We saw the alien first.
The small rock, painted green and etched with the unmistakable otherworldly almond eyes of an extraterrestrial visitor, was nestled against a larger boulder along with a tinier rock painted with a turquoise heart in the heart of a quiet Northeast Heights neighborhood.
We were on the hunt for these painted stones at the excited suggestion of a reader. After a week of rising COVID-19 cases, rising tempers, rising chaos, rising mothers willing to build walls, rising fears over a dwindling economy and a dwindling chance at a normal life, we were so ready to rock.
More than anything, we were so ready to find the elusive Rock Fairy, the person who painted the stones, scattered them around the neighborhood and sprinkled clues among the rocks to create a scavenger hunt.
“We have a Rock Fairy in the neighborhood,” reader Jane Ripple exclaimed in her email. “She is an incredible artist! She also set up a scavenger hunt for the kids. She directs people to the Candy Corner, which has rocks painted with all sorts of candy (Hershey’s Kisses, M&Ms, candy corn, peppermints, etc.). Under the Hershey’s Kiss is a clue to find the rock that is painted with what happens after a caterpillar hatches (a butterfly), etc., etc., etc.”
Ripple said that she and her granddaughters, ages 5 and 8, had completed the hunt, solving about 10 clues and finding a container of candy at the final spot.
“We had a lot of fun and the artwork has inspired my granddaughters to paint rocks also,” she said.
It was a way to make a summer-less summer more fun.
So on an overcast summer day this week we headed to the neighborhood off Louisiana NE, guided by a few vague directions and sworn to secrecy that we would not reveal the exact location of the neighborhood.
“I am afraid it could bring too much traffic,” Ripple said.
After spotting the alien and heart rocks, more rocks came into view, some perched on walls and fences, ringing a fire hydrant, scattered in unadorned xeriscaped rocks. Here was a whale, there was a school bus, a duck, a truck, a fish, a funny face smiling back at us from a bed of mulch.
Taped to a phone pole, we found a note explaining the scavenger hunt. It was signed “Have Fun! The Rock Fairy.”
Eventually, we found the Candy Corner and looked for the Kisses rock for the first clue, typed and taped on its underside.
But we weren’t here for the scavenger hunt. We were here to find the Rock Fairy.
Ripple feigned ignorance on the Fairy’s identity.
“I think I know,” she said. “But she just smiles.”
Ripple said she thinks a different person is making the rocks painted with hearts.
“I caught her the other day, but I don’t know who she is,” she said.
Perhaps it was the threat of impending rain, but we found few neighbors outside to inquire about the Rock Fairy.
We never found her. But we had fun trying.
A car parked in a driveway had a sign taped to its back window. Scrawled with a rainbow of markers, the sign read: We love the rocks in the neighborhood. Thanks.
Maybe they hadn’t been successful, either, in finding the Rock Fairy. But maybe it was good enough just to leave a note of thanks for her to see in case she wandered by.
And maybe in these troubled times, it’s not as important to know who the Rock Fairy is as it is nice to know there are people like her out there, trying to bring a smile and sprinkling a little fun, a little joy into their communities.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.