Wednesday, February 19, 2003
by Ginny ONeil
America, Strung with Clotheslines
Christian Science Monitor, September 4, 1998
During the sixteen years I worked and traveled as a fruit picker, I noticed that the migrant women I worked with often evaluated a campground or trailer park on the basis of one domestic amenity: a clothesline. "I like that trailer park where we winter at, down in Bakersfield," one woman told me as we chatted after work. "They got a good long clothesline." Another time a migrant friend came to visit at a house we were renting for the fall and winter. She sat outside drinking iced-tea and surveying the somewhat run-down premises, as if she were searching for something positive to say. "Well," she said finally, smiling. "You sure got a nice clothesline here."
All this clothesline consciousness got me thinking. I had experienced the pleasures of the clothesline myselfin the flowery breezes of spring afternoons, the not-yet pounding heat of summer mornings, the crisp dappled-sunlight autumn days. I'd hung up diapers (yes, I used cloth diapers for both my children), cotton sheets, underwear, and damp blue jeans. Through the years I lived in a pickers' cabin or a trailer, without washer or dryer, I strung a makeshift clothesline between trees in a cherry orchard, or unfolded a portable wooden clothes-drying rack, or used the line in a trailer park or campground, if I was lucky enough to find one. But even when I lived in a house with a washer and a dryer, I rarely passed up an sunny day opportunity to carry the basket of damp clothes outside and hang them on the line.
It wasn't just the sweet smell of sun-drenched clothes as they dried (slightly stiff and crunchy from the baking sun) or the ecological and financial righteousness of saving energy and money that I savored. It was the activity itself: the calming focus of the mindless motions from basket to line, the smell of soap and mown grass and flowers, the brush of a child's small hands at my side, handing me the wooden pins. I was, of course, merely performing a domestic chore as I hung the clothes on the line and took them down again several hours later -- yet even though I questioned many of these chores when my children were young and "home-making" sometimes consumed all too much of me, I never resented hanging up clothes on the line. For somehow it gave me a certain feeling that everything was right with the world -- and my place in it.
I started talking to other people about clotheslines, and nearly everyone had a story or experience. A Greek-American friend told of her grandmother who was so attatched to her ancient T-shaped wooden clothesline poles that she took them with her when she moved from New Jersey to Florida. A Hispanic woman in Colorado told me that she hung clothes outside all through the winter and they somehow freeze-dried on the line. A woman of Sicilian heritage characterized hanging clothes on the line as "meditative and therapeutic" and despaired that she couldn't have one in the yard of her tract home. "When I move, I'm going to have a clothesline for sure," she said. Men were more reticent, but they talked too, especially single men, giving understated advertisements for the power of sun and wind to dry their towels, blue jeans, and heavy shirts.
I came across a book called Clotheslines U.S.A. at a garage sale. It had been withdrawn from the public library at Twin Falls, Idaho. It cost $3.95 when it was published in 1969; I bought it for a quarter twenty years later. The book was an extended photo-essay of clotheslines, by a woman named Helen Mather who drove twelve thousand miles across America documenting the subject. Though some of the photographs were out-of-focus, the subject was oddly compelling and the commentary charming. Mather photographed clotheslines on tenement landings, around farmhouse porches, over taverns, and in railroad yards. She wrote humorously of her conversations with those people she caught working on line: "I would visit with the lady who was hanging out her wash," Mather said, " but as soon as I remarked casually that I was spending the summer just looking at clotheslines, she would look alarmed. 'Now I've heard everything.' She would measure the distance to the kitchen door, in a quick uneasy glace, in case she had to run. I would begin telling her how different clotheslines looked in different parts of the country, but I could tell her mind wasn't on it. She was preoccupied, puzzling whether a person should call the dog warden, the fire department, or the police in a case like this. But when the time came for me to leave, she would walk out to the car with me. When I got in, she would plant her elbows on the window and tell me that if she didn't have a husband and those four boys, she'd come along."
Helen Mather wanted to see if American clotheslines had gone the way of the buffalo, and she found that America was "still hung and strung with them." But since she wrote her book, ominous winds of change have threatened the traditional outside line in the United States. In subdivisions and condominiums --even in an entire town in California -- clotheslines have been outlawed. "No one shall place upon the Property clotheslines, swimming pool filter tanks, fuel oil tanks or similar tanks which may be visible from the street," reads a typical "association covenant" from a planned community in Colorado. A prospective homebuyer interviewed in the Boston Globe said she broke a deal on a house she loved because the development's rules were so restrictive that it would be like living at home with her mother, "except that even my mother would let me have a clothesline."
