Praise for Border Crossings “The International Appalachian Trail runs north from Mount Katahdin seven hundred miles to the end of the Gaspe Peninsula. Inspired by Basho, Ian Marshall hiked it for six summers, probing the poetics of haiku while exploring a vast and beautiful wilderness little known in the US. Marshall is an engaging trail companion and a superb story teller, with a self deprecating wit and sharp intellect that spice up his observations and ideas. Like Basho, he finds the miraculous in the common and elevates the humble walk into a spiritual practice, sprinkling his narrative with lovely original haiku that seem to have condensed in the moment, like droplets of dew. Backpackers will appreciate his pungent descriptions of life on the trail, and ecocritics will savor his abundant insights on poetry, nature, and culture. This lively book serves up a classic blend of high adventure, literary pilgrimage, and self discovery. It tastes as tart and fresh as wild raspberries.” —John Tallmadge, past-president of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment and author of The Cincinnati Arch: Learning from Nature in the City “The voice of Border Crossings is at once exuberant, philosophical, and provocative, exemplifying Joyce’s term ‘jocoserious.’ Forging across the boundaries between Maine, Quebec, and New Brunswick with his beloved companion M., Ian Marshall both reports on their mishaps, silliness, and sore feet and meditates on Basho’s encounter with the Shirakawa Barrier. In his own fresh and authentic haiku from the trail, he deftly registers affin ities between the Japanese master and writers like Thoreau and Whitman while also recognizing the gaps and meetings that shape his own life. I feel personally grateful for this vital, illuminating book.” —John Elder, author of Reading the Mountains of Home and Pilgrimage to Vallombrosa
Praise for Border Crossings “In the tradition of Basho, Ian Marshall invites us to accompany him on a haiku journey to the North. And, like Basho, he provides us with an engaging account of his adventures in a literary work full of vivid details that evoke the joys and pains of an excursion through the northern forest. But Border Crossings is more than a journey along a trail. In the spirit of Basho and Thoreau, it is equally a journey into the mystery of our human relationship to nature and of the role of language in mediating, enhancing, and complicating that relationship. Sparked by daily readings from a weather-worn volume of Basho tucked into his pack, Marshall examines the aesthetics, philosophy, and practice of haiku, that most nature-oriented of poetic forms. Border Crossings is wonderfully written, at once wry and insightful, serious yet playful, and liberally spiced with mostly forgivable puns. Like a good trail it draws us forward with the promise of novelty, surprise, delight. In Border Crossings Ian Marshall presents the haiku path not as an exotic place of quaintly foreign and outmoded aesthetics, but as a vital, perhaps never-more-necessary, way of being in the world.” —Tom Lynch, author of Xerophilia: Ecocritical Explorations in Southwestern Literature and co-editor of The Bioregional Imagination: Literature, Ecology, and Place
Border Crossings walking the haiku path on the international appalachian trail
Copyright © 2012 Ian Marshall All Rights Reserved. This book may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages. An effort has been made to trace the ownership of all copyrighted material contained in this book, to request permission where necessary, and to use that material in accordance with the terms of fair use. Errors will be corrected upon notifying the publisher. First Edition 2012 Cover and text design by Jason Kirkey Cover art © Laurel Smith Cover photograph © Natalia Bratslavsky isbn: 978-0-9835852-5-1 Hiraeth Press books may be purchased for education, business or sale promotional use. For information, please write: Special Markets Hiraeth Press P.O. Box 1442 Pawcatuck, CT 06379-1968
For Megan, Jacy, Kira, and Charlie
Traveler, there is no path; you make your path by walking. —Antonio Machado, “Proverbs and Folksongs” One must needs climb a hill to know what a world he inhabits. —Henry Thoreau, Journal
contents xi · Acknowledgments xv · Fresh Seeing on the International Appalachian Trail xxi · Introduction: Consulting the Map, Finding the Path I. Maine 3 · The Day of the Knife Edge 10 · The Day of Carrying that Weight 13 · The Day of No Moose 16 · The Day of Sunlight Shaped Like an Hourglass 21 · The Day of Riding the Weeds 29 · A Day of Stillness 33 · The Day of the Bog 37 · The Day of Something to Declare II. New Brunswick 43 · The Day of the Origin of Language 47 · The Day of the Pretty Money and the Giant Fiddlehead 52 · A Whiff of Christmas Day 54 · The Day of Noah’s Progeny 60 · The Day of the Solid State 64 · She’s Real Nice Day 68 · The Day of Hitching a Ride with Gravity 74 · A Day of Getting into the Woods 78 · The Day of Go-Stones 81 · A Day of Breaking Waves 84 · The Day of the Nitrous Insight III. Matapedia Valley 87 · The Day of the Rivers Meeting 89 · The Day of the Shell Function 95 · The Day of the Mountain Spring 98 · A Day at Camp with Pete 101 · The Day of the Hosomi Diet x
105 · The Day of Red Raspberries, Yum 109 · The Day of Ducks in a Row 113 · The Day of Heat Exhaustion 118 · Le Jour du Bruit du Moustique 121 · The Day of the Yield 124 · The Day of the Sugar Loaf IV. Matane Wildlife Reserve and Parc de la Gaspésie 129 · The Day of Mosquito Music 131 · The Day of Hon’i and the Toad 135 · The Day of Our Separation 139 · A Big Day 142 · The Day of the Spruce Grouse and Eight Ascents 145 · Day of the Damned 150 · The Day When Everything’s a Flower 156 · A Wild, Windy Day 162 · The Day of Reading Signs 166 · The Day of Half a Song 170 · The Day of the Caribou in the Mist V. Gite du Mont Albert to Grande Vallée 175 · A Day of Getting There 176 · The Day of Haiku Power 179 · The Day It Rained 185 · The Day of the Snowfield 189 · The Day of Binary Code 194 · The Day of the Damned (Two) and the End of the World (One Each) 200 · The Day of Considering My Hat 205 · The Day of Nutella and the Billy Goat 209 · The Day the Road Was Gone 214 · The Day the Trail Was Bulldozed Away xi
VI. Gaspé Coast and Parc Forillon 219 · The Day Rocks Stood on End 222 · A Day in Between 226 · The Day We Met Mother Nature’s Son and Another Captain America 231 · The Day of Trail Semiotics and Twoness 238 · A Day of Incompleteness 243 · The Day of Whales and the Fog 248 · The Day of the Fork in the Trail 252 · The Day of Plan B 257 · The Day of the Inukshuk 261 · The Day of the Weather Prediction 265 · The Day of the Moose and the Whales 279 · Glossary of Terms: Haiku Aesthetics 282 · Notes 288 · Bibliography 291 · About the Author
