12 hours ago
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Like Listening To A House Full Of Music Breathe
For a thousand miles across the Great Plains the wind blew through the open slats of the truck and the harps jostled in their trusses and keened mercilessly. By the time I pulled into the market stalls in Chicago some of them were still humming, but it was nothing like their highway music.
If I live for another hundred years I won't forget that sound.
There was no demand for harps anymore, and every one of those poor sons of bitches was destined for slaughter or salvage. You might think you've heard some piteous sounds in your life, but you haven't heard anything until you've heard a harp being slaughtered. It seemed like the dying just went on forever. It was like listening to a house full of music burn.
That was a desperate time in my life. I needed the money, but after three trips I couldn't take it anymore. When I'd unloaded my last bunch of harps in Chicago I started talking. I wrote letters to the editors of local papers. I made phone calls. With the help of my daughter I started a Facebook page to call attention to the plight of the doomed harps. A young couple in Aberdeen started a shelter, but in six months they only managed to find homes for three of the harps, two of which showed up almost immediately on eBay and went unsold. One of those was eventually found busted up in a truckstop dumpster near Rapid City.
When the shelter couple lost their lease I agreed to foot the bill for a couple storage units at a place just outside of town, and with the help of a few friends I hauled all the remaining harps out there and packed them in so tight they could barely breathe. There was no light or heat in those units, and it was the dead of winter. The thought of it kept me up nights.
Then, just as spring was finally breaking out in earnest, I got an email from a woman in the western part of the state. She said she had a big family spread and was willing to set aside a parcel of land for a harp sanctuary.
In early May I rented a truck --the same sort of truck I used to drive back and forth to Chicago-- and loaded the harps. On the trip out there I got to hear their old highway music one more time, but I swear it sounded different headed west. Lighter, I think.
The woman had recruited a lively group of volunteers to help us move the harps out into the range. After we got them all situated --there were 61 total-- we walked silently back across all that open space; behind us we could already hear the harps beginning to breathe again.
By the time we got back to the woman's ranch house, dusk was settling. It was a warm night, but a gentle breeze was blowing and the harps had begun to really sing.
We all just stood there in the driveway and listened until there was nothing but the darkness and the music of those harps moving on the wind. Pretty much everyone agreed it was the most beautiful goddamn thing they'd ever heard.