Wanda and Pete's Letterboxes
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|127. "LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT LETTERBOXING AWARD"||Just a small token of appreciation for our own special "letterboxing heroes" who have put in 5 years, 100 plants, and PFX500 or more!|
For a long time now we have been wanting to honor those extraordinary individuals who have gone way above and beyond in establishing and promoting letterboxing, first mostly in our neck of the woods, and now in many different parts of North America as well! We talked it over with quite a few fellow letterboxers, came up with some guidelines to acknowledge the high standards these people have set (see
message #53078 on the talk list for more information on what we are looking for in presenting this award box), and finally are ready to announce our first set of honorees! So, without further ado, our little "Oscars" this year go to...
Well, 2005 was the year we were pleased to honor our first "LA-LA" (lifetime achievement letterboxing award) "pioneers", Jay Drew and Carolyn Stearns of CT, each of whom put in a good five years commitment to letterboxing, planting over 400 and 200 boxes respectively, helping to make East Lyme and Mansfield, CT among the first "mini-Dartmoors" in the US, and beginning the spread of our hobby outwards in various other directions, as many of us attempted to follow in their footsteps. This year, therefore, we will be celebrating the continuation of that tradition as other folks picked up the "super planter" banner and carried it along for another 5 years, not only in CT and RI, but in other parts of the LbNA letterboxing world as well.
First up, we want to note the rapid rise of letterboxing on the west coast, beginning in 2001 with what we refer as the "First Big West Coast Wave". Now, if we call Jay and Caroline the "godfather" and "godmother" of east coast letterboxing, then surely Don and Gwen of CA, making their letterboxing debut in late 2000, could be considered letterboxing's "west coast godparents". By the time we visited southern California in early 2002, about half the boxes we found out there had been planted by Don and Gwen! They continued on to plant some 200 boxes throughout the west, and can also be fantastic hosts, as we discovered on our visit with them to the high desert country around Kernville, where they were to host a river-running letterbox gathering soon thereafter. Many thanks to them for their hospitality and their part in helping to get west coast letterboxing off to a good rolling start!
Hitting the west coast further north somewhat before that time was a "rogue wave" in the form of early letterboxing pioneer Der Mad Stamper, transplanting from Kansas to the Columbia River Gorge with cool boxes like "Multnomah Falls" and others, which we were pleased to find on our first quick trial of letterboxing in the Pacific Northwest in the spring of 2002. He disappeared for a while, and then resurfaced, so we weren't quite sure how to count him in, but we did want to put him up for an "Oscar" for all his early work in helping to set the stage for our fine little hobby, and for now, several years later, once again picking up that boxing "boogie board"! Coming along a year or two later, on what we call the second wave of west coast letterboxing, were Amanda from Seattle, Princess Lea of CA, Ryan of CA, and Funhog of OR, all of whom seem to have begun their letterboxing sprees sometime in 2001, and have now passed the P100 mark. In addition to creating letterboxing "hot spots" on their home turf and helping to turn the Pacific Northwest into America's second major "Dartmoor", these folks each seemed to have a tendency to "seed" areas with boxes during their travels, literally to the four corners! So, at a time when letterboxes were still few and far between in most parts of the country, coming across an Amanda box in NC, a Funhog box in NM, a Ryan box in TN or a Princess Lea box in VT was always a real treat for us. Thanks to all these folks for helping spread the contagious joy of finding small boxes in unusual places all across the country!
Meanwhile, around that same time in 2001 back in New England, Connecticut was embarking on its own "second big letterboxing wave". Building on the earlier efforts of Jay and Carolyn, several "new" CT prolific planters began to swell the ranks in late 2000 and 2001, including Bill Haalck, Butterfly, and Chuck & Molly of later "Monster Mash" fame. Bill Haalck found his niche planting boxes along rail trails converted to bike paths, and we are pleased to say we have found most of his100+ boxes on more miles of rail trails than we ever even imagined existed! Butterfly found her niche as our "esteemed elder", logging in hundreds of CT hiking miles while planting bunches of flowers, herbs and tree leaves as birthday bonuses for her many letterboxing friends. And Chuck, who never used to go hiking anywhere without his dog Molly before she died in June 2006, covered the "Quiet Corner" of northeastern CT with his famous "In Search of...." creatures and many other interesting letterbox creations that literally kept us hopping around that part of our neighboring state for several years!
And now for a mid-west "LA-LA" debut, we're adding on someone else that we thought was up for Lil' Oscar next year, but turns out that he started in late 2001 as well, and planted so many boxes in Ohio (over 100 even way back then), in a healthy little bit of planting competition with geoflyfisher, that there was one point in late 2002 when we actually thought Ohio was going to overtake CT for having the highest number of planted boxes! We're talking, of course, about that quiet, humble "super planter" Franzsolo, whom I was very glad to have met on my Ohio trip out to visit with Scoutdogs in June 2003.
These, then, are some of the folks that we feel deserve our special thanks and "lil' Oscars" for all their extra hard groundwork and long-term commitment to letterboxing. Several other people starting out in our hobby at about that same time or earlier may also soon be reaching that high base criterion of 100 or more traditionally planted boxes to go along with 5 years in the hobby and a combined minimum PFX500, so we'd like to give them "Oscar nods" now, too. These include Josef of E. Hartford, who recently went on a grand spree planting "Peace" in many languages before heading off on a teacher exchange program in England; Dan & Melissa of CT, whose "Iditarod" series and other boxes we have enjoyed over the years; and the lazyletterboxer of MA, that happy-go-lucky multi-stamps-in-one-box pub party gal of Leominster!
