Charming Location Next to the Tracks in San Juan Capistrano | Orange County Family Photographer
The last time I went to the San Juan Capistrano train station was when my 14 year-old was 14 months. It was a quick half day visit, perfect for passing time with a restless toddler back when locomotives were his favorite thing…besides me…but I digress.
When my client suggested the station as the location for their family photos, I was excited. Not only because she was the one who picked the place, but also because I hadn’t been there in so long. I was excited to rediscover it this time around through a different set of eyes, for a more creative purpose.
As is always the case before I meet a family for their session, I planned to arrive early to get settled and do some last minute equipment prep. Since I didn’t have much memory of the place other than train tracks and some cute shops, I decided to go even earlier than usual to scout some spots and get my bearings.
The special thing about this depot is how open and accessible it is to the public as it seamlessly blends into the community and makes its iconic mark in town. When you walk down the quiet streets alongside the fenced off tracks, you’re greeted with cottages, coffee shops, a petting zoo, and charming homes occupied by those who don’t seem too bothered by the fact that they share their driveways with meandering strangers, or that their front yards are permanently on display.
As I roamed the neighborhood in the early morning hours and searched for pockets of shadow and light, I was completely smitten when I came across a patch of dirt that ran parallel along the train tracks, dotted with what seemed like miniature Christmas trees in random formation. It was an odd sight because it was so out of place, but it was one that I knew I had to photograph.
A little while later as my clients and I walked through town, stopping frequently to pose and snap shots at every picturesque corner, I quickly learned that I was not the only one who found those trees spectacular. As we approached the makeshift grove, my clients mentioned that they had been photographed there once before and that they had heard a story about those trees. As if on cue, a gentleman appeared out of nowhere and introduced himself to us by saying that he wanted to share his story about those very trees.
That makeshift forest of mini firs and pine needles was not, in fact, random. It was the work of this man, a father of two young kids, who saved almost 30 trees from being thrown into the trash, and planted them himself in that empty dirt lot to keep them alive. That was back in 2016. He named the grouping of trees “Jack’s Forest” after his son, and made a sign with the name, the year, and a hashtag in hopes of spreading the word that this forest existed.
The sign has since been stolen, but the spirit in which the forest was created has been keep alive and well. You can just tell by those thriving trees. If it weren’t for this man and his decision to approach us that morning, I would’ve never known the significance of this place and the unusual yet special circumstances that transformed it into this setting.
To Jack’s dad, if you ever read this, I hope you know how much your story resonated with me. That I was able to photograph this wonderful family on the other side of the tracks amid such beauty and hope is something I’ll always cherish.
Here’s to #JacksForest in San Juan Capistrano and to many, many more years of bringing smiles, laughter, and fond memories to those who are in search of it, or those who are simply passing by.