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Do you have a special tree?

By Judy Wagenblast, Academy of Lifelong Learning (ALL) Member

“This my tree!” Did you ever say that? One in the yard where you grew up? Or maybe one that you selected and planted yourself at your adult home?

A tall column covered with bark. Limbs extend the magnificence of the living form higher and higher each year. As the seasons turn, you view the appearance of tiny sprouting buds, then summer’s full-blown green leaves, their change to magnificent yellow, red and orange shades that begin to fly with the autumn wind. Finally the frosty winter time we’re in now, as we so eagerly look forward to the coming of spring.

The Academy of Lifelong Learning (ALL) recommends that you start now to read a memoir by Hope Jahren. Hope selected her tree from her family’s yard as she grew up in a small Minnesota town among others of Norwegian heritage, with parents who each had interests in science, though her mother opted to study literature after determining that her own opportunities for a science career were insurmountable.

The book, titled "Lab Girl," covers Hope’s love of nature, her own decisions to study science and particularly to focus her research on trees. In line with the title, she established four laboratories as her academic career developed and has been successful in securing many grants and awards. The book is an award winner itself, as she documents her youth, the challenges of career, her relationship with others in professional environments predominantly occupied by men, the financing of scientific research, personal health, marriage and motherhood, and both her vast knowledge and love of trees and soil.

This is a personal invitation to you, a reader of Senior News, but our encouragement is also offered to all adults and college-age students in the area. The Academy of Lifelong Learning received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to sponsor this community project, the NEA Big Read: Sangamon County, and we are very excited about reading the book and participating in the related activities.

Over 45 community organizations will host an array of events throughout March and April, extending the themes and the learning from our chosen book, "Lab Girl." Over the next months, you can learn about early women leaders in science and other fields, land use in Sangamon County, nature in art, craft, dance, music and poetry, tours of labs and old-growth forests, encouragement of diversity in professional career fields, illustration and journaling, memoir and spiritual writings, and several book discussion groups.

March 2 at 10 a.m. is when we will hear opening remarks from Kathryn Harris, one of our local treasures, a librarian who has been such an asset to readers from this area and beyond. We continue on March 3 with a very special Academy of Lifelong Learning Today’s Topic program featuring Dr. Bonnie Styles, emeritus director of the Illinois State Museum, and Dr. Meghan Styles who leads the Environmental Studies program at UIS. On the evening of March 4, members of Illinois Women in Leadership will present a virtual Readers Theatre of excerpts from "Lab Girl." Lincoln Memorial Garden will host a maple syrup tapping on the afternoon of March 6. And that’s just the first week! Over 1,000 copies of the book will be given away and other copies are available for check-out at most of the local libraries in the county. Visit for a complete list of activities and book distribution points. There are many ways you can participate in this special community project. We hope you can join us in one or more of the learning opportunities surrounding "Lab Girl!"

The Academy of Lifelong Learning (ALL) is a program for people age 50 or greater in the Community Education Department at Lincoln Land Community College, 217-786-2432.