Issue Forty-Four - Summer 2024


By Heather Durham


In the predawn darkness, dreams still swirling in my mind, all the world quiet except, perhaps, for a lone owl calling from the rain-soaked greenwood, I get up to write.


In, and out. Calm and clear the monkey mind that seeks, always, to take over—to plan, prescribe, and proclaim. Make room for a different voice, a practice more mystery than plan, more precarious than solid, but always, in the end, the right one.

Coffee and Candles

Ceramic mug on the slate coaster—that first, hot sip always the best. If the writing is good, the cup will go cold before it’s half empty. One soft yellow lamp and a collection of earthy votives and beeswax tealights. Swirling, spiraling steam. Flickering twinkling flames. An invitation, an invocation. A call.


Words arrive sporadically, like those aquatic songbirds at the creek. Suddenly stubbornly present, vibrantly chiming, flighty and changeable as the creek itself and I best pay attention, engage while I can before they vanish back into the opaque flow, leaving only ripples.

Examined Life

Not a conscious decision so much as a compulsion. Even, an addiction. Meaning as a knotted muscle to knead and pummel. A scab to pick, and pick again though it bleeds. Shelves full of spiralbound journals. Three memoirs and counting.

Fifth grade

Mr. Coghill assigned my first autobiography. Invited my first self-reflecting, crafted telling, and reworking until it felt right, until it felt like me. Until I had something to step back from, look at, point to. The deep satisfaction of physically holding and owning my own story.


“…pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.”
~Mary Oliver (Note 1)

High School

Ms. Lacoss taught my first creative writing class. Helped me to feel the words, immerse myself in them in ways I hadn’t before. To seek delicious, visceral adjectives, verbs, and nouns, and join them in surprising ways. To delight in my own writing, as if it came through me, from elsewhere. Perhaps, a muse.


I wonder. I seek. I ask. I listen. I receive. I reflect. I remember. I celebrate. I grieve. I rage. I accept. I understand.
I write.


The playground, the workshop, the therapy room. Occasionally documenting details, but more often processing reactions, emotions, insights, and my very sense of self. The thoughts as parasites to be purged, leaving me empty—in a good way.


Perches above the creek, rattling, chattering, ruminating, musing, and muttering. Eventually, finally, dives under, goes deep, and if she’s lucky, seizes treasure. Most times though, she comes up sputtering, shakes it off, and resumes rattling, chattering, ruminating, musing, and muttering.


In the flow. In the zone. An altered space. Altar space. Zen.
Looking up from my writing, I find the world changed. Brighter, clearer, new. I am simultaneously more connected with and less affected by everything. We are one and I am no one.


Greek goddesses of literature, science, music, and the arts. Water nymphs worshipped at sacred springs. Mountain peak demigods, whispering in our ears. Inspirational guides, external sources of wisdom and creativity.


“All this points to the probability that the earliest marks were aesthetic in that they derive from the early visual cortex’s preference for basic configurations. And it could have begun as early as Homo erectus, which lived from about 1.8m to 500,000 years ago. ” (Note 2)


Resting against a sun-warmed rock at the top of Tom McCall Point in the Columbia Gorge, journal open in my lap, gazing out across a field of butter-yellow arrowleaf balsamroot smeared with lipstick-red Indian paintbrush, through wind-stunted oaks and over rocky cliffs to the azure river below, having just scrawled three pages of reflections on place and people and myself among them, I decided/realized/accepted/cast the spell—I’m a writer.


Musing, ruminating, contemplating, analyzing, working through, working out. Introspection not just about me, but about all of you, all of us, all of it. All the time. A primary characteristic of sensory processing sensitivity, or the “highly sensitive person” (HSP) trait. Also common in generalized anxiety disorder. And borderline personality disorder. And the twenty-first century. And writers.


Who am I? What world is this?
Who are you? Who are we together?
Who am I now?
And now?


Wildlife tracking was the first form of literacy, animal signs our first books. Scent marking, feeding sign, claw marks or antler rubs on vegetation, scrapes in the soil, and tracks in the mud. We learned to read, first, in order to eat and not be eaten.


“There is a story in every thing, and every being, and every moment, were we alert to catch it, were we ready with our tender nets; indeed there are a hundred, a thousand stories, uncountable stories, could they only be lured out and appreciated; and more and more now I realize that what I thought was a skill only for authors and pastors and doctors and dream-diviners is the greatest of all human skills, the one that allows us into the heart and soul and deepest layers of our companions on the brief sunlit road between great dark wildernesses.” ~ Brian Doyle (Note 3)


Like a photograph, writing can freeze time. Unlike a photograph, writing can also move backward, and foreword, and back again. Writing can travel to times where we’ve never been, and may never be.


The Greek muse of astronomy, but also data analysis, universal truths, philosophy, and dreamers. Feet on the ground and head in the clouds, always seeking the big picture, the panned out view, the science and the mystery behind it all.


Though the writing seems to come through me, the voice—this voice—is still somehow always recognizable as my own. A truer, clearer, elder self, speaking from the deep quiet of another realm, uncluttered by the noise of the everyday.


We are all explorers of wondrous, treacherous, untamed and untamable landscapes. Some of the most expansive may only be found in the intangible realms of our minds, where we might catch glimpses when the lighting is just right, when the right words appear.


Letters, alphabets, writing—just lines in the sand, scratchings on paper, shapes on a screen. Simple tools for the mysterious, miraculous rites of reaching out—or in—to the universe, finding meaning, and making it last.

Note 1 Oliver, Mary. “Praying.” Devotions, Penguin Press, 2017, p. 131.

Note 2 Hodgson, Derek. “How Did Reading and Writing Evolve?” Cosmos Magazine, 11 March 2019.

Note 3 Doyle, Brian. The Adventures of John Carson in Several Quarters of the World: A Novel of Robert Louis Stevenson, Thomas Dunne Books, 2017, p. 192.

Copyright 2024 Durham