Leave the Umbrellas at Home!

Pacific Northwest Field Seminar Report PART ONE

During field seminars, we are constantly in motion. Every minute is scheduled so we can embrace fully all that each place has to offer, thus this post seeks only to provide a slice, a glimpse of the adventure. A detailed account would surely stretch on beyond comfortably reading length…

Shortly after landing in Washington State, we mobilized “to the vans!” (a phrase that became our battle cry) and made our way into the city. We wasted no time, immediately ascending the Space Needle. From 605 feet up, we had a birdeye’s view of Seattle, our home for the next two days. After a few minutes of awe, we were down the needle for a presentation from our guest lecturer about the geologic identity of the region and some of the threats (volcanoes, earthquakes, the usual) facing a city built on the geologically active Pacific Rim. Only once we had been assured of the low risk of one of the catastrophic events striking during our visit, we set out to explore the city. Professor Mike Nishisaki led many of us on a pilgrimage to visit the blooming cherry blossoms on the University of Washington campus. After gawking for a while, we finally dispersed in search of dinner.

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Albion House (Sophie, Amelia, Amanda & Lizzie) thinks the Space Needle is out of this world!
Sarah (Middlebury ’17) and Erica (Williams ’18) had a cherry nice visit to the UW campus.


We had been warned that our umbrellas would mark us as tourists…and soon learned why. While the first hours in Seattle had greeted us with sun, we shortly became acquainted with the rain for which the area is famous. It’s not the vertical plump drops of the East Coast, but rather a wetness in the air. Thus we kept raingear or “foulies” close at hand during our visit!

All days on field seminars start early…there is so much to do! The first day, however, we were granted the privilege of sleeping in until 7:30. While some hearty souls rose earlier and went on dawn runs through the city or combed the streets in search of quality coffee (very difficult to find from what I hear), others of us treasured the sleep. After breakfast at our home of the College Inn we once again charged “to the vans” and reconvened at the Port of Seattle to hear a presentation about environmental initiatives and restoration projects nears the port, which has been subject to decades of development and industrial pollutants.

From there, we joined the Crowley team for a ride aboard a tugboat! The whole Crowley staff were incredibly friendly and fielded our many questions. Since we had already enjoyed an aerial view of Seattle, it was a treat to add another perspective of the skyline from the water. From the bow we could also watch the industrial cranes move containers in the artful cargo ship choreography. One of the many things that makes the Williams-Mystic program so special is that it discusses the practical application of maritime issues. We all come with an academic background, but to see and understand the shipping structures that supply us with the goods and commodities we use everyday is an important practical complement to our education.


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S’ 16 aboard the Crowley Tugboat. It was difficult to tug us away from exploring deck and engine room for a photo!
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Virginia (Connecticut College ’17) presents…Seattle!

Having built up an appetite, we eagerly descended on Pike Place Market to graze the delicious options. For those unfamiliar with Pike Place Market, it is a vibrant center brimming with flowers, seafood, fresh produce, baked goods, and crafts, and, bustling with tourists and locals alike. After lunch (and taking full advantage of the free samples), we left the market and a made a stop at the infamous gum wall, which has re-accumulated an impressive amount of gum after being scrubbed clean just this past fall.

Then Seattle became our classroom for our walking tour, which involved many lectures about the historical, geological and political dimensions of the city. The mini on-site lecture is foundational to the field seminar: place-based learning at its finest! Many us of carried around journals poised to jot down notes. 

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Seattle as our classroom!

One of the highlights for students and faculty alike is the alumni mini-reunion dinner, which was held at the Center for Wooden Boats. We enjoyed learning about the varied post-Williams-Mystic trajectories. Among the Seattle alums in attendance: there was a Surgeon with the United States Army, a NOAA specialist, and two PhD students at the University of Washington. I know many of us in Spring ‘16 look forward to becoming part of the Williams-Mystic network and one day holding conversations with current students…

center for wooden boats
Not sure, but I assume we all were just excited by the prospect of talking to future Williams-Mystic students after the reunion!

The next morning held a fascinating visit to Fisherman’s Terminal to learn about the rich history of this dock that hosts some 600 vessels, of varying sizes and designs. We then enjoyed some quality bonding time in the vans as we made our way to Oregon. Our evening excursion was to Powell’s Books in Portland. So, I will be frank here, I had heard the hype about this being the crème de la crème of bookstores, but will admit that I was a little skeptical…After picking up a store map(!!) at the front desk, it became clear that the rumors were true. Some students made a beeline for a section while others meandered through the rooms and stacks. No matter what the strategy, soon everyone had a few books in their arms. For a while, the ocean and nature writing sections were a bit crowded with Williams-Mystic students. Whether we tracked down a book that had been eluding us for a while or stumbled across a hidden gem, most found some fantastic selections. Sarah (Middlebury ’17) is excited to have found some promising texts for her thesis on fishermen’s wives. Some of us were forced to return some of our selections to the shelves because buying the books also meant fitting them into our duffle bags…


*Please check back in a few days for Part Two: more about the Oregon leg of our Pacific Northwest Adventure, or “Moregon” for short.

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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