An energy crisis arose last year that has continued to nibble away at our bank accounts. Ad campaigns urged us to change how we cooked, cleaned and used light bulbs, challenging us to modify our lifestyles. But the national election has diverted our attention from cutting megawatts.
I still think it is both wise and virtuous to conserve energy. When I look for ways to save, I look to the past.
I hang my laundry out to dry, just as my mother did. It seems a waste of sunshine not to. Not everyone enjoys the sight, but I admire the droop of lines heavy with towels and colorful clothes. Sometimes my sheets drag on the ground before I clothes pin them, but the smell of sun-soaked cloth outweighs a smudge or two. The clothes dry stiff and scratchy, but when I hang them wet, I play a part in the water cycle every child learns in school – transpiration, evaporation, condensation and precipitation. It's a pleasure to give moisture back to the air.
When I dress the clothesline, I see images of my family hanging, animated by the wind, and I tell them things I might not if they actually stood in front of me. Spreading waistbands, holes in the knees and sports socks that never come clean get lectures. I clip my children's pants, growing, it seems, with each load, and beg them to slow down. I inspect my husband's shirts for wear and pat him on the back. And I think about the clothesline my mother used in our Midwest garden.
She had the Cadillac model of laundry lines – the circular kind that opened and closed like an umbrella. Her springtime laundry rituals began by propping the pole with a rock. Sometimes, during a high wind, the laundry twirled like a merry-go-round, damp arms and legs dancing, underwear tucked discreetly out of sight. If a breeze caught it from underneath, it lifted off the ground like Dorothy's Kansas house. And if it weren't balanced and had too few socks on one side and too many pairs of jeans on the other, it toppled over altogether.
It takes time to hang clothes and time to let them dry. I don't absolutely need a certain blouse or skirt right away. I can wait. Hanging laundry slows me down and reminds me how simple it is to save energy. And when my family rushes for the dryer, I defend my laundry line and point out that it saves not only our resources but also the Earth's – we all benefit from this old-fashioned approach.
Julia Fuerst is a member of GreenTown Los Altos, a grassroots group that works with the city council to implement ways to reduce the city's carbon footprint.