Crrck – the sickening sound of my underwear breaking. “Oh no,” I mutter, and quickly bend it back into shape as if that will fix it again. It hangs there, an ice sculpture, modern wilderness art, it’s message loud and clear: I should have wrung it out properly before hanging it over the line.
I move on to the next stiff clump of fabric, festooned with icicles like everything on my laundry line. Hesitantly, I break the ice off and try to unbend this pair of underwear. No luck, it’s frozen into a solid block right underneath the line. “Just leave it for now,” I mumble to myself and try the next one, and another one. In the end, I manage to bend apart a meagre four pairs. This will have to do. I can’t risk killing off my frozen clothing – I can’t replace it for at least a couple of months.
Carrying the cardboard-stiff pieces into the cabin to thaw out and dry, I chide myself for the rush job of laundry I did. But washing clothing by hand is miserable enough, even when not performed at minus 20. When it’s cold though, and you’ve just proven yourself a complete idiot by kicking ice out of the plastic laundry bucket, thinking to yourself “I hope it won’t break,” and promptly cracking the bucket – when you start off the dreaded chore like that, it’s small wonder that the outcome is underwear ice cubes firmly attached to the laundry line.
Of course that wasn’t the one and only bucket I could have used. Theoretically, there should be two more around. Maybe somewhere in the garden, buried under knee-deep snow. But the thought of avalanche-probing for a laundry bucket through the expanse of white turned out to be as off-putting as the actual washing of clothes. That’s when inspiration, some might call it stupidity, struck: Why not use our large stockpot? Why not, indeed.
The wash cycle went smoothly, a soapy stew bubbling on the woodstove. Even the rinse cycle outside progressed without major problems, my thick rubber gloves fine protection against the freezing water and the minus 20 temperature. It was not until I was almost done that the wisdom of having wet clothing in a metal pot became questionable.
I grabbed a handful of underwear and wrung it out, slightly hindered by my gargantuan rubber gloves, sized for He-man, no doubt. These must have been the four pairs I succeeded in liberating from the laundry line today. But by the time I reached into the pot for more, the top clothing layer was already suffering from rigor mortis.
“Oh no.” My refrain for doing winter laundry, apparently. I pried more clothing out, noticing with dismay how underwear was beginning to stick to the sides of the metal pot. Panicked, I tore it off, trying to ignore the ripping sounds. Only loose fibres. What to do with an armful of sopping wet, half-frozen laundry?
My decision was made for me when half of the load fell into the snow. Interesting how far down into powder it will sink, and how the snow will stick to it. My already strained mood sank with it, and that’s how the laundry ended up over the line the way it did: dripping wet and furred with snow. To freeze solidly within no time, where it’s still hanging today.
While the four rescued pairs of underwear tell their tale of survival in Morse code, water dripping musically on the newspaper spread underneath, I plot my plan to save their brethren. Sam is no help. “Just wait until we get a chinook,” he says laconically. My friend, whom I email my dilemma, finds it incredibly funny – insensitive to the hardships that come with underwear rationing, she says I should build a fire underneath the line.
I tap my fingernail against my teeth. Think, Lisa, think. Pour hot water over it, that should do it. Although everything would be really wet, then. Or if I keep whacking it, to make the ice brittle? Finally, rational thought prevails: Untie the line and bring the whole mess inside. Of course.
And so I stomp back out through the snow with Sam. We loosen the knots and carry the laundry line inside, its frozen load crackling a subtle applause. Another crisis has been successfully averted.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.