One of the fun things about walking, is seeing the creative ways people have found to personalize their space. There are the houses painted in bright, fairytale colors; tree forts complete with glass windows; weather vanes ( I have such a weakness for weather vanes); statues made from found objects and of course the ubiquitous mailbox. As long as the door stays shut and the flag is well attached, there's very little reason to think about these oddly shaped boxes, until someone makes them worth noticing.
About a year ago I did a post about a walk I took in Lincoln, where I was surprised at the number of unique, home decorated mailboxes. There was one mailbox that I debated whether or not to include in that post. It was gray, with just the name Frost painted on it. There was really no reason to give it a second glance except that it was the spitting image of the mailbox in front of Robert Frost's home in the White Mountains. I decided this was more likely coincidence, than an homage of any sort and left the mailbox out of the post. This spring, that gray mailbox went through a major transformation. I decided to explore the neighborhood and see what (if any) other changes had occurred.
Formerly the Frost mailbox
I started out in the parking lot of the Lincoln Exchange, one of the few public places to park near Tower Road. You can click on here to see my route. The Exchange is home to one of the town's post offices, and I always feel like I'm stepping back in time when I walk through those doors to buy stamps or what not. We'd had a week of summer weather (in April mind you), so it was a pleasure to walk under stone colored skies through the occasional shower. It's the sort of weather I imagine when I think of the Pacific Northwest, great for a visit but I wouldn't want it everyday.
The lilacs are in that wonderful inbetween stage where the closed buds are one shade and the opened blossoms another. If I were an impressionist painter, I would paint lilacs the way Monet painted water lilies, one after another, trying to capture each change in light and growth.
As I headed to the Frost mailbox (as I think of it) I realized I was just steps from a cute little tree lined road I pass all the time and have wondered about. I didn't have a schedule to keep, and I figured if it didn't come out somewhere I recognize, I could always retrace my steps, so I took a left on Upland Road and immediately discovered more DIY decorated mailboxes! Don't you love serendipity?
I like the easy, sketch-like look of the ladybug. Whoever painted this was Ok with imperfection, and in that created something lovely. I wonder what the inspiration was to create a house around the mailbox. Maybe the house was originally the mailbox, but the post office decreed they needed a USPS approved receptacle? Maybe they needed something to help the mailbox stand out so plow drivers wouldn't hit it? I have seen one other similar to this in Lexington (next town over). In that case the wooden exterior was intended to look like a house and garden.
The picture is a little dark, but can you see the painted window, complete with lacy white curtains on the front?
As I continued down Upland to Beaver Pond, I saw several boxes decorated by kids. Think back to being a kid and just how few things you had complete control over. Now imagine being given permanent paint, part of the family home and permission to do what you want. What a heady opportunity! And then that art work is on display for everyone to see: the mailman, people driving by, anyone coming to visit and of course their friends on the bus. What a great idea.
Notice the difference in hand sizes? It's like a much more personal version of those stickers people put on their minivans to show how many people are in their family.
These hand flowers make me smile. Kids grow so quickly that artwork which makes those stages of growth a little more permanent are a wonderful idea. When I was three or four I was at camp with my family. There was an organized children's program so the parents could go off and do things on their own. One day we were all given white t-shirts and the counselors traced our hands on them in permanent marker. Mine was green. I loved that shirt. When I outgrew it I dressed my dolls with it. Sometimes I'd place my hand over that earlier tracing and try to imagine I'd ever been that small.
This garden mailbox was in front of an artist studio. One side was clearly done by children, and then the other has a bit of an adult's touch. I wonder if they crafted that roadrunner shape themselves. The spirals and zigzags behind it make me think of a meteor shower. Looking at that mailbox, the way it's been warped over time and has started to rust, I can imagine the painting as an effort to beautify it in its last days of use. Then again, maybe it was new and shiny when those little hands drew rabbits, flowers, dogs and curly ques. The kids may have kids of their own by now, but this reminder of their younger selves remains.
There was one mailbox that looked like a great steamer trunk, the sort George Bailey dreams of traveling with in It's a Wonderful Life. Now it's just an unadorned mailbox, bought from a store, but imagine what it would look like with old-timey stickers from around the world and passport stamps painted on it.
When I got to the end of Beaver Pond I realized it intersected with Tower Road, the place where I'd found so many unique mailboxes a year ago. What prompts one area, in a rather traditional, historic New England town to create so many works of public art? I believe residents gain inspiration by driving past each other's creations each day. It's the same logic that drives people in economically depressed areas to clean up a corner or a vacant lot and by doing so inspire neighbors to take on their own beautification projects.
As I walked Tower Road back to the exchange, it was nice to see a lot of my favorite mailboxes still standing. There was the shocking tiger striped box, the Grandma Moses style red fox and more. At the end of the street there was a new addition, a yong girl's dream mailbox, all purples and reds with fluffy white rabbits and a shiny moon.
What do you make of those little running figures? They remind me of Crockett Johnson's character Harold, who with the help of his purple crayon sets out in his pajamas each night for all sorts of adventures.
As I drove home I thought about all the personality and creativity that went into the mailboxes I'd seen, and I wanted a bit of that for myself. For the first time in my life I live in a place where the mailbox is a box (not a wall of doors with tiny keys). What could I create that says a little something about me?
Check back for the next post and you'll see.