All my life, I’ve hung my laundry to dry on a clothesline when the temperature is 40F (4C) or higher. To some, it’s rather quaint and old-fashioned, but to me there is something reassuringly domestic about seeing clothes hung on a line, drying in the sun and flapping in the wind.
One can guess a bit about the people who live there; whether there are children or only adults, what they do for a living, maybe they dress finely or casually. It speaks of life in the current moment and fashion, a snapshot of their lives.
When I was small, my mother washed clothes for nine of us and all those clothes were hung on the clothesline to dry. Breezy weather was best of course, things dried quickly. In winter, the laundry came in freeze-dried, stiff as boards and had to be beaten into softness.
Over her lifetime, my mother must have washed a million diapers and when I grew up, I followed her lead. I stopped at two children (seven would have been insanity), but I insisted on using cloth diapers as she did and everything went on the line (sunlight bleaches and sanitizes naturally).
My contemporaries thought I was crazy to hang clothes outside and not use the convenience of a dryer, let alone bother with cloth diapers when disposables were what everyone used. You see, I loved seeing the diapers and little clothes all pegged out in orderly rows. To me, it was a form of domestic bliss.
When I was in high school, the environmental movement was gaining momentum, recycling was starting and awareness was growing (I remember skipping school to join an Earth Day celebration).
However, it seems I had always been conscious of such things; I was raised frugally and woe to any one of us who wasted anything, be it electricity or aluminum foil. So when it came to washing, why waste money and resources when Nature dried your clothes for free?
In the recent years, awareness of climate change has brought a resurgence of that earlier Earth Day consciousness. It is a victory for Mother Earth when people start looking at their consumption with an eye to conserving resources. Attaching solar panels, driving a fuel efficient car, recycling, and abandoning one’s dryer are adjustments many are making. It may not be easy or convenient as our lives seem busier than ever, but we have to start somewhere.
No longer do I have tiny clothes or diapers hung out (my boys are now grown, with one gone off on his own), yet still there is laundry and it is one of my favorite chores.
Herein lays the blessing: hanging laundry outside can be a mindfulness meditation. When I go outside, all the weary world goes away and I am in the morning sunshine, the breeze gently plays with the hair around my face or whips my clothes frantically. The birds twitter, swoop and fly across a sky that ranges from clear blue to thin, high clouds or puffy, cottony ones. I breathe deeply this moment in time, taking in all around me, simply being here right now. The trees, the sound of the wind tat-tatting the leaves, a crow cawing or a nuthatch calling “ha-ha” as she heads downward on a trunk, searching for insects. Bees drone as they visit flowers from the first crocus in spring to the last asters in fall. I observe and am a part of it all.
In late afternoon, as I return to gather and fold each item, sunlight slants low through the trees and once again I enjoy the renewing peacefulness of nature. A gift for my soul along with wind and sun-dried clothes that smell freshly of the sweet air locked into their fibers. When I slip between the sheets that night, the clean linen scent brings such joy as I press my nose into them and breathe deeply. Ah, it is the best!