A Field Seminar in Photos, Part I: Glacier Bay National Park

I left Alaska with a sense of place that I had never gotten from a textbook or a classroom: an understanding and appreciation for the place where all these abstract ideas collide.

This photo essay is by Fall 2019 student Johann Heupel. Johann is a Marine Science and Maritime Studies student at the University of Connecticut at Avery Point and a long-time aficionado of the history of our relationship to the sea. Having grown up in Mystic Connecticut, Johann’s future interests lie somewhere in educating a new generation about the wonders of the sea and our fascination with it, sharing maritime culture through art, science, song, and story.

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(Above) View from the Glacier National Park guide boat across the mountains.

A group of students from all across the country, we barely had three days to get to know each other. Now, we were waking up at 3 am to travel to Alaska. 

We spent the journey learning about each other, doing crosswords on the plane together or playing games in the airport, until we boarded three small six-seaters bound for Gustavus. 

The planes would take us to Glacier Bay National Park: just a short ride across mountain tops and forested valleys away, yet that plane ride was the most incredible experience of the trip. Suddenly confronted with the sheer majesty of the Alaskan wilderness – a seemingly pristine environment with the breathtaking beauty of a David Attenborough documentary – we felt out of place with the modern world. As we landed on the airstrip, it was clear my feelings of otherworldly euphoria were shared by many. No one could quite describe the experience.

Everyone was exhausted and exhilarated that night, looking out across the fjords from our woodland cabins. Local salmon and halibut served to us and a night beneath the northern lights completed the feeling of a camping trip at the Ritz: an experience of an unfamiliar and captivating wilderness from the lap of luxury.

 

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(Above) Image of the Johns Hopkins Glacier as it “calves”, splinters into icebergs.

By morning, we were boarding a Park Service vessel to explore the Bay, blown away by the sheer vastness of the landscape. In the distance, whales spouted like early morning mist whilst several hundred sea lions sunned themselves upon the rocks, and mountain goats looked down on us from the rocky ledges. As we approached the ice sheet, the low conversations of excited passengers heightened to a fervent chatter as we all beheld the ice – then lowered to a pensive silence as we listened to the glacier crack.

The realities of climate change for this beautiful landscape became inescapable. The icecaps around the glacier were melting rapidly as the streams of freshwater carved grooves in the mountainsides. As our professors looked out across the landscape, there was a mournful expression turned toward the ice sheet, as if they may never gaze again on this marvel of an un-polluted world. The crew scooped a piece of the glacier from over the side, and we were able to hold a piece of history that had survived for thousands of years in our hands. 

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(Above) Williams Mystic students marvel as Artie Claudio holds a piece of the glacier.

The rest of our time in Glacier Bay seemed too short. I wished I could have spent more time among the trees and on the water, kayaking the fjords of the bay or hiking mountain paths. The last night we had under the stars was spent among fast-made friends, remarking on the wonders of the natural world and our dream that it may be preserved, as we contemplated the ways in which young people like us could spark action and change.

I had never dreamed of seeing the majestic wilderness of Alaska before I came to Williams-Mystic, a transformative program based around travelling across the country while discussing important issues through multiple disciplines. This longstanding experiment of experiential learning allowed me to think about climate change in the very place the issue was most pressing, surrounded by experts to cultivate our experience and an incredible landscape worth protecting. I left with a sense of place that I had never gotten from a textbook or a classroom: an understanding and appreciation for the place where all these abstract ideas collide.

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An Education With a Purpose: Two Students Reflect on the Impact of Williams-Mystic

What’s so unique about this program specifically is that it tells you why the academics apply to real life, why the academics ought to be brought into life — because they’re necessarily connected. 

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At the end of their Williams-Mystic semester, Spring 2019 students Hayden Gillooly and Alex Quizon sat down to reflect on how their Williams-Mystic semester fit into their time at Williams College. Hayden had just declared a new major based on her Williams-Mystic experience; Alex simply felt more certain of his path forward. But both students agreed that Williams-Mystic has equipped them to approach the rest of their education with purpose. 