We'd also like to mention here some of the even earlier letterboxers who were instrumental in starting the seeding process in their respective parts of the country with at least a handful of boxes when very few others were around, folks like the Davises and Tom Cooch in VT; Mountain Scorpia, doing "early-season" planting in Florida and the mountains of NC; JeLyBean, initiating some ground-breaking, high-quality mystery work in upstate NY before moving to CO to continue that trend at an even higher level; Martian Maggot, SeeJoy, Floating Feather, and the Perfect Circle Letterboxing Guild, fashioning some fun early PA/NJ boxes back in the day; BOXDN of LA, minting many new quarters in the antediluvial New Orleans area; Lonemasswolf and YIMS, inspiring us as the first people we heard of to meet on a letterboxing date that led to marriage; Two Gray Squirrels, covering the greater DC area of MD, VA, and WV, and many other such folks who have contributed to our hobby at different times and levels. _
Finally, our "Oscar"nod list would not be complete without mention of two legendary figures, who, although probably neither has gone out to find enough of other people's boxes to reach PFX500, have perhaps had a more profound subliminal impact on letterboxing than just about anyone else in the hobby. We're talking, of course, about the inscrutable mapsurfer and the incomparable legerdemaine. Not only did these two phenomenal planters from PA and ME respectively give us some of our most memorable finds (well over 100 combined), but they made 2001 the year that will for us always stand out as the epitome of the very best that letterboxing once had to offer. ("le mot juste dans le milieu juste", as legerdemaine once said, and the stamp was then just the icing on the cake!) Almost no amount of boxes we have found since that time has been able to equal the pleasure we got back then from a long weekend hunt for a single mapsurfer mystery or a single branch on a magnificent mountain mandala that may no longer even exist except in a few people's memory banks. Much of the precise verbal, physical, and situational magic disappeared for us when the "focus" (Russian for "legerdemain", by the way!;-) shifted primarily towards stamp art quality, with "urban boxes", "drive-bys", "postals", and the wholesale passing out of former "top secrets", such as what number led to what spot, which to us seemed tantamount to giving away the answers to a test beforehand! Consequently, we have mostly ignored any "latter day manifestations", which would most likely have spoiled our earlier wonderful memories anyway. However, some of those trends - both the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly - have sent waves and ripples throughout the letterboxing community, and no matter how many imitators have tried to jump on and catch those initial big waves, very few have managed to come anywhere close to creating total letterboxing experiences with the sardonic introversion of a mapsurfer or the calculated finesse of a legerdemaine. Thanks, cheers, and Oscar nods to them both!
Now, unless we hear of any changes or additions that need to be made, we're calling it a wrap for this year! Next year we hope to be back with our report of letterboxing's continued expansion by adding in the efforts of the 2002 crop of "super planters" from all "across the fruited plain"!
So glad in a way that things conspired to set us back a bit in writing up this year's "LA-LA" report, so that perhaps we might all have a chance to think about the various directions that letterboxing has taken on this continent of ours, and tie it in with some North American values and history - just in time for Thanksgiving! Some new letterboxers may not even know much at all about North American letterboxing history, or why the people we honor with this "LA-LA" award are so special, so a few paragraphs of "recap" before announcing this year's honorees may actually be in order.
Most of us letterboxers over here, except perhaps for the "newest generation", probably realize by now that when letterboxing in its post-Smithsonian adaptation jumped the pond from England almost 10 years ago now, it underwent some remarkable changes as North Americans sought to make it "their own". With breakthroughs as revolutionary in their own small way as the Boston Tea Party or repealing the Stamp Act, our North American letterboxing "forefathers" and "foremothers", bright folks with foresight like Eric and Susan Davis of VT, sought to keep our hobby "inclusive" and open to all with free public on-line access to clues, "so that any child could go to a computer to get a clue to take an adult out on an adventure", to echo one of our favorite of Susan's sentiments.
This was a far cry from the old British model of making folks scavenge 100 boxes out on moor-plugged "egg hunts" before being allowed to purchase official clue pamphlets, or even from that early American "PhD-proposed model" which would have allowed individual "entrepreneurs" to plump their egos or bank accounts by compiling other people's clues and creative efforts into their own private files, had that model not been boo-ed out of the arena at that time (c.2002) as being considered tacky and undemocratic! (Who would have guessed that years later a similar Walmart-type "big box" model would come back in the form of "Atlas Quest"!;-)
Yes, back then North American-style letterboxing had indeed come to quickly distinguish itself from its English parent in several distinct ways. While the British model, besides the first couple of time-honored "moorish clod hops", had had people for decades scrounging and serving up large quantities of pre-processed stamps in pubs, prisons, piles of rock and plugs of poop-covered peat (speaking like an upstart American "rebel" just breaking away from the parental nest, of course!;-), the early LbNA model came to focus almost immediately on sharing our natural wonders, combined with the ethics of good stewardship of the land, and leading folks on healthy creative outdoor adventure trips, from pristine pine forests to lofty mountain tops. It seems no accident, given our North American heritage, that the first post-Smithsonian letterbox was placed by members of the Sewanee Orienteering Club, "winging it" by planting a little tiny store bought stamp near the top of Max Patch Mountain, a lovely Southern Bald that I'd visited in fog, rain, snow, sleet, and sunshine while hiking five times from Georgia to Maine on the Appalachian Trail in the 1980's and 90's, but which is now forever linked in my mind with a gorgeous spacious skies spring letterboxing day full of birds on the wing! Nor does it seem an accident that almost at that same time another letterbox had been placed by the Davises near a special spiritual rock by a rippling stream at the foot of the Green Mountains in Vermont! So, as I sometimes like to say, sort of like with the early pilgrims, it seems that letterboxing on this continent began with "a wing and a prayer", and took off from there!
