Let me tell you about the Secrets: a backyard game of unknown origin, a girly ritual passed from mother to daughter. In the second half of the 20th century, girls in Communist Poland would take little trinkets and scraps like candy wrappers, leaves, bits of confetti, and colorful beads and pills and arrange them, like collages or shrines, on pieces of foil, seal their creations under a piece of glass, and bury them underground, where they would be their secret to keep (or to share with a few trusted friends).
The Secrets stood the test of time and made it through the democratic transformation of the early ’90s. Being born into a completely different reality, still I found the tinfoil scraps and heart-shaped cloverleaves alluring. There’s just something mesmerizing about teeny-tiny stuff, you know? The joy of creating a hidden little personal world will never get old. And then burying your treasure in the ground, and trusting the earth to keep your secrets—it feels like you are doing something really ancient, like you’re connecting on a deep level with the teenage girls who came before you. Because, after all, you are.
The ground is still frozen here in Poland as I write this, so I’m gonna make my Secret in a tin box, but if you’re lucky enough to live in a warmer place, start looking for a good spot to bury it outside!
How to make a Secret:
1. Gather your objects. Back in the day, kids often used random objects found in their pockets or on the playground to create their Secrets: buttons, beads and bottle caps, but also leaves, feathers and flower petals. The trick was to make something pretty and special out of the trash. Another route is to make your Secret a kind of shrine or hideaway for objects that have personal meaning for you, like photos or friendship bracelets. It’s totally up to you what you put in there!
2. Find a backdrop. The girls of postwar Poland saved the tinfoil from chocolate-bar wrappers to use as backdrops for their Secrets. They were shiny and colorful, and had the added bonus of protecting the Secret from moisture in the soil, and thus delaying its inevitable decay. You can do the same, or use colored foil or a piece of pretty cloth.
3. Find a transparent cover. Original Secret-makers would most likely hide behind a wall and smash an empty bottle to make a cover for a Secret out of the round glass bottom. I probably shouldn’t even mention this method, lest you try it at home—which would be dangerous for you and any random passersby, so please find a different source for your round pieces of glass or plastic. A small lid or lens will work great.
4. Scout a location. Ideally some earthy spot that’s hard to discover but easy to find if you know where you’re looking: e.g., a quiet, secluded corner of a backyard or a playground.
5. Construct your Secret:
• Dig a shallow hole (2-3 inches deep), slightly wider than the diameter of your transparent cover.
• Put your background on the bottom of the hole and arrange your chosen objects on top of it, like a collage.
• Cover the composition with the plastic or glass.
- Gently refill the hole with soil. Press the ground softly to even out the surface.
6. Optional: share your Secret. It’s fun to make a special Secret for a friend, choosing objects that symbolize your bond with each other. Then you can mark the burial spot with a pebble or a pair of crossed sticks, and give your friend a map to this hidden treasure. When uncovering a Secret, be careful. Pretend you’re an archeologist—move away thin layers of soil gently, with a flat palm. It’s easy to wreck a Secret by trying to dig it out too quickly. (Doesn’t every single thing I say here sound like it has a secret double meaning? EVEN WHAT I AM SAYING RIGHT NOW? That’s because it does—that’s the nature of Secrets, and of secrets.)
I’ve never been able to find any of the Secrets I’ve buried. But it doesn’t really matter—the risk of losing your artwork is part of the game (and my pockets are always full of candy wrappers). Maybe they’d all been ruined—washed away by rain or stomped on by unknowing feet—or maybe they’d just decomposed by the time I tried to find them. But I like to think I just hid them too well, and that they’re still they’re, hiding just a couple of inches under my feet, like a private map of my hometown.