On the Line
2011 Essay Contest-Adult Third Place
Whoosh, whip, whoosh, whip. The clothes of the neighbors hang vulnerably and freely on a string, allowing the Wellington wind to contort them into every form imaginable. We haven’t even been introduced to them yet but I know they have a daughter who likes princesses, one of them saw Springsteen when he toured in 1998, and the mother has a bra in every color of the rainbow. We’ve now been introduced informally. “Mommy, don’t they own dryers?” Is privacy just an American thing?
Slam, plop, creak. We unload the little red station wagon as my dad fumbles to find the key to the front door. My younger sisters and I run around the yard to the other side of the house, too impatient to wait for my dad to open the door. I step up on a rock in the little garden and look out at the harbor. I peer to my left and to my right, and back to my left. Why are these people hanging all of their clothes up on a clothesline? My sister asks my question before I can verbalize it. My mom doesn’t have a definitive answer for her, as she is wondering if she would have to do the same thing with our laundry.
The scene of my neighbors’ clothes hanging on a line is the first image I remember from living in New Zealand. Fresh off the plane, my family drove our little red station wagon up the hill playing Crowded House, in true Kiwi fashion. We looked around for the house from the pictures. I was the first to identify it, sitting there on the ridge overlooking the majestic Wellington Harbor. Assimilation was going to be natural, conformity inevitable. How else would my 13-year-old self survive the next 10 months?
I decided on the first day that I would be involved in the laundry chore just so I could further experience this strange, perhaps cultural, act firsthand. As months passed, the previously thrilling exercise slowly sunk into the mundane. On one of my last days in New Zealand, I stood out on the deck and looked out at the harbor in the same way that I had on the first day. I realized the clotheslines of the neighbors, and did a mental double take. No longer was this scene foreign or uncommon. It had effortlessly become a part of my being, and saved thousands of kilowatts of energy in the meantime.
“Mommy, don’t they own dryers? Why would they put their clothes out on a line, what if birds poop on them?” I finally answered my sisters’ questions. Environmental conscience. The land speaks, the New Zealanders listen. Americans simply talk louder and drive faster and eat more and get bigger and buy larger and…consume. Since my time in New Zealand, I’ve made passionate efforts to reduce my consumption and to enjoy the natural beauty around me. If this means hanging clothes on a line, I’m all for it.
Hannah Greene lives in Washington, D.C.