It's all Bob Ake's fault.
Bob was a Physical Chemistry professor at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, when he took a sabbatical and moved to Madison, Wisconsin for the 1976-1977 school year. His purpose in coming to the U was to do research on some topic in Physical Chemistry that I will never understand and. Just as important although not a stated purpose of the sabbatical was to see as many species of birds in Wisconsin as possible in the year he would reside in Madison.
In May 1977 Bob traveled to western Wisconsin to look for Red-necked Grebe that was nesting on a large Federally-owned Waterfowl Production Area in St. Croix County. After finding the bird he stopped by my home in River Falls to report in and to say hi to my now-former wife and me. At about 10:00 p.m. Bob said he was leaving for the drive back to Madison. He reckoned that it would be a four hour drive if he followed Interstate 94 south. He then added "If I take Highway 35 south to LaCrosse and cut across from there it will take me six hours but I'll add five counties to my county list."
At the mention of the word "list" my ears perked up and I asked about his county list. Bob explained that no matter where he lives or travels he keeps a list of all the counties he has visited. It was something to do and a great way to learn more about wherever he was.
Bob then asked me "Don't you keep a county list"?
I answered, "Well, I do now."
There are 3,076 counties or parishes in the lower 48 states and Hawaii. (Alaska has 17 "burroughs" but some of them are the size of Montana and its difficult to wrap my head around the concept of a county the size of the Big Sky state). I set a goal long ago to one day have visited each of the 3,076 counties and parishes.
It took 23 years of traveling from one end of the country to the other but finally on May 29, 2000, at 4:04 p.m. Pacific time I entered Deschutes County Oregon. It was number 3,076. The last county.
On moving to Florida in March 2008 I decided to retrace my steps around to all of its 67 counties. One purpose of doing so was to acquaint myself with my new home state. I also wanted to start a list of the birds I had seen in each of the 67 counties. In 2010 when I attempted to see as many species of birds inside the boundaries of Florida in a calendar year I visited each of the state's counties a minimum of five times in 365 days.
Eventually people started to question me when I told stories about "collecting" counties. Mainly the questions revolved around "proof" that I had actually been in each county. After giving it some thought I decided that one way to provide that proof was to take a picture of a county entrance sign for each of the counties. And that is what this post is all about.
This past weekend I drove over to the east coast to get pictures of the three counties for which I did not have a county entrance sign to finish this quest. A former love interest of mine once said that I was "childish" for wanting to photograph county signs. I would counter with the words from a Jimmy Buffett song that go "Its the child in us we really value." Instead of letting her words influence me I pushed on and finished the quest. Luckily like a bad dream she is history and I finished doing what I set out to accomplish.
I have learned a great deal about Florida in this process. I've seen great natural resources from the marshes of Gulf Islands National Seashore near Pensacola (Escambia County) to the expansive prairies of Okeechobee County, to the West Indian hardwood hammocks of the lower Keys (Monroe County). I've also learned a great deal about the disparities that exist in the living conditions of Floridians. For instance Palm Beach County (which ranks first) has a per capita income of $44,518 to beleaguered Union County (which ranks last) with a per capita income of $14,535.
I have also learned a lot about the sometimes crazed people who call Florida home. Someone told me when I moved to the state that I should live north of Interstate 4 (which bisects the state from Tampa to Daytona Beach). Their reasoning was that "the further north you go in Florida the further south you get." And its a very accurate assessment. The Panhandle, otherwise known as the "Redneck Riviera" contains some beautiful landscapes but people there are still fighting the "war of northern aggression" just like they do in Georgia and Alabama each day. The Redneck Riviera also votes heavily Republican which is another reason to travel through it quickly, and its the heart of the bible-thumper belt. Curiously if you look at the list of per capita income by county the bulk of the counties at the lower end of the scale are on the Redneck Riviera.
Yesterday when I obtained a digital image of the entrance sign for Seminole County, thereby fulfilling this quest I decided to post a picture of each county entrance sign as "evidence" that I had been there. Some of the images are very crisp and clear while others definitely need to be replaced in the future. For instance, the Clay County sign was photographed in a pouring rainstorm and a better one needs to be taken to replace it. Maybe that will be the next quest - to obtain even better pictures of some county signs than the ones I have here. Its a really good thing that person from my past is no longer around. Doing this again might likely put her over the edge.
With the postings below I include a small comment about each of the counties. I hope you find some value in this posting. If not, c'est le vie.