How to ‘Rewild’ Yourself Even If You Live in a City (Claire Dunn)

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Imagine this: you live in a city or very urban environment, maybe close enough to a major highway that you can hear it, or far away enough from a space you consider a park to make heading there every day seem impossible. You can’t imagine really enjoying being outside all the time where you live because it’s just so not “nature.”

If that sounds familiar or like it could be you, Claire Dunn is just who you need. Author of “Rewilding the Urban Soul: Searching for the Wild in the City,” Claire is an Australia-based rewilding and urban nature expert who joined us to talk about what it takes to find nature wherever you are.

Some of the good stuff:

[2:43] Amy is weird

[3:28] Claire Dunn’s favorite outdoor space

[4:45] How Claire became someone who likes to go outside

[6:55] How Claire got back to the city after her year without matches

[13:28] What does “rewilding” mean?

[19:36] Why humans and nature are the same

[22:02] What is the “tourist test?”
[25:35] Where do you find wild in a city?

[30:14] How the city can draw us to nature

[33:07] What is a “sit spot” and how do you find one?

[38:37] What role does fire have in rewilding?

[40:54] Quick tips for people looking for nature close to home

[47:27] Claire’s favorite outdoor gear

[49:12] Claire’s favorite outdoor moment

Connect with this episode:

Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation on The Humans Outside Podcast. Listen to the episode on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

Amy Bushatz 0:06

No matter who you are or where you go, heading outside is always worth it. Welcome to Humans Outside where we’re using the Humans Outside 365 Challenge to build a life around spending time in nature while learning from fascinating outdoor-minded guests. I’m AB. I’ve let curiosity be my guide as a journalist for 18 years, but life, including my husband’s war injuries, has burnt us out. So we moved sight unseen to Alaska to see if a change of scenery and new focus on outdoors was just the shift we needed. Since September 2017, I’ve spent at least 20 consecutive minutes outside every single day, no matter what, to explore how nature can change my life. Ready to hear from experts and outdoor lovers who make heading into nature just a part of who they are while we work to do the same? Let’s go.

Imagine this, you live in a city or very urban environment, maybe close enough to a major highway that you can hear it or far enough away from a space like a park that you consider too far to make heading there everyday seem possible. You can’t imagine really enjoying being outside all the time where you live, because it’s just not nature. Maybe that’s you and you don’t have to imagine it. Or maybe you feel that could easily be you if you push this daily nature habit thing too far. Today’s guest Claire Dunn knows all about this. Talking to us today from her home in Melbourne, Australia, which has a population by the way of like 5 million. Claire knows what it’s like to spend time in an urban environment when all you want to do is be in a truly natural one. She appreciates nature so much that she once spent an entire year living in the Australian bush, a subject of her memoir, My Year Without Matches. But when she moved back to the city, she realized that urban life is just how it is for many, many people. And there’s no reason why city dwellers can’t experience their own brand of what she calls rewilding. And that’s the subject of her new book Rewilding the Urban Soul: Searching for the Wild in the City. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and all the insight it gave me as I consider the nature right outside my door. And since getting closer to nature we have around us is our focus for season five, Claire’s the perfect Humans Outside guest. So Claire, welcome to Humans Outside.

Claire Dunn 2:39

Thanks, Amy. Lovely to be with you today.

AB 2:43

So I have a couple friends who are Australian. And I always feel when I’m talking to them, like, I want them to read me a children’s book or something. Your Australian accent is just going to be very calming for me today.

CD 3:02

Well, if that’s all I have to do, then that’s easy enough.

AB 3:05

Oh, that’s probably a weird way to start a podcast episode. Sorry, guys. Anyway, we usually start by imagining ourselves in our guest’s favorite outdoor space talking to them, wherever they are. And I’ll try not to be weird the rest of this. Where are we with you today?

CD 3:28

Great, thanks, Amy. I’m sitting here looking out the window with a vast tract of bushland in the inner north in Melbourne, about five kilometers from the CBD [Central Business District]. And I’ve just returned from 12 days away. And so it’s always a lovely moment to kind of come back and see the changes in the landscape and the new growth on all the trees and my silverbeet or going to see my chickens doing really well and eggs kind of flowing overflowing in the kitchen. Just listening to that very familiar bird chorus of the dawn, and you know, feeling a sense of homecoming.

