The Sleeping Enemy: Why Dozing in Public is Anything but Restful

It came up once in conversation while I was sitting in Raven Park, Canmore: the “sleeping enemy” we all become in a public place the moment we fall asleep. Think about it: it’s fine to sit on a park bench with a drink in your hand, or a book. A dog attached. But the moment you tuck in on that bench for the night, the social guard will emerge in some form or another to make it known that you can’t sleep there.

Back in the days when I was drifting along the Trans-Canada living out of an external-frame backpack, choosing where to put my head down was a selective process. I did once get away with sleeping directly under the Terry Fox monument, outside Thunder Bay.

 

“One of the best sleeps I can recall…” David Loopstra dodges hassles near White Bluff, Bruce Peninsula. Photo: Glen Harris

words :: Scott Parent

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Another time, in Lethbridge, I was blasted by sprinklers that doubled duty as sleeping enemy deterrents. I’ve often kept my sleep footprint to the minimum, and dodged any real hassles. But what is the difference between standing or sitting in a public space, and sleeping there? There is a variety of civil actions we can carry out in public spaces and sleeping is not often one of them. Public spaces are usually open only to awake members of society.

Doze and beware.

The wilderness gives us the opportunity to rest in any compromised position we choose, with freedom from complaint about sleeping so comfortably with so little. One night while camping with a group along the shore of Georgian Bay at Boulder Beach, north of Lion’s Head, folks began turning in toward their tents for the night.

Even though you may or may not meet people in the backcountry, let’s consider it public territory. Running into someone sleeping out in the open near a public trail would probably spook the heck out of the average passerby. Why is sleeping in public such a faux pas, even in the wilderness?

My daughter Thalassa, aged four at the time, rested curled into me; both of us reclined against the gently placed stones beside the dying embers of our fire. She wanted to keep watching the moon, and we both drifted off into sleep covered only by the clothes we were wearing. At some point the orange glow of the fire disappeared. By the time 5 a.m. came along, the cold had crept through my bones enough to wake me up. The early-morning sky began to fade the stars, and I packed Thalassa up and headed for the tent to warm up. Singing birds concluded one of the best sleeps I can recall.

Even though you may or may not meet people in the backcountry, let’s consider it public territory. Running into someone sleeping out in the open near a public trail would probably spook the heck out of the average passerby. Why is sleeping in public such a faux pas, even in the wilderness?

There is one place where the dozer can sneak in a nod under the nose of society; but they’ll never get a full sleep in. At the movies, having paid for a ticket, you can sit for two hours and doze as much as you like. Here, the sleeping enemy has found acceptance. And hardly anyone notices.

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