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            A World Without Hammocks?!

Caitlin Penry

 

Hammocking is the newest craze in the outdoor world. Eagle Nest Outfitters, or eno for short, revolutionized the activity of hammocking by creating a portable hammock that packs up to be the size of a grapefruit or smaller. It is made out of parachute material, so it is extremely lightweight and can be put up anywhere. The way to hang these hammocks is to put up two tension straps around two trees and then clip the hammock in to your desired tension. There are a few other companies that make similar hammocks but since I have an eno I am most familiar with this brand.

It is an understatement to say that I love my hammock. If it is a nice day, meaning above 70° F and sunny, and I have two trees available, then most likely you will find me reading or napping in my hammock. This is a way that I feel closer to nature, by literally hanging in it. It is a way for me to relax and just think and listen to the wind and birds. Hammocking has also become a social venue as well. A group of us hammock-goers set up four or five hammocks between two trees and this practice is called “extreenoing,” or stacking hammocks in precarious positions to show off your enoing skills. Our favorite spot is the arboretum on campus and our favorite tree is the basswood. It has branches that are almost horizontal so we are able to hang many hammocks in it; whoever can get the highest in the tree is considered the king/queen of hammocks.

 Around the arboretum there are many trees that have signs at the base of their trunks that read “not a hammock tree.” The signs were placed in front of small trunked young trees, which made sense to me; there was no way they could sustain the weight of a hammocker. To my dismay, an employee of the arboretum chastised our basswood group for hammocking. We had always assumed that hammocking in trees that could support us, as well as ones without signs, was an acceptable practice. I did not know until our walk around the old quad with Tom Bythell and Jill Coleman that hanging anything in campus trees, including humans, was against university policy. I was baffled! Where were these policies posted? Why were they policies? My initial annoyance turned to anger and then faded to curiosity. Now I just want to understand if and why hammocks are detrimental to trees or if our policy is bogus. And so my research in the fascinating topic of tree anatomy commenced!

A simple google search yields many responses on this topic, leading me to believe that it is a common question. I even stumbled upon other university policies that ban hammocks and slack lines on campus trees because of damage. Wake Forest as well as UNC has tree care policies and one specifically says “the hanging of hammocks, or the employment of slacklines” is a prohibited policy. I also found an entire online hammocking community that care about the trees that hold their weight up. From one of the many hammocking forums I deduced that the type of strap you are using can lead to damage. Thinner straps that can move laterally can cause damage due to friction, but sometimes they cause no noticeable damage. I also found evidence to suggest that specific trees are better to hammock on than others. Aspen, Beech and Cyprus trees apparently have softer bark that can be cut more easily. This should have been obvious since we talked about the Beech trees in Battle Park that people had carved their names into and the initials will stay there forever. Yes, the tree will always be marked, but then again it continues to grow normally while also becoming a historical marker of the passage of time. I think it is really neat that the tree will have the engraving in it forever, just like when Leopold used the tree to explain the different environmental conditions throughout a century or more.

Apparently this has become such a hot topic with hammock enthusiasts, who also care about nature and trees, that Hennessy Hammocks has actually made straps for hammocks that do not damage trees, according to them. They have partnered with Leave No Trace to make a damage-proof hammock. Leave No Trace states that hammocks are better than tent camping because hammocks “eliminate much of the impact generally associated with tent camping.” Tom mentioned on our tree walk that just walking on the ground impacts the soil and can hurt tree roots. An entire tent on the ground spreads more weight around but also damages the top layer of grass, so therefore when I camp in the future I will be using a hammock.

After doing more research I found the 1994 patent for the suspension hammock system that is used for today’s hammocks. However, it did not touch on the damaging aspects of this type of system. It did mention the damaging effects of previous hammocks and the screws and hooks involved that tap into tree trunks, leaving holes that cannot be resealed or healed by the tree. I’m assuming that since there was no mention of harmful effects due to the suspension system means that the inventor had not encountered them yet. Honestly, this idea was revolutionary to hammocking, which can be good or bad. It has made hammocking accessible and easy in various terrains and also prevents damage that was caused by previous ways of hammocking. The saying “you can’t get enough of a good thing” is completely wrong in this situation because the accessibility has made hammocking more popular and cheaper everywhere. Now people may be overdoing their rights to hammock and we may have to limit our hammock use.

Even after I got second opinions, I still love hammocking. There didn’t seem to be any scholarly articles explaining how detrimental hammocks were to trees and I have yet to see a tree destroyed from hammocking. In the future I will first think about what trees I choose and thanks to this class I now know how to identify softer bark trees and can avoid hanging from them. If you have never hammocked before I strongly encourage you to try it out, and if you have, then try taking your hammock to the next level by extreenoing. For me, the positives of hammocking outweigh the negatives; I’ll just have to be more tree conscious next time.

 

Class of 2014

Biology Major

Winston-Salem, NC

Bibliography

DeAth, S. "Google." Google. US Patents, 14 Mar. 1994. Web. 03 Dec. 2013.      http://www.google.com/patents?hl=en&lr=&vid=USPAT5293657&id=sK4bAAAAEBAJ&oi=fnd&dq=trees+and+hammocks&printsec=abstract#v=onepage&q=trees%20and%20hammocks&f=false

 

Leave No Trace. "Hammock Camping." Home. Leave No Trace, 2012. Web. 02 Dec. 2013.

http://lnt.org/blog/hammock-camping

 

WFU Facilities. "WFU Campus Tree Care Plan." WFU Campus Tree Care Plan. WFU, 2007.   Web. 01 Dec. 2013. http://facilities.wfu.edu/downloads/tree-care-plan.pdf