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8 Classes that Connect with Nature: Stargazing, Beekeeping, Mushroom Hunting, and More

CURRICULUM VITAE: Nature can often be the best teacher, as these courses will demonstrate

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All the Buzz

Bronwyn Weaver grew up on an organic farm, and today she and her husband, Bob Archibald, own the 13-acre Heritage Prairie Farm. Situated in rural La Fox (about 40 miles west of the Loop), the place is a Midwestern gem, with its farm dinners prepared by an on-site chef. It’s also home to Weaver’s honey house and 26-hive apiary, which serve as the classroom for Introduction to Beekeeping (as well as for Weaver’s more advanced beekeeping class offered in September). Participants in the month-long class learn the basics of beekeeping, including bee anatomy, starting and managing a colony, and harvesting techniques.

Weaver also wants to introduce her students to a very sophisticated insect and explain its essential role in pollination. “During the course of a honeybee’s lifetime, she has many jobs,” Weaver explains. “She’s a nurse, a housekeeper, a guard, a scout, a forager.” These tasks spark some amazing behaviors and rituals, including swarming to free up the nest for a new queen, pollinating only peak-season fruit, and performing the complex figure-eight waggle dance that directs hive mates toward food. “Bee communication systems ensure that all the foragers in the hive are collecting nectar and pollinating one source at a time,” Weaver says. “This is why honeybees are such important pollinators in agriculture.”

Offered by Heritage Prairie Farm. Meets Wednesdays from 6 to 8 p.m., from September 7 to September 28 at Heritage Prairie Farm, 2N308 Brundige Rd., La Fox. $80. 630-443-5989.

 

An Open Book

The people who enroll in LeAnn Spencer’s Nature Writing class at the Morton Arboretum represent a wide range of ages, professions, and writing skills. But they share one common characteristic. “Each student has something to say about their experience in the natural world,” Spencer explains. “They may not know exactly how to say it yet, but they want to find out how to put their feelings and thoughts on paper.”

A former Chicago Tribune editor who has written extensively about nature and ecology, Spencer believes that the best nature writers have the power to take readers somewhere they have never been before. She drives that point home to her students by sharing work by Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Annie Dillard, and other writers. Students in the workshop-style class also spend time exploring the trails of the 1,700-acre arboretum, studying nature and improving their observational skills. From their journals to their final projects, students are encouraged to pay attention to details and to write about the landscapes and experiences that are most meaningful to them.

“Writing and journaling can be an act of self-discovery,” Spencer says. “When you link that to a personal connection with nature, you will find uncommon parallels that can uplift you or give you insight that you didn’t even know you were looking for.”

Offered by the Morton Arboretum. Meets Tuesdays from 6 to 8:30 p.m., from October 18 to November 15 at the arboretum’s Thornhill Education Center, 4100 Illinois Rte. 53, Lisle. $134 (members $114). 630-719-2468.

 

River Dance

Since 1976, David Solzman has seen profound changes to our inland waterways as they transitioned from the industrial era of the ore-carrying lakers (freighters) to an era that emphasizes ecological awareness and recreational opportunities. During those 35 years, Solzman—an associate professor emeritus of geography and anthropology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the author of The Chicago River: An Illustrated History and Guide to the River and Its Waterways—has also been leading the University of Chicago’s Daylong Boat Cruise on Chicago’s Inland Waterways.

Solzman shares his expertise during a 75-mile boat tour that visits the Chicago River, the Calumet River, the Cal-Sag Channel, and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. Participants will learn how varying lake levels, changing currents, and a fluctuating climate have impacted those waterways—and they will also get a firsthand look at an unexpected natural turnaround. “Wildlife have made a terrific comeback,” Solzman says, “not only in the more remote sections of the waterways but also in the city, where one now finds blue herons, a variety of ducks, egrets, turtles, and over 70 species of fish in the Chicago River and its connecting waterways.”

A waterway tour, Solzman says, also provides a unique look at the city. “There are always people who confess to living in Chicago all of their life and never imagining such views—never imagining this universe within the metropolitan region.”

Offered by the University of Chicago Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies. Meets Sunday, September 18, from 8:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Starts at the Mercury boat dock near the northeast corner of Michigan Ave. and Wacker Dr., south of the Chicago River. $160. 773-702-1722.

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