As of the end of the day on Wednesday we would already be halfway through our second cycle of the pandemic year. The forecast was sunny and hot, and I went into the day assuming that the Learners would spend much of their day in the water given that it is likely that the next time it would be that sunny or hot would be in May or June of 2021. But given the way 2020 has been going maybe it will be in December. Two Learners were going to be out on Day 23, which meant we would have only four Learners present. One Learner was celebrating her younger sibling’s birthday, and another Learner was suffering from a mix of allergies and not enough sleep.

When I arrived at the park one Learner was already there, waiting. We checked in with each other and she wrote out her intentions for the day. She noticed a water bottle and a knife sitting nearby, and recognized the knife as that of a fellow Learner who left early the prior day. We talked about the various ways we could inform the Learner about our find. Not long after, a wife and husband from the neighborhood who know about Abrome walked by us as we were waiting for everyone else to show up. She pulled out a pencil and asked if one of the Learners may have left it in the park. It had the name of a Learner written on it. It was apparent to me that it was time to have another ‘leave no trace’ conversation with the Learners.

When the Learner who left the knife and the water bottle showed up, I pointed the bottle out to him and asked him to please take it with him or throw it away. The other Learner chose to hold onto the knife for the time being, as it did not seem obvious that the Learner realized he had left it there. It was 10:02 by the time they filled out there intentions, so we moved into the freshly mowed grassy field next to the drop off location for the morning meeting. During the morning meeting we reviewed the awarenesses and practices that we were working on as a community, and then I had a brief conversation about making sure that we do not litter or leave anything behind while we are outdoors. We all agreed that throwing food into the bushes, leaving scraps of paper or plastic on the ground, or forgetting to gather our personal effects could have a negative impact on the wildlife, it was inconsiderate, and it could mar the beauty of the places we visit. We decided that we would take extra time to look around when we were leaving a spot to make sure that we were not making the spot worse off.

Making char

Making charcoal paint

Because it was a beautiful day, and because we hiked up a hill for our morning meeting the day prior, the entire crew wanted to head straight to the lake. But we did not leave until we made time for a Learner who arrived quite late to write out his intentions. The intentions of Learners were simple and achievable: swim, read, drink water, rest, socialize, write, chill at the lake, and don’t die. I did not feel as though a hike was in the cards for me that day, so I did not include it on my intentions.


A beautiful day to read a favorite book

When we arrived at the lake I was surprised to see all the Learners lingering around me and each other, in a constantly evolving conversation. One adolescent Learner took a walk and was gone for about 10-15 minutes. When she returned some of them decided to make paint out of charcoal. When they made the paint, they applied some to their skin and also to the dock. I spent much of my time talking with a Learner who wanted to share her thoughts on a variety of topics such as TV shows and movies about crime, writing, and Instagram accounts. She then began reading a book that one of her favorite teachers (from Houston) wrote. Another Learner was investigating stuff along the waterline near where we were seated. I do not know all of what he discovered, but he did tell me that he found the molting of a crawdad or crawfish, or what I called crayfish growing up. I asked him if he wanted to go on a hike with me, and to my surprise he said yes.

When we started Abrome we only had three rules—no drugs, no weapons, and no pornography. As we grew we recognized the need to add a stop rule, which ensures that people honor other people’s boundaries and helps us develop a consent-based culture. This year we reluctantly added another rule which said that no one is permitted to swim without a Facilitator standing by, watching. While we are all about Learners taking risks, we are not going to play around with the risk of drowning as it can happen so quickly, and so silently. Sometimes people ask me why we are so resistant to having rules, and others ask how we are different than democratic schools when we share the same general belief that children should be trusted to make their own decisions about how they spend their time. The answer to the first, and a partial answer to the second is that rules are limiting. Rules limit our imagination of what is possible, they can have the unfortunate effect of limiting our ethical development, and they can encourage people to seek ways to skirt the rules as opposed to personally committing to what is best for them and the community. But sometimes rules are necessary, and so therefore we are okay with our five rules that will help protect the community from being shut down (drugs, weapons, pornography), to make unambiguous our commitment to a culture of consent, and to protect Learners from serious harm or death from drowning.

I went off on the rules tangent because while we wanted to go on our hike two Learners were wanting to jump in the lake. I said that we could not have it both ways, and I was not going to pass up the opportunity to go on a hike. We agreed to wait twenty minutes before going on the hike so that one Learner could scale onto the roof of the deck, and then up on the roof of the boat house where she would jump into the lake. And while it took almost the entire 20 minutes to scale up, jump in, and swim back to shore (the other Learner jumped in from the deck), I was glad to have waited to watch the process.

It was a beautiful hike

It was a beautiful hike

For the hike I did not have a destination in place, but I did tell the Learner about a path that I saw last week that I was interested in checking out. The Learner, who lives in the neighborhood, used to come to the park all the time before the pandemic, so he knew exactly where it led to so he decided to take the lead. We stopped briefly at the drop off location to refill my water bottle and then we were off. The hike was not too difficult as there was only one uphill section and it was otherwise largely flat, and mostly on a well worn trail. On the way back we bumped into a guy with a huge camera lens (probably 18 inches long) who was out looking for birds. We had a short conversation with him about how the camera lens works and the challenges of taking pictures with smaller lenses because of heat and light.

By the time we returned to the lake I was ready to jump into the water. The Learners made their spot on the deck and I climbed up onto the roof of the deck and then the boathouse and jumped in. I did so another four times after that, as well. It is a fairly good workout just scaling the structure, jumping in, and swimming out. That, coupled with the hike, and coupled with the run I took at 5 a.m. that morning made me feel invigorated and alive, although I would collapse into my bed, exhausted by 8:30 p.m., which meant I would have a fabulous night’s sleep.

One of the Learners decided to see if he could get the zebra clams to clamp down on various objects like twigs. I had a short conversation with a Learner about what it would mean to graduate from Abrome, and then that Learner offered to lead the afternoon roundup. She asked us to review how we did on our intentions, to do rose-bud-thorn for the day, and then to share announcements. Then, with about 20 minutes to go before we had to walk out, I gathered up my things and checked to make sure I did not leave anything. I gently encouraged the Learners to be mindful about the time so that we could get back to the pick up spot around 4 p.m.

When we arrived at the pick up spot some of the Learners’ rides were already there, and the Learners began to say goodbye. At that point one Learner realized she had forgotten her water bottle back at the lake. She asked her guardian if there was time enough to go back and pick it up, and then she ran back to get it. Like most things, internalizing leave no trace principles will take time.

Charcoal paint grafitti

Charcoal paint grafitti