Want to experience Williams-Mystic’s close-knit community for yourself? We are still welcoming applications for our Spring 2020 semester. Please reach out to wmadmissions@williams.edu to express your interest, and visit https://mystic.williams.edu/admissions to start your application.

You’re both sophomores. Did you all declare your majors this semester? 

Hayden: I’m studying Spanish at Williams. Last spring and this fall, I took two Geosciences classes at Williams. Both of them opened my eyes to the subject of climate change and how it’s more than just a scientific issue; it affects everybody. I hadn’t really thought about majoring in science or anything (I was also a political science major). 

[On our Louisiana Field Seminar, I had] a conversation with my friend Angus. He said, ‘Is what I am studying good for others?’ And that really stuck with me: How can I make a difference? I’m learning about people’s stories, and how their lives are affected so deeply by a changing world. And at the end of the day, if I’m helping people in some way, I would consider it a life well-lived. So I decided to add the Geoscience majors in addition to Spanish. And I think those coupled together, particularly because a lot of Spanish-speaking countries are on coasts, will be really interesting. I’m so excited to go back to Williams now and study those two subjects and be a part of the Geosciences department. 

Alex: I came into Mystic planning to declare eventually in the Chemistry major and the environmental studies concentration. Holy cow, Mystic was a roller coaster! There was an entire month where the experiences I had at Mystic were shaping so many of my interests and flopping them around. The field seminars definitely shaped that; the classes, in the way they make you think, definitely shaped that. But eventually I realized, especially through my science research project, that chemistry is what I want to do: Working on ocean acidification, that’s what I want to do. So I submitted my form electronically last week to declare the chemistry major and environmental studies concentration. But now I’m more resolved knowing that. 

What will you bring back to Williams from your experiences at Mystic? 

Alex: I think what’s really important to underscore is that this program really is for everyone. Hayden’s a Spanish major, and there are history majors, biology majors, classics majors. It’s for everyone, because the ocean necessarily creates the connection between all these fields that society tells us are different. This is a liberal arts program; it’s about finding out how to put those things together and put those ideas together. If you don’t have a major in mind coming into Williams-Mystic, you’re certainly going to have a better and more clear understanding of what that major or concentration or minor is by the end of it. 

Hayden: I’ve realized that there is as much value in non-academics during a school semester as there can be in academics. I’ve learned so much this semester in the cracks of classes, in those van conversations, and philosophizing about life over coffee with friends. Those moments, too, are times that change us and that allow us to view the world differently. 

Alex: I agree with you completely. Work and life — we shouldn’t make them separate, even though it seems like we have to allocate [them that way]. That frame of mind is also what I want to bring back. What’s so unique about this program specifically is that it tells you why the academics apply to real life, why the academics ought to be brought into life — because they’re necessarily connected. 

Hayden: This semester, more than ever, the schoolwork has become something I really want to do. It makes me think about life, and how I want to live a life. I’ve engaged a lot this semester with the topic of passion. I want a life in which what I am doing is something I’m excited to do.

Want to experience Williams-Mystic’s close-knit community for yourself? We are still welcoming applications for our Spring 2020 semester. Please reach out to wmadmissions@williams.edu to express your interest, and visit https://mystic.williams.edu/admissions to start your application.

 

Homeward Bound on the Corwith Cramer

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Terrell from SUNY Maritime plotting our position on the chart.

October 1, 2019

Sailing past the Block Island wind farm at dawn

Dear Friends and Family,

We sailed offshore yesterday and all night, having spent two nights at anchor off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. From the deck, we could see the village of Menemsha, home to the Vineyard’s last fishing fleet and one of the main shooting locations for Jaws. This end of the island — the western end — is full of remarkable things, some of which we could just about make out as we sailed past: the Gay Head cliffs, for one, and next to them the first land in North America that was ever set aside for Native Americans. Some of what has made the Vineyard so remarkable is no longer there to be seen.  In the nineteenth century, the island’s rural western half was the site of an unusual genetic bottleneck. So many Vineyarders were born deaf that the island developed its own sign language, which almost all islanders could use, and deafness carried no stigma or social consequence. Islanders who had grown up on the deaf Vineyard used to tell long stories about older relatives without bothering to remark that Uncle Caleb or Cousin Ralph couldn’t hear. It didn’t seem like a marker or a shaping factor in their lives.

