by Edson Whitney

While Gloria Steinem, John Berendt and MK Asante are the “headliners,” and the more well-known personalities at the first ever Milford Readers and Writers Festivalthis September 30 – October 1 and 2, I am equally excited about the folks on the free panels around town.

Trails with Robert Moor

Robert Moor, on the conservation panel at the Grey Towers on Sunday, October 2 at 11:00 a.m., has just written an amazing book, On Trails: An Exploration. Moor is a sagacious walker and writer who guides us on a fascinating journey of discovery about the nature and purpose of trails. How do they form? Who and what creates them? Triggered by his hiking the length of the Appalachian Trail, he explores the origin of trails starting from the oldest trails on earth created some 565 million years ago by single cell organisms, Ediacaran biota, to sheep and elephant trails to native American trails that underlie many of our current highways.  He travels wherever he needs to go in order to show us the mystery and magic of trails, and in doing so he creates his own meandering trail through science, history, philosophy, and story telling.

I can’t wait to listen to and have a conversation with this guy.  I want to discuss with him the trails I have hiked including treks in Nepal on the Everest trail, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, walking sections in Jordan of the Abraham Path which stretches from Turkey to Beersheba, Israel, exploring the old Ute trail we are going to hike this weekend in Colorado, plus strolling the old logging trails around our home in Shohola.  So many paths intertwining, so many adventures past, present and future to discuss.

Newsweek Magazine’s Nina Burleigh

I also am excited to talk to Nina Burleigh, the National Politics Correspondent for Newsweek Magazine, on Sunday, October 2 at 1:00 pm moderating the Women Writing About Women’s panel at the Waterwheel Cafe.  Nina is an award-winning journalist and the author of five books. She has covered an array of subjects, from American politics to the Arab Spring.  Her last book, The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Italian Trials of Amanda Knox, was a widely praised New York Times bestseller. But it is a previous book she wrote, Mirage: Napoleon’s Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt, that excites me more!

The book describes the 1798 expedition under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte and the French Army, when a small corps of Paris’s brightest intellectual lights left the safety of their laboratories, studios, and classrooms in France to embark on a thirty-day crossing into the unknown–some never to see French shores again. Over 150 astronomers, mathematicians, naturalists, physicists, doctors, chemists, engineers, botanists, artists–even a poet and a musicologist–accompanied Napoleon’s troops into Egypt. Carrying pencils instead of swords, specimen jars instead of field guns, these highly accomplished men participated in the first large-scale interaction between Europeans and Muslims of the modern era. And many lived to tell the tale.

Hazarding hunger, hardship, uncertainty, and disease, Napoleon’s scientists risked their lives in pursuit of discovery. They approached the land not as colonizers, but as experts in their fields of scholarship, meticulously categorizing and collecting their finds–from the ruins of the colossal pyramids to the smallest insects to the legendary Rosetta Stone.

I want to talk with Nina about this extraordinary tale because my wife and I crossed into Egypt by plane from Athens to Cairo over 40 years ago and then journeyed the length of Egypt overland by third class train, felucca and a local steamer, sleeping on the deck on top of the piles of burlap bags of goods being transported home by the Sudanese camel drivers, the length of Lake Nasser from Aswan to Wadi Hafa, Sudan.  I was enamored of this ancient culture where the same watering system of a pole and bucket called “shadoof,” that I had learned about in high school history class was still being used over 5,000 years later.  And now I will have to chance to speak with Nina about her research and adventures while writing this book.

Check Out the Milford Readers and Writers Schedule

I could go on and on about the other extraordinary panelists and authors who will be in Milford the weekend of the Festival but why don’t you, the reader, go to the website milfordreadersandwriters.comand find your own inspiring authors and panelists and then join us in conversations with these folks.  See you there!