And take off it did, thanks in large part to some of the "LA-LA" recipients we noted in the past and many others. They have led us from the Native American paths and piney woods of the original "letterboxing colonies" to the palms of Southern California and the firs of the Pacific Northwest! Even as I was finishing up my fifth Appalachian Trail trek, and doing my last 100 backpacking miles (out of over 30,000 total!) for a single letterbox up in Maine, there were already dozens of boxes scattered along the AT! And there were other boxes, thanks to folks like Jay Drew and Don & Gwen, near the Continental Divide and Pacific Crest Trails, bringing me back great memories of my four long treks from Mexico to Canada along those marvelous mountain trails as well! Ah, those were the days when what mattered was the quality of the experience, not the quality of the stamp - bought, primitive, American folkloric, whatever - just to have something extra to look for on our adventures was more than enough! Indeed, if North American letterboxing back then had been just about the stamp and not about the hunt, merely following the models of scavenging and accumulating huge quantities of stamp images in the current British manner, many of us over here in those days would probably never even have gotten interested in it in the first place! (not that we're turning up our noses at the Brits, many fine folks I'm sure, but we had our own wild and colorful letterboxing style to develop over here, and we certainly had much vaster and more varied lands to cover, too!)
Fortunately, in 2002, we also still had the right breed of letterboxing pioneers and explorers over here to help start covering these lands. It would be many years yet before North American letterboxing's deck would be swamped with "SWOH" promoters, i.e. newer Atlas Quest folks who have encouraged others to produce and pass around vast quantities of "Stamps Without Hikes". These newer folks, perhaps in ignorance of North American letterboxing traditions or perhaps merely out of excessive "stamp enthusiasm", have in recent years managed to turn the fine adventure hobby developed here before their time into a poor imitation of British-style "stamp collecting", with huge quantities of personal travelers, scavenging contests, drive-by parties, indoor gaming, pub crawls, postals, virtuals, cooties, and other such imports and innovations that were never really intended to be part of letterboxing as conceived of by its North American founders.
However, 2002 was a year when there were still real "adventurers" on the North American letterboxing scene, and these folks who started out then are those we wish to honor here now. These are not, as newcomers to the hobby might expect, the people who post the most to blogs and talk lists, add on the most icons, or put on the best parties, but rather those who have done the real foundation work of North American-style letterboxing by planting over 100 traditional boxes and sticking with the hobby for over 5 years, and these are all people deserving of our recognition. They are our "Lewis and Clarks", our "Sacagaweas", our "Pathfinders", and our fabulous "CT Colonial Crew"! So, can you guess who they are?
Well, "Lewis and Clark" are, of course, those two preeminent traveling brothers from Texas, Silver Eagle and Baby Bear, who did indeed begin charting unfamiliar letterboxing territories back in 2002, when there were still so few boxes in certain parts of America that they were literally planting boxes for each other on their earliest letterboxing adventure trips! They also literally planted boxes along the Lewis and Clark Trail, and I still remember how exciting it was to find their pairs of boxes on my way out to do trail work along the Continental Divide back then when there was certainly not much else out there to hunt for letterbox-wise! Since then, we've found Baby Bear boxes from Nebraska to New Mexico, while Silver Eagle has been spreading his wings from coast to coast, and is getting mighty close to having a box planted in every state (although, like most folks, I'm sure he has his favorite vacation spots and just skips over others!;-) Anyway, we still like to joke about their "Texas-size boxes" (microbox film canisters), which we, too, have found to be quite practical for planting on our travels or even in our own "Lil' Rhody", but mostly we just admire their "Texas-sized spirits" for planting so many boxes all around the country, showing us so many different places, and helping make Texas, and the Houston area especially, a major letterboxing destination!
As for whom we call the "Sacagawea Sisters", that honor just has to go to another set of siblings, A-Bear and dvn2r ckr, who, like Sacagawea, have led us down many paths between Idaho and the Columbia River! A-Bear, along with her husband J-Bear, made their home the "Star" of our Idaho trip a few years back, as we explored their plants from the Boise "banana belt" to the high peaks of the Sawtooths, while dvn2r ckr, after throwing a "mystery guest gathering" just as we flew into Sea-Tac, had us scrambling, among other things, to trace the actual historical route of outlaw Tracy on his trajectory through the state of Washington (now how "American" is that!), before changing her name to daelphinus, and moving to somewhere near that "other Washington"(DC). We still like to think of them both as quite the "adventure seekers", though, and are thankful for the many boxes they set out, even when other letterboxers were few and far between!
Letterboxers were still rather few and far between in the Midwest at this time, too, but one in particular was breathing new fire into the hobby, and that is, of course, "The Dragon"! A math teacher in Wisconsin, not only did he adopt many of the earlier "orphaned" boxes in his state, but he used letterboxing as a wonderful tool for his students and others to explore their environments, inspiring upcoming generations of letterboxers with his remarkable store of hidden "dragon treasures".
Now, for our "Pathfinder" we really didn't need another honorary name, because she already has one very well suited to her, and that is, of course, Scout of Endwell, NY. Like a character out of a James Fennimore Cooper novel, she and her family, husband Eagle Eye and daughter Magnolia Bud, have tracked many of the forests near their home turf along the Finger Lakes Trail and from their other travels, leaving behind many "mementos" to mark the miles, as well as contributing much towards making the greater Binghamton area another major letterboxing destination that is quite manageable, even for those of us not at all "urbanly inclined"! We'd also like to give "Oscar nods" to a couple of other "scouts": Scoutdogs, who built on the letterboxing foundation that Franzsolo had started a bit earlier in the Cincinnati area, and extended it graciously to her home turf in Indiana, which had previously been rather lacking in tupperware; and Silent Doug, who basically got things rolling in the Poconos of PA, and whose name, even today, is synonymous with early PA plants, since later boxers of the area still refer to his old blue-rimmed boxes as "Douggerware", even though he himself has long since moved away to CT, the "land of letterboxing plenty"!