any thanks to the many people who have nurtured my interest in haiku and nature writing and offered support along the way. Dinty W. Moore first sparked my interest in haiku, and Michael Dylan Welch and George Swede offered encouragement and insight as I learned more about the form. My friends in the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment have long provided a cherished intellectual community—special thanks to Tom Lynch (who generously read an early draft and offered invaluable advice), John Elder (who let us camp in his backyard and took us to his local brew pub), Kent Ryden (who taught us about “big house, little house, back house, barn” and who also let us camp in his back yard and took us to a brew pub—notice a pattern here?), and “The Mongrel Dogs Who Teach” Kevin Hutchings, Mike Branch, Richard Hunt, and other makers of the green noise. The utmost gratitude, of course, goes to my hiking (and life) companion Megan Simpson, a.k.a. “M,” “Mooseless,” and “The Hiker Formerly Known as Mooseless.” Besides sharing the miles, she shared her knowledge, passions, and biscuits, and helped shape both my thoughts and my haiku. For help with the sometimes complicated shuttles we needed to arrange to get food drops in place and our car waiting for us at the end point of each trip, I am grateful to André Arpin of Arpin Canoe, Kedgwick River, New Brunswick; David LeBlanc of Nature Aventure, Matapedia, Quebec; and Jérôme Landry of Valmont Plein Air, Cap Chat, Quebec. I am grateful as well to Richard Anderson and the other visionaries who brainstormed the iat and laid out the trail, and to the volunteer workers who
maintain the trail. A portion of the proceeds from sales of this book will be donated to the iat Maine chapter. Thanks as well to Quebec’s Unibroue and McAuslan brewing companies, whose products provided some of our most satisfying moments of respite and requited desire during the second half of our trip. The brew masters may note the prominent product placements in Parts iv, v, and vi of the narrative. Should you be as appreciative of this unsolicited advertising as we are of Maudite, La Fin du Monde, and Saint Ambroise Noir, you should keep in mind that my birthday is in early October. For the map, my appreciation and gratitude to my colleague Tim Dolney. For being a pleasure to work with, and for their passionate and visionary commitment to the (well-chosen) written word as “a form of activism on behalf of the more-than-human world,” my appreciation to the editors of Hiraeth Press, Jason Kirkey and L.M. Browning. Some of the haiku here have appeared previously in haiku journals: “boy throwing stones” appeared in slightly different form in Modern Haiku 41.1 (winter/spring 2010), p. 56; “stump of the old pine” appeared in different form in Frogpond 32.3 (fall 2009), p. 28; and “leaky faucet” appeared in Simply Haiku 3.3 (autumn 2005). The discussion of phenomenology in Part i, along with the haiku “Zen bootist” and “the Milky Way,” appeared in different form as “Phenomenology and Haiku’s Aesthetics of the Body: Or, Biking with Bashō and Merleau-Ponty” in Frogpond 34.1 (winter 2011), pp. 127-39.
fresh seeing on the international appalachian trail Foreword by Michael Welch
“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.” —Henry Miller
ith Border Crossings, Ian Marshall sustains the travel and nature writing traditions of authors as diverse as Jack Kerouac, Thoreau, and Bashō. He carries Bashō in his backpack and Thoreau in his heart as he journeys along the International Appalachian Trail. This demanding über-trail stretches north some 500 miles from its highest point at Mt. Katahdin in Maine all the way down to sea level on Québec’s Gaspé Peninsula. Border Crossings serves as a tripartite introduction not only to this lesser-known trail and to the author’s day-to-day hiking challenges and rewards, but above all to haiku poetry and its ecocentered appeal—all three paths more rich and varied than some readers might realize. This book’s exploration of place is both inner and outer, and an in-depth investigation of haiku aesthetics. The narrative unfolds using the haibun form—prose interspersed with haiku— and carries readers along in its curious and joyful melding of contemplation and revelation. These travels, mostly on foot, are ultimately a quest for beginner’s mind, a quest not just to hike this scenic and challenging trail, but to learn, as the author admits so unpretentiously, “to write a decent haiku.” And learn he does, not just from his extensive reading of nature writing and haiku scholarship, which he refers to liberally, but from nature herself—always haiku’s finest teacher. But this lesson is not easxv
ily learned, especially when it demands something as challenging as it does—to see freshly. About halfway through Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig tells the story of teaching one of his writing students about fresh seeing. At first, this student wants to write an essay about the United States. Pirsig, as the narrator, suggests that she narrow her focus to Bozeman, Montana. But she has nothing to turn in when her paper is due—she cannot think of anything to say. He next suggests that she focus on Bozeman’s main street. But still nothing. He complains to her that she isn’t looking hard enough, and then says, “Narrow it down to the front of one building. . . . The Opera House. Start with the upper lefthand brick.” And then her creative floodgate opens. Pirsig reports that the student had been paralyzed and blocked “because she was trying to repeat, in her writing, things she had already heard.” He explains that making his student look at the top-left brick of the Opera House had required her, at last, to be herself and see freshly—producing an essay of 5,000 words when all he had expected was 500. This narrowing of focus to that single brick made it obvious to her, as Pirsig notes, that “she had to do some original and direct seeing.” This was the moment when the student achieved beginner’s mind, and only then could she begin to see freshly. The book you hold in your hands is all about fresh seeing and paying close attention, looking forward as well as back in the context of haiku tradition. Traveling by foot on the International Appalachian Trail, the author makes his story unique with the haiku he writes along the way—and what poetry but haiku has a sharper focus of attention? As Pliny the Elder has said, “Nature excels in the least things.” Haiku celebrates these least things with its attention to the details of nature’s seasonal flow. Each of Marshall’s poems is like looking at that top-left brick of the Bozeman Opera House, efforts to see freshly that show both the author’s internal and external worlds—presenting what he experiences through his five senses while suggesting what he feels or thinks as a result. More than that, Marshall’s chronicle xvi
