First Egg: Light, Life, and the Wild Spiral


Like all of us, chickens are creatures that respond to the seasons, to cycles of light and dark. Many breeds of chickens will lay eggs throughout their first winter, but once they get a little older, their egg-laying will usually dwindle and then stop completely as the winter darkness falls. Some people install lights into their coops to keep their chickens laying all year, inspired by the artificial brightness. But I like to give my girls the rest their bodies naturally seek.

So every year, in this gorgeous, liminal season of Winter-into-Spring, I delight in finding the first egg in the coop, a true sign that the bodies of all organisms are coming to life. This year, though, I was uncertain. After losing our beloved Marigold, we were left with two  chickens, Ethel the Barred Rock, and Ophelia the Buff Orpington. They are lovely, but they are also old. Six years old? I think so. I wasn’t sure there would be any eggs at all this year. But this morning, there it was: Ethel’s first small, pink egg. Spring really is coming.

T.S. Eliot wrote that April is the cruelest month, but honestly? I think it’s February. We all make sparkly intentions for the new year, set goals, and turn the calendar in January with an almost magical sense of the new life that is about to manifest. But then in a couple of weeks, and certainly by February, everyone seems dazed. It’s still dang dark (at least in Seattle), and our lives? Well, they seem just the same as ever.

But they’re not. We spiral through the seasons, yes, but our perspective rises year by year, higher and brighter, like a spiral staircase rooted in the earth.

Today, this beautiful little egg is my reminder. Thank you, Ethel.  What is your version of “the first egg?”

p.s.  No, Ethel did not lay her egg in that tiny nest.  That is a Bewicks wren nest from last year.  I love it because it is made of everything from the world close by my house–spider webs, rabbit fur, mosses and lickens, some garbage, and feathers from my chickens…

Creative Paths, Wild Lives (and a Magical Red Knit Hood)

Sometime last year I began to have recurring dreams of walking on forested pathways, wandering off the large path onto smaller, hidden paths.  And in most of the dreams, I was wearing this hood.

Hood-Blog-540-4I couldn’t stop thinking of the dream, and I am a believer in following obsessions, so:  I read every academic article I could find about the tale of Little Red; I checked out every illustrated children’s book of the story and put myself to sleep pouring over the artists’ varied visions; and while I was doing all of that, I knit the hood (pattern info follows).  The hood is cozy and warm, and when I wear it, I feel as if I’m walking in a faerie tale.

Hood-Blog-540Clarissa Pinkola Estes believes that the wolf in the story of Little Red is The Predator—that thing which lures all of us, at some point, away from our highest path and truest self.  For her, we learn to avoid this Wolf as part of our maturation.  I love Clarissa, but my reading of this tale is different.

When the wolf lures Red off the trail, he sets her a task—something to occupy her time so that he can pad over to the grandmother’s house and eat her up. The task is picking wildflowers.  Now, instead of just a boring basket of muffins for her grandmother, Red will show up with a basket full of wild beauty that she gathered herself from the forest—treasures not found on the well-traveled path.  She will find her own way through the woods.  And when she arrives?  Yes, she will be eaten by the wolf, as her grandmother was before her.  But it turns out that  they are perfectly well.  They are swallowed whole by the wild and emerge exhilarated.  They place the flowers on the table and feast with a wonderful new hunger. And the wolf?  In some stories the hunter who hacks him open to rescue Red and Grandma stitches stones into his belly and throws him into the pond.  But we shouldn’t worry about the wild wolf—he’ll be just fine.

I am positive that at the end of the tale, when Red promises her wise elder grandmother that from now on she will “stay on the path,” it is with a wink and a nudge between them.  The Grandmother has known for some time, and Red is just learning: Who wants an everyday path void of danger when you can have beasts and shadows and secret flowers?