AB 4:08

Yeah, because you spend a lot of time observing the nature around you – well, we’ll get to this – so you can easily see how it’s changed because you are familiar with it.

CD 4:20

I mean, there’s lots I miss, I’m sure because as you know, as soon as I start noticing more, then I realize how much I’m missing as well. But I certainly love making a point of knowing what’s going on around me, what’s moving and what the seasonal changes and indicators are.

AB 4:38

Awesome. So how did you become someone who loves to spend time outside close to nature?

CD 4:45

It’s always hard to know, isn’t it because we all have such different kind of, you know, what’s nature and nurture? I did grow up in nature. I grew up on a farm with my four siblings and my parents, about an 80 acre farm on a river, and my parents are both horticulturists. So there was lots of time outside; we would be gardening, we were climbing trees, we were roaming free along the riverbank, all the kind of unstructured playtime in nature that we now know is so vital for human development and human wellbeing. So I had loads of that. And, you know, we weren’t really allowed to watch much TV, we didn’t really have, you know, those back in the day where there was like two crackly channels on TV, nothing digital, no laptops in the house, no computers in the house, no PlayStations, nothing like that. So it really was, you know, a kind of rough and tumble outdoorsy life. So I’m sure it started there. But then I think there’s something also innate or inherent in me that was always drawn to wild places. And when I started studying at university, moved to the city when I was, you know, 18, I started getting involved with activism and the conservation movement and actually getting kind of literate in what was happening to our planet, which had a whole other effect on me in terms of my love for the world. Now, I knew it was endangered. So that that sparked a whole different journey of kind of care and protection of our wild places. But, you know, there’s nothing I love more than than going on an adventure outside anytime, anywhere.

AB 6:33

Yeah. So can you give us a little background on your year without matches and how you found yourself back in the city after that? Because it’s a big leap from saying – I care about the world that’s in danger and I’m interested in conservation – to – I think I’ll live in the bush and just do that for a while and then swing the other way. Go back to the city, huh?

CD 6:55

Yeah, absolutely. Well, I’ve been kind of an activist for most of my kind of early 20s, you know, for the better part of a decade actually. And what I started to kind of realize in my activism is that the root cause of the ecological crisis was people’s disconnection from the natural world. You know, this rift of separation between Western culture and the natural world, we put ourselves outside of nature, which was the kind of cultural disease of our times. And so I started to really turn my attention to the human nature relationship, which included myself. I started to feel like I was trying to save all these places that I wasn’t even familiar with, I wasn’t even going to them. And it just didn’t make sense to me. So I started to feel this really strong pull to be in areas of wild nature. And at the same time, I stumbled across a body of work that introduced me to wilderness survival skills, and ceremonies like vision quest, and, you know, deep nature connection practices. And it was just like, something lit up in me, like, I’d found something that I didn’t even know I was looking for until I found it. It made so much sense to me, you know, learning how to make fire without matches, learning what the bush food and medicinal foods are in my area, learning all the skills of like, ancestral living, and, and these ways to kind of expand our sense capacity to really let in the natural world in this whole other way, which included you know, like deep kind of solo time in nature and ceremonial. And that’s when I started to really follow that thread and get really interested in the idea of an immersion. Plenty of those are on offer in the States. I could check out all these amazing wilderness schools and I could go there or there or there but I really wanted to do it on Australian soil. I wanted to know about these plants in relation to me. I kind of helped create this very grassroots kind of a program, like Australia’s first independent wilderness studies program which had six of us living on a on a wild property that backed onto a national park for a year in 2010, really putting into practice all these skills that I’d been developing and learning over the previous few years. I did go to the states and and study at Tom Brown’s tracker school for a couple of summers to really deepen my skills and then I just felt like I needed to put them into practice like to really immerse myself, so off I went on this kind of choose your own adventure program, which ended up being pretty incredible, pretty challenging, pretty life changing.

AB 9:56

Yeah. Yeah. And then ended up back in Melbourne where you are now. So really the other direction because, you can spend your life in the wilderness, you absolutely can. But for so many of us, career or other goals or other callings take us to urban places.

