Before the pandemic hit, Nipomo resident Lynn Borges had an abundant social and work life. Despite her age—she describes herself only as "old, old, old"—Borges kept herself busy with two part-time jobs, attended art classes through an adult education program twice a week, and she'd often spend afternoons with her grandkids after picking them up from school.
- Photo Courtesy Of Lynn Borges
- YOU ROCK Nipomo resident Lynn Borges started painting rocks and leaving them around town to cheer people up during the pandemic. Now she's a small-town icon.
But that all pretty abruptly came to an end in March 2020. As part of California's first COVID-19 lockdown, Borges and other seniors 65 and older were directed to stay home at all costs. She stopped going to work, her art classes were canceled, and although her grandkids continued to visit for a time, her family eventually put an end to that out of fear of unwittingly getting her sick.
"It was just depressing, you know?" she told New Times. "I have friends who have just gone into a really deep decline. It's hard on older people."
Borges still had a lot of paint and brushes left over from her art classes so she thought she might as well fill her newfound free time with painting. It was her grandson who suggested she paint rocks, and he taught her how he'd learned to transform average gray stones into bright red and yellow ladybugs.
Borges loved it. Making them made her feel better. Just seeing them made her feel better. Borges thought maybe everyone could use a little positivity in these tumultuous times. So she started writing positive messages like "be happy" and "smile" on the backs of her finished rocks, weather sealing them, and hiding them around town—in her neighbors' gardens, Old Town, and near walkways in the Nipomo Native Gardens and Nipomo Park.
"So it's like finding a smile when you're walking along by yourself in a park and there's a little cheery rock," Borges said.
Soon her Facebook posts about the rocks garnered more and more attention. People started requesting different kinds of rocks. She expanded her subject matter from strictly bugs to almost anything you could think of—scary dinosaurs, little yellow minions, M&Ms with bites missing—and developed a small cult following online.
After a shooting at a Vons gas station in Nipomo in August 2020, Borges painted about 40 "Back the Blue" rocks and brought them to a rally in support of law enforcement. She thought she'd made too many and was nervous people wouldn't like them. But as she made her way through the crowd, she was practically swarmed by fans.
"It was so exciting," she said. "Everybody wanted them. They really make people feel good or something for some reason."
Now people excitedly post photos on Facebook when they stumble upon Borges' rocks. Some leave boxes of plain stones at her house, including Nipomo-based landscaping company Troesh Coleman Pacific, which donated rocks to her cause just before Halloween. She hosts holiday-themed rock hunts and donates painted rocks to events, including a thank you rally in September 2020 for Creek Fire responders and firefighters.
Just a few weeks ago she had a few dozen pink and red Valentine's Day rocks sitting outside to dry. Some PG&E and other maintenance guys were working on something outside when one worker spotted the rocks. He shyly came over to Borges and asked if he could take one home for his wife. When she said yes, all the other workers came up and asked if they could have some rocks for their girlfriends and wives too.
They took so many she basically had to make a whole new batch, she told New Times with a laugh, but it made her feel proud.
Now other people paint rocks, and Borges said she sees them all around town, on display in local stores, tucked away in parks and on sidewalks, outside her front door.
"I think the act of doing them is almost like therapy to the person who does them too," she said. "When you're doing it, you're not thinking about how you're alone or that you're sad or whatever your issue is."
When Kathy Goularte first noticed all the rock excitement on Facebook, she watched somewhat enviously as Nipomo residents living near the Trilogy development gathered up handfuls of Borges' rocks while out and about. Goularte started commenting on the posts, but she never thought she'd find a rock all the way out at her house by the Dana Adobe.
Then one day as she was doing some landscaping work in her yard, she went to check her mailbox. Inside, she found several rocks with chickens painted on them, which is fitting because Goularte has chickens of her own.
"So I thought that was pretty special because I don't know this person and she's so kind to bring the community together," she said.
In a time marred by negativity and isolation, Goularte said it's nice to connect with fellow community members through the rocks. She hopes Borges knows how much Nipomo appreciates her work.
"It just kind of brings you together," she said." Δ
Staff Writer Kasey Bubnash wrote this week's Strokes and Plugs. Send tidbits to email@example.com.