Th Journey of Writing from the Heart

In 2017 I was standing at the edge of a parking lot at a nature center in the Rio Grande Valley looking at birds with my mother and husband. We had just returned from a hot, dusty 2 mile walk into the thorn scrub of south Texas. Our walk yielded a few species, but the woods around the nature center and parking area were teaming with all the birds we had hoped to find. This moment confirmed an idea that I had been formulating that sometimes it is easier to find the birds near the parking lot, nature center campus, or from the bird blind that hiking deep into the hinterlands. The miles of conservation lands are necessary for conservation, they are often difficult to access and often the birds are not in some far away place, but instead are just beyond the parking lot.

Bird Blinds Ahead

The bird blind at South Llano River State Park

And so another journey began. I made some notes about best parking lots to bird, then expanded that to include nature centers, boardwalks, bird blinds, driving tours, and wastewater treatment facilities. From there, Parking Lot Birding, a Guide for the Curious Birder was born.

I pitched the idea to A&M Press here in Texas and they liked the concept, so I buckled down and started writing every week and doing the research on the locations on the weekends. I started writing in April 2017 and sent the first version on the manuscript to A&M Press in June 2018. After a big round of edits, two peer reviews and being voted on by their board, they said yes to publishing it in January 2019.

It took 17 months to write 200 plus pages, edit over 115 photos and find someone to design the maps. All while working full time and having a life. I must admit, I enjoyed the pace. I’ve written a novel and that beast has taken forever and I’m still not finished editing, despite renting a cabin in the woods of Montana two summers ago to work on it.

It takes a lot of self- discipline to sit and write when the weather is nice or friends are in town, but that’s the gig. A wise woman told me once if you write a page a day, you’ll be done with a manuscript in a year. I thought that seemed like an ambitious statement, but it really is true especially if you are writing from the heart and about a subject you have particular knowledge about.


Indigo Bunting on migration through south Texas

Each step is a learning opportunity and I’ve been open to the process wholeheartedly. Now the next leg of the journey begins and that is designing the book, marketing and selling it while also balancing work and life. But if I can inspire at least one person to step out their door to enjoy nature through birding, then I will have met my goal for writing the book.




Interview on New 8 Austin

From the interview with Jeff Stensland: 

Just a few hundred feet from one of the area’s busiest highways, you might hear a trickle from a nearby waterfall at the nature and Science Center in South Austin. The center has engaged visitors you and old for more than a century.

Margaret Russell runs the center, which is a city park and free to the public. There you can find native Texas wildlife like roadrunners and Moxi the Bobcat.

“We have a stretch of pretty diverse, wild natural areas to explore,” she said.

Jennifer Bristol is with Texas Children in Nature. The organization’s name is its mission helped by websites like Nature Rocks Austin and Nature Rocks San Antonio.

“It seems strange to have so much research to say that being outside is good for kids, but in fact we need it,” Bristol said.

Bristol says the average kid will spend between seven and 11 hours a day sitting indoors, which is why programs at the nature center are so important.”

“We really want time in the outdoors to be family time, so this is time families are getting outside together learning about nature,” Bristol said.

City tax revenue covers operating costs for this nature preserve, but programs get boosts from donations and grants while staff get a boost from seeing nature through the kids’ eyes.

“It feeds our soul,” Russell said. “We get to see the impact we make with kids. It is pretty immediate.”

Press Release for Texas Children in Nature

“Every Kid In A Park” Initiative Addresses Problems of Inactivity and Obesity, Promotes Health and LearningQvhzU1-3db00eef65d1469b9f002fbe66554262

AUSTIN — A new National Parks Foundation initiative announced Feb. 19 by the White House emphasizes goals shared by a growing Texas coalition of partners with chapters in major cities, the Texas Children in Nature collaborative.

The ‘Every Kid in a Park’ initiative gives fourth graders free admission to all National Parks and other national lands during the 2015-2016 school year.

“We are so excited about the new ‘Every Kid in a Park’ initiative,” says Jennifer Bristol, Coordinator for Texas Children in Nature. “In Texas this really expands the efforts that many of our partners are working on to create more access to nature for families in our rapidly growing state.”

Bristol says kids 12 years old and younger already can play for free at all Texas State Parks and many city and county parks around the state. She said studies show children and their families who spend more time in the outdoors tend to be healthier, happier and smarter.IMG_4785

With children spending up to 8 hours per day indoors, sedentary with media and only minutes per day playing in the outdoors, experts say this is a step in the right direction.

Texas Children in Nature is part of a national grassroots movement that ignited after the release of author, Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods. Louv participated in a summit held this week in Chicago to publicize the ‘Every Kid in a Park’ initiative.

“[This] announcement and new initiative may well be a turning point,” said Louv. “It will help support the people who have worked so hard, many of them for decades, to connect children to nature. It will encourage new actions by local government, education, religious organizations, the health care professions, and, crucially, by our business communities. The greatest change must happen beyond government, in the daily decisions that all of us, as individuals and members of families, take in our daily lives. Ultimately, only we can make sure that every child receives the gifts of the natural world.”

Richard Louv and experts from around the nation will be speaking on this topic this spring the Children & Nature Conference being held in Bastrop at the Hyatt Lost Pines Resort on April 7-9. The Conference and Gala are being co-hosted by the Children & Nature Network, Texas Children in Nature and Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center. The three day event will bring together leaders from the conservation, health, education, technology and built environment communities to explore ways to encourage families, schools, churches, non-profits and businesses to support getting kids off the couch and into nature.

The surprise of Nature.

The surprise of Nature.

Registration is required for the event. More information can be found by visiting the conference webpage.

“We really want to make outdoor time, family time in Texas,” says Bristol. “The announcement of the ‘Every Kid in a Park’ initiative and the Conference coming up in April are both great steps towards raising awareness that all children and families need to have access to nature to be healthier and happier.”