Thursday, August 21, 2014

Review: Wild Within by Melissa Hart

We have a hawk of some sort who sometimes spends time in the trees in our backyard. He (somehow I assume it's a he) looks majestic sitting on a bare branch surveying the yard. And after his visits, I have noticed there's a definite reduction in the squirrel population. Sometimes I see him soaring above the trees too. There's something beautiful and impressive in his effortless looking flight and I keep meaning to make a visit to the local raptor center here north of town to see one of his relatives closer. Perhaps Melissa Hart's newly released memoir, Wild Within, will help push me to finally do it.

Hart is newly separated and lonely in her new town of Eugene, Oregon. In order to get out and interact with people, she takes her dogs to the dog park as often as possible. It is here among the animals that she starts to make friends and where she meets Jonathan, the tall, handsome, quiet man she will eventually marry, who takes her on a road trip to collect 600 lbs. of frozen rats on their first date. This cargo might seem odd but Jonathan volunteers at the local raptor center, handling birds in the education program and the rats are meals for the center's birds. Wanting to spend more time with this unusual man, Hart decides to volunteer there herself despite the fact that she is scared of the birds, their curved beaks, and their sharp, powerful talons.

Initially, Hart is willing to clean the aviary cages but not to turn her back on the birds and certainly not to consider handling any of them. But she slowly falls in love with some of the permanent resident birds at the center, feeling for those human imprinted birds and the birds who are too physically damaged to ever be rehabilitated and released back into the wild. And she eventually changes her mind, agreeing to learn to handle the birds and even to train them. As she and Jonathan begin to build their life together, a life that includes all sorts of varieties of birds of prey and any number of abandoned furry creatures who find their way to the Hart/Smith home, they change their minds about remaining childless and try to start adoption proceedings to give an orphan a home.

But there is nothing easy about their adoption quest and frustration, stress, and changes of plan are the order of the day. As a counterbalance to the uncertainty and waiting for an adoption placement, Hart starts working to acclimate Archimedes, a skittish snowy owl at the center, to a handler's glove. It is in watching the struggle of the birds she works with that she learns to handle her own struggles and disappointments with grace and determination.

Hart's story is one of overcoming fear and the healing power of love and acceptance, not only in her own life but also for the birds that human carelessness has unthinkingly injured. She celebrates the joys of volunteerism and the ways that it enriches the people who offer of themselves. Her detailed descriptions of the individual birds and what characterizes their species are lovingly written and easily accessible to the layman. The hard, often disappointing, and long journey to adopt and the multitude of feelings that their journey inspired are honest and open. The melding of the two topics, the birds and conservation and Hart's personal journey toward parenthood, is well done. Hart's passion for the raptors comes through the page easily and makes the reader want to see these impressive birds themselves. The timeline is sometimes compressed and other times extended, making it a little difficult to really appreciate how long the adoption quest was taking though. And in the end, when Hart mentions that it has been years since she's worked at the raptor center, there is no reason why given; although it would be fairly easy to guess given the changes in her life, a confirmation of the reason would not have been amiss. Over all, this was an engaging read that offered not only insights into the different ways in which we build family and come together but also a glimpse into the untethered life of some of nature's most magnificent birds.

For more information about Melissa Hart and the book, check out her website, her Facebook page, her Twitter feed or connect with him on GoodReads. Take a look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Janay from Book Sparks PR and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

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