Sunday, July 6, 2014

the courthouse project.

When I was a little girl, my family used to take the most wonderful vacations. Not expensive, not lengthy, but wonderful nonetheless, due in large part to the adventuresome (but always practical) nature of my parents. Our vacations were full of educational detours, quirky pitstops, and historical landmarks. My love of national parks? That comes from my parents. My insistence on eating at local hole-in-the-wall establishments? That's my parents. 

It's funny, then, all these years later, to see myself following in my parents' footsteps. To realize that in spite of our differences from my parents as a couple, Jordan and I are eerily similar in the way we choose and plan our vacations. 

If you follow me on Instagram, you know our summer has already been filled with adventures. We've traveled up, down, and across the great state of Florida, witnessed fireworks along the Savannah riverwalk, and chased rabbit trails around south Georgia. What you may not know is just how many of our travels this summer -- and really, for the past three years -- have revolved around something I lovingly call The Courthouse Project. 

Since passing the bar exam back in 2010, Jordan has been healthily obsessed with visiting every county courthouse in Florida. It's an interest that comes, I think, partly from Jordan's career as an attorney, but also from his (and our) love of old things. Photographing each courthouse became something we did on weekends and on road trips, and soon, Jordan envisioned tackling all 67, compiling them into some sort of photo collage or another. Neither one of us is a photographer; a shame, since so many of Florida's courthouses are really, truly beautiful. But the photography, I don't think, was nearly as important as the adventure. 

The state we used to call home -- the state I have called home my whole life -- is diverse and vast; I don't know what other place in our country (perhaps other than California) can boast such a plethora of flora and fauna,  such a wide range of terrain. Because of The Courthouse Project, we've seen it all. We've driven across my beloved Panhandle, through tourist traps and into quiet, sleepy, dying towns; we've glimpsed the white sands of the Gulf and the crystal clear water of the Atlantic. We've rolled our windows down next to alligator-filled creeks and seen the shadows of orange groves at midnight. We've raised our eyebrows at the excess of Palm Beach and walked across the cobblestone streets of St. Augustine.

I doubt very many people have traveled the state -- any state! -- like we have; visiting each county seat takes a certain amount of stamina and patience. Not every city is beautiful; not every stop offers some hidden gem. We have, in so many ways, seen it all, and every time we'd arrive at some new location -- undoubtedly off the beaten path -- I'd think of my parents and the vacations I used to take with them as a child. 

Jordan and I have been married nearly six years; we've known each other for almost 10. In our time together, we've been to San Antonio and Venice, to Atlanta and San Francisco. We spent our honeymoon in Newport and our first anniversary in a windy, cold Chicago. We've hidden away in Tybee Island and taken day trips to Seaside and St. George. Our phones and our walls are full of pictures of Savannah and Florence and Boston and Nashville and New Orleans and Naples and Rome. Our trips, most often, are taken on the cheap; we are not expensive travelers; we can't afford to be. But our adventures together are incredibly special, and this weekend, as we traveled back down to Florida from a weekend with friends, we stopped for our very last courthouse. 

I can be a bit of a sentimental fool. I hide it well, I think, but there are boxes of love letters and a newspaper editorial I dedicated to Jordan's old car that all insist deep down, I am soft. I hold special places in my heart for the things and the people I love. It's bittersweet, then, to put the last courthouse pin on the map, sad to put away the coloring sheet Jordan's been keeping to highlight the counties we've been to and the ones we still need to visit. They're all filled in now, and the historic Nassau County Courthouse in downtown Fernandina Beach officially marked the end of an era for us.

We'll spend the next few weeks, maybe months, debating what to do with Jordan's courthouse pictures, how best to compile them all into albums or prints. He'll be the first to admit not all of the photographs he's taken are frame-worthy, but there's something about seeing them all together that's pretty spectacular. Sixty-seven counties, each one with a treasured history, an architecture and agriculture all its own. 

This courthouse project has been a part of our vacations and road trips for three years, guiding us, little by little, on where to go next. Now we've reached the end, and I wonder just what we'll tackle next. It's funny; this project is a little reminiscent of where we are in life right now; the end of one chapter, the beginning of another. Life can be silly and special like that, if we notice. 

Everyone's adventures are different. The routes we all take are unique and varied; no two of us really choose the same ways. But I'm glad I've found someone who will get off at the next interstate exit and explore a little bit of the unknown, someone who will travel to the places we often, as a hurried people, forget. I'm grateful my parents taught me to travel away from the usual path, and I'm happy Jordan and I know, even as one journey ends: the adventure's really just beginning. 

All 67 pictures of The Courthouse Project can be found on Facebook; Jordan would love if you took a minute to scroll through and vote for your favorite courthouse. (Mine is pictured above.)


Erin said...

This is just lovely. My husband and I talk about our adventures all the time, both big and small. They are some of the moments we treasure most in our marriage.

katherine said...

Have it put together as a photo book so you can enjoy it often...your very own coffee table book.

Sabrina said...

Fernandina Beach is my favorite spot for a beach getaway. And my dad ended up finding the town, by having to do some work at their courthouse:) This was a fun and quirky post!