Thursday, October 26, 2006

Notes to Placers

As a planter of letterboxes, I am always thrilled when someone takes the time to contact me about a particular box. It’s nice to know that it has been appreciated in some small way and is still in good shape (or it needs maintenance whichever the case may be). It’s really amazing how planting your own letterboxes changes your attitude toward finding letterboxes and caring for them. Naturally, it sets you up for some criticism, too.

As a finder, I used to send the planter a note if the box was in poor shape or the clues seemed “off” or if I had a particularly unusual experience in my search for it. It was also more difficult to send the placer a note through LBNA, I thought. Being a newbie, I wasn’t sure if it was considered a “good” thing. Do planters want to get a note? Do they want to be bothered with the e-mail? Or would they rather just be surprised when they check the logbook? LBNA didn’t have message boards and the “secret” part of the hobby seemed to encourage finding boxes and not telling people about it.

Being a writer, I can’t really help but add a comment to the generic “Found” message that you used to get. Sometimes I would get a short response from the placer and sometimes I wouldn’t. So I was still unsure if it was acceptable practice. Then, I was turned onto Atlas Quest and my whole perspective changed and, at about the same time, I became very interested in planting my own letterboxes for my local area.

My area has few letterboxers (though recently it has expandedJ) and I knew that my boxes would hardly ever be found and certainly not right away. But I took heart. If there were enough boxes, people would decide to take a weekend trip here, perhaps. Well, that’s what me and my sister do! So why not? That’s when my perspective as a finder changed. I realized I had an obligation to the planter to let them know about their box. It’s not an obligation as in its an unwritten rule, I mean, some people don’t log their finds at all, but I feel an obligation to provide to the planters what I expect from my finders. (If that makes sense!)

After all, I put a lot of time and effort into these boxes. I didn’t just throw them out there in any old random fashion. I didn’t just stick a generic stamp in a box with a pad of paper and call it a letterbox. I put thought into these babies; I wanted people to have fun finding them. I wanted to hear about them. I wanted to know what more experienced boxers thought of mine. I didn’t want to have to wait for the logbook. I wanted to know NOW! And if I expected that from a finder, then I needed to provide that as a finder to other planters.

I took up the practice of writing something positive about the boxes I found. If I had any problems or the box required some first aid, I noted it. I always try to be polite and not sound too critical or too negative. After all, I don’t know if this might be a kid or a newbie, and I certainly don’t want to turn them off of the hobby. Just like I feel a kind of satisfaction when someone finds my box, I want to leave comments that make someone else feel that, too. I would never want to offend but I do think it’s important to note some things to placers whether or not they are good.

Naturally, if the box is in need of repair, the owner/planter needs to know that. That is just simple fact and not a judgment call. The box is either in a bad shape that the contents are in danger of being destroyed by the elements or it isn’t. The same applies with full logbooks, or almost full logbooks. Those need to be replaced so that letterboxers are not disappointed if they can’t stamp into the log. Placers need to know that. That’s helpful. But other notes can get taken the wrong way and need to be written carefully.

One of the more difficult calls for me to make is the whole “attempted” concept. When does a finder cross the line from “passing by” to actually “attempting” the box? I have my own criteria and I think it works. The intention of the attempt is to give the planter a heads-up that maybe the box has a problem. It may be missing, it may have been replaced in the wrong spot, it may have been dragged somewhere by an animal…many things can cause a box not to be found. But the attempt comes in when you feel you’ve read all the clues precisely, done what the directions have asked, and actively searched for the box in a specific area. I always log an attempt when I think the box might be missing…but that’s hard to say, too. Maybe I wasn’t even looking in the right spot…maybe I misread the clues. So I always tell the planter exactly what I did and where I was looking. I try to give as much detail as possible so that if it was the wrong spot, the planter will recognize that and not worry about the box. In these instances, the more detail you can provide, the better for the planter. Then, they can determine if a box may be missing.

For example, on my recent trip to Connecticut, we tried to find the series “Finding Nemo”. The first box was no problem but the second box was more difficult. The clues called for a large boulder and we were certain we knew what that was but didn’t see one for awhile. Now usually, we would have kept to the trail, searching for that one little clue but in this case, I read ahead in the clues. That isn’t always a bad thing because in the next box’s clues you can find your “we’ve gone too far” point. I thought we had passed that point with the clues from Box 3. So we tried to find Box 3. It turns out; we had all of it wrong. The “intersection” we had seen (the point where we’d gone too far) was not the correct intersection for Box 3 so we actually hadn’t “gone too far”. Now if we had turned around and quit at this point, I would not have logged Box 3 as anything, an attempt or otherwise since we had misread the clues. But for Box 2, (if we hadn’t found it) I would have logged as an attempt since we were searching a specific area for it…despite the fact that we were no where near a large boulder. I would only log it as an attempt so long as I could add a note to explain why we didn’t find the box. Once I mentioned to the planter that we didn’t even see a big boulder, the planter would have been tipped off that we weren’t searching the right area. Always give the details of your search when you log an attempt and let the planter decide if the box might be actually missing.

