Gallup, NM is hardly worth mentioning but let’s just say we had a bad motel experience which featured multiple phone calls, yelling, eventually getting a refund and moving to a new motel at 11:30 PM. The new place had Wifi (the aforementioned place did not) but was so loud that sleep was minimal.
After leaving Gallup as early as we could, we were so far ahead of schedule that we detoured through the town of Zuni after marveling at how many random men were sitting alongside the freeway since leaving Gallup (we later learned that because it was the 2nd day of the month, they received their paychecks and were waiting for a ride to town to spend it on who knows what). Just in case we thought Gallup was a dive, Zuni proved itself to be in even more decline. It smelled like burned bread and we were sure it came from some of the mud ovens that were featured in nearly every yard. Dogs were on the loose and Nancy had to drive slowly (!) to avoid hitting some. I was fascinated by the sheer size of the elementary school, the tiny middle school, and the even smaller high school, certainly commenting on the graduation rates.
Quemado is a cute town though we didn’t get past Dia’s office and the café next to it that served Nancy an amazing slice of peach pie. Nancy donned her suit for the first time this trip with the briefcase full of glitter confetti, representing an idea we have commented on frequently this whole trip – money buys access to all these earthworks and had we been a patron of James Turrell, we most likely would have had a tour.
Robert, the caretaker of Lightning Field for the last 30 years, did not take us out to the earthwork – instead his sister Tommy drove us. Nancy recorded several of our conversations while making a map in the backseat – one of the best yet on this road trip. We arrived with the sky partly cloudy and the poles barely visible around 2 PM – Tommy had to point them out to us despite me looking hard for them in the distance for several miles.
As soon as Tommy gave us the grand tour and drove off before any sign of rain, we walked out beyond the first couple rows of poles, buried the cat box from New Zealand whose paint had chipped beyond recognition, and snapped two Polaroids. Nancy and I each took naps to make up for the previous evening of very little sleep. Afterwards, I started walking to the east following a well-traveled path looking to fill the nesting box (which ultimately eased my sanity in avoiding rattlesnakes by shaking it nearly the whole way).
I had several epiphanies while walking… I kept thinking about Marina and Ulay walking the Great Wall of China imagining if Nancy started on the other side, where would we ultimately meet? The desire to walk around the whole piece became a necessity as soon as I reached the NE corner. I wanted to understand the scale and sheer size – what 220’ between each pole meant, what it felt like to not be able to count how many poles lay ahead because they kept getting lost in the landscape, etc. I charged ahead, rattling my box, only to stop when I saw a large depression near the eastern perimeter. When climbing down, the cabin disappeared and I was most fascinated by the couple poles that were positioned there amidst the flat earth.
Animal feces – cow, antelope, and rabbit – covered the ground and the terrain changed several times. I remember the art history books talking about how the earth was not even but little did I imagine sage turning into grass, areas of smooth dirt with large anthills protruding toward the sky, deep rabbit holes, and blooming cacti. The poles along each corner resemble a path made around a tether ball pole. I was also impressed with how the sharpened points looked sinister in front of the cloudy sky. The reflections and how the light changed the poles as it fell further toward the horizon made me understand why one had to be here to experience it rather than rely on photographs.
Nancy and I eventually met near the NW corner to see a cloudy horizon toward the north. The sky turned darker and darker until it covered the cabin, eventually producing lightning and thunder which we watched on the back porch for over two hours. The anticipation was tremendous and there were a few strikes that I will never forget (one struck four poles in one blow and another featured the most intense vertical light, striking two posts side by side). Finally, we were cold and the darkness followed by bright light proved to be overwhelming. Dessert and tea on the dining room table and rehashing the day’s events proved to be a perfect ending to an unbelievable day. If we had to go through Gallup to get to this point, it was worth every penny.
Robert picked us up promptly at 11 AM the next morning. He tried to recruit us to be cowboys on his ranch (we deduced Nancy would be perfect for the job) and joined us for a slice of pie at the cafe before we headed to the Acoma Pueblo. He talked about his experiences as the Lighting Field caretaker, what it was like to visit James Turrell's Roden Crater four years ago, and going to NY for the first time - visiting a DeMaria exhibition at Dia Beacon. Nancy and I told him we would be repeat customers and cannot wait to reserve 3rd July 2010 for another visit (this time bringing four of our friends to share the experience).
A couple days later…
Sound is such an important factor at Lightning Field. Trying to distinguish between airplanes flying overhead or thunder in the distance was my first clue that I should be paying attention to what I was hearing. I was very surprised to hear frogs in the rain and realized the next morning that the desert was full of my favorite horned toads (I love them because they look prehistoric). None of the earthworks have been silent experiences whether we are listening to insects or birds chirping or voices in the distance. Lighting Field is the most remote of all five we’ve seen so far and it was by far the noisiest. Equally amazing is how I could not hear Nancy yelling my name from her location in the center of the artwork and my presence on the perimeter. I keep asking myself if it was because I was so immersed in my thoughts but Nancy thinks not. The moment she called my name, her voice fell flat in the desert expanse.