Walking Across America

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting a man named Andrew Forsthoefel. There was something about the way he listened and engaged with people that I instantly liked and made me curious about him. He had this way of drawing out of me and others around him the important parts, the parts we don’t often speak of with people we’ve just met. When I heard his story, I realized that he’d had lots of training.

One big important part for Andrew was what he learned while walking across the United States, from the east coast to the west coast. He wore out several pairs of shoes — five? six pairs? And he wore a sign that said, “Walking to listen.” He recorded conversations he had with people along the way.

When I listened to the part where he sees a bunch of young men ahead of him on the tracks, and he strides forward to talk with them, despite feeling a pang of apprehension, I couldn’t help but think of a similar experience described by John Muir, more than a hundred years before.

The part where he gets giddy with the freedom of the open road before him and starts singing is wonderful.

And the stories and advice and songs and gifts of the people he meets are also wonderful. And how he shares what he’s learned without hitting you over the head with it, because he’s still in the daily process of figuring it out, forgetting, remembering those moments of grace and beauty that he witnessed, was, and is part of.

I highly recommend the radio piece, “Walking Across America: Advice for a Young Man,” about his walk across America.

Two questions to ask yourself, your students, and your friends every day

My friend Kyle has a contagious delight in the natural world. For instance, when he described how bumble bees co-evolved with daffodils, I shared his wonder. The bumble bees’ wing vibrations cause the daffodil to tremble, and their whole bodies get dusted with pollen when they enter the flower.

He asked two questions of his students at the end of each day:

1. What did you learn today?

2. What was your favorite part of the day?

Today, I learned that the maple tree in my backyard has buds exceeding one and half inches in height. I predict that the leaves unfolding from the larger-than-expected buds will be larger than I would have expected prior to seeing the buds.

My favorite part of today is right now. All of the moments of the day are coming together as I reflect on the moments: a thoughtful sermon by Linda Simmons about the anthropic principle and a story of how she heard of another pronoun for an animal, “kin” instead of “it”, and how instead of her friend looking at her like she was crazy, the friend got it; walks with friends (the first walk with friends in person, another on the phone); enjoying a glass of red wine, and sitting down to write.

This poem was sent to me today by Harry Haines, a man I never met but whose wife I met in a library in Errol, New Hampshire. I overheard her talking about poetry, we started talking, and she told me that her husband sends out a poem a day. I’ve been enjoying daily poetry ever since that fortuitous encounter in 2010. It’ll be five years this summer.

Swallows
by Leonora Speyer

They dip their wings in the sunset,
They dash against the air
As if to break themselves upon its stillness:
In every movement, too swift to count,
Is a revelry of indecision,
A furtive delight in trees they do not desire
And in grasses that shall not know their weight.

They hover and lean toward the meadow
With little edged cries;
And then,
As if frightened at the earth’s nearness,
They seek the high austerity of evening sky
And swirl into its depth.

 

I love this poem because it is inaccurate. Or rather, accurate in its inaccuracies. “A furtive delight in trees they do not desire/ And in grasses that shall not know their weight.” Basically, they are flying about, enjoying flight itself. Do the trees and grasses desire to get closer to the swallows, to know their weight? Of course not. They are trees and grasses. Nevertheless, I can’t help thinking of unrequited love. Watching people falling into something they love joyfully with their whole being, it’s easy to fall in love.