CD 10:18

Yeah, that’s right. And I finished that year in the woods and wrote my memoir about it. And then life just kind of drew me back to the city, to a city that I’d never even spent any time in. I didn’t grow up near Melbourne. And I kind of followed a guide down here that I’d fallen in love with. It felt like the world was drawing me out back into culture. And what I’ve come to see as my role is really, to weave nature and culture back together. Yeah, so I would have happily just kept living out in the wilds, absolutely. Or, you know, living in rural areas, and being in places that really feed my soul. But I felt like I was drawn back to the city because I had something to learn here that could only be learned in the human community, and that I had something to teach that could only be taught in an area that needed what I had to offer.

AB 11:17

Right? You know, it’s interesting, because it’s easy to put sort of this moral imperative on living in the wilderness or, you know, like that’s somehow better for you as a person that you live in the sticks, as we like to say. But the reality is, it’s, you know, everybody has something that’s different that’s right for them. I love living in Alaska, but that’s not morally superior to living somewhere else. It’s just what happens to be right for me.

CD 11:55

Yeah, yeah. And we need different things at different times in our lives. I won’t be in the city forever. But you know, there’s there’s certain things that can only be experienced or learned in the city. It’s like a cultural melting pot. It’s like a beehive of activity with all sorts of opportunities to explore, parts of ourselves that just aren’t on offer in quiet areas. Yeah. And there’s this kind of cultural conversations and opportunities for cultural emergence that only happen when there’s like a high density of people that can kind of get together and have conversations in our work with our words and our bodies and our thoughts and our intellect. It’s like, that really feeds me. And so there’s, yeah, there’s, there’s been a real kind of flourishing and flowering of different parts of me that it could only happen in, in the kind of wildness that the city offers, which part of that is the wildness of diversity of human culture. You know, the mixing of culture and ideas and philosophy and experience and heritage and kind of what comes of that cauldron of diversity is something that you just don’t find out in the bush, out in the sticks.

AB 13:13

Yeah. So in your book, you use the word rewilding, and I used it in the introduction. Can you tell us what that means?

CD 13:28

Well, I mean, it depends on who you ask. It’s not something you look up in the dictionary and there it is. It was originally used as a conservation biology strategy, by conservation biologists to describe putting topwater predators back on the landscape, and as a conservation strategy, like wolves into Yellowstone National Park, and that incredibly fantastic story of how that changed the whole kind of ecosystem of the park. But then, the human rewilding communities kind of plucked it from that place because it’s such an evocative word, you know, bringing re and wild together it suggests to us that – oh, we once were wild, and that there’s a reclaiming to be done here. And so for the human rewilding community and and movement, this really speaks to the acknowledgement that in our over domestication of civilized culture, that we have lost some of the elements for our thriving you know, we have lost parts of us that and ways of being in the world, ways of relating to the world that is so vital for our our thriving, which include like deep relationships with the more than human world like connection to our life support systems, connection to a sense of community and village and connection to the deeper parts of ourselves. So it kind of looks at both physical and psychological and spiritual ailments of our times and says – Well, you know, part of the reason for that is because we’ve become so disconnected from our own wild nature and from the wild nature outside of our four walls. And so rewilding really seeks to heal some of those ailments and illnesses, like the spiritual malaise, the kind of depression, disconnection, you know, physical obesity and etc, like, that’s the 21st century lifestyle, but also the kind of empty spiritual culture of consumerism. By bringing back, you know, what are our top order predators, they’re bringing back our instincts, our capacity for connection, our capacity to be literate in the ecology of our area, our capacity to really connect deeply with community and intentionally bringing these elements back into our life, and kind of reexamining everything from our food to our footwear in a way.

AB 16:06

So what you’re talking about is part noticing and part experiencing, am I getting that right?

CD 16:15

Yeah, that’s right. It’s really about belonging. You know, at the core of it, it’s really about belonging, which so many of us yearn for a sense of a sense of belonging, and that starts with actually putting ourselves in a landscape, you know, that we we are putting ourselves, right, where we are, where we live, and developing a kind of ecological literacy. What is the first bird of the morning? What are the edible plants in my backyard? What are the changes in the seasons? How do I recognize the changes in the seasons according to what’s fruiting or flowering, or nesting, or whatever it is, like, understanding how the seasons change, according to what we see and feel. So it’s noticing, it’s a lot about noticing, it’s a lot about opening up our senses so that we’re actually alive to the world again, coming alive to the kind of animate entanglement in which we’re apart. It’s opening to the field of intelligence, which is way beyond just us understanding ourselves as part of the landscape we’re living in. Yeah, but it’s experience, as you say, it’s also about, you know, coming into direct contact with people, place, and landscape features and, you know, tangible contact.

