A return to sun-dried laundry

When record-setting heat arrived this summer, I swore off the electric dryer.

In recent years, Americans have discovered the pleasures of slow food – locally grown, thoughtfully prepared, and reflecting the season and the weather. Me, I am discovering the subtle joys of slow laundry.

When, decades ago, I abandoned the clothesline for the dryer, I severed the connection between laundry and nature. Day or night, rain or shine, I could count on washing and drying six loads of laundry in as many hours. It was fast, it was easy, and I didn't have to worry about the weather.

But when record-setting heat arrived this summer, I realized the foolishness of using the electric dryer while the sun was shining. So I bought one of those umbrella-shaped outdoor dryers and set it up in the yard.

I had planned to do laundry the day after I got the outdoor dryer, but rain was predicted, so I held off. The forecast for Tuesday called only for scattered showers. I decided to risk it.

It was a lovely morning. Feeling righteous and optimistic, I carried the first load of wet laundry outside and started hanging – bending down, picking up a wet sheet, stretching up and raising my arms to reach the line, then bending down again. I looked up at the sky, and the sun was shining benevolently on me and my clothesline. A thrush was singing in the woods. A yellow butterfly went by.

While hanging the second load, I noticed some clouds coming in from the west. A playful breeze picked up and slapped a wet towel on my face. The thrush was still singing. I went inside.

I was taking the third load out of the washer when I heard a light patter outside – rain! I ran out and started yanking damp clothes off the line, clothes pins flying all over the grass. By the time I got inside, I was as wet as the clothes.

I considered the situation. I had three loads of wet clothes in baskets, another load in the washer, and the rain was torrential. I was a day behind my usual laundry schedule and at risk of running out of underwear. The logical thing was to put the clothes in the electric dryer and wait for a sunny day to use the clothesline. But I was a fervent new convert to solar drying, and logic meant nothing to me.

I was still weighing alternatives when the sun came out. No way was I going to drag those clothes back outside, however. I was sure that the rain would start again any minute. Besides, my arms were tired.

But the rain did not return. Instead, the sun shone mildly, the birds resumed their song. I tried to distract myself from thinking of all that solar energy going to waste while my clothes mildewed in the baskets. Finally I gave in, dragged the baskets outside, rehung the clothes, and then washed the rest of the loads, hung them, and left them to the elements.

It was a beautiful afternoon. The clothes would be dry by evening, and I would bring them in after supper. We had barely sat down to eat when my husband said, "Do you want me to help you bring the clothes in? I think I hear rain."

I didn't even look up from my plate. "Leave them," I muttered. "They'll still be there in the morning."

And they were, sopping wet and looking forlorn. But the sun was out, and by afternoon, the clothes were dry. I gathered them off the line, stiff, sweet-smelling, and adorned with an occasional blade of grass. Three days after I had intended, my laundry was finished.

This has been one of the rainiest summers on record. Every day the haying farmers and I peer anxiously at the deceptively blue sky, trying to guess its intentions. Often, the hay and my laundry get wet.

But am I tempted to return to the electric dryer? Not for a moment, even though I have had to thoroughly revise my approach to laundry. I have learned to wait for the sun's good pleasure – the same sun that slowly ripens my tomatoes and gently steeps my herbal tea.

Come winter, I may have to resort to the electric dryer occasionally, just as in a pinch I will eat a McDonald's meal. But that won't lure me from the clothesline. My conversion to slow laundry is forever.

How could it be otherwise? Slow laundry keeps the house cool, saves money, strengthens my arms, and allows me to do my bit for the environment. And it reminds me to turn my face up to the sky and be grateful for the sun and the breeze and the thrushes singing in the woods.

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