Hanging out with Herman Melville

Yes, Moby-Dick is a little bit daunting. With an impressive page count and the label of the “best American novel,” the book is a bit challenging to approach. To handle this challenge, F12 decided to unite and go it together—there is power in numbers.

One of my greatest personal victories this semester has been how much I have genuinely loved reading this massive tome. For the past month, a group of F12s has met nearly every day to read chapters of Melville aloud. There is something magical about reading aloud: the characters feel more real to me when my classmate James takes on the role of raving Ahab, or when we can laugh out loud at Ishmael’s subtle (and sometime not-so-subtle) humor.

ImageNot only do Melville’s vibrant characters come alive when their voices and thoughts are read aloud, but we also gain a better understanding of the book’s meanings. Melville loves a good, obscure allusion, and together our cumulative background knowledge far surpasses what we could understand individually. Michael can jump in and explain a bible allusion, Bea picks up on bookmaking references, and I can pick apart a Latin phrase.

We’ve read our Melville during Hurricane Sandy, on the Louisiana field seminar, in multiple airports, with tea and gingerbread in our student homes, and aboard ships in Mystic Seaport. We read the final chapters aboard the Seaport’s own whaling ship — the Charles W. Morgan.

But Moby hasn’t been the only whale hanging around Williams-Mystic lately: just before Thanksgiving was Whaling Week at Williams-Mystic! Chanteyman and whale expert Don Sineti treated us to an evening of songs and whale artifact show-and-tell, then on Friday morning we had a seminar featuring all of our professors.

This week we look forward to finishing up our science projects and presenting our findings, not to mention frolics in possible snowfalls!

Fair Winds,


Louisiana: Adventures with Alligators

While many of the adventures F12 has been on so far this semester have focused on the importance of place, the Louisiana field seminar focused largely on people. Our four days in the Mississippi River Delta region were so packed full with visits and activities that it was hard to find time to reflect until we arrived back in Mystic. After having had a few days to look back on our travels, I am more and more amazed by the surviving spirits and kindness of the friends we made.
Our trip began with a stop by the Mississippi River and lunch on a levee. After seeing the river and hearing from our professors, we went straight to the bayou. (Bayou is a term meaning marshy outlet used in the South). We were treated to a bayou tour given by Zam’s Swamp Tours. We all enjoyed learning from Mr. Derek and were interested to hear, among other things, the list of animals Cajuns are known to catch and eat. Our hosts even let us hold baby alligators and a very large snake! These scaly natives were mostly friendly and surprisingly cuddly—given that they’re reptiles.

After leaving Zam’s, we drove to our home for the trip—LUMCON (Louisiana University Marine Consortium). For the next three days, our travels always brought us back to LUMCON, where we were well taken care of by the kind kitchen and security staff. Throughout our trip we also met many Williams-Mystic alums who live nearby. Learning their perspectives on the local area and hearing stories from their WM semesters was delightful.

Out of LUMCON, we kayaked and took a core of the Earth, had a Cajun dance, and visited Grand Isle. On Grand Isle, we learned about the literature of Kate Chopin where she wrote The Awakening, the science of levees, the policy of hurricane relief, and the history of the island. Most importantly, however, we learned the stories of those residents who survived Hurricane Katrina, the BP oil spill of 2010, and more. Their stories of the polluted gulf after the oil spill were especially poignant when we had free time to swim or wander along the now mostly clean beach. This trip to Louisiana inspired me to cherish the Gulf shore as more than just a site for great lectures on literature, science, policy, and history. The shore is a vital resource and a sine qua non of the culture in Louisiana.

As we settle back into our routines in Mystic, I know many of us are still thinking of our friends in the Gulf, missing the warm weather (sigh), and savoring our many new flavors of New Orleans-supplied hot sauces. As we gear up for policy and history research papers, we look forward to a Williams-Mystic Thanksgiving potluck this Sunday.

Fair Winds,

Hurricane Sandy Comes to Mystic

Greetings from a storm-weathered Williams-Mystic!

As a Program, we were very grateful to be safe during the storm and protected by our hurricane-certified Marine Science Center. Sunday afternoon, our class volunteered at the Seaport by helping to move a fleet of small boats, wooden benches, and other items to higher ground. The next afternoon, we departed the Williams-Mystic houses and moved with bedding and food into the roomy and generator-equipped Science Center. At the height of the winds, we could barely hear a thing! My classmates kept spirits high during the storm by playing games, doing dramatic readings of Moby Dick, and venturing out to see the high tide that crept several hundred feet away from the estuary.

Volunteering during Hurricane Prep At the Seaport

Thankfully, we missed only one day of class and were out of power for three days. We suspect Hurricane Sandy might have known that this past week was Storms Week at Williams-Mystic: in Literature we read Joseph Conrad’s Typhoon, learned about the science behind hurricanes in Oceanography, and had a taste of the complexity surrounding flood insurance policies in Marine Policy class.

Our thoughts are extended to those still recovering from flooding and power outages. Best of luck rebuilding, reconnecting, and recovering.

Fair Winds,


West Coast Field Seminar (or, Running Around on Beaches Collecting Interesting Objects)

At 0315 in the morning on October 13th, we F12s piled into a bus in Mystic and began the first leg of what would be 10 full days of whirlwind travel. I feel so lucky to have been able to go on the West Coast Field Seminar with Williams-Mystic; traveling with 18 students and 7 faculty and staff made this trip one of the best weeks of my semester so far.

Our trip was truly a whirlwind of planned and spur-of-the-moment adventures: we began by exploring Monterey, then continued to Santa Cruz, San Francisco, and finally Bodega Bay. It is impossible to relate all of our experiences here—every day was completely filled, from the time we woke up to when we went to bed at night. Three parts of our West Coast Field Seminar were most distinctively Williams-Mystic and wonderful: our freedom to explore new places with unbridled enthusiasm, spending time with our professors and classmates while road-tripping, and learning from the people we met along the road.


We were given the opportunity to explore many different places on our trip, amongst them beaches, redwood forests, the Monterey Aquarium, and a tugboat in the Port of Oakland. Not only did we walk around in the settings we read about in our classes, but we also touched, smelled, and listened to our surroundings. Holding a hunk of Bull Kelp, climbing inside the bridges of Natural Bridges State Park, and hugging a redwood tree are experiences so different from just seeing pictures or reading about these places. It was such an incredible resource to have our faculty and staff along on our adventures, providing helpful tidbits about different invasive species, birds, or boat constructions wherever we ended up.

I have never before gone on a road trip or eaten so many breakfasts with my professors. Sharing music and conversation in vans—not to mention ice-cream eating contests or kayaking adventures—helped me learn more about my teachers and classmates than I could ever know just from interactions in a classroom. I love knowing that I have watched otters, shopped for 7 for $1 avocadoes, and explored the wharf at San Francisco with the professors teaching my courses.

Everywhere we traveled, from the Monterey Aquarium to a whale watch to the Bodega Bay Marine Lab, we had conversations with people who truly understood these places. Learning from a tugboat captain or a local biologist gave a personal flavor to all the places we visited. Even reading from Cannery Row while actually on Cannery Row felt like a conversation with John Steinbeck.

During our flight back to the East Coast, many of my classmates wrote in their journals about our trip. It hardly seems possible that we fit as many adventures in 10 days as we did. I can look at pictures from the field seminar, hold the sand dollar and sponge-eaten clam shell I collected, and reread my journal entries, but I don’t need those aids to remember the wonder I felt exploring a new coast with my shipmates.

Fair Winds,