When she visits her childhood home, my painter friend always draws me a picture in a letter of her parents’ clothesline at work – it’s the umbrella type with a central pole and much capacity, and it dries clothes on Whirlwind Hill.

I remember summer days at my friend’s old farmhouse here in Washington with a clothesline – a t-shaped contraption with multiple lines. Wooden clothespins, in a cotton bag grown faded and holey over the years, swung on the line. Sometimes we gathered the clothes on the run – getting them in before the afternoon thunderstorm. Clothes gathered into wicker baskets (a bygone object) smelled so good – stiffer than dryer dried. And most certainly without artificial scents.

My old house in Alaska had a clothesline, but it was most often strung with wet camping gear in the summer, and empty in the winter, shaking in the wind. It sagged badly.

I knew I wanted one here but dithered about location. Then, in a gardening magazine I saw a photo of a little garden with a clothesline strung right through it. It drooped through the garden in front of a gazebo or potting shed and looked just as friendly and charming – suggesting a clothesline could go anywhere.

In our new house, energy efficient machines reside on the second story, not in the basement like in my old life. I’d have to haul wet laundry downstairs and outside for the pleasure of towels and sheets blowing in the wind and absorbing fresh air and sunshine.

And so I do. Enjoying a totally ordinary clothesline – stretched along the woods at the edge of the lawn on the waterside, from north to south, where the west wind blows clothes and sheets and towels nearly horizontal some days.

Clotheslines, like canning the season’s bounty, chicken coops, and compost piles, need a little rehabilitation for acceptance, some ingenuity and imagination, (and some covenants changed). A homey, functional, inexpensive thing, they help combat the statistic I read that electric dryers account for 5-10% of the residential energy used.

Hanging clothes is one of those domestic chores, menial tasks that the machines freed us from (and a dryer is often very welcome). But we lose the satisfaction of an orderly line of clothes and an opportunity for meditative outdoor activity: lifting wet clothes from the basket and picking the best place to attach the pin. Do all the socks stay together? How do you pin the jeans – upside down or by the waist? Clothespins attached to T-shirts and tea towels leave telltale pinch marks.

Hanging laundry to dry outdoors is a hymn to a slower life – a Breezy Bluff, sunny day life.

3 thoughts on “Clotheslines

  1. I wish that old clothesline was still functioning on Whirlwind Hill. I’m not sure when it came down, but I miss it every time I’m there.
    What a sweet little painting of your clothesline. I can just feel the breeze and the sunshine.

  2. Oh, how I LOVE the way you take forgotten routines of the past and turn them into sweet pleasures of the present. Thank you for the reminder, Katy!

  3. I was just hanging sheets out on that line! And I had similar thoughts: Boy this takes a long time, and then, thank goodness this takes such a long time. I have a rack here that I put outside, but it’s not the same as a clothesline, not the same rhythm. When I finally have a clothesline here, will you draw mine too?? xo

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