I think I understand what ghosts are now. I think they are just echoes, recordings of energies released long ago. Trapped, triggered, and reflected only when we disturb them.
At our physical core, we are all just collections of molecules bound together by some electrical forces we still do not comprehend. Every action we take, every emotion we feel, and even the thoughts we think generate waves of electrical charges. No matter how imperceptible they may be… they influence everything around us.
Just like lapping waves change where the grains of sand lie on the shoreline, our mere presence in a room changes it somehow.
Jenna and I are sitting on beach chairs at the edge of a lake in Mount Dora as I try to capture a night photo of the boat dock. I love night photography and usually have no problem setting up a really long exposure, yet no matter how I set the shutter speed the result is the same: a black frame with just a few pinpoints of light.
That’s when it dawns on me exactly how far we are from civilization. The stars are uncannily brilliant, and it’s only then that we realize there is no residual light in the air to muddy the sky. Far in the distance over the horizon there is a very slight glow you can’t even see until you’ve been in the dark for at least 10 minutes… It’s the light of some distant city screaming through the air into space, and for the first time I understand what astronomers mean when they talk about light pollution.
I think ghosts come out only in places like these, where there aren’t hoards of people crowding space with their own energies. Where the only sounds are the critters in the night, your own breathing, and perhaps the whine and thump of old plumbing. Where a black sky is truly pitch black. Where the ether isn’t filled with incessant radio noise from countless cellphones being pecked at by antsy people.
It’s in that silence –that true silence– when you’ve set aside the distractions and all the noise has subsided, that you can really hear, really feel them.
Ghosts of us.
The trip to Mount Dora was a last minute decision to get away for a weekend. Life, in its interminable way, had seemingly buried us under a mountain of worries and deadlines, and it was time to go.
It’s not long off I-4 when we noticed the change in the countryside and feel. These are small towns and land that has not changed for a long, long time. Living in a tourist state you take for granted that everything is always new, always under construction or renovation, forever in a state of flux. Never permanent, never fixed in time.
Somewhere between I-4 and Alt 441 we punched through a wall of lovebugs and grey rainy clouds that separated our world from this place, and arrived on 5th street with blue skies, cool spring-like air, and a sense of peace surprising in how quietly it stole upon us.
We arrived too early to check into the hotel, so we wandered the streets and popped into different shops along the way. In quaint little glass shop inside The Renaissance building Jenna asked the proprietor –who oddly reminded me of a petite and well-mannered version of Mr. Belvedere– where a good place for lunch would be, to which he replied “You can’t beat the Frog & Monkey… If you like pub fare, they have the best burgers in town.”
The Frog and Monkey was our introduction to the quirky architecture of this historic Florida town. Buildings here have been around for a long time, so the original view down the street is like a snapshot for the 1930′s or 1940′s. Over the years, business have moved in out, built new structures between the old, renovated, and repurposed old spaces. The end result is that you never exactly know what you are going to find anytime you walk through a doorway. It may be a regular storefront, it may open onto a hidden alleyway filled with people milling about listening to street performers acoustic music, or it could be a private residence.
The pub was in the basement of the very building we were in, so we counted that as a good sign and traversed the narrow and creaky wooden stairs to find ourselves staring at pub that felt like it had been ripped right out of the countryside around Warwickshire and transplanted here. Mind you, you’ll not find one English accent in the pub, but that homey atmosphere where strangers find themselves chatting with newcomers is in full effect.
Running the bar and playing hosts for the afternoon where the husband and wife team of Justin and Tina, who we soon dubbed “Justina” as their celebrity mashup name. People make all the difference in the world when you are running a small business. You can put up four walls and hang your sign out front, but it’s the people you’ve hired that set the pace and feel of the place. Justin and Tina were the best welcome into this quiet town, and I think I can honestly say that the set the tone for the rest of our time in Mount Dora.
We expected the typical bar food… What we received was a top-notch cooking that could have easily sold for 3 times the cost in an “upscale” setting. Let’s tally this up: Atmosphere: check. Personality and Conversation: Check. Amazing Food: Check. We’ll be definitely be coming back here!
After getting some advice from Justina regarding local restaurants and entertainment, we headed out to make our way to the Lakeside Inn.
