When head ranger Vanessa Molineaux reaches between the legs of a butterscotch cow, grasps a teat and fires, she sends warm milk ringing into a tin pail, announcing that the morning milking has begun. Molineaux, her gray hair in a bun under her ranger's hat, speaks over her shoulder to my kids. "Go ahead, try," she suggests. They pat the cow, but run off to explore the barnyard's half-dozen buildings. I can seldom anticipate my kids' favorite farm park discoveries.
Inside the dim feed shed I open slope-lidded bins for them, and they thrust their hands wrist-deep into cracked corn and other fodders. Seeing animal pictures tacked there, they make the connection, and the room fills with their chorus of horse and chicken sounds. Outside, I help my youngest aboard an orange Kubota tractor. Soon he's drenched in sun and shifting gears, in 18-month-old bliss. His older brother points toward the brick, 1830s stable. "There's a door upstairs!" he says, spotting the second-floor hayloft doors. And he's off.
In the Visitor Barn Bookstore, Molineaux holds a clipboard an inch thick with sheets; the sheaf is school and camp reservations booked months ahead. Each day, seven days a week, 362 days a year, she and the staff hold half-a-dozen milkings, chicken and egg programs, hay rides and history tours. The staff plants and harvests 20 river meadow acres of corn and sorghum, too, using horse power.
Oxon Hill Farm is a red-barned, tin-roofed, 512-acre classic, with a half-dozen farm buildings stuck to a spiny hillside overlooking the Potomac. British ships shelled Mount Welby, its 1804 house, on their way to attack Washington during the War of 1812.
After a picnic lunch, the kids race around a neighborhood-size lawn while I settle on the brick steps of a hexagonal sheep shed that overlook the farm lot below. With the sun bright on the tin roofs, a windmill turning slowly, and far down the gravel lane, at the entrance, the dairy barn silo peeping around the trees, I decide I'll save that walk to the lower meadows and the Potomac for another visit. Right now, the view's great -- and we've got the place almost all to ourselves.
-- Bill Tabor