A Semester in Photos, Part V: Mystic

I found my passion for my work at Williams-Mystic, but I also found a new passion for life – and I made some lifelong connections. An experience like Williams-Mystic changes a person, whether through the incredible experiences on field seminars or the meaningful moments at home. I know that I will never forget my time with these amazing people.

This photo essay is by Fall 2019 student Johann Heupel. Johann is a Marine Science and Maritime Studies student at the University of Connecticut at Avery Point and a long-time aficionado of the history of our relationship to the sea. Having grown up in Mystic Connecticut, Johann’s future interests lie somewhere in educating a new generation about the wonders of the sea and our fascination with it, sharing maritime culture through art, science, song, and story.

This post is part of a series of photo essays depicting the Fall 2019 semester. For the complete series, click here

image shows a Williams-Mystic student grinning as he hurls a snowball in front of Albion House

(Above) Zach Arfa of F’19 engages in a snowball fight outside of Albion House.

We had explored the wonders of Alaska together, beheld the marvels of the Gulf of Maine and trekked across the changing coasts of Louisiana as a class. Yet our unity as a class came from time spent in our collective home: Mystic, Connecticut. After the incredible experiences we had shared, our time at the Mystic Seaport could seem tame in comparison. Yet it was those moments that truly allowed us to bond.

I was the only local kid amongst the group. I grew up in Mystic for 12 years of my early life. Though my family and I had wonderful memories of the area, it took an entirely new and excited group of outsiders to remind me why I loved Mystic so much. There is a unique blend of maritime culture and society, real-time activism and marine science that coincides with the quintessential small New England town.

image shows the Charles W. Morgan, a large nineteenth-century whaling ship at the Mystic Seaport Museum, on a snowy day, with wreaths festooning decorative anchors place along the shore

(Above) The Charles W. Morgan on a snowy day at the Mystic Seaport Museum, part of Williams-Mystic’s campus.

Across the street from the largest maritime museum in the United States, we lived in a place where maritime history was a living, breathing quality. The river had been home to one of the most bustling shipbuilding communities of the region, constructing clipper ships of renown such as the Davy Crockett. Around the waterfront, salt marshes and wetlands were home to an incredible diversity of species to study. 

Being residents of Mystic came with the privilege of learning about all the Seaport had to offer, visiting the Mystic Aquarium for free whenever we wanted, as well as enjoying the local businesses and restaurants, which Mystic has in droves. We could wake up a ten-minute walk from the hustle and bustle of the downtown or from the local YMCA. Kayaking along the beautiful riverbank or biking through the woods, we had a constant stream of activities to occupy our homework breaks.

Image shows a student hammering a red-hot piece of metal on an anvil in a historic forge, with another student firing metal in a hand-operated forge in the background

(Above) Artie Claudio (F’19) works in the shipsmith’s shop during maritime skills class.

Learning from incredibly gifted and passionate professors was a true gift. Every single one of our teachers was invested in our learning. The entire staff spent their time making our time at the program as magical as possible, dealing with the bureaucracy of our home institutions or settling our personal issues to ensure we could focus on being engaged. We had the unique opportunity to learn maritime skills from experts, crafting metal objects in the smith’s forge or learning maritime songs with professional chantey singers.

Most of all, I will cherish the memories I made with my classmates for the rest of my life. Though we all came to this program for different reasons – some of us felt it furthered our interests, while others came to experience something new – we all took away from it something incredible. Whether it was our late hours watching movies and playing pool in Sturges Cottage, or our impromptu trips for ice cream or food, every moment was a smile with people I never would have met otherwise. I found my passion for my work at Williams-Mystic, but I also found a new passion for life – and I made some lifelong connections. An experience like Williams-Mystic changes a person, whether through the incredible experiences on field seminars or the meaningful moments at home. I know that I will never forget my time with these amazing people.

