In November of 2010 when the sixth-grader asks for our email addresses, we all, his grandparents, aunts and uncles, comply with this harmless request. This incident is forgotten until a few weeks later when we suddenly begin receiving frequent email updates of the impending snowstorm threat headed toward central Alabama. A check with local TV news and the weather channel verifies this is no playful tinkering; this young fledgling meteorologist has morphed into an authentic weather reporter. Daniel has been fascinated with maps and symbols since he was able to grasp a crayon in his toddler hand. During his preschool years, he spent hours drawing neighborhood streets and houses, arranged in a grid of city blocks. With ease, he taught himself to read by observing street markers, road signs, and billboards, using these words to correctly label locations on his maps. Then in kindergarten, with magic markers he outlines a variety of routes from his home to school, grandparents’ houses and any place else of interest. Moving to a different neighborhood the summer before first grade requires a good deal of reconfiguring of his collection of hand-drawn maps, but he masters it in a short time. While other kids his age are watching TV cartoons or playing games on their computers, Daniel is probably the youngest consistent Mapquest user. By age eight, he volunteers to become the backseat navigator for his traveling grandparents. Eventually, we have to purchase a GPS for trips we make without Daniel in the car. After his grandmother takes him to visit a professional cartographer, nine-year-old Daniel opens his own “custom map-making business,” offering his services via email and snail-mail.
It is on a lengthy family trip to northern Minnesota in February 2010 that Daniel has the opportunity to exhibit the full extent of his prowess with geography, maps, navigation, and weather. Armed with his personal hand-held GPS, laptop computer and an array of road maps of a half-dozen states, Daniel plans and advises the two drivers every mile of the way from Birmingham to the Ontario border and back, including the weeklong stay in a remote cabin on a frozen lake. Returning home and back to his fifth-grade class, Daniel preps for the upcoming Geography Bee at his elementary school by poring over atlases after school. It is no surprise to his teachers when he wins first place for his school and subsequently represents the school system in the statewide Geography Bee, capturing third place.
Not satisfied with placing third, this budding meteorologist intensifies his study of geography over summer break, sandwiched between Boy Scouts, piano lessons, and church activities. By mid-winter of sixth grade, his email weather updates are launched with pinpointed detail, matching the accuracy of professional forecasters across Alabama. Now in his first year of middle school, he finds himself up against a more challenging field of competitors. Again, he wins first place for his school and school system. After a sudden-death shoot-out in the statewide Geography Bee at Samford University in April of this year, Daniel is now packing his bag and flexing his memory in preparation for the National Geography Bee in our nation’s capital as Alabama’s 2011 Champion. As soon as his plane touches down at Dulles Airport, we fully expect to receive an email forecasting the weather in Washington, D.C.