John’s Copper Harvest

I don’t know if it was the candy colours, or the strong plastic smell, but I found it kind of intoxicating.

Me and some other boys discovered that the BC Telephone Company a couple of blocks away was just throwing away lengths of telecom cable into the dumpster in the alley.

We’d climb or lean into a dumpster and pull out whatever lengths of cable that we could reach. It felt like finding a mystery. What was it used for, and who threw it away? How long had the cables been before they were cut? How were they made, and where, and by whom? I knew the metal inside the wires was copper. Dad had told me that copper was one of the best electrical conductors. How much electricity had these wires carried, and to where?

Me and the kids doing it must have figured that what we were doing could still get us in trouble, because we were kind of furtive and fast about it. Part of me figured it wasn’t really stealing, because it was already in a dumpster, but maybe it was stealing too, because we took what we could without any permission. In fact, to me it felt a bit like finding buried treasure!

Later at home in my bedroom came the secret unwrapping of my ill-gotten gain. I didn’t want Dad to know about it, because he’d probably consider what I did to be stealing. I’d use my little pocket knife to hack off the thick grey outer casing, and out would splay dozens of brightly coloured little wires, with all kinds of lines and patterns on them, and more of the strong plastic smell. It was almost like doing surgery – splitting open a vein or cutting into a tree branch, and seeing the mysterious structure inside.


The memoir and family history of E. John Love