Wednesday, April 05, 2006


I used the money from my tax refund to order the Hennessy hammock. What a day it will be when the Hennessy arrives. I’ll be waiting for the UPS man like I used to wait for the mailman when I ordered X-Ray glasses from comic books and the “super magnifying” telescope from Cap’n Crunch cereal.

The idea of stealth camping is growing on me. I like the idea of never again paying twenty bucks at a crowded, noisy campground for the privilege of leasing patches of sod infested with sticks and rocks. On my daily eight-mile walks I see beautiful woods with straight, tall trees that I would rate as highly hammockable. I pretend that I am coming upon them on my walk to Pittsburgh. But there are large yellow signs on many of the trees in front of some of these woods, and these signs say, NO HUNTING, NO TRESPASSING. I ask myself what I will think when I see signs like these on the walk to Pittsburgh. I answer myself: I will think, thank God that I will not be bothered by either hunters or trespassers this evening.

At first, the thought of sneaking into a woods at dusk to spend the night alone hanging between two trees creeped me out. But then I realized that I was on the good end of the Creep Factor. I will be the creepy one. It has been my theory since embarking upon self-propelled adventure thirty-three years ago that creepy people leave other creepy people alone. We creepies are a brotherhood, you see. We only creep other people out, never ourselves. We creep out people who live the whole of their lives avoiding creephood at all cost. (This includes most people.)

I plan, on the Pittsburgh walk, to enter the woods at dusk and vacate before dawn. Let’s say there is a person walking down a country road in Pennsylvania at 5:30 a.m. Suddenly, the person hears something large wandering out of the woods, and that something is clearing its throat. Now, which phantom of the dawn will be wetting pants, the one on the road, or the one emerging from the woods?

On one of my eight-mile training walks last week, I walked into a woods off Route 9. I’d had my eye on this tract for weeks, pegging it as a good one to hang in for practice. I had yet to order my hammock, but I wanted to scout this potential campsite in broad daylight, just to see what would happen. I wanted to pretend to be on the Pittsburgh walk, just to see how it would feel to duck into a cluster of someone else’s trees.

The nearest house was three hundred yards away. I waited for a lull in the traffic, then walked in. I went in twenty-five yards, found two beautiful trees spaced perfectly apart, and stood there. There were no alarms, no dogs, no cops. Holy cow, I said to myself, this will be easier than I thought. I pretended to tie my hammock to the trees. The woods felt so peaceful; cars swished by on the highway; I took a leisurely leak. I watched the drivers’ heads through the trees, to see if any were looking at my leak. None of them looked at the leak, not one. Why would they? “Oh. Harold. I’m going to check all the woods between here and Broomsfield to see if there might be anyone hammocking in them—or possibly leaking.”

I was good to go in more ways than one.

My only other concern was the critters of the woodlands. I like animals, but I do not want eaten by one. In this part of the country, however, there are few man-eating beasts afoot. There are, however, beasts that walk through the woods at night and make twigs snap. They scurry and forage and snap twigs, these beasts, and I do not want to hear them. Of course it’s a deer or a possum or a raccoon—but what if it isn’t?

My son Jefferson and I were in the car one evening when the car started making a strange noise. “What’s that noise, Dad?” asked Jefferson.

“I have no idea, son,” I said. “You may as well be asking me for the secret of the universe. But actually, I do know the secret of the universe. But cars and engines? Sorry.”

Still, I could not let the opportunity pass to offer fatherly wisdom to my son. “Whenever your car starts making noises, do what I do,” I said.

“What’s that, Dad?”

“Turn up the radio.”

I plan on applying the same principle to the problem of snapping twigs: I will wear the best pair of foam earplugs money can buy.

Everything is now in order, all problems solved. And so, Come quickly, UPS man.

© 2006 by Martin Zender