Line, line, everywhere a line

I read in the book Outside Lies Magic that real cities don't have power lines.

Of course the cities have power lines, but the lines run underground rather than from pole to pole. The author of Outside Lies Magic encourages people to notice the things around them, like power lines. Different places have different types of power lines, and the differences tell a story about each place and the people who live there.

All this talk about noticing lines and poles reminded me of a blog post I wrote a few years ago for another blog. I thought I'd reprint the post here, with thanks to Silvia for reminding me about it.

When the light is right - on days when the sun is bright or at nights when the street lamps are lit - and when I stand in the right place on the sidewalk and look up, the light catches on the fishing line strung between the poles on my street. I see the thin line glistening in the light.

But most of the time, the line that goes from pole to pole down the street, across the street and back again, is invisible. Fishing line, after all, is supposed to be unseen. And, who expects to see fishing line strung above our heads? We don’t see what we don’t expect to see.

I go through my days, weeks, months without a glance at the line running above me. When I walk from here to there, I don’t notice it. The line means nothing to me except when I see it sparkle in the light and wonder, "Why is that there?"

I used to see an orange ribbon tied to the string. Because of that color, orange, I thought the line had something to do with ConEdison, the gas and electric company. The ribbon was the same color as the traffic cones that crews place around manholes when workers are under the street. It made sense that ConEd people would put an orange ribbon on a string of fishing line above the street. It made sense until I wondered why the ConEd people would do that. No reason came to my mind and the theory fell apart.

Sometimes the orange ribbon reminded me of big colorful balls that are strung on utility lines that might interfere with low-flying aircraft. We don’t have utility lines in the city that would snare a plane, but I imagined the lines were strung and ribbons hung because of an Official Government Order to prevent planes from flying into the buildings in the city. That idea was amusing before 2001.

If I tell you that because of that fishing line, my neighbors are free to carry a pen any day of the week from this side of the street to other side of the street as long as they stay within the line, you might think this is another idea of mine that doesn’t make sense.

But it does make sense because it’s true.

I can ignore the line all I want, because the rules don’t apply to someone who grew up singing What a Friend We Have in Jesus. But for others, it represents law, religion, tradition, and The Way Things Are Done. A powerful thing, that line between the poles.

I’m not an expert on eruv, but it’s my understanding that certain Jewish people follow a law that describes what they may and may not do on Sabbath outside their home. That line strung from street pole to street pole in neighborhoods in Manhattan, Jerusalem, Montreal, and other cities, extends the borders of the home. On this side of the line, you are at home and certain rules apply on Sabbath, but on that side of the line, you are outside your home and different rules apply.

To some Jewish people in my neighborhood, this is not a tradition that has been scrolled away. People who follow the tradition look at the line every week before Sabbath to make sure it isn't broken, to make sure the border is intact. (That's how the orange ribbon comes in handy, to signify an intact border.)

To others of us in the same neighborhood, the line is invisible and we don't notice no matter what day of the week.

And for other people around here, the line is a target to toss a pair of sneakers and watch them dangle on knotted shoestrings out of reach. That’s a tradition, too. At least the tossers notice the line.


  1. Wow... You are AMAZING. I think reading you it's even more fascinating than reading Outside Lies Magic.
    So is this the reprint of your post of years ago? You were already writing years ago? In another blog... WHERE? Ha ha ha.
    Maybe you can't tell... you are very intriguing... however, I can see half of your face now, and I like that!
    I'm fascinated by the love and admiration you have for your city, by the things you observe and that make your life and our life so rich. From power lines to religion, to that tradition of tossing sneakers... it reminded me of the tradition of tossing clogs as we read in A Pair of Red Clogs, a book my daughters LOVE and a great friend gave us.

  2. Hmm ... I'm very curious about this book now.

  3. Silvia: the old blog happened a few years ago and it ran it's course. It's no longer on the web, but I still have some of the posts. I might re-print other old posts if they fit...but honestly, I've sorta forgotten most of them! The chapter about power lines reminded me of this one.

    Grace'n'Chaos: I'm happy to pass along the book to you. But be patient...I'm going through it slowly. (That's a CM influence!)