anna brones

writer + artist

Posts Tagged ‘Coffee Adventures Outside

Coffee Adventures Outside 2022 Postcard Calendar

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Over the past year, Alastair Humphreys and I have been collaborating on our monthly Coffee Adventures Outside series.

I’ve turned the series into a calendar for next year. Every month features artwork from the series and a shortened version of our longer prompt.

The calendar is also designed so that you can cut the artwork off at the end of the month and turn it into a postcard. Consider it a calendar and postcard pack all in one.

You can order here. And there are also a variety of prints and cards from the series available as well.

Written by Anna Brones

December 8, 2021 at 14:06

Coffee Outside, with a Friend

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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. 

Our coffee adventures outside over the past year have helped us bring a sliver of solitude to our busy routines, some treasured physical space, and an espresso sip of mental space in which to allow difficulties some time to filter, sift and sort themselves, as well as the uplifting space to allow our creative ideas to unfurl and reveal themselves. These have all been good things. 

But there is another way to right wrongs, to think differently, hatch plans, and recharge our mojo, another way to pay attention to the natural world on our doorsteps and enjoy a delicious, well-brewed cup of coffee. And that is to do all of these things with a friend. Florence Williams sums up how we feel in The Nature Fix with her succinct summary to, “go outside, often, sometimes in wild places. Bring friends or not. Breathe.” 

Carving out inviolable chunks of time to share with our friends is one of the most important things we can do in our life. (Spending time in nature and pursuing creativity are also high on that list.) So put the kettle on, call a friend, and head outside together to enjoy your brew. Will you choose to ask a friend who already enjoys spending time in the woods, or an urbanised friend who might find the idea surprising but intriguing? That is up to you. 

As end-of-year festivities draw near, we’re easing into the wintry season and darker days. This month we welcome the winter solstice, a celebration of midwinter and a promise that the light will return soon. It’s a time when we often want to draw inwards, physically and emotionally. While we certainly need this hibernation time, we also benefit from the full experience of nature in all her seasons, and the deep connection that can come from a chat with a good friend. 

Thoreau wrote of winter walks, “Take long walks in stormy weather or through deep snows in the fields and woods, if you would keep your spirits up. Deal with brute nature. Be cold and hungry and weary.” So be sure to wrap up well in your warmest winter woolies, for we are at the end of the dark end of the world now, the cold austere days when the world is at its most minimal and stripped back. He continued, “in the coldest day, and on the bleakest hill, the traveller cherishes a warmer fire within the folds of his cloak than is kindled on any hearth. A healthy man, indeed, is the complement of the seasons, and in winter, summer is in his heart.” In his or her heart, indeed. For this cold season is as important to our year as all the others. Katherine May’s Wintering rings true in this moment, “wintering brings about some of the most profound and insightful moments of our human experience, and wisdom resides in those who have wintered.” 

Winter we must, but our hibernation, while encouraging solitude, can also be a welcome time for the companionship of a friend because the world is quiet now, and this allows space for chatter and laughter between friends. “In winter we lead a more inward life,” wrote Thoreau. “Our hearts are warm and cheery, like cottages under drifts, whose windows and doors are half concealed, but from whose chimneys the smoke cheerfully ascends.”

Go outside, together. Celebrate this year that has almost passed, and settle into the winter days. Wrap your hands around the coffee cup, breathe in the warm steam, and savour it, with your friend. What could be better? 

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

December 4, 2021 at 06:00

Coffee Outside, in the Rain

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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. 

“Between every two pine trees,” said environmentalist John Muir, “there is a door leading to a new way of life.” And beneath every pine tree, sheltering from the rain, we hope to find an adventurous creative soul sipping coffee and cherishing the downpour. For that is our challenge to you today: to embrace and celebrate wet winter weather and actively go out and enjoy it.

At this time of year there are many rainy days where we live. Rather than moan about it, we have decided to embrace the season, to make the most of this weather, see the good parts of the rain, and choose joy. 

The rain speaks to us, slowly, joyfully, as Mary Oliver captures so well in her poem Last Night the Rain Spoke to Me

“…the tree

which was filled with stars

and the soft rain –

imagine! imagine!

the long and wondrous journeys

still to be ours.”

