Monday, April 19th was the first day of cycle 9, and it marked my return to a nature setting after spending the prior cycle in a Flying Squad specialty cell in downtown Austin. I was also excited to be back with three Learners I had not shared a cell with in quite some time. Unfortunately, one was on an extended vacation and was not expecting to join us until the last week of the cycle. But on this Monday, I got to hang out with six Learners and Facilitator Lauren, which is pretty great.

For the morning meeting we discussed what practices from the prior cycle we felt were important, and how we wanted to spend our time this cycle. After the meeting everyone was eager to head to the lake. Along the way two of the adolescent Learners stumbled upon and sampled some honeysuckles, and then did the same with mulberries they found. Facilitator Lauren who had been munching on them with some of the younger Learners the prior cycle also got her fill of the mulberries. Facilitator Lauren would later show the two adolescent Learners some evening primrose which they then sampled, as well. I don’t know that we are ready to live off the land quite yet, but we are learning bit by bit, and chomp by chomp.

At the lake we found that a crew was working on the dock, and it was loud, so the Learners were forced to move to a spot next to the lake where they usually do not spend much time. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, and there was no need for us to seek a shaded area to escape from the sun.

The younger Learners found a lot of joy in walking along the retaining wall along the lake, jumping between the wall and the shore, and in checking in on John and Lisa, the two ducks that have become our friends.

One of the adolescent Learners broke out his speakers and began playing some of his favorite songs, while also supporting a variety of requests along the way. As the conversation shifted from topic to topic we began to play songs from different generations. Another adolescent Learner began reminiscing about our visit to Rivers & Roads ALC in Oklahoma City before the pandemic hit, and asked if I remembered us singing to “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys on the 9 hour drive. I did not, but when the song began to play I was ready to give it another try. At first the Learners held back because I was filming, but they got over it and began to sing, and even kept going after I ruined the moment with my out of tune efforts.

The younger Learners were moving around a lot that day, creating uniquely artistic spears, investigating the flora and fauna on some nearby trails, and climbing trees.

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The movement of the younger Learners eventually pulled the Facilitators and the adolescent Learners off of their butts and into walking, exploring, and running mode. At some point a woman came over with her dog, and the Learners were drawn into it. It was a sweet dog, and we are pretty good about asking permission to pet dogs, so there was little problem with the woman’s presence. The only thing was, she was not wearing a mask and was getting a bit close to one of the Learners. I was thrilled to see that the Learner, instead of just allowing the lady to talk so close to her, effortlessly pulled out her mask and put it on.

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Two of the adolescent Learners then asked me if I brought my soccer ball, so I pulled it out and we went into the field to kick it around. Meanwhile, the other adolescent Learner got on the phone and tried to schedule an appointment that she had not been able to make as she kept getting the runaround. After being put on hold and being patched through to others, she finally got her appointment scheduled.

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Then things slowed down a bit as the Learners enjoyed the view of the lake. By this time the folks working on the dock had finished up, and we learned that we could get some pretty excellent echo action in if we yelled across the lake. Meanwhile, one of the younger Learners asked Facilitator Lauren if she could borrow some colored pencils and paper to work on a project.

Things picked up again once a younger Learner noticed a centipede crawling on his backpack. He asked for support in extracting his backpack from the grip(s) of the centipede, and then he and everyone else gathered around to watch the giant Texas redheaded centipede looking fearsome.

Not long thereafter, I got a text from one of the Abrome guardians who told me that there was an opportunity for walk-in vaccinations for anyone 16-years-old or older in east Austin. For the second day in a row the people administering the vaccines anticipated not being able to use up all of the shots that they had planned to that day. I turned to the two adolescent Learners who had not yet been vaccinated and asked them if one of their parents would be able to take them to get the shots, immediately. They both jumped on their phones and one of the parents said they could come pick them up and take them to the vaccination site, while the other parent blessed off on her son getting the shot. Never before had I been so thrilled to see Learners leaving Abrome early, even though they also took the other adolescent Learner who was there that day (sibling, carpool).

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The remaining three Learners continued to run around, climb trees, eat mulberry bushes, and splash around in the water. But when they finally slowed down, Facilitator Lauren invited them to play a game of ‘never have I ever,’ with the intention of getting folks to drink more water. The game eventually morphed into ‘would you rather,’ with the continued intention of drinking water.

It was a pretty epic game, and my favorite question was one that I brought up: would you rather eat someone else’s booger, or not eat ice cream for the rest of your life? Both Learners squirmed a bit but then said that they would rather eat someone else’s booger. I said, “ew, gross!” Then the one Learner said softly to herself, “but I looooove ice cream …”

The day ended shortly thereafter, but not before we agreed to take a longer walk back along a trail that we have rarely walked along as a crew. It was a pretty magical first day back. Oh yeah, and the two Learners who left early were able to get their first Covid-19 vaccination shots!

Meanwhile, at the other cell there was hiking, conversations about community, napping, and celebrating the fact that the day was the first official day for a newly enrolled Learner!!

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