is an invitation that we too try to see freshly, not just when we might be hiking or sauntering, but in noticing all aspects of our daily lives more closely. By beholding, by paying attention—as Marshall demonstrates—we become changed. Just as Pirsig’s book is an inquiry into values and quality, Ian Marshall’s Border Crossings explores the values and aesthetics of haiku poetry. This is not the haiku that has too often been taught superficially and even mistaught in North American schools, but the real thing—English-language haiku with a literary intent that takes into account the full range of haiku history in Japan and elsewhere in the world, balancing recent trends in gendai (modern) and avant garde haiku with centuries of storied convention. He discusses or quotes profusely from some of the leading North American and Japanese poets and thinkers on haiku poetics, interacting with their thoughts as he grapples with them, frequently internalizing—and sometimes doubting—what they have to say. Border Crossings not only traverses the border between the United States and Canada, but crosses borders between poetry, nature writing, and other literary traditions. As already suggested, the narrative in this book easily brings to mind Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, which speaks honestly of self-searching and travel, and The Dharma Bums, whose “outsider” characters investigate haiku. As Kerouac wrote in the latter book, “A real haiku’s gotta be as simple as porridge and yet make you see the real thing.” We see plenty of the real in the prose and poetry that follows, and the metaphor of travel manifests itself in Border Crossings as the author learns more about the trail, himself, and haiku. We also find resonance with Thoreau, a different kind of “outsider.” He once wrote, “In any weather, at any hour of the day or night, I have been anxious to improve the nick of time, and notch it on my stick too; to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and the future, which is precisely the present moment.” Each poem to come is indeed a nick of time, a here-and-now moment that looks back as well as forward. In his previous book, Walden by Haiku, Ian Marshall dove deeply into Thoreau’s writing to xvii
find moments of haiku awareness, demonstrating that the beginner’s “haiku mind” preceded the introduction of this poetry to the West. And of course, it was Thoreau who said, “It’s not what you look at that matters, but what you see.” Now, with the present book, Marshall presents his own haiku, and his own prose exploration of what it means to see freshly with haiku awareness. He takes to heart what Rachel Carson once wrote in A Sense of Wonder, that “Exploring nature. . . is largely a matter of becoming receptive to what lies all around you. It is learning again to use your eyes, ears, nostrils and finger tips, opening up the disused channels of sensory impression.” She reminds us, too, that “One way to open your eyes to unnoticed beauty is to ask yourself, ‘What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?’” This, indeed, is how to see freshly, and how Marshall does it throughout this book. Finally, Border Crossings also echoes Bashō, the seventeenthcentury master of haiku whose months of foot-travel described in his travel sketches, such as the Oku no Hosomichi (“Narrow Road to the Interior”), are classics of Japanese literature. As Bashō said to begin his most famous travel diary, “The days and nights are travelers of eternity.” It might well be called the world’s earliest hiking diary. No wonder Marshall takes Bashō along with him to read on the trail. Haiku, too, is a narrow road—not for every one, but just right for certain travelers. Bashō’s description of his narrow road is also the world’s finest example of haibun, the same form employed in Border Crossings. Bashō once said that “The secret of poetry lies in treading the middle path between the reality and vacuity of the world.” In the pages that follow, you’ll discover whether Ian Marshall finds that middle path, on his own narrow road, and how often he explores haiku’s many side roads. Ultimately, and repeatedly, the haiku tradition requires its practitioners to see freshly. Without such fresh seeing, it’s impossible to write haiku with adequate depth, resonance, and originality. However, as the painter Robert Henri once wrote, “A tree growing out of the ground is as wonderful today as it xviii
ever was. It does not need to adopt new and startling methods.” For haiku, as with much other poetry, it is not simply a matter of “making it new” but, as Jane Hirshfield has said, to “make it yours.” This is a book where the author sees freshly for himself at almost every turn, and where he comes to grips with the challenges of doing so, in the context of a rich history of aesthetic and multicultural exploration. In the end, Ian Marshall does not merely reach Cap Gaspé and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence at the end of the International Appalachian Trail, but reaches many other destinations as well. Michael Dylan Welch Vice President, Haiku Society of America
Consulting the Map, Finding the Path
here comes a moment on a backpacking trip—not on the first day, but maybe on the second or third—when, for just a moment, the weight on your back disappears. You start out walking fully aware of the pack at every step and your internal monologue fully preoccupied with it and other similarly weighty matters. Geez, that’s heavy, you think—what do I have in there? Anything I don’t need? Ought to loosen the shoulder strap some, so it doesn’t pull so hard. How far have I gone? How much farther to go? Geez, that’s heavy. But eventually there comes that moment when you’ve found a rhythm beyond the litany of complaint, when you’ve been gliding along, taking in whatever lies along the trail—a nameless flower blooming and not seeming to miss the name—the intricate pattern of bark on a pine—a cloud sliding out from behind a tree, as if the tree’s canopy had detached and drifted away—another one of those flowers—and you are caught up in the rhythm of the walk, unaware not only of the weight of the pack on your back or the thud of each step on the trail but of any conscious thought at all. In that moment the boundaries between self and world dissolve. The cloud and the flower, and your movement and the cloud’s are all part of the same flow. We call it oneness, but it could just as easily be called nothingness for there is suddenly no you that exists separate from the world around you. Maybe it’s everythingness. That is the moment of what I call “packlessness.” Of course, as soon as you realize that it has arrived, as soon as you say to yourself, hey, for a moment there I forgot about the weight of the xxi
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pack, I forgot about everything in fact, even about me, myself, and I . . . well, in that moment the weight is back. And you walk on. You walk on thinking about the metaphoric implications of the pack, that it is all the things that weigh you down, an unfinished task at work, an unsatisfying exchange with a colleague, the things you should have said but didn’t, the things you did say but shouldn’t have. Deadlines. Things to do. And then in the middle of thinking of all that, there’s another one of those flowers, five petals, yellow, darker yellow in the middle, you’ll have to look it up later in the field guide, and then the weight is gone again, but then you realize it’s gone so it’s back. And you walk on.
