I look at the bundled tangle of string with amazement. A pretty tangle indeed , faded orange and yellow and turquoise and white, and the string soft and vaguely fragrant - of Mexico? Cousin Henry's son Alexander has brought it all the way from Yucatan.
''Thank you,'' I stammer, but I don't take it out of the box. Time enough for that, when I have time to hang it. I've never had a hammock, nor the time to lie in other people's hammocks. Nor do I foresee any time to do so now.
Barely time for the things I mustm do. An editor reminds me a deadline for a manuscript needs meeting. My students' manuscripts need reading. Cousin Henry's manuscript needs proofing. Bills need paying. Floors need sweeping. Dishes need washing. Grass needs cutting. My neighbor tells me my mulberry tree needs trimming, or better yet, chopping down. The garden needs weeding, and all the zucchinis are swelling and all the tomatoes are reddening at once, so a ratatouille needs cooking for supper. Crabs need catching for supper, too. Several friends need help with one thing or another. So do people I don't know, somewhere else, everywhere else. Also the whales need saving, and the dolphins. And, closer to home, all three generations of this extended family need attention, from our fragile fathers to our supposedly tough sons - figuratively and literally. Everyone needs a button sewn here, a seam there.
Not that I am in perpetual motion. We are supposed to be on a three-day vacation. I am supposed to sit and read a book sometime. Cousin Henry has just handed me sections of three different newspapers with articles I absolutely must read while we are driving to play three sets of tennis, and then we will hurry home to work on our respective novels, and then fix supper for everyone and . . . .
Maybe next summer I will have time to hang the hammock. Or the summer after that. Or when I get to a certain age. For now, life is too full to loll in hammocks.
But Alexander is standing here, waiting for me to showm, not just tell, appreciation for his gift. He is 19 years old, and sensitive. I am obliged at least to try to suspend the hammock somewhere.
First, we must undertake the expedition to the hardware store for rope to tie the hammock to the trees. Twelve giant spools from which to choose - should we get crabbing line or an inch-thick hawser? Finally the man gives us 12 feet of shiny nylon cord that claims it can hold up to 2,500 pounds.
Which trees shall be the support system? The logical hazelnut tree is spaced too far from the ancient and fragile pear or the big maple that is leaning precariously already. The sycamore and the locust would be excellent trees for the hammock, except that they are halfway down the bluff, and if the rope broke, or the trees, one would land in the water.
I keep hoping that Alexander will hang it for me. He gavem it to me, he shrugs , and the responsibility is now mine. He must head for the dock to finish reading Thucydides. Cousin Henry is fortunately practicing his violin by the garden, which keeps the bugs away and encourages the growth of the tomatoes. They have been known to thrive on Haydn sonatas. And while those large fingers can play a delicate violin, Cousin Henry becomes all thumbs when he must do some silly household task like hanging a painting. Hanging a hammock would doubtless frustrate him even more than it does me. But at least he may have time to sit in it.
Finally at the edge of the woods I find that the hammock might almost reach between an old horse chestnut and a young plum tree. The guy ropes will cover the gaps. Someone must shinny up the trunk to reach the lowest branch, around which to loop the end of the rope. I secure the end of the rope to the horse chestnut with a bowline and the other end to the plum with a fisherman's bend. We will see which holds better. If one knot slips, the contents of the hammock will be dumped into the honeysuckle.
''Aren't you going to try it out?'' Alexander pauses on his way to the dock as I scramble down from the trees into the poison ivy.
Now I am morally obligated to test it. I look around for something I ought to be reading, while I am in it, so that I can look as if I were enjoying it, but the only written matter in sight is the set of directions for the chain saw my eldest son, Kirk, gave me last Christmas, which I haven't learned to work either , though I appreciate his cutting some deadwood for me. Life is full of deadwood to be cut.
Which is why I don't even know how to get into a hammock. All that thin string sways, this certainly is not a very stable apparatus, I will surely tumble out the other side. Only solution is to lie back in the hammock - somewhat at an angle, since I guess I hung it downhill.
The hammock is wide, and I can pull the rest of the netting around me to keep out the bugs but still see the butterflies. Can also still see the trees overhead, and tatters of sky through the leaves. Reminds me of the jungle I am trying to describe in Chapter VIII. I'd almost forgotten the feel of a jungle, and here I am looking up through this tangle of maples and sycamores and trumpet vines, and they could be banyans and bougainvilleas, and that could be a squirrel monkey up there instead of a squirrel. . . . Imagine a boa constrictor poised in that patch of sun, instead of the mere six-foot-long black snake glistening his way down the horse chestnut trunk. . . . I won't mention his presence to Cousin Henry, though I'm touched when he deigns to call upon me.
In a moment, I'll get up and return to my typewriter to finish Chapter VIII . . . and attend to all the other tasks not of the imagination.
For now, I need a moment to imagine what it would be like to fall asleep in a hammock swaying in the jungle. Life may be too full not to loll in a hammock . . . for just another moment . . . or two . . . .