Archived Story

Let the wanderlust continue

Published 5:39pm Thursday, July 10, 2014

Charles Gerald Elliot Jr. was crossing a barbwire fence on his way back home from a day of hunting.
He was en route to pick up and take his kids to baseball practice. No one was around to see it, but when investigators found him, his shotgun was lying next to him. He had a single wound to his chest and was 39-years-old.
This article is still online on the Alabama Outdoor News website from when it was posted April 28, 2008. It was the first time I ever saw a bold “Austin Nelson” hung over a story, and in effect, it was my first foray into professional journalism. A few a weeks later, I received a $75 check in the mail.
Truthfully, I had no idea what I was doing when I took the assignment. I hadn’t had a single journalism class.
You could describe my college years as lacking any semblance of a clear direction. I prefer to think of my time at Auburn University as a form of academic wanderlust.
I was accepted to the college as a pre-pharmacy major. Before I had my first schedule of classes, I had already changed to zoology. I worked in a graduate lab as a sophomore, collecting snakes, lizards and tortoises and gathering empirical data on the attenuation of frog calls. I wrote my first grant application, attempting to gain funding for a trip to Costa Rica to do more herpetological research. I was denied, lost interest and then there was math.
If English is my first language, mathematics was always a close second. I loved calculus, and soon I switched majors to pure mathematics. I sprinted through five or so classes, eventually finding my limit at linear algebra. The numbers had lost their meaning to me by that point. A few classes short of a mathematics minor, I hopped rails again.
My passions shifted back toward writing, something I had loved since high school but never really thought was a viable career path. I never wanted to teach. But after my first round of required English and literature classes, I was offered a job helping undergraduates proof and improve their English papers.
I followed it for a while, eventually earning enough for an English minor. What the heck was I going to do for a living though? I took a class from professor James Hammersmith called “The Personal Essay.” Essentially, it wasn’t too different from what I know now as a newspaper column. I was hooked by the concept of having a voice. My wanderlust continued, and I decided to become a journalist. At the same time, however, I began passively studying for the law school entrance exam.
I was running out of time. I was able to complete a journalism major in 3 semesters. And then, two weeks after graduating, I was at my first newspaper.
I sat up last night staring at the ceiling, desperately searching for the inspiration for this column. I can’t even quantify the amount of times I have done this in the name of journalism.
I have spent the past six years writing everyone else’s story, so I figured I would take one last time to write mine.
By the time this paper hits your doorstep, I have one final edition between me and law school. It has been a wild, wild ride. I have covered drug busts, tornadoes, murders and more sporting events than I can even recall.
I have seen a man spend days living on a ham radio tower, half-ton pumpkins, state champions and the election of a dead mayor.
I have heard stories that I never imagined could be true.
And of all I have seen, Mark Twain really had it right.
“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”
When I began this journey, I never knew the possibilities of where it would lead me. Let the wanderlust continue.
Nelson is managing editor of The Outlook, a soon-to-be recovering journalist and future Juris Doctor.