How Nature and Virtual School Helped Us In A Pandemic

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” ~ Charles Dickens

Here we are, eight full years of blogging and never in that time was there a six-months-long gap in between posts. I’ll just go with the flow and blame it on the pandemic. How’s that?

The year 2020 was certainly not the best in quantity of content (only four posts!). What posts may have lacked, however, living, loving, and daily engagement surely made up. Our schedule was already full several months in advance by this time last year. One year to the next is a veritable mish-mash of activity when teenagers are involved; 2020 seemed not much different.

Then COVID-19 arrived mid-March. Our ‘roll with it’ style really helped us to shift gears to what would become a new norm, and in at least two ways, we had unwittingly prepared ourselves over the years for living during a worldwide pandemic.

Virtual School: Scheduling Around Life

In March, the schools closed. Kids in our area near Houston never returned to school after spring break week, struggled with the new situation, but my kids, schooling virtually since 2013? They never missed a beat. Switching to virtual schooling on the fly for hundreds of thousands of kids in the largest school district in Texas, over a few weeks of summer? Didn’t these folks even know about their own Connections Academy, the on-line experts since 2007? Why surrounding districts — even HISD — didn’t consult them made absolutely no sense. The STAAR standardized test being canceled was simply icing on the cake for this household.

The high school senior, already on track to graduate top of his class, would be accepted into his college of choice, receive academic scholarship, accept admittance into ‘Honors College,’ and be completely okay with not having to walk the stage for friends and family in May. As it turned out, his university would also offer all-virtual for the fall semester, so adjustment to college life was also a cinch.

Then came the economic downturn. Like so many others, Mr. Dirt’s 20-year employment snuffed out several months into the pandemic, but years of planning for ‘the shoe to drop’ made our circumstance a little different. The engineering and construction business had an absence of long-term project wins that kept us in constant fear of lay-off threat … that started 6 years ago. We were already saving, not spending, resulting in some wiggle room to get us through.

Rather than go back into the same uncertain boom-or-bust of that business model, he decided to learn some new skills and take the time to switch careers instead rather than ‘retire.’ Mr. Dirt joined our eldest and also went back to school, the same college ta boot.

So there you have it. One. Big. Happy. Family. All rattling around in this box, now trapped happily with one another all day every day, … repeat for 300+ straight days. To escape bumping into each other, we would all go outside.

Some of us were more adapted to that kind of existence than others.

Get OUT.

I have always felt connected to the environment, divorced from the consumptive habits of my suburbanite tribe, and now, I go outside to feel safe from contagion. It’s rare running into people while trudging through acres of open prairie on regular days, and big social gatherings have not generally never been my way of life anyway. Now that the rest of society was basically all at home, I had the outdoors pretty much all to myself.

With fewer cars on the road and extraneous yard work being done by neighbors, quiet never seemed so beautifully boisterous!

A few ‘prairie fairies’ would occasionally meet me outside too, social distancing and keeping safe all the while. No matter the temperature or humidity or elements, getting outside kept us all sane while the rest of world seemed to be going mad.

Yes, it’s been a very full and busy year, and yes, it hasn’t all been peaches and cream, I ain’t gonna lie. Even with an ensuing pandemic, I’ve logged hundreds of hours volunteering for Nature, thousands more being Mom, wife, friend, and caretaker, but I soooo look forward to getting that vaccine and taking the mask off sometime before Thanksgiving this year.

As we open the door to another year, where we welcome more resilience, flexibility, adaptability, but for COVID-19, I have but one clear message to convey to Year 2020:

Try not to let the door hit you on the way out.

