We accumulated a lot of boxes labeled "Misc Stuff" through the years and those boxes inevitably ended up either in the basement or in a back corner of our garage. The basement got so full of these boxes, that it almost wasn't usable as a storm shelter. So, I've been working to get all those boxes emptied and their contents distributed to their proper places, which is often the trash can or the thrift store donation center.

One of the boxes had a collection of books. There were college textbooks, paperback novels, notebooks full of doodles and class notes. At the bottom of the box was a book I hadn't seen in nearly 20 years.

After my father passed away, my mother went through a similar cleaning and purging process. After one such cleaning, she handed me a box of things that were mine. My high school diploma, a ceramic planter I painted as a project in 6th grade, and a hard-backed Rand McNally Atlas. Those things ended up in boxes marked "Misc Stuff".

I opened the atlas to the middle and thumbed the pages, seeing names of countries that no longer exist: East Germany, Yugoslavia, South Vietnam. The smell of old paper filled the small basement. Inside the front cover was an inscription, signed by my grandparents.

I've always been fascinated with maps. Growing up in a small town in Oklahoma, I didn't see a lot of the world. My parents didn't take vacations to faraway places, but I had that Rand McNally atlas, the World Book Encyclopedia, and my imagination. I would spend hours each night, cross-legged in an old chair with an encyclopedia on my lap, wondering what people in Istanbul sound like.

That fascination with maps as a proxy for travel continued into adulthood. We got into geocaching because I acquired a Garmin handheld GPS in 2001 as part of a work project. I was looking for ways to use it other than programming it. Geocaching led us to nearly every US state in 15 years, as well as half a dozen European countries. I found myself bushwhacking through a rainforest in Brazil, my guide using a machete to clear a path, to find a long-lost geocache. Not quite a cool as Indiana Jones, but it all started with a map.

I've been playing with mapping software lately as part of a project to get buildings in our community properly numbered for 911 and have that data reflected in the maps on our cellphones. Our emergency responders as well as delivery drivers have a lot of problems with these inaccurate maps, so as the designated "map and computer nerd", I volunteered to help our fire and police departments. The project is 20% technology and 80% dealing with the bureaucracies of county governments as well as the bureaucracies of large corporations.

Here's a map I've maintained for a number of years. I've always been curious how many of the US counties I've visited. I started out this project using Adobe Photoshop and the "fill" tool. I suppose at some point, I'll generate this map from the mapping software and data I create.

The colors represent different trips we took. When two or more trips overlap the same county, there is some blending that occurs, due to me setting the opacity in Photoshop to 80% for each layer. Orange is the "miscellaneous trips", whether for work or weekend trips through the years.