Bruce Haley: 

Home Fires Vol. II 

The Present

If I stand on the hill in my back pasture I can look out and trace a long stretch of the old Applegate Trail, one of the pioneer wagon train routes. Once, while wandering a rocky and remote section of the trail, I found the two halves of a powder flask, battered and flattened and missing the collar and spout. There was a "hanging game" motif stamped into the pieces, a bountiful scene of plenty that would have been only a dream for whoever lost that flask all those many years ago in that unforgiving landscape.

The early emigrant accounts of this region are harrowing. In 1849 Joseph Alonzo Stuart described it as "...a scene of death and desolation. On either side of the road and almost walling it in were the dead and decaying carcasses of horses, mules and oxen mingled with the deserted and dying beasts of the day. One never can realize the horrors of such a situation till called upon to pass through it himself."

In 1853 Velina A. Williams wrote: "...we crossed a desert of pure sand...the route plainly marked by the mummyfied remains of cattle and horses that had perished of thirst and wagons abandoned because there was no teams left to draw them. All kinds of household goods thrown away to lighten the loads, and in one place, sitting not far from the road, was a melodeon abandoned from the same stern necessity."

Geologic time smacks you in the face everywhere you look out here. Human history, on the other hand, appears shallow-rooted, tenuous and susceptible. We build our lives in harsh places and trust to fate or faith or some combination of both, while cyclical Nature dictates destiny.

I can't stop thinking of that melodeon. In my mind's eye I see its buttons and keys and bellows bathed in that hard high desert light, as it sits abandoned and incongruous amidst an endless vista of sagebrush and alkali and rock.

 

What circumstances could have led to such a thing being forsaken?

 

Was it played beside a campfire just the night before?

 

And how far did those notes travel as they pierced the darkness of a strange and hostile land?

Bruce Haley

Bruce Haley is a recipient of the Robert Capa Gold Medal, and his work has been published and exhibited internationally for over thirty years.