I love those commercials on television that show people sleeping comfortably on perfect mattresses with perfect spring coils that perfectly fit the contours of the perfect sleeper’s perfect spine.
At the risk of sounding perfectly ungracious to the mattress making people, I must confess that, tragically, I am not a perfect person, with a perfect spine and everything. I have a normal spine, such as which most people on the planet possess. Not one of those manufactured spines that are manufactured by the mattress people to fit the curves and contours of made up perfect people who are really nothing more than jellyfish, whose spines, and let us be frank about this, would fit comfortably on a bed of nails.
All this is to say that I had an uncomfortable night’s sleep the other night.
I had an uncomfortable night’s sleep because I did not sleep on my side of the mattress where I normally sleep when I go to bed with my wife; the side of the mattress that has conditioned itself to accept the particular contours of my spinal cord after having slept there since we were married.
I know what many of you are now thinking. “The dope tried to sleep on his wife’s side of the mattress, the side that has been permanently trained to fit his wife’s spinal contours.”
I am not so stupid. When I say that I did not sleep on my side of the mattress, it is because I was out of town on a business trip and I had to sleep on a completely foreign mattress.
To put into perspective exactly how uncomfortable this bed was, let me regale you with a tale of long ago.
The summer I turned seventeen, I applied for, and was accepted into, the Junior Forest Ranger program. This is a program run by the Ministry of the Environment for the Government of Ontario. This program has been designed to extract youths from their city concrete-infested environment and place them into a country nature-infested environment where they can learn to truly appreciate the value of modern plumbing.
I was placed in a country setting that also happened to be an Ontario Provincial Park where people come to camp in their own attempt to escape from the city and live in the country for a few days, usually on weekends.
One would think from the name of the program – Junior Forest Rangers – that we would learn how to range in the forest, at a junior level. But no, most of our tasks were oriented around keeping the city campers’ experience of the country as comfortable and city-like as possible. A good chunk of our time was spent cleaning the 33 four-door outhouses and three comfort stations. Notice that I can recall, even after all these years, the exact number of toilets that we had to clean.
The one week that I was not cleaning toilets, I was on a canoe trip with two other Rangers to clear portage trails of undesirable brush overgrowth. Nature has a way of being randomly inconsiderate in its overgrowth patterns. This brings me to my point about sleeping uncomfortably. Our supervisor for this canoe trip was a classic mountain man. A man who could survive over one thousand hours of watching people pretending to survive in harsh environments on the TV show Survivor.
Our mountain man had a tent for the four of us to sleep in on our canoe trip. This was a rather unique tent in that it was several decades old and the tent poles and tent pegs were nothing but a distant memory, lost a long time ago on some forgotten foraging expedition. So when we bivouacked for the night, the first thing we had to do was find a horizontal tree limb the right height from the ground that we could throw the tent over. Then we had to find some big rocks to pin the corners of the tent down.
The tree limb was our primary target. The ground underneath the tree limb, the ground that we would be sleeping on was secondary. On one particular night, we found ourselves “pitching” our tent over a particularly rough piece of ground. A piece of ground that was comprised of 58% tree roots and 42% rocks.
As luck would have it, we scavenged up some garbage in the form of half-inch thick broken pieces of Styrofoam that we placed judiciously amongst the rocks and roots to add that special “home touch” to natures linen.
So I spent that night “sleeping” on a “bed” of roots, rocks and crumbled up bits of Styrofoam garbage, trying to align my spine between the crevices so that I would be able to continue my portage clearing duties the next morning.
Suffice to say that the aforementioned foreign mattress that I found myself sleeping on recently made me fondly recall that long ago evening as a Junior Ranger, which by comparison to the foreign mattress, was like sleeping on a feather bed made entirely of cloud nines.
My back still hasn’t recovered. So much so that I find myself unable to perform my usual assortment of household duties, like for example, making our bed in the morning. My wife is becoming suspicious that I am milking this whole sore back thing just to get out of doing housework. I am sure that my back will recover just in time for my next business trip out of town to another foreign mattress.
Nick Burn is a freelance writer, husband, father of three, engineer, teacher, and webmaster for the Canadian Catholic Information Network. In his spare time (hah!), he enjoys camping, skiing and reading.