If I wrote a history of the hammock, I'd detail the texture of hamack-tree bark, record the number of hammocks Columbus packed for his return trip to Spain, and dig up reactions among Old World royalty to the slings that let natives sleep above creepy-crawlies.
There would be chapters about hammocks on ships of sea and space, chapters on the complexities of weave. I'd think about princes in palaces swaying in the breeze. I'd think about hammocks in the trenches of jungle wars.
But as soon as I got in a hammock, I'd forget all that. I'd return instead to adoration: The hammock is my Shangri-La - or so it seems.
Not long after we moved onto acreage in northern Utah, Kathe said something like, "A hammock would be nice." Facing the prospect of improving more land than either of us had ever owned - eradicating Dyer's woad, chopping wood, planting trees - the image of unwinding in a hammock seemed sweet. And, soon, it arrived.
In the spring, sometimes with snow still on the ground, I set up the hammock by chokecherries near the house. Floating there on warm days, we'd look at the dead cottonwoods that hosted eagles, flickers, waxwings; we'd watch clouds roll over the Bear River Range. Between uncurling leaves and dark branches, we'd see elk on the mountain slopes. We'd trade off hammock time, each dozing with a book splayed on the belly, until the evening chill.
It was like that for years, as was the late-spring carting of the hammock across a bridge to a stand of willows by a rocky beach beside the Blacksmith Fork. There the hammock would remain into fall.
We'd usually wade the river - a shorter trip than using the bridge - to reach the willows with provisions of water, wine, snacks, books, binoculars. I can hardly say now how crucial this was to letting go the worries of the day, to casting aside conservation battles, deadlines, family scraps and ambition. Sometimes dippers would land nearby; sometimes willows tossing against a blue sky would almost carry me into thin air. What is worry in such moments? In the hammock, I became a better person. Calmer.
Now the hammock, with a new sling, sits beneath two palo verde trees in our tiny Tucson yard. We moved from Utah a year ago, and the hammock I once found so inviting is less so. Well, the hammock beckons, but the prospect does not. No river, no views of mountains, no meadowlarks. Only recently have I begun to plop myself in the sling because - this is where I live. And I should open myself to the cardinals, verdins, even the power lines and the beige metal fence.
I also just bought a backpacker's hammock and last week went to Rio Vista Park, which sits beside the Rillito River wash, a dry, sandy thread that's wet only in monsoons. I stuffed the hammock, a novel and water bottle into a pack and walked from the parking lot to the mesquite flats.
To my astonishment, I found a perfect grove, another prospect. Beneath trees. A glimpse of Pusch Ridge. Leaves shivering. I was cradled. A man with his phone and dog walked by, then I was alone, untroubled even by the sound of traffic. I unclenched, felt that I could stay in the desert.
"It's not the river," I told Kathe when I got home. "But it's good."
I need this. To float away from buildings and bustle, to find and to lose myself in a cocoon between two trees, to accept mesquite in the park and palo verde at the house. To find home again. Even if - especially if - home also means leaving food and water at the vagrant's camp a few yards from my leisure in the park.
My ease is always temporary, costly, riddled with history. In my yard or in the park, I know this. I forget this. I remember it again. Always, I slide into the hammock to slide out. I put my feet on the ground we all share - ground that's different from what I've known, true.
But in that difference I might gain more perspective on this truth: That getting into a hammock is always preparation for getting out.
Christopher Cokinos teaches English at the University of Arizona's Institute of the Environment.
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