I am an obsessive organizer. My kids, however, are trinket hoarders. Anything miniature, meaningful or memorable gets stashed in a box for safekeeping.
I am constantly picking up items off the counter or floor and wondering if it’s trash or treasure. I usually assume it’s trash and throw it away, only to later find out I acted erroneously. We have rock collections, stick collections and memory boxes scattered throughout the house.
Imagine the pure joy they experienced when they found a camouflaged box on a hike filled with trinkets. There was a bouncy ball, a board game piece and the most excitingly fought over surprise was a used European commuter train ticket. To me, it looked like someone emptied their kitchen junk drawer and hid it in the woods.
To my kids, it was a magical discovery. At the bottom of the box was a small notepad with first names, dates, and a few comments scribbled on it. The same thing happened again on another hike. This time it was a black box with a variety of trinkets and another notepad used as a logbook.
At the time, I was only vaguely familiar with the idea of geocaching. It was originally called, The Great American GPS Stash Hunt.
The idea behind it was that someone could hide a box containing the trinket treasure in the woods and note the GPS location. After the information was shared on the internet, someone else could try and find the box using a GPS device.
Once the box was found, the rules were very simple and remain the same to this day: “Take some stuff, leave some stuff.” The logbook was used to communicate who found the box and to keep track of the number of times it was found.
Whether it’s due to the enjoyment of finding something hidden or the experience of exploring new places, the activity undoubtedly grew in popularity and became what is known as geocaching. Geocaching.com is an exceptional resource and can also be used as a digital logbook. However, my very first experience with the pastime was distressing.
Our property borders a 19th century German cemetery. Typically, visitors are sparse and limited to daylight hours. However, curious or bored teenagers are drawn to the cemetery during certain times of the year. We consider ourselves guardians of the sacred land and it is our duty to maintain peace out of respect for the deceased.
Alarmingly, we noticed a lot more traffic than usual at the cemetery. Then one afternoon, I glanced out of my bedroom window noticing movement in my very secluded yard. There was a man wandering through the trees. More movement caught my attention and I turned to see another man with his dog also in my yard. We learned that they were using GPS devices to locate a geocache in the cemetery.
Other than being alarmingly close to our private residence, they were harmless. Because of the close proximity to private residences and unmarked property lines, the geocache was later removed. The experience did leave me with a sour taste for the activity.
Fast forward a few years, and we were invited by another family to join them in a geocaching adventure in Mill Creek Park. My kids had become familiar with the activity after the aforementioned accidental discoveries of caches during our hikes. We agreed to give it a fair shot and joined them in the treasure hunt.
My youngest son — who typically lags behind on longer hikes — was sprinting ahead to be the first person to find the geocache. Instead of using a GPS device, we used the geocache app on our phones. Even though we used the map option, it was still beneficial with helping my wanderers understand longitude and latitude.
Like pirates scanning the horizon for a hidden island, we continue to search the app for new geocaches to find when we are traveling. Because of our experience with hikers in our yard, we are careful to choose hunts on public land far from private residences.
My kids think they’ve found gold, but I know the truth. They’ve discovered a hobby that keeps them outside on trails and constantly learning more about geography. I consider that more valuable than precious metal even if the stash ends up in the junk drawer.
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