Mississippi River Delta Field Seminar: A Muddy Account of Bayous, Beignets, and Beaches.

ImageI write now the final report of our travels as Williams-Mystic S’13 students. The time has flown by at an unimaginable speed, and our final journey has brought us closer than ever. We are also even more grateful for the experiences that Williams-Mystic provides: we have been back from Louisiana for about a week now, and the time to cease conversations about the experiences we shared there is nowhere in sight. Our class still shares laughs over the looks on our professor’s faces as they held snakes and baby alligators at Zam’s in Kraemer on the Bayou Boeuf, wax nostalgic over pictures from our Cajun Dancing excursion, and speak passionately about the ethical and political issues we encountered during our time on Grand Isle on the Gulf of Mexico.

After a long first day of travel, we made our way to our hosts for the remainder of the trip, the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON), for dinner and to settle into our dorm-style rooms in Cocodrie, which is approximately 85 miles southwest of New Orleans. LUMCON provided us with a home base as well as our first introduction to real Louisiana style home cooking—biscuits and grits were staples during mealtime, as well as some very charismatic crawfish for dinner and fresh fish caught by our classmate Morgan!

LUMCON is situated directly on a marsh, which is perfect for studying the “lobes of Louisiana,” or the areas most directly affected by the shaping of the Mississippi Delta rivers, channels, plains and marshes. To better understand this dynamic landmass, Sam Bently, a Williams-Mystic graduate and professor at LSU, led us through the sampling of a vertical core of the marsh sediment using a vibracore, which gathered sediment samples from 3 to 5 meters below surface.

Our next excursion was to Grand Isle, with a stop at Port Fourchon, which supports half of the drilling activity in the Gulf and 75% of all deep water production on over 1,2000 developed acres of land. Our brief stop here was highlighted by a quick lecture by Katy Hall on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 and its impact on Port Fourchon and surrounding areas. We quickly piled back into the vans and arrived at Grand Isle, where Mr. Chris Hernandez, a Grand Isle town official, gave us a guided tour of the area with a stop at his home to meet his family. The day was capped by lectures on local author Kate Chopin, a literature lab at Grand Isle State Park, a quick dip in the Gulf, and free time on the beach.

Our final day brought us to New Orleans, where we had free time to explore the French Quarter after being shown the historic and state-wide landmarks on a walking tour by our history professor. Fresh beignets (an incredible powdered donut and New Orleans specialty) were enjoyed, pictures were taken, and we even had a ride on the Mississippi River on an old-fashioned steam sternwheeler, the Natchez!

After an action-packed trip, a nice long weekend helped us recover some much-needed sleep and classes began as usual Monday morning. Although the travel has ended, the days are longer and adventure waits at every corner here at Mystic Seaport.

Fair Winds,

Leah

Headed Out West: S’13 and the Pacific Northwest Field Seminar

Image

Time between trips here at Mystic seems short, maybe because of all of the exciting activities and classes our days are filled with, and maybe because time between trips is, in fact, short! A few quick weeks after finally touching land after our 10 days aboard the Cramer, we were off again—this time to absorb the beauty of another coast altogether in the Pacific Northwest.

Our Pacific Coast Field Seminar began on Saturday, March 2nd in Seattle’s SEATAC Airport, where we began the first of our many hours in the five rental vans that became our pseudo homes for the duration of the trip. We loaded our bags into the trunks, buckled up and began our trip down the West Coast. We headed first for the heart of Seattle, where we ascended the Space Needle for a birds-eye view of the unique and vibrant skyline, the port of Elliott Bay, and the Seattle-Tacoma shipping ports. Our stay in Seattle was focused on containerization and the evolution of the cargo shipping industry, illustrated quite vividly for us by a trip on a Crowley Marine tugboat.

Before leaving Seattle, we poked around Pike Place Market, visited the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park Visitor Center, and saw the largest commercial fishing port in the country, known as Fisherman’s Terminal. After spending our final night in the historic College Inn, the only remaining building from the Alaksa-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, we left for Oregon, stopping at Powell’s Books (the largest new and used bookstore in the world!) and Multnomah Falls for a quick hike.

The next few days felt like a blur, arriving in Astoria, OR where we got to spend the night at the Columbia River Maritime Museum and stroll along Cannon Beach. Our days were filled with observing tidal creatures along Haystack Rock, one of the most photographed views of the Oregon coast, bonding with sea lions in the largest sea cave in the world, and tumbling down the largest dunes any of us had ever seen on the Oregon Dunes National Seashore.

We finished up our trip with even more adventure, clambering around marshland and estuaries at the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve and interacting closely with marine biota in Cape Arago tide pools.

With all of the incredible sight-seeing and touring we did in these eight short days, it seems we would’ve come back home with nothing but memories of the beautiful sights we saw and the incredible history and biology we learned. Instead, we stepped off the plane laughing about the times we shared with professors in vans, the incredible food we ate, and the extraordinary people we met along the way.

Time and time again, Williams-Mystic proves that there is room in a day for more than any of us ever thought possible, and still somehow leaves us wanting more. Lucky for us, our next trip is right around the corner: Louisiana is a few short days away, and none of us can wait to see what adventures are in store!

Fair winds,

Leah