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sleeping outdoors, under a roof of stars


Garden of Kokedera Temple, Kyoto 1980, Tokuriki

Garden of Kokedera Temple, Kyoto 1980, Tokuriki

Almost everyone has a cherished memory of sleeping outdoors.  A roof of stars, a cricket lullaby, the cool air on your face, awakening to the calls of birds and the first rays of the sun.  It’s a welcome relief from the confines of a square room, stale indoor smells, and noisy appliances. 

One particular outdoor sleeping experience made me a believer.  A friend and I were camping in late summer at the edge of a meadow in an oak woodland.  We kept it simple: sleeping bags rolled out on a tarp. The first night I remember thinking, Is nature always this noisy?  How am I supposed to sleep?  To my city-numbed senses, it was all new: the low moan of the wind in the tree branches, the crunching footfall of small animals on dried leaves, the hoot of owls, the distant howl of coyotes.  And that moon—won’t somebody turn out the light?

But by the second night, the living world had woven me into its tapestry.  I fell asleep easily, held by the earth, stroked by sweet breezes, reassured by the rustling of life all around me.  When we broke camp a few days later, I felt like I was being torn from maternal arms.  All my cells, newly accustomed to a deep sense of homecoming, told me that something precious was being left behind.

We were made for this stuff.  Our ancestors were sleeping outdoors long before there were doors to sleep out of.  Our senses, our psyches, our biological clocks are attuned to the rhythms of the sun and moon and the sounds, smells, and feel of the living web.  When we sleep, we renew ourselves; there is no more important time to breathe clean, cool air and hear the thrumming of nature.

Teahouse at Daitokuji Temple, Kyoto by Tokuriki, 1977

Teahouse at Daitokuji Temple, Kyoto by Tokuriki, 1977

Try this at home

If you need a breath of fresh air tonight, you can start inexpensively: Pitch a tent in the yard or pull your bed onto the deck in fair weather. I f you enjoy the experience, you may want to build a permanent sleeping porch or pavilion with a table for your portable Bamboo Zen Alarm Clock.  Or you can alter an existing room to open up when the weather is pleasant; a wall of windows or doors that move aside can bring the outdoors to you.

adapted from Natural Home, July/August 2002 by Carol Venolia

Zen Alarm Clock, Ukiyo-e Hokusai Wave Dial Face

Zen Alarm Clock, Ukiyo-e Hokusai Wave Dial Face

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