Working with the Sun
Clotheslines are a sweet, simple collector of solar power
by Dotty Holcomb Doherty
I react to weather differently now that I have shunned my clothes dryer. Each morning, I check the trees outside my bedroom window. If sun glistens, it’s time to get out of bed. Time to start a load of wash.
I love hanging laundry out to dry. Stepping outdoors on a sunny morning becomes my wake-up for the day. I don’t need coffee. I enjoy listening to the birds singing and checking on my yard. I laugh at the chickadee’s fussy scolding and compliment his bravery when he slips in for a seed.
Yes, I play Russian roulette with my clean clothes: My birdfeeder sits in the middle of my clotheslines. I remember one afternoon pleading with a catbird through my kitchen window. She had chosen to dance atop my hanging white shirt, and I know how catbirds love berries, especially purple pokeweed berries. She jumped back and forth, oblivious to my concerns, but that day left no deposit.
I love the wooden clothespins, their sturdiness as I spring them, each holding two corners of adjacent clothes or towels. I especially love the smell of the laundry when I bring it inside, even more so on a winter day, when sheets carry the promise of spring. I fall asleep smiling on those nights, nestled in fresh air.
Each time I hang clothes, I hear voices from the past. My neighbor Mary, whose clothesline I borrowed: “It’s a good drying day,” she’d say, as we hung my baby’s diapers, typically waiting until 10am, when the early morning haze would dissipate from the Philadelphia skies.
“It’s a good drying day,” my mother would say when I helped hang the family clothes on the two long lines in our coastal Massachusetts backyard edged in gardens and fruit trees. How many times did my sister and I hang our beach towels and bathing suits on those lines over the summers of our youth?
When she and I were growing up, everyone had a backyard clothesline or one strung between apartments in the city, sheets and shirts blowing in the breeze. Now, many friends live in neighborhoods where clotheslines are not allowed. What are we afraid of? Do we fear it will make us look poor?
To me, the lack of clotheslines reflects different kinds of poverty. One is the poverty of time. We are too busy: getting to work, getting to appointments, getting to children’s games and lessons. Always someplace to go, then too tired when all our getting finally dumps us back at home. Too busy to bring spring into our homes in the middle of winter; too busy to do something so simple to conserve electricity. Which leads me to the second type of poverty, the poverty of awareness.
Dryers typically use 10 times as much energy as washing machines and vie with water heaters for biggest household energy guzzlers, besides air conditioners and furnaces. Do we consider the air we breathe every time we turn on yet another appliance? Do we heed the warnings about global warming and minimize our daily energy use? Only by acting on our growing awareness will we save the true riches of the world.
I felt rich this autumn morning as I hung up my second load of wash. The baby cardinals, decked now in grown-up feathers, fussed impatiently waiting to get back to the feeder. An upside-down nuthatch poked for insects in the sweet gum bark and a young osprey soared overhead. Soon he will head south to find a winter home. Just as I was walking away, the chickadee zipped in for his seed. It was going to be a good drying day.
Contributor Dotty Doherty hangs her line at the edge of Quiet Waters Park.