The Many Purposes of Snack

Here at Williams-Mystic, we know that snacking is not merely about physical nourishment. It’s about climbing out of the van, pausing to look at the view, and taking a moment to enjoy the people surrounding you. 

by Amy Shmania, F09

Forget your third grade “I brought my milk money” snack. Forget your grandma’s special cookies. At Williams-Mystic, we snack at a collegiate level, Division I.  We haven’t gone professional — life is too good around here to up and leave due to pure snacking talent.  But the Williams-Mystic motto isn’t “killing time between snacks” because we sit around all day waiting to get hungry. No, here at Williams-Mystic we both work up an appetite and recognize the value of snack: its numerous applications, its many qualities, and even its relevance.

Take, for example, Marine Policy class.  The most important message on the first page of my notes appears to be “SNACK” (capitalized, bold face, enclosed in a box).  That is not to say that there is a dearth of important information on that page. My notes include our professor’s phone number, several diagrams, and the words “We value what we understand, we protect what we value.”  But right there, beneath “Intro to Marine Policy,” “SNACK” is what draws the eye.

Policy snack has a purpose besides deliciousness.  During whaling week, that snack had better look like a whale or a harpoon or at least a nice little krill.  Don’t bring in some all-purpose cookies and expect to be lauded for your baking talent—oh no, if there is no fish or wave or sand, you might as well leave your snack at home.  The purpose of Policy snack: to break up class, making us believe that our three-hour class is really only an hour and a half…twice in a row.  The purpose of Policy snack: to convince us that we are actually taking a 3-D art class.  The purpose of Policy snack: to relate the week’s topic to something we can all understand … food.

Policy Snack

The policy syllabus is not the only one to contain the word “snack.”  The California field seminar’s thirty-page schedule has many a “snack” printed between the destinations.  On board the Corwith Cramer, midwatch meant chocolate cookies for a sugar high at two o’clock in the morning, and never a mid-morning passed without a slice of warm banana bread or fresh fruit.  Marine Ecology or Oceanography lab?  There will be chocolate in sight as you return from the salt marsh.  Late night Moot Court prep session?  We will break for snack served on animal-shaped plates.  Food is good, of course, but timing is everything.  Snack can’t live up to its full potential if delivered too soon, too late, or not at all.  Luckily, the faculty and staff of Williams-Mystic have impeccable timing.

As we all know, accidents happen.  Pirates lose their hands doing pirate things, waves come and pour over the top of rain boots, and nametags get dropped into the Mystic River.  The real test of character is how these accidents are dealt with.  In the same way that pirates adapt to life with hooks, squelchy rain boots become new musical instruments, and nametags are conveniently never needed again, when presented with lemons, Williams-Mystic makes snack. With the number of vans we have and the amount of driving we do on field seminars, it is a wonder we don’t have a collision nearly every day when we are off adventuring.  Really, we are quite adept at avoiding the many possible collisions that could occur.  However, when accidents do happen, we know what to do.

After a giant truck side-swiped Jim’s van as it tried to exit Port Fourchon in Louisiana (don’t worry-everyone was fine!), our caravan pulled into a parking lot and students and staff poured out of the vans.  “It might as well be snack time,” a staff member declared, opening the trunk of her van.  As we sat on the grass or stood in the parking lot watching the police officer take licenses, ask questions, and generally detain us, satsumas, biscuits, Craisins, and candy became our occupation.  Craig pulled out his fiddle, struck up a tune, and we danced between the cars. Were we antsy to get back on the road or annoyed at the holdup?  No.  What could be better than a freshly peeled satsuma and a jig on a sunny Louisiana afternoon?

Snack Jig

Here at Williams-Mystic, we know that snacking is not merely about physical nourishment.  It is about focus, creativity, people management, problem solving, commitment, and timing.  And, more importantly, it is about climbing out of the van, pausing to look at the view, and taking a moment to enjoy the people surrounding you.  When I look at the clock in the office that, rather than displaying numbers, says “Williams-Mystic, Time for More Snack,” I see it for what it is: a trophy from the highest league, a symbol of our snacking excellence.


By Amy Shmania, F09

Walking across the green, I can smell the shipsmithing shop. Its thick and gritty odor oozes out the doors, up the chimneys, and through the skylights, sending tentacles down the sandy streets, around the shops and houses, past the horse and carriage, and into my nostrils. Inside the shop, coal is burning on the forges—deep down a bright white-yellow, fading up through orangey-red to black.

When you walk into the shop, you might expect it to be dark and grimy, the air thick with smoke, but the dirt floor is neatly swept and the smoke goes up the chimneys quite happily. The sunlight pouring through the windows illuminates piles of scrap metal, unfinished hooks and rings, buckets of hammers, a wall of metal rods. Bill, our instructor, is always pulling out new things from the piles of metal: buckets of possible projects, wrenches, unfinished hooks to be cut off and started again, a box of letters to punch into finished work. The more time I spend in the shop, the less random the buckets, stacks, and oddly assorted piles seem to me. The hammers, files, drill bits, and finishing wax all have their places in the chaos of metal.

Start with a piece of iron, not too thick. Heat it in the fire, taper the end into a point. Heat it again, and curl the tip back before bending the metal into a hook around the horn of the anvil. Heat. Cut the metal to size. Heat. Flatten the top with several hits of the hammer. Cool, drill a hole, adjust. When Bill makes a hook out of iron, it is just that simple. He holds his hammer with ease, swinging it up and down to use the least amount of muscle and the most force. The metal stays bright with heat, and it rounds or flattens or squares just right under the touch of his hammer.

Miranda, Lucy, and I do our best. The staff members in the shop like to tell visitors that working with hot iron is like molding clay. I have my doubts. Sometimes the metal gets too hot in the forge and the tip melts or a thin leaf gets holes burned in it. Some days, no matter how hot the piece you are working on looks, by the time you’ve fished it out of the coals, gotten a good hold on it, and brought it to the anvil, it has lost its colorful heat. Despite these minor frustrations and my doubts on the clay-like qualities of hot iron, the shipsmithing shop is my favorite place in the Seaport. Inside, Bill makes his famous hot chocolate (Swiss Miss plus Ghirardelli, and are ten mini marshmallows enough?), the coals send off a cozy heat, the four of us work in rhythm—metal in the fire, metal out, stop to chat, to watch, to admire—visitors come and go, the sound of pounding iron fills my head, and the metal below my hammer behaves better every day.