An Empty Hammock is an Invitation to Kick Back and Relax
photograph by Emily Chaplin and Chris Council

A fully horizontal hammock should be regarded with suspicion. If you see netting or canvas stretched taut between two trees or posts or a stand-alone metal frame, a hammock neophyte has been at work, and failed to properly measure. A hammock should sag slightly, and there aren’t many things you can say that about — eyes, beds, bellies.

As an etymology freak, I like knowing that the word “hammock” has been around since the 1650s, stemming from the Spanish hamaca, which originated from the same Haitian word meaning “fish nets.” No surprise there. Sleepy sailors and entrepreneurial fishermen took whatever was lying around and fashioned beds that beat the heck out of the stacked wooden slabs they slept on below decks. Check out the USS North Carolina the next time you’re down Wilmington way. Those hanging bunks never fail to thrill me with their efficiency. Then make me tired, and long to climb in one.

Friends from Mexico brought our family a hammock. I could gather it together and wrap my fingers around the entire thickness. When you managed to spread the flimsy plastic fibers wide enough to fling yourself inside, it immediately closed around you, like a cocoon. All the better for children to swing around and around in a complete 360, with no fear of falling out.

You can’t really push a hammock like you can a swing. Plus, whomever you enlist to do so is, very soon, going to resent your closed eyes, announce “My turn!” and dump you out. And it’s going to take a mighty stiff breeze — an ocean-type breeze — to sway your average adult. So, you have a choice: Lie longways, and just enjoy being suspended in the air, or lie crossways, with your toes dragging on the ground, and move yourself back and forth. The third option is to attach a rope to a nearby stump, and self-propel by tugging. We did that for years at Lake Waccamaw, until the stump rotted away.

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There is no place you cannot hang a hammock: On a pier. On a porch. On a beach. On a boat. In the yard. In a treehouse. In a dorm room or garage. Even over water, between two pilings. My personal preference is between high, high pines. Dogwoods do not do hammocks.

There is, however, only one thing to do in a hammock: relax. Oh, you can try to read, but your arms will get tired. You can make a list of chores to do once you get out of the hammock, but it’s likely that your pencil will fall through the grid, and who cares? Drool will go right through the netting, too, unless you have a fancy pillow headrest, and that’ll teach you what’s important. It’s hard to drink in a hammock. And while two in a hammock looks romantic, it’s really more trouble than it appears — shifting for space, losing your balance, hogging the hammock. Hammocking is a solitary endeavor, in the best way.

There is also no way to remove yourself gracefully from a hammock. You can roll over until you tumble out. You can swing your feet around and scooch up to the edge. You can summon those abs and try to sit up straight. You can grip the sides and hurl yourself forward. Get over your mortification; it’s so worth it.

There’s a reason you see babies in slings all over the globe: a sling is an adolescent hammock, waiting to be a grown-up. Stop worrying about your spine and posture. Wear those telltale diamond grids on your cheek and shoulder, thigh and calf, proudly. Go ahead and laugh, but I give this one-time staple of the motor court as birthday and wedding gifts. Not only does one size fit all, but also I like the message a bow-tied hammock sends: Show some respect for laziness.

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Susan Stafford Kelly was raised in Rutherfordton. She attended UNC-Chapel Hill and earned a Master of Fine Arts from Warren Wilson College. She is the author of Carolina Classics, a collection of essays that have appeared in Our State, and five novels: How Close We Come, Even Now, The Last of Something, Now You Know, and By Accident. Susan has three grown children and lives in Greensboro with her husband, Sterling.