I woke up on Monday morning raring to go with cycle seven of the pandacademic year. Most of the Learners had been remote since December 22nd due to the local pandemic conditions and the Texas freeze. I had been remote since November 20th as December I was dedicated to the remote cell in December. I spent too much time packing that morning since I did not properly pack the night before. The weather forecast looked good—it was supposed to be chilly but not terribly cold, and there was expected to be some really light rain but nothing much of significance.

After packing I checked some updates and was drawn to an article saying that 28% of polled Texans said they were not going to get vaccinated as soon as a vaccine was available to them. This was tremendously disappointing, as getting as many people vaccinated as soon as possible will bring the pandemic more quickly under control, thereby saving lives. Maybe more than 100,000 lives in the United States alone. Additionally, it would allow us all to be able to more quickly be together in ways that most of us miss.

Professional development day

Professional development day

Next I quickly wrote up a blog post about day 95, the last day of cycle six nearly a week earlier. I would love to get these blog posts out sooner but I always seem to have a drift of a couple to a few days by the end of each cycle. But here in cycle seven I am already three days behind writing about Monday on Thursday. I do not write a separate blog post about our professional development days, but we did have one on Wednesday, the day after day 95. We met up in a park in east Austin and talked about how we could support Learners and our plans for the remainder of the year. We came up with some good plans for specialty cells starting in April: a Flying Squad focused on social justice, a camping and survival cell, a biking cell, and then another Flying Squad cell to end the year.

While the weather forecast had looked pretty good on all the weather apps I checked that morning, it was pouring down rain when I drove to the drop-off location for the Learners, and it kept raining. In fact, it got heavier. The forecasted precipitation for any given hour at Abrome at that location was expected to be no more than 0.02 inches, so I was pretty surprised. But we had repeatedly emphasized the importance of dressing for the worst possible conditions over the last several months, and cautioned everyone in the community to be prepared for cold, wet conditions on this day. As Learners rolled into the drop-off location I decided to pass on having them write out their intentions on post-it notes because it was such a wet mess. As they trickled in there was obviously a lot of excitement to be around other Learners again. However, one Learner realized getting out of the vehicle that she did not have footwear that matched the cold, rainy, and wet conditions. So she decided to go back home.

During the morning meeting we discussed a variety of topics, to include a review of how to take care of ourselves and each other during inclement weather. I took notice that one Learner was in shorts, there were few hats or gloves among the crew, and there was not much in the way of rain jackets or ponchos. It caused me a bit of concern and I decided that after the morning meeting I should probably go back to Abrome and grab some wool blankets that I neglected to put in my rushed packing that morning.

Because I went back to get the wool blanket I jumped on my computer to do a quick morning meeting with the remote Learners (four of them are remote during this cycle, and we hope that number drops to zero for the next cycle), and then I headed back to Abrome. As I was coming back Facilitator Ariel called me and said that one of the Learners was particularly cold so he went back to his vehicle and grabbed an extra jacket and hat for him to wear, but that he may need one of the wool blankets I was grabbing. I said I would bring it to their location. As I walked toward the location I pulled out my phone and recorded a short video to let the world know via Instagram that we were back in-person for cycle seven. I think I will do an update each day from here on out. By this time the rain had stopped coming down so heavily, but that didn’t mean that the trails weren’t muddy messes in some parts, and as I filmed I stepped in a particularly slippy patch and I bit it pretty hard. Fortunately I made a nice recovery, kept filming, and got to the cold Learner in short time.

Bird watching

Bird watching

Two of the Learners in the cell were new Learners, having joined just in time for us to go fully remote in January. Although they had shadowed for five days each in December, they were each feeling their way with the crew. At one point Facilitator Ariel invited each of them to go on a walk with him to help ease the transition. Both joined him, but one eventually turned back while Facilitator Ariel and the other Learner made their way to a bird watching station that few folks at Abrome have been to. Apparently there was some discussion about the conspiracy theory that birds are actually government robots.

Julien with feather IMG_1822.JPG

The Learners in the other cell with Facilitator Lauren all knew each other from prior cells and came to their separate drop-off spot super eager to hang out again and play. Even better, they all showed well dressed and fully prepared for inclement weather. And although they were less than ten miles away from our cell as the crow flies, they did not receive a single drop of rain. It was probably for the best, as the Learners most in need of the more memorable real-life lesson on the need to dress for the conditions were the ones who did not dress for the occasion. After reviewing their agreements they headed out on a variety of adventures, with a goal of revisiting many of the places they hadn’t seen since December. Along the way they found lots of interesting remnants from the Texas freeze as well as things that are just found when we leave the city behind.

waterfall crossing IMG_6108.JPG

Back at the cell I was with I asked the Learners if they were willing to go on a hike to the waterfalls since the rain that morning would provide a different experience for us than than usual. Plus, it was still pretty cold for some folks and the hike uphill would do all of us some good. Everyone but one Learner (the one in the shorts) decided to make the hike. I encouraged him to use the wool blanket to keep himself warm while we were gone, and he said he would consider it.

The hike was pretty great. We took the easiest path to the waterfalls, but discussed taking some harder trails on warmer, less muddy days. At each successive waterfall some of us took time to take in the surroundings and explore the area. But it wasn’t until we got to the third waterfall that everyone decided they wanted to settle in. There we walked around, explored, and then sat down and engaged in a variety of conversations while also reserving time for ourselves. We were there for maybe 30 or 45 minutes and then decided to walk back downhill for lunch.

Appreciating being outdoors again

Appreciating being outdoors again

After lunch one of the Learners was ready to get going with her 45-minute workout, a spillover offering from the last remote cycle. I wondered to what degree people would want to join in on a 45-minute workout in the elements. But one of the Learners said that he would participate in the workouts (three per week) and I decided I would join in as well. It was a good workout, but it was challenging with the wooden dock that we were working out on still wet from the rain.

Later in the day Facilitator Ariel asked the Learners about their interest in participating in a Flying Squad day next week, as a way to give them an idea of what it might be to be in a full-time Flying Squad cell next cycle. There was great response and most Learners were quite excited. Only two of the Learners in this cell were at Abrome pre-pandemic so the newer Learners heard stories about what it was like, and now they’re going to have a chance to actually see it in action.

At the other cell, one of the young Learners began processing kindling while Facilitator Lauren broke out a solo stove to start a fire. The fire is not only a nice way to warm up, but it also provides fuel for conversation and new ideas. While they were feeding the fire and sharing thoughts one of the Learners decided that he was going to use it to cook up some of the jerky he brought.

The Learners in the cell I was in were warming up slowly, as well, without a fire. As the day wore on, the temperature rose, their clothes dried out, and they started to have thoughts of jumping into the lake. Even though I’ve jumped into the lake at least once per month as part of a polar bear plunge promise I made to a Learner at the beginning of this pandacademic year, I would not have considered jumping in on this day. The miserable cold feeling of the morning was too fresh, the temperature was too low, and the sun was too gone. But they insisted. And they both went in.

Addey in lake IMG_2813.JPG
Michael in lake IMG_2828.JPG

I requested that they hold off jumping in until the very end of the day, so that if they regretted their decision at least they were not too far off from getting home, changing out of their wet clothes, and heating up indoors. Then we held our first afternoon roundup in months, and reflected on our first day back together. It was a great day. We were thrilled to be together again. The weather was not perfect but that’s okay. On the walk back to the pick-up point we saw thousands upon thousands of ants diligently moving leaf clippings from harvest points back to their nests. We stopped to appreciate this unique sight, and then we moved on and called it a day.