The most difficult thing to write is what you don’t know for certain. Logging attempts is just that. But it still has to be done and in a civil manner. Just because you can’t find a box doesn’t mean it isn’t there, especially when you’re looking for mystery boxes. Those clues can be so vague or taken in so many different ways that it’s hard to be precise. In that case, I wouldn’t even bother logging an attempt, I’d just e-mail the planter and say “I tried to find Mystery So and So and failed miserably.” Then, I’d provide the details.

What I have recently run into is the box that is less than my ideal. The more boxes you find, the more you have to compare the new find to. I’m always happy to find a box but we can’t dismiss the fact that sometimes we’re disappointed. My dilemma is what to do about it. Does the planter need to know that? Will it improve their letterboxing skills? For example, I recently found a box in an area I was familiar with. The location was good, scenic, and the box was well hidden. It was a drive-by box, not a great challenge, but an excellent diversion on a rainy day. It had a certain name that raised my expectations of what the stamp might be. However, when I opened the box, it was a store bought stamp of an image that I didn’t feel suited the title of the box. It was certainly a good stamp (one I had seen before but not found) and was a good letterboxing theme but I didn’t see what it had to do with the box or the area. So here’s the question? Do you let the planter know you were a little disappointed with some specific aspect of the box? I certainly value the box overall since there are so few in my corner of the world but I couldn’t help but be disappointed. It wasn’t even that it was a store bought stamp…in fact; I have found very few boxes with store-bought stamps in them. It was the fact that the stamp didn’t seem to match the story/theme of the box.

Another example, I was searching for a box alone. I was in an urban setting. I followed the directions to a railroad track that ran under a large highway. I was directed by the clues to count the ties and follow the track as it passed between two cement barriers. The box was placed under one of the ties off to the side. First of all, I wasn’t sure about the track, was it still active? Would I be stuck in this “tunnel” if a train came along? Second, I felt uneasy about the locale in general. I had stepped from the public walk and a sign basically proclaimed “you’re on your own”. That did not reassure me as I was alone and in a strange location. As I debated whether I could snatch the box and stamp in closer to the path then replace it, I noticed a man step from the bushes up ahead of me. Okay, time to go, I thought.

Now, do you log this as an attempt? And do you tell the planter that you think the box in is a bad location? I’m not from the area, so do I inform them that I didn’t feel comfortable following the directions? I’m not even sure if my sister had been with me, we would have tried to get the box. I think we both would have been creeped out. Maybe the track is no longer used, maybe the area was perfectly safe, but I had no information to go on except a very blatant sign that turned on my “spider sense”. I didn’t even log it as anything but should I have?

I guess, my problem is that I don’t want to offend. I certainly don’t think that I have a right to tell anybody where to plant a box or how to write their clues. And some people take a lot of time to plant and write good clues, after all, planters want their boxes to be found (most of the time). But when does a note to the placer become too critical or judgmental? I certainly would never try to “order” someone to move their box or even suggest it. But e-mails can take a different voice depending on who’s reading it. Don’t I have a responsibility to other finders to let the planter know that I did not feel comfortable searching for their box? That maybe the location isn’t the best suited for a letterbox? How would I feel if someone told me that they thought the location of my box wasn’t suitable?

This is my current dilemma. Writing notes to planters is pretty easy when you know all the facts. But it gets hard when you disagree with the placement or the choice that someone made. In the end, I think you just have to tell them the facts, how you perceived a situation, and that’s all you can do.

Despite it being easy or hard, a note to the placer is always a good thing. So long as it is in the good spirit of relaying information, it should be passed along and it’s a policy I really need to adopt. It’s like trying to tell someone that their kid is doing drugs…nobody wants to hear it, but it’s better to know so the problem can be corrected. We never stop learning.


  1. Great thoughts--I think you pose a goodly number of "unanswerables" that should be discussed by the letterboxing crowd. It's too bad (in some ways) there is no definitive organization to decide some of these things, the OCD weenie in me says.

  2. I have found simlar boxes that do not match a theme, and I have tried to tell the placer the things I liked about the trip, and I try to use humor to smooth over the "I was expecting a bear stamp...You surprised me though with the angel...sure glad you started letterboxing...its a ton of fun." Or if it was your case with the creepy guy, "Hey, I had fun looking for your letterbox today, but wasn't able to finish it, I got creeped out when some guy came out of the bushs...since I'm not from around here, wasn't sure it it was safe or not, so I decided to call off the hunt...sure was nice to get out today...look forward to doing your box some other time...maybe if I bring back-up..LOL"

  3. I agree with tmt, some of these questions may never get answers, but it is important to let placers know about your adventure positives and negatives. As jackbear said, sometimes humor can get the point across but not sting to much"

    I certainly would have turned back too on that one.