It is time to brew your coffee, wrap up well, don your waterproofs and boots and step out to take your coffee in the rain. There is no such thing as bad weather, they say, only bad clothing… 

As you sip the hot drink and feel it warm you inside, notice the fizz of raindrops, the way each one bursts into a crown of water when it lands before a little column of water rears up and an even tinier droplet peels off and falls once more. All this perfection a thousand times a second, landing unnoticed in every rain shower on earth in the vanishing circles of rain on puddles. Have you ever observed that the ring patterns from the rain are different in shallow puddles and deep? Pay attention to the rain ring patterns from beneath your sheltered tree trunk which wears its own lovely rings inside itself.

“I close my eyes and listen to the voices of the rain,” Robin Wall Kimmerer so poetically writes in Braiding Sweetgrass. Out here in the cold and wet, we too can listen. What voices do you hear? Listen to the soft rattling of rain which sounds so relaxing if you yourself are warm and dry, appreciating your dry patch of shelter beneath the trees, or your own oasis of shelter under your umbrella in the rainy madness of the world. 

Today everyone else is hiding from the rain, or enduring it with reluctance and grumbling. Only you are choosing to see its different beauty, opting to be childlike and enjoy the squelch of mud as you jump through the puddles, leaning into the rain and appreciating that there are so many good aspects to it. Take a moment to think of all the creative possibilities that await you when you return to the dry warmth of your home. Mary Oliver again:

“The rain is slow. 

The little birds are alive in it. 

Even the beetles. 

The green leaves lap it up. 

What shall I do, what shall I do?”

We need rainy days if we are to have the rivers and green woodlands we love so much. It is a necessary part of the deal. So too with our art: we need sometimes to push through the seemingly grey, undesirable days of labour, doubt and slow progress before we make our breakthroughs. It serves us well to savour these difficult days for what they are, a necessary part of the process, rather than to hide from them.

Choose, instead, to find pleasure in the tiny beauty of the bouncing raindrops, to appreciate, if nothing else, the merit of something that feels tempting to skip, but which feels great afterwards. 

Share photos of your adventures with us: #coffeeadventuresoutside. Have you enjoyed the Coffee Adventures Outside series? It’s now available as a 2022 calendar.

Written by Anna Brones

November 5, 2021 at 09:00

Coffee Outside, at Sunrise

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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. 

“The sadness will dissipate as the sun rises. It is like a mist.”

– For Whom the Bell Tolls

Up here in the northern hemisphere we have passed the equinox and slipped into autumn. The days are becoming cooler and more windy, the leaves are turning golden and beginning to fall. Our nights are now longer than our days. The good news of all this is that it becomes easier every day to wake up a little before dawn, brew some coffee, and head outside to watch the sun rise. That is our latest little challenge for our year of #coffeeadventuresoutside.

Wrap up warm, take your coffee out into the cool grey pre-dawn, and settle down somewhere with a clear view of the sky facing the direction of the sunrise. [If you like to be precise, you can check this site out.] Wrap your hands around the warm mug, inhale the steam, and be still.

We recently enjoyed reading Nightwalk, by Chris Yates, which tells the story of a night spent walking slowly through the countryside. Despite Yates being a devoted drinker of tea, there is still much overlap with his walk and our coffee. He explains how he likes “…to creep like a mouse in the wood and sit still for maybe an hour, focusing with my ears, using the sounds of paw-patter and antler-click to colour in the invisible shapes until I could identify them or they came into shadowy view.”

 

His words are as much about an appreciation of slowing down and noticing as they are about nature or walking. Yates explains that one of the joys for him, “is the way in which everything in my head gradually clears of mundane domestic concerns and personal anxieties … because I know that apart from the animals I will always, unless I meet a deer poacher, be in perfect solitude. I am therefore able to bring all my attention to bear on the present moment… a place of endless immediacy, a place known to every wild animal, a timelessness.”

This solitude is why we have always preferred witnessing a sunrise to a sunset. Sunsets are easy, commonplace, strewn across social media. But sunrises are different. For most of us they are rarer to see than sunsets because they require a little more effort, and therefore you are more likely to have the whole spectacular show for yourself. 

