Yesterday, I was sitting the in the forest. The morning had been spent chasing monkeys up and down several cliffs until they ran off. It was a hot day, and I was greasy from all the sweat soaked into my field clothes. I had ants in my boots, mosquitoes hovering by my ear, and chiggers in my navel. There were fresh puma tracks nearby. And I nearly fell asleep.
Why? Because I was tired. Because it had been a long day. We had lost the monkeys and were staking out a site we were pretty sure they would return to. Because my back hurt from carrying my pack. Because I hadn’t gotten much sleep recently and dammit, the sandy ground was kind of comfy.
But my point is, I almost fell asleep in an area surrounded by things that would keep most people up all night. Hell, a few years ago I would have thought anyone was out of their mind if they had even a momentary lapse in awareness in the jungle. Biting insects and large predators? You can’t even risk daydreaming. Naptime? Forget about it!
Mostly, it comes down to comfort and perspective. After so many years in fieldwork, and so many hours physically in the field, the forest is just another place. I’ve mentioned before about how it’s all relative–every location and environment has its own risks, perceived or otherwise. I’ve simply gotten used to this one. It’s not that I don’t notice the bugs anymore (especially ants, don’t think that I don’t), it’s just that I consider them differently when prioritizing things like efficiency and comfort.
As for the predators, they simply aren’t that big an issue. Not during the day, at least, and not for a fullgrown, healthy human. I’m willing to share my space with large cats with the understanding that they’re more wary of me than I am of them. For the most part, they have no reason to disturb me while I rest. The ones around here don’t consider humans food. And I after a few hours of hiking, I smell far from edible.
I’ve reached the point where I can find a few minutes of sleep just about anywhere. Not that I can maintain it uninterrupted, though. The flip side of all this field time is a whole other issue–I will bolt awake in a near panic at the slightest disturbance, going from coma-like torpor to wide awake, machete-waving fight-or-flight at the drop of a hat. Or the snap of a twig. This means I can cue in to approaching monkeys even while nodding off, but also means that I sometimes scare the piss out of coworkers and roommates.
It’s a skill that comes with a tight balance. While I doubt anyone can literally sleep with one eye open, I can generally sleep with both ears perked. Even in the forest. Certainly when I need it. Just be careful if you have to wake me up.