Mother and daughter piggy back riding

One February day–amid suburban sprawl, retail shopping strips, and construction sites–as I was loading my groceries into the back of my van, I reached up to close the hatch door. The shadow of a large bird caught my attention. I looked up at the bird and immediately recognized it as a Bald Eagle. What a remarkable site! As I watched the eagle soaring I invited other passers-by to join me. During our enthusiastic chatting, I discovered that all 20 of us were watching our first Bald Eagle in our neighborhood and our first Bald Eagle in the wild!

Afterwards, I thought I should report this endangered bird sighting to someone. I drove to my nearby state park to tell the rangers. I was breathless with excitement, and certain they’d be shocked and pleased to hear the news. Instead, it was I who was shocked when one of the rangers explained, “”This isn’t unusual. We’ve been seeing eagles here for a good many years. Where have you been?””

I pondered his comments for days. Why hadn’t I–nor any of the others who gathered with me in the grocery store parking lot that day–ever seen a Bald Eagle in our neighborhood? I wondered what would happen if I took the time to look up more often. Would I see the eagle again? What else might I see?

That sighting changed my life. It marked the beginning of my “”season of looking up,”” a season that has no end in sight even eight years later. You can’t imagine the nature I’ve discovered in my own backyard, neighborhood, and well, everywhere I go! I’ve seen a Praying Mantis on a city high rise, a dragonfly trapped in the cell phone store at the mall, a fawn hiding in the grass in my backyard, thousands of migrating butterflies, hundreds of migrating dragonflies, field mice converting a bird nest to a winter home, toads mating and laying eggs in a puddle at the train station, Osprey fishing, hawks at my bird feeder, turtles laying eggs in my yard, and a Tree Swallow that was knocked into the water and swimming desperately to reach the shore. Who knew Tree Swallows could swim? Over the next year nature took more and more of my time away from my work until ultimately it consumed me. Eventually, nature became my career as I launched a series of nature discovery books for children and their families. Today, I spend my life learning about, teaching, and writing about nature and the ways in which we can help our children (and ourselves) to experience the nature of our neighborhoods we are otherwise overlooking every day of our lives.

Nature is not a destination–it’s in your backyard, neighborhood, local park, city, and everywhere you go. I know. I’ve seen it and I continue to see it every day. You can see it every day, too. Take your family outdoors. Look up, down, all around. Smell the honeysuckle, chase fireflies, kick leaves, watch clouds go by. Let nature entertain you, teach you, envelope you. Encounters with nature define some of the quietest and most intimate moments of our lives, transporting us to a simpler time. Moments like these have always been and will always be a rite of passage for all children. Ensure your children this rite with a single, small step into the outdoors. Go ahead–take a minute to be in it.

Woman with camera

Jane Kirkland Jane Kirkland is the award-winning author of the “”Take A Walk®”” series of nature discovery books as well as “”No Student Left Indoors: Creating a Field Guide to Your Schoolyard””, the acclaimed educator’s guide to helping students discover nature in their schoolyard. To learn more about Jane and her books visit:

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Published: January 16, 2008