Image shows the Class of Fall 2019 posing with a banner reading Williams-Mystic. Behind them is a sign reading Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, and behind that is a pine forest

(Above) F’19 on our first day in Alaska, outside of Glacier Bay National Park in Gustavus.

A Field Seminar in Photos, Part IV: Louisiana

Immersed in the incredible culture of New Orleans and southern Louisiana, doing hands-on science in the marshes and bayous, it was impossible to not fall in love with the place. The people of Louisiana are incredibly resilient and strong — qualities they need to battle the impossible odds of a changing world.

This photo essay is by Fall 2019 student Johann Heupel. Johann is a Marine Science and Maritime Studies student at the University of Connecticut at Avery Point and a long-time aficionado of the history of our relationship to the sea. Having grown up in Mystic Connecticut, Johann’s future interests lie somewhere in educating a new generation about the wonders of the sea and our fascination with it, sharing maritime culture through art, science, song, and story.

This post is part of a series of photo essays depicting the Fall 2019 semester. For the complete series, click here

We began our semester by exploring the wilderness of the Pacific Coast and sailing a tall ship on the Atlantic Coast. Our last field seminar as a class was to learn about America’s Gulf Coast: a place where complex history and culture meets the science and threats of the modern age.

Flying into Louisiana in the pouring rain, our first hours in the south were spent coming to terms with the most difficult aspect of American history: slavery. Walking through the historic Whitney Plantation museum, the unpleasant, stark reality of slavery was poignant. As we peered into slave cabins, or heard from interpreters, it became clear that the basis for the bustling maritime city of New Orleans – and the entire state of Louisiana – was built on the backs of enslaved people.

image, in black and white, shows students gathered, somber, around cells that once held enslaved people

(Above) Williams-Mystic students peer into cells at the Whitney Plantation that once held enslaved people.

Soon we found ourselves in Thibodaux touring the bayou with ZZ Loupe, who has known Williams Mystic since he was a child. We searched the bayou for alligators and egrets, as ZZ shared his deep knowledge of all the local creatures and environment with us. Whether it was the baby alligators in his pens he let us hold, the alligator snapping turtle he deftly handled, or the large boas he draped over us, ZZ had a personal connection to the animals and habitat of the bayou.

Image shows local tour guide ZZ Loupe gesturing at the helm of a pontoon boat in the bayou, while Williams-Mystic students look on

(Above) ZZ Loupe, swamp guide and former wrestler, gives Williams-Mystic a swamp tour.

We spent most of the field seminar living at LUMCON, an innovative scientific and educational facility located directly on the marsh. With the expertise of Steven Goodbred — a specialist in the sedimentary dynamics of deltas and wetlands — we learned about the way the landscape had been shaped over thousands of years, and we got the opportunity to observe and study the local ecology. 

An alligator perches on a log in a verdant bayou

(Above) Small American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) in the bayous of Thibodaux.

All around us the impact of sea-level rise on nature was clear, particularly was we talked to local people. We met with Chief Shirell Parfait-Dardar of the Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians. She shared how erosion and flooding threaten her tribe’s way of life, as trees die from saltwater inundation and ancestral graves are washed away. In Grand Isle, a town on the state’s only inhabited barrier island, town supervisor Christopher Hernandez showed us how entire beaches have been washed away by wave action, as he demonstrated the pump system to cope with their dire situation. Carl Sevin, captain of LUMCON’s RV Acadiana, explained his fear that his way of life was disappearing, as he watches his town submerge and his subsistence lifestyle fade away. 

The stories of the people we talked to were incredibly powerful. Hearing the fear and urgency of local residents underscored how climate change has universal impacts. Whether it was oyster processors struggling to fill their quotas due to freshwater inundation of the Gulf, local residents with threatened homes and livelihoods, or the residents of New Orleans coping with constant flooding, everyone faced the realities of a changing world. Immersed in the incredible culture of New Orleans and southern Louisiana, doing hands-on science in the marshes and bayous, it was impossible to not fall in love with the place. The people of Louisiana are incredibly resilient and strong — qualities they need to battle the impossible odds of a changing world.

image shows a snowy egret soaring through a deep blue sky

(Above) Snowy Egret flies overhead at LUMCON. 