~ Shannon @ DirtNKids

Shannon’s Compendium of 2020

  • Created from scratch, rolled out in just a few short weeks, an all new Spring Texas Master Naturalist™ Course Schedule as New Class Director for the Coastal Prairie chapter
  • Featured as New Class Director on the City of Stafford’s ‘Great American Pastimes’ series (view the 4-minute video here)
  • Rolled out an all new Spring Texas Master Naturalist™ Virtual Course Schedule as New Class Director for the Coastal Prairie chapter, when the face-to-face, field-trip-full curricula got canceled due to COVID-19
  • Successfully graduated 19 members into our chapter
  • Became an iNaturalist power-user, logging more into the database of flora, fauna, fungi, in one year than I had in the previous four (view DirtNKids’ iNaturalist Year 2020 in review), much from my own backyard
  • Featured my backyard creek, woodland, and prairie habitat for a local garden club’s ‘Backyard Tour’ fundraiser — more than 200 people came to see how it’s done! (view my snappy 2-minute video here)
  • Served as conservation sponsor for not one but two Boy Scout Conservation Award restoration projects … pocket prairies
  • Presented three programs as a TMN CPC, one for Advanced Training credit (iNaturalist 101) with the county Master Gardeners, two more for a garden club (Pocket Prairies PDF and Backyard Conservation PDF)
  • Helped with a friend to create 5 of the 6 all new educational videos for Native Prairies Association of Texas (watch them all linked at this page here)
  • Began the process of restoring 1,500 square feet more of my backyard turf grass into native plant and wildlife habitat
  • Logged miles and miles and miles hiking, prairie-ing, seed-collecting (for my own purpose as well as others) throughout the seasons
  • Trained for and became a Brazos Bend State Park volunteer

Finally, here are a couple of short video compilations I created last month to remind myself (and others) the little bits of joy felt in this otherwise wonderfully wacky year.

… in pictures.

… in smartphone video.

Be well. Be safe. Be resilient.

18 thoughts on “How Nature and Virtual School Helped Us In A Pandemic

  1. Hi Shannon,
    I’m glad to know you and the family took the year in stride and made the best of it. Nature is what has grounded me, too. Congratulations on all your accomplishments as a Master Naturalist and on inspiring other people.
    I hope 2021 will bring better times, though I wonder how you survived the recent brutal cold spell.
    Best wishes,


    1. It has been just the most amazing year for me as a conservationist and naturalist, COVID aside. This cold spell wasn’t so bad; we lost power for just more than a day and camped in the 50-degree house like we would a tent at a state park, cooked on the gas stove. Thankfully, no burst pipes and we get our water from the well rather than the city (thankfully). It’s chaos here. Upside? I just came in from walking around BAREFOOT outside. 70 degrees. Ha!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Jean-Francois!! What a wonderful surprise seeing your comment here. Oh, how I’ve missed you. Lots of changes here since your last blog post on 222 million tons, not the least of which the number may be closer to half a million tons by now. Happy New Year to you too! We need to catch up. 😀


  2. I so enjoyed your upbeat and outdoor fun here, Shannon, and am happy to see you back on WP. Your “A Year Outside” video was a delight — great photos, wildlife, and pleasing music. I liked your sound clips too and found your “quiet night” was not quiet at all, which is so very great. This was a great post.


    1. The words roller coaster come to mind! We are still in the thick of it here. Spring classes start back up in a month, so I’m feverishly working on agendas, getting TMN’s signed up to train the newbies … all that stuff. It’s wonderful work, even if I don’t get paid. Glad you enjoyed, Jet. Really good reconnecting with you, if only in a little box every few months.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. That’s quite a compendium you’ve put together in your “A Year Outside” video. It shows you had a pretty busy and gratifying year, pandemic or no pandemic. And following that video up with the one of your prairie burn video was “out of the frightening pandemic, into the fire.”


    1. What? No mention of the high-five dragonfly? He and poop-roller are my favs. Yes, they prairie burn was something. We several tracts that, even watched helplessly when the flames ‘jumped’ to a field we weren’t entirely prepared to burn, instantly switching gears. Chose your battles, they say. That day was an apt metaphor for what would be the rest of the year. I highly recommend lighting stuff on fire … exhilarating! (I mean lighting fires safely, that is.)


    1. Busy-ness keeps the mind and body engaged, minimizes the stress of isolation. The key is to do these tasks without spreading contagion. Virtual crowds only! Hope your well, Francis. Nice to see you here after all these months.

      Liked by 1 person

Say something. You know ya wanna.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s