This ended up taking me through Polk County to a small town called Auburndale, looping around lakes and hills and detouring at a little ice cream stand, then into Osceola County to follow what appears to be the national iconic sign for wildlife viewing (brown, square, image of binoculars). This took me not to a county park, exactly, but to the Osceola District Schools Environmental Study Center. The visitors' center appeared closed but the boardwalk along Reedy Creek was open. No mammals spotted. A lot of swamp birds. A lot of alligators. More than a few big spiders. If I'd been there at the right time, I'd probably have seen an otter or a deer.
Obviously, this is where I'd intended to go, I just hadn't known it before I'd arrived.
One thing I liked about growing up in Florida was the feeling that no matter where you are in it, you're never that far away from nowhere. While that's still true, you have to go a little farther, and it's harder to feel like you're really isolated--you can be in what looks like a fairly quiet spot and realize you can hear the sounds of not a rural road but a highway not too far away.
I suspect that feeling would be true nearly anywhere I lived, certainly anywhere near a metropolitan area. Even so, visits to Silicon Valley over the past few years have shown a lot of quiet "natural escapes" survive close by, despite being one of the biggest, densest urban areas in the country. This is one of the main attractions of that part of the country for me--at this moment in history, at least, it's balanced the two extremes as successfully as any place is likely to.
I don't think this is because California is that much better about actively preserving nature, despite its liberal reputation. I think it's simply because Florida is flat. There aren't any natural impediments to growth save the occasional arbitrarily-protected wetland. Silicon Valley, of course, really is a valley. The mountains naturally hem development in--being on the other side of them and commuting to work in the valley is enough of a hassle to be impractical. If Silicon Valley had kept expanding, the development would have forced its way up and over the mountains in a more substantial way by brute force, but the dot.com implosion makes that less likely for a while.
Well. There's more work I should be doing. Not to mention showering. It doesn't take much exposure to Florida summer humidity to make my hair even more of a mess than usual. I may yet have it all shorn off (something I start thinking about every year about this time, and keep thinking through at least September).