Maine author speaks at Mohawk Trail Regional School about trek across US, trustworthy listening

  • Maine author Andrew Forsthoefel talks with Mohawk Trail Regional School students about his walking journey across the United States. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Maine author Andrew Forsthoefel talks with Mohawk Trail Regional School students about his walking journey across the United States. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Maine author Andrew Forsthoefel talks with Mohawk Trail Regional School students on Monday about his walking journey across the United States. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • “Walking to Listen: 4,000 Miles Across America, One Story at a Time” by Andrew Forsthoefel. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 4/26/2022 4:52:02 PM

BUCKLAND — Maine author Andrew Forsthoefel wants people to walk the walk when it comes to listening. After all, that’s what he did in the literal and literary sense.

The author visited Mohawk Trail Regional School on Monday to discuss the experiences in his book, “Walking to Listen: 4,000 Miles Across America, One Story at a Time,” and the importance of becoming a trustworthy listener. Forsthoefel spent 11 months in 2011 and 2012 trekking across the United States and hearing people’s stories. He shared some of these tales with roughly 80 students in the school’s library and encouraged them to open their ears and their hearts.

“When I showed up to people in that way, I started to learn things about people that I had never experienced before,” he explained. “People began sharing with me in a way that I didn’t know was possible. And by ‘sharing,’ I just mean telling me the stories of their lives.”

Forsthoefel graduated from Middlebury College in 2011 but said he felt he had to continue his education to find his place in the world.

“I was in need of a rite of passage … and I wanted to meet my country and find out who we really are,” he told the Greenfield Recorder before his talk to 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders. His book is part of the school’s English curriculum.

Forsthoefel, 33, said he packed a backpack, supplies and an audio recorder, and left his mother’s house outside Philadelphia to begin his journey to New Orleans and then San Francisco, where he was met by his parents and some of the friends he had made along the way. He had barely started walking down some railroad tracks when a man driving a truck pulled over and got his attention. It turned out it was Bob, his mother’s landlord, who told Forsthoefel he didn’t have to go on this journey and that his mother was a crying mess at the house. Bob ended up accepting Forsthoefel’s decision and gave him a knife he has to this day, telling him to not trust anyone.

Forsthoefel soon came across four men along the railroad tracks and told them what he was doing. One of the men gave him some cookies and juice pouches and invited him to spend the night at his home in the woods, an offer Forsthoefel accepted. He wound up drinking vodka with the men and playing his mandolin for them. The man who gave him the cookies also advised him to sleep with a knife or gun for protection. Forsthoefel soon realized he needed to find a balance between being untrusting and being unsafe.

He said strangers made themselves vulnerable to him and he learned to become a trustworthy listener, which he thinks is a skill everyone should cultivate. He told students he was in a small Texas town buying supplies from a country store and was invited to a barbecue after a man named Mitchell who was buying beer asked what he was doing. Mitchell’s father invited Forsthoefel to stay the night in the family’s home. When Mitchell learned of the offer, Forsthoefel recalled, he placed an assault-style weapon on Forsthoefel’s lap and said, “Don’t kill me tonight, because if you do, I’ll kill you right back.”

“So, like, a little joke, a little humor to it,” Forsthoefel said. “But he was communicating something serious to me. He was saying, ‘Don’t mess with my family. I’m letting you into my house. I’m letting you into my home. I trust you. I’m choosing to trust you. Earn my trust. Earn it.’”

Forsthoefel said he came to view the stranger storytellers as his teachers and mentors, and treated them with the corresponding respect and dignity.

“Different colors, different religions, different political inclinations, people seeing me in my walk and saying, ‘Thank you. Thank you for who you are and what you’re doing,’” Forsthoefel told the students. “And so I want to do that to you right now. I just want to say thank you for who you are, for what you’re doing. I know these past few years haven’t been easy.

“I just want to honor and acknowledge that you’re in the midst of a walk that is different than a walk across America, but no less epic,” he continued. “It’s called your life. It’s called this moment.”

Forsthoefel asked the students what they feel makes them less likely to open up to someone. Sophomore Liam Hillenbrand said it is off-putting when someone is disengaged or constantly staring at a device. Senior Connor Bailey said it can be difficult to share with someone known to have a reputation for being dismissive or closed-minded.

More information about Forsthoefel and his book is available at livingtolisten.com.

Monday’s conversation was made possible through a grant from the Mary Lyon Foundation in partnership with the Mohawk Trail Regional School library.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or
413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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