We’ve turned north for home, heading toward the near end of Long Island Sound in Mystic, Connecticut.  Many are beginning to look back on the field seminar and take stock.  One of us is overheard saying that the one thing he “keeps coming back to is the humming of the boat – the humming and other sounds. Especially when I’m in my bunk, and it’s dark, and the hum is the only thing that’s sensible — droning sensations coming from outside the boat.”

Asked what most stands out about the trip, one student responds: “There are the dumb things, like dolphins, which are a giddy joy.” An hour later, another student says: “For me, the unparalleled moment has been standing at the bow under the stars, across the entire sky, with the bioluminescent dolphins. That was the best thing ever.”

So about those dolphins: Even before we set sail, most of us could picture dolphins by day, arcing tightly out of the water, keeping pace with the ship, like a pack of Golden Retrievers trotting alongside their owner. It was great to see these in person, but most of us had already seen them in our mind’s eye. What most of us had not realized is that at night those same dolphins glow in the dark. As they swim, they fire the ocean’s bioluminescent plankton, which traces their bodies in fluid, flickering outline. In the dark, dolphins look like old-fashioned light-bulb coils jetting alongside the ship at five or six knots: zapping, squiggling, dimming whenever the Tesla-porpoises dive or drift across the bow, and then flaring back into green-electric profile, with jets of neon shooting from their tails, as the plankton in their wake churn into ember. Not dolphins, then, but the animated ghosts of dolphins, driven forward by rockets of light.

Just before midnight some fifty miles from shore, we lowered a net to near the bottom of the ocean and towed it for half an hour. We brought up a collection of bioluminescent organisms. In a bucket in the lab, they continued to glow when stirred.  Then we stepped out on deck and looked up. The stars and the Milky Way glowed in equal majesty.

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Tristan from the University of Vermont presenting a poster on some of the physical and chemical properties of the water at our three offshore science Super Stations.

Tomorrow, we will complete this field seminar and disembark from our ship, SSV Corwith Cramer, in New London.  As we return to our houses in Mystic, it is hard to believe we are only in the fifth week of our semester at Williams-Mystic.  We have done so much come and together as a community of shipmates and friends.  We look forward to many more adventures together!

— Williams-Mystic F’19

We will share updates straight from the Cramer as they become available. In the meantime, you can track the vessel’s progress here:

https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ships/shipid:426493/mmsi:366724450/imo:8617445/vessel:CORWITH_CRAMER

Please note that vessel tracking information is NOT updated continuously and the Cramer isn’t always able to provide updated location information. (Good reception isn’t a guarantee at sea!) If you notice that the Cramer appears to be in the same location for an extended period of time, it simply means the website has not yet been updated.

You can also look back at blog posts from previous Offshore Field Seminars here: https://williamsmystic.wordpress.com/category/field-seminars/offshore-field-seminar/.

An Open Letter to Williams-Mystic from Hayden Gillooly (S’19)

It is week two back on the Williams College campus after being at Williams-Mystic Spring 2019. I find that the ways in which Williams-Mystic changed me keep unfolding; I keep being re-reminded daily of what a special, and transformative semester I had.

This blog post is written by Hayden Gillooly, a junior majoring in Geosciences and Spanish who attended Williams-Mystic during S’19, the spring of her sophomore year. 

It is week two back on the Williams College campus after being at Williams-Mystic Spring 2019. I find that the ways in which Williams-Mystic changed me keep unfolding; I keep being re-reminded daily of what a special, and transformative semester I had. I chose to do Williams-Mystic on a sort of whim — looking for a change in learning environments — and now I cannot imagine my life having not spent a semester feeling my eyes light up like fire and flint on field seminars and in labs in the marshes of Mystic. I cannot imagine a life without my dear friends who I met through the program. 

