Nature Notes – From the Backyard to the Biosphere. Getting Out With Gadgets

You can fairly smell spring now, it’s so close to popping into our lives. But let’s face it – those last weeks of (dare I say the word?) winter often feel the longest of all. The calendar may say one thing, but every other sense tells us that this season isn’t yet ready to release its grip on our bodies and souls.

Still, as the inhabitants of the true north, we are nothing if not strong and adventurous, and whatever old man winter throws our way, by golly, we will rise to meet it. Or something like that, anyway. But getting outside, traipsing around in the wilds (even if the local wilderness is nothing more than the park down the street) really is essential to maintaining our collective sanity at this stage of the game. That time in the sunlight can do wonders for the winter-weary mind, and fresh air – even when it’s really fresh – just feels so darn invigorating.

But convincing oneself to get up the gumph and propel oneself out the door is another story. Here’s a fun idea to help those who are, let’s say, under-motivated, to muster up the courage, pile on the winter wear and head outside: Geocaching may be just the energiser you need.

Luckily for the modernist, and anathema to the Luddite, this unique activity will have you gadget-lovers finally giving yourself permission to purchase that GPS you’ve been dying to get your hands on. All right: if you’re a true gadget-lover, then you’ve probably already got a GPS. But just think – this will give you the perfect justification for why you bought it in the first place.

Geocachers are the grown-up version of those kids who couldn’t get enough of hide-and-seek. Only when you’re first starting out in geocaching, the order is reversed: you begin by seeking, and get into the hiding part a little later. The point of this game is:well, you know – what’s the point of any game? But in this case you can use words like “exercise”, “geography”, “education”, and “nature” to explain to others the rationale behind what may well become your newest passion.

Start out by going to the geocachers’ website at www.geocaching.com (you can even get on their e-mail list – I know, because my hubby’s on it), find the clues to something hidden in your area, use your GPS to get yourself to the right coordinates, and get yourself ready to discover something weird and wacky.

Most of what you actually find in little baggies or containers once you’ve arrived at the correct coordinates and done some good old-fashioned searching on your hands and knees is pretty meaningless – toys, odds and ends – pretty much what you might call junk. But the great thing is, this is completely irrelevant. Why? Because the mystique behind these little thingies is the fact that they are travellers: they’ve been places – sometimes lots of places.

Geocaching has gotten huge, and the strange little squeeze toy you find in Brandon, Manitoba may well have originated from somewhere no less exotic than, say, Japan. Right now there’s a pair of sunglasses and a bottle of vodka waiting for the adventurer in Lebanon. In fact, hidden in 200 countries around the world, odd little bits of whatever are getting people really worked up.

The fun of it all is that geocaching is so off-beat. You find out where something is hidden – either something in your general area, or in an area you’d like to visit. Then you go out for a walk, ski, bike, boat ride, drive or even flight, and you come back having found something bizarre, read about its travels in a log book, and added your own tale to its history. You may take the item(s) along with you to wherever you are headed and create a hiding spot of your own for the next seeker. Or, if you prefer, you can leave nothing more than a note in the logbook, and know you’ve enjoyed the experience for the pure beauty of the search alone.

So go for it; catch the geocaching fever and get out – to the local woods, across the lake, to the neighbourhood park, to Jamaica – wherever. You’re sure to discover places you never knew existed, and to rediscover the forgotten joy of childhood’s hide-and-seek mania. Happy hunting!

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