Sunday, October 9, 2011

Ten Mistakes I've Made Planting Letterboxes

If you don't understand the title to this post, then clearly you have not joined the cult/hobby known as "letterboxing" and none of this is going to make sense. For my fellow indoctrinates, I have the following mistakes I've made hiding my boxes, mostly because I was just copying what I had found locally. It was a few years before I discovered some regional variations in hiding techniques and learned from them.

1. Including ink in the box. Apparently, nobody does this except for most of the boxers in my locale. Ink is really expensive, it gets moldy (above photo) or dried out, it bulks up the box contents so you need a bigger box, and if the box leaks the entire contents can become covered in colored water. Letterboxers often don't even use the ink -- they use their own. So why bother?

2. Using old fashioned Rubbermaid-style containers, even high quality expensive ones ("Housatonic Forest"). They are not designed to have any weight on them and the seal breaks if a rock is placed on them or they are distorted in any way. I only use the heavy rigid Lock & Lock style boxes now, with four locking tabs. A popular source for a more cost effective version of Lock & Lock for letterboxing is Ocean State Job Lot, who sells a nice 13.5 oz "Freshness Keeper" for just $1.25 each.

3. Using duct tape to conceal a box ("Shelton Canal"). It takes a long time to do, and tape comes off in a sticky way. It's also pretty visible in the winter. Now I use a very thin layer of flat black spray paint formulated for plastic. You're hiding a box in shadows, so a dark box disappears best. I've also seen people use dark brown. One nice thing about spray paint is you can do a lot of boxes up in just a couple of minutes. One option is to leave the purchase sticker on while painting and remove it to form a window. That's something to keep in mind if you're planting in an area where the Secret Service might become suspicious of your box and think it's a bomb. Better yet, don't plant there.

4. Planting too close to the trail (Riverview Park). I now assume that every box will become exposed. Someone won't rehide well, an animal might dig it up, or a heavy rain might wash away the cover. A box next to the trail will be seen eventually, and likely tampered with. I now try to hide far enough off trail so that if the box is uncovered, the box still won't be seen.

5. Planting in a drainage area ("Housatonic Forest"). Water washed those boxes right out of their hiding hole! Water can also wash a box down into a crevice where it can't be reached.

6. Planting in a really neat location that is nearly impossible to write clues for ("Lucy the Fox", for sure). I'm learning to plant near something really distinctive. Doesn't always work, but that's the goal.

7. Using cheap plastic bags, especially sandwich bags. They rip, they leak. Best ones are heavy duty freezer bags with double seals. Pint size is best, but very hard to find. I usually carry the freezer bags with me while boxing and replace old flimsy bags that I find.

8. Planting in an animal den. Found the box 50 feet away unopened ("Pine Lake").

9. Including a pen or pencil in the box. You know what? Boxers are supposed to carry that stuff with them when they go looking for boxes. All a letterbox needs is a stamp, a logbook, and a plastic bag to keep the two dry.

10. Planting in a patch of poison ivy during the winter. Oops. ("A Very Long Beach").

I've made plenty more mistakes! But I'll just stick with ten here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Phoenix Trees

Several days after Tropical Storm Irene, a series of uprooted trees lay over the Shelton Lakes Recreation Path. A volunteer cut away the branches in preparation for cutting up the trunk to firewood size lengths when a very unexpected thing happened: The trees suddenly swung back upright. These trees had been completely on the ground!
That explains the mysterious tree along Birchbank Trail that had been sawed off at the top well above head height. I always wondered why someone would get up on a ladder and cut the top of a tree off like that in the middle of the forest. It never occurred to me that a tree could upright itself so dramatically. In both cases the trees were on the edge of a swamp.

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Basil Brook, Shelton

This is the story of a little brook, so small it didn't even have a name until a few weeks ago. It babbled through some back woods, forming swampy ponds when it rained, and drying up when it didn't. Eventually the City bought most of the woods and started building the Shelton Lake Recreation Path through the woods, often right alongside the brook. But no one knew what to call the little stream. The picture above shows the Far Mill River with the little brook coming in on the left. I had to bushwhack from Sycamore Drive to get to this spot, which is located north of Buddington Road.

There is a magnificent stand of Stinging Nettles where the two streams meet, located exactly where I wanted to stand to get a photo. The hairs on the stem are the little stingers. Yes, I did get stung.

Here's some Royal Fern .... much safer to walk past. I found Royal Fern in several places along the entire length of this brook and a huge stand of it in the headwaters.

Let's follow the little brook upstream. The only place you can see the brook from a road is right here, at the intersection of Wesley and Sycamore Drives (see map).

If you walk up Wesley Drive a few hundred yards and go right on the newly constructed Rec Path, you may hear the brook babbling. Very shortly, you'll see it, too.

A few weeks ago, the Board of Aldermen voted to name the brook "Basil Brook" in honor of Basil Dikovsky, who owns the land to the right of the Rec Path in the photo above. Mr. Dikovsky donated some of his land here a few years ago so that the handicapped-accessible Path wouldn't have to climb up that steep slope to the left.

The Rec Path climbs gradually to this scenic overlook of the Basil Brook Valley. Although the Rec Path is located on City property, the brook and valley -- everything in the photo above -- are owned by Mr. Dikovsky.

If it's been raining, you can hear the sound of a waterfall off in the distance before the path crosses Wesley Drive again. A side trail leads to the waterfall, although recent construction of the Path obliterated the trail entrance. I'm sure the side trail will be restored at some point.

