Thursday, August 7, 2008

My Rural Travelogue (Part V): The Charm of the Farm

We wrapped up our summer vacation with a few days at Mar Vista cottages in southern Mendocino County. It may have been faux rural (by my admittedly strict standards for that which is authentic rural), but it was nevertheless a delight!

The property sits above Highway 1 and offers lovely views of the so-called Mendonoma shoreline, as well as access to a secluded beach across the road. Nearby, just north of Point Arena, are the recently dedicated Stornetta Public Lands where one can stroll along high bluffs on the coast, enjoying sea caves, blow holes on an island across the way, and crashing surf. We also saw a large colony of seals basking between the Stornetta lands and the Point Arena Lighthouse (closed this year for renovation). In short, there’s a lot to do in the area, especially for those who enjoy the outdoors and a cooling sea breeze. (Even though I can see no link to rurality in this most cosmopolitan outpost, I can't help mention the marvels of Franny's Cup and Saucer, a great little bakery and patisserie in Point Arena; if you go, don't miss it).

But the distinctive attractions of Mar Vista are right on its property. Mar Vista is one of those places that recalls simpler times and seeks to bring its guests along for a sometimes nostalgic journey. It features 12 cottages, originally built in the 1930s and restored without too much updating. They have gas cooking stoves, refrigerators, and microwaves. There are no telephones (not even cell phone service!) and no televisions. Our cottage featured an added attraction: a nest of fledgling swallows over the little front porch. We enjoyed watching the mother swallow coming and going with food for the little ones.

People come to Mar Vista for the simple delights like these, just one aspect of the understated hospitality of Renata and Tom Dorn and the special environment they have created. While the cottages apparently attract a lot of couples on romantic week-ends away, I think Mar Vista is really a place for kids – kids of all ages, that is.

The Dorns keep about 50 hens in a pen with multiple roosting areas designed by Tom. Every afternoon around 5:30, visitors are invited to help gather the eggs. On our two days in residence, the average take was about 30 eggs, varyingly off white, different shades of brown, and a lovely pale blue green. Tom informed us that the latter variety were the products of the Australorpes, a Chilean breed. There are also silver-laced Wyandottes and Aracuña Golden Girls. A couple of pygmy goats (Pygmalion and Higgins) and a couple of rabbits (Jack and Jill) round out the farm-yard offerings. The owners have dogs, too, and a couple of feral cats take care of the mice. The pièce de résistance, though, is the organic garden, where guests are invited to pick their own produce. Small green and red signs distinguish for the novice what may be picked now from that which isn’t quite ready.

Our preschooler, whose usual “favorite thing” to do on vacation is ride a subway, loved our cottage and the large lawn area where he could romp and make noise. He also made a few new friends at Mar Vista. After two days there, his new “favorite thing” to do on vacation was gather eggs and wash the carrots he picked. It reminded me of my own childhood experiences doing the same things at my grandparents’ farm – except on their farm, the chickens could be quite intimidating, and a great deal more work was involved to reap such a bountiful harvest from the garden!

As the person who urged me to visit said, “Mar Vista is what city people think rural is.” Now that I’ve been there, I agree. It’s not really rural, but it’s not a bad substitute. It is a place that invites visitors – mostly city slickers from the San Francisco Bay area-- to enjoy some of life’s simple agrarian pleasures, complemented by the other delights of Mendocino County.

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