It’s a New Year (and, as I write, a New Moon).  I wish you wild days and crooked trails. I wish you unexpected visits from the wild wolf of your imagination.
Hood-Blog-540-2-2My beautiful hood is based on the Dragon Watcher’s Hood by Stephanie Dosen of Tiny Owl Knits.  There are bells attached at the ends to keep you from accidentally sneaking up on an unsuspecting dragon, which is of course not recommended. The pattern is available on Ravelry, or better still, it resides among a bouquet of other dreamy patterns in Dosen’s enchanted Woodland Knits. In this book, knitting becomes a way to connect with the magic of wild places.  Love it.  I departed from the recommended yarn to use Ushya, a textured merino with a tiny touch of polyester (2%) to make it extra-soft and non-itchy.

The Pace of Creation: How Rumpelstiltskin Wrote My Book

I have spent the last ten days at Whiteley Center on San Juan Island,  a residency for writers, academics, artists—anyone trying to do focused work on a project (I call it my Beautiful Writer’s Prison). I am here to almost-finish a draft of my next book. There are deer and otters and seals wandering around, and all the birds in the world, and wooded paths that skirt the Salish Sea.  Somehow, whenever I come here, I am productive beyond my wildest imaginings. You’d think with all this natural beauty I would be distracted.  But instead I am replenished, and I manage to work hard.


Which is not to say I am any kind of whirling dervish.  Some days, yes.  But most days I sleep in. Maybe I’ll pull a coat over my pajamas and take my morning coffee down to the dock to visit that mischievous otter, come back for a little more coffee by the cozy fireplace.  Eventually I will meander over to my study and work intently just until I am in desperate need of a forest walk. Then I will wander off into the woods. Still, somehow, the pages pile up and up.

On this trip I am staying in a cottage situated at such an angle that I can see a little into the cottage across the way.  I try not to spy or anything.  But I can’t help noticing: My Neighbor is a bird of a different feather.  When I drag my ass out of bed at the shamelessly late hour of 7:00 a.m., she is already up.  Her light is on and her computer is open and she is sitting up straight, tapping away.  When I come back to my cottage for lunch, she is tapping.  When I change into my pink sock monkey pajamas after dinner and write in my diary or pop a DVD into my laptop for an episode (or three) of Big Bang Theory, she is tapping tapping tapping.  Maybe she is watching Big Bag Theory, too?  I doubt it.  And because she is already working when I get up and still working when I go to bed, I wonder:  Maybe My Neighbor works all night long.

shroomYesterday, I went for a walk on the forest trail, which is brimming with mushrooms that have come to life in these autumn mists.  While I was tripping along, visiting with the fungus and the fallen leaves, I heard a thumpa-thumpa-thumpa behind me.  It was My Neighbor.  She was running.  She ran right past me, gave me a little smile, looked at her watch, and kept running on down the path.  I was wrapped in my wool sweater and striped socks and scarf against the dark woodland chill.  Flush with health and sweat and pumping blood, My Neighbor seemed comfortable in her space-age fabric shorts and T.

Now, it might sound as if my message is Holier Than Thou. Something like:  here I am, communing with the mushrooms, while My Neighbor misses all the little things at her strict, brisk pace.  But I’m not saying that at all.  I am certain that we are both happy and holy in our own ways and in equal measures.  My message is just this:  DANG!  She’s RUNNING.

So I stood there for a moment like a lost child, holding the sad broken little feather I’d found on the ground somewhere, and thought, “I’m too slow.” I stood there longer, feeling crumpled, thinking that same thought.  Then eventually a different thought came: “No, I’m just a tortoise.”  And I am.  There are so so so many days, here and at my home studio, that I have worried, “Oh my god, I am not working enough, I’m not doing enough, I’m not hard enough on myself,  I will never get done, I will never meet my deadline…” Somehow, after all those days, I woke up today, walked over to my study, and there was my book, sitting on my desk. Not perfect. Bits and bobs hanging loose. Lots of work left. But fully drafted. Almost done. It seemed to me to be glowing. And I thought, “Where the HELL did that come from?”

Honestly, I would not be surprised to see Rumpelstiltskin appear and tell me that he had spun the words while I slept.