Subdivisions and condominiums aside, however, how many people still engage in the old-fashioned practice of sun drying their clothes on line? Thirty years after Helen Mather's research trip, I decided to see for myself. I drove from Bellingham, Washington to Sheboygan, Wisconsin, looking for clotheslines. At first, I thought the rural clothesline had been replaced by the ubiquitous metallic shell of the satellite dish. The clothesline had met its demise, I thought, not because of the electric or gas-powered dryer, but because of a more insidious foe: television. I imagined the housewives (if indeed there were still housewives) inside on a sunny day watching Oprah and Martha Stewart while their clothes spun dizzy circles inside the dryer. Lines outside brought power to the houses for washers and dryers, computers, televisions, VCR's -- so people could stay inside, convenienced and entertained. The day of the clothesline was over.
But I hadn't been looking carefully enough. There's a skill to looking for clotheslines, I found. It's a little like birdwatching: you can't be in a rush, and you have to know where to find them. I slowed down, started to look more closely. I drove the back roads and the neighborhood streets, just looking for clotheslines, with or without clothes (I came to tell the 'active' ones even when they were temporarily dormant: they had taut lines and sometimes pins or bags of pins attatched). I got out of the car to walk along the side roads, the driveways and the alleys, peering into backyards. Then I realized I'd been too hasty in writing the clothesline's eulogy. I was wrong: The clothesline is not dead, but alive and well, throughout rural America.
Sometimes I saw it coexisting with satellite dishes; other times with gardens, bird houses, tractors, lawnmowers, children's bikes or toys. I saw a clothesline near a snowpile on Ninth and No Name in Evanston, Wyoming and a clothesline by a shed decorated with cowboy boots in DuBois, Idaho. I saw clotheslines near stone and wood dairy barns in Fon-du Lac, Wisconsin, by golden wheat fields in Wilbur, Washington and by knee-high cornfields in Tipton, Iowa. Near Paradise, Montana, I saw a clothesline suspended from pine trees next to a camper; near Lame Deer, Montana on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, I saw a clothesline strung between two ancient log cabins. Residential neighborhoods in sunny, windy towns like Laramie, Wyoming and Lincoln, Nebraska were clothesline meccas. I saw the blue-and-white clothes of the Amish blowing on the lines in Sharon Center, Iowa, as a horse and buggy traveled down the road nearby. I saw student's clothes on functional rotary driers in the stark gravelIy yard of the student housing complex in Iowa City. I saw a Mennonite woman with her gray hair wound in a bun run out to retrieve her clothes from the line before a rainstorm in Kalona, Iowa and I saw a child peeking out behind sheets in Rock Island, Illinois.
About the only place I didn't see clotheslines outside was in my hometown, Chicago. In my parents' neighborhood on the South Side, my mother used to have a line strung between trees in the backyard. She still has a clothesline, but it's out of sight, in the basement. Some city-dwellers remember lines strung between apartment buildings or stretched from back windows to a huge backyard pole. The sweet and natural elements did not always prevail in the city, where neighbors commented on one another's undergarments, and pigeon droppings stained clothes. The lack of space and abundance of neighbors discourages clotheslines as much as any subdivision covenant.
Not everybody likes clotheslines. My mother remembers her mother's wringer washer with little nostalgia. Before her parents could afford to have the laundry sent out for "flat work" (drying and ironing), they hung the wash in the kitchen to dry. After my mother married, she put the laundry in a baby buggy and pushed it to the laundromat. The advent of the laundromat was "the big news after the war," she recalls. "That, and frozen food." But even my mother and father - who not only remember what they paid for their ABC gas dryer in January 1955 ($200), but also the convenience it brought them - have an ambiguous fondness for outdoor clotheslines.
"I always enjoyed drying clothes outdoors," my mother said. "Especially in South Haven on vacation. Things smelled so good - and there was the view of the lake." My father, originally from Germany, once took a photograph of two women washing clothes in the Neckar River, scrubbing them on washboards, and hanging them up to dry. He was so taken with the image that he painted over the photo with oils and hung it in our dining room, where it has remained for 45 years.
