a dropbox folder that has about ~500 images that I've dropped there that all fall within the "I want to carve that someday" file.  I don't really count those as in the process, really it's just an easy way to pull images to keep on hand.  Although, admittedly, lately I've been generating more and more of my own images - whether because of text, or because I've been doing a lot more image manipulation that's given me more control over the images I produce.

Anyways, I've got a lot percolating at the moment, but that carve I'm doing for L&B is bottlenecking the process (although, I seem to also be behind on logbooks).  I timed it last night: I'm averaging five words per hour on the L&B carve.  The image has a lot of teensy text.  I just want it to be done - serves me right for picking text.

I've really been enjoying the mild weather - hoping it keeps up and we have a warm March.  My MeetUp is in a few weeks and it would be nice to have it outside... I've been working on a mini-getting-started-letterboxing-booklet for the event, still being written... I digress... I'm off!

Happy trails!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Letterboxing by mail

It's been a wonderful time for mail, lately.  In addition to my usual postcards, I've recieved a few letterboxy things which I wanted to share...

First, there was the theft of one of my new letterboxes, Year of the Snake, by an unrepentant stealer of stamps, Kenlaur.  Tsk, tsk.  At least he had the common courtesy to mail it back to me.  Ever recieve your own letterbox in the mail? Strange stuff.  It has already been replanted, and already found.  But hopefully not stolen again.  Jeez.

Here, snakey, snakey...
Next up, a big heavy batch of neodymium magnets.  One hundred of them to be exact.  Aren't they beautiful?  Oh, the wondrous things we're going to do together, my little silvery friends...

So tiny, so powerful. Perfect for urban plants, if ya know what I mean ;)

Happy trails!