On a balmy summer eve, ensnared within a refreshingly air-conditioned chamber, the clamor of the cooling apparatus renders slumber elusive. Hence, I cannot resist recollecting the splendid moments of my childhood, when slumbering beneath the starlit expanse was an enchanting experience.
Over four decades ago, I was yet an unenlightened juvenile residing in the rustic outskirts. During that era, the existence of farmers was relatively arduous. Most dwelled within diminutive brick abodes, while some sought shelter in thatched cottages. Due to their low stature, these abodes boasted minuscule, hermetically sealed windows. Consequently, during scorching summers, the houses metamorphosed into sweltering cauldrons. Even the nocturnal hours were insufferably torrid. Consequently, as the sun descended during the summer season, nearly every household undertook the ritual of cleansing their yards, subsequently relocating tables, chairs, and benches outside their thresholds to facilitate dining, relishing the cool breeze, and slumbering.
My yard, enclosed by a bamboo fence, witnessed this annual custom. As twilight fell each summer, I assisted my mother in transporting the Eight Immortals table from the hall to the yard’s center, adorning it with bowls and chopsticks in anticipation of my father’s return for supper. My mother would fashion mosquito coils out of wheat husks, placing them on the dining table to fend off the pesky insects. Following the meal, my mother would tidy the Eight Immortals table, and my sisters and I would recline upon it, basking in the refreshing zephyr. My father would fetch a sturdy bench and engage in conversations beneath the colossal locust tree, while my mother sat beside us, gently fanning us with a cattail leaf fan, regaling us with folktales passed down from her grandfather’s childhood. As we attentively absorbed her narratives, we would eventually succumb to a deep slumber. Occasionally, my mother, fatigued from her endeavors, would recline on the bench and, after exchanging a few words, drift into a serene slumber. My sister and I would engage in animated chatter about our daily escapades, unknowingly surrendering to the embrace of sleep.
Not solely confined to our yard, slumbering in the open air was equally feasible beneath the shade of trees, in sprawling expanses, or alongside riparian banks. Every night, villagers would brandish cattail fans, hoist benches, door panels, and mats, diligently searching for sheltered alcoves. Some would repose upon door panels, others upon straw mats, and a few atop millstones… Initially, mirthful banter permeated the surroundings. Gradually, as the moon ascended and the cicadas’ symphony dwindled, an intermittent chorus of snores emerged, originating from an unknown slumberer. Soon thereafter, the resonating snores reverberated throughout the vicinity, akin to thunderous rumbles. The breeze carried a vestige of residual warmth and the redolence of verdant meadows, akin to gentle raindrops leisurely infiltrating people’s nostrils and suffusing their innermost being. In that fleeting moment, summer appeared exquisitely warm.
Those blessed with more favorable circumstances acquired bamboo beds. Lightweight and pliable, these beds could be effortlessly transported, either indoors or to the yard. When shrouded by a mosquito net, slumbering upon them ensured a cool and untroubled repose, shielded from mosquito encroachments. Some individuals simply positioned their grand beds outdoors, encircling them with plastic sheets on three sides, leaving one side open for ingress and egress.
Although slumbering in the open air exuded delight, it occasionally presented inconveniences. Particularly during scorching weather surpassing 38℃, the nocturnal hours remained unbearably torrid. Sleep eluded me, as I gazed skyward at the expansive canopy, meticulously counting the twinkling stars. In the midnight tranquility, the croaking of frogs in distant paddy fields gradually subsided, while the chirping of insects in the neighboring grass accentuated the serenity and placidity of countryside summer nights. Enveloped by the lullaby performed by crickets, I leisurely embarked upon the realm of dreams.
Slumbering in the open air, with the resplendent moonlight serving as a makeshift coverlet, the gentle nocturnal breeze banishing corporeal heat, and the glistening dewdrops alleviating weariness and fatigue—this solace eludes the confines of an indoor bed. Pondering upon the ancient adage “the sky as a quilt and the earth as a mat” evokes a sense of heroic romanticism. “I only sit before blossoms when sober, and slumber beneath their petals after imbibing,” resonates with the softness and tranquility akin to Tang Bohu’s slumberunder a floral canopy. I have heard tales of opulent hotels in foreign lands transforming individual chambers into “balconies,” allowing guests to slumber amidst the sun, moon, and stars, harmonizing body and soul with nature. Surely, such an intoxicating and poetic experience must be cherished.
At the culmination of a day’s toil, industrious individuals repose peacefully in nature’s embrace, accompanied by celestial luminaries. This, perhaps, represents the world’s most carbon-conscious and eco-friendly mode of slumber! Alas, the wistful practice of sleeping in the open air now resides solely within cherished memories. With the advent of fans and air conditioners among agrarian communities, none venture outdoors for nocturnal repose. Slumbering beneath the open sky, intimately connected to nature, and nurturing one’s well-being, embodies the pinnacle of summer nights in my existence.