A Field Seminar in Photos, Part III: Gulf of Maine

Imagine corralling a group of college students into a confined space and taking away their cell phones. Seems like a recipe for disaster – and yet spending two weeks off the coast of Maine disconnected from the modern world was an incredible experience.

This photo essay is by Fall 2019 student Johann Heupel. Johann is a Marine Science and Maritime Studies student at the University of Connecticut at Avery Point and a long-time aficionado of the history of our relationship to the sea. Having grown up in Mystic Connecticut, Johann’s future interests lie somewhere in educating a new generation about the wonders of the sea and our fascination with it, sharing maritime culture through art, science, song, and story.

This post is part of a series of photo essays depicting the Fall 2019 semester. For the complete series, click here

Images shows students hauling on a rope aboard a sailing ship

(Above) Williams-Mystic students and Executive Director Tom Van Winkle haul up a lifeboat.

Imagine corralling a group of college students into a confined space and taking away their cell phones. Seems like a recipe for disaster – and yet spending two weeks off the coast of Maine disconnected from the modern world was an incredible experience.

We set out from Penobscot Bay in a mood of anxiety and excitement. The ship was an alien environment to most of us, and the anticipation was palpable. Within days, we began to haul on the lines and take turns at the wheel, feeling like sailors as the vessel became familiar. Soon I was able to climb high aloft in the rigging, and the view I beheld took my breath away.

Picture shows a student at the helm of a sailing ship near sundown

(Above) Tristan Biggs takes his first turn at the helm.

The vastness of the ocean before me was awe-inspiring; it was like nothing I had experienced before. A night beneath the starry sky had me gazing into eternity. The sunrises and sunsets were brilliant and colorful beyond description. Distracting us from our class sessions were dolphins leaping in our bow wake. They chittered as we looked out at night, glowing as they swam through bioluminescent plankton. Whales could be seen spouting far in the distance, and through the Gulf Stream a host of mahi-mahi and flying fish delighted our onlooking scientists.

Picture shows dolphins swimming just beneath the surface of crystal-clear waters

(Above) Atlantic white-sided dolphins swim below the bow of the SSV Corwith Cramer.

Even though our stay was short on the SSV Corwith Cramer, the crew of the S.E.A vessel were incredibly informative and nurturing. The stewards prepared food of extraordinary quality out of a closet-sized kitchen, which we enjoyed in the company of our shipmates. The captain and mates taught us navigation, seamanship, and nautical terminology, while the scientists helped us study plankton tows and oceanography in the lab at all hours. Peering into the world of the microscope, every weird and wonderful creature imaginable teemed in the waters of the North Atlantic. 

Despite the incredible diversity of the oceans around us, there were signs that things were changing. We found that the Gulf Steam current was slower than historical rates, while the amount of microplastics in the water was alarming. The small shelled organisms we marveled at beneath the microscope showed signs of acidifying oceans. The water temperatures were spiking despite the season, as our teachers explained that the Gulf of Maine basin is warming faster than most of the ocean. When we stopped at Martha’s Vineyard, we learned how much of the coast has disappeared, the scale of sea level rise was terrifying.

The creativity and freedom I felt – even as I was told my duties and ordered about the vessel – was inspiring. Writing poetry or playing guitar on the quarterdeck, every person aboard found touch with their imagination on the ship. As a final goodbye to our vessel and shipmates, we had the fortune to share our creative outlets and talents. A night of laughter and friendship was the perfect end to our journey together. The comradery you feel for your shipmates is indescribable.

Picture shows the ocean at sunset, the sky illuminated and brilliant and the gentle waves reflecting its light

(Above) A look at the night sky in the Gulf of Maine, shortly after the sun disappeared. 

