Hidden Art in Wild Places

During the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, Kings Beach native Nicole Stirling started selling her colorful painted mandalas in her driveway. She’d always been an artist and wanted to help other artisans in the area have a place to show and sell their work. She later petitioned the North Tahoe Business Association to help her find a space, and Chickadee Art Collective was born. Stirling’s art — vibrant beauties with circular layers of intricate patterns — is displayed proudly next to other wares of all sorts at the Kings Beach space.

Each of Stirling’s pieces take between 100 and 150 hours. Small elements like moths or butterfly wings create layered rings that form swirling illusions that captivate the eyes.

Sometime around March 2020, when the world’s fate was most uncertain, she began hiding prints of her work around town, hoping to brighten someone’s day.


“When we first started wearing masks, it was just really sad,” Stirling said. “I was having a hard time connecting. I was looking for a way to provide people a free moment of joy.”

At first, she was anonymously leaving them in the laundry mat or at the bus stop where locals would frequent. She hid the first 10 in spaces with a note on the back explaining what it was. Then, she took to Facebook, posting clues about the locations where she and her kids tucked away the signed prints, and let the community loose on the hunt.

“My kids started to enjoy thinking of places to hide it, and we [moved] up the West Shore and to Truckee and places where we hadn’t been so other folks could participate. It was really just a way to get people out and give people joy,” she said.

To date, the family has hidden about 25 prints. For Stirling, one of the big take- aways has been showing her kids what kindness means.

“As a parent, it’s hard to give my kids the opportunity to just see kindness for what it is,” she explained. “I want everybody to be raising people who are going to be better humans. Just a tiny bit of kindness goes a long way in brightening someone’s day and I think it’s important for them to learn that.”

MANDALA: A mandala is defined as a “geometric configuration of symbols,” or in Sanskrit, “circle” or “discoid object,” Nicole Stirling’s mandalas evoke a meditative feeling as the viewer studies each tiny component. Courtesy photos

A Legacy of Ducks

Across town, Danielle Segal isn’t hiding art, but brightly colored rubber ducks aimed at putting a smile on strangers’ faces. Segal, a Truckee resident, has lived in the area for five years and started

hiding the ducks in April 2017. They’re usually stashed with a gift card for a local coffee shop.

Before moving to Tahoe, she met her late partner, Gregory Histed, while living in Summit County, Colorado. Histed liked to post scavenger hunt clues to their local Facebook group and would often hide winter gear. When he passed away six years ago, Segal started hiding ducks as a way to carry on the legacy.

Why the whimsical rubber birds? Histed had a great sense of humor, and he loved rubber ducks. One time he ordered 100 tiny rubber ducks and hid them in a friend’s car, Segal remembers.

“He was an amazing human,” she said. “He was the type of guy that would always pull over and check on people on the side of the road. He was always there for friends who needed to talk. He suffered from depression his whole life, so he really connected to people about that. He would always be able to talk to people about whatever they were dealing with.”

Histed knew that people in mountain towns can some- times feel disconnected and wanted to remind them that they aren’t isolated. Segal says she hopes to foster the same reminder.

“I always hope that these help people get out of their head and remember that we’re all connected. [On Facebook] I hope that people are following and realizing that people do care about each other. For Greg in particular … that was a big intention of his,” she said. “I’m trying to remember his spirit and what he would’ve wanted to keep doing.”

In this vein, Segal, a social worker for the Tahoe Truckee Suicide Prevention Coalition, has organized the Tahoe Hike for Hope for suicide preven- tion and awareness. This year it takes place on Sunday, June 19. (See TAP Calendar, p. 48.) It’s another way she hopes to foster connections in the com- munity and let people know they’re not alone.

“It’s so hard when we’re in our darkest moments to remember that things will get better … I would hope that [even] one person that sees a duck might be reminded that people do care,” she said.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide or depression, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800)273-8255.


  • Le'a Gleason

    LE‘A GLEASON, a recent transplant from the Big Island of Hawai‘i, has happily transitioned from teaching yoga in the rainforest to driving powerboats, biking with bears, and learning how to fall gracefully on skis. She is passionate about writing and editing, as a means to share and connect with people, and thankful to be on the Moonshine team.

    Connect with Le'a

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    10317 Riverside Dr
    Truckee, CA 96161

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