I am sitting in my room across from a full-wall photo collage I have created, including many, many photos from the past semester. The photos were taken across the country: in Puerto Rico, California, Mystic, Louisiana; on ships and on sailboat; on the docks and in classrooms; from within vans and atop rooftops; from aboard trawling vessels and tugboats; while holding sea anemones and starfish, lobsters and sessile organisms; in cafes and restaurants celebrating birthdays. They all have one thing in common: in each and every one, I am absolutely beaming. All someone has to do is mention Williams-Mystic, and I feel a giant smile spread across my face. How could I not smile thinking about it?! Confession: I am utterly and completely obsessed with Williams-Mystic and will rant about it to anyone who expresses even a spark of interest. 

After WM, I changed my major to Geosciences with a concentration in Maritime Studies because I fell in love with hands-on outdoor learning, and with the topics in that field. Naturally, after this huge educational change, this semester feels different from past ones. This is mainly because two days a week, I spend afternoons in geosciences labs, either outdoors exploring rocks and piecing together geologic histories in Structural Geology with Professor Paul Karabinos, or in the lovely Clark Hall learning about commercial uses for rocks in Economic Geology and Earth Resources with Professor Ronadh Cox. Last Thursday, we went on a class field trip with Ronadh to D.A. Collins limestone quarry in Wilton, NY, where we spoke with geologists and directors about the precise process of quarrying the limestone and grading it into appropriate sizes. Later, we learned about the science behind making concrete, and the tests to measure strength and durability of the products. As we spoke with D.A. Collins employees about their lives and paths and passions, I was reminded of how at WM, I learned the power of people. I learned how intricate our world is: how there truly is no better textbook than the world or a storyteller in front of you. On our van ride back to campus, Ronadh treated us to ice cream, which of course reminded me of a moment on our Louisiana Field Seminar with WM: after a fun night of cajun dancing, Executive Director of Williams-Mystic, Tom Van Winkle, called our professors, asking them to please stop at Sonic for ice cream on Williams-Mystic. 

On Monday, I hiked into the woods with my classmate (yes, just one — another beauty of this field is the small community) and professor, and tried to figure out what layers of rocks and the size of their grains told us about the environment in which they were deposited. More than ever, after WM, I feel inspired to ask questions (lots of them!) of my professors and classmates, and feel like we are learning together. As we sat at Sugarloaf overlook in Vermont eating a delicious assortment of fruits and veggies with hummus and guacamole, talking about life, I reminisced about how magical it is to travel and adventure with professors: to be known and to know them beyond the classroom. 

My third class is Environmental Law — taken, of course, after Marine Policy with Professor Katy Hall at Williams-Mystic sparked my interest. I feel so engaged by the material, and with each reading, I feel myself making connections to things we learned and experienced with Williams-Mystic. In a class discussion about whose voices are heard and valued in the midst of climate change, I thought of our friends in Grande Isle, Louisiana. I thought about how crucial it is that the people most affected by climate change and sea-level rise be a part of conversations and solutions. So many phrases in readings brought back memories of Katy’s class and Friday policy snacks of blue frosting-covered brownies topped with Swedish Fish and other foodie interpretations of our readings. 

Today in Earth Resources lab, as we analyzed the properties of various minerals in class, something magical happened. When “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel came up on shuffle, my classmates and I danced and were silly; I felt myself exhale, and thought, ‘This feels right.’ All the pieces lined up, everything feels as it should be: the classes I am taking, the people I surround myself with; my excitement about the world around me.

Williams-Mystic, was, and continues to be exactly what I needed: as a person, a student, a friend and as a global citizen. I think of Williams-Mystic more often than sometimes. Of chasing sunsets against a backdrop of tall ships at Mystic Seaport before dinner. Of laughing hysterically while almost capsizing during sailing class and having brunch downtown with housemates. Of days spent counting sessile organisms for our Marine Ecology research project. Of staring up at redwoods and feeling small, yet calm. Of piles of blue duffel bags in airports and van rides through the rolling highways of California. To say that I feel myself changed by Williams-Mystic and that community is an understatement. Mystic very quickly, and probably always will, feel like a home, and my friends from S’19, a family. 