There will always be something lovely about the orderly procession of clothes precisely pinned, something earthy and essential about blue work clothes drying in the sun, something romantic about white sheets pinned to a clothesline and blowing in the breeze. "I saw love of craft, religion, politics, census figures, economics, sculpture, poetry ... all on the scattered, unselfconscious clotheslines of America," wrote Helen Mather. Slow down and look outside, in rural areas and older neighborhoods: It's all there, still, on line
from The Other SyntaxIn the universe there is an immeasurable, indescribable force which
shamans call intent, and absolutely everything that exists in the
entire cosmos is attached to intent by a connecting link. Warriors
are concerned with discussing, understanding, and employing that
connecting link. They are especially concerned with cleaning it of
the numbing effects brought about by the ordinary concerns of their
everyday lives. Shamanism at this level can be defined as the
procedure of cleaning one's connecting link to intent.
The Power of Silence
via The Wheel of Time
The Rationale Behind PrayerBy Sri Swami Chidananda
God, not only being transcendental, but also being immanent, not only
being immanent but also being a specific indwelling divine principle
within each and every body, why is there so much difficulty in
attaining that which is nearer to us than anything else in all the
Even if the most proximate thing is by your side, if you turn your
head the other way and look in the opposite direction, you will not
be able to see it. That is the trouble. That is the problem. There is
nothing wrong with God, nothing wrong with His immanence, nothing
wrong with His immediacy. What is wrong is that our gaze is
elsewhere. So everything is wrong with the direction we have decided
to turn our gaze to.
Therefore, all the saints and mystics have prayed, "O Lord, bless me
and grant that I may constantly remember You. Let my mind be
constantly thinking of You. Let my entire being look only in Your
direction, and may I have no eyes for anything else, no ears for
anything else. Having ears, let me hear nothing except Your name,
Your description, Your glories, Your praise-from saints,
scriptures, teachers, mystics, yogis. Having eyes, let me see nothing
except things pertaining to You, things that will help me to move
towards You. Having a mind, let it think of nothing, but think only
In this way, through all our faculties, let us become only God-
oriented. Let all our faculties move only in His direction. Let us
make up our mind, our entire being, to refuse to focus upon anything
else except the supreme, ultimate, almighty, universal Spirit Divine,
our ultimate goal supreme. This then is the way.
Therefore, we pray to the Supreme Being every morning to bless us
that we may have the ability and strength to so do. We pray to Him.
This leads us into another quandary, another difficulty, another
paradox. All religions, all scriptures, all prophets have declared
that God is omniscient. Does He not know our predicament? When He is
omniscient and He thus knows our situation, why should we pray? Does
He not know? Can He not set it right?
A baby knows nothing; it cannot express itself. But the mother,
through her love and care, intuitively grasps, "Oh, something is
wrong with baby's tummy. It's feeling discomfort; therefore
it is crying." God is more than father and mother. He is everything
to us, ten times more than any earthly mother that Brahma has ever
created. That being so, where is the need to bring anything to His
notice, as though He doesn't know it? Does He need to be told? He
is the eye of our eye, ear of our ear, heart of our heart, mind of
our mind. So what is the purpose of prayer, the meaning of prayer?
This is the paradox and question that faces us when we say, "Prayer
can overcome all things."
A cloth gets soiled. We wish to make it clean, white and shining once
again. So we put it in a bucket of hot water and add soap powder. We
clean it. The water is not in need of the cloth, nor is the soap.
They can serve many other purposes, yet we bring them together. Why?
Because the cloth is in need of water, it is in need of soap.
Therefore, it goes into the proximity, into an active, dynamic
contact with the water and soap. And it comes out clean, white,
completely free from all dirt. It is restored to its original purity.
That is the logic behind prayer. Not because the Lord needs to be
told, not because He does not know. He knows everything. It is
because the one who prays is benefited, is blessed by the contact he
creates through prayer. Prayer has gained an essential place in the
context of the mystical aspects of all the living religions of the
world. They all emphasis prayer. Not because we are telling Him
something that He does not know, that He has to be told, but because
the very act of telling Him elevates us, sanctifies us, blesses us.
Therefore it is that we pray.
