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Sam Cook column: Hanging in the trees - the hammock movement

Sam Cook

On a run through one of Duluth's woodsy trails the other day, I came upon a young man and woman sitting side-by-side in a bright orange hammock.

The two were engaging in an emerging form of outdoor recreation in Duluth — hammocking.

I had seen a few other hammockers around town. They tend to prefer quiet, wooded spots in parks or just off trails.

I swung off the trail to talk to the hammockers I saw the other day. The young man and young woman sat side by side, just enjoying the evening. I asked what they did in their hammock.

"Just sit, look around," the guy said.

The young woman grinned.

And I think that's mainly what you do in a hammock. You string it up in a beautiful place and just — well, hang out. I've seen them along Skyline Parkway below Hawk Ridge and in Hartley Park. The couple told me that Enger Park was a popular place.

"Because you can look out over the harbor," the young man said.

Some hammock users like to hang them beneath bridges where a stream flows through. Others hang them from trees along the shore of Lake Superior.

Retailers are seeing an upswing in hammock sales.

"Last year is when it really skyrocketed," said Kyler Anderson, store manager at Trailfitters in Duluth. "We did almost four times the amount we'd done in previous seasons. I thought it might die out this year, but it's still going as strong as last year."

The market was primarily college-age students last year, Anderson said. Now, though, high school and middle school students are the dominant buyers.

Hammocks are light and pack down to about the size of a softball. The University of Minnesota Duluth's Recreational Sports Outdoor Program rents hammocks.

Sometimes urban hammock users go out in groups and hang a cluster of hammocks in close proximity to one another. I guess that's social hammocking.

The Duluth Parks and Recreation Division has no policy on where or how hammocks can be used in the city, said Dale Sellner, parks and grounds maintenance supervisor for the division.

"We just request that people use common sense," he said.

I wish hammocking had been happening when Phyllis and I were dating back in Kansas just after the Pleistocene ended. What could be better than sitting with your sweetie, hip to hip on a summer night, watching the fireflies come out to dance?

The hammock happening is refreshing to witness. Some people are quick to criticize today's young people for spending too little time outside and too much on their electronic devices. But I noticed something about the young couple I ran across in the park the other night. Neither one was holding a smartphone. They were just sitting, looking at the forest around them, swaying gently, watching the late-afternoon light begin to wane.

No doubt they were also talking, about the same things young couples have talked about for centuries.

Sitting together, talking, taking in the natural world around them — that struck me as a pretty healthy activity.

Hammock on, I say.

SAM COOK is a Duluth News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Reach him at (218) 723-53332 or scook@duluthnews.com. Find his Facebook page at facebook.com/SamCookOutdoors or his blog at samcook.areavoices.com.

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