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Lying in a Hammock

I was visiting a friend who has a hammock in his backyard. I have never mastered lying in a hammock. I find it hard to get into, harder to get out of and uncomfortable in the time between. But I must be an exception.

Hammocks are an easygoing symbol of relaxation. Sailors slept in them so the rocking ship didn’t throw them from bed but just rocked them to sleep.

What do you associate them with – leisure, escapism, luxury, nature?

I wish I could sway comfortably in one and daydream or read or write a poem. The poem that comes to mind is –

Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota  by James Wright, from Above the River: The Complete Poems and Selected Prose  

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

An article on tells us that:

Just about all of the major early European expeditions to the New World talked about the hammock. Columbus described it in his journal: “Their beds and bags for holding things were like nets of cotton.” Bartolomé de las Casas, the first real European historian to go to the Americas, went on at length about them. In his book Historia de las Indias, written between 1527 and 1559, de las Casas described beds “like cotton nets,” with elaborate, well-crafted patterns. The ends, he wrote, were made of a different, hemp-like material, to attach to walls or poles. 

The early days of the hammock are not well understood, but they certainly did come a long time ago. Woven of organic materials that eventually decompose in tropical environments—where pretty much everything decomposes eventually—hammocks were well established in the Caribbean when the first Europeans landed there. The English word “hammock” derives from the Spanish hamaca, a direct loanword from the Taíno languages of the Caribbean.

A depiction of Amerigo Vespucci landing in America and encountering an indigenous woman on a hammock.
by Jan van der Straet, ca. 1587–89. THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART / PUBLIC DOMAIN

This end of summer lazy day would be a good one for hammocking. But besides my fear of falling out of a hammock, I’m afraid that I view hammock time as wasted time. That’s a shame. I need to work on the art of not working all the time. Labor Day, indeed…

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