As we pulled our anything-but-chic rental van down the secluded gravel driveway to the house, we knew we had landed something special for the summer. Flanked by the thick Northeastern coastal forests native to much of Connecticut, the lawn flared out on either side of the drive in a V, with the house settled in the center. Through the multi-paneled front door was a breathtaking view into the house and out the back wall of windows to a vast tidal salt marsh. As we got out of the van we were gobsmacked, awkwardly catatonic as the owner of the house sat inside waiting for us to enter. The kids, however, a bit too accustomed to house rentals, ran inside screeching with delight before us, helping themselves to an excited and rapid self-guided tour. Fortunately, our gracious hostess patiently smiled, as she was happy children would appreciate her home we rented for the summer. After a few lessons on the house’s ins and outs, the owner left us and we found ourselves wandering around the property trying to take it all in. “Well, it looks like your wife really came through for you,” said Sarah, who found the home on Airbnb.
I spent most of my childhood in the woods and more time than I should in school daydreaming about being in the woods. Even as an adult living in a home surrounded by forest, I knew our land. So after three years abroad of urban living, something I made an oath I would never do (yet a necessary compromise to teach internationally), our secluded Guilford home became a place of deep reconnection. The cute, cuddly forest creature quota in our yard was so off the charts, I half expected Snow White to show up. You may have noticed from previous post pictures I prefer exoskeletons to fluffy and fuzzy, but I’ll admit the wildlife presence in our yard brought a certain sense of comfort. Even during the filming of our latest movie trailer, a small herd of white-tailed deer made a cameo appearance, unnoticed until we were editing (watch the bottom right of the video).
The only inlet to the salt marsh is flanked by two jetties directly opposite our house in the distance, and the marsh elevation is so close to sea level in Long Island Sound that it fills and drains fast enough to watch. During my runs around the marsh’s edge, I would stop at the inlet to see the volume of water and resulting strong current entering or leaving. Low tide is a grass-filled mud flat- the rich, dark silt glistened with a film of leftover seawater. High tide is a flooded plain- where there was once mud, now there are channels of water snaking between clusters of verdant, green grass deep enough for boating. The dramatic changes in the environment through the day are fascinating, as are the adaptations marsh creatures have to these oscillating conditions. The New England salt marsh may not be the most biodiverse of ecosystems, but rates as one of the most productive. Literally crawling with crustaceans and mollusks, the marsh is also acts as a breeding ground for many fish species. As such, it attracts birds, and small flocks of egrets, sandpipers, and other waterfowl are always within view, busily hunting through the grasses for edible, marine morsels. One of our most rewarding pastimes this summer was watching our osprey family nest from the monocular set up by our hostess in the great room. They had built the nest’s stand, and this breeding pair has returned for a few years. The osprey parents, named Prince of Tides and Lady of Spain by the homeowners, already had three chicks upon our arrival, and we were fortunate to witness their raising, fledging, and hunting lessons by mom and dad. The Lady of Spain is very opinionated, and her high pitched chirps critiquing the goings on in the marsh were ceaseless.
We had come to the tragic conclusion that our decades-old Cape Cod cottage dreams needed to be dashed. The Cape was just far enough away from the family to make a day trip unfeasible, and driving back to Connecticut during the short time we had in the States became a chore. When we were kids, the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound were notoriously polluted. The warning to Connecticut beach-goers was to be careful of diapers on the beach and watch out for used syringes. Cape Cod, constantly washed pristine by the Atlantic, was for both Sarah and I our summer playground as children. Today, thanks to the Clean Water Act and other environmental initiatives, the Connecticut coastline has transformed, our salt marsh being a perfect example. Nothing will ever replace the Cape, but the Connecticut coast might be a better location as we look into buying a place for USA visits. Our host town of Guilford is stereotypic coastal Connecticut- ship captain’s houses and white steepled churches around a town green all dating before the Revolutionary War, fish mongers along the wharf, and lobstah and New England clam chowdah served by a cashier in a Patriot’s shirt and a healthy helping of Yankee pride. One of our favorite haunts was the serve yourself, load up with toppings, frozen yogurt joint Sweet Frog. Of course, the summer brought us to other events in New England as well.
At about the middle of each summer break, it tugs at us. That warm, apple pie feeling of home recharges our batteries and we’re ready to head back into the world and our adventure. There is something profound and almost ironic that the comforts and ease of our retreat home grants us the impetus to get back out there. Cian and Áine, too, feel the tug- they start to say “remember in Nigeria…” more and more frequently. Empty duffle bags are now stuffed full of supplies difficult or expensive to find in Lagos, and as we loaded up our van for the airport, the kids said goodbye to the house and its animal residents. We drove through the historic section of Guilford one last time, and Sarah said that when decrepit Lagos is driving her crazy, she’ll close her eyes and go to her new happy place- our salt marsh.