AB 17:46

Yeah. I love this because, we’re talking about that, well, it’s in the title of your book, urban soul, right? So, no matter how we think about nature, sometimes as being this far off thing, and that’s really what we’re talking about a lot here, in this season of Humans Outside, that we can dispel that. But when you’re talking about the landscape around you, two things. First of all, landscape, okay. So if we say, nature is something I have to go to, we’re just ignoring the truth that we are, no matter where we are, we are in a landscape, that landscape may look different than a mountainscape, but it is still the place we are in. There’s still nature around us. So kind of with that in mind, we then talk about how we can notice that and see that and you actually had a list of things in your book. And I’m totally blanking on specifically what that was called, sort of a checklist, an inventory of things you know about where you are. You just mentioned some of them, edible plants, another one was, where’s your nearest fresh source of water? Where does your water come from? And I really enjoyed as I read that, sort of answering some of those questions myself, not all of them. By the way, I did not have an answer for all of them. You know, and that it was a really interesting inventory experience. Can you list off what those are for us so that people don’t have to go hunt for it?

CD 19:36

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, one thing I wanted to just say before I kind of launch into that is what you’re speaking of there is recognizing that nature is everywhere. It’s not like city and nature. Because when we think of city as just human landscapes and nature is like outside the city, we’re doing the same thing as putting humans outside nature, it’s like we are nature. Humans are just as much a part of nature. So when we think about that, how are cities any less nature than anywhere else, etc. And if we think of nature as outside the city, then we’re just propping up the same misguided belief and distinction that has caused the problem in the first place.

AB 20:28

I have not thought about it in that particular way, that we are nature, we spend so much time talking about being in nature and going to nature and experiencing nature. And that you’re right, that absolutely forgets or dismisses that we are part of nature too.

CD 20:49

Well, absolutely, inextricably we are. We are part of the earth and also nature is cycling through us, like we are what we eat, we are what we breathe out, nature is cycling through us all the time. We are living and breathing wild nature. So when we understand that, then we realize we actually don’t have to go anywhere. I mean, our dreams at night are wild. You know, they’re part of the wild imagination that is part of our human gift. So just wanting to preface that.

AB 21:37

That’s so good. I’ve just never thought about it quite like that before. So thank you. That’s really powerful.

CD 21:49

It’s a bit of a perspective shift. But wanting to come back to what you were referring to, which is the Tourist Test. It’s such a fantastic little test to take, it’s actually coming from the command Independent Wilderness Studies Program, which is run out of the Wilderness Awareness School in the States. And it’s actually like a survey, which you take at the start of the naturalist journey. And the questions like you were mentioning, what is the nearest edible to your backdoor, name five mammals that forage for food within 200 meters of your home. When you turn the tap on in the kitchen, where does the water go? Where’s the water coming from? Questions like that. What’s the first bird that calls in the morning right now in this season? Draw the phase that the moon is in right now. Questions like this. You can just kind of adapt it to your area, but I usually give people who I’m working with or mentoring this kind of test. Maybe it’s not really a test, you know, it’s just a little bit of an eye opener at the start of their naturalist journey and then maybe six months in hopefully, it’s a bit of a shock in a good way, like an incentive like, wow, how can I not know which timber is best for fire in my area? You know, how can I not know five different trees in my neighborhood that I’m going to be able to get tinder from to make a tinder bundle? How can I not know what the first bit of the morning is like? These things are so kind of elemental to basic naturalist knowledge.

AB 23:52

It has sparked me to pause and notice. I mean, just as simple as that.

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Where do you find wild within a city? So we’re talking about we are nature and we’re in nature and wherever we are, is nature. I think that a lot of people hearing this may, you know, be in an apartment building or in a very urban environment. I live in a subdivision but I have a nature path outside my back door, and you live in a city, but you are right next to a river, or at least you were when you wrote your book. But it gets way more urban than that. Right? So let’s say you live in an honest to God city. If that’s your experience, where do you find wild within a city?

