M

y kids told me a few weeks ago that a hammock tent is a really cool idea.

They saw a colorful, semi-neon, fully insect-proof specimen in an outdoor catalog and were utterly fascinated.

It was called an air dome, but other varieties had different names.

“Like, who thought of that?” one of the kids said. “It’s a tent and a hammock! In one! You hang it. And crawl in. And zip it up. And if it rains you won’t get wet! … Bugs? Gone!”

Fascinating! I said.

It reminded me of the olive green hammock tent my family found in the attic when I was a kid. It had been left behind by previous owners of the place, along with an American flag missing two stars, and a pair of knee-length riding boots.

The neighbor kids came over and we dragged the tent into the yard. 

A grown up standing nearby mused about its history in a jungle war, or something, which really got our imagination going.

We stomped on the tent to kill the spiders, many of them quite large, and others already dead. We could tell they were dead because they looked like crinkly spider skeletons, and then we snaked the garden hose out into the yard and sprayed the contraption until it stuck to the ground like fly paper. 

We hung it on the clothesline but that didn’t get rid of the smell of mildew, which still haunts me, but not as much as the bear, and the crow.

After we dragged the hammock tent to a grove of pine trees in the back yard, on the sunset side of the property. 

We tied its lanyards as high as we could to trees using knots with no names, which invariably required a pocket knife to undo. 

And there it hung.

Just like that.

Hammock tent. Olive green. 

We let it air out for a week until the courage we mustered overcame any fear of big spiders. 

One of us climbed inside as the others zipped shut the mosquito netting.

I was the youngest and therefore gifted with the luck to be the first in line for many things, so I lay in the tent with the zippers zipped, as neighbor kids watched from a distance.

I fell asleep.

I was tired a lot back then as I recall because of the sun, and the water from the lake that we plunged into from the end of the dock, and because of the endless chasing stuff all over in summer, or being chased by stuff like siblings with sticks, bees and yellowjackets, dogs sometimes, and that one bear.

The bear in hindsight didn’t chase me but when I woke up from one of my sojourns in the hammock tent, it was nearby. 

Not a large black bear, probably a yearling, or second-year cub, the kind that momma kicks out of her territory, and it roams and gets into trouble, just like the neighborhood kids. 

There was a kinship between us, but at the same time, it was a bear.

It became apparent that the hammock tent was face level with the chewing end of the ursus if it chose to stand on its hind legs, like all bears on TV invariable must do. 

At that point I decided hastily that the hammock tent with me inside was nothing more than a cabbage roll, or plastic-wrapped pita.

When the bear turned its back I unzipped, dropped to the ground and ran.

Shocked by my presence, the bear ran just as fast the other way.

The baby crow came later, maybe by a few days. It was found under the pines and we kids kept it safe behind the netting of the hammock tent away from cats and other unpleasantries, and its mom talked to it from a high limb as we fed it canned dog food and then it died.

It was a sorrowful few minutes and we mourned like kids do, then forgot about it — leaving the lifeless and immature feathered lizard in the hammock tent because no one wanted to touch it. 

Not very much. 

Although we were committed to giving it a proper burial, maybe later.

We moved on to other endeavors, staying away from the humidity of the hammock tent throughout the dog days of summer and it hung there, empty, except for the dead bird and spiders, the smell of mildew and later another peculiar smell that we wrinkled our noses at.

But time heals. 

You learn that as a kid, especially with knee scabs and crushes, and so it did with the few minutes of sadness we had once felt for the baby crow.

In the meantime someone, a parent maybe, had flicked the carcass with its squiggly fly worms into the underbrush, and we — the neighbor kids and I — by the end of summer rediscovered the hammock tent that by now had become a neighborhood fixture.

We climbed inside one more time as the sun set behind the trees and thought about bears and crows and spiders, and how the heck did mosquitos find their way inside this contraption given all the zippers and netting and stuff?

I don’t know what happened to that particular hammock tent. It was a novelty for sure. And cool also, even back then, despite its lack of neon or rousing, otherworldy name.

So when my kids asked can we get one? 

It’s just 400 bucks!

 I said sure, but only from the military surplus store.

Money doesn’t grow on trees, after all, even if some memories do.

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