Someone sent me a fun little video about productivity from Leonie Dawson.  In it, she talks about riding the wild donkey of creation, and just holding on, getting crazy and messy until it’s done. It’s inspiring, and I love it. But the donkey I ride doesn’t look like hers, bucking around like mad.  Mine looks like this:


See how this lovely woman in the scarf is plodding along the path on her quiet donkey?  And don’t you just want to get into those baskets?  The road is long, and they are full of good provisions. There is  is a blanket, and some cheese and chocolate and apples and tea and wine. After a lovely lunch in the grasses and hills you pack up the baskets and get back on your nice patient donkey, because it’s time to get going again, down that beautiful path. Plunk plunk plunk. That’s me, writing.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t writing days where I am completely carried away, and forget to eat, and emerge with ink on my fingers and leaves in my hair, and having forgotten human speech.  That happens, too.  Of course.  But after those days, my  plodding little donkey is there, waiting for me.

The Pace of Creation is a mystery.  It is different for all of us.  And that’s just fine.

Meanwhile, hey, I am almost-finishing a new book.  I love it.  More on that to come…

February: New Year, Take Two

A few years ago I began the personal tradition of celebrating the New Year in early February.  Getting it all together before January 1st is just too much pressure:  reflection on the past year, dreams for the new one, resolutions, intentions.  Yule tree down, calendar up, house cleaned/heart cleaned, all in readiness for the Fresh New Year.  All of this just days after beloved relatives have vacated the festive holiday table, and my head is still reeling from the work and the delight.

I love to ponder all of these things, to go forth into the new year reflectively, thoughtfully, brightly, and with focused intention. But the idea of January 1st as a deadline is the last thing I need. So these days I acknowledge a New Year’s grace period, and  take all of January to allow such visioning to unfold.  This year I spent the three days around Epiphany (January 6, appropriately a day of seeking and following the Star) making a little personal retreat at St. Placid Priory, a women’s Benedictine monastery where I often go to write and to think.  I wandered their woodland trails (maintained by my own cute dad—that’s another story), wrote in my diary, daydreamed, meditated, and napped.  I came to some clarity, and wrote it all down.

priory gate upide

tree arch jpg
Gateways at the priory–one made by humans, one made by arcing branches and licorice ferns.

Last year was a difficult one, demanding my attention in unexpected ways, and taking me down a path I never imagined I’d be traveling.  Work was slow and intermittent.  But the universe is benevolent, the earth finally feels firm beneath my feet once again, and onward we go. Thanks to my understanding editor and publisher, the book I’m working on has a new deadline (it was originally due a few days from now, and is now due the end of the year), and The Tangled Nest, which has been waiting in hibernation, is waking back up. (And just in time:  we have a new non-human housemate I am dying to tell you about!)

priory path jpg

And so here it is February 2nd, the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. This is the Gaelic Feast of Imbolc, and Saint Brigid’s Day.  The Christian Feast of Candlemas, the Festival of Lights, the Presentation at the Temple.  And of course, Groundhog’s Day—the day we contemplate our future as we stand between shadow and light, and turn for insight to an animal guide.  What better day to celebrate the new year?

tree gateway jpg
Maple and mosses gateway on a dark morning.

As I turn the fresh calendar page, I feel tempered by my experience of the past year. Paging through my diary from early January 2014, I find myself blissfully unaware, with sunny butterfly visions for a new year of radiant joy. This year, the creatures that draw me as as guides are not daylight creatures—not butterflies sipping nectar from flower petals as their wings open and close under the sun’s warmth—but creatures that wander between worlds, with a foot in both light and darkness.  Moths, foxes, owls.  These are the animals that currently visit my dreams, imaginings, and writing.  And if that sounds dark, it doesn’t feel dark.  It feels comforting.

Happy new year to all.  Anyone care to join me in starting it again?

Many thanks to Waverly Fitzgerald, who in her book Slow Time (which I reviewed here), and her website Living in Season, inspired my thinking on a New Year’s grace period.



Broody Hens and the Meaning of Life

Instead of making excuses for the fact that I have not made the tiniest appearance here at The Tangled Nest for, um, five months, I’m just going to jump right in with this:  Ophelia, one of my beautiful Buff Orpingtons, is broody. She’s been sitting stubbornly in the nest box for days on end and bristles at anyone, human or chicken, who dares to approach her and the eggs beneath her feathered belly–her future, impossible brood of chicks.  (We keep no rooster.  It is one of the most common questions urban people have regarding chickens:  How do you get eggs with no rooster?  Using our own human bodies as an analogy, we  can figure it out quickly enough—you need a rooster to get chicks, not eggs.)

