I had the good fortune a couple of days ago to accompany my daughter and her 5th grade class to a place called “Riley’s Farm” in a small town called Oak Glen which is near Beaumont.
My son had gone with his 3rd grade class a few months ago and I had missed it. I try to make as many field trips as I can since I know time is flying by and time with my children is precious. When my son got home that day he said “Dad! You would’ve loved it! We made candles and picked some food from their gardens! There were apples and berries and…” he had a little more to tell me but that was about my only impression of the place – a farm where he made a candle and picked a few fruits in what I assumed was a neat orchard. “Awesome! Sounds like a good time! I love farms and food and makin’ stuff; maybe I’ll get to go someday.”
Oak Glen is, in the best of driving scenarios, an hour and twenty minutes from here. As any Southern Californian resident knows, the gods of traffic are fickle; in normal drive time, that number can double… I figured the farm must be worth the drive if the kids’ teachers made regular pilgrimages there. With that in mind, another dad, my daughter and a couple of other kids piled in the car and we headed out for an adventure.
Apparently the lords of traffic were in a benevolent mood that day. The roads were wide open, the clouds were high, the skies blue, verdant green hills rolled out in all directions and the temperature was a perfect 72 degrees. We sailed along at a princely clip and headed east. “East!” we shouted, though I didn’t realize how far east we were to go.
As we pulled off the main concrete river and swung onto an asphalt tributary that climbed into the mountains and led to the farm, we soon got stuck behind a slow moving car. We motored for about 4 miles behind this person who I graciously assumed was enrapt with the scenery and not just afraid to do 20+ MPH through the turns… I have to remind myself at times to do the same, but, boy-o, I sure do love driving a wide open curvy mountain road with the radio on and the windows down. That’s probably a stupid thing to say – who doesn’t love that?
Finally, the car in front of us slowed down – if slower than 10 MPH was even possible – and as they did, I noticed this woman standing near the side of the road in Colonial period dress. “Wow!” I spied another cluster of people dressed in Colonial outfits further off the road and thought I saw men with muskets marching about and I thought – “Super cool! I wonder what’s going on in that place? Lucky ducks! Must be some kind of reenactment battle or gathering…” And then. I saw the sign – “Welcome to Riley’s Farm – Park Here!” and an arrow. Pointing into the place with the Colonial people. I turned to the other dad – “Did you know it was like this?!” “Yeah! Neat, right?” “What?! Neat?! ‘Neat’ is how you lay out silverware when good guests come over. This is AWESOME!”
We pulled in, the other car trudged on, and an early American pastoral scene began to unfold before us. As if on cue, a healthy black cat sprung into the air and dove into the lush grass and started to wrestle with some unknown foe and came up seconds later with a plump mole in his grasp. I snapped photos as we parked and my daughter shouted “Dad!! Did you see that!!? Did you get pictures of that?!” We’re nature lovers the lot of us… this was right up our alley…
This is going to be largely a photo essay, but I’ll finish the preface with this – I was so very happily surprised with the day. I had no idea what was coming and at the end of the day, I honestly felt blessed by the people who worked and volunteered there. I felt proud to be an American. They helped us to stand in the continuum of time and, in many ways, glimpse what has made and continues to make our country great.
The main building & Public House at Rileys Farm. PS – There is a well appointed restaurant in there that I peeked into; it is candle lit and there was a nice looking bar. I am going to make another pilgrimage back there; I just need to work out local accomodations.
A skirmish erupted between Redcoats and Revolutionary militia men in the open field; an argument ensued, more men quickly assembled an order was shouted to fire. It was all just happening around us as clusters of children, parents and teachers began to stream in.
Rumor had it that the pies – only apple on the menu – were excellent here. I waited in line and bought one for Casa Brossa. I know – pie is not on the stay-fit menu, but legendary pie only comes around once in awhile. I was in. I loved this large woman in that small window; never trust a skinny cook.
A lesson in British legal proceedings was met with howls of laughter from parents and children as the judge managed to enmesh and implicate a set of volunteer students in crimes. The children laughed at the way he twisted and turned their statements and accounts into self-incriminating accusations; the parents laughed in relief knowing we had made huge strides in our legal system away from imperial justice practices.
This woman was a baker; I was peering from an open window across the room, waiting for her to appear in the door opposite me. The kids started gathering beneath her and she began speaking to them; she backed up a bit into the doorway, pointed across the room to a grain mill I was hovering above and I snapped this photo. The light in that room was really lovely… It felt like I was peering into a Vermeer painting or something…
Each station we visited was a lesson in the struggles the American colonists faced – from legal persecution, to war, to making your own food and clothing… The Baker taught the children about the Quartering Acts and how colonists had to open their homes and pantries to British soldiers in times of war and, with the second act, in times of peace. She asked the children if they thought it would be fair to have someone stay in their homes for free and to have to feed them anytime they wanted. There were resounding “Nos!” shouted by the kids.
The Baker asked the children if they would sign petitions that she could hang up throughout the towns to support their cause; a revolutionary cause. She told the children not to sign their full names – only their initials – and then asked them why they thought she only wanted their initials. Hands shot up and a boy said “Because if you put your full name, then the King would know who you were and they could find you and put you in jail!” Great answer, boy.
The master of ceremonies addressing the gathered crowds. He preached a fine message of justice, democracy, and liberty. He spoke about the trials our forebears went through, the struggles for freedom and then segued into quick points that touched on modern day slavery, oppressive governments, and oppressed people. The fight for liberty for many was real and needed.
My camera’s battery died right about here… an epic battle between the children ensued and they all played their roles well, rising from behind stone embankments with stick-rifles to fire at advancing troops of Redcoats to see them fall to the ground. Rebel commanders shouted orders to reload, kneel, rise and fire. British leaders helped students to affix imaginary bayonets to their sticks as they prepared for hand-to-hand combat. I watched the children as they marched and were felled by imaginary bullets; saw their faces as they listened to their commanders bark orders. For a few moments, the battlefield was real to them. It is my hope that the struggle for liberty was made real for them, too.
What a day! At the onset, it was just a school outing but at the end it was a profound steep in our history set in an idyllic place. I can’t recommend it enough. If you have children, take them there. If you don’t, go anyway and pick apples or pumpkins or visit the restaurant and maybe some of that magic will fall on you like it fell on me.
Check them out here – www.rileysfarm.com/