Local Author Talks Birds, Romance and Adoption In New Memoir

Melissa Hart with Bodhi the Barred Owl. Photo: Jonathan B. Smith.

As a journalism instructor at the UO, Eugene author Melissa Hart tells her students to write engaging beginnings to their stories. She followed her own recipe with her latest memoir, Wild Within: How Rescuing Owls Inspired a Family, which opens with her husband’s vasectomy.

Such begins a story about a quirky romance, rescued birds of prey and the process of adopting a child. Hart will read from her book at the UO’s Museum of Natural and Cultural History Oct. 28, along with local author Tom Titus.

“I’ve said on Facebook, it takes balls to be married to a memoirist,” Hart says. After the vasectomy, the narrative pushes back a few years to when Hart first met her husband at a dog park in Eugene.

Spirits dulled by a failed marriage and a gloomy Oregon winter, Hart finds renewal in the ponytailed, unibrowed Jonathan Smith, a photographer with a love for the Cascades Raptor Center. Together, their romance blossoms, along with their passion for raptors, and despite the vasectomy, they eventually realize that they want a child, launching the complex and often convoluted process of adoption.

Wild Within is Hart’s second memoir; the first was Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood.

Gringa was published in 2009, and although I started working on this book soon after, it took almost five years to write,” Hart says. “My writing has gotten a lot more sophisticated and a lot less slapstick. With Gringa I was trying for a David Sedaris-type humor, but with a more sophisticated story, I learned how to weave twin narratives in.”

To write a book about raptors and adoptions, Hart says she studied writing that featured braided narratives and intersections of themes. On her book tour this year, Hart has shared her memoir expertise at bookshops along the West Coast, sometimes inviting raptor centers to bring birds to the reading.

Hart says she’s done with memoirs for a time, and she’s now working on a historical fiction novel about her great-grandparents who ran away to join the circus. “They married out of convenience so they could travel together,” she says, “and they went on the vaudeville circuit for years.” Entertaining, through prose or performance, must run in the family.

“Exploring Nature Writing with Melissa Hart and Tom Titus” is at 5 pm Tuesday, Oct. 28, at the UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History.

In other book news, check out Gregg Kleiner’s new children’s book, Please Don’t Paint Our Planet Pink!, exploring climate change and how different the world might be if people saw CO2 emissions as pink puffs. The book launch is at 3 pm Saturday, Oct. 25, at Grass Roots Books & Music in Corvallis.