Like messages in a bottle, they travel. You can find one on Stacy Boulevard, and if you happen to be going to L.A., leave it for someone else to find on Sunset Boulevard.

And like Easter egg hunts, they tend to elicit puns. So here goes the first one. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you probably know that “kindness rocks” — the finding of, painting of, hiding of, hunting of, and, importantly, posting of — have gone viral, online and offline, and not just in grass-roots America, but all around the world.

If, while strolling on Stacy Boulevard this spring you’ve spotted kids tip-toeing tenuously through the tulips staring intently down at the ground and wondered what they were up to, it wasn’t “Pokemon Go.”

It was rock hunting. Kindness rock hunting.

What are kindness rocks? They are rocks —small, smooth, flat surfaced stones or popples, the kind you’d find on the beach or in a garden — brightly painted, often with positive messages of good cheer, encouragement, inspiration — “Be kind,” “Let a smile be your umbrella,” “Share!” “Shine!” “Joy!” Just as often, they’re just painted: sometimes quite cleverly, even brilliantly. 

In Gloucester, there’s nothing new about using rocks to send messages of hope and encouragement. Art Haven director Traci Corbett says that rock painting in one form or another has long been a popular activity at the Main Street studio, and it’ll be offering it at its new summer extension space on the lower level of 76 Roger St. as well as at its Cape Ann Farmers Market table.

Then there are Dogtown’s great inscribed boulders. They’ve been around since the Great Depression when local entrepreneur Roger Babson saw in their smooth stone faces an opportunity to provide work for local unemployed stone masons, having them inscribe in the stones the kind of words and messages of encouragement the American Dream is built on. “Industry! Ideas! Integrity! Courage! Spiritual Power! Never try, never win!” the stones tell passing strangers.

But the internet —in particular, Facebook— has changed a rainy day craft activity into an international kindness movement. There’s a mystery to them, and a very positive power. If your morning has gotten off to (pun alert!) a rocky start, finding a little stone painted with a great big smile can save the day.

Megan Murphy, the Cape Codder and mother of three credited with making kindness rocks an online phenomenon, started the Kindness Rocks Project (thekindnessrocksproject.com) when, grief-stricken over losing her parents in her early 20s, she was “looking for them in messages, signs.” One day she was suddenly moved to pen her own messages on rocks, leaving them on a local beach. A friend found one and sent a photo of it to Murphy. That seemed like a sign in itself to do what she has been doing ever since, which is being a “kindness activist,” spreading random rocks of kindness everywhere she goes.  

Aria McElhenny, whose children are avid kindness rock painters and hunters, says they, along with lots of other Gloucester kids, like to hunt along Stacy Boulevard, but they’ve also found rocks in nearby Burnham’s Field, Stage Fort Park, and “all over town.”  Some they keep, including the ones they’ve circled around a newly planted sapling as their own form of MagicGro. Others they keep recycling, hiding them often in plain sight to be found by someone else. McElhenny, who is a director of the Backyard Growers, says she and her fellow edible gardeners have talked of making rock painting a part of their Main Street shop’s activities. “They’re a natural fit for the garden.”

Not that hunters should feel free to scavenge in the gardens of private homes. Janine Parisi, who started the Facebook page Glosta Rocks, lays down the rules for the hiding and hunting of rocks, and “taking rocks from private property” is a big no-no. With well over 5,000 members and counting, the Glosta Rocks Facebook page is (pun alert!) the touchstone for Gloucester’s “kindness rockers,” who, when they’re not hunting rocks, are busy painting and hiding them.

Parisi’s Facebook page is one of hundreds that have sprung up across the nation. It’s full of photos of local kindness rockers and the rocks they’ve found. Thanks to 21st century air travel, rocks originating from American Facebook groups have been found as far away as Tanzania, South Korea, and Bora Bora, presumably deposited by vacationers. Acrylics are the most commonly used paints. Sealed with a weather protecting varnish, and information about its origins (a dedicated Facebook group) a rock goes out into the world, to be hidden and found, duly posted on Facebook, then either kept, or recycled on the hunting trail.

The Glosta Rocks Facebook page is also full of a fun menagerie of ideas to stimulate rock painting creativity.  There are mouse rocks, frog rocks, fish rocks and owl rocks. At the Gloucester Daily Times, kindness rocks came onto our radar when Sports Editor Nick Curcuru’s 4-year-old daughter Mackenzie found a kindness rock painted like a lady bug on the oval on Centennial Avenue. “It said ‘post to Glosta Rocks Facebook page, and she did,” says her dad.  After that, Mackenzie went into rock manufacturing on her own, painting rocks and hiding them in the yard where Curcuru would invariably find them once when he took the lawnmower out for a spin. 

And that’s another “no-no” on the Glosta Rocks Facebook page: do not hide rocks in the grass. Lawnmowers are not kind to kindness rocks and vice-versa.  

Get rockin’

Glosta Rocks: For more information about the group, or to join Glosta Rocks Facebook Group, go to https://bit.ly/2JMYqBz

Rock painting: Art Haven will be offering workshops at its summer expansion space at 76 Roger St. (lower level) across from the Building Center, which will also house its new Middle School Art Summer program that runs 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. Rock painting will also be offered at Art Haven at the Farmers Market, Thursdays from July 5 to Aug. 9.  For more information, visit www.arthaven.org

Kindness Rocks: For general information on the origins and community of The Kindness Rocks Project, visit its website, www.thekindnessrocksproject.com.