Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Thoughts on wind farming from the nineteenth century

Dear Almira, It has been too long since I have written you. I was for a time out of good note paper, then there was a dearth of stamps to be had. But this morning I find I have all of the necessary supplies at the ready and can tell you of the scuffle going on in and around the country regarding the plan for telegraph poles.

In the kind of absurd civic engineering idea that only builders of bridges where there are ferries and canals where there are footbridges can concoct, the telegraph office proposes to erect a chain of wire-poles from here to Boston, in order to facilitate Mr Lowell's business correspondence. A rendering of the entire network was unveiled last night at the lyceum to equal parts applause and outrage.

Can you imagine it: a train of wooden poles, fashioned from trees which have been cut down from one place, their ends lopped off, carted to another place and replanted in holes left by the original trees that had oncebeen there. They are 20 or 30 feet tall, and as many feet apart, planted like pickets with no fence. From one end of town to another, down the post road and on until the State House -- a vertical stand of railroad ties -- all to carry wire to the exchange.

The local Transcendentalists walked out barking scripture or poetry, no one was sure which. Mr Martin drilled his walking stick into the floor with each step, attempting to drown out the Telegraph men and Mr Lowell's toady. Some of the society ladies leaned forward expectantly, certain there must be more to the plan than 30 miles of bare totems. The blue-stocking girls leaned mannishly on the backs of chairs, having already refused seats to some elderly gentlemen from the seminary. They found camaraderie between themselves in a muttering group, which formed a salon of its own in the back of the room.

The chairman from the Telegraph office waved his hands like a conjurer, setting the charcoal renderings side-by-side across the edge of the stage. He touched sections of the drawings as he presented them -- one single finger lightly skimming the drawings as if they were made of water.

I did not know what to think, and I am aghast at the outpouring of support our local barons of industry gave for this blight on our pastoral landscape. How could such an endeavor possibly come to fruition? Certainly, in the harsh light of even a Massachusetts winter's day, one can see that the gash is not worth the gain.

"What of my livery business?" called Samuel Lorimar, from the piano bench he had set to the side after coming in late. "What about my courier boys?"

And it was a fair question, for wiry mill boys who can't endure the heavy loads count on Mr Lorimar to employ them for deliveries to Boston. A top-hatted man with a monocle, unknown to any in my hearing, threw back his head and said Mr Lorimar was "thinking small." "Hire them as telegraph boys," he said, letting the monocle drop. "Twice the jobs in half the time. Save you a fortune you can reinvest in pole expansion."

Mr Lorimar slapped his cap against his hand and missed the nearest spittoon.

"That goes right past my drive," the Widow Carr exclaimed. "I will see that ridiculous array from my morning room. I won't permit it."

The chairman smiled gently and said she wouldn't have to. It wasn't necessary. Widow Carr seemed relieved by the answer, not understanding what he'd said, but one of the Holyoke girls understood well enough and laughed out loud.

I have never been one to stand in the way of progress. After all, I owe my livelihood to the wheels of industry and the ingenuity of innovation. But we have come to ruin if these telegraph poles are the footprints innovation leaves behind. I hope I should not have to see it in my lifetime.

Your loving friend, and social reformer,


  1. Not so different from oil rigs in Texas and Oklahoma or the electric transmission lines all over the country and especially the cell phone towers on every scrap of land you can imagine. Wind power? I don't know. But people get used to the 'intrusion' into their view if it provides them with whatever they think they need to 'survive' in this technological world. M.

  2. Dear Miss Bender,

    I am so pleased to hear your cogent report on the recent meeting at the lyceum. News travels slowly this far from the city and I was thankful to our mutual friend Almira for sharing your most illuminating letter. It is very difficult to imagine this line of tree-poles across the landscape, so I have not yet formed an opinion on this topic, hoping that I will have the opportunity you have had to see a rendering of the idea.

    However, the reason for my response is that there are other rumors that I hear from your part of the country that interest me and I am hoping that you will be able to keep an ear open to gather such information as may come available in the city before it reaches this far part of the country. For instance, it is rumored that a Doctor Bell is developing a talking machine of some sort. Whatever can that be? Would it be safe? and, most curious of all, whatever would one do with it? To what other contraptions would such a machine lead? I hope that you will some day be able to send Alvira information on this new-fangled idea that she can share with me; or perhaps you will be able to debunk the entire notion is a frivolous thought passed on by those who have nothing better to do with their time than to spread falsehood.
    Your humble admirer.


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