Still the Hammock

Over the Volcano, a Comfortable Limbo

By Jenny Emery Davidson

In the creaky limbs of our family memories, a wide rectangle of gray canvas stretches between two tall and spindly lodgepole pines. It is a simple hammock, slung between the same two trees every year, just a few yards from the front porch of the cabin that my great-grandfather built in Island Park in the 1950s. He farmed potatoes in the summer around the tiny town of Teton, and drove a school bus in the winter. He built this cabin in the forest near the headwaters of the Henry’s Fork to make a family retreat for his three daughters and, over time, for their families. I am part of the fourth generation to come to the cabin. Over the two decades of my growing-up years, it was our family’s destination for every summer vacation, and the hammock was its emblem.

The cabin still stands now, some sixty years later, but most of us visit it much less frequently, as our lives have spread us in different directions and obligations across the map. The hammock is hung less often now, and it’s not even the same hammock, although no one knows when or how the original one finally succumbed to our weight, or if perhaps it just got misplaced when it was tucked away at the end of some summer season.

And yet, the hammock still hangs, suspended in time. Over time, my sisters and parents and I have confided to each other that when we are panicked or worried or nagged by a problem, when we need that quick imaginative exercise to go to a place where you feel peaceful and safe, in order to salvage sanity for a moment, we go to the hammock. The remembered hammock has cradled us through college homesickness, bumpy airplane rides, job interviews and job changes, divorces, and the deaths of loved ones. Over and over again, we pull it up in our minds, stretch it taut between the past and the present, and rest in it.

The lodgepole pines that the hammock was tied to were just the right distance from each other to form an airy alcove not far from the front porch of the cabin. Lodgepoles have narrow trunks, and these two trees had trunks no more than a foot in diameter, but they extended at least thirty feet in height. As is typical of lodgepoles, the branches began several feet up from the ground, and then curved upward in sparse bunches. The lower half of a lodgepole forest is all skinny brown sticks surrounded by sparse grass; the upper half is clusters of bristly green branches. Sunlight and breezes enter easily into a lodgepole forest, and the slender trees always are moving, whispering and sighing.

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