Mark Nessia

Mark Nessia

On April 21, 1866, the county of Kern was created, named after the Kern River, which got its name from John C. Fremont in honor of his topographer Edward M. Kern.

I’m guessing that’s how most locals come across the word that is our county’s namesake.

But for those in the design industry, kern is a common term.

To kern is to adjust the space between individual letters on a page to achieve a visually pleasing result, whether it’s increasing the space so elements are more spread out (positive kerning) or decreasing it so they’re closely bunched together (negative kerning).

The more I think about it, the more I believe Kern County’s name couldn’t be more perfect.

Spanning 8,163 square miles, Kern County is the third-largest county by area in California, home to nearly 900,000 people living in over 180 communities consisting of cities, census-designated places and unincorporated regions peppered across mountains, valleys, flatland and desert landscapes.

Driving up the 99 from Southern California to Kern County for the first time, my initial reaction was there was a whole lot of nothing. With level land all around, a mountain range or two breaking the horizon and the unmistakable smell of farmlands wafting in through the vents, I found myself wondering when traces of civilization would reappear.

Being completely honest, it wasn’t the greatest first impression.

Ten years later, I’ve developed a strong appreciation for Kern County’s “negative space,” another design term referring to the areas around and between subjects. Of course the highlight of Kern County will always be the people and neighborhoods that dwell in it but we shouldn’t ignore or take for granted the space between.

I love how communities are spread out from one other, allowing you an opportunity to take in the environments that surround them.

Traversing the windy canyon roads of the 178 adjacent to a surging Kern River to reach Lake Isabella felt like I was in Northern California rather than northeast Kern County. I’ll never forget the sight of snow-covered hills on the way up to Tehachapi where we nearly got stranded venturing a little too far up the mountains in a Toyota Camry or the giant tumbleweeds that boldly cross the highway in the desert lands near California City.

I think Kern County is tightly packed in all the right places (negative kerning) and spaced out perfectly in a way that makes you appreciate the land that constitutes it (positive kerning) – a constant reminder of how beautiful this place can be should we take the time to look.

A visually pleasing result that brings out the positives in the negative space that was once a whole lot of nothing.

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