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.