The Imaginative Space

I wake up a little after 5:30 a.m., rising slowly to a seated position on the side of the bed. Cold is the first sensation my feet encounter as they touch the hard wooden floor. I shuffle groggily over to the kitchen, gently working out the stiffness in my arches, calves, and knees with each step. Most mornings start this way, with an arthritic hobble to my glass front door to let dog out and make a brief assessment of the weather. It is chilly today. A couple of inches of snow cover the porch and a thick wall of fog inhibits any view beyond 10 feet.

Technically, it is spring, at least according to the calendar, and the past couple of days have certainly suggested as much. The birds are less rambunctious this morning though, as if the joy, outburst, and brashness of spring has momentarily been put on hold. My mind seems to have already transitioned into the next season, and winter’s re-invitation is not welcome. Dog’s unwavering enthusiasm for her early laps in the yard also appears slightly perturbed as she returns to the door, pawing at the glass to be let in, snout and coat covered in snow.

My attention shifts from outside to inside, specifically to the daily ritual of preparing coffee. I just received a fresh bag of beans, micro roasted by Geoff a few days ago–Tanzanian Peaberry Selian Estate. The name sounds fancy with the peaberry denoting a much smaller than usual bean. I poke my nose into the bag, taking a deep inhalation of the delightful, engrossing smell of a fresh roast. I cannot pick up on the subtleties of a specific coffee just by smell, but the aroma is no less satisfying. I grind the bean in a hand-cranked, wooden, Peugeot-branded grinder that my mom found on eBay. The small drawer that collect the grinds is perfect for my six-shot Bialetti stovetop espresso maker. Grinding coffee is a quick process, but takes a bit of work–a first wake-up before sipping on the caffeinated beverage.

With the coffee now heating over a propane flame, I move over to the wood stove to prepare a fire. I fight the urge to check my phone for emails to see what work awaits the day. The slow, analogue connection is the kind that sets my day up right–the right headspace, the right breath and flow. I hew a pine log into kindling with a small hatchet. I can feel a breeze coming down the chimney pipe, meaning I will have to be quick to get this fire going if I do not want to smoke out the house. There is something about the wind patterns that wrap through our spruce tree in a specific way along with a certain air temperature which causes this backdraft, making my task more rushed and deliberate to get the hot air flowing up the pipe. Luckily, a minimal amount of smoke fills the room and the dry wood blazes quickly, offering much welcomed warmth.

The coffee is percolating, a faint rumble turns into a roar, indicating it is ready to drink. I put a couple slices of bacon on the skillet and some eggs. The smell of smoky pine, bubbling grease, and coffee fills the air. When preparing breakfast, I often think of Deanne’s grandmother. I like her attention to detail when making food. There is no rush, no apparent immediacy in the need to eat; rather there is mindful value in the process.

Yesterday, an HVAC professional came up the hill to fix a small gas leak in our crawl space. He mentioned that on the drive up Sunshine Canyon, he could feel the tension from work and the city leaving his body. While I am not sure he would feel the same way today in the snow and fog, he did come up the hill with the right kind of openness that allows to be overcome by the calmer, circadian rhythm of the mountains. Lacing up my shoes, readying myself for a run, I ponder the importance of intentionally warming up to the day in such a manner.

As I jog the first few minutes through the deserted streets, I feel the movement of my body as an outward articulation of my mind. I float through the fog, plunge into the woods, and catch a ribbon of trail, the end of which disappears into the imaginative space.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Do you start your morning calmly and with ritual?
  • Do you find that this ritualistic start to the day facilitates you going into the imaginative space Joe describes?
  • Or, are you able to create an imaginative space in another way?

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Joe Grant

frequently adventures in wild places, both close to home (a frequently changing location) and very far afield. He inspires others by sharing his words and images that beautifully capture the intersection of the wilds, movement, and the individual at Alpine Works.

There are 19 comments

  1. Shanefelle

    Nice piece!

    Do you run after eating though? I would have a stitch in no-time.

    My ritual is sneaking down the stairs, dressing in the cold hall, lacing up the shoes, stick the head out the back doors to see how cold and miserable it is and what overclothes are needed and then heading out into the darkness but always coming back either 30 minutes or 60 minutes later feeling great and ready for the day.

    Early morning running is amazing, especially the last 2 weeks or so when it is brightish when leaving.

    1. JoeWGrant

      Yes, I usually run after eating. I don't always eat as much though and will often just have oatmeal and coffee. It mainly depends on how long the outing is and I typically eat very little on the actual run (nothing under 3hrs).

