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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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An illustration by Tonwen Jones
Focusing on the lore of nature: from butterflies and bees to mushrooms and the night sky

In his 1798 poem “The Tables Turned,” William Wordsworth encouraged his contemporaries to leave aside their books and head for the woods. “Come forth into the light of things,” he implored. “Let Nature be your teacher.”

More than 200 years later, those words still ring true, and they point the way toward the eight classes in our 2011 lineup of adult education offerings. Practice yoga among brilliant butterflies, marvel at the nighttime sky, explore Chicago’s inland waterways, or chronicle your outdoor discoveries in a journal. You can hunt for mushrooms, raise bees, or, if it’s a classroom you crave, learn about the landscapes of the American West or the vineyards of Burgundy. After all, as Wordsworth wrote, “Sweet is the lore which Nature brings”—particularly when it’s delivered in a wineglass.



Some people have never seen the stars through a telescope. Joe Guzmán, a telescope operator for the Adler Planetarium and the founder of the Chicago Astronomer web forum, wants to remedy that—and he will reveal the secrets of the night sky for free. His Stargazing events take place throughout the city, including a trio of upcoming programs sponsored by the Chicago Park District’s Nature Oasis.

Hosting impromptu star parties since 2004, when he first set up his telescope for a solo show outside the planetarium, Guzmán now has a substantial following—more than 80 people showed up at a recent event—and some of them are fellow astronomers who each bring (and share) their equipment and aptitude, making for an even more enjoyable experience. The group also ventures to nearby locales, such as Indiana Dunes State Park, for all-night outings and especially clear views of the Milky Way.

Guzmán’s park district events—at Washington and Palmisano Parks—were planned to coincide with good viewings of our galaxy’s two largest planets: Saturn, in August, and Jupiter, in October. (At presstime, a September date and location were to be determined.) Lots of other celestial sights should be visible, including the so-called E.T. star cluster near Cassiopeia, the Ring Nebula in Lyra, and a binary star system in Cygnus. “Many people don’t realize that you can see stars from anywhere in the country—even through Chicago’s light pollution—as long as you know where to look,” Guzmán says.

Offered by the Chicago Park District’s Nature Oasis. Meets Wednesday, August 17, at 8 p.m. at Washington Park, 5531 S. Martin Luther King Dr., or Thursday, October 13, at 6:30 p.m. at Palmisano Park, 2700 S. Halsted St. Free. Dates are subject to change based on weather. 312-742-5039. For information on Chicago Astronomer star parties (including upcoming outings to Indiana Dunes), visit http://astronomer.proboards.com.


Vintage Burgundy

Once home to the Romans and Celts, monasteries and ducal kingdoms, the region of Burgundy in eastern France carries more historical weight than its small size might suggest. Also one of the world’s great wine-growing regions, its reputation springs in part from the inhabitants’ almost religious devotion to terroir—the combination of soil, climate, and topography so central to viticulture.

In his University of Chicago class Burgundy: God, Earth, Wine, Bill St. John—a writer for the Chicago Tribune’s weekly wine column who has taught about wine for more than 30 years—explores the influence of terroir on this area and its famous wines. “Nature says a lot more about a wine from the Old World than it does for the New World,” St. John says. “New World wines—from places like the Americas and Australia—are labeled by grape names that suggest a taste and aroma. But with Old World wines, it’s the earth—terroir—that informs the taste of the wine.” Never mind, for example, that the wines of Chablis—Burgundy’s northernmost wine district—come mainly from Chardonnay grapes. Instead, it’s the terroir of Chablis, says St. John, that is most responsible for the district’s predictably green, tight, and fresh-tasting wine.

Relying on the Rule of Saint Benedict, the Charlemagne Edicts, and other texts, St. John provides a historical context as students make a centuries-long journey that begins in the days of the Holy Roman Empire. He reveals, for instance, how Benedictine and Cistercian monks, who tended local vineyards for 700 years, ultimately dictated the delimitations—or demarcations—that distinguish the region’s different wine districts to this day. The class concludes in the modern era, with a look at the area’s flavorful Burgundies and richly varied cuisine. The final session includes a small sampling of regional wines.

Offered by the University of Chicago Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies. Meets Wednesdays from 6 to 8:30 p.m., from September 21 to November 16  at the Gleacher Center, 450 N. Cityfront Plaza Dr. $375 ($345 before September 14). 773-702-1722.


Illustration: Tonwen Jones


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