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Dedicated letterboxers will soon have a notebook filled with stamps to record their adventures

Stamps from boxes can build into an impressive and eclectic collection. Families across the country are desperate to find activities to occupy them during the coronavirus isolation period. Internet streaming services are swamped with business, libraries' digital libraries are doing a brisk service and parents are taking the younger set on "teddy bear hunts" around their neighborhoods.

Lesser known, but a natural choice for older children and adults, is the 19th century hobby of letterboxing. A low-tech cousin of geo-caching, letterboxing uses clues to send finders to open-air sites in search of hidden treasure boxes of fun. To "prove" your success, finders use rubber stamps (often self-made) to imprint a log book left in the box and use the box's custom stamp to document the find in their own notebook. Dedicated letterboxers will soon have a notebook filled with stamps to record their adventures, like a passport filled without leaving their community. For families who enjoy walks and hiking, hunting boxes can be a handy tool to keep youngsters engaged.

According to Atlas Quest, one of the most popular websites in the U.S. dedicated to the activity, there are more than 90,000 boxes hidden throughout the U.S. A box/stamp "owner" will find a location to conceal the box — usually along a trail or in a public park or venue — craft clues often using riddles, directional clues like a treasure map, or compass bearings, and publish those clues for finders on websites like Atlas Quest or Letterboxing USA. PMG PHOTOS: LESLIE PUGMIRE HOLE - Looking for a new hobby during these strange times? Try out letterboxing, with some help from us at Pamplin Media.

Since the boxes and materials inside will be handled by multiple people, during the coronavirus outbreak finders should use precautions such as handling materials with gloves or tissues or sanitizing hands with wipes after returning the box to its location.

Letterboxing was begun in Victorian England, in the vast Dartmoor Park, when a park guide stashed a bottle deep in the moors and filled it with his calling cards. Visitors, after triumphantly slogging miles through the wild park, took his card and left their own to document their victorious hike. In later years visitors began leaving pre-stamped postcards, so later visitors would mail it back to them.

The modern era of letterboxing did not start until the 1970s when someone created a map of the handful of boxes in the U.S. And during the new millennium the map went online. Both owners and finders can document their activities on the websites (but it is not necessary to participate). But the websites are where you find boxes and the clues to find them.

To get you started Pamplin Media Group created several local boxes.

Lake Oswego

"Roseland"

Find the spot where Lake Oswego's oldest residents spend eternity. Look for the stone marking the spot reserved for the nautical couple, the last of whom arrived in 1905. Directly behind is a huge tree named after a canine. Search in the fork of the tree overhead for the box. An adult or tall youth will be needed for this.

Wilsonville

"Tug of the River"

Drive to the end of the road, to the place where Wilsonville's pioneers crossed the river. Pass the barricades and head down the roadway to where it curves to the river. Ahead are a line of large boulders, behind (on the riverside) of the 10th rock from the right is a crevice. The box is there.

West Linn

"100 years: Reflections of a Lion"

Stroll down the road named for the beginning of the alphabet and find the parking lot reserved for the leaders of the once-Union High School. Find the spot set aside for Leader No. 6. Directly behind is a coupled tree, in the crevice between the two trees, under the leaves, is your box.

"Cycle of Camas"

Continue south to the parking lot furthest from the school, up the hill. Find the entrance to the trail to Camassia Nature Park on the right end of the chain link fence. Continue down the path until you reach the wetland pond on your right. The trail branches right there but you want to continue straight. Keep going as the path descends towards I-205 (watch little ones here, there's a drop off). Crawl over the mossy log crossing the path and walk to the spot where the trees end and grass begins. The last cluster of trees on the right is covered in ivy, peek around the freeway side of the cluster and look deep into the opening where the trunks meet. You might have to remove some dead leaves to find it.

Letterboxing is a good way to get outside while adhering to social distancing guidelines.

What you need to start

A blank notebook, stamp ink or water soluble markers and a rubber stamp. The more ambitious and artistic can easily create their own with carving tools and stamp blanks available in hobby/art stores — or you just buy a pre-made stamp.

Pick a "trail name." This will be the nickname your family or you will use to sign logbooks or leave clues if you hide your own box. Not necessary but fun.

Go to atlasquest.com or letterboxing.org and put the name of your community, or where you are going, in the box search area. Print out clues to a nearby box. Check to see if the clues use compass points, you will need an orienteering compass for this. Don't worry, they are easy to use. Many boxes don't require them, however.

Rules to remember

Try to be stealthy when you find a box. Carry it away from the spot you found it a bit to do your stamping. Letterboxers try to keep "muggles" (non-letterboxers) from observing their activities and possibly vandalizing the boxes.

Don't disturb monuments or delicate plants as you search for boxes. Keep an eye out for local dangers such as poison ivy or snakes.

Re-hide the boxes well.

Don't get discouraged if you don't find a box. Sometimes they go missing or the clues were poorly written.

Glossary

Catch point: Usually something that, when reached, tells you something about your location. For instance, a letterboxing clue that says to look for a tree on the right, but if you've reached a footbridge, you've gone too far.

Drive-by box: A drive-by letterbox requires little or no walking and shouldn't take more than a few minutes to nab. Usually located in or near parking lots. These types of boxes usually aren't favorites, but their accessibility often makes them popular finds.

Hitchhiker: A letterbox without a home. A hitchhiker is hidden with another letterbox, and the person that finds it is expected to take the hitchhiker to another letterbox

Huffing: When inking a complex stamp with multiple colors, sometimes the first colors you inked will dry out before you finish with the last colors. To help get a better impression, letterboxes will blow a thick, moist breath of air onto the stamp to help moisten it again before stamping.


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