• In the spring of 1689 the poet Matsuo Bashō set out, pack on his back, notebook in his pack, on a hike of Japan’s northern provinces. Starting from Edo (now Tokyo), he traveled for five months, covering over twelve hundred miles. He crossed mountains, followed the northern coastline, and visited sites of literary and historical significance. Bashō’s account of the journey, Oku no Hosomichi, was published five years later, the year he died. Its various titles in translation—Narrow Road to Oku, Narrow Road to the Deep North, Narrow Road to the Interior—together suggest that his journey was to a place remote, wild, and little known, and at the same time was a spiritual quest. Featuring fifty hokku, a term which usually refers to the starting verse of a linked-poem form called renga, and written in a colloquial style called haikai no renga (the term “haiku” would not exist for another two hundred years), Bashō’s Narrow Road has no narrative center or unifying perspective or continuous plot line other than the journey itself. It remains one of the masterpieces of Japanese literature, combining travel journal with haiku (as we now call the form), poetic and meditative prose, literary criticism and cultural meditation all melded together in a blended form called haibun. The journey I describe in the pages that follow is in part xxii
an imitation of Bashō as I conduct my own exploration into northern provinces. My path lies along the iat, the International Appalachian Trail (or, en francais, the sia, Le Sentier Internationale des Appalaches), a newly developed trail that picks up where the at, the Appalachian Trail, leaves off, at the top of Maine’s Mt. Katahdin. The “long green tunnel” of the at follows the crest of the Appalachians some two thousand miles from Springer Mountain, Georgia, and ends on Katahdin. But the Appalachians themselves do not end there. The iat continues to follow the mountains north through Baxter State Park, east across Maine to the New Brunswick border, north along the border cut for a day’s walk, then heads northeast through New Brunswick along the Aroostook and Tobique Rivers, to Mts. Carleton, Head, and Sagamore, west to the town of Kedgwick River, then northeast again along (or on) the Restigouche River to Quebec. There the iat runs northward through the Matapedia Valley and east into the rugged Chic-Choc Mountains, through the Matane Wildlife Reserve and Parc de la Gaspésie up to the coast, along the northern edge of the Gaspé Peninsula where it juts into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and out to land’s end at Cap Gaspé. There the Appalachian Mountains, after their long northeasterly rise, descend to sea level. The iat is a spectacular trail, utterly gorgeous, and in places (the Chic-Chocs) offers more wild country than you are likely to find anywhere else in eastern North America. When Bashō set out on his journey to the north, he was already a veteran traveler of trips that had led to his books Travelogue of Weather-Beaten Bones, Sarashina Travelogue, and Knapsack Notes. I too have turned my travels into prose—my own set of foot prints of sorts, or at least a few lengthy foot notes. My first book, Story Line, followed the Appalachian Trail north to Katahdin, considering what we can learn about places along the way from the literary works set there—Henry Thoreau’s essay “Ktaadn,” for instance. My second book, Peak Experiences, was about mountains, and how literature can serve as guidebooks to show us the way upslope to psychological satisfaction in the natxxiii
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ural world. My third book, Walden by Haiku, was my first venture into learning how to haiku, as I converted some of Thoreau’s more imagistic prose in Walden into haiku form and explored the parallels between haiku aesthetics and Thoreau’s writing and lifestyle. On his travels, Bashō was accompanied by Sora, a friend and fellow poet and traveler. I too had a companion, M (the first letter of both her given name and Mooseless, her trail name), colleague, partner, fellow traveler, scholar, poet, and significant other. Bashō had to say goodbye to Sora partway through his journey, but M and I made it together all the way from Katahdin to Cap Gaspé. Our travels, though, unlike Bashō and Sora’s, were not contiguous. Given the demands of teaching and parenting schedules, we were unable to get away for two or three months straight, and we had to content ourselves with a series of twoweek trips over the course of six summers. Bashō’s Narrow Road is organized in journal form, in the Japanese tradition of literary diaries known as nikki bungaku— a form not altogether alien to readers of the North American nature writing tradition, given the examples of Thoreau’s journals and nature writing classics like Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire. I have followed suit, offering daily trail notes and contemplations, but I have broken the narrative into six parts, reflecting the six different trips we took. The piecemeal approach to the trail had its advantages, mainly that we could do a lot of reading between trips, and we could make the anticipation of planning and the contentment of reminiscence last that much longer. We also deviated from Bashō in our means of locomotion. Besides using a car to get to the trailhead each year, we didn’t always walk the trail. Since the iat is new, there are stretches, mainly through eastern Maine and New Brunswick, that follow roads and rail trails. We didn’t look forward to lugging backpacks along roadsides, so we arranged to cover that part of the trail on bikes. In northern New Brunswick, we opted to canoe sixty miles on the Restigouche River, which is considered a valid alternate route for the iat. Our version of Bashō’s “Narrow Road,” then, was not always a hiking path. xxiv
Shared wandering aside, I am well aware that I am no Bashō. (My friends and colleagues can attest that I don’t imagine that I’m another Bashō. Far from it—I think I’m Henry Thoreau!) But I turn to Bashō and the way of haiku because I believe we in our time and place, so far from Bashō’s, stand to learn something from haiku and haibun. Something about those moments of packlessness, perhaps, which are akin to haiku moments. Haiku is the attempt to hold on to those moments of egoless belonging to the world, to catch part of the flow, and an attempt to describe those moments and make them available for contemplation. We can learn from haiku something about a right relationship with the natural world, about selflessness and the integration of self and world. And so I mean to proselytize here, helping to spread the word about haiku. (ok, it’ll be more than one word, but they’ll be simple ones, and mostly adding up to something less than seventeen syllables.) In haiku we find a literary model for ecocentric thought, moving beyond a solely human perspective in order to see clearly the “more-than-human world” (as David Abram calls it) on its own terms—but without erasing the human perceiver that is part of that world.
