There's more to a hammock than just a summer siesta

July 17, 2004|By ROB KASPER

ON A DAY when a gentle wind was blowing, pools of shade were forming, and a snooze was beckoning, I succumbed to hammock lust.

I had been longing for a hammock since Father's Day. Back then, I had hinted heavily that a hammock, an invention that encourages indolence, would be just the ticket. But as often happens with my paternal pleadings, it failed to draw an audience.

Then, on a gentle afternoon two weeks ago, I found myself in the outdoor furniture section of a big-box retailer, Target, in the midst of a hammock clearance sale.

Philosophers often debate how much human beings are willing to pay for peace of mind. For me, it was $49.98, the sale price of a Pawleys Island rope hammock.

This hammock traces its origins back to Cap'n Josh, a South Carolina riverboater who liked to snooze down by the river. That is what the glowing prose on the hammock label said.

It was propaganda, and I bought it lock, stock and hardware. I heaved the box into a shopping cart, put a dent in my credit card, and, as I snaked through Beltway traffic, had visions of swinging to and fro down by the river.

I don't have a river in my back yard. I also don't happen to have two trees that are the prescribed hammock-hanging distance apart, 13 to 16 feet. This turns out to be important.

Despite the myths circulating in the sylvan suburbs, we center-city residents do have trees. We get an allotment of about two per back yard. My two trees are too far apart to suspend this 15-foot hammock, even if I added an extra 18 inches on each end "to extend the hanging points."

If I extended the hanging points any farther, I would, as the instructions warned, "increase the tipping factor proportionally." I took this to mean that if I stretched out the hammock too much it would start behaving like the ones seen in old Woody Woodpecker cartoons, first wrapping me like a tortilla, then violently reversing and tossing me on the ground.

I also eyed the pillars supporting the back porch. They, too, were in the wrong spots, too close together.

So during the recent stretch of glorious summer weather, I wandered, driving around with the hammock in the back of my car, looking for a likely place of repose.

Last weekend, I journeyed down the ocean, carrying my hammock across the Bay Bridge, making sure to slow down on U.S. 50 outside Cambridge so the Maryland State Troopers grabbing speeders would not end up inviting me to pitch my hammock in the pokey.

My destination was a screened porch in Chincoteague, Va. As I eased around Salisbury and rolled through Pocomoke, I had visions of myself on that porch, lounging in my new hammock. But when I got there and eyed the wooden posts on the porch, I did not even bother to take the hammock out of the car. The posts on the porch were not thick enough. A 4-by-4 thickness is recommended to support a hammock.

I learned about the recommended thickness of support posts and the approved 12-inch diameter of tree trunks, and many other significant details of hammock life, on a Web site,

Ideally, I would have read about these details before I purchased my hammock. But when lust strikes, the brain is often on vacation.

You would think that choosing a napping site would be a simple act. But it turns out that hammock selection, like almost every other aspect of modern life, is now cloaked with options.

Hammocks, I learned, come in three broad categories: rope, fabric and Mayan, the latter invented by the same folks who gave us the pyramids of Central America. In addition, there is a subset of hammocks, a division between those that come with spreader bars - pieces of wood that hold the hammock material apart - and those without spreader bars.

For the treeless, or for those of us with trees that are unwilling to position themselves 13 to 16 feet apart, there are hammock stands. There are functional steel stands, stainless steel stands and classy looking wood stands - some taking their artistic inspiration from those clever Mayans - that cost a bundle.

Then there is the accouterment: hammock pillows, hammock canopies, hammock cup holders. There are wheels that attach to the hammock stands so you can scoot from one snoozing spot to another. Who knew torpor could be such a trial?

There is even more than one way to attach a hammock to a tree. In addition to the old-fashioned screws, there are the newer, more mobile straps. These straps, like fanatical nature lovers, are real tree-huggers.

It turns out that hammock passion runs in seasonal waves, with sales peaking around Father's Day. Once again, I was a late arrival at a trend. Just as my fervor for hammocks was climbing, the "seasonal" sections of department stores were clearing them out.

After calling dozens of department stores from here to Salisbury, I discovered that most metal hammock stands had been snapped up weeks ago, in post-Father's Day sales (proving, I guess, that if you are slow to snooze, you lose).

Late this week, I drove out to Watson's Fireplace & Patio in Lutherville on an ever-treacherous stretch of York Road, and rendezvoused with a metal hammock stand. I paid a little over $100. I figured I was worth it. My family is not so sure.

This weekend's forecast promises great napping weather. Once I get my hammock stand assembled, my quest for that sublime seasonal pleasure, a summer siesta, will come to a nodding conclusion.

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