 

Reflecting and Disconnecting, Halfway through F’19’s Offshore Voyage

There is much to look at with fresh eyes: small, silvery fish pulled from a midnight Neuston tow; rocks older than the Atlantic hauled up from the deep ocean floor; dolphins weaving back and forth in front of the bow; a finback whale in the near distance.

 

September 26, 2019

Dear Friends and Family,

It’s Thursday evening, and our journey offshore is nearing its halfway point. Over the last day, we’ve passed Georges Bank, the historic cod fishing grounds east of Nantucket, and are currently sailing across the northern end of Gilbert Canyon, just east of Oceanographer Canyon, neighboring features of the North Atlantic floor that only seem to have been named for Williams-Mystic oceanographer Lisa Gilbert. (Anyone following along from home can find us by tracing a line east from Asbury Park, NJ.)

We’ve had our queasy moments. Some rough seas a few nights back sent most of us to the rail. But the sea has settled, and our bellies with it, and there is much to look at with fresh eyes: small, silvery fish pulled from a midnight Neuston tow; rocks older than the Atlantic hauled up from the deep ocean floor; dolphins weaving back and forth in front of the bow; a finback whale in the near distance. The teaching crew, meanwhile, points high to a sail and asks us to tell the luff from the leech. Then they pass around a sextant, a centuries-old navigation device that one might at first mistake for an old-timey movie camera, and coach us in celestial trigonometry.

A listener overhears students talking. One talks about how free he feels not carrying his cell phone.

“I don’t know,” he says. “I feel more connected because I’m not connected, like I’m living in the moment for the first time in years, like I can just pay attention to what I’m doing.”

Another imagines describing life on the Cramer to someone who has never been to sea. It wouldn’t be enough just to list the day’s activities, she says. They wouldn’t communicate what life offshore is like.

“What — am I going to say that I woke up in a tiny bunk and couldn’t find my socks, and then I picked tiny shrimp out of salps for six hours? That’s not it. The ship is a machine that just keeps running, and what’s interesting is how you get absorbed into it.”

Until next time,

Williams-Mystic F’19

We will share updates straight from the Cramer as they become available. In the meantime, you can track the vessel’s progress here:

https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ships/shipid:426493/mmsi:366724450/imo:8617445/vessel:CORWITH_CRAMER

Please note that vessel tracking information is NOT updated continuously and the Cramer isn’t always able to provide updated location information. (Good reception isn’t a guarantee at sea!) If you notice that the Cramer appears to be in the same location for an extended period of time, it simply means the website has not yet been updated.

You can also look back at blog posts from previous Offshore Field Seminars here: https://williamsmystic.wordpress.com/category/field-seminars/offshore-field-seminar/.

Underway on the Corwith Cramer

The first days at sea are a matter of learning everything at once. But we are also re-learning things we thought we already knew.

September 24, 2019

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Dear friends and family,

It’s Tuesday evening, and we’ve been underway for almost twenty-four hours aboard the Sailing School Vessel Corwith Cramer. We’re deep in the Gulf of Maine, well out of sight of land, east of Skate Bank and Newfound Ground. By afternoon, we had already reached the edge of US territorial waters and were gybing (turning around) to keep from sailing into Canada, whose waters we’re allowed to enter only if we turn off all of our research equipment.

We’re a big group: eighteen Williams-Mystic students; three faculty; and, offshore for the first time, Williams-Mystic director Tom Van Winkle, who is sailing as “Chief Morale Officer”; plus a professional teaching crew made up of a captain, three mates, four ship scientists, two stewards, and an engineer.  We left Mystic Sunday morning and took a bus to Rockland, Maine, where we boarded Corwith Cramer and immediately began orientation.

