Largely free of the manure odors that kept me from a life in agriculture, Faulkner Farm puts on quite a pumpkin patch, replete with red barns, hayrides, a pumpkin catapult, corn mazes and, best of all, a fine tri-tip sandwich, the only thing really keeping me in California anymore.
The sprawling 27-acre Halloween attraction is largely a family thing but also draws the kind of hipster couples in which the leggy actress/model/mom is taller than her mate. It's located in Santa Paula, on that stretch of California 126 that runs from Magic Mountain to the sea. Ringed by farms and fruit stands, it's a terrific little harvest-season jaunt. Like driving the winding lines of a Robert Frost poem.
Might I mention what a nice autumn we had last week in Southern California? Lasted about three days, during which we had some rain and chill. One night, I even fired up the hearth. Honestly, I'll always look back on it as one of the finest autumns ever.
Could've been longer, I suppose, but I'm not one to complain. This day, it's a little toasty at Faulkner Farm, a summery 90. But the spirit of fall is in the air, shade is plentiful and the lemonade cold. Seems every volunteer in Ventura County is helping here, and they are moo-cow friendly, in that way that takes city folk like us aback.
"Hi, I'm Natasha."
"I'll be helping get your pumpkins to the car," Natasha says.
"What's your angle?" is my immediate reaction, but fortunately I keep such thoughts to myself, because, as it turns out, Natasha is really just here to help.
Keeping thoughts to myself has become a survival mechanism developed during decades of marriage, because when I share, only bad things happen. For instance, at the farm, we stop at the petting zoo. I tell my wife, Posh, that Harry Bliss, who writes honestly and passionately about the American condition (he's actually a cartoonist), should pen a panel labeled "Heavy Petting Zoo," with a drawing of teenagers in parked cars.
"Get it?" I say. "Heavy Petting Zoo?"
"It's very telling," my wife says, "that you think in cartoons."
"Thank you," I say.
At this point, you're probably wondering about that catapult I mentioned earlier and why my spouse doesn't put me in it and fire. Good question. I'd be up for it. As a career finale, it would beat collapsing into a my Cup Noodles during lunch at my desk.
Dubbed the Pumpkin Chucker, it's not actually a catapult in the truest sense; it's a trebuchet, which is a weapon the French developed around the 14th century. It also sounds like something the French do in bed. (Doesn't everything?)
Like a catapult, the trebuchet slings pumpkins long distances, at $5 a pop. If you hit the little target, you win a T-shirt. But mostly the appeal is to see a pumpkin loop through the air, then splaaaaaat when it returns to earth. As mock warfare goes, I consider it a good value.
In fact, on the whole, this Faulkner Farm pumpkin patch is a pretty good value. There's a $5 entry fee, which entitles you to most of the activities on site. Pumpkins are extra. We walked out with a couple of Connecticut field pumpkins — one reaching to my kneecap — for an additional $20, not bad at all.
You should see this Faulkner Farm anyway, just the type of New Hampshire-style place you weren't sure existed anymore. Once part of a 150-acre family farm, it has been carved down through the years, but the original big red barn still stands. The country estate, anchored by a huge Victorian home, was used in "The West Wing" as a bucolic stand-in for a retreat back East.
Normally, UC Davis works it as an experimental farm: blueberries, lettuce, dozens of types of avocados. Throughout October (weekends only), the Rotary Club of Santa Paula takes over, putting on this splendid fest.
It's only an hour's drive, which we used to dissect the new Taylor Swift hit, in Posh's estimation "the worst song of all time."
"Can't wait to see what happens to her career when the cute wears off," Posh sneers.
Me, I'm more upbeat than that. Probably because fall was recently in the air, that finest of songs.
And one of these days, it will be again.
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