“Be patient where you sit in the dark,” encouraged the poet Rumi: “the dawn is coming.”

As you wait with your coffee for daylight to seep slowly into the world, try to pay attention to how you deal with sitting still and doing ‘nothing’. Are you enjoying it, or does it feel like a waste of time? Are you content waiting, or are you anxious to get on with the day. In his book Four Thousand Weeks about time and how to use it, Oliver Burkeman refers to the “image of time as a conveyor belt that’s constantly passing us by. Each hour or week or year is like a container being carried on the belt, which we must fill as it passes, if we’re to feel that we’re making good use of our time. When there are too many activities to fit comfortably into the containers, we feel unpleasantly busy; when there are too few, we feel bored. If we keep pace with the passing containers, we congratulate ourselves for ‘staying on top of things’ and feel like we’re justifying our existence; if we let too many pass by unfilled, we feel we’ve wasted them.” 

He compares our modern anxious obsession with productivity and efficiency to medieval farmers who had no such notion. “There was no anxious pressure to ‘get everything done’, either, because a farmer’s work is infinite: there will always be another milking and another harvest, forever, so there’s no sense in racing towards some hypothetical moment of completion.”

For the remainder of our life’s allotted 4000 weeks the sun will rise every day. But no matter how beautiful they are, we cannot cram in any extra dawns. Rushing will not help. Savouring the ones we do have, on the other hand, may well help a great deal. 

In Sacred Time and the Search for Meaning, Gary Eberle defines sacred time as, “what we experience when we step outside the quick flow of life and luxuriate, as it were, in a realm where there is enough of everything, where we are not trying to fill a void in ourselves or the world, where we exist for a moment at both the deepest and the loftiest levels of our existence and participate in the eternal life of all that is. In simpler, or perhaps just slower, times, people seemed to enter this realm more regularly, or perhaps even to live with one foot inside it. Prayer, meditation, religious rituals, and holy days provided gateways into eternity that allowed us to return to the world of daily time refreshed and renewed, with an understanding that beneath the busyness of daily life there was an underpinning of calm, peace, and sufficiency.”

All those things, yes, and coffee too. This is our sacred time. 

The sun will rise, always. It is worth the wait, always. And as the world floods with sunlight, take the memory of the calm, the rising sun, and the steaming cup of coffee into your busy day that awaits.

Share photos of your adventures with us: #coffeeadventuresoutside

Written by Anna Brones

October 11, 2021 at 06:00

Coffee Outside, After Sleeping Outside

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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. 

You’re going to appreciate this month’s coffee more than any other from our adventures this year. A night spent under the stars is unlikely to offer the best sleep of the year, but it is refreshing and restorative in other ways that make up for it. If you simply want to sleep, stay inside. But if you are searching for magic and memories then grab your sleeping bag and head for the hills. (Here’s a little equipment list to help you plan) If that feels too audacious then haul your duvet into your garden for the night as you did back when you were a kid. We’ve done that recently and it is a surprisingly exciting, wild experience to sleep in your own garden, on your deck or your balcony.

Something deep and primeval inside us, plus the boring habits and conventions of modern life, combine to make the feeling of lying down to sleep in nature a mixture of excitement, nerves and absurdity. Nerves are natural, yet irrational: you’re tucked away in a quiet corner of the world, nobody knows where you are, you are completely safe. So that leaves the absurdity of going to sleep out here in nature (the chuckles and sense of wonder), the unfamiliarity of the night and the excitement of such a simple experience. 

There is no moon tonight so the stars are particularly bright. You might not have paid much attention to them for many months now. But they put on a spectacular show of shooting stars and satellites as you fall asleep. As you doze and wake and doze some more you notice the constellations revolving across the heavens. A pair of hooting owls weave in and out of your dreams and consciousness. Perhaps they were in the nearby trees for minutes or for hours; it is hard to know. For a night sleeping outdoors is a confused and busy affair. You sleep lightly and remain more aware of the world than you do at home in your bed. Eventually you notice the first hint of dawn, a slight lightening of the eastern horizon. You snooze a little longer. The next time you open your eyes you can make out the black silhouettes of trees and the dark sky is paling into grey. 

