These days, my reading alternates between strategies to resist President Trump’s malevolent policies as well as to promote political change and writing that prompts reflection, grounding, and hope. A title that fits in the latter category is Heidi Barr’s forthcoming Woodland Manitou: To Be On Earth. Scheduled for release by Homebound Publications in September, this collection of essays is rooted in the rhythm of the natural world. Through the turn of the seasons, Heidi demonstrates that the cycles of the earth inform her everyday life. She paints a picture of how remaining close to the earth provides a solid foundation, even as the climate changes and the story of the world shifts.
Part stories, part wonderings, and part call to act, Heidi’s words invite reflection, encourage awareness, and inspire action. Once I have a hard copy of Woodland Manitou, I expect it will live on my nightstand, like a book of devotions I can pick up when I need wise words, sustenance, and comfort. Heidi’s writing is rich with nature and farming images that serve as metaphors for the seasons of life and big questions that are part of the every day—loss, control, change, transformation, fear, hope. These short essays require only a few minutes to read, but they lead to many more moments of reflection and looking inward.
Though we have yet to meet in person, I’m getting to know Heidi through her writing, our association with Homebound (the publisher for my forthcoming memoir Hiking Naked), and this interview. She lives near the St. Croix River Valley in Minnesota with her husband and daughter. They tend a large organic vegetable garden, explore nature, and do their best to live simply. Heidi works as a wellness coach, offers retreats and teaches online courses through Wildfire Wellness, writes books, and strives to give voice to stories that need to be told.
Although Woodland Manitou is available for pre-order through Homebound Publications, you’ll have to wait a few months to hold it in your hands. Until then, enjoy these thoughts from fellow writer, Heidi Barr.
Iris: Woodland Manitou is rich with nature and farming images that serve as metaphors for the seasons of life. When and how did you first recognize the importance of the natural world for you?
Heidi: It’s hard for me to pinpoint a certain time when I realized nature was important in my life, but I think I noticed its absence during my years in graduate school—living in a very urban area was difficult, and I often felt cut off from what was important to me, even if I didn’t always realize it at the time. As a young child, I spent hours outside in the huge vegetable garden my parents kept, and my family’s vacations were to wild places. We’d load up the family van and the camping gear and head out to Acadia National Park, or the Black Hills of South Dakota, or the Colorado Rockies for a week of hiking and exploring. And growing up in a rural area, out of town, everyday playtime meant running through prairie grass, picking vegetables, or finding enchanted groves in the shelterbelt. Nature was just a part of life. Now, as an adult, and especially as the parent of a five year old, I recognize the gift of those opportunities: to know nature as a regular part of life. These days if I’m feeling cross, my husband just says, “Have you been outside yet today?” Being connected to the earth in a fundamental way is what keeps me feeling balanced and in tune with myself.
Iris: What’s something that surprised you as you worked on this essay collection?
Heidi: Before I started collecting these essays into a cohesive work, I don’t know that I realized how much the seasons impact my life! Only in sifting through old blog posts and journal entries and musings did I come to truly acknowledge the importance the changing of the season has in my life and in how I operate in the world. It was fun to see the themes come out as I worked on it, and it felt good to be continually reminded why I have chosen to live as I do.
Iris: I’m always fascinated by how writers work. You obviously have a full life and juggle many roles. What’s your writing process?
Heidi: I’d love to say I sit down every morning and write for an hour, but I don’t think I’ve ever done that. With a full time job as a health coach, a huge garden, a young child, and plenty of side projects going all the time, I weave writing into the fabric of the days. I’ll think of an idea while out for my morning jog around the lake, and then later I’ll type out a few sentences while waiting for a meeting to start, or while the casserole is in the oven, or while my daughter is winding down for the day with a book. It can feel like writing happens in the margins of “real life,” but when I really think about it, sometimes it’s almost like writing is the thread that connects the dots. Because after all, a lot of the writing process is experiencing life, being present in the ordinary, reflecting on it, musing over why something impacts you like it does…..the actual act of writing sentences is just the outcome of all of that.
Iris: Woodland Manitou is your second book. Tell us a bit about your first book, Prairie Grown.
Heidi: Prairie Grown: Stories and Recipes from a South Dakota Hillside is a cookbook that walks through a year of life on my parents’ organic vegetable farm, the homestead where I grew up. It includes seasonal recipes for each month of the year, tips for putting up produce, really lovely photographs taken by a few different people, and stories about life on the farm.
Iris: What are you writing now?
Heidi: I’m currently co-writing a book with author Ellie Roscher (her new book, Play Like a Girl, comes out in August). Our book is about tapping into the root “tiny thing” of twelve different areas of life—everything from home to food to sensuality to style—and figuring out how to be intentional about incorporating these small practices into one’s daily practice. It’s been a really life-giving project, and I’m pretty excited to get it finalized and on to the next step of the publishing process! We have a couple chapters to go before the first draft is complete. I’m also working on another essay collection that may or may not turn into a book. We’ll see what happens there.
Iris: What are you reading now?
Heidi: This is a great question, the answer to which changes daily, some weeks. Sometimes I feel like I read WAY too much, but then I think, na….not possible. I just finished Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers, Francesca Varela’s Call of the Sun Child, and the latest issues of Orion and The Sun magazines. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer is up next, I think.
Iris: Thank you, Heidi, for our virtual chat about your book, and for posting our conversation about my book on your blog. And Happy Birthday!
In “Waiting for the Sacred,” one of the last essays in Heidi’s book, she advises,
“It might be harder than we thought to stay awake. We can listen and let the ancient become new again, just like the sun that rises and sets. We can step outside the illusions of our time to be in what we know is real. And we can stand in solidarity with those who are experiencing hardship and keep our eyes open to what we are being called to do in the world.”
Woodland Manitou will be a valuable guide in this demanding work.