A Field Seminar in Photos, Part II: Sitka, Alaska

Everywhere we looked in Sitka, people were in constant contact with the natural world. As we soon found out, they were also painfully aware of the ways that world was changing.

This photo essay is by Fall 2019 student Johann Heupel. Johann is a Marine Science and Maritime Studies student at the University of Connecticut at Avery Point and a long-time aficionado of the history of our relationship to the sea. Having grown up in Mystic Connecticut, Johann’s future interests lie somewhere in educating a new generation about the wonders of the sea and our fascination with it, sharing maritime culture through art, science, song, and story.

This post is part of a series of photo essays depicting the Fall 2019 semester. For the complete series, click here

Students walk through a bright green clearing in a rugged evergreen forest

(Above) View across Kruzof Island, students hiking toward the volcano.

It was difficult to leave the awe-inspiring views of Glacier Bay behind us, but everyone was excited to have a few days left to explore Alaska. Now, we travelled south to Sitka, arriving to a beautiful, sunny day in the small downtown we were going to be staying in. 

Living a stone’s throw away from the world’s last temperate rainforest took some getting used to. Waking up every morning to the view of the endless hills of the Tongass National Forest — nestled in the Indian River Valley a short walk away from Crescent Harbor, where the salmon would jump in the morning light — was spectacular. Bald eagles nested in the trees around the park, and children played in a playground ten yards away from an active salmon run. Everywhere we looked, people were in constant contact with the natural world. As we soon found out, they were also painfully aware of the ways that world was changing.

Inside a museum, Williams-Mystic students cluster around a craftswoman seated at a table, with traditional crafts, including handmade dolls, spread out in front of her

(Above) A local Tlingit doll craftswoman shares her tribe’s traditional techniques at the Sheldon Jackson Museum.

We were afforded the opportunity to meet some incredibly interesting locals: people from all walks of life invested in the maritime culture of Sitka. An elder of the local Tlingit tribe discussed their history with the Russians and native lifestyle in the shadow of beautiful Haida totems in the forest, close to the historic Russian architecture of downtown Sitka and a collection of tribal artifacts from all across the Pacific Northwest. An artist and teacher from a local school regaled us with Tlingit myths and stories, while he taught us how to draw indigenous form line designs of their sacred animals: Bears, Ravens, and Eagles. 

The rich landscape of Alaska’s panhandle lends itself to widespread study of natural science and gave us a unique learning experience. We consulted with researchers studying all aspects of the local environment, including many ecologists interested in the dynamics of kelp forest habitats in various ways, such as the trophic impact of sea otters or the preservation of giant kelp. The Sitka Sound Science Center (SSSC) across from our lodgings worked to breed pink salmon in a specialized hatchery. We got to talk with the workers as they processed eggs and sperm to repopulate the local salmon stocks.

Photo shows massive salmon leaping out of turbulent waters at the base of a dam

(Above) Pink Salmon attempt to jump into the SSSC hatchery, where they will produce the next generation of the local fish stock.

The importance of the science and history linked to the region became all too apparent when we started to take a closer look at the logistics of Sitka. An official from the port authority told us about the challenges of living on the island, balancing the local fishing fleet and recreational craft with cargo vessels to bring in food and supplies, as well as the need to allow cruise vessels through for tourism dollars. Local fishermen described the difficult life of longline fishing to us. We got to speak to alumna and longline fisherman Linda Behnken (F’82), the head of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, about the threats their industry faces. Everyone spoke about the changing world with which they were confronted: sea level rise slowly encroaching on their home as the warming climate changes their environment.

Sitka is a place where all these abstract concepts and disparate disciplines intertwine. The history of a longstanding colonial conflict and the heritage of Native peoples are juxtaposed with a thriving fishery and one of the most diverse environments in the world. This breathtaking biome of temperate rainforests and kelp forests contrasted against a bustling port town is a unique place to learn about the multi-faceted nature of the maritime world.