After the upper Wesley Drive crossing, the Rec Path first passes an associated vernal pool (the tadpoles were jumping) then comes alongside Basil Brook for a spell. This section of the Path is still under construction.

The haybales placed alongside the Rec Path for sediment and erosion control are sprouting quite the bumper crop of mushrooms.

And there it is, our little "Crab Apple Bridge," so named because the nearest street is Crab Apple Circle. It crosses the brook, so maybe we'll start calling it the Basil Brook Bridge.

The brook is flowing pretty strong for this time of year. Most of this water is draining out of a big wooded swamp immediately upstream from the bridge, just around the bend in the photo above.

Here's the source of Basil Brook, a big swamp. Last summer it dried up completely.

Very soon a new section of Rec Path will be constructed from the Crab Apple Bridge, along the banks of the swamp, and out to the powerlines. Survey flagging is all there is for now.

Not quite finished. Coming out onto the powerlines, the old Rec Path route (and White Trail) crosses this little streamlet that feeds into the swamp. So maybe this should really be called the beginning of Basil Brook. Such humble beginnings!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Polyphemus Moth

This huge female Polyphemus Moth was hanging out in front of the house.

Check out those fake eyes!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Dust Devil, Shelton

This video was taken from my Droid at the new Community Garden location. Machinery had been working over the soil to remove rocks, so it was really dry and dusty.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Epic Beach Hike, Cape Cod

Here's the starting point, the Race Point Ranger Station, way out on the far tip of Cape Cod. The destination: Race Point Lighthouse, only two miles away. Ha ha ha ha....

OK, so let's head down to this National Seashore beach. Which appears to be covered in....RV's??? Yup. Lines of 4WD and RVs, mostly fishing.

By the looks of it, people were catching fish. Biscuit was terrified of a carcass left behind. Later I saw a big fat retriever chomping on a carcass as if he does that all the time.

After a bit I entered a zone where vehicles are prohibited and had a long stretch of beach all to myself. This photo is looking back at the fishermen.

Ahhhh.....That's more like it!

In one spot, there were half a dozen big Moonsnails left behind by the tide, still alive. They're about three inches across and normally burrow into the sand, where they eat clams. Why they were stuck up on shore, I don't know.

After walking and walking and walking...past another line of vehicles, another empty beach, and then a third line of fishermen, and forever rounding the corner of the Cape, the Race Point Lighthouse finally peaked over the back of the dunes. I almost didn't see it back there, and nearly walked right past it.

The only way to get to the lighthouse is by 4WD or your own 2 legs. Maybe by boat.

Some interesting vegetation in the back dunes here. A patchwork of color. The bright green is poison ivy.

The pink and white are Beach Plum blossoms.

And the soft gray-green is moss or lichens growing on the Beach Plum.

OK, then, now it's time to walk back. Through the soft sand. Two more miles. Each mile was the equivalent or 2 or 3 miles of normal walking. By the way, did I mention there are no restroom facilities or any bushes along the entire route? I lugged a bunch of water on the hike but was afraid to drink any of it.

Two fishing boats.

The walk was quite a workout and my legs were sore for about five days!

Somebody Loves Dogs

Here's a box of dog treats nailed to a tree. Wow! This was out on the Cape, at a place called John Kendrick Woods in Orleans. Almost makes up for the fact that dogs are banned from all the trails in Cape Cod National Seashore. So, to whoever it is that put the biscuits there...Thank you!
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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Bearberry Hill, Cape Cod

Take a walk with me up Bearberry Hill near Truro on Cape Cod. True to its name, the hill is in fact just covered with Bearberry, an attractive low shrub that I planted at Eklund Garden a couple years ago. It's not doing all that great at Eklund, but it sure likes the sand dunes on the Cape.

There's a lookout platform at the top of the hill and a spectacular view in all directions. We decided to follow one of the little paths through the hot sand out to the ocean...

...but when we got to the highest dune, we discovered a sheer sand cliff of maybe 100 feet. Too steep to go down, but the waves were soooo inviting.

Looking back from the top of the dunes towards the pines below, we could see vast clouds of pine pollen blowing in the wind. Ugh.

There was lots of interesting vegetation along the dunes. Here was some tiny Beach Heather in bloom. There was also lots of Bayberry, the shrub they once used to make candles, and lots of poison ivy.

A second viewing platform overlooked one of the many kettle ponds on the Cape that were once used to grow cranberries.

This isn't cranberry, though. Cranberries grow in the places that are too wet to walk for the most part, and this was growing along the sandy trail. This is Bearberry.

And here's some Dusty Miller. Yup, the same stuff that grows in gardens. It escaped and now grows wild on the dunes.

Walking on the dunes was hot, even though it was supposedly only about 70 degrees. It felt more like 85. We headed for another beach access point much further down the trail, and this time found a beautiful quiet beach.


If you look close, you can see a seal in the photo above.

The sand cliffs were interesting, composed of various layers that were eroding from the wind, sand pouring over the edges like sugar from jar.

This pod of gravel and one bigger rock looks like it got washed up in a really big storm. A Nor'Easter, I bet.

We then headed into the forest and the bog house, where this Box Turtle was found hiding in the pine needles. He wisely refused to stick his head out.

The old boghouse and bog were just about the end of the line for us. Instead of retracing our steps on the hot dunes, we followed a fire road past the house right out to nearby North Pamet Road. Fortunately little short cut, as we had no more water left to drink. Those dunes are hot when the sun is out! After the hike, we got to pick over 100 dog ticks off of the dog.