It is a misty morning. The seasons are turning now, summer sliding towards autumn, and this is our final ‘coffee outside’ prompt of the summer. As the sky lightens the grass sparkles with dew. The droplets on a spider’s web hangs like rows of pearls. When the sun rises the colour returns to the world. It is going to be a beautiful end of summer / start of autumn day. 

Time now for coffee. You sit up in your sleeping bag, stretch, yawn and look around you. You reach into your backpack and set up your stove. You pour water into your pan and the splashes ring out in the silence of the morning. Then comes the quiet roar of your little camping stove – one of the loveliest sounds imaginable. And then comes a few minutes of patience as you wait for your coffee to brew. A chance to look closely and notice the minute changes in the light as the morning creeps to life. To pay attention to the bird song and the chirp of insects. To see the leaves tremble in the breeze and remember that in a month or two they will be golden, and then gone. To appreciate the slight chill on your nose and the delicious warmth inside your sleeping bag. 

A hot mug of coffee after a night sleeping outside is a wonderfully restorative thing. Any nerves you had about sleeping outdoors dissolved with the daylight. So the coffee is also celebratory. Look! You’ve woken up outdoors, something that is so rare for most humans these days. The simple warmth of a hot drink feels wonderful as you cup it in your hands and sip it down. (This confession may be heresy to coffee aficionados, but out in the wild we have shuddered with happiness and gratitude for instant coffee, for a tea bag used five times over, even just for a mug of hot water to drink. The simplicity of possessions and experiences when in the great outdoors makes you so much more present and appreciative.)

Now, after your coffee, the day is calling to you. It is time to shove your sleeping bag into your pack and be on your way. There is still time (and always will be) for a sunrise dip in a river or the ocean (or pop inside for a hot shower if you spent the night in your garden). 

Finally it is time to return to a different world—the world of emails, chores, thermostats and electric lights—for after a night under the stars it does not feel much of an exaggeration to describe them as separate worlds. Back to the so-called ‘real world’. A little tired, no doubt. Perhaps somewhat disheveled. But with the reward of an experience and a coffee that you will still remember a year or more from now. If life is about making memories, a night spent outdoors is a simple way to create something a tiny bit special. 

Share photos of your adventures with us: #coffeeadventuresoutside

Written by Anna Brones

September 10, 2021 at 09:00

Coffee Outside, on a Bike Ride

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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. 

“The bicycle, the bicycle surely, should always be the vehicle of novelists and poets,” wrote Christopher Morley in Parnassus on Wheels. You don’t have to be a novelist or poet to understand the sentiment; the bicycle is the vehicle of dreamers, and as humans, we all dream. 

Whether we learned at 6 or 36, most of us likely remember the feeling of our first time pedaling a bicycle on our own. The freedom, the exhilaration. On a bicycle, we move all thanks to our own power, and while one of the simplest of vehicles, it can have profound effects. There’s creative power in a bike ride too, as movement has been shown to help stimulate our mind and imagination. But there is also the ability to access places in a way that’s different from in a car or on foot. The bicycle falls at the perfect sweet point in between; fast enough to allow us to cover distance, but slow enough that we pick up on all kinds of sensory details along the way. 

We notice the pungent smell of blackberry brambles in the late summer sun, the feeling of a fresh breeze on our face. We can hear the birdsong of an early morning, and spot a hidden pathway we might otherwise have missed if we were separated from the world by the steel and glass of a car. We can stop when we want, perching our bicycle against a tree to go and investigate whatever caught our eye as we pedalled along. 

Whether it’s slow or fast, long or short, a bicycle ride is an injection of energy. You are fueled by the knowledge that it is your force and your force alone that helps to carry the bicycle forward. 

How often do we feel that way? A walk can facilitate a similar sensation, but there is something glorious about the distances we can travel on a bicycle and the swooshing speed of the wind in your hair. After decades of riding, even we often remain amazed at how far we can explore, how much we are capable of. 

