Border Crossing: Walking the Haiku Path on the International Appalachian Trail, by Ian Marshall (Pawcatuck, Conn.: Hiraeth Press, 2012). 291 pages; 5 x 8. Semigloss dark brown and light green card covers; perfectbound. ISBN 978-0-983585-25-1. Price: $17.95 from the publisher at <http://www.hiraethpress.com>.
I like this book a lot. I didn’t expect to, even though I found Marshall’s parallel earlier work, Walden by Haiku (reviewed by Tom Lynch in MH 40:3) an interesting and well-executed concept. The book is Marshall’s journal of a trek along the International Appalachian Trail, that extension of the more famous Appalachian Trail that runs north and east from Maine to the tip of Québec’s Gaspé Peninsula. “Ah, yes,” I thought, “a dull account by an enthusiast of a wilderness I’ll never see.” “Today we saw a boulder.” “Yesterday we saw a pine tree.” That sort of thing. “Ah, so,” I soon learned, “but wasn’t it Master Basho who advised us to go to the pine tree to learn of the pine?”
The strengths of the book are Marshall’s superb narrative style, his firm grounding in literature and nature study (he is a professor of English and environmental studies), and his deep interest in haiku and especially haibun. In this regard, Marshall openly relates Border Crossing to Basho’s travel diaries. The title itself hints of the duality of Basho’s travels, voyages inward as well as through rough landscapes, and the transit of borders between them. Marshall in fact carried in his travel-worn satchel a well-thumbed copy of Basho’s Narrow Road to the Deep North, as well as extensive notes from other haiku classics. Marshall says he referred continuously to these works and used R.H. Blyth’s thirteen characteristics of the Zen state of mind necessary for the composition of haiku as daily meditation topics as he hiked.
The result of all this is a very satisfying read indeed. To his excellent descriptive writing, Marshall adds his deep thinking about haiku theory in mini-meditations about, for example, Edmund Husserl’s idea of “intersubjectivity” as it can be related to the debate about objectivity vs. subjectivity in haiku, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s extension of Husserl into the realms of “perception” and “suchness.” Heady stuff.
The haiku/senryu that Marshall intersperses, haibun-style, with his trail notes are generally good enough:
farther than its heat
remembering an old flame
don’t be fooled mosquito—
my hand claps
are not applause
and serve as welcome punctuation to the travel notes and literary theory. He acknowledges, however, that the poems are not the most important element of this book, and he yields to the composition of haiku that are descriptive journal notes or amiable puns:
upcliff to cloud
the morning fog
ascent of the mountain
c’mon up if you can
a grudging ascent