A Bipostal Mailboxing Adventure

by Apr 17, 2023South Brunswick, Travel

An unforgettable pilgrimage to the Kindred Spirit Mailbox on Bird Island inspires a replica on Bainbridge Island, Washington.

By Denise Stoughton

In the spirit of ideating words like “mailboxing,” I’ve come up with “bipostal” to frame my dual West Coast and East Coast mailboxing activities this winter. From Bainbridge Island to Bird Island, a pilgrimage to the storied Kindred Spirit mailbox was my first stop along the coast of North Carolina. The mailbox is famous for its enduring legacy of human connection through the unwavering stream of heartfelt journal entries, which visitors can “post” into the mailbox.

Every journey to the Kindred Spirit Mailbox is as unique as the myriad reasons for visiting. My reasons were both simple and complex. I wanted to say hello and I wanted to be transformed — a tall order for a metal box and a heft of driftwood.

As Anne says in Anne of Green Gables, “Kindred spirits are not as scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”

My sojourn was shared with a friend who is local to the Kindred Spirit Mailbox. Debra McClendon and I were close co-workers who hadn’t seen each other in 10 years, and suddenly here we were, two gals on an amazingly sunny January day along a wide expanse of beach on Bird Island, south of Sunset Beach, witness to and participants in the phenomenon that is the Kindred Spirit.

Several nondescript-looking notebooks were crammed into the mailbox. I selected one, trying not to fuss too much over exactly which one. I’d trusted that when this moment came to pass, I’d know precisely what to write, that something truly awe inspiring and insightful would pop into my head, that people would read my entry years from now and weep. My pen hovered over the page for what seemed an eternity. Nothing.

Kindred Spirt Mailbox

Another eternity, again nothing. Feeling unprepared and somewhat ridiculous (akin to an awkward first date), I mundanely told the Kindred Spirit what had brought me to it and some nonsense about my hope for a Kindred Spirit back home on Bainbridge Island, and then I blurted out, “I love you Kindred Spirit!”

With that embarrassment, I looked up from the notebook and scanned the indigo seam where sky and sea meet and caught a glimpse of the young woman on the adjacent bench who was fervently writing in a journal, unselfconscious tears cascading onto her page. In that moment, having witnessed the power, fragility and beauty of both the natural and human condition, I forgot my perceived shortcomings and emerged feeling extraordinary. For what it was worth, I’d added my voice to the potpourri of voices emanating from the mailbox, each distinctly different yet collectively cohesive — recognizable as human.

What could be more life affirming than the world being united in honoring our imperfect, awkward humanness?

Visiting the Kindred Spirit Journal Archives

Some of the Kindred Spirit mailbox journals are archived at Randall Library at UNC Wilmington. Debra also joined me in the special collections archive to peruse the archived journals. They revealed the full breadth of the stories entrusted to the mailbox starting with the year 2012.

“My name is Elliot Hobbs. I don’t know if anyone will ever read this but it’s great just to put my name in here. Crazy to say we just survived a worldwide pandemic.”

“It feels great to be connected to so many kindred spirits during the loneliness of the pandemic.” – Carly Kildyard, Phoenix, AZ
“Ha! I knew this mailbox was real. It is a bet won.”

“I’ve seen struggle and hard times. I’ve been in abusive relationships and I’ve had to start over from nothing. So, I know I have more than I deserve in this life to be thankful for.”

“Be kind, do all thinks in love, help a stranger. Wave. It’s the little things in life that lead to the big things.”

“Dear Kindred Spirit, as two teenage kids this seems odd to do, but hey life itself is odd. To any parents, please keep your kids’ mental health in check, life can be tough as a kid with things changing all the time. In my short 17 years on the earth, I have learned one most valuable lesson, friends and family are forever.”

“If anyone is reading this: you are loved, you are appreciated. God has called you.  Until next time, I hope you all get to know the kindred spirit in everyone you meet.”

