SOUTH BEND — In the spring and summer of 2020, Isis Robbins, like everyone else, began dealing with the pandemic-inspired "new normal."
Schools ended in-person learning to slow the spread of COVID, and terms such as "e-learning" and "social distancing" became part of our daily vocabulary.
Kids like Isis were isolated, bored and looking for things to do.
Isis, 11, spent much of her time at the home of her grandmother, Cynthia Simmons-Taylor. The house has a large yard that Isis explored with her dog when she wasn't doing assignments online.
Recreation during COVID: Coronavirus didn't cancel spring. Nor parks, hiking trails, disc golf and biking.
It was during one of those treks that the LaSalle Academy student saw her first four-leaf clover.
"I was just walking, and I was so excited because I know that they are very rare," she said.
When I'm in my yard during the summer, I see lots 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 took that first special clover to her grandmother, and Simmons-Taylor was immediately excited.
"I said, 'This is awesome,' because most people don't ever find a four-leaf clover in their entire life," Simmons-Taylor, who is the director of the city's 311 program, said.
Makeda Grier, Isis' mother, was also impressed.
"I was as excited as she was when I understood the rarity of people finding four-leaf clovers," Grier said.
Isis researched the plant's rarity, as well as what causes clovers to sprout that fourth leaf, which is associated with good fortune.
How to find a four-leaf clover: Video shows how 15 minutes could get you a four-leaf clover
It turns out that the gene that produces four-leaf clovers is recessive, which means that the plant will only produce the distinctive leaf if it has the right 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 of them," she said.
Just how rare are four-leaf clovers? According to BBC Science Focus, a 2017 survey concluded that just one in 5,000 clovers have four leaves.
Sthele Greybar, the 4-H youth development educator in Elkhart County, said some experts put the number at one in 1,000. Either way, it's fair to call four-leaf clovers rare, Greybar said.
"You can look through an entire cluster of clovers and not find one," he said.
Isis began searching for more four-leaf clovers — in her grandmother's large yard, in her own back yard on South Bend's northwest side, and in a nearby park.
It became her primary focus. By the summer of 2021, she had collected more than 500 of them.
The sixth-grader, who plays basketball and volleyball and runs track, said the first few clovers she collected withered and died because she did not know how to preserve them.
Fortunately, her grandmother remembered something she learned when she was in grade school.
"We used to collect leaves from autumn with the beautiful, brilliant colors, and the teacher had us iron them between wax paper," Simmons-Taylor recalled. "So I began to have her do that and it preserved them.
"She would get the wax paper and go downstairs and iron them."
Grier said the collection became a passion for her daughter, as Isis found clovers in all shapes and sizes.
Both Grier and Simmons-Taylor said they were happy that Isis found a way to handle the stress that children have faced through the pandemic. Her grandmother was also happy that Isis ventured outdoors and explored nature.
Greybar said he, too, was gratified to hear about a child living in an urban or suburban area taking interest in nature.
"What we're discussing is people going out and learning and discovering," Graybar said, "and that's awesome."
For her part, Isis says her new hobby helped her cope with the isolation from the pandemic.
"It gave me something to do because I didn't have the opportunity of being with my friends," she said. "It helped me to pass the time because I really didn't have anything else to do except for school on line.
"This calmed me," she added, "and since I had to stay away from people, this was perfect because it was right in my back yard."
Email South Bend Tribune reporter Howard Dukes at email@example.com
Follow him on Twitter: @DukesHoward
This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: South Bend student collects 500 four-leaf clovers during pandemic