Wild Within

Melissa and Bodhi

Melissa Hart and Bodhi the barred owl at Cascades Raptor Center. (Photo: Jonathan Smith)

Note: I know the author personally and consider her a mentor, a colleague, and a friend. I also think she is a brilliant writer who combines a delightfully deprecating wit with an understanding of deep, lasting heartbreak.  The former has no bearing on my review. The latter most certainly—and rightfully—does.

“If I wanted to hear the pitter-patter of little feet, I’d put shoes on my cat” —Wild Within, p 30.

That bumper sticker, which Melissa Hart bought on the Santa Monica Promenade and displayed proudly on the bumper of the Izuzu she drove up to Oregon, summarized who she thought she was.

It combined a sharped-tongued wit that matched her own writing, and her overwhelming  desire to never have children. But life has a way of taking you along paths you never imagined, and the things you knew you didn’t want, or didn’t know enough about to know you didn’t want, end up being the very things you’re looking for.

A dog when you’re a cat person.

A husband when you’ve just gotten out of a horrible marriage.

A calling to help rehabilitate raptors, when you once had no idea what raptors were.

And the deep longing to to be a parent. A longing you so intense it would make your knees buckle.

That’s Melissa Hart’s story of moving to Oregon and falling in love three times—with a man, a child, and a baby barred owl.

Wild Within by Melissa Hart

Wild Within is a lyrical, funny, and poignant book.  Through her writing, Hart lavishes the reader with the beauty of Oregon and the quirky personality of Eugene. She conveys the sweetness of first kisses and falling in love, the fear and awe that highly-evolved flying killing machines evoke in everyone who sees them, and the unlikely transformation of a willingly childless couple to a couple desperately wanting to adopt.

The book is somewhat split into two halves, thought these halves blend together through seamless narration that artfully foreshadows and looks back tying the two stories together. In the first half, we follow Hart as she walks the two dogs  she inherited from her estranged first husband through a local dog park, meeting her soon to be second husband in the process. He’s a photographer, which is good—they’re both creative people, and he rehabilitates raptors which is …

“What’s a raptor?”—Wild Within, p 20.

For their first date, Melissa and Jonathan drive to Portland to pick up a crate of frozen rats. Sounds like a first date she’ll never forget. But it ends with a kiss and soon she’s cleaning up “mews” (raptor cages) filled with “mute” (poop).

The things we do for love. First it’s because she loves Jonathan, but after a while she falls for the owls too. Lorax, the serene great horned owl, Bodhi, the injured barred owl, and Archimedes, the handsome and mysterious snowy owl, one by one they win her over. After a few years she goes from clueless volunteer to owl trainer and rehabilitator.

In the second half, Hart’s desire to mother a “nestless fledgling” of her own leads her and her husband down the labyrinthine path of international adoption. The stresses of the journey test their patience and their marriage, but after many false starts and heartbreaks they find the right child and give her a “forever family.”

My meager words can’t begin to capture the joys, the sorrows, and the longing that fills the pages of this wonderful book. This trailer gives a taste of Hart’s quirky and lyrical voice, but nothing quite captures the varied gifts of this talented author besides reading her own words.

Book Trailer:

Wild Within is available:

Wild Within Book Tour (via

  • September 25th—Wild Within event at Annie Bloom’s Books, Portland, OR, 7 PM with live raptors! .
  • 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
    • A day-long gathering that will deepen and improve your writing and help you sell your work in a crowded marketplace. Workshops will be taught by talented authors who are also distinguished writing teachers: Melissa Hart, Midge Raymond and Jessica Morrell. No matter where you’re at with your writing process this conference will help you find the heart of your stories, understand scene writing better, and take your next steps.

  • October 13th—Reading and Discussion with Ana Maria Spagna, at Village Books, Bellingham, WA, 7 PM.
  • October 14th—Artsmith Salon Series with Ana Maria Spagna, Darvill’s Bookstore, Orcas Island, 6 PM.
  • October 17th—Wild Within Event at Barnes and Noble, Eugene, OR, 6 PM.
  • November 28th—Wild Within signing at Wild Wings Raptor Center, Honeoye Falls, NY. 10 AM-Noon.
  • January 17th—Featured Author for Writers on the Edge, Nye Beach Writers Series, Newport Beach, OR, 7 PM.



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