In January, I found Clay Hickson’s “My First Business” blog post very interesting.  The blog clearly illustrates how childhood interests and experiences can help determine one’s professional career later in life.  After reading Clay’s article, I could not help but wonder what childhood interests and experiences led me to becoming a professional geographer.

Like most professional geographers, I have always had an interest in maps.  As a child, I actually looked forward to dentist appointments because

  1. it meant an afternoon free of school and
  2. it also meant free access to maps found in the mountain of National Geographic magazines piled on the waiting room end table.

Jeremy, age 7, and his father

In middle school and high school, I spent many study-hall periods and some class periods drawing mental maps of places I visited or knew well.  Today, give me an atlas and I quickly lose track of time as I analyze and deconstruct maps of different countries or regions.

While this seemingly innate interest in maps was important in priming my interest in geography, it was time spent outdoors that cemented my interest.  Annual backpacking trips in northern Pennsylvania with my father, brother, and friends provided me with learning opportunities which were directly or indirectly tied to geography.  These trips are where I first learned how to navigate using a contour map and compass (GPS, what’s that?).  I learned:

  • about the relationship between soil type and vegetation,
  • about the relationship between land cover and stream quality / velocity,
  • and about the risks one takes when setting up camp in a floodplain (we had to hastily evacuate in 1992 when the remnants of Hurricane Andrew passed through).

I am a professional geographer today largely as a result of these childhood experiences.