Four times a day each Saturday and Sunday, Brian gives a 20-minute lecture on reindeer from the corral. The kids can watch the animals playing silly reindeer games, while the oldsters pick up all sorts of interesting tidbits about them. (They have very dexterous lips and love raisins and animal crackers. Both the males, called bulls, and the females, called cows, have antlers, which they grow every year and shed and regrow.) At the end of his talk, Brian brought Minnie out of the fenced area on a rope. We got to pet her as she twisted under our touch, her whole body as ticklish as a human foot. Her two layers of hair were coarse but soft.
Reindeer love the snow. We love the snow, too, but we loved our four-wheel drive more. This isn't just country -- it's almost backcountry. Although the plows had made a pass at some of the main roads, the offshoots were still covered in places. So be advised: If it snows again, bring the Big Daddy car and a shovel -- just in case.
We hung out with the reindeer until we couldn't feel our feet and then decided to head over to Hickory Dick's in nearby Dent, Pa., a place Pat had recommended for its excellent chicken and ribs. Anne and I are vegetarians, so going to Hickory Dick's really was all about Ray and soaking up a little local culture.
The drive took us through the picturesque township of Peach Bottom, Pa., with its century-old churches and brightly decorated houses lining Main Street. Not so picturesque: the eerie Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station. After a couple of missed turns, lots of backtracking and stopping to ask for directions twice (a big-city thanks to the hunters in the red pickup and the bearded fellow watching his kids sled down a hill; you know who you are), we made it to Hickory Dick's, a redwood smokehouse about 10 minutes from Applewood Farm, if you have good directions, which you will if you read the Escape Keys box.
Hickory Dick's serves four types of french fries, homemade soups, pit turkey, beef and pork sandwiches, two kinds of ribs, crab cakes, oysters, grilled cheese sandwiches, even a vegetarian wrap (a tortilla filled with coleslaw) and -- trust us on this one -- fried pickles.
If you're too tired to drive home after an afternoon with the reindeer, the Peach Bottom Inn, a two-story motel with a restaurant attached, is less than five minutes from Hickory Dick's. You can sleep off your belly full of fried pickles there or you can find brand-name lodging 20 minutes away in Bel Air, Md. If you turn in for the night in the area, you can have breakfast at the noisy Delta Family Restaurant, which serves comfort food down the road from the Peach Bottom Inn. And be sure to leave time for a stop at the 230-year-old Jerusalem Mill and Village in Gunpowder Falls State Park in Kingsville, Md., as you head south to Washington (Exit 74 off I-95).
The village is open weekends, and the mill, the centerpiece of a Quaker settlement in the 18th and 19th centuries, has a museum and visitor center. On Sundays, the cooper and blacksmith shops have live demonstrations. The youngsters can take a few swings at the red-hot metal pulled from the forge before heading back to the highway. As the sun sets in dramatic orange and pink blazes, you can roll along cold but refreshed from your country adventure, with visions of Minnie prancing in your head.
GETTING THERE: Applewood Farm, at 4435 Prospect Rd. in Whiteford, Md., is about 80 miles north of Washington. From I-95 north, take Exit 80 toward Churchsville, Route 543 west. Go two miles and turn right onto Route 136 north. Follow this 14 miles to Dublin. Go another four miles, turn right onto Prospect Road and proceed 21/2 miles to the farm, on your right.
WHAT TO DO: Applewood Farm's reindeer herd is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekends through Dec. 21. Admission is $2 per person (children age 2 and under are free) and includes access to the reindeer corral (with demonstrations at 10 a.m., noon, 2 and 4 p.m.), the Christmas barn, petting zoo, a Christmas tree maze and hay rides. Carriage and pony rides are $2 extra. Info: 410-836-1140, www.applewoodfarm.org.
Jerusalem Mill and Village in Gunpowder Falls State Park in nearby Kingsville, Md., is the centerpiece of a Quaker settlement from the 18th and 19th centuries. Info: 410-877-3560, www.jerusalemmill.org. The village, open 1 to 4 p.m. on weekends, has a museum and live demonstrations.
WHERE TO EAT: There's a refreshment stand at the farm. Hickory Dick's (913 Broad St.) in Delta, Pa., serves up tasty charcoal grilling and is a favorite among locals. Prices range from $2.25 for a grilled cheese to $7.95 for a half-rack of ribs. The five-piece fried pickle special is $3.95. Getting to Hickory Dick's was tricky -- turn right onto Prospect Road as you leave the farm. At the first stop sign, make a left onto Slateville Road. Follow this for about a mile and turn left on Atom Road. This turns into Main Street as you enter Peach Bottom Township. Make a right on Broad Street and follow up a long hill. Hickory Dick's is on the left.
Delta Pizza (533 Main St., Delta) offers classic Italian grub from Sicilian owners, including pizza with homemade dough, great subs and stromboli. Delta Family Restaurant (5978 Delta Rd., Delta), cooks up creature comfort foods, family-style.
WHERE TO STAY: At the 24-room Peach Bottom Inn (717-456-9831, 6085 Delta Rd.), rooms are just $40 a night for a single, $50 for a room with two double beds. It has a restaurant and sports bar on the premises.
INFO: Harford County Tourism Council, 800-597-2649, www.harfordmd.com.