Kindred Spirit Origins

I also had a delightful visit with former Kindred Spirit “secret helper,” author, speaker and new kindred friend, Jacqueline “Jack” DeGroot. She brought forth a wealth of insight not only about her relationship to the mailbox but to the couple who started the Kindred Spirit, Claudia Sailor and Frank Nesmith.

Denise Stoughton author

The story of the Kindred Spirit is a romance between Sailor, the woman who came up with the idea for the mailbox, and Nesmith the man she met while on the little spit of sand where she first erected the Kindred Spirit. Together they set up mailbox and maintained it in secret.

While much has been written about Nesmith, Sailor was more mysterious. I find myself drawn to this woman whose wish it was to connect kindred spirits, who packed her little rowboat named Moses with a plain mailbox, a driftwood post and stamped envelopes with her P.O. Box address as the destination to provide anyone who reached the mailbox with a way to share their thoughts.

Over time, Sailor’s walks to the mailbox became increasingly difficult. Before she passed away in 2013, she contacted DeGroot because of her ties to the mailbox — DeGroot featured it in her novel, The Secret of the Kindred Spirit. They communicated by email for years, and Sailor asked DeGroot to help replace the notebooks from time to time. DeGroot recruited a team of volunteers who help watch over the mailbox, do repairs and replace the notebooks. DeGroot’s book, The Beach Boys of Sunset Beach, was also inspired in part by the Kindred Spirit Mailbox.

During our visit to her home, she led us upstairs to her inner sanctum where she writes. She shared one of the last few emails she received from Sailor dated July 21, 2012. In the email, Sailor is 73 and not in good health. She talks of a recent knee injury causing her pain. “There are times when ALL I want is to be wrapped in the old army blanket I kept near the mailbox on a chilly day/night lying on the Kindred Spirit bench watching my campfire knowing Moses is bobbing patiently at the edge of the marsh behind Bird Island waiting for me to return to him. This is one of those times.”

DeGroot finds another email from Sailor: “Being a mere human, I have not figured out from one day or month or year to the next where the Kindred Spirit Mailbox is heading. I’m still like you, just one of the adventurers, but I do just instinctively know the journals are meant to be kept together.”

Kindred Spirit Sunset Beach NC

Despite the widely accepted assumption that the journals are all together at UNCW, they are not. Prior to 2009ish, the journals Nesmith and DeGroot collected the journals from the mailbox (as Nesmith became older, by DeGroot alone) and then Nesmith would mail them to Sailor. DeGroot estimates that Sailor had about four wardrobe-sized boxes full of journals at her home in Hope Mills at the time of her death, but their location is presently unknown. Sometime after 2009 the journals were sent directly to UNCW collection, and that practice continues.

A West Coast Kindred Spirit

At home where I live on Bainbridge Island, I am working on a book tentatively titled The Fabulous Mailboxes of Bainbridge Island, and I began to think of setting up a mailbox similar to the Kindred Spirit here. This is a project of love, connection and the environment. How wonderful it would be to come upon a contemplative place to read others’ stories and share our own hopes, dreams and thoughts. It would be a privilege to provide a home, and mailbox, to such a space.

I know in my heart that Bainbridge would embrace an idea like this and it seemed to me having a Kindred Spirit on both coasts is balanced — a perfect symmetry of kindred spirits. Our local parks and recreational has agreed that it is a good idea, and the Historical Museum of Bainbridge Island has offered to archive any journals from the Bainbridge Island Kindred. An island native and metal artist has offered to create a unique post for our mailbox. If you’d like to keep up with my project and hopes of creating a West Coast Kindred Spirit mailbox, follow me at facebook.com/group/uniquelybainbridgemailboxes or go to uniquelybainbridge.com.

Want to go?
Kindred Spirit Mailbox
To walk or bike to the Kindred Spirit Mailbox on Bird Island, start at the public beach access on W. 40th Street on Sunset Beach. Take the access to the beach and head southwest (away from the pier). It’s about 1.5 miles from the 40th Street access. If you reach the jetty, you’ve gone too far.