CD 25:35

I mean, it does feel a bit rich for me to sit here and go – Yeah, you know, wild is everywhere, it’s us. And yet I live in a place in Melbourne where I have this green belt and river, like I could get out and get on a paddleboard first thing in the morning. So I’ve never lived in the kind of a real city that you’re talking about. However, I hear stories of people putting these practices into their lives, into their routines. And they do find that, you know, while nature is everywhere, it’s the weather, it’s like the birds are a really amazing doorway into nature connection, learning the language of the birds all through the city, you know, there’s a pair of peregrine falcons that are nesting in one of the apartment blocks in Melbourne CBD. It’s really being able to find to find those places, though, within hopefully within 10 minutes walk of your home, that give you a kind of sense of wildness, you know, that have that have a sense of the untamed, because that’s what we’re looking for, as you know, this kind of feeling of the untamed and it’s fantastic if we can find areas in the city that that really are untamed, and usually there are, you know, usually there are pockets. And sometimes it might be the vacant block that’s been let run wild or the edible weeds that we find growing and we can develop a relationship with. We start cooking with these wild edibles that we find in our neighborhood, it’s really kind of turning our attention to the elements of our lives that are non human. You know, whether it’s the plants that we’re cultivating, or seeds that we’re growing on our balcony, to the compost we’re making, you know, turning our attention to the non-human elements of our life, and really tending to them like tending, paying attention. It’s really not about the quantity of time we have, it’s really about the quality of time that we that we give to these elements, can we make a list of all the birds in our area, and then notice, not just ID in them, but what they’re doing at different times of the day, what their different calls are, what they’re eating at different times of the year. And really finding, you know, finding those places that we can that mirror back to us that wild-ish part of us that is so suppressed in our culture.

AB 28:06

I just had, as you’re talking, this sort of flashback to watching the children’s show, Sesame Street, where one of the puppet characters, Bert has pet pigeons. They’re supposed to live in New York City, these these puppets, and he has pet pigeons that he has relationships with. And you know, even that, right, even these very, very city birds, you kind of, you know, not known for their beauty, per se, can be a type of wildness that you can have a relationship with. You know, and, and when you’re talking about paying attention to wildness I, the other thing I thought of was, you know, even something as simple as you said, like a, like, a garden on your balcony, you know, even a potted plant, watching that grow, in its own way is the type of watching wildness in the city landscape.

CD 29:05

Yeah, anything that kind of tunes you into a kind of cyclical understanding of time or feeling of time, because part of what the city often does is it speeds us up. That busyness or that, you know, that monkey-mind takes us out of the kind of deep time or creation mind which is much more an Earth rhythm. So anything that we can pay attention to that taps us into deep time, whether it’s, you know, the planting of a seed and the fruiting of the plant that you grow and the harvesting and the eating of it, that’s a beautiful cycle to be part of. Or taking notice of the moon or the changes of the weather and the seasons like that’s inherently deeply wild and nourishing and connects us back to our ancestry.

AB 29:56

One of the things I want to ask you is how we can think about nature in the context of a cityscape in a way that helps us be drawn to it instead of be pushed further away. But that’s what you’re describing.

CD 30:14

Yeah. Yeah, that’s right. It really is about turning our attention, like directing our attention. And sometimes that means stopping and listening for what’s the quietest sound in the north, and south and the east and the west. So part of that is like, orienting us in direction, rather than just kind of looking at a GPS screen and kind of going – Oh, well, I’ve got to turn left here, then I turn right. Stopping and feeling where we are in relation to the directions, in relationship to the sun or the moon. What’s the quietest sound? What’s something that I am not noticing that’s growing around here that I can eat? Or that I could forage or that has, you know, that has its own wild quality to it? It’s kind of also just being tuned to how our bodies move through space. Are we just kind of focused, locked on our destination and rushing our feet kind of like, you know, clumping the pavement? Or are we moving a bit more like a fox? Or are we moving a bit more like an animal, you know, like a creature that inhabits its landscape, that’s listening and aware and open and receptive?

