Nature's lessons about life and laundry

When I use the electric dryer, I throw the clothes in, set the controls, and let everything tumble. That uses less of my time than hanging the clothes on the line outside. But I decided a long time ago not to rush through life, but to savor every moment and every possibility for beauty and learning.

Back when we took care of the Girl Scout Ranch 7,700 feet up in Colorado's Rocky Mountains, I'd shake out laundry and pin it with wooden clothespins to the white line stretching between two trees. Using less electricity to dry laundry is kind to the earth. Electricity is clean where it's used, but it is among the heavy polluters of the industrial culture where it is generated.

Trying to be kind to the earth supports what I'm doing, but I do it for simpler reasons. The sun shines. A wan breeze whispers to the Rocky Mountains. The breeze saves secrets for me through the warming morning, if I will come outside and listen.

I step outside to see if it is warm, sunny, and dry enough to hang clothes. It is so wonderful to be outside, I almost can't go back inside to get the basket of wet laundry.

Oregon juncos, small gray birds - the males with black heads and the females with gray heads - enjoy the sunshine just downhill from our clothesline. They eat seeds from winter-dried grasses. A woodpecker raps his beak on a nearby tree, then calls loudly, "whicca, whicca, whicca," into the morning sunshine. A raven flies over to see what I am doing, lands in the top of a pine tree, and watches the spring-green mountainside.

I shake out towels and T-shirts and hang them in sunshine. Somewhere far down the ridge, a Steller's jay raucously warns all forest inhabitants about some kind of intrusion - a bear, a coyote, perhaps a cougar. The breeze toys with the idea of becoming a wind and tries to push me into the clothesline. I add more clothespins in case wind decides to try to blow laundry off the line.

The aspen trees offer densely growing green leaves to sunshine, but they don't close the view below me. I look through their leaves, whispering excitedly to one another in the breeze, to the meadow, a quarter of a mile from where the house sits in pine, fir, and aspen forest. Three deer graze in green summer grass on the meadow and look up, listen to wind, smell it, and look at the world around them. Content with their safety, they drop their heads back to the lush grass and browse across the meadow.

Uphill from me, somewhere in the forest of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir trees, a bird whose call I don't recognize sings a brief song. I will eventually try to see and identify the singer of that song. I like to know my neighbors and those who pass through the neighborhood. The singing bird in question will probably turn out to be itinerant, stopping for a day or two on its way somewhere else, since I don't remember hearing it during several years in the Rockies. If I never see the bird when I can connect it up with its melodious, brief song, I will still be grateful I have heard the brief beauty of its singing.

The bottom of the basket shows. About 40 elk walk through the gap in the rock ridge across the meadow from me. They browse across the meadow and into the forest west of the meadow. I watch them over a line hung with laundry. Elk are beautiful creatures and very cautious. Previous experience tells me if I don't hide behind laundry blowing in the wind, they might not trust me enough to cross the meadow. Most of the time I see their tracks, but I don't see them.

I hang the last pair of socks and carry the empty basket back into the house. I write in the house for half an hour. Because wind blows very dry air off the mountains, the clothes dry rapidly. I take the dry laundry from the wind, wash another load of laundry, and hang it on the line.

I get a different view of my neighbors and of visitors to our part of the mountain when I hang the second load of clothes to dry. I approach the tasks of living in an orderly fashion and get a constantly updated view of the mountain that we call home. There is no modern machine - clothes dryer, television set delivering news, or computer connected to the changing-by-the-second electronic world - that can give me anything that compares with the benefits I get from using my solar-powered clothes dryer. My only regret is that we don't generate enough laundry to keep me at the clothesline more.

I've learned to deal with that problem. I put the empty clothes basket back inside the house, close the door, and walk - in my clean, dry clothing - down the ranch. I might find the bird whose song I heard earlier. Winds and breezes will bring me sounds of wildlife, delicious odors of summer, and dozens of stories about the day and the season of these Rocky Mountains.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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