Telegraph poles, telephone poles, utility poles-whatever you call them they are everywhere along our roads carrying power from house to house, carrying voices from here to there.
When we were children Dad often took us out on excursions. We went to beaches and picnicked and swam, climbed (small) mountains and dipped in mountain streams, visited historical sites and visited relatives and friends on farms, in villages, towns and cities. We travelled in the family car, first a Navy Vauxhall Viva and the a cream coloured Volkswagon. Between songs and fights with brothers and sisters, if I was lucky enough to be jammed in beside a window, I would gaze up at the telegraph poles from the back seat as they flashed by the miles, the black cables hypnotically swooping past and I would imagine the tiny voices inside being carried across the miles and marvel.
Partly it’s the memory of being on these trips, of moving from place to place with the miles being marked out by the flickering poles that has made a place in my heart for them but there are other reasons too.
That they are made of wood quickly silvered by the elements and often wrapped in tendrils of ivy that makes them seem if not part of nature at least engaged with it. On a sunny day they shine warmly, white, then cream, yellow, pink, red as the sun sinks, batons conducting a symphony of slow stretching purple hedge shadows underlined by shining rivulets left by passing showers and the echo of scalloped cables on mauve roads that twist between the shining ditches.
They have a practical uses too besides the gifts they carry from home to home. Watching whales from my house I can keep track of an animals path by referring too various tilting poles near and far. Some photographers complain that they are in the way of a good shot but then a good photographer should be able to take a picture of what is there not of what is not there. Telegraph poles can add something to a picture, giving scale to an otherwise bland expanse.
They can provide a gentle contrast to the wild hairy nature of the Irish landscape too. I say gentle because though they are man-made and unnaturally straight the years often see them tilting a little, in this direction or that, as if being slowly absorbed by a land which has seduced a succession of invaders.
The lines between the poles, in providing seating for swallows and starlings and gym bars for crows, present us with nature shots galore. How else would I get a shot of the swallows gathering in September or snap those two plump collared doves, a cable sagging under their weight, their breasts catching the evening light even as the clouds are an ominous grey behind?
All this ran through my mind when I learned in recent years of plans to upgrade our electricity network with pylons. Massive pylons would be much harder to absorb than our more relatably sized, leaning, ivy clad poles. Not only that but pylons and their cables are responsible for any number of bird deaths especially where they bisect flight paths of both local and migratory birds. It was heartening to find that the powers that be dropped their plan in the face of opposition. For the moment at least. There’s only so many resources we have as a small country and of those politicians have given many away, including our oil and fish industries. Tourism and environment are really all we have left. It is gratifying to see so many speak out against them but still sad to see that so many don’t.
But I have interrupted my panegyric to poles with a harsh burst of reality. Let us return to the roads of childhood, to the back seat and the sun fluttering on our faces as the telegraph poles flash by leaning this way and that, kept from falling by the sagging swooping lines that carry tiny voices fizzing through the air, our only worry being to wonder when we will be stopping for ice cream and which kind to get.