The Writer’s Pet: Jen Hirt and Hear Me Ohio

Jen Hirt on doing agility with her dog, Wesley, and her latest book, Hear Me Ohio.

Writer Jen Hirt's dog, Wesley, taking part in agility. The Writer's Pet about her latest book, Hear Me Ohio
Jen Hirt's dog Wesley. Photo: Rich Knecht.

No. 12 in the series The Writer's Pet by Zazie Todd PhD.

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In Jen Hirt’s beautifully-written collection of essays, Hear Me Ohio, she writes of looking back at Ohio from elsewhere, and of a life spent fascinated with critters and plants.  Dobsonflies, spiders, unicorns, and of course dogs, are vividly described. Elena Passarello says, "Hear Me Ohio is an unabashed treat: curious, insightful, and surprising essays on the many wildnesses in both urban and suburban landscapes. These essays will have you opening your front door and looking around for all the wondrous things you might have missed."

Hirt told me about her dog, her writing, and all the animals that are our companions.

The  Writer's Pet: Jen Hirt and her book, Hear Me Ohio (pictured)


What is your pet’s name? 

Wesley

Type of pet?

Dog. His DNA report says Labrador and golden retriever, plus husky, Akita, hound, and terrier. He looks like a black lab.

What do you love most about him? 

Wesley is an agility dog! I’ve trained him (and myself) to complete in agility trials. Our mistakes and bloopers are as fun as our moments of success.


"It’s comforting to have domestic companions (cats, dogs), but it’s also comforting to know the life cycles and struggles of wild companions who are very different."


What makes Wesley happy? 

His favorite game is “Put your toys away.” I scatter his toys, and he puts them back in the bin, earning a treat each time. He loves this game so much that we have to play it every morning after our walk.

Does Wesley help or hinder your writing? In what way? 

Help! I need to be alone with my thoughts in order to write, but sometimes being truly alone is a drag. So I rouse my companion, Wesley, for a walk. I enjoy observing the thoughts of my dog as he moves through the story of his walk. Inevitably, a writing idea or solution comes to me. I don’t know exactly how the dog walk and inspiration correlate, but if I can invoke Loren Eiseley, he said, “My thoughts are becoming animals.” And since we compete in agility, I have to think like an animal all the time. How does the dog see the course? How many steps will he take between jumps? Where do I have to run to be out of his way? Our teamwork through a course is a lot like getting a phrase or paragraph just right – everything falls into place and it looks effortless. But, like writing, there are lots of rough runs before I reach that polished prose. So Wesley is my muse, but he’s also my practice.

The Writer's Pet: Jen Hirt, author of Hear Me Ohio, pictured with her dog
Author Jen Hirt with her dog.

Tell me about your book.

Hear Me Ohio follows more advice of Loren Eiseley, who said, “I can at best report only from my own wilderness.” My own wilderness is partly rural Ohio, where I grew up. But my own wilderness is also the landscapes I’ve come to know since leaving Ohio: an arboretum in Kentucky, the shores of Maine and Delaware, the mountains of Idaho, and Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna River valley, where I live now. In the Pennsylvania essays, readers will meet Olly, my chocolate lab who passed away in 2017. The essays also cover encounters with spiders, bats, a one-eyed deer, a stray cat, neglected dogs, an injured turtle, and insects. It’s called “Hear Me Ohio” (after the Damien Jurado lyric) because I’m calling out a thank you to the rural Ohio childhood that shaped me.

What is your favorite dog essay in Hear Me Ohio? 

“Students of the Route” is about a vacation to Maine with my partner Paul and, of course, Olly the chocolate lab, who was an excellent travel companion. I thought I would write about Acadia National Park, but it was too crowded and touristy. Seeking solitude, I found the Edgar M. Tennis Preserve. It’s what the Irish culture calls a “thin place,” meaning that in these places, energy of the past slips in to the present. You might say a thin place has ghosts or spirits. Olly was a great off-leash dog, and watching him move at liberty through that ancient forest and its old farm foundations was remarkable. That’s where the essay found its footing. He also provided the conclusion to the essay. I miss Olly every day, but reading this essay keeps him close – the essay itself is a “thin place.”


"Our teamwork through a course is a lot like getting a phrase or paragraph just right"


Hear Me Ohio includes lots of animals that we don’t think of companions, such as spiders and insects. Do you think of them as companion animals? 

Yes, absolutely. One of my insect essays, “Monster Magnificent,” is about dobsonflies. They are the continent’s largest river insect, and they are truly monstrous, with growths that look like tusks, plus sharp mandibles and bulging eyes. Most people are horrified by them and kill them. But they are also indicator species – the more there are of them, the healthier the river ecosystem is. So I taught myself how and when and where to look for them, so I could have a personal sense of the health of the river. It’s comforting to have domestic companions (cats, dogs), but it’s also comforting to know the life cycles and struggles of wild companions who are very different. Their existence tells me something about the quality of all existence, of all companions.

Name your local/favourite independent bookstore.

The Midtown Scholar in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania! 


Hear Me Ohio is available in the Companion Animal Psychology Amazon store and at all good bookstores.

The Writer's Pet: Jen Hirt, author of Hear Me Ohio

Jen Hirt is the author of the essay collection Hear Me Ohio, the poetry chapbook Too Many Questions About Strawberries, and the memoir Under Glass: The Girl with a Thousand Christmas Trees. She is the co-editor of two anthologies of creative nonfiction. She is an associate professor at Penn State Harrisburg, and she is the editor of the Journal of Creative Writing Studies. She is at work on two manuscripts -- one about dogs, one about trees, and essays from those manuscripts are forthcoming at Thin Air Magazine and Terrain.

Website: jenhirt.ink

See all of the featured authors in The Writer's Pet. If you're a traditionally published author and think your book would be a good fit for this series, see the guidelines for The Writer's Pet.



Zazie Todd, PhD, is the author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy, a BC bestseller and winner of the Maxwell Medallion for best book (behaviour, health or general care) from the Dog Writers Association of America. She is the founder of the popular blog Companion Animal Psychology, where she writes about everything from training methods to the human-canine relationship. She also writes a column for Psychology Today and has received the prestigious Captain Haggerty Award for Best Training Article in 2017. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband and two cats.

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