Friday, March 23, 2007

Treasure in the woods

Earlier this week, homeschooling took us on a whirlwind tour of a local park nature trail where we followed clues and found our very first letterbox! Go us!

We carved up our own stamps that morning, threw some books together and bound them with crochet cotton, and hit the trail. It was FABULOUS! I'm totally smitten with the idea of mixing artistry, cognition, nature, and mystery. Not only is it good for the brain, it's good for the soul.

I had Sunburst read the clue outloud, and she and Moonshine worked hard at sleuthing it out. We made wrong turns and back-tracked and read the clues again and again.

Sunburst: "You will come to a T intersection... Oh, look! This is sort of like a 'T.'"
Mom: "Here's a huge, fallen tree, but is it the right one?"
Moonshine: "I don't see a footbridge."
Sunburst: "The clue says, 'Don't blink or you'll miss it.'"
Moonshine: "I think we must have blinked."

We finally found the treasure, a small plastic container, hidden in the wet leaves under a footbridge. We had to really dig around for it, but there it was, as promised. We carried the box over to a fallen tree and sat there admiring the logbook entries and hand-carved stamp. We stamped the logbook, added a message, stamped our own books, and carefully sealed the box back up and placed it back into hiding. It felt grand and lovely and extremely satisfying, and the woods smelled so good.

Einstein caught up with us on our way back to the car, and to not leave him out of the fun, we turned around and did it all again, only letting him sleuth out the clues. The girls were very cute about it-- helping him make the same wrong turns we did. It was fun for the whole family! And we got outside, in the thick of nature, which doesn't happen as much as I'd like.

On the way home we started plotting to place our own letterboxes. There are only four in our county. Only four! In the spirit of the game, we've got to do our part. Einstein and I have been out scouting around for the perfect places and staying up late designing stamps. We crack ourselves up.

A huge part of the draw is the artistry of hand-carved stamps-- that personal touch. Leaving a hand-crafted treasure out in the woods speaks to me of trust, faith, and human connection. Someone made this, and in sharing the stamp, they are sharing a bit of themselves. With complete strangers. With all the crazy things that go on in our world, how cool is that? And how important! It speaks volumes. Not just to me, but to our children as well. It's a message I want them to hear loud and clear.

Initially, I thought this stamp carving business sounded crazy hard. But it's not. Hand-carved stamps are not hard to make. We're no experts, but here's what we did:

At the craft store I bought a small block of Mastercarve and an X-acto knife. I made a pencil image on paper and pressed the Mastercarve onto it to transfer the image. Then I carefully, gingerly cut out the white areas, about 1/16 - 1/8 inch deep with the X-acto knife. My depth wasn't precise or even, I just tried to mimic what most stamps look like. My first attempt was crude and fell into pieces after a few stampings. But I used the same drawing and more carefully tried again. This time it was better.

Originally, I read online that kids can make stamps with Artgum erasers and table knives. This did NOT work out for us. It was way too crumbly. Instead, they drew images and I cut them out from the Mastercarve. The more simple the images, the easier it is to cut them. And I love how they all have a different feel to them.

If it helps, Atlas-Quest has a simple stamp-carving tutorial.

Rather than purchase them, we made small logbooks for the trail with leftover cardstock scraps and acid-free copy paper. Our books measured 4 1/4" x 5 1/2". I used a tiny hole punch to make four holes along one side, about 1/4" from the edges. Then I had the girls sew them up using the Japanese stab binding technique. Again, here's another great tutorial.

For more information on letterboxing, be sure to check out:
The Letterboxer's Companion by Randy Hall

1 comment:

  1. starphish7:47 AM

    Delurking to say Thank you!!! I hadn't heard of letterboxing until I read this post and after some investigation I have discovered that we have several in our area - incredibly enough in places I am so familiar with I know exactly where some of the boxes are!!! I am planning to go on an adventure tommorrow with my 3 wee ones. Many thanks again and happy trails!


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