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Sinclaire Sparkman: Much ado about painted rocks

Sinclaire Sparkman • Updated Aug 4, 2017 at 1:00 PM

It is a trend that began thousands of years ago when cave people drew the first stick figure chasing a buffalo on the wall of a cave. 

As time passed, the people began using things like canvas, pens, pencils and paper to record history, as painting on rocks grew less and less popular. It fell out of the minds of men and women that rocks could be things to paint on, so we went about making art in other ways. Recently though, we have remembered our roots and added a modern twist, paint the rocks and hide them for others to find. The fad has gone nationwide and shows little sign of stopping, except for the voices that say painting rocks is bad for the environment. 

From Nevada to Texas to Tennessee there are murmurs of outcry against the creative practice of rock painting. I’ll admit I’ve painted and hidden a few myself, but it is fascinating to read these tales of outcry from some of the more environmentally minded folks.

Those against say the hot sun can melt the paint, leaving toxic residue in natural habitats, or the art disrupts the natural look along nature trails and so on. 

They aren’t entirely in the wrong. There is a set of principles used in parks nationwide called ‘Leave No Trace’. The foremost saying in the list goes ‘take only pictures, leave only footprints’, which usually means take your trash with you and leave the pretty flowers alone. In this instance it can be interpreted to mean don’t take rocks from the park and don’t put a painted rock back in the park.  

When I went to forage for my first rocks along a local creek, the Leave No Trace principles sprang to mind, but my creative nature got the better of my green stewardship notions. I wasn’t technically in a park anyway, and buying rocks, to me, seems like a waste of money when there are countless rocks just lying around outside serving little purpose, though they do have their place in the ecosystem. I don’t think I’m disrupting much by taking one or two home to paint. It’s all about spreading your impact, right? 

The only reason I see to buy rocks would be to ensure a smooth surface for painting, but I don’t mind painting the jagged edges. It’s often a guide for whatever design I decide to paint on my rock canvas. 

I feel I’m channeling my inner cavewoman when I’m painting rocks, and there’s also a part of me that says the paint and sealers used on these rocks could actually hurt natural ecosystems. But then I remember I’m part of that ecosystem and I’ll paint a rock up all pretty if I want to. 

This trend will not burn strong forever. Last week it was fidget spinners, this week it’s rock painting. These things pass, and the ecosystems will survive with a few less rocks in them. The world will keep turning and people’s days will be brightened by encouraging words painted on rocks for a time, and possibly for years to come if some are hidden well. 

However, there’s also a way to agree with both sides, retain good environmental stewardship and spread joy with painted rocks. Use natural paints. 

Cave people weren’t painting with acrylic paints and sealing them with things you have to be 18 years or older to buy, they used what nature provided. Your precious art may not last forever when you use natural ingredients, but such is the natural course of things. 

Think of your naturally painted rock as a mandala, something takes time and is beautiful for that time, and also passes with the natural course of things as is often the case with many things in life. 

The joy of creating it for you and the joy someone else may get from finding it are fleeting things, but also a reminder that we are now more than cave people. We are intelligent enough to consider the impact our actions have on all aspects of the world around us. 

Paint your rocks, inspire your fellow humans, and do it with as little impact as possible. 

Sinclaire Sparkman is The Democrat’s news editor. Email her at ssparkman@lebanondemocrat.com and follow her on Twitter @wilsoncoreports.

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