And speaking of CT, that marvelous state with over 800 miles of blue-blazed forest trails and even more blue-rimmed boxes to go along with all the other colors of trails available even back then in "pre-lock-and-lock times", well... CT was just about to embark on its "third big wave", and had a great crew ready to negotiate the oncoming groundswells! Fortunately, too, these folks were rather well spaced out across the state, so they were able to create nicely interlocking little "spheres of influence" that complemented the earlier letterboxing centers of Mansfield, East Lyme, etc. established by our previous "LA-LA", recipients. (Please see the 2005 and 2006 listings if you still don't know their names.) This is why we call them the "Colonial Crew", not because they're really into early American history, but because they helped "colonize" the rest of the state!
Of all the folks who started out in 2002, RTRW of West Hartford was the first I remember to spearhead an effort to plant so many boxes at one time that Hartford County would take the lead over the other CT counties, and so many postings occurred on one day that they actually "crashed" the system! RTRW has also been generous in giving us and other folks many of her carvings for planting - as well as in carving our "sig stamp" of the past few years - so, examples of her work can now be seen not only near her "home bases" in CT, NH, and KS, but in quite a few other places across the country besides!
Other folks carving out their CT niches include: Bluebird (Debby), who showed us so many of the new land trusts around the Killingworth area of south central CT and sponsored some fun gatherings in the area as well; Music Woman (Pam), who covered the Manchester area with Disney Villains and other characters, and gave us ample opportunities for picnicking around the state; Sadie and Russ, who led us back to the crags of the New Haven region, and sometimes kept us smiling with cryptic surprises, identities, and such; and Rubaduc, who has kept us hiking all over CT, from the Appalachian Trail to Box Mountain, on her hikes of typically 3 miles or more (although she did more recently resort to planting a whole bunch of drive-bys in CT after taking a tumble down a mountain herself!)
We'd also like to give "Oscar nods" to a few other folks who started around this same time in CT, created some nice little letterboxing "colonies", but have now mostly disappeared from the letterboxing scene. These include Alan (Letterboxer 2002), who largely covered the Norwalk and Milford areas of CT's southwestern coastline, and was the first of the "CT crowd" to go to Dartmoor in 2003 and tell us what things were like over there; The Engraver, who helped cover the formerly sparsely planted parts of western CT around Torrington with her original designs, joined in this effort by her daughter Corinna and sister Patriotic Girl of Winsted; am & pm (before the more recent additions of tm and sm), who helped give the greater southeastern CT area some "class" with a fine smattering of Shakespearean mysteries among other things; and Irishtinker, the NeeDeeps and Teach & Preach, all of whom kept CT's northeastern corner humming for several years before things began to quiet down up there in the "Quiet Corner"... and that's how it goes. What we used to call "mini Dartmoors" (but which we don't wish for anyone to confuse with "scavenging"!) rise and fall as new ones come to take their places. And so it is that we try to chronicle them here, along with the people who created them in keeping with the North American spirit of adventure, lest we forget... And now, months later after just returning from the 10th birthday celebration called "BABE" (Birth of American Boxing)) for that very first post-Smithsonian letterbox planted on Max Patch on April 26, 1998, it turns out that we have one more quiet person to take her place here as a "LA-LA" honoree: that's Quiet Place of Bristol, TN. I should have guessed, because when I drove down through that area on my way to Texas and back in 2005, I remember finding several dozen VA/TN borderline letterboxes, and probably half of them were hers. At the time, though, they seemed so "localized" that I hadn't really considered that they might have more "kin", but now it seems that letterboxing efforts by Quiet Place have continued and expanded somewhat in both type and territory.
So, yes, we really are thrilled that so many people have decided to continue in the original style of our wonderful North American letterboxing heritage, even while others have jumped on the bandwagon presented by the later fast-count log-in "stamp enthusiasts". We hope to be honoring more "giants of the North American letterboxing tradition" in years to come, so if there is anyone else who fits the high standards we have set for this "lifetime achievement award", but whose region or starting date we're not familiar with, please feel free to let us know! Meanwhile, hearty congrats to these 2007 "LA-LA" honorees!
Well, another year has nearly gone by, so, now it's time for us to take note of the special people who have done more than their part in influencing the course of North American letterboxing, starting back in 2003. Yes, indeed - in our view, 2003 was such a watershed year for letterboxing on this continent that our hobby could never again be quite the same. Yet it was not so much that letterboxing itself had changed, just that many of the people now involved in it had. By the end of 2003, gone already were some of the pioneers who had begun the dream of spreading letterboxing "from sea to shining sea", sharing glad tidings of the hunt from mountain tops and beauty spots across the continent. In their place, just as in the history of North America, where the early rugged explorers and solitary adventurers were followed by groups of settlers, townsfolk and city folk more attracted to the easier living, fun and entertainment aspects, so, too, did North American letterboxing now turn more towards the urban, social, artistic and public arenas. In fact, in comparing our letterboxing history to American history, I jokingly call 2003 "the year the circus came to town"!
