I’m not much of a housekeeper, but there’s one housekeeping task I do enjoy: drying laundry outdoors. There’s a dryer next to the washing machine in our cellar, and I’m happy to use it when we’re out of clean clothes and rain is falling like pitchforks. On dry days, though, if the temperature is well above freezing and the yard isn’t covered by a heavy white blanket, I toss the wet clothes and linens into a big wicker basket, grab the bag of clothespins off the hook by the cellar door, and head outside to the clothesline.
Conservation is one reason I prefer a clothesline — dryers, especially electric models like ours, are energy hogs — but it isn’t the main reason. Even if running the dryer did no harm to the environment and cost nothing, I’d rather use wooden clothespins and a length of rope strung between trees. Garments and linens that dry outdoors have a pleasing, fresh-air smell, and I like the bracing scratchiness of line-dried towels.
Pegging wet laundry to a line is a simple, contemplative task that anchors me to the moment. In that moment, my biggest decision, depending on what item I’ve just picked out of the basket, is whether to use a solid clothespin or one made with two pieces of wood and a metal spring.
It also keeps me attuned to the natural world — to bees and butterflies in the garden beds on one side of the clothesline, to the sounds and occasional sight of the birds in the woods on the other. One summer, I was entertained on wash days by a pair of woodpeckers (yellow-bellied sapsuckers, to be precise) feeding their new brood through a hole in a birch tree. More recently, a bear ambled into the yard one day, snagged a tee-shirt off the line, and ran back into the woods with it. (After that, not wanting to be quite that close to nature, I reluctantly took down the bird feeders that were also attracting bears.)
Vermont’s weather is mercurial, and drying clothes outdoors requires attention to it. We often get rainfall from a passing cloud while the sun is shining brightly; brief showers of that sort don’t drive me indoors with my laundry basket. Now and then, though, I’ll start hanging laundry under a clear sky only to turn around and find dark clouds racing toward me; then I quickly pull everything off the line and retreat to the cellar. But on a sunny day with a dry breeze, the first items I pin up are apt to dry before I pull the last one from the basket.
For me, as a part-time country-dweller, drying clothes outdoors is a luxury not available in Manhattan. I’ve heard of suburban communities with rules against clotheslines. Apparently some people regard them as low-class, unsightly reminders of people and places too poor to afford time-saving appliances. I hope I never have to live in a community that regards clotheslines as a blight.