When I woke up on Wednesday morning I wrote up Reopening Texas is homicidal in response to Governor Greg Abbott lifting the statewide mask mandate and declaring that all businesses would be able to operate at 100% capacity beginning next Wednesday. I created an Instagram post that said, “We wear masks. We are staying outdoors. Community > Convenience. People > Profits.” And later that morning when I was in-person with the Learners I used my daily Instagram video to address the situation. As I said in my blog post, it is foolish, premature, dangerous, and homicidal to loosen up the already laughably low safety practices with another wave of infections on the horizon.

I get that people are tired. I get that this has been a very long year. And I get that many people want things to go back to the way that they were before the pandemic. But acting as though the pandemic is over is not the way. Lives are still on the line, and the best way to “go back to normal” would have been to wear masks, not congregate indoors, and stay home when possible. But I also get that political interests, business interests, and a disregard for the lives of invisible people are powerful drivers for pretending that Covid-19 is in the rearview mirror.

For the record, I don’t want thing to go back to the way that they were before the pandemic. I want a more liberatory world for all people, including children and adolescents. I want a world where those with the most power do not profit off of the exploitation of those with the least power. I want a world where those in power are held to a higher standard than those with the least. And I want a world where one’s “freedom” to irresponsibly put the lives of others at risk is suppressed in favor of modifying our behavior to protect others in a form of solidarity with those who are most at risk. And while I cannot individually do anything to fix the mindset of a damaged and sick society in the moment, we can all continue to take the pandemic seriously over the next several months until we hit herd immunity. At Abrome we have no intention to “go back to normal.”

One of the adolescent Learners volunteered to be the game master for the morning meeting and he had us stand or sit, in a circle, and participate via pop corn (meaning that one says “kernel” when they’re ready to speak, they say their piece, then they say “pop,” and then they remain quiet until everyone has spoken). Pop corn has been helpful when people are so eager to talk that people get spoken over and conversations go on tangents. Then each of us shared one way that we help make people feel welcome, and one thing we can do to prepare for the Flying Squad day scheduled for next week.

After the meeting I began my short daily hike up a hill for a bit of exercise and to jump on the morning check-in zoom call with the Learners in the remote cell. I treat this daily hike kind of like how I treated the 7-minute workout when we were remote—a morning routine that prevents me from having a fully sedentary day. Two of the in-person Learners decided to join me on this day, and they led the way up the hill. One Learner who was running late also decided to join us at the top when she arrived, but not before being fitted with Facilitator Ariel’s GoPro to document the hike.

At the top I recorded my aforementioned daily update video explaining why we will continue to remain outdoors and mask up, and then I jumped on the call with the remote Learners. One of the Learners said that he wanted to speak to me about college admissions during the call, but I told him that I had not planned for that and wanted to get off my phone after the meeting. We agreed to speak at 2:00 p.m., instead. The in-person Learners with me on the hill did their own thing, being in conversation and exploring together. With the day as warm and sunny as it was one of the Learners spotted a snake. They attempted to keep an eye on it as it moved but the thing was nearly invisible at times. It was not venomous, although the Learners never got close enough for it to matter anyway.

Around lunch time the Learners decided they were ready to head back down the hill and toward the lake. I asked if we could stop to refill our water bottles along the way, and we did. Then, we proceeded down a path toward the lake that on Monday had at least a million ants on it by my estimation. One of the Learners suggested 500,000. Either way, it was an impressively large number of ants. They were carrying leaves from harvest points and taking them back to what was probably their nests. We saw them again on Tuesday. On this day we saw them again, but this time, sadly, most looked dead with a fair number of them looking like they were dying. We debated what possibly could have caused this mass casualty event, and we concluded that it was most likely due to the very cold weather the night before.

At the other cell Facilitator Lauren started the day with breaths for a centering exercise. While the Learners did not take to the exercise, they honored Facilitator Lauren’s practice. She then told them that her intention for the day was to be available to support them and would follow their lead.

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One of the Learners and his mom brought marshmallows to share. For the third day in a row the Learners collected small pieces of wood to help fuel the solo stove, fashioned sticks, and then roasted the marshmallows on them. It was a big hit and a great way to start the day.

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They decided that they would go to several of their favorite spots on this day, to include to the “hideout” where they played fun bears, and to the “bowl” where they enjoyed the smell of a freshly split juniper tree. There they played a game of would you rather, and they also looked at pictures that they took on the day with Facilitator Lauren’s iPad. It was a fun, peaceful day in the younger Learners’ cell.

By the time I got to the dock after spending the morning at the top of the hill I saw Facilitator Ariel barefoot in the field doing a conditioning workout, with the other Learners on or around the dock. After all the Learners said hi to each other and caught up with each other, one of the Learner’s asked them who would be willing to join her in a 45-minute workout, and three decided to join in.

At 2:00 p.m. I jumped on a half hour call with the 14-year-old remote Learner who wanted to talk about college admissions. The first question he had for me was how to get into MIT, so I talked to him about the college admissions process for highly selective universities, but then I asked him what exactly he was hoping to get out of college. This led us down the path of talking about state colleges and community colleges, as well, to include considerations on price and the opportunities that different colleges confer. The call turned into less providing him with a roadmap to get into MIT than it did the questions he would need to ask himself to determine the degree to which he might need to play the college admissions game to achieve his goals. Currently it looks like he won’t need to play the game based on his stated goals.

While I was on the call I noticed a lot of young people gathering in the park, all of them unmasked. Naturally this led our group to move away from the young people who we found out were students at the local high school. I learned this from the dad of two small children I got into a conversation with after my call, who told me that the entire school district had a half day of school (that day and the next), and that all the students flocking to the park were hoping to take advantage of a moment of freedom from school. The dad asked me about Abrome, my volunteer work at the local public library, and the outcome of my many run-ins with corrupt cops in Austin. It was a nice conversation and I hope that he gets a chance to look up Abrome at home.

We relocated to the middle of a large field where we enjoyed the sun (some of us enjoyed it a bit too much and got burnt). Facilitator Ariel and two Learners tested themselves with round offs and other acrobatic attempts off the grass and off of a bent volleyball post. I checked in with some of the Learners who were just sitting there, some annoyed by being pushed out of the spot they were sitting in before the party rolled in. Then at 3:30 p.m. we circled up for our afternoon roundup. We each shared our feelings about being overrun by school kids, and the feelings ranged from indifference, a desire to be welcoming and kind, frustration in how the kids were acting, to insecure feelings about what the kids may have thought about them. Acknowledging that we cannot be co-located with folks who do not take the pandemic seriously and who could put some of the members of our community at risk, I asked what we could do when they showed up again tomorrow, and the agreement was that we would move away again. But next time we would take a hike to one of the waterfalls.