A Night in a Jungle Hammock

By Steve Harrison

What was it that people or manufacturers used to soak into canvas things like tents and jungle hammocks?  Whatever that creosote-like stuff was, it produced a funky odor that Iíll never forget.

Back in the 40s, anybody who had a real jungle hammock was a pretty ritzy river rat.  Now, we may not have had too many nickels to rub together, but we had a jungle hammock.  It was a completely enclosed canvas tube with a zippered side, complete with mosquito netting panels on both sides for ventilation.  We also had a big ol' war surplus canvas tent which was steeped in the same stinking goop as the hammock. (It must have been a 40s thing).

This night along the Embarras River down by St. Marie, Illinois, as a treat to their only son who was now 6 1/2 years old and spoiling for some adventure every waking second, I was to get to sleep in the jungle hammock alone.

At that wide-eyed age, I knew of no sensible reason why two grownups would want to be cooped-up by themselves in that stuffy old tent, so I had to assume they were making a grand sacrifice to do without my company the whole night.  Maybe they understood my wish for privacy.  They were good folks that way.

That afternoon, after a dayís fishing, gathering firewood and exploring the "Amazon," we noticed the breeze freshening.  Ominous clouds were building in the west and Mom and Dad began to get that concerned look about them.

There was some mention that maybe I should sleep in the tent with them in case a storm blew up, but my protests were loud and insistent enough to convince them that I would be just fine in the jungle hammock no matter what the weather.  I guess my reasoning powers were hitting on all eight because they appeared somewhat relieved, although not entirely convinced they could pass the night in a rain by themselves.  I reassured them I wouldnít be far away if they needed me and the matter was settled.

It was soon dark and after some time around the fire, watching sparks blow off into the river from the now VERY freshening breeze, Dad declared with some vague urgency that we had all better get to bed. Big day tomorrow. Lines to run. Other misleading bits of cloaked purpose.

I climbed into the jungle hammock and Mom zippered me in.  I knew I could have handled it by myself and it irked me a little bit to be attended to, but even bold explorers must humor their Moms.

There is no sensation in this life like swaying in a jungle hammock to the rhythm of the katydids, cicadas, Fowlerís toads and bullfrogs.  All were taking their turns in chorus and I was pretty well convinced it was all orchestrated for my personal entertainment.

Meanwhile, the breeze was beginning to get pretty darned fresh, and cooler, and not all the flickering in the tree canopy above was from the campfire.  Natures nocturne chorus soon packed it in.

I must have dozed off to the music and motherly swaying of the jungle hammock, because I donít remember the start of the storm.  But, Iíll never forget the flash and explosion that jolted me awake.  Lightening had struck somewhere nearby and when I looked out through the mosquito netting all to be seen was a gray wall of rain.  The breeze was now waaaay beyond fresh.  It was the howling wind of a thunderstorm and we were dead center in it.  The two small trees my jungle hammock was tied to were doing calisthenics with the wind and I was getting the ride of my life.

Through the roar of the wind and pelting rain, Mom could faintly be heard yelling at me.  "Are you all right out there!?"  I managed to quit giggling long enough to holler back, "YEAH! AINíT IT GREAT!"  Of course, at that age and blessed with an overdose of p&v, I didnít have the slightest notion of what all could have gone wrong in those circumstances.

Now, not only was I getting a rip-snortiní good tossing around in the jungle hammock, but the rain had started coming down at such an angle it was beating its way through the mosquito netting and forming a neat creosote smelling swimming pool inside the watertight canvas hammock.  No county fair has a ride that could even come close.

But fun only lasts so long.  I was delighted though, before it was all over, to see that Mom and Dad were having an adventure too when a loud gust of wind rolled in and collapsed their tent.

Ahh, I tell ya. Kids are sorely deprived these days. They just donít make thunderstorms like that anymore, and jungle hammocks are nearly extinct. Otherwise, Iím sure they would trade-in their televisions, phone gizmos and computers for a jungle hammock in a heartbeat, especially if they could have a night like that in one of them.

What a show.  What a ride.

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© since 1993, Steve Harrison. All rights reserved.