But the beauty of the bicycle lies also in the fact that its benefits come in journeys short and long. It is wonderfully versatile. There is as much enjoyment to be found exploring the streets of your neighborhood as pedaling across a continent. In need of a quick injection of good energy? A bike ride just might do the trick. Coasting down a hill, it’s hard not to break a smile. 

If you have traveled by bicycle you may know the power of these small experiences, how a bicycle makes you present for every single moment that makes up a day. There’s no autopilot on a bicycle—you are engaged and aware as long as you are pedaling—and that’s why it encourages us to be in the now. 

This month we are bringing our Coffee Adventures Outside to our bicycles, pairing our love for a coffee break and an excursion on two wheels. A coffee break by bicycle can give even a short bicycle ride the allure of a long bicycle trip; even if it’s just on your normal loop, it makes an everyday ride feel like a small adventure. 

A coffee break on a bike ride: this is the opportunity to find somewhere new to ride to, or make a stop on your regular route that you usually just pedal past. You may visit a local cafe during your ride, or pack a thermos and a mug and find a nice lookout to sit in and enjoy. If you want a full dose of adventure, you could even bring your camp stove and outdoor coffee set up for the freshly brewed experience.

No matter what your approach to your cup or your ride is, use this time to be in the moment. Feel every pedal stroke.

Watch the landscape roll past you.  

Be in your surroundings. 

Let your mind wander. 

Dream. 

Share photos of your adventures with us: #coffeeadventuresoutside

Written by Anna Brones

August 11, 2021 at 09:00

Coffee Outside, by the Ocean

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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. 

These monthly creative coffee musings, matched in time to each new moon, have made us pay more attention to the lunar cycle than ever before. That noticing is a good thing, but we also keep catching ourselves thinking, “is it time to write an essay AGAIN? We’ve only just finished the last one!”

Because despite all of the good intentions hatched during the past fallow year to streamline life, we seem to have already fallen back into our old ways of chasing our tail and juggling too many balls at once. And so down to the sea we must go; to swim and then to sit, coffee in hand, and stare out at the waves for a while. For you should sit by the ocean for 20 minutes whenever you can… unless you are busy, then you should sit for an hour. If you are not close to the ocean then any water will do just fine. You can perch by your river or by a lake. And if you live in the middle of a desert, well lucky you—let your eyes and mind look up to the horizon.

Away from the beach, we enjoy the serendipity of bookshelves. As much as we enjoy a Kindle for its-on-the-go ease, we prefer the way bookshelves look over us while we write, nudging us, reminding us of their lessons through their titles and colourful spines. We often reach to take a book from a shelf and find our eyes drawn to another book. Holding the two books in our hands sparks new connections. Browsing old favourites ferments new ideas.

And so it was today with Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. We write these essays collaboratively across thousands of miles of ocean, but both separately rediscovered and loved this book recently. 

Gift from the Sea is a wise book set by the ocean. It is a book about balancing life, work and family; about finding space to think and breathe. It is a simple narrative of inspiration taken from shells on the seashore; reflections familiar to many of us during a holiday [vacation] about the busy-ness of life and the need for space in order to pause and be creative. Last month we offered the challenge of a coffee with a wild swim, but in these summer months, the shores call to us again, this time with more lessons. 

“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient,” writes Lindbergh. “To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea.” We want to find our way back to that slow, calm, expansive, place, the one where patience and curiosity abound. So when we swim, we must be sure to float too, creating a time of quiet within us. Summer is our opportunity to float, whether it’s in the water or not. When we float we are untethered, unrestricted. There are no deadlines, no to-do lists. We all need more time to float, physically and metaphorically.

When we sit by the water we pick up pebbles, turn them in our hands, discard some and keep only the one or two that just feel ‘right’. Lindbergh also yearns to pare things away: “I have learned that certain environments, certain modes of life, certain rules of conduct are more conducive to inner and outer harmony than others. There are, in fact, certain roads that one may follow. Simplification of life is one of them.

I mean to lead a simple life, to carry a simple shell I can carry easily – like a hermit crab. But I do not. I find that the frame of my life does not foster simplicity.

I remember again, ironically, that today more of us in [the West] than anywhere else in the world have the luxury of choice between simplicity and complication of life. And for the most part, we, who could choose simplicity, choose complication.”

