“Sight of Sand and Sea and Sky” — Pacific Northwest Field Seminar, Part I

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A bird’s-eye view of the Port of Seattle, taken from atop the Space Needle.

Perhaps only Ursula K. LeGuin, the current author of examination in our literature class, can define my emotions upon reflecting on our experiences in the Pacific Northwest: “I felt truly awed by the presence of majesty” (Searoad, 179). This majesty could be found everywhere, from the physical vastness of the land and sculpted sand dunes to the thick vibrant trees of pine and waves carrying masses of water to crash again and again against the dark faces of unyielding rock cliffs.

Characterized by space and wilderness, I’ve never been in a place so self-conscious. The mountains are as aware of their steady hold in the landscape as the inhabitants are of the delicate state of their salmon populations. How refreshing to see this harmony, where man is not apart but a part of nature. This sense of insignificance unified our group of seventeen as we traveled from Seattle to Coos Bay in Oregon in what my classmate Hannah so aptly dubbed the “Sampler Seminar”.

I have yet to absorb all of the lessons from this trip that I’m sure will hit me at some unforeseen point in the future. As I sit here, though, I think back on the memories that have impressed themselves the most in my mind. Our flight to the Pacific coast seems so long ago. From a 3:45 am departure, we flew for six hours and then plopped ourselves in the four minivans that would be subject to all sorts of physical abuse during the rest of our road trip. We took off straight for the Space Needle and ascended to catch our first glimpse of Seattle.

Amidst the cloudy skies that became a permanent part of the landscape throughout the rest of our exploration, we looked out upon skyscrapers that loomed below us. The mountains were barely discernable through the fog on the horizon, and Puget Sound was covered in sailboats and ferries in spite of the forty-degree chill.

After our descent, we were greeted by a professor from a local college who gave us a brief overview of the geological forces that shape the landscape in the Pacific Northwest. She was the first among many knowledgeable and influential people that we met along this coastline, as alums, friends of the program, and old faces anticipating our visit surfaced at every stop.

The rest of our time in Seattle was a whirlwind: we met with environmental planners from the Port of Seattle and learned about restoration of the industrialized marshland, took our own personal tour of Puget Sound from the water on a Crowley tugboat, shrieked with delight to see the iced fish flying around Pike’s Place every time a brave soul placed an order, and carefully designed a Williams-Mystic logo with our own tropically-flavored Bubble-Yum on a wall already decorated with layers upon layers of gum. After only two days of whetting our appetites to Seattle’s unique culture, we were whisked down the coast, the tall buildings transforming to conifers through the van windows almost immediately outside the city lines.

Fair Winds,

Alex

Check back soon for Part II of Spring ’14 blogger Alex M’s reflection on the Pacific Northwest field seminar!

Author: williamsmystic

A one semester interdisciplinary ocean and coastal studies program integrating marine science, maritime history, environmental policy, and literature of the sea.

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