I may walk the streets
of this century and make my living in an office
but my blood is old farming blood and my true
self is underground like a potato.
I have taken root in my grandfather’s
fields: I am hanging my laundry beneath his trees.
~Faith Shearin from “Fields”
All day the blanket snapped and swelled
on the line, roused by a hot spring wind….
From there it witnessed the first sparrow,
early flies lifting their sticky feet,
and a green haze on the south-sloping hills.
Clouds rose over the mountain….At dusk
I took the blanket in, and we slept,
restless, under its fragrant weight.
~Jane Kenyon “Wash”
How much better it is
to carry wood to the fire
than to moan about your life.
How much better
to throw the garbage
onto the compost, or to pin the clean
sheet on the line,
With a gray-brown wooden clothes pin.
~Jane Kenyon “The Clothespin”
I grew up hanging clothes outside to dry on a clothesline on all but the rainiest stormiest days. It was a routine summer chore for a family of five–there was almost always a load or two a day to wash and hang outside, then to gather in and fold into piles before the air and clothes grew moist with evening dew. I would bury my little girl face in the pile of stiff towels and crispy sheets to breathe in the summer breezes–still apparent when pulled from the shelf days later.
On our farm, until this summer, we’ve not had a consistent spot for our clothesline so I had gotten out of the habit of hanging them up wet and pulling them down dry. We decided the time had come to use less dryer energy and more solar energy, so the line went back up this year.
I’ve discovered modern bath towels are not meant for clothesline drying–they are too plush, requiring the fluffing of a dryer to stay soft and pliant. On the clothesline they dry like sandpaper, abrasive and harsh. I’ve heard a few complaints about that in the past from my tender-skinned children. I’ve decided it is good for us all to wake up to a good buffing every morning, smoothing out our rough edges.
We live in a part of the county up on an open hill with lots of windy spells, but those breezes carry interesting smells from the surrounding territory that the drying laundry absorbs like a sponge. On the good days, it may be smells of blooming clover from the fields, baking cinnamon Amish friendship bread or bacon frying in the house, or the scent of apple and pear blossoms during a few spring weeks. On more odiferous days, manure spreading and wood stove burning results in an earthy odor that serves as a reminder of where we live. It isn’t all sunshine and perfume all the time–it can be smoke and poop as well.
The act of hanging up and gathering in the laundry is an act of faith. It is trusting, on the cloudy days, that gravity and wind will render all dry and fresh. It is knowing, after the unexpected cloudburst soaks everything, or a constant drizzle keeps it soppy, there will be eventual reprieve. Clothesline drying is for the patient among us.
If I am in too much of a hurry, I’ll surely end up buffed and smoothed, my rough edges made plain.