anna brones

writer + artist

Coffee Outside, on a Walk

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Coffee Adventures Outside is a yearlong, monthly collaboration between myself and Alastair Humphreys, released each month somewhere around the new moon. This is the final installment. We hope that you will continue to partake in coffee adventures, wherever you are. 

As we inch into the new year, this marks our 12th installment of Coffee Adventures Outside. A full year of prompts and encouragement to use our coffee habits as an excuse to get outside. It is perhaps fitting that we conclude this year of microadventures with one of the things that we love the most: a simple walk.

Coffee has a long history as a companion on long walks or journeys. Wilfred Thesiger, perhaps the last of the old-guard of English explorers, crossed the Empty Quarter desert in Arabia with meagre, ascetic supplies but plenty of coffee. At dawn, after prayers, they would bake bread for breakfast and then drink coffee, “which was black, bitter and very strong. The coffee-drinking was a formal business, not to be hurried.”

Whether you are interested in crossing a desert, or strolling somewhere a little less ambitious, we agree with old Wilfred that a cup of coffee improves the experience of going for a walk.

One of the reasons we love to walk is that it helps us to think. Such a notion dates at least as far back as to Augustine of Hippo who declared, 1600 years ago, “Solvitur ambulando: it is solved by walking.” Combine a walk, then, with the brain-fizzing boost of a black brew and you may feel ready to put the world to rights again.

Walking into the woods (or wherever you choose to find your nature), is a stimulating experience. The gentle rhythm of our footsteps encourages our brains to meander, as does the smorgasbord of new sights and sounds at every turn. A cup of coffee on a walk is a gentle, continuous stimulation. It is, we feel, a very different experience to the pleasures of running or zooming along at speed on a bicycle. There is time today for our thoughts to roll around and grow. Whilst your walk may get the blood flowing and raise your heartbeat a little, it is still a meditative, reflective experience. 

As Rebecca Solnit writes in Wanderlust: A History of Walking, “I like walking because it is slow, and I suspect that the mind, like the feet, works at about three miles an hour. If this is so, then modern life is moving faster than the speed of thought or thoughtfulness.” Nature allows us to think, walking allows us to experience the world around us at a different pace than our usual one. 

The poet Walt Whitman asked, “But are not exercise and the open air in reach of us all?” No, not everyone, unfortunately. Those of us who are free and able to exercise in nature would do well to remember and appreciate our good fortune. But the point made by Whitman was that it does not take much or cost much to savour some time in fresh air. It applies to the idea of the ‘Nature Pyramid,’ and the recommended doses of nature at different time scales. We need nature in big chunks and smaller ones, and the pyramid urges us to pay attention to the different quantities of nature we include in our lives on an hourly, weekly, monthly and yearly scale. 

Every walk is different, of course. You may set out with an objective in mind, a goal to march towards. You could choose to follow your nose and see where you end up or toss a coin at every junction. If your walk is a circular route then everything you see will be different, all of the time. How does that change the creative thoughts you have along the way compared to an out-and-back walk where you see familiar things but from a different perspective and with different eyes? Or try sipping your coffee on a well-worn trail and compare how that makes you feel to walking a route you have never done before. 

Our days are so often driven by efficiency and busyness and a pressure to get things done. Walking with a cup of coffee (or taking a thermos and stopping for a break) is a gentle but important push back at that cultural expectation: you are deliberately choosing to do something slow and ‘unproductive’. Immersing yourself fully and completely in a single activity for a chunk of time is a rare experience these days, but it is a vital one for anyone interested in tapping into their creative side. It is surprising, too, how productive such dawdling often proves to be. 

So today we urge you to go on a walk with no goal or schedule—pass the time simply by putting one foot in front of the other. Take your thermos with you, and stroll for the sake of strolling. Find a spot to sit and pour a cup. Take note of where you are. Here your body and mind can wander. 

We have entered a new year. There are hopes and dreams ahead, but there is also the present moment of today. Let your coffee remind you to exist here for a while.

Share photos of your adventures with us: #coffeeadventuresoutside. Various prints, cards, and even a calendar featuring the artwork from Coffee Adventures Outside can be found here.

Written by Anna Brones

January 7, 2022 at 09:14

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