Imagine. A forest that seems to go on forever. Green in all its shades wherever you look. And then….tiny painted rocks and pebbles, arranged in a group, at the base of a tree, or at the side of a trail. They seem so out of place and yet are anything but.
This was the sight that greeted us on our trip to the Scottish Highlands a few months ago. We live in the UK, and we’ve noticed this has become more common in woods and forests in recent times – perhaps since the pandemic, it’s hard to know for sure. Even the briefest amount of research reveals that painted rocks are popping up all over the world.
Painted rocks usually have an image or a few words painted on them. They’re inspirational, cute, or stunning, depending on the skills of the mystery painter. Some may find them controversial, hence the importance of using non-toxic paints. Some may bear designs that relate to the time of year, while others seem to set a scene. We came across a group of rocks painted with fairies on a Highland trail a few years back. Someone had also added a doorway to the wide trunk of a tree, so perhaps we were walking through a fairy forest without realizing it.
So, what’s the deal?
Some have referred to this as a scavenger hunt – but one revolving around kindness. You’re connecting with people you’ll never meet. There’s no doubt the message and intention behind this is positive. Research suggests it began in 2015 in Massachusetts, but it’s become more common in the last year or two. We’ve certainly noticed that here. It takes time for things like this to go global, but painted rocks have now popped up in various places across the world.
The level of creativity that goes into these rocks does vary. But the message behind these so-called ‘kindness stones or rocks’ is clear. Walking through nature and stumbling across one of these rocks, especially when it has an inspiring message to share, is a memorable moment. Some have noted that they found a rock at a time when the message on it really got through to them.
So, what happens when you find a rock? You can simply take a photo and keep that as a memento. Alternatively, you can keep the painted rock. Many people pick them up and hide them somewhere else for others to find. If you decide to paint some of your own rocks, you might wish to keep one that you find and put one of your own in its place.
A quick caveat: if you are considering painting a few rocks to leave on your next trail, check where you’re going first. Some areas – including a few National Parks – have released statements about the activity, providing guidance and in some cases, discouraging the activity. You’ll find plenty of information online for your part of the world or destination, no matter where you’re going.