We too often make the mistake of slipping into living a frantic, unreflective life, chasing deadlines for books and artwork and forgetting to celebrate the achievement of completing those creative endeavours. 

“What is the answer?” Lindbergh ask herself. “There is no easy answer, no complete answer, I have only clues, shells from the sea. The bare beauty of the channelled whelk tells me that one answer, and perhaps a first step, is in simplification of life, in cutting out some of the distractions. But how? Total retirement is not possible. I cannot shed my responsibilities, I cannot permanently inhabit a desert island. I cannot be a nun in the midst of family life. I would not want to be. The solution for me, surely, is neither in total renunciation of the world, nor in total acceptance of it. I must find a balance somewhere, or an alternating rhythm between these two extremes.”

And so too with us. For the duration of this coffee break by the waves we are experiencing the simplification of life as a beginning. If we appreciate how this feels we can pick up the scent and follow it where it leads into the rest of our lives.

While you drink your coffee, dig in the sand with your toes for a seashell to take home, as Lindbergh did. “It will sit on my desk in Connecticut, to remind me of the ideal of a simplified life. To ask how little, not how much, can I get along with. To say –is it necessary?– when I am tempted to add one more accumulation to my life, when I am pulled toward one more centrifugal activity.

Simplification of outward life is not enough. It is merely the outside. But I am starting with the outside.”

Perhaps these turbulent times –where the tide rushed out and now rushes back in– are, or should be, “a period of shedding shells; the shell of ambition, the shell of material accumulations and possessions, the shell of the ego. Perhaps one can shed at this stage in life as one sheds in beach-living; one’s pride, one’s false ambitions, one’s mask, one’s armour. Was that armour not put on to protect one from the competitive world?”

As we finish our coffee by the water and think again about our hectic lives, slip a shell into your pocket, and prepare to tackle the busy tasks of your day, but doing so with a fresh perspective and priority.

Share photos of your adventures with us: #coffeeadventuresoutside

Written by Anna Brones

July 10, 2021 at 08:26

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

Coffee Outside, With a Dose of Creativity

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

What makes you feel creative?

Every month we have been exploring ways that coffee can offer the opportunity for interesting microadventures, a vehicle into exploration of the world around us or our inner selves. What is otherwise a very regular routine can lead to  something new when simply done in an alternative setting. We started things with a simple coffee outside, then took a challenge to explore someplace new, and then took time and space for solitude in the forest. This time around we’re aiming for creativity.

We tend to equate creativity with things like drawing, painting or singing. But no matter what profession we are in—teacher, rocket scientist, accountant, adventurer—we all require creative thinking. Creative thinking is about seeing what’s around us, using the knowledge that we have, and being able to link things together in new ways. Creativity is about problem solving, having new ideas, changing perspective and carving a new path forward. 

We don’t always allow ourselves to be creative, or even worse, we consider creativity an inherent personality trait, something only attainable to an elite, talented few. But we all have the capacity for creativity. Think of creativity like a muscle. We can work at it and we can train our creative selves. If we haven’t worked at it in a little while, we might feel rusty, a little weaker than usual.

The capacity for creativity lies in all of us. Creativity is elemental and part of what makes us human. As acclaimed biologist and thinker E.O. Wilson puts it in his book, The Origins of Creativity, “creativity is the unique and defining trait of our species; and its ultimate goal, self-understanding… This infinite reach of imagination, put quite simply, is what made us great.”

While we’re culturally enamored with the idea of a “lightning bolt of inspiration,” the reality is that the creative process is much more complex: a combination of seeing, learning, and thinking. We have to be doing all of those things, and doing them regularly, before we get to the exciting inspiration bit. 

Perhaps it’s no surprise that we love the idea of a lightning bolt of inspiration. As a society we love quick fixes. Like a magic pill to keep us healthy, we enjoy the illusion that we can just go about life as normal and wait to be hit with bouts of inspiration. This does us two injustices: 

  1. It allows us to believe the myth that creativity is an inherent personality trait that some people have and others don’t. 
  2. If we identify ourselves as not having this elusive creative trait, then we don’t have to worry about it, we don’t have to do any work.

It gives us a cop out. 

