Unexpectedly, a boat pulls near the shore below the house, and soon a diver slips from its cockpit into the water to harvest sea cucumbers clinging to the rocky ledges beneath. Meanwhile, something on land catches the attention of a crewman, and I watch his eyes survey our carport — where this day colorful fabric flaps against the breeze on a makeshift clothesline. I look up at the line then sigh. Going forward, S and I agree, we’ll be more selective in which items we hang seaside.
When we left the mainland to live a year in island solitude (or apparent solitude), we knew there would be some tradeoffs in conveniences — like not having a dryer for clothes. Living away here would mean living without many of the products and services we’d grown accustomed to as urban consumers — things like a furnace, garbage disposal, dishwasher, curbside trash pickup, and a standard washer/dryer.
Because we chose to live so far from Eastsound Village, S and I wanted to depend more on natural resources, like the sun and wind for drying clothes, a woodpile for heating, worms for composting food wastes — affordable alternatives to the more costly conveniences we’d taken for granted in the city
The reality is distance has a cost. The price of gas on Orcas often approaches $4 per gallon. The distance from the house to the nearest gas station is 16 miles. The distance to the nearest laundromat (conveniently located in the gas station/convenience store/wine-tasting complex) is also 16 miles. The distance to the solid-waste facility is 20 miles. Being clean, trash-free and fully stocked with Lay’s jalapeno chips can be expensive.
One way we reduce the garbage we produce — thereby the trash we haul to the facility — is by composting our food waste. Last March, we buried a 30-gal. metal trashcan inside our fenced garden area. Before setting it, we drilled a series of holes in the bottom and sides to allow worms to enter and begin the compost process. The tight-fitting lid is further secured with bungee to keep raccoons out.
Over the last 10-plus months, we’ve filled it with food waste – excluding meat, fish, bones or cheese. Eggshells, fruit peelings, coffee grounds, left-over leftovers are interspersed with occasional organic material, like ash from the woodstove and dried grass clippings to keep the fruit fly population in check. To our credit, it’s now two-thirds full. Including two fewer bags to the dump per year — minus the cost of the can and fuel to the facility — I calculate we’ve saved almost $2.
Still, we have to consider the inherent benefits of compost to future gardens. A few months from now the contents of the bin can be applied to a deserving garden. Perhaps not this garden, which last year yielded only 20 cherry tomatoes and a handful of strawberries scavenged mostly by field mice.
Over the past year, laundry has contributed to our biggest savings but been our most significant tradeoff in convenience. The house — while spectacularly positioned — is not wired or plumbed for a washer or dryer, so we faced three choices early on:
Only S can shimmy successfully up and down the embankment, but she wasn’t keen on the idea. So, that was out.
We tried the coin-laundry route – once. We spent $23 for three loads, plus $8 in gas to and from the facility. Despite the allure of doing four loads up, making the road trip didn’t make financial sense in the long run.
In the end we purchased a portable washer, which has performed surprisingly well — considering the fact it washes, rinses and spins only an average of six pieces per load. But instead of watching S shimmy up and down the cliff, we only have to shimmy the unit to the kitchen sink to do our laundry. It’s a full-day affair, but we’ve grown accustomed to the process.
The truth is, doing without certain appliances is inconvenient, but it isn’t the end of the world. Besides we’re much less judgmental now. Clean enough means “I can wear this again; who’s going to see me anyway?”
IN THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS, WINTER DAYS ARE SHORT, CLOUDS ARE LOW, RAINFALL IS PREDICTABLE AND STEADY. WE CAN’T RELY consistently on sunny hours much less days to help dry our laundry.
But the small-capacity 110 dryer we purchased in November has been — from the beginning — a disappointment. An engineering friend of mine recently described the unit as a “blow dryer with a drum.” It’s a fairly accurate assessment.
We’ve learned in winter, under gray skies and constant drizzle, it’s better to stoke the fire and string laundry along ledges and banisters and chair backs in the safe and warm confines of the house. It’s messy, but it works.
Thank goodness fleece dries quickly.
© 2011 Susan Anderson and “Away here.” Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Additional photos © Orcas Island Photos.