This guy rocks!
It's pouring rain on a dreary January morning in Lake Oswego. But the cold and wet has never really bothered Rich and Kay Simons, and it's unlikely to phase the Bryant Woods residents today.
After throwing on their rain jackets, hats and gloves, the couple head out the door on their usual walk along the trails that wind between the houses of the neighborhood, trails they've walked hundreds of times in the 44 years they've lived in Lake Oswego.
On their walk, the Simons are accompanied by their adult grandson Colby, who often visits his grandparents during their walks. And every so often, they stop to perform a special ritual, one that has built Rich a small following.
Together, the trio place painted rocks in strategic locations — colorful treasures they leave behind to the delight of those who follow them.
"Someone came and left a bouquet of flowers on our porch with a note saying, 'We love your rocks!" Kay says. "It's just crazy."
About five months ago, Rich was surfing the internet for cool craft project ideas when he stumbled upon a new movement of crafters who paint rocks and leave them around for people to find, admire and take home if they please. After looking at all sorts of different rocks painted with encouraging slogans or silly pictures, Rich decided he'd try his hand at this new trend.
"What I thought I'd do in the process of learning how to paint was to leave a bowl out near the mailbox with a sign that says 'Free Rocks', so people walking by or kids coming home from school could pick out a rock," Rich says.
What the Simons didn't realize was how popular Rich's painted rocks would become. These days, it's not uncommon to see an older couple with their grandchildren stop by, or a crowd of kids gathered around their mailbox to pick through the bowl to find the perfect rock that speaks to them.
Cars stop frequently, and small children clamber out to get a new rock. The whole thing has become quite the little phenomenon in the Bryant Woods neighborhood.
On Christmas day, two sisters stopped by the Simons' residence to speak to Rich. The women said that their mother walks by his home on her walks and loves the rocks. They tried to give Rich money so he'd continue painting rocks and leaving them outfront, but he refused. The women insisted, so he took the money and paid it forward to some elderly people he knew in need.
"I never did it to create a following," Rich says of his newfound hobby. "I didn't even know I liked to do any of this type of stuff because I never had time to do it before."
Now, Rich says he has to paint about 12 rocks per day just to keep up with the demand. He paints flowers, little tropical scenes, bugs — whatever comes to mind, really. He's completed a series of "Where's Waldo?" rocks that are especially fitting, considering the couple's affinity for hiding them around the neighborhood.
He spends time on Pinterest and other sites gaining inspiration for his rock paintings before he sits down to a session in the couple's home office, which they've now turned into a little studio.
Depending on the time of year, Rich will work in a theme to his paintings. Currently, he's creating a series of rocks with little hearts for Valentine's day.
Some of the rocks are big — about the side of your hand — and heavy. Others are small, about the size of quarter. Rich purchases most of them from Home Depot, but sometimes he and Kay find a rock or two on their walks along the trails around their home.
According to Rich, Mexican beach rocks are the best for painting. The only discriminating factor is they need to be smooth so that the paint adheres to the surface well enough for a clear coat of non-toxic sealant to be applied. That way, the colors don't fade.
"I try to put some inspirational things on the rocks for the little guys, little things that say, 'I'm strong' or 'I'm kind,'" Rich says. "The thought is they'll have it at home, they'll look at it and it will give them confidence."
Rich says he's no psychologist, but he would like to leave the world happier and brighter than he found it. The rocks are just a small step toward improving his community's outlook on life, he says, but they've made a bigger impact than he or Kay ever imagined.
"We put rocks in our pocket and we walk around dropping off rocks, sometimes at people's houses who we knew, sometimes strangers," Kay says. "Now we carry rocks in the car, and we'll drop one at Starbucks or 24-Hour Fitness. It's taken on a life of its own."