In these deeply personal and intellectually curious essays, Heather Durham explores wild America weaving the unique perspectives of trained ecologist, inquisitive philosopher, and restless nomad, probing intricacies of the natural world as profoundly as she does herself. She wanders from New England vernal pools to Pacific Northwest salmon runs, Rocky Mountain pine forests to Desert Southwest sage flats in search of adventure, solace, authenticity, and belonging in the more-than-human world. Part scientifically-informed nature writing, part soul-searching memoir, Going Feral is the story of a human animal learning to belong to the earth.
Heather Durham is a nature essayist and naturalist who holds a master of science in environmental biology from Antioch New England University and a master of fine arts in creative nonfiction from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. She’s held a variety of environmental jobs around the country, from interpretive park ranger to field biologist, trails worker to restoration ecologist. She currently lives and writes in a feral river valley northeast of Seattle where she serves as an administrator at Wilderness Awareness School. Her essays have been published in a variety of literary journals; Going Feral is her first book.
Durham brings her readers along with her through poetic prose informed by a naturalist’s wisdom. Whether or not you’ve ever been in the vicinity of cougars, coyotes, black bears, bats, or eagles, Durham's descriptions will show you these animals' magnetism for her. And no matter if, like me, you can identify only a couple of birdcalls in your backyard or from a city high-rise balcony, her writing will lure you into these creatures’ languages. I’m grateful for the companionship of Heather Durham’s words as I find I’m more full of wonder than ever about my wild neighbors.
What a treat to read this debut author's essay collection, a stunning exploration of the wilderness, and of our human experience as part of it. The terrain of the essays is far-ranging across the U.S., from New England to Florida to the Rockies, from the Southwest desert to the Pacific Northwest Cascadia zone. Have you ever wrestled a 50-lb. salmon from an upriver stream with only your hands? Sat day after day in a bird blind at 9000 feet to capture, measure, and tag migratory birds? Interned as a zookeeper, only to find yourself on exhibit to the inhabitants and humans alike? Don't let the title mislead: Heather Durham does not bare her teeth at the world. Instead, "Going Feral" entices the reader to enter with the author into "a wild state, especially after escape from captivity or domestication." Whether it's domestication from her New England upbringing or captivity from a love affair gone awry, Durham delivers via gripping, wonderful writing the story of her journey through the wilderness of the planet, and of the human soul.
Going Feral opens pages into wildness, letting you see with owl eyes, hear with bat sonar and smell scents earthy, raw, and true. With not a jot of sop or sentimentality, Heather Durham opens a path to deep joy along the secret trails of the fantastic wild. Honest about her own mistakes, clear-eyed about the despair we who love wild things often feel, Heather shows us how to find—perhaps in spring peepers light as nickels, froggie slushies now lying motionless, ice crystals in their veins, yet soon to make riotous song—reason enough to arise and walk on. I laughed out loud, mostly at myself, as Heather put the human, with all her foibles and frailties, firmly back in the singing, pulsing, slimy, stupendous web. Going Feral with Heather Durham made me feel more alive, more aware, more grateful, more informed, more connected, and more open to wonder and delight. I can’t wait for her next book!
Going Feral is one beautiful read! Heather Durham paints with words to convey vivid imagery and experience, from the close-in intimacy of what it's like to have a butterfly land on your forehead to majestic panoramas of wild, open spaces. Many of her sentences and sentiments are so beautifully expressed I gasped.
Durham has a special relationship with the natural world that's challenging to fathom. She shares her perspective so freely and clearly that we readers are gifted with smells, sounds, and tactile experiences our imaginations will savor long after we put down this remarkable essay collection.
If you want to know more about what it's like to fall in love with nature, what healing powers it possesses, pick up this book. Durham takes you to places you might never get to, and lets us in deep to how it feels to understand and crave nature as you might never crave another human's company. A gem of a book.
This book boldly and lovingly invites the reader to re-examine their own relationship with the natural world. Through creative, evocative snapshots of ecosystems she has known, Heather Durham shows the depth and complexity of connecting with the land. Sometimes it is a tough love, and not all her experiences are positive or easy. Even these essays shine with emotion, introspection, and powerful lessons. You come away from reading this book pondering the wild world outside your own windows; with a spark to reconnect yourself and truly see the non-human world.
I read a quote somewhere years ago, I don't remember where, in which the wise person suggested that we read books in order to know the author ... or something like that. I don't disagree. There are many of us who don't really listen to podcasts, who don't binge-watch the latest television series, who really don't plug into the world the way common culture expects us to, and often feel alienated as a result. When we find someone who seems like us—when I find someone who seems like me—in a book, sharing all of their insecurities right alongside the surgings of the heart that so often accompany interactions with the wild world, it makes the day a little more bearable. I love this book. I was sad to reach the end because I want to continue spending time with Heather Durham, even if we are on islands miles apart.
What does it feel like to live on an island for three days with no other human around?
How do multiple close-up encounters with a cougar change the way one thinks about mortality?
In what ways does the natural world prove a lifesaving antidote to the small cruelties that people inflict on one another, and what does it mean to discover a community committed to learning about--and protecting--that world?
Heather Durham, in Going Feral, answers each of these questions in intimate, vibrant essays rich with natural history. This book will appeal to anyone who finds solace and inspiration in the natural world. Teen and new adult readers, especially, will gravitate toward the author's candid journey of self-discovery as she explores various parts of the United States as an environmental studies student and educator.
It's so refreshing to read the experiences of a female naturalist. This is very different to someone like John Muir who you feel constantly on the precipice with, in completely hazardous places. Heather Durham's experiences are more sure-footed, told in subtle, but not less thrilling ways. I noticed as I was reading Going Feral that my senses were becoming really heightened and I was experiencing things in a much more clearer way. There are moments of beautiful poetry in her work and some smile-making experiences, such as when the frogs who turn into ice for the winter, and whose heart stop beating for the duration, when they wake up again, they all begin to sing.
And also when she has a close encounter and connection with a coyote. And throughout her essays she has many close encounterd with different animals. We feel her fear of the dark and her gratitude at being a naturalist and conservationist. Her intimate sharing of experience captures the oneness between human and nature and what a special thing that is. She completely transports us to each place she is exploring and it is a very magnificent and splendid thing.