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Days on the Mississippi: Finding the Intimacy of Nature

Zoe Barany, contributor

Photo of water strider amongst the stars taken by Zoe Barany on Oct. 8

Greetings from the mighty Mississippi! River semester is halfway through our grand adventure from the Twin Cities to the Gulf of Mexico. The hard work is becoming fun and the crew is getting down the rhythm for camping and sailing. So far, we have traveled 351 miles from St. Paul to the Quad Cities. These miles were without the help of fossil fuels as we have used the wind to fill our sails, our bodies to produce powerful paddles and solar panels to charge our personal devices.

For class work we have been diving into content for sustainable living and outdoor leadership. This includes readings and reflections from the book Emergent Strategy. In this book Adrienne Maree Brown tries to give readers a tool kit for large system change and a theory of how change happens. Through these ideas she explores how we develop a particular way of being in the world. In her own life, she sees experience as a foundation of knowledge. 

Our foundation of knowledge is something that our guest teacher Chris Fink encouraged us to tap into. Chris Fink is a creating writing professor and produces wonderful content for Northern Public Radio. He brought us a collection of short stories, essays and poems to teach us about the intimacy of nature writing as well as how to reflect on self and place in creative ways. Important principles of this writing include 1) Pay attention. Be amazed. Tell about it, 2) Learn something, 3) Make it personal: include family and friends when possible, 4) Write with images, and lastly, 5) Think small. 

Expanding on these principles, we read aloud some excellent examples of nature writing and worked to reflect on our own experiences on this journey and share them with the group.

It has been fulfilling to have this style of experiential learning as I found it is good for the soul to learn about the constellations under the stars, rather than in a classroom. While this style of learning is our priority we find plenty of time to have fun. The crew has nine musical instruments that we use to freestyle around the fire, have arm wrestling competitions, create artistic journals, embroidery, build forts from tarps, play cards and are even creating a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. 

Our journey will alter course dramatically after this week. Because of time constraints of the college semester, the crew can only go so many miles of the Mississippi River. On Saturday the crew will shuttle to Memphis where we will sail/ paddle until we reach the Gulf of Mexico.

 Tune in for exciting updates from the crew in November on the lower river. If you would like to continue to follow the progress of the river semester until then go to augsburg.edu/river/ to find our daily expedition logs, field notes, photos, and trip itinerary.