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For The Love Of Laundry Lines

I’ve always loved laundry lines. The Big Smoky Valley in Nevada is perfect for installing a laundry line. Starting here in Spring, the wind starts blowing and rarely lets up during the long afternoons. I love it. This year, I finally put up my own clothesline and couldn’t be happier. Far from the city, under blue skies and through warm breeze, my clothes methodically flap back and forth, making for a colorful dance of clothes, towels and rags in the late day sun.


My love for laundry lines began when touring Europe. Europeans don’t opt easily for electric clothes dryers like Americans do. In Europe, especially Italy, I saw laundry lines everywhere, and not just in the country. Strung between houses, fitted between buildings, edged between narrow streets and walkways. Some of these installs were very creative.


When I came back to the US, I noticed the absence of laundry lines. When I was a kid, every mom was outside, clothes basket in hand, hanging the family laundry out to dry. Years ago, I decided to chronicle laundry lines as theme for a photography class. I drove around Southern California and didn’t find much interesting (I mean in the way of laundry lines). Heading North, I finally stopped to photograph a compelling set of wet clothes in Petaluma, California.The laundry line of my dreams was cemented in the ground 714 miles from where I started. I was smitten. The owner of the line, noticing my excitement, asked me if I wanted him to put another sock or two on the line. “No, I exclaimed. “Your line is just perfect.”  The resulting black and white photo, titled “Strung Out In Petaluma,” still hangs proudly in my house, right next to the washing machine.


Laundry lines are a visceral experience. Like putting together a puzzle, you have to figure out how that wet pile of fabric just tugged from the washer will be laid on the line. Sheets are heavy, and demand additional clothespins to secure. Then there’s the ground. Here in the Smoky Valley, if I drop a piece of clothing, it will fall on the ground, picking up a fine layer of dust, so I have to be careful. Sliding the laundry basket left to right with my foot, I finally get all the pants, shirts, underwear, cleaning cloths and towels into place. A bird always seems to tweet while I’m hanging laundry. An alfalfa truck lumbers down Hwy 376. I have five, 20 foot cotton lines. I’ve learned a few tricks to save time, sliding my clothespin bag on one line while loading clothes onto another.  I play with the colors, intentionally hanging one color of micro fiber rags, or mix things up with a variety of shapes and sizes. Once the laundry is mounted, I can sit back and enjoy the show. Sometimes the laundry sits dead still in the heat of the day. Sometimes it snakes in rhythmic patterns as a soft breeze filters through. The clothes cast undulating shadows on the ground, which I love to watch. Sometimes I hear the line sing, other times not. Once in a while it gets hectic, as the laundry acts as perfect weather predictor, the sheets slapping hard, flying horizontal, as a precursor to an afternoon thunderstorm. 


Once the laundry is dry, I am rewarded with clothes that smell like sun and fresh air. Now, I don’t know exactly know how to describe what sun and fresh air smell like, but it smells good.
 Hold the febreeze, please, there’s nothing like the real thing. My percale sheets glide on the bed cool and slightly crisp, perfect for deep sleep. An added benefit of the laundry line is that I didn’t have to burn any fossil fuel to get my clothes dry, just use the wind that has always been there.


Yeah, I’m really diggin' my laundry line. Now you know why. 

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