It’s a predictable tale: a couple living in a city (Brooklyn) has a baby (Laurence, aka Laurie) and immediately thinks this baby needs grass, and trees, and nature! I grew up in New Zealand and I was keen for our son, now four, to experience something akin to an antipodean childhood, i.e., to spend long, desultory hours wandering in the woods, poking at things with a stick.

So, we moved to Cornwall, where we discovered that Laurie doesn’t much like the woods, or wandering, and prefers to bring the sticks indoors, where he hides them in special places. One stick has taken up residence in the spice drawer—it is the Spice Stick—and now must remain there forever.

Laurie might mistrust the woods, but he shares my fondness for the animals around us. His favorite is a groundhog he has named Norman. Laurie provides us with hourly updates on Norman’s activities, of which there are but two: sunbathing and vegetable thievery. For now, Norman gets to stay, his weight-management issues a plump testament to the excellence of our tomato plants.

For all that nature brazenly steals your stuff, she sometimes bears gifts. When we first arrived, we received the gift of acorns: acorns on the kitchen counter; acorns beside the hearth; and, for that extra touch of romance, an acorn beneath my pillow. Google told us why: mice. This was neither surprising (our house is full of holes), nor alarming (mice are pretty cute), but as city people we felt compelled to catch the mice in resplendent, humane mice motels. We drove them far from our house to release them, which made us feel a bit sordid, like we were dealers doing sur­reptitious mice drops across Litch­­field County.

We had clear evidence of bears when a FedEx-delivered dining room chair was found up in the woods with a distinctly ursine bite in its seat. I immediately googled to see if anyone in Connecticut has ever been eaten by a bear? (Answer: not yet.) We purchased a set of bear bells, which, it turns out, are unnecessary when you’re walking in the woods with a child that emits a steady “I’m boooored! I need a stick to put in the toilet!”

We set up a trail camera down by the pond, and soon enough we had a hard-drive full of creatures: our chair-chewing mama bear, two cubs rollicking behind her; a band of coyotes; a stench of skunks; the occasional opossum; the blur of a passing owl. I love these black-and-white glimpses of our neighbors and their routines: the bobcats, always alone and meaning business; the deer, always together, skittish, their legs looking too flimsy to be entrusted with their torsos.

I like it all, in fact: the spectral howl of the coyotes; the dawn hammering of a conscientious woodpecker; and the slow, circling courtship flights of a pair of red-tailed hawks, who last spring raised a baby in our yard. I’ve even grown almost fond of the bat that lives part time in the vent above our shower; Laurie insists he’s called Batty, but he looks more like a Steve to me.

—Tracey Hill

📸: Tracey Hill