SOUTH BEND — In the spring and summer of 2020, Isis Robbins, like everyone else, began to deal with the pandemic-inspired “new normal.”
Schools have ended in-person learning to slow the spread of COVID, and terms like “online learning” and “social distancing” have become part of our everyday vocabulary.
Children like Isis were isolated, bored and looking for things to do.
Isis, 11, has spent much of her time with her grandmother, Cynthia Simmons-Taylor. The house has a large yard that Isis explored with her dog when she wasn’t doing online homework.
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It was during one of these hikes that the LaSalle Academy student saw his first four-leaf clover.
“I was just walking and I was so excited because I know they’re very rare,” she said.
When I’m in my yard during the summer, I see a lot of clovers, so they don’t seem rare to me. But Isis quickly corrected me, noting that I was probably looking at the three-leaf variety.
Isis brought this special first shamrock to her grandmother, and Simmons-Taylor was immediately excited.
“I said, ‘That’s great,’ because most people never find a four-leaf clover in their entire lives,” said Simmons-Taylor, the city’s 311 program manager.
Makeda Grier, Isis’ mother, was also impressed.
“I was as excited as she was when I realized the rarity of people finding four-leaf clovers,” Grier said.
Isis studied the rarity of the plant, as well as what causes clovers to grow at this fourth leaf, which is associated with good fortune.
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It turns out that the gene that produces four-leaf clovers is recessive, meaning the plant will only produce the distinctive leaf if it has the correct gene on all four chromosomes.
Isis also learned that four-leaf clovers tend to grow in clusters.
“So I wanted to find more and more,” she said.
How rare are four-leaf clovers? According to BBC Science Focus, a 2017 survey concluded that only one in 5,000 clovers had four leaves.
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Sthele Greybar, the Elkhart County 4-H youth development educator, said some experts put the number at one in 1,000. Either way, it’s fair to call the four clovers rare leaves, said Greybar.
“You can look through an entire clover cluster and not find one,” he said.
Isis began looking for more four-leaf clovers – in her grandmother’s big yard, in her own backyard on the northwest side of South Bend, and in a nearby park.
It became his main goal. By summer 2021, she had collected more than 500.
The sixth-grader, who plays basketball and volleyball and runs on the track, said the first clovers she picked withered and died because she didn’t know how to store them.
Fortunately, her grandmother remembered something she had learned when she was in elementary school.
“We used to pick up some fall leaves with nice shiny colors, and the teacher would iron them out between waxed paper,” Simmons-Taylor recalls. “So I started making him do that and it saved them.
“She would get the waxed paper and go downstairs to iron them.”
Grier said collecting became a passion for her daughter, as Isis found clovers of all shapes and sizes.
Grier and Simmons-Taylor both said they’re happy that Isis has found a way to deal with the stress children have faced during the pandemic. Her grandmother was also happy for Isis to venture outside and explore nature.
Greybar said he, too, was thrilled to hear about a child living in an urban or suburban area being interested in nature.
“What we’re talking about is people going out and learning and discovering,” Graybar said, “and that’s great.”
For her part, Isis says her new hobby has helped her cope with the isolation of the pandemic.
“It gave me something to do because I didn’t get to be with my friends,” she said. “It helped pass the time because I really had nothing to do but online school.
“It calmed me down,” she added, “and since I had to stay away from people, it was perfect because it was right in my backyard.”
Email South Bend Tribune reporter Howard Dukes at [email protected]
Follow him on Twitter: @DukesHoward