By Brad Hicks
Nature takes its time with the humble rock.
From the largest boulder to the tiniest pebble, a rock’s appearance is naturally determined by millennia of pressure, exposure to the elements, and factors such as abrasion and erosion.
But just give Erwin resident Lillie Senn some paint, glue and a trinket or two, and she can alter a rock’s visage within a matter of minutes.
“Putting some of those little eyeballs that move on a rock, it totally transforms it,” she said.
And Senn is looking for others who are willing to leave no stone unturned as they take part in an activity that she believes, well, rocks.
Around three months ago, Senn formed the #423 Rocks East group on Facebook. Essentially, group members are encouraged to gather up some rocks, decorate them, then hide them throughout the area for others to find.
“In my opinion, it’s kind of like a big Easter egg hunt all over the place,” Senn said.
Senn, who is from the Memphis area, said she was inspired to form #423 Rocks East after learning of 901Rocks, a similar group formed in Memphis last year. Since its establishment, the 901Rocks group has garnered thousands of members.
“They have just exploded with members, and they have some real artists on their rocks,” Senn said of 901Rocks. “I’m going, ‘Wow.’”
Similar groups are popping up in other parts of the country, Senn said. She said there is a #423Rocks group in Chattanooga, adding she is aware of another rock-painting group in Mississippi and that her sister recently started such a group in Montana.
After the rocks are decorated, it is up to the artist to hide the rocks throughout the region contained within the 423 area code, Senn said. The participant will then snap a picture of the hidden rock, leaving clues to its whereabouts on the #423 Rocks East Facebook page.
“Then other members or people that are not members will find it,” Senn said.
It is said that a rolling stone gathers no moss, and Senn said those who find the rocks can either keep them or again hide them for someone else to discover.
“Seemingly, people are really enjoying it when they find it and they pick them up and know that they can take them,” Senn said.
However, group members are encouraged to replace each found rock with a decorated stone of their own. While the activity is similar to geocaching, Senn said it differs in that the replacement rocks do not have to be hidden in the same spot in which they were found. Anything in the general 423 area code is fair game.
“Here’s what we say: ‘If you find it and you keep it, you definitely need to replace it with another rock,’” Senn said.
But what happens when a non-member stumbles upon an ornately embellished rock?
“Generally, they join the page,” Senn said.
Around the time she started #423 Rocks East, Senn began hiding her own handiwork around Unicoi County and the surrounding areas. At first, discoverers were unsure as to whether they could take the rocks.
“It started catching on and people started taking them, and I guess by word of mouth people are figuring out to take them,” Senn said.
The effort is aided by a message written in stone. On the bottom of each rock is a message directing the finder to the #423 Rocks East Facebook group.
Senn said the rocks she decorates are either found locally or purchased from businesses such as the Dollar Tree or Johnson City Stone Supply. She typically gets out at least once a week to “plant” rocks around the region.
While she enjoys photography, Senn said she does not possess a “super artistic background.” But that, she said, is part of the beauty of #423 Rocks East. Participants are limited only by their imaginations.
“It doesn’t have to be anything fancy on them,” Senn said.
Perhaps even better than that, there’s no charge to join or participate in #423 Rocks East.
“You just do it for fun,” Senn said.
In the few short months since #423 Rocks East was formed, the group has picked up more than 200 members. Senn said group members not only reside in Erwin but nearby areas such as Piney Flats, Jonesborough and Johnson City.
“One of the ladies that’s in our group, she lives in Louisiana but her grandchildren are in Jonesborough,” Senn said. “So when she comes to visit, her and her grandchildren paint rocks and she goes and helps them put them out.”
Comments on the Facebook page from group members have included those advising they intend to re-hide a recently-discovered rock to some seeking additional clues on a rock’s location. But feedback on #423 Rocks East thus far, Senn said, has been rock solid.
“‘This is great. I’m so excited somebody started something like this,’ I’ve gotten comments like that,” Senn said.
Although #423 Rocks East is classified as a private group on Facebook, Senn said all are welcome regardless of age or artistic ability. The only requirements, she said, are a Facebook account and the desire to bring a little bit of happiness to others.
“What I really like about it is that when you’re painting these rocks, you think, ‘OK, when somebody finds this they are going to be so happy to find it,’” Senn said.
For more information on #423 Rocks East and to view works completed by some of its members, find the group on Facebook by searching #423 Rocks East.