Ophelia is mad and fluffed, as Ethel tries to get a turn in the nest box.

Last week my daughter Claire and I were in a serious, frightening car accident.  Everyone is OK (except my beloved old VW, which is totaled).  But there was a moment when we could see the crash coming and that it was unavoidable— both of us thought we might die.  Just die right there that sunny morning.  We talked later about how, though we were jumpy and shaken (and sore) all day, both of us also felt a strange, grounding calm descend. The world felt filled with love, and extra light and color and beauty.  It still does.

Ophelia herself almost died this winter.  She was brutally attacked by a dog, and I nursed her for three months in a makeshift dining-room corner chicken hospital. For the first month, I was almost certain she wouldn’t survive her injuries.

Delilah was not impressed to have to share the house with Ophelia while she recovered.
Delilah was not impressed to have to share the house with Ophelia while she recovered from a dog attack.

Ophelia’s broodiness is a nuisance.  But after the accident I’m in a funny mood, and here’s what I see:  In Ophelia’s maternal tenacity is an affirmation that the instinct toward life and birth and renewal are powerful and gorgeous and true.  It doesn’t  matter that the eggs aren’t going to hatch.  She’s going to sit there anyway, dammit. Seeing her fluffed and mad as I drag her off the nest inspires me to lift my face to the sun and say YES.

If your hen is broody, make sure you get her off the nest several times a day to eat and drink—they can forget these things, and get really skinny or dehydrated.  Pull her out of the nest and put her in the chicken yard with the other girls and some food scrap treats. Sometimes you’ll actually have to stand her up and get her feet under her and pet her a little to get her out of fluffed-brooding stance.  Bring the water right to her and make sure she drinks. If you can put her out into a bigger yard or garden without access to the nest, she’ll get over her broodiness more quickly.  I’ve heard you can dunk chickens in water as a cure, but I do not do that to my chickens.

Read my Powell’s essay inspired by William McDonough’s “Celebrate Fiercely” quote (and related to the theme of this post) here.

Three Ways to Keep the Peace of the Season

6608917613_663362dcc7(This post was originally published in December, 2012.)

Every year we see articles on “staying sane during the holidays”–advice for dealing with unruly inlaws while maximizing cookie production and shopping efficiency.  I follow some of this advice.  But here’s a confession:  I love the inner dimension of this season.  I love advent, the dark days leading to the Solstice and Christmas, and I take this time seriously as a period of simplicity, waiting, expectation, and inward reflection.  And though December is often the busiest month of my year, I never compromise on my simple practices for keeping peace in this season. Here’s what I do:

1.  I get up early, in the darkness of morning, every day during advent.  In this quiet hour before my sweeties stir in their beds upstairs, I light a candle, maybe turn on a string of twinkle lights, and spend some time enjoying the stillness.  (Before coffee?  Of course not!!  But I get the french press ready the night before so I don’t have to think much about it when I get up).  I might play some soft medieval carols (my favorite seasonal music, which Tom and Claire do not care for–this is my chance to enjoy it without hassle). During this hushed hour I may read a little, write in my diary, or just spend some time in meditation.  Yes, I am a morning person.  If you’re not, this practice would be equally beautiful in the silence of late night, after your household is asleep.

2.  I choose a book for contemplative reading during the season.  This year I am re-reading A Child in Winter, a selection of advent writings by Caryll Houselander, the English laywoman, mystic, and poet, who was writing in the middle of the last century.  I love her challenging spirituality, grounded in ordinary life, but I know her Catholic language is overly-religious for some.  Seasonal reading can be anything that makes you feel calm, and whole.  I have worked with Emily Dickinson during previous advents, or Thich Nhat Hanh.