AB 31:31

Before this call, I was apologizing for being a minute late to our recording earlier, because I was out on my daily outdoor time. And I decided to squeeze it in right before we jumped on here, because it’s still light outside. And I would rather do that then instead of in the dark. But one of the things I was doing while I was out there, was just standing listening to the wind blow among these birch trees. And two of them seem probably closer together than is comfortable for the tree. And they kind of knock together while the wind blows. So it’s like this clacking sound of these trees bumping together as the wind blows through them, and I just stood there. And I thought, you know, this is not something that I would have realized was the case, I never would have noticed that these trees were too close for comfort, because you know, they’re very tall or whatever, right. And there’s a lot of them. If I hadn’t come out here in the wind, and then stood here and listened for that, and one of the things that your book kind of inspired me to do was to see if I couldn’t find my own sweet spot, somewhere out of the wind, but because it’s very cold, and that’s not going to make this spot more fun to go to. But I’m hoping you can actually tell us what is a sit spot? And why should people have one?

CD 33:07

Yeah, that’s a beautiful story, Amy of those little moments that we can tune into, you know, the clacking of the birch trees outside, you know, what’s our equivalent outside our door that we’re not noticing that brings us into connection? Because really, that’s what we’re trying to do is open ourselves, open our connectivity system, to lots and lots of different life forms and start putting out our little tendrils as little threads of connection, and they’ll find something to connect to. So now you’ve got a connection with those birch trees. And the more that you listen to them, and maybe touch them and maybe use some of their bark as tinder, that relationship will grow stronger and stronger. And you know that we have enough of those kinds of connections around us, when we start really feeling a sense of belonging. And a sit spot is a really powerful kind of magic pill for what I just was talking about for developing those kinds of webs of connection. Sit spot is really simple. It’s finding one place within say 10 minutes walk of your home that feels like it can be your special spot, like your sacred place to sit and observe the patterns in nature. So you want to find some way that really feels good, but has a sense of wildness that has a sense of like this kind of curiosity, like – what might happen if I turn my attention to this place and you go there as often as you can, and really kind of apprentice yourself to that place. So that means opening up all the senses really like being a sponge to this place. What are the birds saying what’s moving through here? What tracks are there? What are the markings on the tree? What trees are growing around here? What wild edibles are there? What way does the weather come from? All these questions that build deeper and deeper layers of kind of connections in the landscape, and starting to kind of feel like you’re part of that landscape after a while. And so it’s a place that it kind of allows us to sit, but allows us to track the changing patterns in one place over time, like draw dots between things like – oh, when the hawthorn starts fruiting, you know, that signals that this bird returns from migration, or whatever it is. You start drawing the connections between things, the kind of ecological indicators. And also it becomes a sacred place. You know, it can become a place of contemplation. And you leave your phone at home, if you can, or you put your phone on flight mode, when you go to this spot. And it’s not about a place to answer or catch up on messages, or ring your best friend, it’s really a place to tune into the spirit that moves in and through things, all things. Yeah, it’s a place to kind of really sink into ourselves and feel. Yeah, feel a sense of our essential nature.

AB 36:21

I love that. I am, of course, as we’re talking, it’s really cold here. And so I’ve been trying to think of how I can do this in a way that is not absolutely miserable, because one of the keys to spending time outside Alaska in the wintertime is to be moving so that you are not cold. But of course a sit spot is inherently, well sitting, that’s in the title. And so I’ve been sort of scoping out recently in my walks in my woods, a spot that may be out of the wind. and not somewhere that someone’s going to stumble upon me and you know, be surprised. I’ll let you know if I find it.

CD 37:09

One of my students was feeling a bit awkward about just sitting in a trailer park because of course, people passed her. So she decided to take her coffee mug with her, because it’s culturally okay somewhere if you are drinking a coffee or tea, not if you are just sitting there observing. So she would just take her KeepCup which I think you told me is an Australian word.

AB 37:39

A travel mug.

CD 37:41

Yeah, so she just took a travel mug, and sat there and, and that gave her kind of like cultural permission to do a sit spot.

AB 37:50

I like the word KeepCup better. It makes it very clear, and its purpose. The other thing you talked about in your book is the role of fire and I was hoping that you could talk about this. If you live in an apartment building, having a fire is probably strongly discouraged. But you know, maybe you have one of those fake fireplaces where you are. Having a little porch fire is honestly easier than ever to have a little fire pit or something even in an urban environment. So talk to us about fire because I really feel like it creates a special contemplative moment but I’ve never been really sure why that is.