And what a circus it turned out to be, with fantastic stamps and exciting events taking "center stage" and "trapped P-Z cut artists" sending their creations flying clear across the country! One of our first inklings that something like this was happening in our hobby was when we heard that hitchhikers were going to be tossed into a "grab basket" for everyone to stamp into them at a "Dead Gerbil Gathering" in CT in May of 2003. At the time, we were so appalled at the thought of hitchers, our dear little wild surprise friends, suddenly being "caged" and treated in this demeaning fashion that we actually decided to avoid that gathering entirely, and bemoaned the fact that letterboxing seemed to be taking a back seat to "stamp collecting"! It didn't take long, however, for almost everybody still then in or entering the hobby to jump on the "stamp collecting bandwagon", and even we had to admit that attending an occasional "stamp party" could be fun! (as long as we tried to make sure that 95% of our finds still came from real letterbox hunts on "non-gathering days", for even the newest "rube" in the hobby, if asked to this day what it means to go letterboxing, knows instinctively that it doesn't mean sitting around a table swapping stamps, carving, eating popcorn and cotton candy or just watching the entertainment!:-)
Anyway, 2003 marked the beginning of North America letterboxing's remarkable turn away from quietly exploring nature's bounty towards becoming more of an urban or social event. So, who could be better to take the role of "Ringmaster" than our own "Phineas Boch", creator of the traveling stamp circus, i.e. Scarab of the Doubtful Guests! Urban and urbane, public yet somewhat mysterious, stamp carving-oriented yet appreciating a stealthy hunt, Scarab serves as a good representative of the new letterboxing trend emerging in 2003. After his NPR interview right in downtown DC, urban boxing became quite popular for awhile, and Scarab hosted several "icebreakers" in the area, as well as planting boxes from Florida to Cape Cod. I first met Scarab and his lovely wife Night Owl at the Riverbend Gathering in VA in late May of 2003, and was immediately impressed with their enthusiasm, friendliness and graciousness. After staying over in their "Hobbit Hole", I remember heading over to Hemlock Overlook with them for their 100th find, so I was thinking that they had just started letterboxing earlier that same year, but now as I recall they had actually planted some boxes in their back yard the previous fall, so technically they could belong in last year's "Oscar nod" line-up, along with other "contemporaries", like VA's Knights of Columbo, NH's uneksia, CA's Doublesaj & Old Blue, MI's Springchick and perhaps others with whose work we're not so familiar. However, since the "Doubtful Guests" fit so well into this year's theme, having sent the "traveling circus" to so many different parts of the country that might not otherwise have had exposure to such a variety of "artistic endeavors", and being "tops" in the hospitality department, I hope they won't mind getting named as this year's "big top" "LA-LA" "Ringmasters"!
Now, I vaguely remember Scarab saying that he didn't like clowns, so he wouldn't be wanting any of them in his traveling circus. However, what every circus surely must have is a "barker", and who could possibly be more suited for that role than Mark Pepe! Like the Doubtful Guests, Mark also apparently started letterboxing in 2002, but his first plant wasn't until July of 2003, and since we didn't think he had yet reached the 100 traditional plants required for full "LA-LA" recognition, we decided to just give him an "EXTRA EXTRA" big nod in this year's "letterboxing circus"! We first heard of Mark as a "newbie", spilling the beans on a mapsurfer mystery right after the "Dead Gerbil Gathering" in May of 2003, so we invited him over for a traditional New England Saturday supper, suggesting "putting a zip on it" regarding mysteries and giving him lots of other information about things like Dartmoor's upcoming 150th birthday, our previous letterboxing cruise, and my extensive backpacking history, all of which, of course, back then he had scarcely an inkling! He responded by calling us "letterboxing gurus", and asking us that very same evening if, with his reporting background, we would be willing to be the first people to do a letterboxing interview for him. Well, naturally we were touched by his enthusiasm, but demurred, saying that we were just the folks who liked to find the most letterboxes, not ones who sought publicity, but that we'd consider being third in line, after other earlier important letterboxing influences that we suggested like mapsurfer and Jay Drew, and thus was born at our home on that very same evening - July 26th, 2003 - the original line-up for Mark's "Interview Series"! These and subsequent interviews came out on Mark's blog over the ensuing months, and can still be seen there now over 5 years later (including even a question relating to the "Message in a Bottle" from our 2002 letterboxing cruise!), so it certainly has been very interesting to see how Mark has built himself up over these last few years from such humble beginnings and has gone on to become a major voice for newbies himself, as well as quite the press agent and social organizer for whatever production, cause or personality he is currently promoting, thus making his mark with his far-reaching "bark"!
And speaking of barking, it's probably no accident that so many barking dog stamps have ended up circulating around the dog park just up the road from the front yard of that ebullient CT "barker", so possibly his first proclamation for this year's "LA-LA" letterboxing after-party would be, "Ladies and Gentlemen, this way to the Dog Show!", especially since our first two "LA-LA" "letterboxing circus acts" this year revolve around dogs in CT! First up, of course, would have to be that "three dog team" dressed in the color of the season (usually orange or red) that comes out at the first crack of the whip of that well-heeled, high-stepping huntress named Flutterby, as she puts them through their paces (and we have heard that they do not perform well unless they are first on stage, so most everyone in the area has learned to hold back until they are through with their act!;-) As a "stay at home doggie mom", she may not stray far from her home in Lebanon, CT, but she has certainly filled that area with a multiplicity of boxes, including "costuming items" from yellow roses to little straw hats, and has even recycled many of her postal letterboxes back into the woods of CT! The next doggie act involves a much smaller dog called Mona, who belongs to another recently prolific CT planter named Hez. Hez, Grumpy and Mona can sometimes be seen tromping along the traprock ridges of Central CT, so I picture their act with Mona the Chihuahua riding bareback on a razorback hog, jumping through hoops among blocks simulating castles and mountains, circling through the fields and neighborhoods of Middlefield, CT!
