The last time Google Earth flew over my house and took a picture, I had laundry hanging out to dry. The clothesline is strung between the ell of the house and the barn, and the sheets and other white wash I hung out that day create a bright and noticeable line. I can even see the tiny dot that is the clothes basket.
I love hanging out my wash and vastly prefer it over using my dryer. I count hanging laundry among the luxuries of my life. It is part of a right livelihood, to conduct my life in such a way that I have, or make, time to hang it up.
I hate to admit that I think there is an aesthetically pleasing and practical way to do it, too: sheets and trousers at the ends where the line is higher off the ground, and the short stuff—socks and underwear—in the center where the line sags. It’s fun to hang the T-shirts and turtlenecks in a dark to light progression, or to mimic a rainbow. I never just heave the wash over the line willy-nilly.
I learned to hang clothes from my mother who had a grand, long line on a pulley from the back porch all the way across the yard to a tree. My first clothespin bag, made of ticking, with a green-painted, wooden hanger inside, came from Mom, too, and was identical to hers. When it wore out, I made a replica.
Mom dried laundry outside, even in winter. She brought in shirts, pillowcases and dishtowels as stiff as boards, and they clattered into the laundry basket as she took them down. I’m not made of such tough stuff: In winter I hang mine on a multi-rung wooden dryer inside, and save the towels for the electric dryer in my cellar.
Goodness knows there have been times this rainy, drizzly spring when I have tossed laundry into the dryer, turned the timer to the required setting, and pushed the knob. Reluctantly. I discovered that I can save about $20 a month on the electric bill by eschewing the dryer, and make hanging my wash a small, practically infinitesimal contribution to preventing climate change.
Lots of my neighbors, sensible, practical women, hang their laundry out, too. Some of them have children at home who know that if Mom isn’t there and a shower comes up, it is their job to rush out and bring in the laundry so it doesn’t get wet again.
People say, “Oh, clothes smell so good when you bring them in.” True enough. Perhaps it is because of the clean air we have wafting, or sometimes roaring, over the island. After all, we don’t live downwind from a sardine factory or paper plant.
Others of my neighbors live in subdivisions which positively forbid clotheslines. I count that sort of thing among outrages. Lifted-pinky-finger, faux-gentrification is what that is. After all, even Martha Stewart models gorgeous drying yards, surrounded by elegant fencing with viney flowers draped all over them.
Some of our grandest houses had drying yards, back in the day. Old-timers told me that linen sheets laid on green grass bleach in the sun. So it seems to me that the kind of people who live in subdivisions with elegant summer cottages are just the kind of folks who can afford to establish drying yards where their tennis whites can dry in the sun.
I suppose if you live cheek-by-jowl in a condo or a neighborhood with only a car length between houses, seeing your neighbors’ scanties, or rude wording on their T-shirts, might not be very amusing; or perhaps as amusing as seeing your neighbors’ tattoos as they mow their lawns shirtless.
Still, it is time we all got over the no-clothesline business. According to an article on the American Bar Association Journal website there are 19 states with “right to dry” laws, and by gosh, Maine is among them! Essentially, right-to-dry rules prohibit clothesline bans.
One of the comments on the site came from someone called “Island Attorney” who wrote: “Electricity on the island is a very expensive commodity. I use a line to dry clothing, and it saves me a mint.”
Of course, on Islesboro, we are buying electricity through a cable across the bay at the same going rate as mainlanders, so there are no extra savings to be made. For remote islands that rely on generators, drying clothes outside is a no-brainer.
Looks to me like it is time to start asserting our “right-to-dry.” Anybody with me on that?
Sandy Oliver lives and writes on Islesboro.