A Priceless Piece of Worn Out Rope

To the untrained eye, it looks like a piece of used-up rope. That is a shame. Every knot, every cut, and each abrasion has its own story.

This old rope may look like it has been through the mill. In fact, it has. But it comes with more than a twenty-five year history of adventure, service, and travel. It started its life in Alaska as a 200 fathom long floatline on a commercial salmon fishing net. The floats were attached to the line and the net was woven on around the floats. After the net was discarded, I salvaged the line. I can still remember the smell. It was a damp, slightly fishy, and a little bit earthy smell. It was also a hot day at nearly 70°. It would have laid in that pile and rotted over the years if I had not intervened.

As a matter of definition, a rope is a rope as long as it is on the spool. After it is cut for a purpose, it is a line. Don't ask me, I don't make up the rules. I can barely speak the language.

With a workload rating of 9500 pounds, I used that repurposed line for just about everything while we lived in Alaska. I used it as a safety line when I shoveled snow off of our roof. I used it to drag deadfall logs out of the woods for firewood. I tied down anything that needed to stay down for real. I pulled cars out of the ditch. I hung game meat in the woodshed as we processed it for winter. I probably made a swing for my kids with some of it.

When we moved back to the States in the early 90's, I used it to lash our awkward load of worldly possessions into the boat and truck. When we built a cabin in the woods in Minnesota, it was used to secure lumber to the trailer for transport, and to suspend heavy wall frames for construction.

I tied off wind-damaged trees with that line to tension and fell the tree away from the house. Amazingly, that worked each time. That success is not a universal guarantee, and I know of people who lost their lives doing that. (Don't try it, hire someone with a bigger piece of equipment.)

Through the years the line would get broken, abraded, or necessarily be cut. As an aside, I have a personal aversion to cutting line. I am sure that is a form of neurosis, but you can never uncut a line, so I do everything I can before I resort to the knife.

Eventually there were only a few pieces of it left. I saved them for use as the bowline on my boat. It is a traditional way of securing the boat to anything. I like it. But the piece in this picture was special: it was the very last piece. I was a young man when I acquired it.

As I unceremoniously tossed that piece of line into the trash can, I ended its long and interesting career. Oddly enough, all those memories were summoned into my recollection by cutting that damaged line and replacing it.

I'm looking around at the old damaged people I know. Every one of them has some story. No doubt some of them laid around in a coil and decayed. But some have been to interesting places and done amazing things.