Jason Heppenstall started life as an economist at HM Treasury, transitioned into a newspaperman in Copenhagen, and then escaped the rat race to Cornwall where he now runs a woodland based permaculture holding. Accutely aware of the dire state of the world, he undertook a journey from Denmark to a national park in Sweden. More than just a camping trip in the rain, he documents an inner journey from despair and disempowerment to a state of resolution and insight.
I have to admit when I first started reading this book with its bleak descriptions of post-industrial landscapes and his penetrating analysis of the declining state of the world, I struggled. I am too intimate with the subject and it pains me. I became intrigued however by two things. Firstly, Jason is a good writer. He writes descriptive prose and there is humour too - sometimes the rainy, haphazard physical journeying made me laugh. What else could go wrong? I also liked his choice of literature. On his journey, he took with him Marcus Aurelius’s Meditation and Bill Plotkin’s Soulcraft that he quotes from liberally. This gives the book a philosophical gravitas and makes it more than simply a sane man’s response to an ever maddening world. It is a journey of gradual reawakening to the power and beauty of nature and its place of healing in the human psyche.
The solitary nature of this journey is very much a commentary on the nature of our post-industrial culture which finds us in little family groups or with friends with like-minds if we are lucky, but more often sends us on quests alone and unversed in the right of passage they might engender. Whereas per-industrial cultures still hold the literacy of the vision quest and its setting within community with the guidance of elders, the westerner's quest is too often undertaken alone and without guidance. This makes this a more risky enterprise into uncharterd waters, the possibility of a descent into hell.
Throughout the book, you sense Jason's aloneness on the road and the fragile boundary between complete alienation and transformation. This unease is a parable of a society that has lost the heart of its communal wisdom, its understanding of rights of passage for every stage of life, and the role of its elders. These are pieces in the puzzle in our search for a more permanent culture. Appropriate then that this book is self-published and only available from Amazon, symptomatic of the persuasive power of corporate control.
In the final part of the book, Jason reaches Odin’s Lake, a place replete with symbolism and the energies of the ancient Norse gods. I won’t spoil the plot but suffice to say a journey’s end can often be hackneyed and obvious. Jason’s, however, is deft and he convincingly describes his apotheosis. This part of the book deserves re-reading as he is able to describe a rationale for living for those like me who are often burdened by the endgame of our civilisation’s unravelling. It is a permacultural form of curious medicine.
Maddy Harland is the co-founder and editor of Permaculture magazine. You can read a digital copy free of charge here. All print and digital subscribers can read 20 years of back issues totally for free.