I have always loved lying in hammocks. My parents placed one on the far side of our grape arbor when I was a child too small to climb into it myself. To reach it, you crossed a patio of irregularly shaped slate stones in shades ranging from bluish to maroonish and walked through a vine-covered archway with a white-picket gate fastened by a black wrought iron latch that joined two expanses of vine-encrusted white lattice. Concord grapes. Still my favorite.
At the home of my grandparents, I spent many happy hours in the hammock under the maple tree, once I could access it independently. It was the kind of hammock that hung from a frame, which meant I could drag it so I could stay in the shade. Made of emerald-green cotton sailcloth and with a wooden brace at the head end to keep the fabric spread out, it had a built-in pillow and white twisted cotton fringe and was incredibly comfortable. I spent hours in it: reading, rocking, napping, and listening to the ducks living their modest lives in and along the banks of the creek that ran through the backyard. I never encountered any competition for the hammock, and it always beckoned on summer days when we visited.
I spent many hammockless years, eying enviously those I encountered—swinging from tropical porches or stretched between trees in parks or forests. In July 2019, during the month I stayed at the remote Quebec chalet of Trocadéro Man, I ordered a lightweight travel hammock, the kind that traps you in a cocoon and requires careful arranging in order to keep particular body parts— such as one’s head—exposed. It was a less than ideal experience since reading was difficult; it required my arms to be in a particular configuration to both hold a book and keep the cocoon from enveloping it in darkness. It was a struggle to see the tranquil lake a few steps away, but with eyes closed, the sonic environment was pleasant and absorptive.
This past summer, during the weeks I spent at my German parental home atop a hill in a bucolic, former farming village nestled in the mountains west of Zittau, I found a hammock, still in its box, in the barn. The kind with a steel frame. I assembled it and dragged it to the end of the garden, behind the barn and under the enormous, historically protected linden, which provides a generous shade zone all day long. It was a perfect hammock, with a bar at the head end that stretched the cotton fabric, thereby inhibiting cocooning. I read, worked on my laptop, watched clouds passing and leaves dancing in the breeze, and dozed to the humming of what must have been thousands of bees above.
When I returned to Purgatory, I noticed a rope hammock hanging between two trees at my neighbors’, who, coincidentally, had lived one mile from me during my high school years in a Buffalo suburb. E explained how this was their second hammock, since S hadn’t found comfortable the cotton one with collapsible bars at foot and head ends they’d ordered. I lit up with delight when, after sharing my life-long love of hammocks, S offered it to me. It took two days for the tree-fasteners and hammock clips to arrive, but fewer than five minutes to set up once they had. Finally, a hammock of my own! E&S refused payment, so I brought them a little bag of European goodies (they no longer travel for health reasons)—chocolate from Switzerland, schnapps and hard bread from Sweden, honey from Germany. Sometimes S and I are in our respective hammocks simultaneously and when our gazes meet, we wave, each content in our differing models.
Freed from the leaden tug of gravity that keeps me, thankfully, attached to the earth most of the time, I float and rock in my little nest, with maple leaves, blue skies, and the occasional bird occupying my field of vision.