I Bought a Trail Camera — and Now I’m Obsessed With the Animals Outside My House

    Fleeing downtown New York City after 20 years, I became enchanted with the mysterious lives unfolding in the woods during the night

    By Dan Kennedy

    There are a million things I could talk about when it comes to having fled the city that never sleeps, but I want to tell you about a surprising hobby, or fascination, or obsession of mine. Trail cameras.

    Well, one trail camera in my case. I didn’t really have the nerve to buy more than one of these motion-triggered weatherproof recording devices at first. I was terrified that if I put one out all night at the tree line near the house, the next morning as I reviewed the footage there it would be: A speck at first, the kind of thing you have to zoom in on, and then, yep, sure enough — a deranged man in clown makeup, walking out of the woods, holding a chainsaw.

    Of all the criminal and seedy things that were certainly happening outside of various apartments I lived in for a couple decades in Manhattan, it was the great outdoors that made me afraid terrible things were unfolding at night while I slept. Twisted psychotics, murderous clowns, and angry antiquated ghosts, all of them were out there, just waiting to do god knows what.

    So I didn’t buy a trail camera for a long time. I didn’t even think of them as trail cameras, I thought of them as psycho-clown ghost cameras — clever pieces of motion-detecting hardware that would make me face the horrors I had up until now convinced myself were just the byproducts of a vivid imagination and too many scary movies. And if you haven’t seen too many scary movies, you’ll be briefed on all of them the moment you move to the country. Friends from whatever city you’ve lived in will regale you with synopses of every horror movie that takes place in the woods.

    The author once assumed it was better not to look into the woods at night for fear of what he might find. (Alamy)

    After living in the mountains for about a year and a half, I finally worked up the nerve and bought a trail camera. Just a cheap entry-level model, the idea being that I didn’t want the best lenses, audio and resolution money could buy… just in case I ended up watching a nightmare come to life. I didn’t want to hear what the chainsaw-wielding woodsclown was saying as he cast his oddly aroused gaze from the trees to our cozy house. So, I got the cheapest camera I could find, and set it out in a remote corner of the property, down behind the house, just outside the tree line… and left it out all night.

    The next morning, after pulling the camera back in from its mission, I sat inside, quietly scrolling from one dark, mysterious, empty frame to the next. Then, I arrived at a 12-second video. There was nothing in the opening frame, but I pressed play. The shot remained empty for five seconds, and it seemed like an eternity. And then… footsteps. I could hear them, coming right toward the house, somewhere out of frame. I drew a huge deep breath, filled with wonder and amazement, as I watched him gracefully go past.

    A coyote? He was big, though! A coywolf, maybe? One of those coyotes that have bred with the gray wolves up in Ontario? A fox? It seemed too big to be a fox, though. I watched it again. And again, and again. And then so many questions sprung to mind. Why do I only have one trail camera? What other beauty am I missing out there? I need three! Or five! And a jeep. No, a trail motorcycle! Yes!

    Unfortunately, this plan was voted down in household budget meetings when I found out we were buying a wood stove, three cords of firewood, two chainsaws, and two pairs of skis. So, now I’m the only clown walking around outside our house with a chainsaw.

    But morning after morning I sit watching coyotes and foxes, deer and lumbering black bears who first appear as two kind and curious eyes in the darkness. All of these beautiful creatures, their lives unfolding out there in the woods at night, far from us humans, and all of the little problems we’ve created for ourselves.

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