The prologue to Melissa Hart’s new memoir “Wild Within: How Rescuing Owls Inspired a Family” is written by Brian Doyle, who describes his lifelong obsession with birds of prey and is shocked to “discover that there are people who couldn’t care less about the clan of raptor–….”
I was the latter. And I have five biological children and never considered adopting a child. Yet in “Wild Within,” Hart weaves her story of rescuing and training orphaned raptors with her journey to adopt a child, drawing you into the worlds of both injured birds and foster care children. As Doyle notes, Hart’s book is really about “awe and love.”
Although initially terrified of birds of prey, Hart begins joining her new boyfriend at Cascades Raptor Center where he worked with injured and orphaned birds of prey. While Hart was rehabilitating and training owls and other birds of prey, her maternal clock started ticking, and she realized she had a story.
This is the second memoir written by Hart, who teaches at the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon. “Gringa: A Contradictory Childhood” tells the story of Hart’s difficult childhood, marked by her parents’ divorce and a forced separation from her mother. Hart answered a few questions about “Wild Within.”
Your new book is about rescuing owls and kids, but starts with your husband’s vasectomy.
“Yeah, it was elective and it was related to a health issue that was easily taken care of with a vasectomy, and we thought we don’t want to have children anyway. We met at the dog park and we had joked about the bumper sticker on my car that said, ‘If I wanted to hear the pitter patter of little feet I’d put shoes on my cat.'”
What does rescuing owls have to do with wanting children?
“It took about two years of volunteering at the raptor center before I realized my biological clock was ticking; actually, it was more of a maternal clock because I had no biological urge to birth a child; I had a maternal urge to mother a child. I knew from the time I was quite young, that if I was going to have kids, I was going to adopt.”
Tell me about the adoption process.
“When we started the adoption process we started looking to adopt a child from China. Different potential adoptive parents would come up to me in Oregon and say, ‘I’m sorry you cannot have your own kids;’ there was such an assumption that we were having fertility problems. I think there are more people out there than we realize that do not want biological children. After adopting a baby from China didn’t work, we looked at Korea and Vietnam, but there was so much political corruption that we decided to adopt from the Oregon foster care system. There were huge disappointments along the way. The entire adoption process took two and a half years. It felt very long. I’d hallucinate; I’d talk and sing to this imagined little child in my car.”
In your book, you compare the training of owls with the training of children.
“I started seeing similarities when I was enrolled in two classes at the same time, one was how to train raptors and one was how to raise a child. We learned how vulnerable injured and orphaned birds of prey were and then two days later how vulnerable and injured kids in the foster care system were. Both classes were mandatory.”
What was it like before you got news that you could finally adopt a child, your daughter Maia?
“There had been so many disappointments with other children we had hoped to get from China and Vietnam. And, I had also just sold ‘Gringa’ to my publisher and so I had that on my mind. So, with Maia, we didn’t want to get our hopes up. But we got her and we called her Spud; the first picture we saw of her she was like a russet potato, just so cute. Now we call her sweet potato pie. She wants to sponsor a snowy owl, the one who’s on the cover of the book, for her upcoming eighth birthday in January.”
What’s next?My agent is pursuing film rights to the book. And Sky Pony Press is releasing my middle grade novel, which is called Avenging the Owl. I’ve been working on that for years.
Upcoming events for Melissa Hart include:
September 26th–Nightcapper Autographing Party, Pacific Northwest Booksellers Fall Tradeshow, 8:30-10 PM.
October 3rd–Wild Within event at Bloomsbury Books, Ashland, OR, 7 PM with live raptors!
October 4th–Keynote and writing workshop at Claim Your Story Writing Conference, Ashland, OR (see full description below)
October 17th–Wild Within Event at Barnes and Noble, Eugene, OR, 6 PM.
(This Q & A Interview feature on Melissa Hart originally appeared in The Oregonian’s Arts and Books section, Melissa Hart’s Wild at Heart Sept 25, 2014 Oregonian Books)