Wild Within: How Rescuing Owls Inspired a Family,
by Melissa Hart
Review by Kristy McCaffrey
In this engaging memoir, Melissa Hart recounts her time spent at a raptor rehabilitation center in Oregon while also pursuing the adoption of a child. Seamlessly weaving these themes together, she illuminates how helping another species is really no different than wanting to help and raise a child in need.
Moving from California to Oregon after a painful divorce, Hart meets Jonathan at a dog park. Their burgeoning romance opens a new world to her—Jonathan volunteers at the Cascade Raptor Center in Eugene and, despite her initial misgivings, Melissa decides to join him. An infatuation with birds and a desire to do good is one thing, but reality proves much more challenging. Birds of prey—such as falcons, eagles, and owls—require freshly euthanized prey, a task she initially finds difficult to embrace. (The center raises mice specifically as food for the birds.) Most of the avians are raised to be returned to the wild, but those permanently injured can become educational birds, an important aspect of outreach supported by centers such as these. Melissa overcomes her fear of being punctured by a talon (and possibly catching a disease) and soon works with several owls, including a magnificent snowy white named Archimedes. Throughout this process, she and Jonathan attempt to adopt a child. Hart shares the emotional ups and downs, and the toll it takes on her marriage, with surprising candor.
Wild Within explores our instinctual need to nurture, both within our own species and within the animal kingdom. Melissa worked for years with difficult, temperamental, and sometimes traumatized birds of prey, but in the end she came to find they gave her so much more in return. She learned to live close to her own wild longings, and despite almost consuming her at times, those longings helped her emerged stronger and more confident in the end. This is a tale of seeking the world from the heart: Helping wild birds demands nothing less, and neither does adopting a child. Melissa and Jonathan were blessed, in the end, with a beautiful little girl, but it’s the time spent with the owls that lingers in a reader’s mind long after the tale has ended.