If you are an American, chances are that you have experienced some kind of pro-hammock propaganda. Images of smiling campers perched in beautiful locations fill the internet and outdoors stores. For years I have envied these carefree souls, they seemed so free, perched above the bushes. Why cary a bulky tent when you can curl up in a simple hammock?
Finally my opportunity arrived. Pacing the aisles of my local Walmart I found her perched above a yellow “on sale” tag. She was bright blue, tightly packed into a built in bag. The fatal feature that won me though, was her price, 40% off. At last all of my excuses were swept away. I wooed her quickly and swept her away to my home. In my initial affection I dubbed her “Halmolk.” At the time I thought the word hammock had an “l” in it, my friends tried to warn me of my mistake but I was too overcome with love.
Our maiden voyage together came on a trip to a local peak. I stuffed Halmolk into my already bulging bag and plowed up the trail, giddy with anticipation for the night that lay ahead of me. At the top I took the advice of some of friends and pitched my beautiful Halmolk for the first time. As I watched her sway and billow beautifully in the light breeze. I could not help patting myself on the back. I had done it, I was a real hammock camper now and I would reap all the rewards.
To my friends’ credit they tried to warn me. They told me that this honeymoon of unconditional love would come to an end. They had been with hammocks before and knew their ways. I disregarded them. “This is different” I told them, “I really love Halmolk, we’ll make it work.” Oh how wrong I was. As the shadows fell and night drew near my anticipation only grew. My friends were about to climb into their sweaty tents and sleep on the bumpy ground. I would float between the treetops, rocked by the gentle night breezes. How naive and foolish I was.
When I finally climbed into Halmolk dark had long fallen. Exhausted by their day of hiking the rest of the camp soon fell asleep. I was left, rocking, alone and silent in the trees. Unfortunately this silence did not last long. A light breeze blew through the camp. Instead of rocking me gently to sleep it whipped the edges of Halmolk into a frenzy. Rippling nylon beat against my nose and filled my ears. I felt like I was wrapped in a parachute, plummeting to my death. Then the full moon rose, white and ghostly in all her glory. As she cast her shadows I tried to silently and peacefully fall into slumber. Instead the shifting shadows of silhouetted trees played on my sleeping bag.
Finally a noise pierced trough the cacophony of rippling nylon. I woke from my uneasy slumber immediately and sat up straight, almost tipping Halmolk in the process. Visions of hungry bears played through my mind as I surveyed the camp sight. I knew I was safe but what would I tell my friends’ parents? “I’m sorry your child was eaten by a bear, I would have done something but I was stuck in my hammock,” not exactly the kind of consolation a grieving mother likes to hear.
White shapes drifted through the camp. Mountain goats, wafting like fog on the morning breeze. Surprisingly silent they slithered through the camp, searching for salt. They licked the tents, seeking any source of sweat. I sat up and released a panicked grunt. The goats scattered, disappearing as silently as they came, biding their time in the cracks and crags. I lay back down again, my half waking dreams now haunted by zombie, hammock eating goats.
As I lay, recovering from my panic induced heart attack I realized why people use hammocks to relax on summer afternoons and not to camp. I was unable to become comfortable, any attempt to sleep on my side was met with a near capsize. I finally resigned myself to sleep on my back. Immediately another chill breeze swept through camp. As my hammock sagged it exposed my posterior to the icy blast. Immediately I felt as if a chunk of ice had replaced my nether regions. The wind raged on, relentlessly, intent on reducing my body to a helpless chunk of frozen meat.
Finally, somewhere around 4 a.m. I had suffered enough. I had decided that I would stick with Halmolk through the good times and the bad but it was time for a break. I sat up and pondered my escape. My view of the ground looked much more like google earth than I remembered and I was suddenly glad a friend had convinced me to clear the tree stumps from under my perch. As I deliberated on my escape, nature made my decision for me. A sudden gust of wind rocked me and I groggily over corrected. As Halmolk shifted from under me life slipped into slow motion. Those six feet felt like six years as I tipped out and fell, still fully swaddled in my sleeping bag.
If you have ever dropped a caterpillar you may have some idea of how I felt. I was unable to shift or recover. My limbs were effectively lashed to my torso. I writhed desperately, trying to twist and time my landing. Unfortunately, unlike a cat, I could not save my fall. Instead I completed a full lateral rotation and landed solidly on my rear with a thump that reverberated from my tailbone to my upper jaw.
Still groggy from a sleepless night I collected myself, escaped from my bag and wandered off, searching for dawn. Halmolk swung gently behind me, confident in her triumph. She had taken what she wanted. My dignity was hers and now she was happy to toss me by the wayside like a soiled glove. Relationships are fickle things and ours was no exception. Maybe by next spring my failure will have faded and I will be ready to try to get back together with Halmolk. Until then I will leave her stuffed in the bottom of my backpack, punishment for her infidelity. Hammocks may be fun for a quick afternoon fling on a summer afternoon, but beware, they can be vicious and fickle partners.