• The founder of the iat is Dick Anderson, a former Commissioner of Maine’s Department of Conservation and currently president of the iat’s Maine chapter. He has said that he wanted the iat to “connect mountains, cross rivers, thread through spruce and fir forests, and connect people and cultures.” The trail travels through two major watersheds, the Gulf of Maine and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and of course it travels through two countries, and within Canada through two provinces, along the way passing from a predominantly English-speaking culture to a French one. The iat highlights the idea of borders, even following the border between countries for one twenty-mile stretch. From the start, Anderson saw the border-crossings as key to the iat: “I wanted people to think philosophically about the concept of borders. . . . Nothing respects them but us. Forests blow seeds xxv
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from one side to the other, and clouds and butterflies fly back and forth. The idea was to get people thinking about the earth as a whole.”1 The mountains as well as seeds and clouds don’t stop at the border, though they all have something to declare along the whole range. (And what they bring us may not be duty free.) For me, following the trail into Canada has particular resonance given my life history. I was born and raised in Quebec, then moved to the States with my family when I was twelve. Not that Quebec feels like home any more, but I feel some connection to it even while it seems at the same time like a distant and, yes, even foreign place. (I will also confess that despite my American citizenship I root for Team Canada during Olympic hockey games.) Walking the iat would mean following a thread to the beginnings of things in more ways than one. But the bordercrossing theme of the iat resonates for this haibun project in other ways as well. The iat travels about as far east as you can go on foot on this continent, a whole time zone beyond Eastern Time. But that’s still a very long way from the Far East. Obviously, in exploring the pertinence of Eastern literary traditions to our own relationship with the natural world here in the Western world, I’m importing an exotic set of ideas—and crossing a very wide border. Isn’t that the way of the modern world, though, in this age of globalization? Borders mark boundaries, where something is kept in and something else kept out. But a border is a permeable barrier, where there is some selection in terms of what gets through. It seems to me that haiku is something that, rather than threatening or overwhelming elements of a native culture or landscape, can heighten our awareness and appreciation of them.
• Haibun itself seems a literary form built around the idea of borders. Each prose section of a haibun, usually about a paragraph or two in length, is typically tight and poetically charged, followed by a haiku that complements the prose thematically or tonally without repeating its content. Bashō’s prose in Narrow xxvi
Road to the Deep North includes personal narrative, journal notes, and travel writing. Because he was deliberately following in the footsteps of poetic predecessors and he was very much conscious of defining the aesthetic principles of his art, the prose sections also include literary and cultural criticism. My own practice here follows Bashō’s in that I too am writing a personal travel narrative, and I am following in the footsteps of a master, if only metaphorically. I too include both scholarly meditation in the interest of exploring the aesthetic principles of haiku and my own creative efforts in the crafting of haiku. As a travel account, this narrative will not offer readers much in the way of information about what to pack or where to resupply. Instead, you’ll get a very impressionistic account of what two hikers felt and saw and did, day by day, along the trail, which in truth is in keeping with Bashō’s practice. But the scholarly inquiry into the art of haiku constitutes much more of the content here than it does in Bashō’s Narrow Road, reflecting my interest in exploring new modes of scholarly writing. In contemporary ecocriticism there have been a few explorations into a form of scholarly writing that is literate and intelligent, but that features an accessible voice and ventures into the realm of story. Such writing has been called “narrative scholarship” or “autobiographical criticism.” For examples, see John Elder’s Reading the Mountains of Home or Kent Ryden’s Mapping the Invisible Landscape. There have also been theoretical justifications for this mode of writing; see Scott Slovic’s “Seeking the Language of Solid Ground: Reflections on Ecocriticism and Narrative” and John Tallmadge’s “Toward a Natural History of Reading.” But it strikes me that we may have been busy reinventing the wheel. Within the past century there was a tradition of the public intellectual, writers like Lewis Mumford, who wrote about technology, and C. P. Snow, who wrote about the split between science and the humanities. Closer to home, or at least to the trail, was the “inventor” of the Appalachian Trail, Benton MacKaye, a planner who wrote up his vision of a trail along the ridgecrest of the Appalachian Mountains in a scholarly xxvii
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journal, the Journal of American Architects. Within months of the article’s appearance, hiking clubs began linking up existing sections of trail and blazing new trail. I can’t imagine these days an article in any scholarly journal spurring such a public response, simply because the writing we find in such journals so clearly (or muddledly) dissociates itself from general readers. Obviously I am suggesting that precedents for narrative scholarship long pre-date the early twentieth century. In Bashō’s haibun we find a kind of genre-blending that could be a model for scholarly inquiry, making it more lively and readable than the kind of prose we typically find in academic journals, and something less disconnected from the literate but non-specialist reader. It’s a montage that makes space for all sorts of readers and their interests. In the terms of the literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin, haibun offers a model of writing that features heteroglossia, a blending of voices and world views in dialogue with one another. What an exciting rediscovery it could be for scholars to know that stories and poems can stand alongside critical analysis and the information they find in other texts, all of it participating in a kind of scholarship that makes room for creativity along with critical commentary, and allows for the sort of insight that is born of intuition and a spirit of playfulness as well as the kind that is produced by the workings of intellect.
