The Hammock Is Back!

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for June 18, 2020, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            One of the items on my younger granddaughter’s Birthday Wish List last week was “a hammock.” This did not surprise me, considering that my older granddaughter and her tennis teammates all had hammocks which they used for down-time at their tennis tournaments. Since Granddaughter Number Two will be going to tennis tournaments when school starts, a hammock is much desired. Apparently, hammocks are “trendy” these days, for young and old alike.

                       Sadly enough, in the past two weeks at least four people have been killed in hammock accidents. One incident involved attaching one end of the sleeping net to a tree which fell on top of the person. Another tragic accident occurred when a brick pillar to which an end was attached collapsed and two young people were killed. I would urge all folks to be very careful when they hang their hammocks.

As far as my research on the subject can tell, this current trend toward relaxing and sleeping in hammocks began around 2017, when media reported that hammocks were the second hottest category in the outdoors sales market, just behind coolers; and feature stories were appearing in magazines about “Hammock Camping” as the latest trend.

This latest “trend,” which continues to be popular, actually dates way back . In the 1940’s, when I was growing up in Dime Box, Texas, hammocks were much desired, not because they were trendy, but because they were necessary. In the vicious Texas heat when nobody had air-conditioning! At our home, we didn’t even have electric fans, so there was always an on-going effort to find ways to survive the heat.

            My boyhood home, like most other homes in Dime Box in those days, was designed to be as heat resistant as possible (not an easy thing since my mother, like so many other women, cooked on a wood stove). The large back porch was screened in, so that it could be used as a “sleeping porch.” Some people even had hammocks on their sleeping porches. The large front porch came equipped with a slatted porch-swing hanging on the breeziest end of the porch, the openings between the slats allowing a bit more airflow. Also, our house had many windows, and the builder had positioned the structure to catch the most breeze. Still indoors was very hot when the outside temperature was 98 degrees in the shade and Mama was cooking on the stove.

            Outside seemed to be the best escape from summer heat waves, and lying in a hammock stretched between two post oak trees was the coolest (literally) place to be. In those days, we didn’t have hammocks on self-supporting frames, so we tied them to sturdy post oak trees.

            Of course, that was the way hammocks were used thousands of years ago when they were invented by the ancient Mayas in the Yucatan. The Mayas made them out of woven bark and hung them between two trees, and so did folks of other ancient cultures in the Caribbean and in South America. Columbus came upon the “hamaka” in the Bahamas in 1492. He described them on October 17, 1492, like this: “People were sleeping in nets between the trees.” Columbus liked this sleeping oddity so well he took some back to Europe, and they became widely used by European sailors on board ships. They were safe when well attached and clean, more comfortable than beds, and kept you from getting sea sick..

            Even today, Mexicans in the Yucatan prefer to sleep in hammocks, because they are inexpensive and allow air flow in a very hot climate. The ancient art of making these sleeping nets, which was passed on down from the ancient Mayas to today’s inhabitants in the Yucatan jungle, is so excellent that they can hold up to 1,000 pounds.

            Some of today’s hammocks will sustain a person weighing up to only 200 pounds, so I make it a point to stay out of modern hammocks. That wouldn’t have been a problem in the 1940’s, when I weighed only about 95 pounds fully clothed. Since Texas is as hot in the summer as the Yucatan, and since Texans love to spend time out-of-doors year round, it may be a good thing the hammock is back! Just be careful where you anchor it!

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Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and the author of two books, Open Prairies and It Must Be the Noodles.

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