3.  I spend extra time observing my neighborhood birds.  Anyone who reads my work knows that I watch birds all the time anyway, so this might not really seem like a particular advent practice, but I find my attitude shifts during this season.  I’ll walk along the beach with an eye to the winter seabirds on the Salish Sea–goldeneyes, horned grebes, harlequin ducks–all of them tossing on the gray water, their bodies quiet no matter how rushed the waves.  Or just the chickadees and juncos outside my window, feathers ruffling in the chilly breeze.  Amidst all the ads and the frenzy and the cooking and the making and the singing, here are these creatures that have nothing to do with any of this, tending their day, their simple needs for food and warmth. We live alongside each other, in the same dark, expectant season, and watching them I feel a renewed confidence in my own indwelling peace.

Yes, I am also making cookies, and fantasizing that I’ll still get a few more homemade gifts finished, and decking the halls, and taking our daughter back and forth to her holiday recitals, and trying in the middle of it all to work on my next book.  I love all of this, and will be passing on some of my favorite recipes and projects here at the Tangled Nest in the next couple of weeks.   But my simple advent practices help to keep me calm and joyful (mostly) in the whirl of activity.

How do you keep the peace of the season?  I’d love to hear about your own practices.

(Thanks to Flickr user KimCarpenter NJ for the lovely photo.)


Join me in celebrating The Urban Bestiary!

My new book, The Urban Bestiary, hits shelves today.  I look forward to seeing its pretty, sky-blue cover tracking its way into the world, and into your hands.  Every one of you has my never-ending gratitude for your support during the writing and release of this book.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.Urban Bestiary cover

Now let’s celebrate! 

The Official Seattle Book Launch will take place at the storied Elliott Bay Book Company next Wednesday, Setpember 25th at 7 p.m.  I’ll show slides of all the great urban wildlife photos y’all submitted, read a little, talk a little, and I can’t wait to hear your urban-wild stories.  Of course I’ll be signing books.  Bring everyone you know.  There will be cake!!!

Portlandians:  I will be at Powell’s Burnside location the next night, Thursday, September 26th at 7:30 p.m.  Bring your friends!  I can’t carry a cake on the train, but I promise there will be a celebratory spirit.  And if you read The Tangled Nest or are part of my Facebook community, please say hello.  I can’t wait to meet you.

I’ll post other upcoming events, as they are booked, on my events page and on my Facebook page. I hope to see you!

There’s a nice summary in this new review:

Publisher’s Weekly starred review: In this sparkling follow-up to Crow Planet, Haupt returns to the urban wilds, this time familiarizing the reader with the wildlife ecology within their own backyards…Packed with information yet conversational in style, this nature memoir invites backyard birdwatchers and amateur naturalists to take a moment to be still, observant, and to discover that the wild world really does extend into our own lives, and even still today, we are too a part of that wild.

And finally, thank you to everyone who shared their wonderful urban wildlife photos–I love them all.  My daughter drew a name at random from all who submitted.  And the winner of a book is… Cordelia Naumann.

Photo by Cordelia Naumann, "Fledgling hummingbird. My backyard in San Bruno, California. August 9, 2013, about 5 pm PDT."
Photo by Cordelia Naumann, “Fledgling hummingbird. My backyard in San Bruno, California.”



Your Amazing Urban Wildlife Photos

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Thanks to everyone who submitted your urban wildlife photos!

(Submission is now closed. One submitter chosen at random will win a copy of my new book The Urban Bestiary: Encountering The Everyday Wild.)

The photos are wonderful, and I uploaded the first batch (over 100 photos!) to Facebook today. They also appear below.

Click here to see the album on Facebook, where you can also “like,” share, and comment on the photos. (While you are there, if you have not already, please like my Facebook page.)

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Share Your Urban Wildlife Photos! (And win a copy of The Urban Bestiary.)



(September 16,2013: Please note I am no longer accepting photos – thanks for all your great submissions!)

The original post:

Please share your wonderful urban wildlife photos!

Beginning in mid-September, I’ll be speaking at various venues about my new book, The Urban Bestiary, and I’m developing a slideshow of urban wildlife images that will play as folks in the audience find their seats.

I’ll also be using urban wildlife photos in some short videos I am producing for the book, and other social media venues.


