Friday, September 18, 2015

Life on The Farm

Life on The Farm


On the south side of Highway 156, hidden in a cozy redwood grove, lies one of San Juan Bautista’s best kept secrets. The Mission Farm RV Park, or, as I simply call it, The Farm, is most of the time about as laidback and peaceful as laidback and peaceful gets. It’s a clean, quaint, mostly adult trailer park with a natural, homey feel in keeping with the historical atmosphere of our town. Most days, you would be hard-pressed to find one nervous person on the premises.

Not that the residents on The Farm don’t give a damn, mind you. But if there is one thing that the lot of us has in common it’s that we’re a little picky regarding what we get excited about.  If you come running in here all jumpy about some kind of trumped up personal emergency, the reaction you will get will likely be a polite stare, a sympathetic head shake, and a friendly, but mildly disinterested “I’ll have to get back to you on that one.” Nobody here is going to up and join the militia just because you lost your I-phone or Missy messed her britches. Sorry, but you are just going to have to figure that stuff out for yourself.

On the other hand, if you sincerely need assistance or advice on a sober, practical level, like backing your 36-foot rig into a 37-foot space, or building yourself a redneck deck out of salvaged farm pallets, you can get that in a jiffy. You ought to see my redneck deck. You’d be envious.

The majority of the 120 campsites here are occupied by year-around residents, some of whom are sleepy old retirees like me, while many noble souls are still heroically punching the clock. Most of the more “experienced” campers have cheery little companion dogs that provide a measure of entertainment in the mornings, as they tug on their leashes and drag their shuffling masters from tree to long-suffering tree.

The redwood trees are what really make the place special. The owners of the park planted the forest in 1971 in what had been a vast walnut orchard. Forty-four years later, the redwoods tower over the property, providing a merciful afternoon wind break and pleasant shade from the midday sun. Even more than that, though, they lend dignity and strength to the surroundings. They keep a stately watch over things and their very presence makes you humble.

The Farm is like a miniature nature park. Somewhere up in those swaying redwood branches nest gently cooing mourning doves, always in twos, sounding virtuously sad, carrying on courageously despite their woes. One doesn’t have to be old to live on The Farm, but it probably helps to have an old soul - like a resilient coastal redwood or a mature pair of mourning doves, married for life, content to scratch around in the gravel together early in the day. Near sundown, if you watch carefully, you can see red-tailed hawks darting through the trees. What are they hunting? The furry, nimble grey squirrels? An occasional field mouse? A wayward, twitching bunny? As the Sun sets, silent, stealthy, wary white-tailed deer migrate slowly around the perimeter of the park, finding water and foliage along San Juan Creek. In procession under the highway, where are they heading? To the Mission to pray?

One of the things you notice right away about the park is how clean the grounds are. The maintenance crew, under the direction of manager Susan Cox, keeps the place groomed and neat for the permanent residents and for vacationing families and weekenders.
“We don’t advertise much,” Susan says, “and we don’t have a web site. Most of our holiday business comes from word-of-mouth recommendations. We see people who come back every year, holding their family reunions in the clubhouse and enjoying activities in town. They feel safe here and there is none of the hub-bub and congestion you find in the city. We are a family-oriented park and people come to have a quiet good time.”

Living here is a unique experience, combining a sense of independent repose with a feeling that you are part of an active community. Potluck dinners and barbecues on major holidays like the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are a real treat. Campers share delicious homemade dishes and easy-going, friendly fun in the spacious, old, ranch-style clubhouse. Surrounded by fruit trees, colorful flowers, and rusty antiques, this is the park’s social center and emergency quarters. When visiting bicycle tourists, camped out in the nearby tenting area, find their lightweight gear under siege in bad weather, Susan generously opens her clubhouse doors to shelter them from the storm.

The major El NiƱo episode of 1998 caused quite a stir on The Farm.  A combination of rain-soaked ground, unrelenting precipitation, blockage of the San Juan Creek underpass beneath Highway 156, and a failed stock tank levee in nearby San Juan Canyon resulted in serious flood damage in the park. Evacuation was necessary as the high water mark rose to nearly two feet on many of the permanent structures. Evidence of the standing water can still be seen today as “bath-tub rings” around the bathhouse, the clubhouse, and the other buildings. Could we be in store for more of the same this year?  Our Emergency Preparedness Plan outlines preparation procedures and evacuation routes if something like that happens again. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that we can stay high and dry this time. My glamorous redneck deck would be no match for another two-foot flood.

Peace and Love from The Farm