Claire Mancha has a thing for laundry. She has a high-efficiency washing machine, vintage steam irons and a crockpot-like portable washer she takes on the road.

But her clotheslines take the ritual to another realm, even in famously unsunny Oregon. The basement of her Milwaukie, Ore., farmhouse is an intricate lattice of cords hung with slow-drying blankets and jeans. Outside, tablecloths snap on two long lines pulled taut between giant maples. A backup rotary contraption stands at the ready outside the greenhouse, awaiting clearer skies.

Mancha’s enthusiasm for air-dried clothing skips right past her property line. Wherever she sees flapping garments, she dispenses one of the “laundry award kits” she keeps with her. “Congratulations!” says the message attached to a package of clothespins. “You are being a smart eco-citizen by hanging your laundry outside to dry.”

Mancha is one of a vocal group of Americans who see air drying as frugal and even romantic. For Mancha and many others, the humble clothesline is as political as it is poetic. “I have never understood,” Mancha says, “why anyone could object to this.”

But plenty of critics do, even in environmentally aware Oregon. To them, billowing underwear defaces suburban tidiness and harks back to Depression-era landscapes, urban as well as rural. Homeowner associations prohibit or restrict them in an estimated 60 million American yards, says Alexander Lee of Concord, N.H., founder of the organization Project Laundry List. The right-to-dry counter-movement promotes clotheslines nationwide.

Lee launched Project Laundry List in 1995 as a student at Vermont’s Middlebury College.

after he heard Helen Caldicott, the Australian physician and anti-nuclear activist.

In the speech, Caldicott said Americans had the power to reduce reliance on nuclear power if they took such energy-saving steps as drying clothes outdoors.

Since 1999, Utah and Florida have passed right-to-dry laws, and pressure is mounting in California, where an estimated 7 million households have clothesline restrictions, Lee says.

Electric dryers use more energy than most household appliances. American electric dryers each year consume the rough equivalent of 30 million tons of coal, or the output of the nation’s 15 least-productive nuclear reactors, according to a 2004 article in Legal Affairs magazine.

From 1999 to 2002, dryers also were responsible for 12,400 house fires in the United States, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Homeowners in Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon and California have far fewer electric dryers than those elsewhere. According to 2001 statistics listed by the U.S. Energy Department, only 43 percent of Pacific households own them, compared with 57 percent nationwide.

Clothesline supporters like Lee say hanging clothes offers rewards beyond energy savings. “I don’t want to sound preachy,” he says, “but it’s so easy and so beautiful. It’s art.”

It is also time-consuming. In modern American society, most hours are spoken for. And some visitors to Lee’s Web site (www.laundrylist.org receives 9,000 a week) note that laundry duty often falls to overstretched mothers. “One woman said I was trying to reverse everything Betty Friedan had put in motion,” he says.

RB END GLASER

(Gabrielle Glaser is a staff writer for The Oregonian of Portland, Ore. She can be contacted at gabrielleglaser(at)news.oregonian.com.)

2007-04-23-CLOTHESLINE-POLITICS

AP-NY-04-23-07 1711EDT


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