The first days at sea are a matter of learning everything at once. Most of us are learning new things: how to set and strike sails; how to tie bowlines and slippery reef knots; how to deploy nets and buckets over the side of the ship; how to read charts and compasses and how to tell the strength of the wind just by looking at the surface of the water; why the lobster fishery off the coast of Maine is healthier than the one in Long Island Sound; why Herman Melville thought the ocean was the right place to commune with the universe.

But we are also re-learning things we thought we already knew. We are learning to walk again (how to move low and alert in sympathy with a rolling ship). We are learning again to sit at a table (how not to capsize the salon’s loose and swinging tabletops, which are engineered to stay level even when the ship is not). We are learning to speak a new and alien English, how to say the special names that common objects carry at sea. One student looks over at another and whispers ” ‘Sole?’ That means ‘floor,’ right?”

Tomorrow we are due to conduct our first scientific superstation. The weather service just informed us that the wind overnight will be blowing from the north, which is good news for a ship that will soon be pointed south.

— Williams-Mystic F’19

We will share updates straight from the Cramer as they become available. In the meantime, you can track the vessel’s progress here:

https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ships/shipid:426493/mmsi:366724450/imo:8617445/vessel:CORWITH_CRAMER

Please note that vessel tracking information is NOT updated continuously and the Cramer isn’t always able to provide updated location information. (Good reception isn’t a guarantee at sea!) If you notice that the Cramer appears to be in the same location for an extended period of time, it simply means the website has not yet been updated.

You can also look back at blog posts from previous Offshore Field Seminars here: https://williamsmystic.wordpress.com/category/field-seminars/offshore-field-seminar/.

 

Williams-Mystic F’19 Embarks on Offshore Voyage

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After spending two weeks exploring Mystic and nine days exploring Alaska on our inaugural Alaska-Washington Field Seminar, the Class of Fall 2019 has embarked on their next adventure: our ten-day Offshore Field Seminar!

Held aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer in collaboration with the Sea Education Association, Williams-Mystic’s Fall 2019 Offshore Field Seminar began Sunday in Rockland, Maine. Students and faculty will spend time getting oriented under the guidance of professional crew before heading out to sea. There, they will learn how to sail a tall ship, conduct shipboard science, and explore the Gulf of Maine, spending days at a time out of sight of land. The voyage will conclude close to home; at the end of F’19’s ten-day journey on Wednesday, October 2, the Cramer will arrive in New London, Connecticut, just ten miles away from Mystic.

The Class of Fall 2019 comprises eighteen students. Together, they represent thirteen different home colleges and universities from across the US. Their majors are just as varied, spanning not just marine biology and history but also film, political science, economics, and psychology.

For the offshore voyage, students are joined by Executive Director Tom Van Winkle along with three of their five faculty members: Assistant Professor Tim Pusack, who teaches Marine Ecology; Associate Professor of Geosciences Lisa Gilbert, who teaches Oceanographic Processes; and Professor of English Christian Thorne, who teaches Literature of the Sea.

Throughout the journey, F’19 will learn what it means to live at sea, sharing experiences with seafarers throughout history and literature. They’ll also learn what it’s like to gather scientific data from the side of a ship, and get experience analyzing this often-messy information in real time.

Most of all, every participant on the voyage will become an integral part of the ship’s crew. The nature of tall-ship sailing is that every person on board must take their share of responsibility for helping the ship get to its destination — whether that means cleaning the galley (i.e., kitchen) or standing watch at the bow at two in the morning. Under the guidance of professional crew and working together as part of six-person “watch groups,” F’19 will learn to do just that.

We will share updates straight from the Cramer as they become available. In the meantime, you can track the vessel’s progress here:

https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ships/shipid:426493/mmsi:366724450/imo:8617445/vessel:CORWITH_CRAMER

Please note that vessel tracking information is NOT updated continuously and the Cramer isn’t always able to provide updated location information. (Good reception isn’t a guarantee at sea!) If you notice that the Cramer appears to be in the same location for an extended period of time, it simply means the website has not yet been updated.

You can also look back at blog posts from previous Offshore Field Seminars here: https://williamsmystic.wordpress.com/category/field-seminars/offshore-field-seminar/.