• For all the high-minded thoughts about haiku and haibun’s pertinence to literary criticism and scholarly endeavor, in truth my goals in undertaking this project were very simple: I wanted to hike the iat and learn to write a decent haiku. These were mutually reinforcing goals, since hiking the iat gave me something to write haiku about, and being in new terrain meant I had no choice but to see my subject freshly, always a good starting point for haiku. But I had a lot to learn, and the learning process involved some lessons in humility and a quest for what followers of Zen call beginner’s mind. xxviii
There is some irony, or perhaps it’s propinquity, in the fact that the iat starts at its highest point, at the southern terminus on Mt. Katahdin, and ends at its lowest, at sea level. There’s a lesson there—I started on the trail at something of a high point in my professional life. I had been promoted to full professor, I had a few books in print, I’d served as president of the professional organization that I considered my scholarly community— in short, I felt a sense of career accomplishment and was riding high in my professional life. It was at that point that I started studying and writing haiku. I had admired the simplicity of the form, and my first impression, given all that apparent simplicity, was that this couldn’t be so hard. I sent out some early efforts to haiku journals—you know, Emily Dickinson’s old “publication is the auction / of the mind of man” game. My haiku reached the editors’ desks—and met with resounding rejection. How could this be, I wondered. How can they reject me? I’m a full professor! I was reviewed in the New York Times! But eventually, and somewhat grudgingly, I grasped that the problem lay not with the judgment of the editors but with the quality of my haiku. What I didn’t see was that my mind was getting in the way, that intellect and an academic acquaintance with things like literary form and technique were calling attention to themselves, at the expense of the kind of insight that arises from perception and intuition. And maybe it wasn’t just mind but ego getting in the way as well. Perhaps too excessive pride—or arrogance. Partly I had to learn simplicity, to get my mind out of the way. And partly I had to learn a lot more about the art that underlies the apparent simplicity. Wanting to write a decent haiku led me, then, to find out something about the aesthetics of haiku— including the surprising discovery that there’s an awful lot to learn about this apparently simple form. After you absorb all that theoretical background, then you have to forget it, at least consciously, as you sit down to write a haiku. My first step, then, was to learn something about beginner’s mind—which would begin by accepting that I am a beginner at haiku, with everything to learn. But when I was climbing Katahdin, feeling strong, feeling xxix
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good about myself, arriving on top and resting on rocks in the sunshine, well, I’m not sure I had taken that first step yet. I can’t say which step along the trail northeast from Katahdin was that first step, but wherever it was, every step after that was also a first step, and I’m looking forward to the next first step. I remember a friend telling me that you learn to play guitar one song at a time. Every time you sit down to learn a new song, for all you may have learned from the hundred you learned before, you sit down and start over. You teach your fingers anew what it is they are supposed to do. You find the rhythm, you work on forming the chords and shifting between them and getting the whole thing to flow into melody. Perhaps that is how you learn to write haiku as well—one haiku at a time, with each new one requiring you to clear your mind and see the world afresh and start learning all over again. I set out on the iat wanting to learn enough about haiku and about seeing clearly enough that I had a chance to write one clear, simple, interesting one. And if I managed to do that, then to go back to the beginning again and try another one. I tried to learn from the master, Bashō, hence the imitation of his journey. But I learned from others as well—like the American haiku artists coll ected in Cor van den Heuvel’s Haiku Anthology or Bruce Ross’s The Haiku Moment, both of which have excellent introductions, and in haiku journals like Modern Haiku, The Heron’s Nest, and Frogpond. I learned too from how-to books like Lee Gurga’s Haiku: A Poet’s Guide, William Higginson’s The Haiku Handbook, and Joan Giroux’s The Haiku Form. I was also lucky to see Tom Lynch’s 1989 doctoral dissertation, “An Original Relation to the Universe: Haiku, Zen, and the American Literary Tradition.” And of course, I learned from the translators of Bashō and other major figures in the Japanese haiku tradition, most notably Sam Hamill, Hiroaki Sato, Jane Reichhold, and David Barnhill for their translations of Bashō’s Narrow Road, and Robert Hass for his translations of Bashō, Buson, and Issa in his excellent collection The Essential Haiku. I benefitted most, though, from Bashō’s Narrow Road, which I carried in my pack the whole way, xxx
and four scholarly studies, beginning with the classic work on haiku in English, R. H. Blyth’s four-volume Haiku. From there I moved on to more recent scholarly inquiries into the art of haiku, namely Haruo Shirane’s Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Bashō, Koji Kawamoto’s The Poetics of Japanese Verse: Imagery, Structure, and Meter, and Richard Gilbert’s Poems of Consciousness: Contemporary Japanese & English Haiku in Cross-Cultural Perspective. I didn’t carry these with me, but I did take extensive notes on each in my trail notebook in preparation for each year’s hike. From all these works, I tried to learn not just how to appreciate and write haiku, but how to see more clearly, more closely, more deeply, with a little less of me and my brain getting in the way of what I was seeing. Along the way, I had a few successes and more than a few failures, and even more that fall somewhere in between. To illustrate the learning process, I at times include some weak haiku when the attempt at least has the merit of a lesson on haiku, even if the product ultimately falls short. In a sense, then, my hike of the iat was a self-improvement project, a quest for beginner’s mind, my own journey to the interior. I found that the principles of haiku represent a world view that might apply to everything we do—hiking, reading, loving, living. Haiku was the map I consulted as I wended my way northeast from mountain to sea, the guidebook that pointed out the more intimate features of the landscape passing by. Or maybe it was the path itself, a little rugged at times, steeply uphill, or ferncovered through a meadow, dripping with dew, or fir-shaded, or wave-lapped, sun-spattered and rain-spattered, moose-trod and toad-hopped, disappearing at times and flowing at others. Leading . . . onwords, outwords, inwords.
