Where are they hiding?
In windowsills and near the schools, abiding by bees and trees, and inside every park under the East Multnomah County sun.
Across Gresham and the smaller cities, hundreds of ordinary citizens are picking up a brush and applying paint to rock. But unlike most keepsake hobbies, this craft is strictly catch and release.
"It's like Pokemon, but you get to take it home," explains 69-year-old Cindy Jensen, one local practitioner of the painted-rock craze.
"Some people do it because they like to give things away. Some people do it because they like to hunt. And that's why I think it's become so popular," she continues.
In the spirit of the times, The Outlook spoke with three East County neighbors who are hewing out a local "rock" scene with just creativity and a splash of color.
At the time of this writing, roughly 800 community members have joined the central Facebook group for stone painters, which is known as Gresham "Rocks!" Enthusiasts are encouraged to post photos of their latest creation or freshly unearthed discovery.
A painted-rock trading post has emerged at the Craft Warehouse at Gresham Station, where swappers meet up to trade or give away rocks.
Jensen is a swapper. She notes that she lives halfway between Craft Warehouse and the nearest Michael's, and estimates she's painted about 50 rocks so far, mostly mandalas and koi ponds.
"It's like a little tiny spot of peace and serenity," she says. "A mini vacation."
No one's quite sure where the idea of painting rocks came from, though most here heard about the phenomenon from friends in Vancouver, Wash., where a similar social media group has amassed more than 35,000 members.
"I am a firm believer that if you enjoy what you'll do, you excel in it," remarks Eric Wertz, one of the few hombres in this female-dominated arena. "I've found a true happiness when I do it."
Wertz has a knack for twisting cartoon characters into bizarro caricatures. There's his rock portrait of a unicorn barfing up rainbows — or Homer Simpson's rapidly dissolving face.
A former staff sergeant and flight mechanic for the U.S. Air Force, Wertz says he provides some necessary balance to the rock world's "artsy crafty cutesy stuff." The 33-year-old prefers to prep his designs on parchment paper and slather his finished products with ample amounts of Rust-Oleum.
"My rocks look like they've been dipped in glass," he laughs. "They're so shiny you can shave off them."
The trend has even inspired some residents to haul and hide their treasures overseas, all for the bragging rights and a quick snap for the internet.
The most popular artisans have been deluged with requests from admirers for personalized stones with their own backstory. Others ask for a painted rock commemorating their private losses, both the deceased and the unborn.
"I had a daughter that died 40 years ago of cancer. It wasn't great," says Jensen. "(But Sarah Bourgeois) heard that, and gave me a little baby curled in a ball with angel wings."
If you're digging the painted rock scene, you have to meet the keystone: Sarah Bourgeois.
This 31-year-old Gresham resident estimates she produced — no joke — at least 1,000 painted rocks since she adopted the craft around last Halloween.
In that time, she's dabbled in many themes: Adorable zombies, Disney princesses, sports emblems, Tweety bird, pithy slogans, mermaids, paw prints and, of course, the cast of the off-color TV sitcom "Family Guy."
Like most true believers, Bourgeois is committed to underplaying her passion. Painting rocks is "fun," she suggests, a "nice little hobby" to pass the hours. But she admits there's something inexplicable, maybe magical, about painting rocks too.
"The rock finds who it was made for. That's the way I look at," Bourgeois says. "You were supposed to take it."
"There's two types of rocks," agrees Wertz. "The ones you find and the ones that find you."
Many crafters paint directly onto the stone, but Sarah usually coats her rocks in a one-tone base before adding any finer details. She uses an electric engraver to give her designs a signature outline.
She doesn't recommend harvesting rocks in the wild, but Bourgeois has been known to walk away with hundreds of pounds of river rock from Stone Depot, 19333 S.E. Division St., which charges about $4 for the hoard.
Some folks are brave, but Bourgeois strongly encourages rock painters to check in with local business owners before leaving anything behind on private property. And she says a grassy open field isn't the best spot to park a boulder. You certainly won't be spreading joy to the landscaper digging it out of an expensive lawnmower.
That said, there aren't a lot of rules in the painted rock world.
"I don't think you need talent," Bourgeois says. "You could literally put a smiley face — or write smile on a rock — and it'll make somebody happy. I know it sounds silly, but it really will."
Bourgeois works nights. She's spent the last six years as a caregiver for schizophrenics at a group home, who sometimes spy her with a rock in one hand, a can of paint in the other.
Her last hobby was crocheting blankets. These days she's out in the garden with her husband Brian Alvez, and their 6-year-old, Sadie. Someday, she'll move on to another hobby. For now, you can catch her at the Mt. Hood Community College Saturday Market, where she gives away as many rocks as she sells.
"A lot of people get disappointed when people don't post (photos of) their rocks (online) or don't find them," the Parkrose High grad notes. "You have to get past that. You can't focus on who's going to get it."