Would You Please Get This Stuff Out Of My Eyes?


There are certain things that remind me that no matter how smart we Americans are as individuals, as a society we can be just cretinous.

Here’s the short list:

  1. The gasoline-powered automobile. For crying out loud, you can whisper a word into your iPhone and Google will fetch you the proper link.  Can’t we do better than to keep driving the same noisy, polluting technology that you’d find in a Model T?
  2. The fact that we burn coal for half our electricity.  The single most disgusting thing about our civilization, and I’m including the Disney Channel.
  3. Overhead power lines that blight our landscape.

Both of these last atrocities occur because electric power companies are capital-intensive businesses with lots of lobbying power and little competition that don’t really have to answer to their customers.  Now that I think about it, that explains number one, too.

Of course, my argument against overhead power lines will never be as elegant as this little R. Crumb cartoon:

The fact that we allow our shared landscape to be mistreated this way by people whose only idea is a quick buck is evidence of a terrible deficiency of pride in our purple mountains’ majesty above the fruited plain.

Thanks to these overhead power lines, umpteen beautiful street trees are butchered every year.  I constantly see maturing maples with beautiful round crowns pruned into horseshoes. The idea that grand old trees ought to be mangled simply because National Grid and NYSEG are too cheap to move the wires underground, where they belong, is enraging.  A government of any sophistication would never allow it.

Plus, overhead power lines are dangerous in my part of the world, where the winter storms are severe.  I lost power for five days this last week, along with several hundred thousand other people, because the trees snapped like Popsicle sticks in the recent ice storm, knocking out wires as they fell.  People were crossing downed power lines to get to work.  There was an even scarier four-day loss of power a few years ago in a similar storm, except that the temperatures dropped really low and the pipes in my house started freezing and my husband had to heat the chickens’ water on our gas grill.

R. Crumb’s view of progress is tragic, which may explain why he lives in France.  Mine is not, thanks to Typepad, Wikipedia, and my beloved Blackberry.  I like to think that to clear our skies of a mess of wires, electricity just needs somebody really entrepreneurial and consumer-focused to start a new kind of utility, somebody to give the screw one more turn.  After all, you used to have to plug into a phone line to access the Internet, so why not WiFi power?


  1. I lived in a neighborhood built in the 70’s which had underground power lines and I must say it was very nice not to have those poles, mangled trees, etc. Of course the wires did have to be replaced when we started having power outages. But I agree, the governments should just mandate underground lines in all new developments. Gotta start somewhere!

  2. Money talks. You purchased your i-phone, but there’s little incentive to retrofit neighborhoods with underground wiring unless it becomes part of the job creation infrastructure movement. I urge gardeners everywhere to become active in local politics. Volunteer for boards, committees, or other bodies that can implement the changes you’d like to see. Sitting on the sidelines and ranting (this blog excepted) accomplishes nothing.

  3. We live in a rural neighborhood (avg. 4 acres per) with underground utilities and a private road. It’s gorgeous here. Fortunately, underground utilities are done in our part of NC whenever there is a new development — but, there have been too many new developments.

    I hate to see the butchered trees in the Historic sections of our towns and cities.


  4. GREAT post. Thanks for your thoughts and the Crumb animation.

    Reminds me of the Al Gore quote: “political will is a renewable resource.” I would like to think that with a new administration in the white house, we have more of a chance to use our technological prowess for good. We’ll see.

    In the meantime, the Disney Channel should at least be in the top 10, along with throwing compostables in the landfill.

  5. A well-reasoned rant, and I agree, gardeners should volunteer and make their voices heard in local government. I am planning to submit a proposal about banning bas powered leaf blowers at an Albany Common Council meeting–but feel I should get involved in less controversial issues first so I;m not dismissed as some crank (which might still happen).

    May I add bottled water to your list?

  6. I’m glad I live out in the boonies, now, because I don’t need to see all that crap all the time. 🙂 Winter storms are extremely dangerous though. We had several lines down last winter and one of our trees caught on fire. Eeks!

  7. In years past I worked on several downtown revitalization projects. Every community wanted to bury the power lines. It is not just as simple to retrofit in established areas as it is to mandate it in a new subdivision. First, there is a lot of crap underground already that in old cities may not be documented too well. Lots of upfront costs to map this and even then you may cut into something important (Like a T-one line or a water line).

    Second, Where does the wires enter the buildings? In the back, or in the front? The building owners have to do a lot of retrofitting on their own. Third, the power companies told me it is very dangerous where the wires go in the ground and come out, so they don’t like to do a few blocks of a downtown area. This could just have been there excuse not to do it.

    The power companies have downsized their maintence crews to a minimum. They no longer keep trees trimmed away from lines like they use to, so when there is an ice storm their are trees falling on the lines.

    Buried power lines can interfer with your gardening plans. I had come up with what I thought was the perfect location for the fish pond. Dh reminded me that he had buried the power line from the house to the garage in that locatoin. Darn.

    That said, I would love not seeing lines overhead.

