My husband got the clothes line up in the backyard this summer while we were away. We moved our washer and dryer outside last spring; an opportunity to create more space in our small home and also because, in southern California, the impulse to live inside/outside is strong. At our home in Inglewood, doing laundry is simple, 100 or so feet from the house there’s a washer and dryer and right next to it the clothesline. As I was hanging my sheets on the line today, I got to thinking about how, living with our two girls at the cabin all summer in the woods of Wisconsin, doing laundry had a very different feel.
When we all ran out of shorts or underwear I’d grab the red flyer wagon from the shed next to the cabin. I’d usually have to clean out blankets or other kid items before tucking in the overflowing basket. I’d just get the handle in my hand when the door from the cabin would fly open and the new puppy, Harold, would come darting out and run straight for the wagon, jumping up to grab a pair of someone’s undies that were hanging off the side. Right behind Harold would be my six year old daughter who is at a point in her life where she needs to be right next to me most of the time. “Mom, wait, I’m coming too.” “Mei Mei” I’d say, “I am not going to be able to take you in the wagon.” “I know but what about Harold, can I put Harold in?” She’d scoop him up and toss him into the wagon wherein he’d immediately grab the undies I’d just unhooked from his sharp little teeth. “Nope,” I say, taking him out, “Harold needs to run.” “Fine” she shouts, clearly irritated. I brace myself internally for an explosion. This could easily turn into a major battle of patience while she processes that she cannot do what she wants. This time it passes and we are on our way. Mei Mei runs along behind picking up any pieces of clothing that fall into the driveway as we bump along, climbing the hill. Past the sugar shack where my parents make maple syrup in the spring and past the piles of composting hay that’s used to fertilize the large vegetable and flower garden. This time of year the bee balm is showing off its perfect violet/purple flowers and I stop with Mei Mei, “Do you hear the buzzing?” It sounds like an electric amp that’s letting off feedback. The smell is intoxicating mixed with the lilies and roses that grow along the garden fence. Mei Mei darts after Harold off the driveway and onto the walk path. The walk path leads from the driveway up to mom and dad’s house. A few large tree roots threaten to upend the wagon but I level out just in time. And by the time I get to the swing that hangs from two giant Maples in front of my mom’s house, Mei Mei has decided it’s a good idea to give Harold a turn on the swing and he needs rescuing.
“I’ll wait here mom” she says, jumping into the sandbox with Harold to dig holes and make sand pies.
I offload the basket of laundry and lug it up the stairs through the screened porch where I tiptoe past my dad, passed out on the couch with hands folded on his chest, taking a break from building his new garage. Laundry loaded, I say a silent prayer that my parents finally invested in a modern washer that I can turn on and walk away from. I look at the blinking number, 45 mins til I have to come back, load it into the basket again and walk through the woods to the fruit orchard where the clothesline is. Sometimes just getting to the washing machine is enough and if I’m lucky my mom will hang it for me. Then I just hope it stays sunny so I can get it off the line and folded before the dew comes creeping in at dusk.
This whole experience, hard as it is sometimes, makes me realize how laundry becomes a mindless task with little to no thought when our laundry machines live conveniently near or in our homes. Back in Inglewood as I load the wet clothes into the dryer and pull out select pieces for the line I think, perhaps, my husband putting up the clothesline has given me a little of the “hard” back to keep me present in this experience of doing laundry.
**Emily Hart Roth is a storyteller, photographer and on the path to becoming a Forest Therapy guide. Growing up in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, she now splits her time between Los Angeles and the shores of Lake Superior. As a photographer, Emily’s clients include non-profits, food/restaurant and fashion stories. She self-published a book titled Art; a lifestyle.
Emily shares her passion for nature medicine with her community, husband, two daughters, and Harold the dog.