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An excerpt from Woodland Manitou: To Be on Earth

Ten years ago, I lived in the middle of an urban area. St. Paul is Minnesota’s capital, and half of what Minnesotans call the Twin Cities – Minneapolis completes the picture. Boasting a population of over 3 million, this metro, like most cities is busy and full of people, concrete, job opportunities, wealth, poverty, loss, joy, sorrow and a myriad of other things that punctuate human existence in the modern world. Like most cities, people come from all over in search of energy to thrive on, communities in which to exist, and someplace to call home. Like most cities, it is growing. And like most cities, it can be a real challenge for the people who live there to build a life that includes getting outside and enjoying nature on a regular basis. There are opportunities in cities that don’t exist in rural settings, to be sure. But there is also an ache for a way of life that follows a rhythm more ancient than the one interstate highways and artificial lights can provide. For many, life is hectic. To do lists are long. Finances are tight. Cars get the right of way. Life and creation often don’t harmonize.

So which is more important? Opportunities in the city or living a life in tune with creation? For me to be living in tune with the natural world – whatever that might look like – takes priority. My life has evolved in such a way that today I live well outside the city limits, but when I did live deep in the heart of the concrete jungle, I found that harmony — that ancient rhythm of nature — by running.

I ran because it was the easiest way I could think of to get some sort of relationship going with the outdoor world while benefiting from the opportunities that came from an urban home base (without putting hundreds of miles on the car and using the fossil fuel that would have been required to drive to parks all the time). I ran around our slightly ghetto neighborhood, looking for beauty in the people that lived there, in the countless flowers that were planted along the sidewalks, and in the few trees that were allowed to stay as development went up around them. I ran around the neighborhoods surrounding my office building after dodging traffic, thankful for a chance to get out of my temperature controlled cubicle to see the light of day and feel the natural air on my skin. On the days when I worked the evening shift, I ran in the morning with a friend down at the Mississippi river bottoms, thankful for the opportunity to spend an hour amidst the swampy wildness that runs right through the middle the metro area.

Pockets of wilderness can be few and far between in the heart of a city, but they are there. They are in the clumps of trees behind the abandoned house down the block and in the green space between the office parking lots, struggling to maintain themselves as our culture closes in on them. They are in the breeze that blows despite the pollution that likes to hitch a ride. They are in the woman behind the bank teller window and in the kid wiping down the tables at the diner despite the illusions that mar the view of who they truly are behind the cloak of employment. I ran to remind myself that being outside is what is real and what connects us to our authentic selves – it is what matters and is what holds the key to contentment, joy and fulfillment for all people, whether we are willing to recognize that or not. Years after moving outside the city, I am able to look back on my time spent living in the midst of that churning, man-made energy and be forever grateful that I took the time to get outside regularly — To acknowledge that despite the walls we put up, humans are not separate from nature. We can see it anywhere if we take the time to look. Sufi teacher Llewellyn Vaughan Lee writes:

Until we get to the root of our image of separateness, there can be no healing.

Perhaps to notice and celebrate nature, wherever we spot it, is to invite some of the healing that is so needed in the world.

These days, I can step out the front door in the morning and hear nothing but birds and wind rustling through the trees. But in the years leading up to finding the means and the opportunity to change my life situation, running outside and being intentional about noticing the wildness that can’t be contained by humanity kept me sane those years I spent living in the city.


To continuing reading, you can pick up a copy of Woodland Manitou wherever books are sold, or directly from the publisher here.

Heidi Barr

Heidi Barr

Heidi Barr is the author of 12 Tiny Things: Simple Ways to Live a More Intentional Life (due out in January 2021) as well as four other works of non-fiction. A commitment to cultivating ways of being that are life-giving and sustainable for people, communities and the planet provides the foundation for her work. She lives in Minnesota with her family where they tend a large vegetable garden, explore nature and do their best to live simply. Despite working for an app-based tech start up, she plans to put off getting a smartphone as long as possible. Learn more about her work at