The Lakeside Inn was built in 1883 and consists of a main building that houses the lobby, restaurant and bar, event rooms, and the most amazing porch –complete with old Florida rocking chairs– overlooking the great lawn leading down to the lake. Accommodations are in 4 buildings located along the edge of the lake.
The scenery and atmosphere were breathtaking, and when we walked into the building to find our room I found myself confronted with what I would call “modern expectations.”
I won’t call myself a seasoned traveler, however I will admit to falling prey to certain expectations when it comes to a hotel room. Let’s admit it: hotel chains fight hard for your dollars. They are constantly updating their rooms and accommodations, so for the most part we’ve come to expect similarly appointed rooms where everyone is new and shiny and fancy.
This is an old hotel, designed before air conditioning was invented and in an era where an elevator was only something used in commercial offices. So, no elevator. Air conditioning was handled by a wall unit air conditioner which did a fine job of keeping the room comfortable. Instead of that typical hotel modern bathroom, we had an old-fashioned tub shower, toilet, and sink with taste but decades old and well maintained tile work. The room itself was smaller than you’d expect from a modern hotel room, and the surprise was a gigantic walk-in closet that was nearly big enough to serve as a second room.
Sitting on the bed, this is where we stopped for a breath and tried to envision this room in the early 1900′s. The large windows would probably be open along with a vent into the hall to let the lake breezes through, and the large closet was probably a strict necessity considering this is an age where ladies wore dresses and hats and having a place to properly hang a wardrobe was more important than internet access and a huge flat screen TV.
Later in the 1930′s and 1940′s, when electricity finally came to Mount Dora, there would be those newfangled electric fans to help cool the room. Yes, I can see how this room fits into its historical context, and I welcomed this connection with the past.
The late afternoon found us walking the streets of Mount Dora. This is such an interesting town to walk around in because while it seems so simple on a map –it is, after all, just a small grid of streets– there are so many nooks and alleys and side streets that you always find yourselves going “where am I?”
Case in point, after walking the block nearest the hotel, we decided to walk along the railway tracks back to the entrance street. This is clearly an area that they do not expect most people to go, which is probably exactly why Jenna and I chose to go there.
It’s a gritty look back to the steam era railroads, and not at all clean and tidy. You get a close look at the working side of the buildings, and even so, there is something magical about it.
I can easily imagine a steam engine pulling though this town, stopping at the depot to drop off supplies and exchange mail, and the bustling activity that probably came with the arrival of the train.
But that’s all quiet now. Echoes of the past that we have to stop and listen for, and yes, they are still there.
Oddly, next to the tracks along a low brick wall we found a single lonely white rocking chair. I’m not sure what the purpose of this was, or who brought it here, but I’d like to think as they sat here they were probably remembering a vivid past they had been part of here.
We walked down the tracks until we were distracted by the sounds of a band playing at an outdoor patio of a restaurant, which brought us headlong into our introduction to nightlife in Mt. Dora: there is entertainment everywhere you go. Often, when you least expect it. You’ll find solo artists, duos, trios, and the occasional full band at most of the eateries, pubs, and alleyways you find yourself in.
Distracted by the music we found ourselves walking through a maze of doors that led to alleyways and stores, where bands of people all carrying wine glasses wound through in a seemingly ceaseless flow of laughter and conversation. Lost in this town outside of time, we lost our sense of direction as well and gave into the ebb and flow of Mt. Dora.
That’s where I fell in love with this town.
I could spend pages telling you about some of the amazing stores and their owners who always seem to have a story to tell, quaint places to eat, airplane tours, the steam train in nearby Taveres, ghost tours, and Irish bands, but this article isn’t about all that: it’s about the feel and the mood.
This is a place where you set aside the artificial pressures that modern life tends to impose, and if you can find that place inside yourself where that wandering child of yesteryear lives –that kid who’d get on a bike just to ride with no destination in mind and was always surprised and a little disappointed when Mom would call you home for lunch because you lost track of time– you’ll find yourself in the best of both worlds: an adult who somehow manage to recapture that sense of freedom, surprise, and adventure of childhood.
Yes, there are ghosts in Mt. Dora. If you listen closely enough in that space between breaths, you can hear them: the ghosts of us.
If you are interested in visiting there is plenty of information on Mt. Dora at their websites: Official Town Website:http://ci.mount-dora.fl.us/ Visitor’s Guide:http://www.whattodoinmtdora.com/