The Tangled Nest

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Broody Hens and the Meaning of Life

May 22nd, 2014

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.

→ 18 CommentsCategories: chickens

Three Ways to Keep the Peace of the Season

November 30th, 2013

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.)


→ 11 CommentsCategories: inspiration, seasons, urban nature

Join me in celebrating The Urban Bestiary!

September 17th, 2013

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.”



→ 14 CommentsCategories: books, events, The Urban Bestiary, urban nature, writing

Your Amazing Urban Wildlife Photos

August 25th, 2013

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.)

→ 2 CommentsCategories: art, birds, crows, urban nature

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

August 16th, 2013



(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!


→ 19 CommentsCategories: urban nature

Opossum in the Chicken Coop

August 8th, 2013

possumOne 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.  In truth, most chickens are too big and too intimidating for most opossums.  A big opossum might eat a bantam, or a young chicken, not fully grown.  But 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 new book, The Urban Bestiary, available now for pre-order from Indie-bound, Powell’s, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon.

→ 3 CommentsCategories: chickens, urban farming, urban nature

Diaries and the Wild Mind: How to Start (or Re-start) a Journal Habit

July 29th, 2013


Some (but not all!) of my diaries from the past several years.

In common with Virginia Woolf, Henry David Thoreau, Charles Darwin, May Sarton, Anais Nin, Gary Snyder, Katherine Mansfield, Joan Didion, Leonardo da Vinci, St. Therese of Lisieux, and countless other writers, I am a diarist.  I have kept a diary, with more or less regularity, since first grade.  When I fall into a period in which I neglect “the notebook,” as Gary Snyder refers to his journal, I find myself less settled, less clear, less creative, less sure of myself, less inspired, and–yes–I think also less intelligent.

I used to keep a separate notebook for my nature observations and sketches alongside my everyday diary, but now I just throw everything into one book, which seems right to me–life and nature tangled together, as they are in truth.  When I teach writing, the habit of keeping a journal is the first thing I recommend:  Carry a notebook everywhere, and write whatever and whenever you like.

DailyJournalHoriz480Starting (or returning to the habit after a long hiatus) is the hardest part.  Even seasoned writers know that blank pages, especially the first blank pages of any project, can be strangely intimidating for flat, inanimate objects.  Here are my top three tips for staring down page one, and getting started in the habit of diarizing:

1.  For your first diary, choose a cheap notebook.  I think that  once you are in the habit of keeping a journal, you should choose a book that delights you.  But does this sound familiar?  You want to start a diary, and so for inspiration you purchase some elegantly bound book filled with handmade, flower-petal-strewn paper. A book this beautiful deserves to be started while you are sitting in the perfect place, with the perfect pen, and the perfect cup of tea.  The first words to grace its pages must also be perfect:  thoughtful, intelligent, yet personal.

Tom, not a fan of spiral binding, favors these inexpensive Moleskines, and adorns them with stickers.

Tom favors these inexpensive Moleskines, which he adorns with stickers.

How intimidating!  Mark Twain himself would be struck dumb by such requirements!  And so the gorgeous diary sits empty, sometimes for all eternity.  Now you feel guilty for not starting a diary as you’d intended to, and for buying an expensive journal that gathers dust.

Composition books are perfect for starting to journal, or getting back in the habit.  They’re a comfortable size, a perfect number of pages, and unintimidatingly cheap.   Once you are settled into the habit of keeping a diary, then go for the flower paper, or whatever inspires you. (I am lovingly devoted to my current diary–a cover of rich, aged leather, with refillable fountain-pen-friendly paper.  It looks like it could have been carried by a medieval bard, and I plan to use it for the rest of my life.)

2.  Counter first-page jitters by starting with a quote or poem. I still do this, and it’s magical–the first page fills up, and you don’t even have to think of what to say!  Here a few from my recent notebooks:

“Je choisis tout. ” (I choose all.)–St. Therese of Lisieux

“Everything I do gon’ be funky from now on.”  –Dr. John

“It is true that we are called to create a better world.  But we first of all called to a more immediate and exalted task:  that of creating our own lives.” –Thomas Merton

Or there is always the diarist’s perrenial favorite from Mary Oliver:

“Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”

3.  Whenever you don’t know what to write, try this:  “So, right now I’m…”  This will cover everything from crying over bad break-ups to observing limpets at low-tide.

spiral staircaseI don’t often read through my old diaries, but after gathering them for the photo at the top of this post, I heaped them onto my desk, and have been peeking into the pages now and then. Wow–if I hadn’t written most of this stuff down, it might as well not have happened, as far as my memory goes. The most wonderful thing I am learning  (or is it the most disheartening thing?) is that I am just the same as I was ten years ago–the same things make me anxious, joyful, peaceful.  The same issues–living simply, living creatively, living wild,  learning what it means to be a mother, a wife–lie at the center of my mind’s wandering.  I see, as I never have before, that my life is a spiral staircase (or maybe a kettle of vultures on a morning thermal) winding around itself, but with an ever-higher view.

