finding nature. finding yourself.

May 11, 2021

When the pandemic shut down her typical routine, Deedee McPeak started a journey through the Find Yourself Outside Challenge. Along the trail she found wildlife flying and playing, and the extraordinary discovery that some of these treasures existed close to home. When Deedee completed the challenge, she sent us an essay about her experience that was originally shared with the Downingtown Public Library.

Thank you for Deedee for sharing your beautiful experience finding nature close to home and using the challenge to find adventure in new places. The Find Yourself Outside Challenge isn’t just a chance to get a t-shirt (though it’s a great t-shirt), it’s an opportunity to explore the incredible places that clean our water, generate fresh air, and provide a home for the wildlife we love. If you love nature consider joining our community of members. The support of our community is what allows us to nurture nature this year and every year to come.

This essay was edited for length.

Find Yourself Outside

I heard them before I saw them—a high pitched cry far about the fields at Bryn Coed Preserve. I looked up and saw two Bald Eagles floating above the field. One of the pair turned slightly and landed gracefully in a large pine at the edge of the field. There was a large nest in the top of a tree not far from where the eagle perched. I saw something brown and furry moving in the nest. An eaglet, I assumed. I had never seen one before—at least not in the wild.

It took a pandemic and the shutdown of all my usual activities for me to visit a nature preserve that is literally 15 minutes from my house. I didn’t even know it existed. I first visited Bryn Coed Preserve in May. I would return at least a dozen times in the months to follow This is where I saw the eagles. It’s where I saw kits playing in blueberry bushes. And this is where I experienced a young white oak tree estimated to be 100 to 150 years old.

Once I realized that the pandemic was not going away anytime soon, I started visiting other Natural Lands nature preserves in the area. My visits to the preserves became part of my weekly routine, providing exercise, pandemic stress relief, and even adventure. Natural Lands has over 20 preserves. I’d scroll through the descriptions on the Natural Lands website and pick a place depending on the weather, how much time I had, and what mood I was in. One day I found a page on the website that said:

Are you up to the challenge? Explore 20 of our featured preserves and Stoneleigh: a natural garden and collect all the code words to receive a Natural Lands “Find Yourself Outside” t-shirt.

The Find Yourself Outside Challenge became my mission! When I visited a preserve, I took a picture of the code word posted on the visitor board and wrote it down on the challenge form when I got home. My planning and hiking skills improved as time went on. I kept my hiking boots, which were often muddy, in the car and would change into them at the parking lot. I had a backpack ready to go with water, bug spray (which really saved me a few times), sunglasses, sunscreen, and a hat. I took a picture of the map on the visitor’s board when I arrived. And I always made sure my cell phone was charged.

One of my favorite things about exploring the nature preserves are the treasures I find. The 571-acre Stroud Preserve surprised me with a magnificent panorama of Chester County hills. Tiny 25-acre Saunders Woods Preserve, which I never would have found without GPS, sits in a small valley behind a neighborhood in Gladwyn. It has beautiful old trees, a path that crisscrosses a tiny creek, and several sculptures carved from tree stumps. It was there that I found a Hansel and Gretel trail of fishy crackers and pretzels. Walking in Binky Lee Preserve I almost tripped over a large box turtle crossing the path. I stopped to take a picture but the camera-shy turtle ducked inside it’s shell. I was crossing a narrow creek at Stone Hills Preserve and out of the corner of my eye I saw something move. I looked down and realized there were dozens of baby frogs at the edge of the water. Every time I’ve gone to a preserve, I see something remarkable—interesting trees, beautiful vistas, all kinds of birds, farmhouse ruins, cute bridges, unique gardens, mini waterfalls… they’re all just around the next bend in the trail.

The benefits of being in nature cannot be overstated. On one of my hikes, I found a hand painted sign that said “Trust Nature – She Loves You”.

Sounds about right.