Even so, let us pray to revered and beloved Holy Master that by his
blessings we will be enabled to constantly keep ourselves in a state
of continuous contact and communion with the Supreme Being, for that
is the greatest good of man. In that lies the highest welfare of the
human individual. In that lies the fulfilment and success of the
pilgrim soul upon earth, success in ultimately completing this
journey of life by reaching the destination-not having to come
back again to repeat this journey, but making it the final journey.
Supremely blessed are those who are thus graced by the almighty
Spirit Divine and blessed by their spiritual master. May all of you
who sit and hear this word be thus graced by God and guru. God bless
The value of prayer can never be overstated. Prayer is the point
of contact with God. No one can reveal God to another. By
developing the habit of prayer we place ourselves in a position
to receive God-experience, in due time. Spiritual experience can
come only through proper understanding of prayer. Silent prayer
is the preparation of consciousness for the experience of
Divinity within. From childhood one should be tuned up to the
habit of prayer well enough so that at adult age one is ready to
comprehend the inevitable message that unhappiness and suffering
are necessary for the unfolding of the soul within and to stand
that unhappiness and suffering, prayer is the needed nutrition.
PraNAms to all advaitins.
Prof. V. Krishnamurthy
My website on Science and Spirituality is http://www.geocities.com/profvk/
You can access my book on Gems from the Ocean of Hindu Thought Vision and Practice, and my father R. Visvanatha Sastri's manuscripts from the site.MazieHarshaSatsanghHan Shan Letter
This letter was recently discovered, and the original is on display
at the University of California at Berkeley Art Museum, along with
other works of Han Shan.
"My dear mischievous friend Shih-Teh,
As I write this, I hope your health and mind are happy and well. I
have been at Cold Mountain for two seasons now without leaving. I
spend my days sitting alongside the gentle flowing water of the
mountain streams, and among the bamboo trees. I sit and when I get
hungry I eat some roots, leaves, and berries that nature is kind
enough to provide. I do sometimes miss your leftovers you are so good
at saving for me, and especially think of them when I look in the
hollow of a bamboo tube.
Ha Ha Ha!
I am an old man with an ugly lined face. I have seen many things, but
what do I know? Maybe I know nothing. Maybe I know why the rain falls
from the clouds. When the grasses are wet with morning dew, I can
hear their soft voices. I can hear the wind and the leaves rustling.
I can hear the soft steps of a mother deer and her fawn quietly
approaching. I can remember hearing these things when I was very
young. I can remember these things before I was born onto this earth.
I can see many lifetimes ahead of me and am not afraid. I may be very
old yet I do not fear leaving this existence. I only need to look at
my hand; lined and wrinkled, to smile.
I was sitting yesterday at the bank of the river. As I was sitting, a
fish flopped out of the water and lay gasping at my side. The eyes of
the fish were bulging and staring, and the body frantically flipped
and twisted. At last it managed to flop back into the water and swam
quickly away. My friend, how many times do we find ourselves gasping
for air? How many times do we feel as though we are suffocating under
the heavy blanket of society's pressures? Watching the fish today
reminded me of the life outside Cold Mountain. The hectic pace, the
crowded streets, people hurrying this way and that. I want to shout
at them, Wake up!
It is good to be at Cold Mountain. When the cold night wind blows, I
move inside to a cave.
When the clouds cry, I take refuge under the
spreading arms of the trees. My clothing is worn thin, my shoes are
wood, but I am happy!
When I visit you at Kuo-ch'ing,
the monks laugh at such a clown.
I laugh with them-
Ha Ha Ha!
My friend, I write these words to you on the wall of my cave. Maybe
you will see them in this life,maybe you will see them in two
lifetimes. Who knows? Someday, others, too will read my words and
remember Han Shan!"
Cutting off all my hair was easy -
relinquishing schemes of renunciation
is a subtler path, one that even hermits
fear to tread.
I came a long way to forget myself,
forgetting the one who remembers.
Roaming this wide world from
city to shore, I must confess my
journey has been in vain.
The road's red dust still clings to my robes, but
merciful unbidden tears have washed my
eyes clear of distance.
I have always been grateful for water.
The eloquent moisture of a silent sky can banish
the dry arrogance of purpose, but few are
willing to open their ears to hear
that sky start speaking.
Bending to drink from a still mountain pool
I glimpse my reflection and laugh out loud -
I see a head grown wild with hair, no
longer know its owner!