Behind the Words: Heather Durham

Posted by on Mar 11, 2019 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Heather Durham

Heather Durham styles herself as a “writer, naturalist, wallflower,” all three of which are beautifully apparent in her non-fiction essays. Heather has held an impressive array of positions across her lifetime, including masseuse and trail maintainer. She currently works as an administrator at the Wilderness Awareness School. Being a writer has transcended all of her previous occupations; she has one finished manuscript, Outside the Skin, to her name and another, Wolf Tree, in progress.

Sarina Bosco: The narrative in In My Hands seems to feature juxtaposition quite a few times; that of a 12-year-old and a parent, ballet and the beginnings of a heavier taste in music. Is this juxtaposition something you did intentionally, or something that came organically from telling this story?

Heather Durham: In this brief memoir, a sort of coming of age story as experienced through my hands, juxtaposition came naturally as a necessary element to show change over time. I hoped to convey not only physical changes but the felt sense of how my hands moved differently through space in these vignettes.

Body plays a huge part here. The movement of it, specifically the hands. Have you always been so aware of your own body? When and why do you think that awareness began?

My body awareness probably began with ballet classes at age five. I developed the deep kinesthetic awareness that comes with learning to perform precise physical movements in time with music and fellow dancers, all of us wearing body-hugging leotards in a brightly lit mirrored room. Ballet also evokes at a young age the more socially constructed body awareness that comes with idealizing a specific body type (that I didn’t have). Moving into adolescence I was additionally subject to the prevalent social and mass media messages keeping me aware of my body in all the ways I did or did not measure up as a young woman. Though I didn’t deal with these deeper issues overtly in this essay, learning to inhabit my hands and by extension, my body, with acceptance and self-love rather than censure was certainly an undercurrent here.

What part do you believe nature plays in healing?

That’s a big question, an idea I’ve been chewing on for two book-length essay collections and still haven’t fully dealt with. In an attempt at brevity, I’ll say that wild nature is where our bodies and minds evolved, in our very wiring as animals, so when we open ourselves up to connection with wild places we experience a sort of homecoming, a profound if subconscious belonging that I don’t believe is possible in the human jungle of concrete, steel, and plastic. For me, becoming nature connected through my various jobs and ecological education has given me a deep grounding and holistic perspective that has not only healed me physically and spiritually, it has literally saved my life.

In your narrative you mention quite a few different places; how big of a role does place play in your writing?

As a nature writer, a student of human psychology, and an environmentally sensitive person, I am always intensely aware of place – how it might affect me and others around me. This is true both for outdoor and indoor environments. But ecopsychology aside, much of my writing relates to place simply because I’ve moved around so often and gotten to experience so many new places. Novelty is wonderful for bringing the uniqueness of different places acutely into awareness.

You’ve obviously tried on many different hats career-wise throughout your life. Has writing, and being a writer, been a constant through all of these changes?

Writing in the form of journaling has been a constant since early adolescence, when I began chronicling my regular existential crises and attempts to figure out what I really want to do with my life. A tower of spiralbound notebooks contain the changeable answers and further questions. It wasn’t until somewhere in my early thirties that one of the answers was to be a writer. Only then did writing become something to practice and refine as a craft, in hopes that some of my words would one day reach others the way so many authors, especially memoirists and personal essayists, have so profoundly reached me. You can learn more about my writing journey at