O.W.L.L. Courses

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With the collaboration of the Lexington Council on Aging, the Friends of the Council on Aging present

O.W.L.L. - Older, Wiser, Lifelong Learners.

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O.W.L.L.’s Winter 2022 Semester Courses on Zoom

Sponsored by the COA and FCOA

Exciting January through March OWLL Learning Opportunities

OWLL offers low-cost, not-to-be-missed courses for Older, Wiser, Lifelong Learners.


Kenya: From Samburu to the Maasai Mara
Trinidad and Tobago: Gem of the West Indies

Instructor: Bill Gette  

January 18, 24 and February 1, 8

4 Tuesdays from 4:00 -5:15

Bill Gette  Bill Gette retired in 2016 from the Massachusetts Audubon Society and began leading natural history travel programs for the Society in various parts of the world. Previously (1996-2016) Bill was Sanctuary Director, Joppa Flats Education Center. He established Joppa Flats Bird Banding Station in 1997 and developed Mass Audubon’s Birder’s Certificate Program, as well as other significant Mass Audubon programs. For 27 years (1969-1996) Bill held leadership roles in the computer manufacturing industry. After graduating from college, he served for three years (1966-69) in the U.S. Army as an officer in the Military Police in Japa.

Bill Gette has led five natural history travel programs to the West Indian nation of Trinidad and Tobago. During his most recent 8-day adventure on the big island of Trinidad, he explored world-famous wildlife viewing areas, including the Asa Wright Nature Centre, the rainforests of the Northern Range, Nariva Swamp, Caroni Swamp National Park, and the coast at Grande Riviere.

During his PowerPoint presentation, Bill will show you the magnificent birds that are commonly seen on the grounds of Asa Wright and in the Northern Range, including Green and Purple Honeycreepers, Barred Antshrike, Spectacled Thrush, Silver-beaked Tanager, and many species of hummingbirds. He will also take you on a photographic hike to Dunston Cave to view Oilbirds, nocturnal fruit-eaters that use echolocation to navigate and find food.

At Nariva Swamp on the east coast of Trinidad, Bill will show you photographs of Smooth-billed Ani, Wattled Jacana, and the tiny Pearl Kite. Caroni Swamp National Park is home to Trinidad and Tobago’s National Bird, Scarlet Ibis. Bill will take you for a boat ride along narrow canals in the swamp to see Red-capped Cardinal, Boat-billed Heron, and flocks of Scarlet Ibises. Bill will end his presentation at Grande Riviere on the northeastern coast to see the endemic Trinidad Piping-Guan and view female Leatherback Sea Turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs.

Kenya: From Samburu to the Maasai Mara

Bill Gette has led four natural history travel adventures to the east African nation of Kenya. During his most recent 13-day trip, he and his fellow travelers visited many of the most spectacular wildlife viewing areas in the country. Bill’s itinerary included Mount Kenya National Park, Samburu National Reserve, the Rift Valley and Nakuru National Park, and the extensive grasslands of world-famous Maasai Mara National Reserve.

During his richly illustrated PowerPoint presentation, Bill will discuss and show photographs of the diverse habitats he explored, over 60 species of colorful birds, and large concentrations of mammals, including Haartbeast, Topi, African Elephant, Lion, Leopard, and Chetah. He’ll also include a video.

Wider than the Sky: Poetry in Your Brain

Instructors: David Rose, Cammy Thomas, Regie Gibson

February 4, 18 and March 4, 18

4 Fridays 10:30-11:45

David Rose, Cammy Thomas, Regie Gibson

David Rose is a neuropsychologist who has taught at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education for over 30 years and co-founded CAST, a research and development organization that applies neuroscience to education.

Cammy Thomas is the author of three books of poetry (her most recent, Tremors, was just published in September 2021) and has been honored by the Poetry Society of America. She is widely admired for her decades of teaching literature and creative writing. Cammy Thomas is a prominent poet, songwriter, author, facilitator, and educator who has performed, taught, and lectured at schools, universities, theaters, and various other venues throughout the USA and internationally.

