Featured Course

Pollinator Pleasers: Life-Saving Trees and Shrubs

Choose: Fecund or Moribund? A conversation with instructor Gary Johnson.

A honeybee collects pollen in a close-up picture of a flower.Three years ago the widespread collapse of bee colonies slowly began to find real estate in mainstream media. Large populations of bees were mysteriously turning up dead all over the country, and a few bright minds began to wonder what would happen if all the bees disappeared. 

Bees aren’t the only pollinators—bats and butterflies also fulfill this essential function—but if bees were to disappear from the planet, the ripples across the food chain (birds losing bees to eat, plants losing their major pollinator) would leave humans with four remaining years to exist. 

What can we do to encourage pollinators to stick around and thrive? Gary Johnson, professor of Urban and Community Forestry, sees many positive contributions being implemented. “First and foremost would be the interest that has been steadily growing in edible landscapes and wildlife gardens. Gardeners are selecting plants that are not only pretty but bountiful, such as chestnut crabapple, black chokeberry and sweetberry honeysuckle,” he says. “The collateral impact on the landscape is that these fruit- or seed-producing plants are inherently a source of sustenance for pollinators.” 

Minnesotans seem to be taking a more proactive role in breaking away from monoculture, in trees as well as in groundcovers, which is good for both biodiversity and resilience. Along with this, “more garden centers and bedding plant growers have reduced the use of neonicotinoids in their production practices and are labeling those plants that are free of them,” Johnson says. 

Yet we have far to go. Well-intentioned landscapers may design “pollinator gardens and rain gardens that are often deficient in woody plants, which are also efficient pollen producers.” Similarly, not enough responsible information is being disseminated to homeowners about best practices for lawn care and pest control. 

What can you do? Celebrate Arbor Day and Month by taking two walks with the professor April 28 and May 5 as he shares his knowledge of Pollinator Pleasers: Life-Saving Trees and Shrubs.

Course Details

Pollinator Pleasers: Life-Saving Trees and Shrubs
Fridays, April 28 and May 5, 1−3 p.m.; $85

Gary Johnson, professor, Urban and Community Forestry, University of Minnesota, is chair of the Minnesota Shade Tree Short Course. His research includes stress disorders, diseases, risk assessment and management, preservation, root systems, and nursery tree production. He is the recipient of the Arbor Day Foundation’s Frederick Law Olmsted Award for his outstanding contribution to tree planting, conservation, and stewardship. 


The Art of the Wasted Day

Patricia HamplIn her 2006 New York Times review of Patricia Hampl’s Blue Arabesque: A Search for the Sublime, American writer Kathryn Harrison wrote, “The enemy of the sublime, it turns out, is ‘the rush of modernity.’ There’s no time to sit and stare… Eternally dissatisfied, caught up in the relentless march of time, humankind is always becoming and never being…”

More than a decade later, we seem increasingly allergic to slowness, to reverie, to “just” being, choosing instead to embrace Voltaire’s maxim that "Indolence is sweet, and its consequences bitter." Throughout works like her early examination of the contemplative life in Virgin Time, the meditative sensibility of A Romantic Education, and the ponderous inquiry of Blue Arabesque, Hampl has long explored the life of the mind.

Join us May 4 when the award-winning author will give us a rare preview of her forthcoming book, The Art of the Wasted Day, in which she investigates not only leisure, daydreaming, and a slower pace, but also the essay form and its ever-musing master, Montaigne.

Course Details

The Art of the Wasted Day
Thursday, May 4, 1-8:30 p.m.; $20

Patricia Hampl, MFA, University of Iowa; BA, University of Minnesota, is a Regents Professor and McKnight Distinguished Professor at the University of Minnesota, as well as a member of the permanent faculty of the Prague Summer Program.


Psych 101: A Performance

Behind the Scenes of Psych 101

Sigmund Freud

On June 8, Jim Robinson and a talented crew of improv artists will launch LearningLife’s summer season by dramatizing an entire semester of introductory psychology in just under 90 minutes. The lead character, played by Robinson, is a professor who bemoans online learning and rages against the classroom’s dying light. Truth be told, this character is not entirely fictional.

“I relate very closely to the professor in Psych 101,” says Robinson, who aside from improv, is a psychologist who has been teaching at the college level for 30 years. “While I am in danger of becoming an old codger, I did write this show to speak out against prepackaged, condensed learning. It was more fun than just throwing my hands up in the air and saying, ‘I give up’.“

“I've also seen the inevitable shift from in-class learning to online learning, and while I do see the benefits of reaching more students with online learning, I do mourn the loss of person-to-person interactions when the classroom is just a student and a professor and a series of laptops. So, in some ways, this was my light-hearted elegy to traditional learning.”

Additionally, “Michelle Cassioppi's character is based on these nontraditional students… fierce, dedicated women who really want to claim their education and who bring lots of wisdom and passion to the classroom—and it was really fun to celebrate them through her character.”

Psych 101 includes a script and lyrics by Robinson and music by Dennis Curley. Directed by Joshua Will, the cast includes: Michelle Cassioppi, Dennis Curley, Rachael Flanery, Jim Robinson, and Joshua Will.

And like all courses worth their salt, there will be a test—in fact, two: a midterm and a final exam. So move away from that computer and come boost your conative function. It’s time for some classical conditioning. (Ding! Ding!)

Recommended text: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Course Details

Psych 101: A Performance
Thursday, June 8, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., $55

Michelle Cassioppi is a graduate of the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts and an alumnus of Dudley Riggs Brave New Workshop. She has performed locally with the History, Jungle, Illusion, and Old Log Theaters. She sings with the Mick Sterling Band.

Dennis Curley, BA, Northwestern University, is co-founder and executive producer of Table Salt Productions. He has composed music for Vampires! Horror!, Love After Hours, and two shows in the Church Basement Ladies franchise.

Rachael Brogan Flanery, MFA, UCLA is an actress, teacher, and writer. A co-founder of Table Salt Productions, she currently teaches in the Minneapolis Public Schools.

Jim Robinson, PhD, University of Southern California, is an alumnus of The Brave New Workshop, the Disney Cruise Line, and a co-founder of Table Salt Productions. He co-wrote Psych 101 based on his 23 years of teaching psychology at St. Catherine University and the University of St. Thomas. Jim hails from Riverside, California.

Joshua Will is an alumnus of Dudley Riggs' Brave New Workshop, has written two screenplays and more than 20 stage productions, and has an Emmy Award under his belt. He is the Artistic Director of The Recovery Party, a member of The Theater of Public Policy.