    Coal fired power plants? All the power plants in the Ohio Valley just lost a BIG lawsuit for causing acid rain in the East coast. Lots of fines, lots of $$ retrofitting to reduce acid rain. We have quit polluting their air, now they need to come up with a solution to their solid waste and quit sending it to Ohio and polluting our countryside and ground water.

  8. Neat cartoon (sort of).

    I’ve “done” that cartoon (as individual drawings and as a single long strip of paper) several times.

    Always been fascinated (in a horrible way) by the utter oblteration of the orginal landscape by human changes. In my drawings, there’s always one last tree, or other feature, that provides the only connection to the past.

    As for overhead power lines… It would be an immense benefit to have them underground for practical and asthetic reasons, but the cost is high.

  9. Interesting no-one has yet followed up on your first obscenity – the gas-powered automobile. Think what a difference that would make to American towns, no endless sprawl of motorways and spaghetti junctions, no endless suburbia eating up good farm land for growing food, no pollution of the countryside leading to cancers and other illnesses from oil extraction, no supporting dictators or going to war in oil producing countries on any excuse but the obvious.

    Poles, mutilated trees and coal or nuclear-fired power generators are not good, but the gas-powered automobile is definately the #1 cretinous object and something we can all personally work on.

  10. Oh! What fools we mortals be. The word WiFi just reminds me of fairy magic and I’m not a believer, but I will believe in fairies if we could use it for electric power, car power, and power power.

  11. Hi All,

    Have you heard about the 500KV monster line that will run on towers more than 200-feet high, from Virginia to New Jersey, cutting a 500-foot swath through major national parks and environmentally-sensitive areas (not to mention neighborhhods)?

    Residents and towns are up in arms, but no one is listening.

    To learn more, link to http://lists.northbyram.org/lists/info/routeb_info
    which publishes information gathered from Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.


  12. On the one hand, I agree. On the other hand, I’m always amused how easily we forget that all our blackberries, laptops, and, more importantly, the Internet search engines use electricity. Lots of it…

  13. Tibs again. To comment about cars. I am currently reading a 1915 landscape book (updated from it’s original publication date of 1899, and I am at work and cannot think of title or author, a present from my son last Christmas. Yes, I am behing on my reading) Anyway, the auther made a comment about how great the cars and the passenger trains and the electric trolley lines were to repopulate the rural areas. We forget that this was a time of mass migration from the rural farming counties as the country was in full swing of the industrial ages. Rural counties were suffering from population loss and income loss. The car was looked on as the solution: people could have employment in the city and still stay in the country. Wonder what the land use problem will be 100 years from now?

  14. At our rural property we had our hydro line buried 10 years ago before started landscaping. It cost us $10,000 to get a hideous tranformer pole removed from the front garden. (Explanation: our house is more than 250 meters from the road.)

  15. Yikes! Don’t take my car away. I live where I work (farm) which is 6 miles from the nearest pathetic grocery, our church and the schools; 20 miles from a normal grocery; 30 miles from doctors and a decent nursery; 60 miles from big box stores. Yes, UPS and FedEx take care of a lot of my needs but they can’t take me to a doctor appt.

    An answer and replacement to coal-powered energy is Nukes, but even more people freak out about that.

    Finally, I would love to get our power lines underground. For some reason we get hit by lightning a lot. We are on the 4th transformer in 30 years. On the other hand, I love seeing the hawks perched on the poles surveying their territory and where would the migrating flocks congregate before leaving in the fall?

  16. Bush gave the US auto makers 3 months to make a car people want. Billions can be spent now to make idealists transportation come true. I’m still planning to drive a 93 Toyota. If gas isn’t an option I can walk to work. Rich people can dictate how the world should be run and the Walton’s are having a very Merry Christmas!
    I miss John Boy.

  17. I wish they’d underground the lines here but I live along a smallish st. that for some crazy reason was dubbed a Hwy. Even if Berkeley wasn’t incredibly undemocratic and biased against its poorer neighborhoods, people in and out of Berkeley would have a fit if my st. were shut down for the months it would take to underground it all. I despair of it ever happening.

    On the car tip, I finally sold my car a couple months ago and won’t be getting another. I’d wanted to do it for years but my disability and the fact that I have security issues as a single woman doing any kind of nightlife stopped me. Finally, I realized my health would just keep getting worse if I didn’t force myself into more exercise. Luckily, the public transport in the SF Bay Area is decent, if not excellent. People who live along the BART lines here could easily get along without their cars. ZipCar, CityCarShare or plain ol’ car rentals will do if you have to go someplace that has no public transport at all.

  18. I nearly cried when I first saw those Crumb sketches set to music in the eponymous movie. I’m with Ginny on this; real change doesn’t happen without people standing up and talking out, and we’re at a major crossroads for energy policy here. Time to make our voices heard!

    Leafblowers are the devil’s tools.

  19. Rebecca Lindland, analyst for Global Insight thinks“ there is more brand equity than people think, and it would be global. If you look at LandRover and Hummer the miles per gallon are not that far off from each other, but the brand image of Hummer is not aligned like LandRover is.”

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