Regie O’Hare Gibson is a prominent poet, songwriter, author, facilitator, and educator who has performed, taught, and lectured at schools, universities, theaters, and various other venues throughout the USA and internationally.

One of Emily Dickinson’s most famous poems begins with these lines:

The Brain — is wider than the Sky --
For — put them side by side —
The one the other will contain
With ease — and You — beside

In this short course, three very different instructors will explore together how our brains construct beauty out of the tightly constructed artforms we call poetry. The instructors—an educational neuroscientist, a writer-poet and teacher, and an oral poet and speaker—will illuminate both the neuroscience and the personal history of what ultimately makes each instructor’s favorite poems “wider than the sky.” Each session will include a three-way conversation centered on one or more of our favorite poems, a conversation intended to deepen our understanding of how our brains—and our poetry—make meaning, beauty, and art.

The Archaeology and Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Instructor: Steven Stark-Riemer 

January 11, 18, 25 and February 1, 8, 15

6 Tuesdays from 10-11:30

Steven Stark-Riemer An attorney by profession, Steven Stark-Riemer graduated magna cum laude from the City College of New York in 1972, studying Anthropology, and specializing in Archaeology. He gained fieldwork experience in Israel at the Tel Gezer excavations under the direction of William G. Dever, today’s preeminent American biblical archaeologist. Following graduation, he was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa Society and accepted into the doctoral program in Anthropology at the University of California at Los Angeles on the strength of his senior thesis on the comparative origins of agriculture in the Nile, Indus, and Mekong River Valleys. Though he did not formally pursue this line of study, his interest in the archaeology, history, and religion of the biblical world continues, and he is well read in this field, and in biblical studies, generally.

Mr. Stark-Riemer has taught courses on the archaeology, history, and religion of Ancient Israel at many lifelong learning programs in New York’s Capital District, and in Sarasota, Florida. He has acquired a devoted following that has expanded during the pandemic via Zoom to include participants in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, Ohio, and London, England.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are the most important collection of Jewish texts from the Second Temple period centuries before the rise of Christianity, and many scholars have described them as perhaps the most important archaeological discovery of the twentieth century.

In the early years following their discovery near the ancient site of Qumran on the western shore of the Dead Sea, the Scrolls were hailed as virtually a primary source for the development of Christianity. Recently, however, and especially since their full publication in the 1990s, scholars have increasingly learned that it is only through efforts to understand what the Dead Sea Scrolls can teach us about the history of Judaism is it possible to learn what they have to teach us about the history of Christianity, because Early Christianity came into being only after these texts were composed and copied.

Tuesday, January 11 10:00 AM
I. The Truth Behind the Mystery

What are the Dead Sea Scrolls, and what are they not? When were they gathered, written, or copied? What are the real story of their modern discovery, and the socalled scandal of their publication?

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Tuesday, January 18 − 10:00 AM
II. Sects of the Second Temple Period and the Founding of the Dead Sea Scrolls Sect

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What gave rise to Jewish sectarianism following the Maccabean Revolt, and who were the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes? How did the multiplicity of Jewish sects contribute to the formation of the Dead Sea Scrolls community at Qumran?

Tuesdays, January 25 & February 1 − 10:00 AM
III. & IV. The Archaeology of Qumran

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What is the connection between the Qumran settlement and the neighboring caves, and what is the chronology and character of the site? Where did its inhabitants live, and is there evidence for communal meals? What is the evidence of purity at Qumran, and did the intricate water system include ritual pools? What do those famous scroll jars and pottery analysis tell us about the Dead Sea Sect?

Tuesday, February 8 − 10:00 AM
V. The Character, Theology & Beliefs of the Qumran Community

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How did Ancient Israel view its place in the world, and did the Dead Sea Sect believe in apocalyptic eschatology? What can Scroll texts such as the Rule of the Community and the Zadokite Fragments tell us about the Sect’s initiation rites and communal use of property? What can the Qumran theology tell us about the other “Judaisms” of the Second Temple Period? How did the Sect perceive the nature of God, and how did they explain the existence of good and evil? Did the Sect believe in foreknowledge and predestination, and how did they express their search for God?

