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Local authors detail a walk to remember, amazing insect facts

  • Contributed photo Contributed photo

  • “Walking to Listen” by Andrew Forsthoefel Contributed photo

  • WEISBLAT Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ



For the Recorder
Wednesday, April 11, 2018

In 2011, Andrew Forsthoefel was 23 years old. He had recently graduated from Middlebury College. Forsthoefel was — like many of us, but particularly those in his age group — trying to figure out what kind of person he wanted to be when he grew up.

After a brief stint as a crew member on a fishing boat, Forsthoefel decided to start a cross-country walk from his mother’s home in Pennsylvania to California. He was interested in the physical challenge the walk would present to him, as well as the time it would provide for reflection and learning.

Forsthoefel decided that the purpose of his journey would be “walking to listen.” He took along a portable audio recorder in the hope that in listening to and processing the stories of others, he might get ideas about how to live his own life.

He also took books by Walt Whitman, Kahlil Gibran and Rainer Maria Rilke to inspire him along the way. And he wrote blog posts as he walked, which have found their way, edited and amended, into his book, “Walking to Listen: 4,000 Miles Across America, One Story at a Time.”

Reading the book, it’s easy to see why people opened up to Forsthoefel on his journey. He comes across as sincere, caring and very young. (One recurring question he was asked, particularly by older women, was how his mother was dealing with her son’s lonely, arduous walk.)

Many of the tales he tells in the book are gripping. He spoke with old people and young ones, workers and civil servants, homeless wanderers and occasionally old friends.

He tried hard never to judge anyone to whom he listened, although he engaged in some soul-searching when he feared that by listening quietly, he was condoning racism.

As he processed people’s stories, Forsthoefel learned things about himself. He analyzed his own family dynamic, coming to terms as much as he could with his parents’ divorce, an event that loomed large over his youth.

He also learned how much abuse his body could take. He timed his journey as well as he could, moving south in the fall so that he would end up in Louisiana in winter. He thus missed most of the bitter cold of the Northeast and the flat heat of the American South.

Nevertheless, he still had to endure rain, some cold, and the effects of all that walking on his feet and body. And he ended up walking through Death Valley in high summer, a daunting experience.

Forsthoefel hoped that while walking to listen, he would learn how to be an adult and how to live, love and interact with other people. In some ways, he failed in this quest — but even his failure was instructive. He finally realized that he had to listen to himself as well as others.

On a totally different note, western Massachusetts authors Corinne Demas and Artemis Roehrig have just produced “Do Doodlebugs Doodle?” This book for children between the ages of 4 and 8 (maybe even a little older) offers a humorous education into the nature of 11 different insects.

Using bright, colorful illustrations by Ellen Shi, the mother and daughter authors ask such questions as “Do stink bugs take baths?” and “Do fireflies roast marshmallows?” The answer to each query (mostly “no”) provides information about the life of the creature in question. Their book is a delight.

Andrew Forsthoefel lives in Williamsburg. He will speak at the Dickinson Memorial Library in Northfield on Thursday, April 26, at 6:30 p.m. and at the Greenfield Public Library on Wednesday, May 2, at 6 p.m. Both events are open to the public.

Demas and Roehrig will read from their book on Saturday, April 14, as part of a reading and nature walk event at the Mass Audubon Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary, 127 Combs Road, in Easthampton. For more information about this event, call 413-584-3009. For a full listing of their appearances in the region, visit: bit.ly/2GSeRqF

Tinky Weisblat is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and the forthcoming “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website: www.TinkyCooks.com.