Days on the Mississippi: Augsburg’s River Semester

Zoe Barany, contributor

Photo of river semester crew unloading the boats on a river island, taken by Zoe Barany

Greetings from the Mighty Mississippi! River semester is one-fourth of the way through our grand adventure from the Twin Cities to the Gulf of Mexico. This year, the crew traded in voyageur canoes for water striders. These homemade catamarans were designed by Joe Underhill specifically for the journey down the river. The big red sails catch the wind and help us move through the water effortlessly – between 30-40 miles on a good day. Our crew consists of three guides, nine students and one professor. 

A typical day consists of delicious hot coffee and breakfast cooked on the propane stove followed by packing up camp and loading the boats. The crew’s favorite breakfast options have been banana pancakes, potato hash, crepes, and omelettes. Once we get the sail up, the crew spends days reading, having class discussion, playing games and singing songs. Sandwiches and snacks are made on the boats for lunch and we continue to sail until early evening. Once we check the navigational charts for a good place to set up camp we set the anchor down and unload the boats. Setting up camp in the evening is a shared responsibility where everyone pitches in and helps complete chores. After dinner is made the crew sits together and eats. An important part of community bonding is check in and sharing stories over meals. When the sun sets we make a fire before crawling into the tent for a night’s rest. 

In between transit days, we have layover days where the crew can get a chance to put up their hammocks and work on class credit for river politics, environmental studies field seminars, and our independent research projects. As well as learning from books, we are constantly learning from our natural surroundings and the people we meet around the way. This holistic style of learning brings an authentic excitement to education and challenges us to think differently about how we engage in the world around us. We have to tune into the natural world to observe how it solves problems and works as an interconnected system.

I encourage all readers to get outside and listen to the world around you. How do you feel in your body? How does the world around you feel? What excites your senses? What type of flora and fauna do you see? Continue to think deeply and give thanks to the gifts our earth provides us.

If you would like to continue to follow the progress of the river semester go to augsburg.edu/river/ to find our daily expedition logs, field notes, photos, and trip itinerary.