Tuesday, February 15 − 10:00 AM
VI. Messianism, Judaism, and Christianity

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What was the particular form of Qumran messianism as compared to the subsequent developments of Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity? What influence may it have had on these traditions?

Four Oddball Novels by Muriel Spark - Girls of Slender Means, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Memento Mori, The Abbess of Crewe

Instructor: Gillian Gill 

January 14, 28 and February 11, 25

4 Fridays 10:30-12:00

Gillian Gill Gillian Gill was brought up in the United Kingdom and educated at Cambridge University. While still an academic, she taught French, women’s studies, and critical theory at Northeastern University, Wellesley College, Yale University, and Harvard University. She has translated six books from the French, including the feminist classic “Speculum of the Other Woman”, and a study of the orgy in the novels of the Marquis de Sade. Until her most recent work on Woolf, she has concentrated on the writings and familial relations of famous women whose achievements do not fit easily into the feminist canon- Agatha Christie, Mary Baker Eddy, Florence Nightingale, Queen Victoria, and Colette. She is working on a second book Queen Victoria, focused on her relationships with women in her family.

Born into the small Jewish community of Edinburgh, Scotland, to loving parents of limited means, Muriel Spark (nee Camberg, 1918-2006) had only a high school education and was obliged to go out and earn her living as a short-hand secretary at sixteen. At twenty she jumped recklessly into marriage with a man from her community she barely knew and moved to the then British colony of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) where she gave birth to a son, Robin. Spark and her husband proved to have nothing in common, and her marriage quickly crumbled. Within the smug confines of the expatriate community, Spark managed somehow to attract the friendship of rich and powerful people, notably Princess Marie Bonaparte, and this was a skill she would need after she gave her husband the slip and sailed back to Europe in 1944 with her small son.

Devoid of resources, Spark left Robin with her parents in Edinburgh and set off to London to find a job that would support them both. Spark was sure by now that she was made to be a writer and, after a stint in British wartime intelligence, she found a toehold in publishing, earning a pittance but steadily climbing the ladder from secretary to editor and learning the business of literature from the bottom up.

To the amazement of family and friends, when she was about thirty, Spark converted to Roman Catholicism in 1954 and she continued to hold firmly to a notably esoteric version of that faith until the end of her life. Spark said that Roman Catholicism gave her a world view and a confidence that allowed her to take the step from poetry and scholarly books (she published two on Mary Shelley and three on the Brontë’s) into fiction. Also, in those early London days Spark went on a draconian diet and transformed herself into the kind of woman that the public-school men who controlled British publishing would enjoy taking out to dinner and promoting. With the help of fellow Catholic convert Graham Greene, already a famous novelist, Spark got her Rhodesian stories published and in 1951 her first radically strange novel, “The Comforters”. After the break-away success of “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” in 1961, she was able to write full time and went from strength to strength. She turned out one successful novel after another and established herself as a bright if minor star in Britain’s literary firmament. She ended her life a Dame of the British Empire and a wealthy woman, living in Tuscany with the artist Penelope Jardine. Spark had fallen out with her son Robin over the issue of her family’s Jewishness, and she made Jardine her heir and executor.

In her life as in her work, Spark took a perverse delight in eluding categories. She was certainly no feminist which has placed her outside or even in opposition to the established canon of women’s studies. But two things are clear about her. The first is that Spark was in no way part of Britain’s upper crust and owed her success to talent, will-power, and hard work, not connections. The second is that she was a writer of immense talent who as a girl began a lifelong love affair with English literature that mattered more to her than any other. Her many short, cursory, imperfect novels are the products of an original mind and contain some of the most sparkling English sentences of the twentieth century.

Note: I recommend the movie of “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”, with Maggie Smith in HER prime. Those interested in Spark’s life, will enjoy “Curriculum Vitae”, her 1992 partial memoir. In 2009, Martin Stannard was at last allowed by Jardine to publish a full biography which fills in the second half of the writer’s life. I would say that Stannard was a standard product of the English biographical school who capitalized on Spark’s fame but could not bring himself to like or approve of her.