  2. Andy

    Joe's description of his deliberate morning ritual evokes image and feeling of a more grounded and rustic routine than, I think, most of us have the "luxury" to experience regularly. In fact, it is only when I "float through the fog (and) plunge into the woods" that I begin to enter that imaginative space that keeps us true to who we are and from whence we come.

    In reading this I am keenly aware that I should be cooking by fire and grinding my beans by hand more often, actions that demand a more natural and mindful rhythm. In the meantime, I'll rely on the ribbon of trail to take me to that place of openness.

  3. fromsofatoultra

    6am The kids pile into our bed and beat me up
    6:15am I drag myself out to get them dressed and breakfast
    6:30am Instant coffee and cold toast
    6:45am Fall asleep on the toilet
    7am Out the door and from then on, the same as Joe said!

  4. bazzzzzzzzzzzzz

    Not only have I been forbidden from growing an ultrabeard, but I use electricity to grind my beans and make my espresso. No wonder I'm such a lousy runner. Also, my "floating through the fog" generally involves a lot more swearing at/from drivers as we take it in turns to ignore traffic signals. But the arthritic shuffle? Yeah, I've got that down to a tee.

  5. @PhilJeremy

    I started reading this before I saw who'd written it but I knew it was Joe instantly, the writing and the always amazing photography that capture the feeling that the writing evokes … fab.

  6. @frumioj

    Thanks Joe! Yes, my morning ritual is quite similar… but then followed by waking up my family and helping them (I'm the early morning guy) get ready for school/work, and working a few hours myself. Before the run, which I've imagined since daybreak.

  7. Shelby_

    I really enjoyed reading this, but it couldn't be more opposite to my energy sucking morning routine of getting ever-distracted children to get themselves dressed and stay focused on eating breakfast before I get them off to school. The leisure of drinking a cuppa comes afterwards… :-)

    I hope you have a great time up in Alaska racing and catching up with your friends. Looking forward to the report!

  8. jstemple

    I'm embarrassed. My ever supportive wife just brought our Golden home from the groomer. I immediately thought of "dog" because my Golden was all "dolled" up in pink bandannas & feathers. Time to get her out on the trail and get her muddied up. I have a hand grind coffee grinder that sits on the mantel over our stove

  9. jstemple

    But rely on the electric model. Strong java, oatmeal topped with Buckwheat honey and out the door. Keep the great pix coming Joe. /stemple

  10. @CamAdamson

    Really well written. I enjoyed the sensory- that did not seem over sensationalized. Well done.

    No food for runs under three hours- has this come as a result of training the body to not need glucose for that length?

    Do you have any training logs or build ups to races available? I would love to see a sample of your training.

    Best of luck this season

    1. JoeWGrant

      Eating less on runs has definitely evolved over time. I do better the fitter I am and also if I'm not reaching too much in training (meaning if I'm not constantly depleted). I find it more sustainable (and enjoyable) for me long term to eat breakfast before I run. I used to only drink a cup of coffee and go and while I still do that occasionally I have more even energy through out the run if I eat something prior. Regarding training, on average I run 2-3 hours per day varying intensities and terrain (tailored to the specifics of a race), but with a definite bias towards mountainous terrain regardless of the season. For hundreds, I do a number of longer runs in the 5-8 hour range. The balance for me lies in the ability to train hard enough to perform well at a race I'm focusing on while at the same time keeping the process inspiring and fulfilling.

      1. ctkohm

        Joe, you articulate human experience very well. Thank you for how you capture mindfulness and in-the-moment awareness through your writing style. It models for us readers how to better experience the present moment – and also our environments, especially if one is in the mountains. Your statement, "the ability to train hard enough…while at the same time keeping the process inspiring and fulfilling," applies to life in general. To live intentionally, and with balance – including things such restraint and discipline but also some indulgence and flexibility – takes much practice, and along the way deciding to be content (or learning to be content) in the moment. What I look forward to as well is when you write about running – the process and the highs and lows and the flow and experience – from not just the vanish point of a highly trained/accomplished runner but also using your present-person perspective writing style. In the meantime, I'll enjoy any of your work. :-)

  11. neelbanerjee2001

    Awesome write up Joe. My day starts at around 4.30 and starts with a cup of hot tea and some light yoga to open up the body. I don't seem to like to eat before running except on long run days.
    Yeah, having a ritual for me is absolutely essential as missing that or any alteration disturbs the flow of my day.

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