invitation to a journey another spring clear skies2
1. the day of the knife edge . . . Sunday, August 17, 2003, Roaring Brook Campground, 9.8 miles
fter two days driving, we’re in the woods at last, and setting out on the trail in the morning I recall John Muir’s giddy line in one of his letters: “I’m in the woods woods woods, & they are in me-ee-ee.”1 We’ll get to that point of reciprocal presence, I suppose, perhaps on today’s planned route up Mt. Katahdin via Chimney Pond and the Cathedral Trail, then along the Knife Edge and back to Roaring Brook. Or perhaps we’ll find it somewhere en route between Katahdin and the trail’s end in Quebec’s Parc Forillon. Over morning coffee I commence work on one of my trail assignments—to read a bit of Bashō’s Narrow Road to the Deep North each day on the trail and to see how Bashō’s experiences on a trip long ago and far away might inform my own experiences on the iat—and vice-versa. Though I too will be headed north to a realm of mountains and coast, I know that Bashō’s metaphoric footsteps cannot serve as a trail guide to the literal terrain I’ll be walking. But I do look to Bashō as my guide to the concept of a haiku journey. The opening pages of Narrow Road, in fact, begin with a meditation on the journey theme. Time itself, says Bashō, is a journey, the “months and days are. . . wayfarers,” and “the years too, going and coming, are wanderers.. . . [E]ach day is a journey, the journey itself home.” Time is a meandering thing, it seems, wayward in its progression, leading who knows where (or when), and he is himself at home on the road. For years, he says, “drawn by a cloud wisp wind,” he has been “unable to stop thoughts of 3
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rambling,” and with “a sky of spring’s rising mist” he has decided to hike north.2 Among Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, what Bashō describes is known as “spring fever,” the perennial desire to step out of the busy, clock-driven, hum-drum world of routine and to hit the trail again. On Bashō’s day of departure, friends gathered to see him off “at the crossroads of unreality.” I suppose that even then, the civilized realm was viewed as the “real world,” which in effect renders the natural world somehow less than real. His parting was occasion for widespread lamentation, and he imagines even the creatures of sea and sky joining in: “departing spring— / birds cry, in the fishes’ / eyes are tears.” Here, early on, is a classic haiku worth pondering. It is typical of haiku in taking seasonal change as its subject, as all the natural world mourns for the “departing spring.” But the prose before this, all about Bashō’s own prepar ations for the journey, makes it clear that the subject is also his own departure in the spring. So there is ambiguity: is the world mourning the passing of time and the seasons, and by extension the inevitability of change and the whole life-death recycling scheme? Or is all of nature upset because a certain poet is feeling a little uneasy about venturing off into the woods? With the latter possibility, the hyperbole becomes hilarious. The birds are crying—but isn’t that what they always do? And they are doing so not to express their sympathy for our troubles but to mark territory or attract a mate. And even funnier—Bashō says the fish have tears in their eyes. Aren’t their eyes always at least a little moist? Or if their tears are the source of the water, the wellspring, it’s as if the fish have literally cried him a river, or an ocean. The description is so over the top that we sense some selfmockery. Bashō is projecting his own emotions onto nature, of course, anthropomorphizing outrageously, and thereby exposing our tendency towards the pathetic fallacy—that is, to imagine that all nature exists in order to sympathetically reflect or comment upon the human experience. If you are “versed in country things,” as Robert Frost’s poem has it, you would know that the fish don’t have salt water in their eyes because you’re leaving on 4
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a journey. Not everything that happens in this world is about us. The challenge to an anthropocentric view of the natural world, the seasonal awareness, the possibility of multiple meanings even in a short utterance, the humor—these are all characteristic traits of haiku.3 We set out from camp, spindly-legged but full of enthusiasm. Leaving Roaring Brook behind, I note that it’s not exactly roaring on this sunny late-summer day, but I may have heard it chuckle a bit as we departed. (A few streambed stones may have wet themselves with laughter.) At Basin Pond a short side trail takes us to a view of the northeast side of Katahdin and the steep cirque walls above Chimney Pond. It’s a double view, really, or the same view twice, once in the air and once, upside down, picture-perfect, in the still, clear waters of the pond. We meet a trio there, two young women and a guy my age wearing a Captain America bandanna. “Nice painting,” I say, nodding to the landscape, which is too perfectly gorgeous to seem quite real. They don’t miss a beat. “Thanks! We just finished it!” I look at the cirque walls, the vivid greens of spruce and fir climbing the mountain, the rich indigo of the sky, even in the reflected version, where a lone cloud dodges a pond lily. “Oh, yeah,” I say, “I can see where the paint is still wet.” We laugh together, then trade where-ya-froms. And for the rest of the day I’m thinking about art and nature, about our tendency to express our awe at nature by seeing it as art—as if art is the highest expression of beauty, and so to praise the beauty of nature we must see it as art. And then, ironically, we compliment art by regarding it as “natural” or true to life. As a literary scholar I wonder, with Henry Thoreau in “Walking,” where is the art that gives true expression to nature—not to capture it, mind you, but to express it, to convey it—on its own terms, without the framework or lens of art predetermining how and what we see. The closest we get to that, of course, is haiku, with its focus on the natural world—looking outward at the world around us rather than inward at the self or soul or human spirit, and with 5
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its eschewing of metaphor (by which we see one thing in terms of another), and with its ideal of “wordlessness,” in which language refuses to call attention to itself, as if it is not even there intervening between us and the world called up by those few words. At Chimney Pond, we step into the canvas of the painting we earlier admired from afar. It’s an incredible spot—clear, clear water, sandy and stony bottom, surrounded by cirque walls. We’re looking up, up to the spiny ridge of the Knife Edge, where we’ll be in a few hours.
Chimney Pond upcliff to cloud the morning fog But if cloud is the equivalent of smoke in this chimney analogy, does that mean the water must be fire? No, it’s the fuel of the hydrologic cycle, and evaporation is the slow-burning fire. After a snack at Chimney Pond, we head up the Saddle Trail, not quite as steep as the Cathedral Trail. I’m juiced by adrenaline, and the closer to the Table Land I get, the faster I go, even as the trail gets steeper and requires a bit of hand-over-hand scrambling. Then up Baxter, climbing the mountain, climbing the mountain, and we’re at the peak by lunchtime.
