Covid-19 has shaped much of the way that we meet during this pandemic year. It is why we are meeting outdoors, masked up, in small, physically separated groups. We focused early on on taking care of one another, and we have endeavored to find ways to protect the Learners and Facilitators of Abrome, the people who live in their households and those in their pods, and the broader community beyond Abrome. Our efforts have allowed us to come together more safely during this academic year, but it has also limited our ability to grow our community. We wrote into our plans for this year triggers that would force us to be apart if there was uncontrolled community spread of the disease in central Texas, and over the past several weeks we realized that we would likely be hitting the first of those triggers by Thanksgiving.

Early Thursday morning I updated both the family resources tab of our website and the internal Facebook group page with the following message:

It seems probable that Austin-Travis County will declare Risk Level Stage 4 by Thanksgiving. This would require us to have at least one remote cell the coming cycle. If they declare Risk Level Stage 5 everyone will need to go remote. Please mask up, limit contacts, and do not congregate indoors.

I then spent the rest of my morning doing a variety of tasks before heading out to the outdoors to meet up with my cell. When the Learners arrived I started the morning meeting with a conversation about Covid-19 and where we were going as a community. We talked about the rapidly rising number of cases around the country, and what was likely to happen in our county in the coming weeks, especially with so many Americans deciding to come together for Thanksgiving dinner. We discussed what it would mean for Abrome if the county moved up to risk stage level 4, and then to risk stage 5, and what we could do to take care of those in our households, in the Abrome community, and in the Austin area.

After the conversation on Covid-19 I asked the Learners, “what makes you, you?” The answers tended to center around something that was descriptive about them, or parts of their identities. I then asked to what degree is it our relationships with others that make us who we are, thanks in part to a point I came across in David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5000 Years, which I am currently reading.

Next we walked to the lake where we had planned to spend our day. Not long after we arrived I noticed one of the Learners practicing lines for an audition the next day, and I asked her what she needed to do to earn the part. She said that she needed to perform the lines she was working on and sing a song. I asked if she could sing “Tomorrow” from Annie, and she did, after warming up her vocal cords. Which got the song stuck in my head for the rest of the day. I then helped her prepare by reading along with her as she practiced the lines, three times.

I then decided to call Austin Public Health to find out if they had any upcoming announcements planned since it seemed to be a given that we were heading toward risk stage 4. The person I was talking to said she had heard nothing about possible changes, and then she said, “oh, well it looks like we just went to stage four.” I thanked her for letting me know and immediately contacted Facilitator Lauren to figure out what our next steps would be. Over the next hour I received texts from the guardians of two separate Learners informing me that the county just increased the risk level, as well.

According to our planning document, “if the stage level as determined by Austin Public Health increases during a cycle, Abrome will shift operations to meet the constraints of the new stage.” This meant that we had to decide which cell would go remote for Friday, our last in-person day of the cycle. We decided that my cell would meet in-person, and the other cell would go remote because they had more at-risk members in their households.

After working through some of the implications of the risk level change, I got back to focusing on the Learners who were at the park with me. I had a long conversation with a Learner about how our personal choices can impinge upon what is meant to be an anti-oppressive space, and then I had a conversation about masking with two young Learners who were playing in the same area as a young girl. The Learners decided they would relocate away from the little girl and ended up focused on navigating the edge of the lake (and poison ivy) by way of cypress roots.

Two older Learners joined me on a walk back to the drop-off spot so that I could grab a portable battery, and on the way back one of the Learners brought up the hundredth monkey effect. It was a fascinating tale of how once a critical mass of monkeys develop a new skill, that skill then quickly propagates well beyond those 100 monkeys to distant groups, even those separated by geographic barriers. And that this phenomenon has been observed in humans as well. The claim sounded familiar and implausible, so I did a few searches and we found that the claims could not be replicated, and that the original authors of the claim misrepresented their observations.

The day before, one of the Learners found a rock that was perfectly shaped like a large smartphone. He discussed the possibility of painting it to look like a phone, and we discussed ways that he could prank the other Learners with it. On Thursday we came up with a plan where he would pretend he was on a difficult call with one of his parents, and then throw the rock/phone into the water in frustration. I got in position to film it, and he began his acting off the dock, too far away for any of them to notice. I walked up to him and suggested that he move to the dock, which he did. I interjected a couple of times to get the other Learners to take notice, and when he threw the rock/phone into the lake. Two of the older Learners fell for the prank and a good laugh was had by all.

Carving, conversation, and community (the two right next to each other are siblings)

Carving, conversation, and community (the two right next to each other are siblings)

The two older Learners asked if they could once again borrow wood carving knives and they began to whittle on fallen branches while listening to music. I later asked if I could connect to the speaker to play “Tomorrow.” The music started to draw the others in and then the Learner placed water in the speaker to show everyone how the water would dance and jump with the bass. Next we queued up a variety of non-explicit songs to include “Gangnam Style” by Psy, “When I Grow Up” by NF, and “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X.

We then held our afternoon roundup where I informed all the Learners that we were now in risk stage four, and that the ways in which we would be able to meet on Friday, and in the next cycle, were going to change to meet the state of the pandemic. I encouraged them to continue to take care of each other.

On our way back toward the pick-up point a mom asked me if we were a school and I gave her a quick rundown of what Abrome was and encouraged her to check out our website. I planned to walk back but two of the Learners decided that they were going to beat me to the pick-up point, so I let them run ahead. Then when they let their guard down I raced by them. At the pick-up point I got into a conversation with another mom who was visiting the park with her kids, and I told her about what we do and shared the website with her, as well. The state of the pandemic continues to challenge us, but maybe some of these parents who have seen us out and about in nature will be drawn to our focus on community care.