CD 38:37

Everyone knows that feeling of sitting by a campfire, it’s just so deeply nourishing. So primal you know, just that sense of the crackle of the fire the feel of the heat coming from the wood, the smell of the wood, some it’s it speaks to our our genetic history, you know, the kind of 1000s and 1000s of years that humans have sat around fire sharing stories with each other and it warms us from the inside out in that way. And so fire, for me, is one of the most powerful ways to to tap me back into a kind of original place, a kind of deep relationship with the elemental world. And I always need to know where I can light a fire occasionally. As you said, it’s getting easier and easier to have a little porch fire. There’s all these like incredible little, you know, fire dishes that you can just throw a few sticks in, even if it’s tiny, and light of fire without it damaging what’s underneath. Yeah. And I have a fire pit in my backyard. And it it’s um, it’s well used, it’s well loved, it’s seen it seen many fires, it’s seen celebrations and birthdays and community gatherings, it seen 24 hour grief rituals, it’s seen sweat hitting the rocks for sweat lodge, it’s seen so many different stories shared and experiences shared. And it becomes such a sacred place for me. Even if I only have a fire every, you know, once a month or a couple of times a month. It’s such an anchor, just knowing it’s there, knowing that I can have a fire when I want to is such an important part of my thriving. And I think there’s some legalities in Australia where you can have a fire in your backyard if you’re cooking something on it. So if you just have like a potato on the side of the fire, it becomes a legal thing.

AB 40:54

That’s great. Keep a pocket potato in case of emergency. Can you give us three or four tips for folks who want to focus on rewilding and and as we said, coming to understand that they are nature, not just a part of nature, so and in no matter what urban environment they call home? Can you give us some tips?

CD 41:21

You’ve already heard about one, the sit spot magic pill. Sense opening, we’ve talked about sense opening, like really consciously opening up all our senses, our sense of taste, smell and touch. We’ve also talked about tapping into a kind of deep time, which really is about slowing down and going for a little walk in your neighborhood, but going half the speed you usually would. That’s a really powerful way to just really try that. It’s just wonderful. Also the art of wandering, you know, it’s a lost art, this sense of like, going out into the land, and I’m calling the land anywhere. It’s not the land, it is right where you are, encountering the land as if it’s a place that’s full of surprises and mysteries, and heading out onto a wander where you don’t have a destination. Literally just wandering, you’re kind of like, timeless in your wander, aimless in your wander. But really, what you’re doing is waking up that sense of curiosity. What’s around the next corner? And oh, wow, look at that flower. And I wonder when it started flowering, and just really opening up that childlike sense of joy and wonder and timelessness. And that’s really important for us, especially if we didn’t get that as a child. You know, if we didn’t have that timeless wandering time when we were kids, we need it now. We need to kind of give ourselves what our nervous systems wanted way back then. So wandering is a really powerful practice for waking up that childlike joy.

AB 43:11

I was gonna say that one of the things we practice here at Humans Outside is this challenge to go outside every day, no matter what for whatever amount of time you’ve decided is right for you. For me, that’s 20 minutes. And I will say, so I’ve been doing that for since 2017, since September 2017. And one of the things I found is that I often just need to spend, like, I got to do this outside time today, and I don’t have a plan. And it’s just, it’s almost like I’m burning time just to say that I did it. But the flip side of that is that I have this amount of time, and I have nothing specific I’m doing with it. And so I’m just literally wandering, just like you said, and I’m not sure that I had thought about it in quite that context. But even when I’m wandering, I am not necessarily wondering, I’m thinking about something else. Like I’m not paying attention to where I am. And so I just want to encourage people like if you’re trying to do this outside time, maybe listen to what Claire says here and follow your instinct to wander and wonder at the same time or wonder as you wander instead of being distracted. If you’re box checking – like I need to spend time outside today, I guess I’m just going to go for this walk. Try to put off whatever it is that’s occupying your brain. And as you wander to do your time, think about – oh, what birds am I hearing? Are these birch trees clacking together and how quickly will this result in both of them falling over? This is what I was thinking, by the way – like is this a good place to be standing right now? It had me thinking about the wind and the sound. And then I noticed that we have these rose hips right now that are very, very red. And the snow is white, you know, and everything else is kind of gray. And so they really stand out and wow, are they beautiful? They also happen to be able to be used in tea. And so I just noticed those today for the first time that they’re out now and just you know, things like that. So I do tend to, I’m a fast walker, I’m like, goal oriented, and I’m going somewhere, and I’m doing this thing, and I’m gonna get it done. So I’m going to take what you said, the challenge of slowing down. See how that goes.

