On October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus first set foot in the Bahamas. He hoped he would find gold, spices and silks, and a faster trade route to China. What he found instead was fertile land, an easygoing and hospitable people, and hammocks.
When he returned to Spain from that first voyage in March of 1493, Columbus brought with him a few of the people, a little gold, some tobacco plants, and, most importantly, some hammocks. Because, as everyone knows, hammocks are one of the greatest things in the world.
By then, Natives of Central America had been using hammocks constructed of bark and plant fibers for around 500 years already, and though Columbus never did discover his direct water passage to the east, hammocks were certainly not a bad find. Europeans took to them right away, particularly finding them useful aboard ships.
And today, they are widely used for swinging in the light breeze suspended from two trees beside a white sand beach while sipping a piña colada. Or, possibly, in that great imaginary beach that exists in my suburban backyard.
When my husband and I bought our first little house, a few years into our marriage, it came with two posts in the backyard, perfectly spaced for a hammock. Obviously, we had to install one. We each spent many happy naps swaying in the backyard, often while cradling our oldest son who was a baby at the time. Because as perhaps the not-so-surprising research of skilled hammock scientists now tells us, human brains go to sleep faster while rocking. Apparently that’s even true of grownup human brains.
Unfortunately the next house didn’t have a convenient place to install the hammock, and when we thought about hanging it in the house after that, we discovered that while we’d been neglecting to use it, a colony of ants had discovered that they, too, enjoyed spending time in a hammock, though I don’t know that any skilled hammock scientists have studied that.
It took us an embarrassingly long time to get around to replacing it, but when we moved to Missouri a few years ago, we decided it was time. Last fall, my husband dug holes, poured concrete, and secured the strong posts. Then we hung the hammock and made a discovery that may have escaped the notice of the highly skilled hammock scientists: children in the middle grade to pre-teen range don’t seem to be soothed by the rocking motion in quite the same way. In fact, they may have the exact opposite response.
Because to my children, the hammock quickly became something to jump on and try to shove one another off. I get it. As much as I enjoy a nice nap, their way sounds fun, too. But, it turns out that may not be the best approach to maintaining strong, stable posts.
The first post snapped within two weeks. My husband was pretty cool about it. He shrugged and said he’d thought there was a troublesome knot in the post and wasn’t particularly surprised. He replaced it and all was well. Then winter came.
It’s been a mild one, with lots of spring-like breaks, so we haven’t put the hammock away, though it’s obviously not seen a lot of use. But this week the boys decided to give it a swing.
I wasn’t outside when it happened, but I heard the spectacular ear-splitting crack as the second post broke, followed by the cries of a very upset (though thankfully unharmed) boy. My sons tell me they weren’t jumping or wrestling on the hammock at the time. And I believe them, though I’m sure there was jumping and wrestling involved prior to the moment one of them laid back only to find himself landing on the ground.
This time my husband wasn’t quite as cool about the whole thing. He didn’t yell, but there was a sad look in his eye when he sighed and said he didn’t think it was worth replacing. Actually, what he said was, “They’re why we can’t have nice things.”
So I suppose, at least for now, you won’t find a hammock in our backyard. Or an imaginary white sand beach. You also won’t find gold, silk, or spices, or a direct water passage to Asia. But you can still find easygoing and hospitable people. And maybe even the occasional piña colada.