But here’s the thing about creativity: creativity lies in the work, in the doing. If we want to be more creative, we have to invest in our creative selves.That investment comes in two forms: investing in our creative wellbeing and investing in the skill of our creative medium. In other words, we have to work at our creative crafts. 

That’s what this month’s challenge is for. We want your coffee outside to be paired with a creative act.

A few of you might already be well-versed in your own creative practice and know exactly what you want to do. Some of you might appreciate that you don’t always give the time your creative practice deserves. But many of you may also feel that you have no idea what your creative practice is, and just be curious to try something new. 

Wherever you’re at, start with this question: what makes you feel creative? 

Think about the moments that you feel creative, or when you feel inspired. Certainly you might feel creative when you are in the act of making something, but most likely there are other factors too. You feel more creative when you have fewer distractions, or when you have time for yourself, or when you are learning something new. These are the things to pay attention to because they are the things that require your regular investment. A creative process is as much about creating things as it is about taking the time to invest in the moments that keep our creative brains active.

As coffee can be an entry point to adventures big and small, so can creativity, and there is power in creative microadventures. Just like regular microadventures are a way to bring adventure into your everyday life, creative microadventures offer the opportunity to infuse creativity into your everyday as well.

Most of us have a big project we want to get to and complete at some point in our lives. To write a book or a screenplay, paint a masterpiece, design and build a treehouse. However it is so easy for us to get hung up on the big projects—the ones with an endpoint  that can be checked off with a sense of accomplishment—that we neglect all the stuff in between. We forget that the small investments are what carve the path for the bigger projects, they’re what keep us creatively active and nimble. A creative path requires constant movement, experimentation and play. It is more robust when we find ways to bring small acts of creativity, and small investments in creativity, into our everyday.

As this new moon transitions from late spring towards summer, it’s important to spend some time thinking about these small investments in creativity. Unlike winter and its call for hibernation, we are working our way into a season that is traditionally a time of “doing”.

You might feel like you’re warming up, opening back up to the opportunities around you, fueled by a new sense of energy. You may have identified some big projects you want to work on. No matter how much energy and inspiration you have, those larger creative investments inevitably require a scaffolding, something to support you and carry you through. 

Today we want you to identify your own creative microadventure, take your supplies and coffee kit and head outside. Consider this creative microadventure a combination of a creative act (ie making art, writing a poem) and a creative investment (ie going on a walk, turning off your phone). For example, drink your coffee outside and spend ten minutes writing about the experience. Or take your sketchbook and create a drawing of your coffee outside setting. Or drink your coffee and dance like nobody’s watching. Remember that this creative microadventure is about process, not product. Draw something that you don’t love? That’s fine! Write something you want to toss in the bin? Again, that’s fine! There is no right or wrong way to do a creative microadventure, the only important thing is that you take the time to do it. 

See where this creative microadventure takes you. Hopefully you want to do it again. For if we are conscious about building creativity into our regular routines, we ensure that creativity itself becomes part of all our days. 

Think about your cherished morning cup of coffee: if we can commit to drinking a cup of coffee every day, we can certainly commit to an everyday investment in our creativity as well. 

Share photos of your adventures with us: #coffeeadventuresoutside

Written by Anna Brones

May 12, 2021 at 09:00

Coffee Outside, Sitting in a Forest

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Coffee Adventures Outside is a collaboration between myself and Alastair Humphreys, released each month on the new moon. Words mostly by Alastair, artwork by me, but all of it a collaborative process. We hope you’ll join us in our coffee adventures, wherever you are. 

We began all this with coffee. Taking your coffee outside to enjoy the morning. Then we took our coffee somewhere we had never been and discovered nearby newness. This episode is also about coffee time. Or rather, it is about coffee and time. It is an encouragement to explore the depths of a moment, the depths of solitude.

The challenge is to sit on a stump in a forest, drink your coffee and stay there for a whole hour. An hour with a coffee and a good book would be a treat. With your phone it would be easy. Or with a notepad and a pencil. But what about if you had nothing at all to distract you: how would you cope just sitting still for an hour? 

