“Those are desire lines,” Greg murmured, almost under his breath. We were gazing at the faint beginnings of a dirt foot-trail that went across a small field to a major intersection.. We were in Corvallis, Oregon, discussing the town’s bicycle-pedestrian situation (we work in transportation).
“Desire lines?” I said, intrigued.
“Yeah. They get created where a sidewalk would be desired.” I felt quietly thrilledIn the bigger picture, desire lines are the traces of our heartfelt needs, including when the thing we need doesn’t yet exist. That’s what makes it a desire. It’s the beginning of a path.
Especially for people who are cultural creatives (if you’re reading this blog you are quite likely one of these), a recurring idea or fantasy may be a desire line.
For example, electric vehicles are the desire line of sustainable transportation, leaving behind the carbon-spewing internal combustion engine that has helped to create climate change.
What we read may reveal our desire lines. My post on working for rent has gotten many thousands of hits over the years, which tells me many people desire a situation like that.
Expensive compost full of organic fruits and vegetables is the desire line of healthy, sustainable eating, sidetracked by eating out. (This would be my household’s compost. I’ll spare you the photo.)
It would never work to take all our desire lines literally. Our needs demand our discernment, in the same way that not every dirt foot-path should be made into a concrete sidewalk.
For example, it’s common to fantasize about steamy sex with someone wildly inappropriate. Those sex fantasies would be the desire lines of vitality, not of the literal need to sleep with your friend’s husband. I’d interpret them as a need for revitalized lovemaking with your own husband or partner. Or if you’re single, the need to take the risk of asking someone out.
Of course, our desires have the potential to break our hearts. Almost A Family, an essay just published in Oregon Humanities, is the understated, deeply moving account of a couple’s thwarted efforts to start a family. It’s penned by my friend and fellow writer Colleen Kaleda. It’s the best piece I’ve read all summer.
Our desires make us more human, more fully alive. They make us richer in what matters. What is a desire line in your own life?