I cannot believe that it is week three of the term already! Despite the rapid passing of time, I have still been able to do a few things just for the fun of it. I think it's important to step away from the onslaught of information that we are trying to absorb and put some time into learning something just for the fun of it. Then you can come back to your studies with a fresh mind, and things seem to stick better.
A number of the professors here at National are involved with outside organizations, and when they know what your interests are they will let you know when there are opportunities to learn more. That is how I ended up at the Illinois Mycological Association's mushroom show at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. There was a huge collection of mushrooms on display, and probably the most impressive thing to me was that all of these mushrooms had been collected a day earlier from the areas surrounding Chicago. In addition to this display, there were two educational presentations.
Dr. Lorinda Sorenson, a professor whom National's DC students encounter in their herbal medicine studies, was presenting at the show on the topic of medicinal uses of fungi. There was enough information to make anyone want to ensure that they included this "sixth" food group into their diets.
The second speaker of the day went through how to tell the difference between edible mushrooms and their look-a-likes. Some of the differences were so subtle that mushroom hunting could be quite harrowing, but it was good to hear that the number of species of commonly found mushrooms in this area that are genuinely poisonous is small. I left the talks feeling inspired to find out more; I think I am on my way to becoming a mushroom nerd. Getting out in nature, especially when you are spending so much of your days in a classroom, is so nice! The Chicago Botanic Gardens are a bit of a drive from campus, but we are lucky enough to have the Morton Arboretum nearby. Sometimes I wish that there were more hours in the day!
If you would like more information about mushrooms, check out the Illinois Mycological Societies site at http://www.illinoismyco.org/. They host educational meetings and take people out on forays where you can learn to safely ID and collect edible mushrooms.