So I’m inviting you to submit your best urban wildlife photos! The Urban Bestiary is about the community of beings, so I’m happy to have a way for others in the community to join in and play a part.

With Tom’s help, I have set up a submission site here. I’m looking for images of North American wildlife, especially in urban contexts (coyotes on sidewalks, raccoons on porches, squirrels on bird feeders, bears raiding garbage cans, hawks on the fencepost, chickadees in the garden…).  Fancy lenses not required–some of the best urban-wild moments are captured on iPhones!

I’ll be posting my favorite images to an album on my Facebook page, I’ll put a few here on the blog, and I’ll use them at speaking engagements. Of course I’ll credit all photographers.

In addition, I’ll draw from the submissions and send one photographer a personalized, signed copy of The Urban Bestiary the week it comes out (September 17).

Please submit your photos here!

Please read the terms on the submission form. By participating, you are granting me the right to use the images you submit as part of promotion for The Urban Bestiary, and certifying that you own the rights to the images you submit.

Thank you so much! I’m looking forward to seeing your photos and reading your captions!


Opossum in the Chicken Coop


CAUTION:  This is an update to this post added on January 11, 2017. After writing this opossum-friendly post,  I have heard from several chicken keepers who have in fact had chickens killed by opossums (you can find their stories in the comments below). I was going to delete the post to keep from misleading people about the potential hazards of opossum-chicken coexistence, but decided not to because I still believe in the importance of the overall message: that opossums are not automatically an evil in the urban landscape, or even in the backyard with a chicken coop, as long as we take the usual steps to keep our chickens safe, which includes–as I mention in bold type in the post, and will again now–closing our chickens in at night to protect from all potential nocturnal predators. In some comments people have attributed actual evil intentions to opossums.  “Ruthless” is one adjective used to describe them.  It can be very sad and emotional to lose an animal that is part of your household, like a chicken, and I can see why having an opossum kill one of your chickens would incite anti-opossum sentiment. But as we coexist with wildlife in an increasingly complex urban landscape, it is important to remember that omnivores like opossums do not kill anything because they are “ruthless,” they do it because they are animals that eat other animals as part of their natural diet.  I write extensively about the fascinating nature of opossums and their curious history in this country in my book, The Urban Bestiary.  Meanwhile, here is the original post:

One night this week I was later than usual closing the chickens into their coop–they had already put themselves to bed on the little roost-branch in the corner.  When I shined my flashlight in the door, I jumped–I thought I was seeing the biggest rat on earth.  But I quickly recovered, and realized it was actually a small opossum, quietly eating from the chicken food dish.  The chickens, Ethel, Ophelia, and Marigold, usually hate other animals visiting their coop (squirrels, or Delilah our cat), and will chase them away in a rush of flapping wings.  But they blithely looked down on the opossum from their roost, like mildly disapproving aunties.

People freak out over opossums in the hen house.  While opossums do occasionally eat chickens, in truth, most chickens are too big and too intimidating for most opossums.  And for the most part, opossums can be more friend than foe to the urban chicken-keeper.  Their favorite urban foods (besides chicken crumble) are rats, mice, and roaches.

Which is not to say that we should let them–or anything–into our coops at night.  Always close in your chickens to prevent visits from animals that really will kill them (raccoons), and to discourage rats.

If you find an opossum in your coop, don’t worry.  An opossum that is cornered may be frightened, and bare its teeth in attempt to look ferocious (and it will succeed–opossums have more teeth in that long snout than any other mammal, as many as a Tyrannosaurus rex).  But unless they are protecting young, opossums are gentle and will not physically confront you.  I just asked this opossum to leave, and he looked up at me quietly, then made his way down the chicken ladder.  I closed up the chicken door as I watched him squeeze through the hogwire fence (just a 2″ x 4″ opening!), and out into the night.

I love opossum tracks--so starry. These are by the wonderful Tracie Noles-Ross, illustrator of the Urban Bestiary.
I love opossum tracks–so starry. These are by the wonderful Tracie Noles-Ross, illustrator of The Urban Bestiary.

Find more about opossums, and other uban-wild creatures in my  book, The Urban Bestiary.