One of the many debts we owe Native American culture is the hammock. I recall in childhood my first discovery of a hammock, a beguiling swing-like contraption on the deck of some forgotten building. Wooden spreader bars held a fascinating web of sun-bleached rope, and immediately I threw myself into the webbing. It moved much like a swing, and soon I had clamored into the hammock completely, exhilarated by the freedom of leaving earth and hanging suspended above the firmament, even if it in this case it was only the wooden decking of a porch. I suspect that this departure from the firmament remains one of the charms of hammocking for me: somehow the world slows, worries flee, and relaxation eases into my bones once I recline in a sling of fabric above the ground.
On that first occasion, I soon discovered the perils of spreader-bar hammocks: I flipped and landed with an unceremonious thud on the decking, first stunned, then frustrated, then determined as I clamored back into my new-found play toy for a second round. Over the years I have abandoned rope for nylon, spreader-bars for gathered end hammocks, but my joy of abandoning myself to the comforts of a hammock remain. Now I can grab my daypack, throw in my Trek Light Gear double hammock, and know that on some remote precipice overlooking a river valley, I can set up my hammock and enjoy an idle lunch, swinging lazily in the breeze and soaking in the intoxicating view. Or, less dramatically, I can steal outside after dinner, when my family is engaged in evening routines, and watch the light fade from the fall sky and the animal noises shift from diurnal chatter to nocturnal hoots. Either way, the restorative powers of the hammock work on my body and psyche, freeing me from stressors even as the sling of fabric frees me from my normal earthbound state.
I love the solitude of my hammock, but it is a parent’s instinct and joy to share his or her own loves and joys with his or her own children, and thus I recently set up two hammocks–one for me, and one for my nature-loving, third-grade son. He took to it immediately, delighting in the act of cocooning himself in the fabric, or sitting perpendicular to the length of the hammock so that he could push off on the ground, an act that echoed those of my youth decades before when I first discovered that roped wonder. Like me, too, he grew reflective in the hammock, at times closing his eyes in delight, at times absorbing the world seen through new eyes from his recumbent position in space between two trees.
Soon, I think, it will be time. He and I will pack our packs, lose ourselves in the wilderness, and find a precipice with a view to share. How wonderful, how strange, that a chance discovery in my childhood should yield such rich rewards decades later. Maybe some day my own grandchildren or great-grandchildren, too, will leave the firmament and discover the joys of hanging aloft.
It is something all need to try, at least once.