Other possible "tongue-in-cheek" "LA-LA" circus acts (honorees) or sideshows (nods) being celebrated here this season or the next might include Bell Lady of CT, clad in "spiritual armor", balancing fruit on her head, ringing bells and singing a medley of light musical arias (based on a few of her boxes that we remember!); DONUTZ716 of CT as a veiled Gypsy fortuneteller gazing into her crystal ball to tell us about past lives and future adventures; Talking Turtle and Rabbits Relations of NY, juggling ABC's, books, and Girl Scout cookies along the Hudson River; phynstar of NY, riding a unicycle with a tall pile of plates stacked on her head like the cat in the hat; Sprite and Highlander of NY, doing a combination fairy flight, sword dance, and shuffle off to Buffalo; Safari Man of OH, driving loops around the ring and dropping off lots of lollipops for famous people, Maiden of OR, extracting a seemingly endless supply of tools and a bevy of butterflies from one tiny box; Camp Fire Lady of WA, training some of those wild PNW animals to jump through multiple circles of fire; birder of OR, summoning dozens of multi-colored birds with hauntingly beautiful melodies; Azroadie of AZ, horseback riding around the ring swirling a flashy rope and exhorting us to visit the great desert parks and explore old route 66; CW Sunseeker, flying on that trapeze with the greatest of ease between sunny spots from Hawaii to Utah; Blackvelvetrav of ID going round the ring leaping lightly from back to back of black stallions; the Crayola Posse (True Indigo and RGBisMe) of PA with their trained black pirate cat Burbanto, sending us round and round captivated on the colorful carousel of time; drgdlg of SC, tightrope-walking like the Flying Wallendas dressed as pirates over waterfalls such as Tallulah Gorge; noydb of NC, slowly stalking the ring like a Zen-like lion tamer; the Wolf Family of NC, running wild with cool wolf presentations; and Wisconsin Hiker & Martini Man of WI, dancing with their delightful "three bears hiking act" on Bear Mt. in western CT, among many others!
I'm sure there are quite a few more of these "multi-talented performers" that started up around this same time (2003-2004), but since it's getting way too hard for us to remember who started exactly when and how many boxes they may have planted in so many different parts of the country, all we can do for now is name a few more of those with many plants and finds that we think may fall into this time period, and then add others as they come to our attention or reach the "LA-LA" target goals, folks like: PAWCA of CT; Queen B of CT; J Peter of CT; Choi of MA; chunna of MA; CCLB of MA; Archimedes' Screw of MA; phyto of ME; giddy of ME; Norasta of ON; Jiggs of ON; Fungus Woman of IL; Leapin' Lizards of WI; SHH of WA; Lee and Nancy of CA; Grumpy Grinch of CA; Kristal & Ron of AZ; Team King of TX; Dewberry of TX; happydays of OK; Penguin Patrol of OK; Mandy of CO; Esmerelda of CO; Kirbert of FL; MoWiz Liz of KY; Cherokee Rose of GA; Eli and Aubrey of GA; Hawkeye of GA; sewsobizzy of VA; Indigo Vulture of PA, and Lotus of PA!
Of all the "letterbox circus acts" starting around this time, however, we would have to say that our own personal favorite has been that prolific and comedic wordsmith from Allentown, PA, who juggles everything from postage stamps to road signs, simulates alien invasions, impersonates eeevil characters, etc. and that's Lightnin' Bug! Although certainly some of his boxes could be called "commoditized", substituting a bit of local PA Dutch color for a more generic alternative (say, a "grundsau" instead of a dog, or "Yocco's hot dogs in place of McDonald's hamburgers!;-), he has often been known to blend traces of old-style letterboxing, history, mystery, cool places and wordplay with a repetitive alchemy of elements to create boxes like "$tock$ and Con$" that to us represent the "new gold standard" that "circus-style letterboxing" can occasionally reach, which is really probably just mostly about adding a certain extra level of entertainment value to the old-time letterboxing mix, NOT about sacrificing the hunt in favor of the stamp!
We also love the way that, despite that recent trend towards "publicity" and "guaranteed finds" that started around 2003 /2004 when some of the newer folks decided to start listing their finds publicly, a few of the mid-Atlantic folks and others are now getting back to putting at least some of the old fun and mystique back into our hobby by leaving finders' names on those new-type log-ins "undisclosed" or just listing last found dates. (Way to go, guys!) In fact, many newer letterboxers in this country may still be unaware that "log-ins" (and indeed Atlas Quest itself) did not even exist in North American letterboxing for its first half dozen years, i.e. over half its lifetime! Many of us kept private lists, of course, and we had our personal logbooks as mementos of our finds, so when such a thing as a public log-in was first proposed, it was actually considered by many to be quite contrary to the LbNA spirit. Back then a huge part of the fun and surprise was NOT knowing who might have visited any particular letterbox (or even if the box was still there!) until folks actually went out there and checked for themselves, so many of us "older-timers" bemoan the fact that that self-disclosing or self-promotional "log-in" feature got added on so much later in our letterboxing history as a "spoiler" on LbNA as well.
Anyway, we still remember how our new "barker" and others had tried to get us to list our letterboxing finds publicly (and give away some of the mysteries!;-) just around the time some of those big top circles started to evolve, but we are just glad that we have been able to stick to our original way of playing the game, keeping others guessing about exactly which boxes we may have visited unless they themselves visited those boxes (although by now surely more than half of those boxes have gone missing!) How often we have heard people say how delighted they were to unexpectedly see our stamp in some way-out-of-the-way place, and we certainly wouldn't be willing to trade that original surprise element of North American letterboxing for all the "public plumage" in the world! So, of course, we are delighted to find out that there are now at least a few newer folks starting to understand this fun "quiet surprise" aspect of our hobby that was almost getting lost. However, as long as there are letterboxers like many of these folks we've mentioned here on the "LA-LA" list over the years, and newer ones coming up through the ranks, still planting such wonderful boxes and playing the game so exuberantly and so well, however they choose to do it, we feel that North American letterboxing has NOT gone "completely to the dogs", and may be in good hands yet for many years to come!
