Thar She Blogs! Whaling Week at Williams-Mystic


For those of you at home still curious about the outcome of our Moot Court, the judges decided in favor of the town (arguing against private landowners for greater legal recognition of public rights to access the intertidal zone). However, it was always less a matter of competition than of making sure we all had our arguments prepared and got out of there alive—which we did. In fact, everyone did well and we were feeling pretty good afterward. Katy was great in putting everything together and helping us through it, and I think we felt we’d lived up to her hopes.

We were also flattered by the company of the two judges: Derek Langhauser is a Williams-Mystic alum who has been counsel to a U.S. senator, the Governor of Maine, and the Maine Community College System, and co-founded Williams-Mystic’s Moot Court with Katy. Our second judge was Susan Carney, who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Both of them were very gracious and encouraging toward us, both during the session and afterwards.

Last week was Whaling Week, coinciding with our reading of Moby-Dick. We learned about whales and whaling in various ways throughout the week, concluding with the whaling seminar on Friday, in which Jim, Lisa, Glenn, Rich, and Katy all presented (Rich even arrived decked out rather flatteringly as the White Whale himself). We covered whaling historically, as well as current policy issues concerning the ongoing whaling practices of countries such as Japan and Iceland.

One of the highlights of the week was an evening at the Spouter Tavern with Don Sineti, who teaches the Chanteys class and is something of a whale expert. In fact, as we learned, Don and some of his colleagues were partly responsible for the sperm whale becoming Connecticut’s state animal. Only a couple of weeks before meeting with us he had attended the annual Whalefest in Sitka, Alaska.

Don sang for us several classic sea chanteys that whalemen might have sung, accompanying himself in most cases on the banjo. Between these foot-stompers he spoke to us about different types of whales and passed around several artifacts including a whale vertebra, some examples of scrimshaw, and a container (provided by Jim Carlton) of real whale oil. Had a curious smell, not quite what I’d expect.

Several of us have been taking advantage of our nocturnal Seaport privileges to read Moby-Dick on board the Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whaling ship in the world, which is currently nearing the end of its refurbishment and is preparing for a voyage in the spring. It’s a unique feeling to read Melville’s words while lounging below decks on an actual whaling vessel, especially at night with only your fellow readers around you—the creaking of footsteps above as someone comes to join makes you try to imagine that the creaking is of someone else a long time ago, but then it’s really impossible to get your head around all the souls that may have passed along those planks (or planks similar to them, since the boat has been rebuilt in various sections several times).

We are now embedded in the dreaded Week 13; lore has been related to us, but we’ll have to find out for ourselves. This is the week in which drafts of final papers must be made real…

– Bennett


Back On the Ranch

View of the Mystic River, taken from the historic downtown drawbridge.
View of the Mystic River, taken from the historic downtown drawbridge.

A couple of weeks have passed since our grand Hawaiian expedition came to a close, and it seems that the adventures from now on will be purely intellectual.  In other words, the days of stress have arrived.

After such a packed schedule on our trip, we had a long weekend and some days of respite that were well appreciated.  Just a week later came Family Weekend, where we students got the chance to show our folks around and gain a new appreciation of Mystic through our visitors’ eyes (and maybe get a free dinner or two).

But for the most part, it’s been back to business.  Now that our field seminars are finished, final projects are becoming reality.  One of the first things to attend to as we shifted back into gear was the Marine Policy research paper.  The first step was a proposal submission, which we completed before heading to Hawai’i; the next step has been to contact people who are involved or know about our subjects.  We have a pretty wide array of topics, with coastal land rights, invasive species, and protection of endangered species among the issues being explored.

Policy has been on our minds even more this week, because it’s Moot Court week.  Every semester, students receive a briefing on an actual case and are assigned to one side or the other for a simulation of Appellate Court procedure.  This year’s case is between private landowners in Maine and the town of Wells.  In most states, private beach property does not reach below the high water mark, but in Massachusetts and Maine, it extends to the low water mark.  The town of Wells in this case argues for the public right to recreate in this intertidal zone, whereas the landowners consider the allowance of such recreation a taking of their property.  It’s been a somewhat rigorous week of preparation.  In addition to readings, we’ve had evening meetings to work on our arguments, guided by Katy and fellow Rhode Island lawyer Brian Wagner.  The court meets Friday morning—I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Unfortunately we haven’t had any more lab field trips for Oceanography and Marine Ecology.  That time instead is now reserved for independent research, to be used in our final projects for those classes.  Oh, the samples to be taken.  And we can’t forget the other two final projects: History and Literature.  We’ve just selected topics for our final history papers, which will draw from primary sources in the Mystic Seaport archives.  For Literature we’ll each choose a book to read and compare with the material we’ve covered together in class.  But that will have to wait just a little longer, because our reading assignment this weekend is none other than that spectacular tome of cetological brilliance, Moby-Dick.  Buckle up, baby.