Border Crossings

Walking the Haiku Path on the International Appalachian Trail

Ian Marshall

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Praise for Border Crossings

“The International Appalachian Trail runs north from Mount Katahdin seven hundred miles to the end of the Gaspé 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 affinities 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

“Ian Marshall carries on the traditions of Bashō, Thoreau, and even Kerouac in Border Crossings as he travels along the International Appalachian Trail. This demanding but lesser-known 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. This book serves as a tripartite introduction not only to the IAT and to the author’s day-to-day hiking challenges and rewards, but above all to haiku and its ecocentric attractions—all three paths more rich and varied than many 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 says, ‘to write a decent haiku.’ And learn he does, not just from his extensive reading in nature writing and haiku scholarship, which he refers to liberally, but from nature herself—always haiku’s finest teacher.”

—Michael Dylan Welch, Vice President of the Haiku Society of America

“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

Ian Marshall

Ian Marshall


Ian Marshall is 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. He is the author of Story Line: Exploring the Literature of the Appalachian Trail, Peak Experiences: Walking Meditations on Literature, Nature, and Need, Walden by Haiku, and Border Crossings: Walking the Haiku Path on the International Appalachian Trail.