LONG BEACH — Debra Black leaves gifts for people she never sees.
But the Long Beach Peninsula resident is happy, nonetheless.
Black’s consuming hobby is leaving colored rocks at locations wherever she goes. “I put out dozens around the Peninsula just for someone to find,” she said.
People involved in her hobby say the phenomenon hearkens back (ever-so slightly) to the “pet rock” craze of the 1970s.
The idea of going to random locations and leaving colorfully painted rocks, many with inspirational sayings or cute pictures, caught on some while ago. The Chinook Observer featured Mary Butterfield and Emily Gilmore’s efforts with the Facebook group OP/LB Rocks in August 2017.
Black and her son, Matthew, are continuing their tradition and post on the same site. “Longview, Astoria and Portland, we drop them wherever we go,” she said.
The stones have smiley faces and unusual designs by the Blacks, plus ones that they have traded with other rock people — including Native American images, animal faces and inspirational sayings. The website is inscribed on the reverse side.
They are careful to use acrylic paints and put seals over designs or stickers so the rocks cause the least harm in the natural setting.
No longer random
Although they place rocks at random locations, in recent weeks, they have partnered with Dan and Yvonne Lee at Hobo Junction in Long Beach to create a known location.
“They came and said, ‘Do you have a spot to do it?’ and we said they could have this area,” said Dan Lee, pointing to a collection of natural rocks clustered around a sign near his business entrance at the intersection of Pacific Avenue and 13th Street S.W.
“We laid the initial rocks, and then we have them come look after them, sometimes twice a day,” he said. “We get people from all over down here all the time.”
The Blacks are quick to express gratitude to the owners of Hobo Junction; sometimes they visit their rock garden more than once a day to add more. The Lees took the business over a couple of years ago from John Guimond. The business displays and sells a cornucopia of metal sculptures, art made of letters from license plates, sand dollars, plants and way too many oddities to list.
The largest painted rock proclaims the philosophy: “Take One, Leave One.” The smaller colored rocks, which are constantly being swapped out, attract customers, too. “People stop by every single day,” said Yvonne Lee.
For the Blacks, the process of creating and finding a way to spread joy is almost therapy.
Debra Black, who works as an in-home caregiver, has had struggles with addiction. Because of this, she said her family’s hobby is additionally worthwhile. “It’s all about kindness — the feeling that you have when you find a rock that puts a smile on your face, especially if you are having a bad day.”
A much-shared Facebook post highlights the goals of the “painted rock movement.” “It’s positive energy that we send out in the smallest things, without expecting anything in return.”
She discovered her first rock more than a year ago in the mid-Peninsula and put it in her car; then she found another. The initial idea of distributing her own rocks morphed into online connections with people doing the same thing around the world.
So far, she has traded rocks with kindred spirits in faraway locations like Hawaii, England and Scotland. Rabbits and flowers are among popular decorations she has received.
The level of sophistication is imaginative. Black owns a Pomeranian and traded photos with the owner of an Australian shepherd. They painted each other’s dogs using the photos as a guide and mailed the decorated stones back.
One cost of the hobby is in the mailing; recent packages of rocks to trade went to Connecticut, Mississippi and Idaho.
Black credits the friendly counter staff at the Long Beach post office with guiding her toward using padded Priority Mail envelopes or flat-rate boxes where weight does not determine cost. “We couldn’t have done it without them,” she said.
“They are awesome,” Matthew Black added.
For Debra Black, it’s about “giving back” after her own rocky road. One comment is almost a mantra: “When people pick up a rock … it’s for the pleasure they get when they find that little treasure.”