anna brones

writer + artist

Coffee Outside, After a Wild Swim

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Coffee Adventures Outside is a collaboration between myself and Alastair Humphreys, released each month somewhere around the new moon. We hope you’ll join us in our coffee adventures, wherever you are. 

Here we are, almost halfway through the year. We’re coming closer to the summer solstice, which for those of us in the northern hemisphere means ample hours of daylight, and warmer days for explorations and adventures. Nature is bursting with the promise of summer, wildflowers in bloom and early morning birdsong to wake us to the day. It’s a very special time of year, this year even more so than usual as it feels like we need this promise, this reawakening. Over the last few months, we’ve challenged you to all kinds of coffee adventures outside. We’ve explored someplace new, taken time and space for solitude in the forest, and paired our cup with creativity and art

This time around, we’re called to water, and the glorious action of a wild swim (and the coffee that follows). A lake, a river, a bay, the ocean: any body of water will do. A swim, a plunge, a plop, a dip, a leap, a wallow: anything that gets us immersed in the watery world. 

We’re drawn to these wild places because in the water, we feel a change take place. “Swimming is a rite of passage, a crossing of boundaries: the line of the shore, the bank of the river, the edge of the pool, the surface itself,” writes Richard Deakin in the book Waterlog, an essential read for all wild swimmers. “When you enter the water, something like metamorphosis happens. Leaving behind the land, you go through the looking-glass surface and enter a new world, in which survival, not ambition or desire, is the dominant aim.”

In pursuit of a wild swim, we leave the known world of land and enter something else entirely. Our bodies behave differently than they do on land, we can float and we can bob, held by the water around us. In the water, we are as close as most of us will get to feeling what it would be like to be an astronaut in space: we’re still obliged to respect the rules of gravity, but in the water, we’re untethered, suspended in a universe made not of stars and planets, but of sea grass and barnacle-covered rocks. Perhaps it’s no surprise that this transition to a watery world helps to calm us, settle us, even encourage us to tap into our creative side. 

A wild swim offers our bodies the chance to reset and reawaken. Just the feeling of a cold river on bare toes can be enough to wake us up, imagine what happens when we submerge all of us? “For many swimmers, the act of swimming is a tonic, in that old-fashioned sense of the word: it is a restorative, a stimulant, undertaken for a feeling of vigor and well-being,” writes Bonnie Tsui in Why We Swim. The water allows us to feel a sense of wildness in our whole bodies. In fact, when we swim, we are perhaps at our most wild, uninhibited by loads of gear or clothing. At best, we can enter the water silently in nothing but our skin, but even a bathing suit will allow us that close connection to the water surrounding us, wrapping us in her velvety hands. 

The search for a swimmable spot is also part of the endeavor, part of the adventure. Tracing a map with your finger to find a lake or river you’ve never been in, or exploring your own locale to identify a spot where you can quietly slip into the waves and be one with the sea. If we’re drawn to wild swimming, seeking out a body of water becomes our compass no matter where we go. 

A wild swim transports us to a different time and place. It’s a refuge and a reset. “Eventually tides will be the only calendar you believe in,” Mary Oliver writes in a line in her poem “To Begin With, the Sweet Grass,” and even if you’re not swimming in a tidal body of water, you can connect to the sentiment. Rivers and lakes have their own pace too. To be on “water time” is to shift our thinking, shift our being. 

This is a month of long days. The water welcomes us early in the morning and late into the evening catching the reflection of summer sunrises and sunsets. If you need more swimming inspiration, the Outdoor Swimming Society is hosting a global event on the summer solstice: The Longest Swim on the Longest Day of the Year. The “longest” really is up to interpretation, any kind of wild swim will do whether it’s a two minute chilly plunge, a hearty 5k, or maybe just a little longer than what you usually do. 

How you do your wild swim is up to you. But we hope that you pack your thermos of coffee, or bring your brewing kit to set up on the banks of the river or the shore of the sea. We  happen to love the taste of coffee after a swim, maybe even a little treat to pair with it, spread out on the ground next to our towel. We wriggle out of the bathing suit and pull on a warm layer. Or if we’re lucky: we sun dry in the warm air. We find a spot on the shore to sit, and take in the body of water that we’ve just been in. The sensations of a wild swim pulse through us, committing themself to muscle memory. No matter where we are, we always enjoy a cup of coffee outside to soak up the surroundings, and after a wild swim we can tap into that  moment of presence, when every cell in our body tingles with the sense of being alive.  

Share photos of your adventures with us: #coffeeadventuresoutside

Written by Anna Brones

June 12, 2021 at 09:00

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