Recently my family and I moved to an "ecovillage" co-housing community in Ithaca, New York. We were seeking relief from the maladies of modern American living: not enough time, lack of community, and an uncomfortable sense of overconsumption, to mention just a few complaints. One morning while I was physically and emotionally wrestling with the task of doing my family's laundry again, I was struck by a passage from Kathleen Norris' "Dakota, A Spiritual Geography" posted on the laundry-room bulletinboard:
"I get started early before six," Norris writes. "It promises to be a good laundry day: a steady wind but not too strong. Here (on the prairie) no rain is likely unless as so often happens our most beautiful summer days turn dark and violent in late afternoon, thunderstorms pelting us with hail or rain. I think of a friend who is dying, who saved up all of her laundry for my visit. 'I can't trust my husband with it,' she whispered conspiratorially. 'Men don't understand that clothes must be hung on a line.' She was right. Hanging up wet clothes gives me time alone under the sky to think, to grieve, and gathering the clean clothes in and smelling the sunlight on them is victory."
This powerful prose connects me to my feminine life and daily work. Her images of a clothesline on the prairie transported me back to my foremothers. Unlike spoiled me, these women, settlers on the Iowa prairie and the Colorado lowlands, did laundry as a matter of course. I'm sure they never thought to question whether it was their turn to do the laundry, or whether they had time to do it, given all the items on their agenda. These women were not allowed to vote, own property, earn an education or maintain a vocation, might have been writers, educators, policymakers, great thinkers. Their fruits were never brought to bear because the yoke of women's work deprived them of the opportunity to grow.
Check out the May/June 2000 issue of
for more about the natural laundry, including:
• Softening and folding
• Make your own laundry supplies
• Cleaning up the laundry room
• Smart Appliances