• In addition to reading Bashō’s Narrow Road as accompaniment to our journey, I have also set myself the task of meditating on a principle of haiku each day on the trail. Today’s topic is “selflessness,” the first of thirteen Zen qualities of mind conducive to the reading and writing of haiku as identified by Reginald Blyth. His four-volume study Haiku, appearing in the late 1940s and early 1950s, has been enormously influential in North America, beginning with its impact on Beat Poets like Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouac, who were fans and practitioners of haiku. A volume of 6
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Kerouac’s haiku came out just a few years ago, many years after his death, and one of Snyder’s most recent books, Danger on Peaks, is basically a collection of haibun. One of the form’s attractions for the Beats was Blyth’s identification of haiku as a kind of Zen practice, a claim which many recent haiku critics challenge. But even so, Lee Gurga notes that “it is useful and instructive to revisit Blyth’s Zen-based aesthetic principles.”4 By “selflessness” Blyth means the state of “self-identification with nature” or “with all life, with life as a whole.” Snyder has called it “freedom from ego.” My tendency to see and admire Katahdin as a painting presupposes a self positioned outside nature, looking at it from some point outside the scene, framing it with cultural and aesthetic assumptions. I recall Paul Shepard’s view that the use of perspective in art, introduced during the early Renaissance, was the beginning of our culture’s alienation from the natural world. To view nature objectively means to be separate from it. Geographer Dennis Cosgrove has made even more damning charges, suggesting that to view a landscape, especially from an elevated prospect (like the top of a mountain), is to assert dominion or control—think of the phrase, a “commanding” view—and thereby to take possession of it. All of that is a far cry from selflessness.5 Think about the whole process of admiration. Generally, we don’t admire what we are intimate with, and certainly not what we are one with. My gushing over Katahdin all this day—“it’s so beautiful!”—amounts to an iteration of my distance from it, even as I get ever closer to the summit. But at least thinking about these things makes the uphill climb go smoothly. In fact, I’m so wrapped up in my thoughts about painting and perspective that for a while there I forget that I’m climbing the mountain. It’s surprisingly sunny and warm on Baxter Peak, high point of the Katahdin massif, warm enough for us to stay in shorts and T-shirts. Usually there’s a sharp wind blowing here. This is my third time on this peak, and, like Sam McGee said while being cremated in the boiler fire of the Alice May, it’s the first time I’ve been warm. There’s quite a crowd of hikers on top. M and I snap pho7
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tos, meet and greet Captain America and his friends, get one of them to take our picture with our chins perching on the summit sign, fingers curving over it—the “Kilroy-was-here” pose. A sign informs us that it’s 2160 miles to Springer Mountain, Georgia, starting point of the Appalachian Trail. The sign says nothing about the seven hundred miles or so to Cap Gaspé. The truth is that the Baxter State Park authorities choose not to recognize the presence of the iat through the park. Perhaps they fear that hikers on a trail running through the park would have some sense of entitlement to the trail and would neglect to obtain their backcountry permits. The “official” iat route goes around the Park on logging roads and highways, and while the route over Katahdin and through Baxter Park is considered an alternate route by iat officials, it is not labeled the iat. We leave the summit and cross the ridge to South Peak and Pamola, delighting in incredible views along the Knife Edge and down into the Great Basin. But the Knife Edge gets hairier and scarier the further we go. At times, we’re hanging on the sides of vertically-tilted slabs of boulder, looking straight down, when we dare to look, to Chimney Pond. As the wind picks up, I get more than a little nervous. Perhaps my fear is another sign of my inability, this early in the trip, to forego ego. How can I be afraid of falling off the mountain if I am not separate from the mountain? Isn’t that, in fact, the “final lesson of them all” that the protagonist Ray learns from “Japhy Ryder” (Gary Snyder) in Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums? “You can’t fall off a mountain,” says Ray.6 Scrambling over the jagged rocks along the Knife Edge, I should be more in the present moment. Each individual hairy/scary spot is doable— there are always hand-holds, even when at first glance the next outleaning rock looks like it might be too big to squirm around and to offer too little in the way of handholds. What gets to me is the cumulative effect—not another one, I think, I don’t think I can do more of these precarious clambers. What I should do is take them one at a time, and not worry about the next one or the ones that went before. But mostly my thoughts turn to self8
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preservation. That, and wondering who was the numbskull who first took a look at the Knife Edge and thought, “hey, that would be a good place for a trail!” We come down the Helon Taylor trail, very rugged—long steps down, lots of planting the walking stick and leaning on it to drop down a foot or so from boulder to boulder. Blueberries grow between rocks, to whet the appetite after the Knife Edge. We get to camp about six, tired. Quick cold dip in Roaring Brook, then pump water through the filter and hang food precariously on a dead branch near the tent. Build a fire and talk over the day as night envelopes us. A great day, exhausting and full and spectacular. Going to sleep, we hear the brook telling the story of its descent from the mountain.
about the author A professor of English and Environmental Studies at Penn State Altoona and a former president of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment, Ian Marshall is the author of Story Line: Exploring the Literature of the Appalachian Trail (Virginia, 1998), Peak Experiences: Walking Meditations on Literature, Nature, and Need (Virginia, 2003), and Walden by Haiku (Georgia, 2009).
Hiraeth Press is a publisher with a mission. Poetry is the language of the Earthâ€”not just poems but the slow flap of a heronâ€™s wings across the sky, the lightning of its beak hunting in the shallow water; autumn leaves and the smooth course of water over stones and gravel. These, as much as poems, communicate the being and meaning of things. Our publications are all poetry, whether they are poems or nonfiction, and reflect the ideal that falling in love with the Earth is nothing short of revolutionary and that through our relationship to wild nature we can birth a more enlightened vision of life for the future. We are passionate about poetry as a means of returning the human voice to the polyphonic chorus of the wild.
Published on Feb 14, 2012
Published on Feb 14, 2012
This book follows Ian on his journey over the International Appalachian Trail, which runs from Mt. Katahdin in Maine up through New Brunswi...