CD 45:41

I was really, yeah, into your story in the whole visual of the rose hips against the gray in the snow and, and the kind of then the smell, I imagined the smell of them in my tea. Like, they’re the kind of stories that we need to be sharing with each other. Storytelling is just as much a part of the wondering you do. And we start bringing nature and culture back together through story.

AB 46:09

Oh, that’s beautiful. And then as somebody starts talking to you about that, now you are in tune to it in a way that you weren’t before that conversation. That’s been an input given to you. So now you’re thinking – Oh, I guess I did see some rose hips. Oh, I didn’t even think I could eat them or have them in tea.

CD 46:37

Absolutely. I think those tips are a good way to just start to kind of drop into a more natural way of being.

AB 46:46

So as we are ending our episode and our time together, and so appreciative of your time and coming to us all the way from Australia, we do a little leftovers around here and Humans Outside where we just talk about some tools or things that we use to make our outside time what it is. For example, I might say that I have a particular warm pair of pants that I really love, and I just really like to eat snacks outside. Is there anything that you have a favorite or is the most essential that you just really like?

CD 47:27

Well, a couple things come to mind. One is my puffer jacket, which my partner bought for me this year. I’ve never owned a new puffer jacket. And it’s got like these fluffy cuffs and something about the fluffy cuffs just make me feel so much warmer. I feel very snug in my puffer jacket, although I seem to wear it way too much of the year than I would like. But it’s cold in Melbourne. And the other thing is my fire kit is a really precious item for me that I I like having around me.

AB 48:04

Because you love the fire. I love the fire. You know, I think keeping your wrists warm is super underrated, people just don’t understand. It’s like it’s where it’s at. I have cold hands a lot. And I appreciate a warm wrist. So I really understand.

CD 48:22

For me, very, very exciting to discover.

AB 48:27

I think the other thing is I have very long arms. And so shirts and jackets often just aren’t long enough. And so when everything is just a little short on you, you really start to understand and appreciate when it’s the right length. So the very last thing we always talk to our guests about is walking us out sort of envisioning, speaking of storytelling, envisioning ourselves with you somewhere that you just really love. Maybe you could call it your happy place, a natural spot, an outdoor experience that you just really love to think about and remember. We’d love to just envision ourselves there with our guests. So would you describe something like that for us so that we can experience it too?

CD 49:12

Absolutely. Well, I’m just going to take you somewhere not particularly exotic, but somewhere very loved by me, which is the river in my backyard. And I’d love to have you all on a paddleboard and we’re setting off into this big wide river which is called the Yarra or the Birrarung in the indigenous language here. And imagining that you’re just calmly paddling upstream as the sun is rising. So we’re heading towards the east. And there’s these huge river red gum trees that are kind of, you know, towering over us and kind of into the river. And there’s a pair of sacred kingfishers that migrate here every year and they’re calling to each other. And all the birds are waking up along the river and they’re diving. They’re feeding. And there’s just the sound of the like swish of water and the paddle kind of, you know propels us forward. And a sense of like, just deep calm. We’re in the city, but you wouldn’t even know it. We’re just paddling up this ancient river. And now feeling a sense of gratitude for that, that morning time of waking up and being in a place of wild nature. Love to take you there sometime.

AB 50:28

It’s beautiful. Thank you for sharing that with us. I absolutely can envision myself there. It’s um, it’s beautiful. And thank you so much for sharing that with us. And Claire, thank you so much for being on Humans Outside today. I really appreciate your work and your time.

CD 50:44

It’s such a pleasure. Thanks for having me, Amy.

AB 50:47

Thanks so much for listening to this week’s episode of Humans Outside. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, give us a little love and leave a rating and review to make it easier for others to find the podcast too. What you say matters. It really truly does make a difference. And until next time, we’ll see you out there.

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