Photo shows a scrubby evergreen forest sprawled out at the base of mountains, its brilliant yellows and greens contrasting with the bright blue sky

(Above) View of Mount Edgecumbe from a distance, seen across Kruzof Island.

A Field Seminar in Photos, Part I: Glacier Bay National Park

I left Alaska with a sense of place that I had never gotten from a textbook or a classroom: an understanding and appreciation for the place where all these abstract ideas collide.

This photo essay is by Fall 2019 student Johann Heupel. Johann is a Marine Science and Maritime Studies student at the University of Connecticut at Avery Point and a long-time aficionado of the history of our relationship to the sea. Having grown up in Mystic Connecticut, Johann’s future interests lie somewhere in educating a new generation about the wonders of the sea and our fascination with it, sharing maritime culture through art, science, song, and story.

This post is part of a series of photo essays depicting the Fall 2019 semester. For the complete series, click here

Photo shows snow-capped mountains towering over a pristine bay, with a rugged, evergreen forest on its shores

(Above) View from the Glacier National Park guide boat across the mountains.

A group of students from all across the country, we barely had three days to get to know each other. Now, we were waking up at 3 am to travel to Alaska. 

We spent the journey learning about each other, doing crosswords on the plane together or playing games in the airport, until we boarded three small six-seaters bound for Gustavus. 

The planes would take us to Glacier Bay National Park: just a short ride across mountain tops and forested valleys away, yet that plane ride was the most incredible experience of the trip. Suddenly confronted with the sheer majesty of the Alaskan wilderness – a seemingly pristine environment with the breathtaking beauty of a David Attenborough documentary – we felt out of place with the modern world. As we landed on the airstrip, it was clear my feelings of otherworldly euphoria were shared by many. No one could quite describe the experience.

Everyone was exhausted and exhilarated that night, looking out across the fjords from our woodland cabins. Local salmon and halibut served to us and a night beneath the northern lights completed the feeling of a camping trip at the Ritz: an experience of an unfamiliar and captivating wilderness from the lap of luxury.

 

Picture shows snow pouring off the side of a craggy glacier into the ocean

(Above) Image of the Johns Hopkins Glacier as it “calves”, splinters into icebergs.

By morning, we were boarding a Park Service vessel to explore the Bay, blown away by the sheer vastness of the landscape. In the distance, whales spouted like early morning mist whilst several hundred sea lions sunned themselves upon the rocks, and mountain goats looked down on us from the rocky ledges. As we approached the ice sheet, the low conversations of excited passengers heightened to a fervent chatter as we all beheld the ice – then lowered to a pensive silence as we listened to the glacier crack.

The realities of climate change for this beautiful landscape became inescapable. The icecaps around the glacier were melting rapidly as the streams of freshwater carved grooves in the mountainsides. As our professors looked out across the landscape, there was a mournful expression turned toward the ice sheet, as if they may never gaze again on this marvel of an un-polluted world. The crew scooped a piece of the glacier from over the side, and we were able to hold a piece of history that had survived for thousands of years in our hands. 

Picture shows a student holding a large chunk of glacial ice aboard a boat. Other students crowd around him, while rocky mountains and glaciers fill the background.

(Above) Williams Mystic students marvel as Artie Claudio holds a piece of the glacier.

The rest of our time in Glacier Bay seemed too short. I wished I could have spent more time among the trees and on the water, kayaking the fjords of the bay or hiking mountain paths. The last night we had under the stars was spent among fast-made friends, remarking on the wonders of the natural world and our dream that it may be preserved, as we contemplated the ways in which young people like us could spark action and change.

I had never dreamed of seeing the majestic wilderness of Alaska before I came to Williams-Mystic, a transformative program based around travelling across the country while discussing important issues through multiple disciplines. This longstanding experiment of experiential learning allowed me to think about climate change in the very place the issue was most pressing, surrounded by experts to cultivate our experience and an incredible landscape worth protecting. I left with a sense of place that I had never gotten from a textbook or a classroom: an understanding and appreciation for the place where all these abstract ideas collide.

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