Under the brim of a pink baseball cap emblazoned with the words “Unicorn vibes,” Grade 1 student D’arcy Allen’s eyes darted around the cliffs and trees that lined a hiking trail, looking for the perfect nook to set down her hand-painted stone. Meanwhile, more than 30 of her classmates straddled ditches and reached into tree branches to do the same.
Since October, students in Tammy Jacobs and Amy Zorn’s Hutton Elementary classes have been laying painted stones bearing inspirational messages at recreational sites in the region. First at Cascade Falls, then along a section of the Great Trail (formerly the Trans-Canada Trail) between A&W and the black train bridge. Last week, they went to their final two spots, Goat Trail, on North Fork Road, and Boothman’s Oxbow Provincial Park.
“That first time we left rocks was very difficult,” said Jacobs of the October class trip to the falls. “Some [students] shed a few tears, they didn’t want to leave their rocks, some didn’t see the value and they just couldn’t believe that they would have to leave their beautiful artwork.”
The goal of the year-long project, the teacher said, has been to convince the children that they, a few dozen kids, could have an impact on their community. Within two days of leaving their first rocks along the trail, the students heard from someone they had reached.
“Dear Grade 1 and 2 students,” began an email sent last October. “I had fun photographing each of the stones […]. Each one was painted differently and it reminds me of how different each one of us are. Yet, just as each one was a rock, so too each one of us is a person of great value and worth.”
Since that first message, Jacobs said, it has gotten easier for students to leave their precious stones behind.
Another message came from someone who was visiting the area on business from Pittsburgh, Pa. “Seeing the stone made me think of my two grandchildren who live in Washington, D.C., and that always brightens my day.”
When it’s time to read emails, Jacobs said, her classroom falls silent. “They want to hear, they want to see what we’ve done. They’re just thrilled.”
Putting herself in a hiker’s boots, Grade 2 student Alice Armstrong said that stumbling upon one of her classmates’s stones “would make me feel like people love me.” Her own rocks set out last week read “Wonder” and “You’re great the way you are.”
“They’ll make people smile,” added classmate Navleen Sibat.
Lexi Friesen tucked one of her stones somewhere along the rail trail high above North Fork Road, high up enough that you “could almost see the whole world from up here,” according to a classmate. Sitting on a rocky ledge, the seven-year-old’s rock reads, “Confident.” Friesen explained that she chose the word “because some people might feel sad and they could cheer up by feeling confident.”
Allen, however, wasn’t too sure of where to leave her message at the Goat Trail site. Nowhere along the old railway bed seemed to be quite right. So instead, at the north end of the small parking lot at the trailhead, she set her stone down in a tuft of weeds before climbing back on the school bus.
Now, before starting up what Jacobs and Zorn’s students declared to be “the worst part” of the trail, (it starts off quite steep), hikers are reminded to “Be a rainbow.”
Allen said she wrote it simply “because I like rainbows.” It means, the seven-year-old student explained, “that you have lots of colours and you have a pot of gold next to you.” Metaphor or not, it’s a bright message to stumble upon on a trail of grey and dusty gravel.