And if none of this is enough for you,  a new study shows that keeping a diary about emotional events can dramatically  speed healing from traumatic physical injury.

Are you a regular, wanna-be, or on-again/off-again diarist?  I’d love to hear your stories.

→ 21 CommentsCategories: inspiration, writing

This Cute Raccoon Is Stealing Our Cat Food!

June 14th, 2013

I was out on the back deck reading after dinner when Tom poked his head out the door, looked past me towards the steps, and laughed, saying “Who’s your friend?”


We quickly realized that this was the raccoon we’ve seen hanging around our yard recently. Claire and I had spotted her the day before, boldly bathing in our backyard fountain, totally unconcerned when we came close enough to take this iPhone photo.


But that evening on the porch, it took a few minutes to figure out the source of her boldness: a few days earlier, I had (somewhat alarmingly) heard the sound of glass breaking in the middle of the day, but never found the cause. Later, Tom asked, “How did that jar get broken out back?” and he told me how he’d cleaned up a big broken jar at the base of the deck stairs.  Eventually, we put it all together: mid-day open back door, jar of cat food, bold raccoon! (No cat food bits were left amongst the broken glass, Tom reports.) The jar had a lid with a handle, just like the one in the picture below.  Can’t you imagine those bad little paws pulling it along the porch?  Now she was back for the new jar.


She’s a very small raccoon, and a little sweetheart–not much concerned about our presence, but still a little shy, and not at all aggressive. She always leaves when we ask her to. Her enlarged nipples mean she’s got some young stashed away nearby somewhere. I don’t begrudge her the cat food (part of me–the unecological part– would love to feed her and her babies!) but for her own good, I’m making sure she doesn’t get any more.  Raccoons that are accustomed to human food sources  become emboldened, and if they begin visiting households that aren’t as sanguine about raccoons, it can mean a ticket to the animal control death chamber.  This day, I went back to reading Jane Austen, and the raccoon climbed the cherry tree to steal the fruit.  A much better arrangement.

There is a myth that raccoons seen during the day are rabid, but this is untrue.  While most raccoons are more active at night, female raccoons with young, like this little girl in our yard, will be out searching for food anytime of day.  When her young are ready to leave the nest, we may see them during the day as well.

There is a lot more about raccoons–mythology, history, crazy stories, coexistence–in my new book, The Urban Bestiary, out this September (and conveniently available for pre-order now, during baby-raccoon season). It’s the time of year that all manner of babies are emerging from nests, dens, and hollows. What are you seeing in your corner of the urban wild? I’d love to hear your stories.

→ 8 CommentsCategories: garden, pest control, urban nature

The Urban Bestiary: My New Book, Coming In September

May 28th, 2013

UB225I am very pleased to announce that my new book, The Urban Bestiary:  Encountering the Everyday Wild, will be published by Little, Brown this fall.  If you read The Tangled Nest you’ve heard bits about it here and there, and if you follow me on Facebook, you’ve seen a glimpse of the gorgeous cover.  Now I want to tell you a little about what’s inside.

It is my passionate belief that daily connection with the natural, wild world matters.  It makes us more creative, responsive, responsible, imaginative, wild, and happy inhabitants of our home communities. It also allows these communities–made up of humans and myriad other animals—to flourish.  The Urban Bestiary is a song—a symphony, really—in support of this belief.

In an homage to the medieval bestiary form, my modern bestiary mingles the many beautiful human ways of knowing.  The creatures that live among us are explored not just through science and natural history, but also myth, memoir, story, philosophy.  Through the activities of our own lives and homes, we are drawn into nature’s daily story, a story that is not always easy to navigate, and that in urban places includes a shaggy cast of characters: coyotes, hawks, raccoons, moles, rats, robins, chickens.  Humans, and even trees have their own beastly chapters.