Congratulations and Cheers, Class of 2008/9! Just let us know when you actually reach 5 years in, 100+plants, and PFX500+ and we'll hope to be getting you to stamp into that "LA-LA" logbook whenever and wherever we may see you!
Lifetime Achievement Letterboxing Award:
(Last of the LbNA "LA-LA's": 2010 - 2011)
Well, we hadn't really planned on giving out any more LA-LA's after the first ten years or so of letterboxing in North America. We hadn't really been following much in the way of the newer trends, developments or people in the hobby, didn't know if there was any interest nowadays in the "older legends" of our letterboxing history, and had somewhat "retired" from the letterboxing scene ourselves, after reaching 30,000 traditional finds by 2011. However, with just a little bit of encouragement from newer folks still interested in North American letterboxing history and some of its most significant contributors, and just in time to coincide with that other "Oscar Time", here's one last LA-LA! First of all, let us say right up front that we now choose to list this letterbox as a "traditional find", since anyone who has not already earned it and had it handed to them personally by us in the past few years will now have to search for it just like any other "traditional box" (and certainly if boxes asked for from employees behind counters in stores, stuck on people's cars, hung on trees in people's yards and other such gimmicks are now being listed as "traditional finds", surely we have the prerogative to list this box as a "traditional find", too! ;-)
That being said, all other prerequisites for obtaining this box remain basically about the same: a minimum of 5 years dedicated to fostering and promoting the hobby of letterboxing in North America, with a minimum of 100 "traditional plants" and 500 "traditional finds", which, of course, in the first half dozen or so ("pre-Atlas Quest") years were just about the only type of boxes we had! Of course, back in those early years, that goal might have seemed almost unattainable, since there were scarcely that many boxes in the entire country, which is why it seemed so important to us to honor those first few great-hearted folks who really set the table for future development in letterboxing by providing a bounty well above the average of what might have been reasonably expected or even imagined back then! So, if you don't know who these "true legends" of our North American letterboxing heritage are, please feel free to go back now before proceeding with this final year's account to read the previous four or five years' worth of our "LA-LA" letterboxing history!
Nowadays, naturally, there is such an abundance of letterboxes that some folks who set their minds to it could easily do 500 boxes in a single month without ever even having to go more than 500 miles from their homes! (We have certainly done that quite a few times in our travels around the country in recent years, and have even done a few "100+ traditional-find non-gathering letterbox days"!;-) So, the "finding" aspect of letterboxing no longer carries anywhere near as much weight as it did back in those early years of few and widely spaced singular boxes. Even the planting of 100 boxes no longer seems anywhere near as remarkable as it did in the first dozen years of our hobby's development, and might also now be accomplished in a single month for a gathering or something, rather than representing years of carefully planned and spread out individual work. However, the fact remains that sticking around in the hobby for over 5 years, finding over 500 and planting over 100 traditional letterboxes is still a major accomplishment, so we wish to continue to honor those who have achieved that special distinction, at least through this year!
Those who have been following the "LA-LA" for the last few years (or have gone back to read those previous accounts) will know that we like to compare the development of our letterboxing in a sort of tongue-in-cheek broad sweep to go along with American history. We started out with those first few special "forefathers" and "mothers" who planted over 100 boxes to get the hobby really going on this side of the pond, added in the "explorers" who traversed the country and "revolutionized" the hobby to make it distinctly North American, then watched as "regionalization" and "urban development" took over in some parts of the country to make it seem to us that letterboxing, instead of featuring active exploration, was taking on a more passive stamp entertainment role with a carnival atmosphere reminiscent of a late 19th century Barnum and Bailey circus coming to town!
So, what do we make of the time period for celebrating "LA-LA" 2010-11, for those who became active in letterboxing starting around 2005? Well, we will just have to call it "Party Time", since it reminds us so much of that period in American History called "The Roaring Twenties", with its frenetic stamping and stomping of the "flapper-boxer" crowd, the "how many boxes can we squeeze into one telephone booth?" party-type gathering gags, and the hush-hush "speak-easy" quality of some of those "private parties"! Yes, this was not only the "pub-crawl" heyday of a certain small sub-set of letterboxers, but also the time for a handful of letterboxing "gangsters" to emerge - not in the sense of their meaning to do harm to others, of course, but rather in the sense of people forming select little regional "gangs", complete with "knock-knocks" and "secret handshakes"! And of course, during those years, some wild stamp parties abounded, costumed or otherwise!
