Going back to the source

A guest author muses on groundwater, coexisting with natural communities, and the threats of sand mining.




4 minute read

Photo by Greg Seitz, St. Croix 360

“The way we see the world shapes the way we treat it. If a mountain is a deity, not a pile of ore; if a river is one of the veins of the land, not potential irrigation water; if a forest is a sacred grove, not timber; if other species are biological kin, not resources; or if the planet is our mother, not an opportunity — then we will treat each other with greater respect. Thus is the challenge, to look at the world from a different perspective.”

– David Suzuki

I walk through the tall grass toward the place where the water bubbles out of the ground, cold as ice and clear as fresh air.  To get here, you have to drive down a winding back road and pull off to the side of it to park, and then hike down a steep trail that, until a few years ago, was unmarked.  Or, if you start from the official trailhead, the way to get here is via the most remote trail, the one that goes all the way to the edge of the park boundary and connects with the next less formal trail system beyond. There is not much human foot traffic here — in all the times I’ve visited, I’ve only twice seen another person. Usually it’s just me, the birds, an occasional fox, and the deer who silently watch from their posts in the forest. Going all the way to the source is perhaps not the most popular choice. 

There’s a silica sand mine, a place where parts of the earth are extracted for use by humans, just up the banks of the St. Croix River, near the little town of Osceola.  It’s about five miles from where I am now as the crow flies. Friends who live across the street from the mine speak of early morning truck traffic, shaking ground, and new worries that life as they know it may be forever changed if proposed expansion is allowed to continue, unchecked.  I don’t live close enough to the mine for its existence to impact my day to day life, but I, too, worry. 

In these parts, most folks hike along the rocky outcroppings and sheer bluffs along the St. Croix River at the parks that maintain trails, and for good reason.  They are breathtakingly beautiful, dotted with towering white pines and mossy boulders left here and there from ancient glacial activity. The mighty river itself has a strong pull.  You can feel its power when you draw near. After all, it has carved a vein into the earth. But today I’m not by the river. Today I’m stepping over the marshy places in the ground and over rotting logs, and eventually I come to this place where something new begins. 

As I walk, I worry about how the mine expansion could impact these waters, already threatened. I worry how the marshy places and the mossy boulders and the rotting logs might suffer as more and more is taken.  I worry about what will happen if we don’t take time to truly listen for what the best way forward is for all beings. I worry that good intentions to honor mining permits aren’t enough. I worry about what it means when business owners have more rights than ecosystems.

I stand at the edge of the small pool surrounded by stones, watching.  As the water bubbles up from the earth, the sand at the bottom of the pool continually dances and resettles in a rhythm that doesn’t cease. It is the definition of persistent. Being in the presence of this subtle energy reminds me that there are things in nature ensuring the mainstream isn’t the only stream. The river is fed by this gentle bubbling that meanders downward over rocks and roots until it joins the larger body of water.  It is fed by something that is easy to forget about and sometimes hard to reach. But when I can remember that this gentle energy is what feeds the larger river, and that all of the other little tributaries in the watershed do the same, I am reminded that these tributaries have influence that is sometimes hard to see. The impact, though subtle, is there.

But I worry that gentleness, this subtle energy, will be snuffed out by the constant need for business growth.  I worry that bubbling springs and dancing sands will be eventually replaced by mines that want this sand to make things that people use and eventually discard. I worry that my definition of persistence isn’t enough.

This mighty river commands attention and has the power to carve veins into the land. So do the bubbling springs and the tiny tributaries. Every time one of those little streams carries something important, the mainstream is impacted, for better or for worse. It reminds me that it’s important to stay true to my own voice, even if it’s not loud or it goes against the grain. Making a point to keep the tributaries clean and clear matters in profound ways, even if we can’t see it right away.  Even if it’s hard to do.

I want my young daughter to be able to stand at the edge of this spring, or on the banks of the river, and marvel like I do.  I want her to know a world that includes mighty rivers and dancing sands. I want her to be able to go to the source. I want to live in a community that honors these things.  I want to live in a community that partners with the ecosystem, rather than one that lords over it.

I kneel down to feel the cold, clear water. As I do, through the ripples I catch a glimpse of what is possible if we go back to the source.  I catch a glimpse of the more beautiful world that is possible when all perspectives are considered. 

Heidi Barr lives in Minnesota with her husband and daughter where they tend a large vegetable garden, explore nature and do their best to live simply. As a wellness coach and writer, she is committed to cultivating ways of being that are life-giving and sustainable for people, communities and the planet.  Her latest book, Cold Spring Hallelujah was released in November 2019.  Learn more about her work at heidibarr.com and 12tinythings.com


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4 responses to “Going back to the source”

  1. Luann Avatar

    Heidi is a deep and humble spirit that I truly feel honored to have met in a writers retreat at Buttermilk Fall last fall. I wish the world was populated more by folks like Heidi and her truly honest reverence for all nature. Actually I think there are more of us like that than we think. Unfortunately so many of us have “forgotten” our deep co-dependent relationship with mother earth. Or use words to make ourselves look like we understand…but then turn around to “consume some more”. 2020 is the year of waking up and regaining clearer vision. The earth and water need us to remember. The animals indeed do too. Indeed they do.
    L. K.

    1. Heidi Barr Avatar

      Thanks so much for your comment, Luann, and for embodying an honest reverence for nature yourself.

  2. rebecca vincent Avatar

    Thank you for this piece. I appreciate your attention to the parts of nature that so often go unacknowledged, unnoticed. Thank you for calling our attention to these important threats along this spectacular river.

    1. Heidi Barr Avatar

      Thanks for reading, rebecca!


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Going back to the source