Everyone needs a way to sway

I lay on my cruise-ship bunk in a rolling sea near the tip of South America and remembered hammocks.

Hammocks ride up-down-up-down-up; there's a pause at the end of each upswing. The difference, I decided, is that the ship's bunk had a reverse ride: down-up-down. I conjured up memories of walnut trees, palm trees, and oak trees, networks of leaves and branches, shifting shadows, crimson sunsets, wondrous clouds, squirrels and birds, jetliners and vapor trails.

When I was a girl, Grandpa slung a canvas hammock between two big walnut trees in the front yard of his farmhouse. My cousin and I enjoyed summer days, lying crosswise on it with a great green canopy overhead. We gently swayed, telling each other secrets and stories.

Sometimes one tipped the other out, and the offended one ran to Grandma crying, "Make her stop it!"

In tropical Guam, years later, my husband and I draped a flimsy cotton net hammock – a string thing – between two palm trees. In two years, with weather and hard use, the hammock was a wreck. But the memories remain; I see awesome clouds billowing their way across a blue-satin sky and palm fronds waving above their clutch of coconuts.

Fast-forward a few years to the Sierra foothills of northern California. Two 20-foot-tall oak trees begged for a hammock. I determined to make one like Grandpa's. I had no pattern, but my attempt worked well enough: a length of canvas, two hardwood boards at the ends, and lots of rope. Squirrels played tag, and bare limbs called for study, with plenty of time for reminiscing and even dozing.

One woman I know bought a double-wide fancy-schmancy hammock on an elaborate stand and urged her workaholic husband to slow down and take time to look up at the sky. He wasn't crazy about the exorbitant cost of the thing, but he did lie there occasionally with the love of his life beside him.

For many years, sailors slept on hammocks, sometimes tied in so they wouldn't fall out in rough seas. My husband recalls his hammock ride on one of the last United States Navy ships equipped with them, a ride that was none too pleasing: The bracket broke off the bulkhead; he landed in a heap.

The other day, I was walking at Battery Park in Charleston, S.C., admiring the big old houses across the street. And what did I spy but hammocks on the third-floor balconies of several of them, promising respite and waiting for the hint of a breeze.

I've reached one of life's momentous conclusions: a cruise-ship bunk is OK, but everyone needs a hammock memory.

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