It is interesting to consider our relationship with time. The busier you are and the less time you have to spare, the more you should try this, if only just once. If you think that time is racing far too fast to waste an hour sitting on a tree stump, fear not: this hour will feel like an eternity for you!

Will you give it a go? Sit down with your mug of coffee and take a deep breath. Set an alarm for an hour, then put your phone and watch out of sight and out of reach. And then you just sit. You, your coffee and the stump. The book Under the Open Skies describes the stump as “a symbol of the idea that you sometimes have to leave your head and reach down into your heart.”

With pen and paper in hand we would be more than happy to sip coffee and sit on a stump all day. But with no way to record our thoughts or to sketch the world around us, we instead become aware of the maelstrom inside our heads. There is no escape! One hour sitting on a stump easily includes a dozen practical plans and a handful of emotional mood swings, whilst every minute involves noticing something new for the first time. There is so much going on inside our heads, always. And there is so much to notice and appreciate wherever we decide to sit. 

Perhaps you may carry your coffee to the woods with a friend. But we imagine that you’ll go there by yourself, as Mary Oliver prefers. “Ordinarily, I go to the woods alone, with not a single friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore unsuitable… I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of praying, as you no doubt have yours… Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds, until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost unhearable sound of the roses singing… If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love you very much.”

Here you are then, alone. Just you, your coffee and your stump. The forest is a stage for solitude. While we often focus on the benefits of collaboration, this space of aloneness is also important for our creative practice. Are we distracted? Are we tempted to wish that someone was sitting next to us so we could pose a question and escape from our own thoughts? It might be uncomfortable, but we can all benefit from some quiet time. “Alone is a fact,” writes dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp. “Lonely is how you feel about that.”

Sitting on a stump for an hour is similar to the methods of mindful meditation. You are observing what is in your head, but not recording it. And as your thoughts whirl you can only notice them arrive and then allow them to leave. If you are fortunate, who knows, you might settle into a state described by the lovely Gaellic phrase of Ciúnas gan uaigneas, “quietness without loneliness.”

In The Runner, Markus Torgeby writes, “I must do something about my restlessness. One day I put on several layers of clothes, sit down on a tree stump and do nothing. I must get over this hurdle, I must learn how to do nothing.” That time, he concluded, “was a good investment. Life became greater after that. Food tasted better and the song of the birds in the woods was even lovelier.”

Sitting on a stump in a wood (or on a rock by the ocean, or a bench in a town) is an invitation and a challenge, like William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence, “to see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower. Hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.”

You may find an hour sprawls into a daunting expanse of time. You may hear a dozen bird calls and watch a bumblebee rustling in dead leaves. You may wonder what is for lunch. You might feel the sun on your neck, then close your eyes and allow yourself to really pay attention to that warmth. You will certainly think that your alarm clock has broken and that hours have passed. You will squirm. You will yearn for the end. But you may also, as we did, be surprised that your first sensation upon finally hearing the bell is not relief, but disappointment that it is over. And you might re-learn that each hour is a substantial, valuable treasure not to be wasted.

The biologist David Haskell watches nature closely, visiting a one-square-metre patch of forest over the course of a year. In The Forest Unseen he writes that he chose his location by “walking haphazardly through the forest and stopping when I found a suitable rock on which to sit.” As always, it does not matter where you go. It matters only that you go. Haskell asked himself, “can the whole forest be seen through a small contemplative window of leaves, rocks, and water?” His rules to himself are simple: visit often, watch a year circle past, be quiet.

One outcome of his watch was “to realise that we create wonderful places by giving them our attention, not by finding ‘pristine’ places that will bring wonder to us. Gardens, urban trees, the sky, fields, young forests, a flock of suburban sparrows… Watching them closely is as fruitful as watching an ancient woodland.”

The Forest Unseen concludes with some advice for us on our stump with our steaming coffee. “Leave behind expectations. Hoping for excitement, beauty, violence, enlightenment, or sacrament gets in the way of clear observation and will fog the mind with restlessness. Hope only for an enthusiastic openness of the senses.”

And that, after all, is what coffee is all about.

Share photos of your adventures with us: #coffeeadventuresoutside

Written by Anna Brones

April 12, 2021 at 09:00