One of my earliest childhood memories, one that brings me much joy, is of a moment in kindergarten on a class field trip. I cannot remember where we were, why we were out, or who was there with me, but I can remember looking high up at the sky, and becoming mesmerized by a swirling kettle of Turkey Vultures.

I pointed this out to my teacher, who was stunned that I had noticed something so distant. Her praise made an impression, and I still feel that rush of pride when I manage to observe a soaring raptor, so graceful, so free.

For me, birding has become a lifeline in many ways. During my first pregnancy over a decade ago, a Red-Shouldered Hawk would appear in my backyard, nearly every day, always when I most needed it. To me, it became a symbol of hope, and any time I felt uneasy, I unknowingly turned to the the skies for a Hawk. Usually, I found one.

A few years later, I worked as a mental health therapist in Northern Florida, making a long commute to a rural facility each day. This was a tumultuous time in my life (I was a young mother, the breadwinner, the empath working with extremely high-risk clients). I felt the stress in every fiber of my being. However, now that I am so far removed from those days, what I remember most is seeing Swallow-Tailed Kites gliding above the trees as I drove, their carefree movements never failing to delight me, no matter the stress I carried.

My final months in Florida were rife with hardship, but it is the Kites and Hawks that stay with me, all this time later.

I fully leaned into birding last year, as my casual observations grew into more structured study. However, this ‘leaning in’ was more of a pulling myself out of the depths of postpartum anxiety, as the birth of my third child in early 2019, and the transition that followed, stretched me more than I have words to describe.

One evening, weighed down by a long day of mothering and teaching and cleaning and breastfeeding and not sleeping, I set my children up with toys and stepped outside for 5 minutes alone. That evening air enveloped me, the wind brought the sounds of dozens of backyard birds, and I felt myself let out a breath that I had been holding for days, or weeks. It was then, that evening, that I promised myself 15 minutes of outside exploration every day, no matter what. My children often accompanied me on these outings, playing their games while I stalked Spotted Towhees and House Wrens.