The perfect hangout for summertime

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My father used to get a new hammock every couple of years and set it up under the lone sycamore tree in the backyard, but I never saw him use it. Maybe that was because his hammock was the cutesy kind, sort of a surrey with the fringe on top, only without the wheels. The dark-blue canvas was taut and unforgiving, and the chains that held the hammock to its metal frame made it relatively easy to flip a person onto the ground before he knew what had hit him. After a few seasons, Dad gave up the hammock idea and started buying aluminum chaise lounges made with striped nylon webbing instead.

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As I’ve discovered in recent years, Dad’s hammocks bore little resemblance to the real things: the multicolored string hammocks sold by vendors on Mexican beaches or the heavy, hand-knotted rope slings like the one we’ve got strung up between an oak tree and a bishop pine out back. The difference between Dad’s hammocks and ours is like the difference between real iced tea and instant. It’s the difference between a long nap and tossing and turning. It’s night and day.

My daughter brought our hammock home from Costa Rica the summer between her junior and senior years in high school. She’d spent eight weeks working there as a volunteer for the Amigos de Las Americas organization, teaching dental hygiene to children in rural areas. After saying “up and down, not back and forth” in Spanish all summer long, it was not surprising that her judgment would lapse a little. She traded some expensive camping equipment for the hammock, but by the time I’d noticed, I couldn’t complain. By then I’d learned all there was to know about the pleasures of hammocking, and I wasn’t about to give them up.

Our hammock has 18 thick white cords drawn through a wooden dowel at each end, then knotted and woven into a crosshatched rope cradle. I’ve read it takes only a half hour for skilled crafts-people to make such hammocks, but my limited success weaving macrame plant holders back in the ’70s makes me respect the maker just the same.

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I’m not the only one who appreciates hammocks. In fact, there seems to be an epidemic of them this summer. A bird-watcher friend has positioned hers within viewing distance of a busy hummingbird feeder, and my brother has become a two-hammock man – one out back and the other in the side yard. The motel at the bottom of our hill has a big green hammock decorated with striped cushions stretched between two trees. Every weekend when the place is full, I see tourists cocoon themselves in the hammock and before long, they’re dozing off with the latest best-seller folded open, unread, in their laps. Who can blame them? The best thing about hammocks is they give you permission to snatch little pieces of your life and wrap them up in hammock dreams. In fact, they practically force you to take a nap.

The worst thing about hammocks is mosquitoes. Mosquitoes eyeball those little squares of flesh that poke through the webbing and see food. Each little section frames the body into precise portions like those in TV-dinner trays. The voracious insects don’t know whether to start with the meat or go right for the dessert.

Hammocks are good for bad backs, and they make you relax. The least little breeze will find its way to a hammock and sift through the netting with cool, massaging fingers. If you’ve got two trees, and you can stand the bugs, nothing’s better than a hammock.

Choosing a Hammock

Material: While hammocks made from cotton are considered to be the softest and most comfortable, if used outdoors, they are more prone to mildew and rot than those made from synthetics.

Style: The classic netted hammock that most of us think of is the American rope hammock, made from knotted rope and held apart by wooden spreads, one at each end. The spreaders keep the hammock open and flat, allowing freedom of movement when you lie in it. The drawback is that such freedom of movement can flip you onto the lawn. Canvas hammocks provide a uniform surface without the rope hammock’s potentially irritating knots, but since they don’t drain as well, you may find a puddle in your hammock the morning after a summer rain shower. Mayan hammocks, which taper to a point at each end and require no spreaders, cocoon their occupants, making them more stable and more suitable for the accident-prone. The Mayan hammock has its origins in Central America and, with its brightly colored yarn and tight weave, resembles a Southwestern blanket.

Size: The overall length of a hammock lets you know how much distance you need between your trees, while bed size indicate the usable dimensions in length and width. The length is usually about 80 inches, but the width varies a great deal and is the most important dimension. Single-person hammocks run as wide as 48 inches and doubles go as wide as 60 inches, while family-size hammocks can run all the way up to eight feet.

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