Those of you who know me well can probably appreciate my fondness for doing things alone. While I do enjoy and love the company of my friends and family, there’s nothing quite like having a few hours to myself in which to indulge the caprices which worm their way into my psyche. It usually happens like this: I do what I have to in the morning, and then spend some time with Blueie the lovebird. He likes to nestle in my right hand (not the left) and look out into the backyard with me. He notices butterflies and lizards and other birds (wild and unruly) from behind the safety of the sliding glass door, and then I realize that I’m spending WAY too much time communing with this bird, and that it’s perhaps time to get out on the bicycle. (If you click on the pictures you’ll be able to see them in their original entirety.)
It’s one of my favorite things to do, and now that it’s slightly cooler, I’ve been ramping up the hours I spend cycling. “Slightly cooler” is relative, of course; the temperatures are just as high as they were in July-August, but there’s something comfortable in the air which makes biking a lot more pleasurable than it was two months ago. Still, my ball cap ends up a sopping mess, but who’s watching?
Today I went back to the Winter Park Dairy to buy some cheese. It’s up on Howell Branch Road, its property backing up to Lake Florence. There’s a sign now, and you bike (or drive) down a dirt road past horses and cows, and at the end you’ll find another sign that directs you to the farm store. You can buy cheeses there, as well as local honey (Dansk Farms) and other dairy products like milk and eggs. What’s amazing is that these wholesome wares are located just a short drive east of the manic intersection of 436 and Howell Branch Road. Some years ago– not very many– I was taking pictures of an old barn located just off that corner, and a kindly old woman came out of the farmhouse next to it and asked if I’d like to see the inside of her home. (I must have one of those faces that doesn’t automatically brand me as an axe murderer.) She had a wood-burning stove in the kitchen with a pipe that led through the wall, and I had to remind myself that it was 1995, not 1935… it was all very surreal, and now there are apartments there, and clipped hedges, and I suppose a pool. I couldn’t tell you because there’s an electric gate that keeps nosy people like me away.
David and Dawn Green are the owners and operators of the Winter Park Dairy, and they are pleased to present their products to customers who appreciate the vital importance of patronizing and sustaining local businesses. It’s not a trendy, yuppified concept that the Greens are offering: this is a working farm with all the smells and sights you’d expect, utilitarian, honest, and simple. You won’t find cinnamon brooms for sale, or cat dolls stuffed with potpourri, but you will find healthy local products. I tell you– the cheeses are phenomenal, made from milk from cows that you actually see on the site. Last week I bought a chunk of parmesan, intending to grate it into a pasta dish, but it didn’t last that long. Today I bought a hunk each of their Black and Bleu and Cheddar. They’re in the refrigerator and, believe me, it’s all I can do to NOT land on them with a sharp knife and a glass of wine; the pleasure of eating these wonderful cheeses will have to be disciplined and moderated. Go– GO AT ONCE– to this farm store and avail yourselves of this wonderful local product. You might even find some locally baked goods for sale, but you should go early.
It was so beautiful that, after filling my white basket with cheese, I continued further east just to see what was going on in the neighborhood. I like to check up on certain favorite places, probably just to see if things are staying the same. I did see a large sign posted on a property that’s for sale, but I won’t even go into the how and why of all that; I just want to say that I think we have enough anonymous subdivisions in Seminole County already. And just to the right of that sign is this spreading oak tree on a property located at Eden Point, which isn’t even on most maps. Cars speed past this spot, but a casual cyclist like myself can tool along and see what’s what at leisure. Sometimes cows will gather under this tree to escape the heat of the noonday sun.
Grand Road is a mysterious byway (at least to me) wedged between Dike and Dodd Roads. The property here is partly taken up by a belt of electrical pylons, but there are still wild, kudzu-swathed areas just off the road. There aren’t many cars on Grand, and those that I did see were (mostly) attentive to the lone cyclist moseying along. I try to ride with my left elbow pointing out, to force cars around me, but sometimes they like to play chicken. Excuse me?
Heading back towards the house, I stopped at the San Pedro property, a meditative retreat center maintained by the Orlando diocese. You can get to Lake Howell along paths that have been blazed through the forest, or you can just sit quietly in the chapel or on a bench near pasture land which is rented to farmers. The cows were in the pasture further west today, and a gentlemen I spoke with said that it would be pretty easy to traipse through the meadow and find them, though he himself wouldn’t– “swamp monsters.” Sometimes at night he can hear the cows bellowing loudly to one another. “I don’t know what they are upset about,” he said. “Something is spooking them.” Swamp monsters?
I like stopping in the cool, quiet San Pedro chapel at the height of the day. I can turn off my ears and shut out all the noises in my head, listening instead to that still, quiet voice. I’ve figured out quite a few things in this silent place. And I can refill my water bottle at the cooler. Sometimes it feels like I’m the only person around for miles. Here, the chapel looks out onto the forest that ends at Lake Howell.
On the way home, I pass through an area called Slovak Village. It was founded in 1949 to accommodate Slovak families and farmers who had settled in the area. There is a cemetery there– the Slovak National Cemetery– in the little lanes located between Eastbrook subdivision and 436. Its name hints at something vast and filled with rows of Slovak graves, but it’s actually very small, though scenic.
And then home, which is maybe ten minutes away from all this by bicycle. Mind you, I’m not complaining about living in a suburb-cum-rural-exurb as I do, because I know I can easily get away from the noise and the traffic in just a few minutes… and find some artisanal cheese on the journey.