When Howie and I win the Massachusetts Lottery’s Mega-Millions (currently $35 million), we have agreed on how we’re going to spend it: Put those ugly overhead electric/telephone wires underground. We’re tired of the electricity cutting off in the midst of writing, cooking, or about to identify some creature with the microscope. Most of all, we’re tired of looking at the butchery of trees that are far older than the electric/telephone companies. We plan to start burying the wires in West Tisbury and continue throughout the Island until we run out of our gambling gains.
My mother wrote a poem about this very concern :
MAN AMONG TREES
Someone has tunneled
of the trees.
He has ruthlessly cut the elm
leaving no place for orioles.
He has lopped off
the top of the pine
where the sparrow hawk lived.
He has nipped out holes
in the maples
and threaded the trees on wires.
would hang on his chest
a necklace of misshapen trees?
Who would tangle himself
in a net of his own
— Dionis Coffin Riggs
This morning I was thumbing through pages of a 1908 book called, “The Story of Martha’s Vineyard” by Charles Gilbert Hine, trying to find a quote about overhead wires I’d remembered reading. Howie and I were sitting together on the side of the big bed that John Thayer’s son Nate made for us.
Howie was writing a letter on his iPad and set it down in his lap to listen to me. “I know it’s here somewhere,” I mumbled, flipping through more pages. An item caught my attention. “Listen to this.” I’d stopped at a poem someone had written about his grandmother, who, during the Revolutionary War, had fought off a Red Coat who was about to take her cow. She was so angry, she later took the lead weights out of her grandfather clock and had bullets made from them.
“Interesting,” said Howie , touching the screen to save his letter.
I flipped more pages. “And listen to this,” I said, reading him a story about pirates burying gold at Wasque. (Pronounced WAY-squee).
“Umm,” said Howie. He turned back to his letter.
A few pages later , I found it. Here, more than a century after he wrote it, is Charles Hine’s commentary on overhead wires:
The writer would like to express his disapproval of the telegraph-telephone-trolley poles and wires that line so many public highways to the serious detriment of their beauty; the generation is probably not far off that will wonder why such disfigurements were allowed.
Last Thanksgiving, wind whipped off a branch from a tree across the Edgartown Road from us. The branch tore down the wires that brought electricity into our house. On the stove, cooking, were the Thanksgiving turkey, cranberry sauce, soon-to-be-mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, green beans, pumpkin pie . . .
We don’t always mind when the electricity goes off. Candles are lined up on top of the piano where we can find them in the dark, the fire in the parlor fireplace is laid, ready to light. Until 1950, we didn’t even have electricity in the house, and when it goes off, the house is quiet, the way I remember it as a child. We don’t realize how much noise our appliances generate until the electricity is cut off. When it fails, it’s often night. Wind, rain, snow, ice, or someone driving into a telephone pole will do it.
On a clear night, Howie and I bundle up in our warm jackets, pull on our wooly caps and gloves, and go outside to look at the stars. It’s then that we don’t mind those vulnerable overhead wires.
However, Howie buys three or four lottery slips at Conroy’s Apothecary every week.
One of these days . . .