This book reflects countless hours spent with my nose buried in scientific research, interviewing wildlife professionals and biologists, exploring global animal traditions and mythologies, and of course observing and tracking urban wildlife on a daily basis.  More than  anything I’ve ever written, this book was composed outdoors, even when the weather wasn’t inclined to cooperate. Wanting to be in close contact with my urban-wild subject matter, I built backyard fires; learned to write neatly with fingerless gloves or while holding an umbrella; found a tree branch at the local park that could double as a writing desk; and singlehandedly kept the Rite-in-the-Rain notebook company in business.

squirrelOn days when I just couldn’t work outside, I worked with my study windows open and discovered the truth of one of my basic tenets—that our homes are semipermeable to the wild.  I discovered a very bold squirrel on my desk one day.  And another day?  A hummingbird flew in the window like a faerie apparition and then, thank god, out again.

BearThe cover art is by the wonderful Swedish artist Olaf Hajek, who also did the cover of my last book, Crow Planet.  Treat yourself to a visit to his website, where his influences are everywhere in evidence, including European folk art and Frida Kahlo.  I love the cover—I love how it is full of whimsy and lightheartedness, and yet the scene is not merely lighthearted; the conflicts that can brew in the urban wilds are everywhere in evidence.  I also love that it’s my favorite color of blue-green.  The front cover is a delight, but more images wrap all the way around the back and onto the flaps—bears, opossums, and…well, you’ll just have to buy the book!

PossumTracksThe interior art is the work of the wondrously talented Tracie-Noles Ross.  You’ll see a profile of her life and work here on The Tangled Nest closer to the release date.  For now let me say that the book is full of her detailed pen and ink illustrations that capture the spirit of this Bestiary perfectly.  Here’s a sneak preview: an opossum track that is simultaneously accurate and magical.  I don’t know how she does it, and I can’t wait for you all to see the rest!

The official release date is September 17th.  You can pre-order The Urban Bestiary from the usual places including IndyBound, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and your local bookseller.

I can’t wait to share this book with you.  Please join me later this summer as I begin a more serious campaign of  Facebook sharing, tweeting, and shouting from the rooftops.

→ 16 CommentsCategories: events, urban nature, writing

Saint Hildegard’s Cookies of Joy

April 8th, 2013

Spring is the perfect season to celebrate Hildegard of Bingen, the medieval Rhineland mystic, hildegardnaturalist, seer, writer, gardener, composer, and physician. The world is leaping to life in every color of green, a celebration of Hildegard’s central concept of viriditas–the “greening finger” of the divine in all of life. I’ve long considered Hildegard a personal patron, and wrote about her in my book about Darwin.

Seattle is greening these days, to be sure. It’s also wet. As it pours rain for the third day in a row, I’m not feeling the least inclined to venture outdoors, not even to tend the herb garden as the saint surely would have. Instead, I’m curling up with a nice cup of tea and a plate of Hildgegard’s Cookies of Joy.


Yes, Cookies of Joy. As a healer, Hildegard was alert to the healing properties in herbs and spices. This blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves not only banishes melancholia, according to Hildegard’s Physica, but also releases our innate intelligence, and keeps us youthful in body and spirit. This recipe is my own adaptation of Hildegard’s 800 year old version. Her abbey at Rupertsberg had many benefactors, and traded regularly with the towns nearby. She would have had access to sugar, as well as eggs and butter from the holdings of the abbey’s small farm, and it is likely that she added such ingredients to her basic recipe, which emphasized fresh-ground spices in a paste of wheat flour. I like to think that Hildegard would gobble up my interpretation of her biscuits. Joyfully. They are just sweet enough, and perfect with coffee or tea. Take as directed: 3 cookies a day.

Cloves-VerticalHere’s the recipe:

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white/cane sugar (or one full cup of either brown or white)
1 egg, preferably fresh from the hen house
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour (can include part or all whole wheat or spelt)
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon cloves
(add up to 1/2 teaspoon more of each spice, to taste)

Cream sugar and butter until fluffy. Add the egg and mix well. Sift the dry ingredients together and mix until fully blended.

Roll the dough out to a generous 1/4 inch thickness, cut with your favorite small cookie cutter, and arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet. I use a 1 1/2″ fluted round cutter, and I love the looks of them, but other nature-inspired shapes, such as flowers or butterflies would be lovely. If you are one of those bakers who hates rolling and cutting cookies, you could instead hand roll the cookies into one inch spheres, arrange on a cookie sheet, and press them into 1/4 inch flat circles with the bottom of a glass.

Bake at 375 for 10 minutes, or until the edges are just browning.

Surely you’ll need a soundtrack for baking: There are many recordings of Hildegard’s gorgeous, unusual compositions, but for these cookies the most fitting might be Sequentia’s Canticles of Ecstasy.

→ 9 CommentsCategories: recipes, seasons