The Big Five Oh!

The year was 1994.  Mrs. Brewster’s 4th grade class. That was the impetus of everything that has lead me to today. A BIG DAY. A big year, if you will.

I have never been a naturally great student. Medicore? Probably. But never anything exceptional (seriously, just ask my mother). 4th grade was not an exception. Couple that mediocrity with the most emotionally challenging year of my life, and you wind up with a very difficult child to teach. That year, I was (and I don’t think there is a polite way to say this, so I’m just going to be truthful) a raging asshole. I interrupted others, didn’t pay attention in class, would throw away homework assignments that I had completed (seriously, what kind of imbecile does that?) and incessantly talked back. And that was with a teacher that I liked and respected. It’s a good thing TCA didn’t have corporal punishment, because I am certain that my rear end would still be smarting from being such a mouthy little jerk.

Thankfully, there were two things that got me through that year. The first was writing. Every week, Mrs. Brewster had us do a creative writing assignment. I think it was something like 5 pages double spaced and handwritten, because it was 1994 and we still wrote things with a paper and pencil, duh. No surprise, I loved that weekly assignment (and just about always went over my page limit- point in case: this blog). The second saving grace was geography. Mid-way through the year, we were required asked to learn the location and capital of all FIFTY states. Then we were each assigned a state to learn about and create a diorama that we showcased to our class (I had Arizona, which after living there this year, I can attest is in the top 5 states I would happily call home).

SIDE NOTE: I don’t know the repercussions of what I’m about to say are, but I don’t give a flying fuck (unless my institutions of higher learning take away my two degrees because I technically cheated in the 4th grade). Here it goes: my mother did my entire diorama. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to do it, but she didn’t think I was capable of creating a perfect realistic Grand Canyon out of papier-mâché. So she made the whole damn thing. And I still don’t know how to use papier-mâché. So there’s that.

Back to geography. I loved learning the location of the states and their capitals, and where they all fit into our fascinating country. Those were the only quizzes where I would achieve 100% accuracy. I will never forget the day of our final test on the United States. I remembered everything from Alabama to Wyoming. I also vividly remember thinking to myself (in a very 4th grade sort of way) “I’m going to get out of this place. And I’m going to see every last one of those states.”

Little did I know that as a 9 year old, I was setting a goal that would take exactly 20 more years to accomplish.

Let’s fast forward to 1996. I had survived 4th AND 5th grade. School was still not my thang, but science was definitely not something that I liked (which makes me laugh now, because I talk about science all the ding-dong day at work). In fact, if my 6th grade science teacher (Mr. Blagburn) hadn’t been really cute, I probably would have flunked and as a result been kicked out of TCA. Thankfully, he made all the girls swoon, and I managed to pay just enough attention in class. Toward the end of the year, he MADE us start learning to identify something like 60 species of birds and their calls. It was a huge portion of our final grade. I pretended to hate it. But honestly, I LOVED IT. The days our class went out into the woods to go birding were some of the best learning days of my life. Birds made me happy. Really happy. Birds could be anywhere in the entire world at any given time, and that intrigued me. I loved that I could see a Tufted Titmouse on the way to school. Or that when I went to the park with my friends, we weren’t just feeding any old duck. It was Pied-billed Grebe. And that no matter how many nights I sat awake in my bed, that a Mourning Dove would be on the other side of the darkness to greet me. I was (and still am), a full blown Bird Nerd.

Now you might be wondering (or maybe not, because I think the only person still reading this thing is my little brother) “Avery, what do those two very weird years of your childhood have anything to do with each other, and more importantly, this blog?”. Great question, reader. Great question. The answer is, EVERYTHING.

It took me 29 years, but as of tonight at 11:49 pm (UTC), I will have reached my goal set out in 1994. (I wrote this on my flight, so I’m technically not there yet)


I will have officially visited ALL of the FIFTY (nifty) United States. (I started crying typing that. It’s that special to my heart. [And now the Indian man sitting next to me on this flight is staring. Sorry dude, avert your eyes.])

To make it even better,  90% (NINETY PERCENT!) of this trip is devoted to birding, in a place where some truly phenomenal birds are hanging out right now. 5% is devoted to finding an eskimo and making them become my best friend/let me sleep in their igloo, and 5% is devoted to playing with Iditarod puppies, because, hello, puppies!

And now that I’ve rambled on long enough that even my brother isn’t reading, I’ll conclude the pithy blather (for today). But maybe check back tomorrow, because you never know when I’m going to post photos of me playing with puppies. Or me clutching my Sibley and staring gap-jawed through binoculars at birds. Basically the same thing, right?






**If you’d like to follow along on any of the other nine-thousand forms of social media I subscribe to (except twitter, I quit that in May and never looked back), you can search #AverysBigFiveOh . Cheers!**


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