Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day and An Oldie but A Goodie

Here in the Arizona Uplands region of the Sonoran desert, spring always comes early compared with most of the rest of the country.  We have five seasons, and spring is generally considered to be February through April, with the season of Foresummer Drought following in the months of May and June.  Foresummer Drought is exactly what it sounds like; a time preceding actual summer with virtually a non-existent chance of rain.  It is not broken until the summer monsoons (changing wind patterns) and their resultant deluges begin, historically around July 4th.

It seems we are throwing "historically" out the window these days.  Today we'll probably hit 105 degrees or more, a degree or two hotter than yesterday.  Historic normals for this time of the year are the mid to high 80's.  We'll get back to normal late in the week, but climate change is real, and will have real repercussions.  Saguaros started blooming in late March, nearly a month ahead of schedule, and before their primary pollinators -- Lesser Long-nose Bats by night and White-winged Doves by day -- arrived in force (only a few scouts had shown up) from their northward-bound trip from Mexico.  Most of our annual wildflowers have long since reverted to seed form, practicing the desert survival strategy of avoidance, skipping summer altogether while lurking in the soil waiting for the right conditions to germinate this fall.  Cactus of all sorts are coming into their own in a riot of color, and the palo verde trees are crowding us with their sulfurous yellow clouds of bloom.

On this 42nd Earth Day (I was an impressionable 19 for the first one), I'm finding myself being more willing to own up to what I've know all along -- what we humans do matters to the health of the planet -- and it's getting harder for all of us to ignore that.

A delicious vegan breakfast!
I cut my environmental teeth on Diet for a Small Planet, but have only recently begun to walk the walk, sometimes more tentatively than others, of its message.  Last October I switched to a plant-based, low on the food chain, vegan diet and followed it quite successfully, in fact joyfully, for over five months (and NEVER felt better).  A two week road trip's challenges derailed me a bit, as did a few other considerations like a husband who didn't want to be on-board 100% of the time and friends and family who didn't know quite what to do with these new constraints.  I've added seafood, sustainably harvested per the Seafood Watch green light list, a couple of times a week, and also eat a few organic, cage-free (not ideal, I know) eggs as well.  This eases up the meal planning at home, making for better marital harmony, and gives us more options for going out, entertaining, or being entertained.  And yet, I feel the pull of a pure vegan diet still, and its unexpected benefit of knowing each day that no animal died or suffered to give me food.  I always knew if I really thought about it, faced the reality of factory farming from the misery of the animals involved to the damage to our planet and the whole unarguable unsustainability of it, I'd have to modify my behavior, and I have.  Some tweaking is still pending, but I know these changes of mine are making a difference.  I'm a better citizen of Planet Earth today than I ever have been, and hope to keep improving.

Today, in honor of Earth Day, we'll watch Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, not start our car, not eat meat, and go easy on the A/C.  One thing this dry desert heat is good for is clothes drying, and our sheets and the tablecloth and napkins from a dinner party we had last night (wild-caught Alaskan salmon) are outside instead of burning up energy in the dryer.  Here's an old post, but one I love, about drying clothes outside.

Happy Earth Day...

There’s something so wonderfully elemental and sensible about drying laundry in the fresh air of the out of doors. Here in the desert with its bountiful sunshine and low humidity, hanging wash outside is not only intuitive, but a pleasant and satisfying task which falls somewhere between a chore and an art form on the housework continuum. For many it is reminiscent of a time when life was simpler, if only made so by the passage of time itself.

Stuffing wet laundry into a machine that is noisy, heat producing, and a squanderer of a non-renewable energy source may be quick and easy, but it hijacks an opportunity to be One with Nature in a delightfully parsimonious and practical way: peeling all those sodden pounds of damp cloth off the inside of the washing machine basket, the outside layers dimpled from the spin cycle’s effort to strain them through the tub’s drain holes; plopping them in a laundry basket and ferrying them outside to endless blue skies and searing sunlight; feeling them instantly begin to give up moisture to the bone dry air.

The clean scent of the laundry soap mingles with the sharp smell of the desert vegetation and dry gravelly soils. My skin appreciates the slight rise in humidity in the immediate vicinity as I begin hanging the laundry. It gets me outdoors for a brief time in a climate that can be a challenge in co-existence during the daylight hours for much of the year.

For many of us, our home owner associations, in their infinite wisdom, have prohibited the traditional laundry line. In this day and age to discourage the almost effortless accomplishment of an unavoidable chore through the use of a limitless and non-polluting energy source can only be regarded as a patent crime against nature. The horror of being exposed to our neighbors’ sheets and boxer shorts is deemed a hideous affront to our sensibilities, instead of some lively and temporary yard art billowing and snapping in the desert winds.

Not to be deterred, I visited our handy hardware store and picked up a collapsible wooden drying rack. Occupying a space of about three square feet of the back porch when in use and extending to chest level, I can strategically arrange a full washer of laundry on this contraption, enjoying the accomplishment of a simple challenge well met. In little more time than it takes to cram my laundry into the gaping maw of my dryer, the damp laundry is efficiently hung on the rack’s dozen or so rungs. Before the last piece is draped, the first is showing the effects of our miniscule humidity, already feeling slightly dry to the touch. Depending on the contents of the load – heavy towels and jeans obviously are slower to relinquish all their moisture than pillow cases and unmentionables – the abundant breeze driven hot air does its job with amazing efficiency, quietly taking advantage of a free and inexhaustible energy source.

Then there’s the bonus of the finished product. Aside from blowing a cosmic raspberry at my HOA, I love the feel and smell of laundry dried outside. Removing the items from the rack, they have an agreeable stiffness, a gentle rigidity. Towels have a pleasurable roughness when first put to use after a shower, doing their job with astonishing effectiveness, and stimulating the skin in the bargain. Cloth napkins and dish towels dry to a pleasant smoothness and are not only satisfying to fold and store, but when retrieved from their drawers are a reminder of having gotten a nice assist from Mother Nature. Perhaps the greatest gratification comes from bed sheets hung outside, smelling of sunshine and dry sage and childhood, their solid smoothness a pleasure to slide into at night. Who could help but sleep better in sheets cloistering remnants of sunbeams shot across 93 million miles of our solar system, convincingly coloring dreams with the certainty of our oneness with the universe?

1 comment:

  1. Well said - I really don't know why we even bought a drier. I think I last used it to dry a sleeping bag after a February night under the desert sky - there is dew, even in the Yuma dunes.