So, what helped push letterboxing into gathering all that crazy "Roaring Twenties" momentum? Why, the coming of age of that new site called Atlas Quest, of course! What had been a rather quiet little cluster of far-flung letterboxing "villages" organized by counties, with a few occasional get-togethers, seemed to rapidly become a vast network of interconnected stamp sharing communities and THE place to go to find out where the next stamp party was going to be! At one time someone at AQ even made a statement to the effect that stamps were the "heart of letterboxing", which we "old-timers" totally disagreed with, since we had always felt that "the hunt" was the essence of letterboxing and that stamps were just a nice additional feature to the hobby. So, at first we actively opposed those parties that made no bones about being primarily for collecting stamps, but relented when folks started to make at least some effort to include letterboxing!:-)
What we haven't relented on, however, is our conception, in tune with that of our early "letterboxing forefathers", that most letterbox plants should be free and open to all without restrictions, but that finds should be kept secret so that no one knows who has been to any particular box unless they actually go there themselves. This aspect of letterboxing - the "not knowing" - was a huge part of the fun of the first half dozen or so years of letterboxing, and we strongly regret that Atlas Quest has so changed the tenor of our hobby by enabling people to make their finds "public as a frog" and to vie for attention, like the next star of "Chicago", with bells, whistles, stars, and feathers in their caps! And speaking of feathers, who would have guessed that our idea from way back in 2001 to have anyone who solved one of our early mysteries ("One More Little Feather"), did the hike to see if they could find the box, and only then earned the privilege of drawing in their own type of hat to go with the feather stamp that lived in the box - would so much later, get "copy-catted" to serve as the symbol for those folks who get their hats "ready made on-line" for doing nothing more than giving money to someone using the letterbox-creating efforts of others to turn a fast buck! (Ah, once again it seems that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but what a "cheap take" on our original intent! ;-)
Anyway, now that we've set the basic mood of the times, from dark "speak-easy dens" to tightly packed party crowds with many showy hats and flashy feathers, how did all that stamp partying get started? Well, the first time we ever remember becoming really aware of it was at the first Desperately Seeking Sun event hosted by that original "Party Girl" herself - Lock Wench of NY, who hereby becomes our first "LA-LA" honoree of 2010! That event was the first time we ever saw such things as cooties, multiple personal travelers, and so many indoor stamps tucked around everywhere that we were quite overwhelmed, and left the party to go out letterboxing in the snow till well into the night - just to breathe and chill out!;-)
Soon, of course, there were bound to be followers, and some of the next ones then living nearby turned out to be Wes and party pig! When we finally got back out to NY to look for their boxes, it turns out that they had skipped town with all their boxes stashed in the trunk of their car! We heard later that they were down in VA slipping those stamps out for secret sips from their "bootleg stash", so we didn't think those should count as "bona fide" boxing plants or finds. However, we've since heard that they've redeemed themselves with quite a few actual new plants in VA, so we'll cut them some slack and put them up for the "LA-LA" this year as well! Cheers, guys!
Another guy we first met in NY at DSS 2005 was a gangly young fellow from NH called Dave. At the time, we found his "Gingerbread Jim" character to be rather amusing...until suddenly he took on a raving "Madman" persona instead! Hopefully he is well past that stage by now, so we'd like to acknowledge him for his actual contributions to NH letterboxing (not that proliferation of cooties he seems to think he engendered, but for which we'd be more apt to nominate Celtic Quinn of NY!;-) Meanwhile back in the next state over to the east, Maine Kokopellian was carving out his own particular niche by throwing flamboyant Halloween parties. We have no idea how many of his boxes may have actually stuck around for the general boxing public, but he did create some "ephemeral extravaganzas", as did fellow NH/ME area residents like gollygee, littlmoon, mudflinginfools, Teacup, Happy Daze and others in more recent years, along with their many "permanent plants" to boot!
During this same time period, Massachusetts, too, seems to have hit the "celebration jackpot"! First up, we'll mention the Merry Pranksters for the several repeat performances of their Grateful Gatherings and hundreds of Andover area boxes! (We laugh now about getting "spaced out" just going to the same places "over-And-over"!;-) Just to the east, Lundy and Vickster established their territory, with Dale End Farm just off to the west in the Sudbury area, zess and Mim covering trails just a bit further southwest, and due south Ellen of the Travelers 4, perhaps best known for taking over the O Letterbox Tree gathering from Archimedes' Screw and setting up quite the holiday stamping party in her landlord's backyard!
Connecticut continued to hold its own letterbox-wise with folks like Bandaid and Trailhead Tessie to the southwest and Travel'n Turtle moving in recently from Ohio to fill in the gap left by folks "retiring" to the northeast. Ohio also had Pioneer Spirit planting during this time, while New York had a fine planting contingent represented by Sahalie, Suzietoots, Eiryn, Turtle Run, Wyvern and others. Further south our memories get hazier for approximate starting dates and box plant numbers, but we should probably include Gallant Rogue and EllBee of VA; Dixie, the Little Foxes, the flory family and airstream dreams for NC; T Rex for GA; and Hale's Angel and mstrwndl for TN.
Sorry to say we really don't know that much about what was happening in the Midwest during these years. After we had gotten our "token boxes" in those states, we pretty much always just blew through on our way westward, but we'll be glad to add in the names of anyone meeting the "LA-LA" qualifications. For this time period, however, we are glad to be able to say from personal experience that Texas was still going strong due to adding "LA-LA-worthy" folks like Boots Tex, Lone Star Quilter and jb kokopelli to its already quite booming boxing status. Colorado meanwhile came to include Front Range Hiker and Tai Chi and Chai Tea; Oregon added folks like Team Springamajack, Marmalade and Murray Herd, while Washington got Buppsters and Gryffindors. And finally for now, we would like to present hearty "Oscar cheers" to deniserows of Alaska, Kelsung of California and lionsmane of New Mexico, each of whom has contributed magnificently to the grand expansive spirit of North American letterboxing!
And so, the party continues...some folks now concentrating more on the carving, some reviving the "thrill of the hunt", some mostly enjoying just the partying itself, and most managing to combine various aspects of the hobby in varying degrees as the spirit moves them. We truly hope that after this so-called "Roaring Twenties" period, North American letterboxing does not undergo a Great Depression, but continues to go along on its traditional path, bringing joy to many with its sweet simple gift of taking folks out on adventures and possibly finding stamps to mark those occasions. We certainly know of many people within recent times who have greatly contributed to this tradition, some even planting over 100 boxes out on some wonderful trails in just a few months of their starting out in the hobby! We are indeed sorry that we cannot mention them all here at this time, but after they have put in their 5 years, they and anyone else who has already earned "lifetime achievement" letterboxing status are welcome to stop by in RI, or wherever else we may happen to be, for as long as we're around, to get the "LA-LA clue", or to try to catch us while we have "Lil' Oscar" on the road! And, as usual, if there's anyone else eligible that we've forgotten to induct into "LA-LA land", please let us know! Cheers and best wishes to you all!!!
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