#9: The Space Between

Walter de Maria's Lightning Fields at dusk.
The Lightning Field, Quemado, NM

Friday I arrived in Quemado, New Mexico, for the second anchor in my trip: The Lightning Field. The Lightning Field is a permanent land art installation by Walter de Maria. I first found out about it when I was looking into the The New York Earth Room, another one of de Maria’s installations. The Lightning Field consists of 400 lighting rods laid out in a grid one mile by one kilometer, and the site was selected for its flatness, isolation, and the amount of thunderstorm activity in the area. The work is meant to be experienced over the course of a full day. To visit, you have to write and make a reservation in advance.

At two in the afternoon, our driver, Dave, who had a gray mustache and wore a black cowboy hat, took us forty minutes outside Quemado to the log cabin at the northern edge of the site. He said someone would come by to pick us up at eleven the next morning and then he left, and we were free to explore the field at our own leisure. My four cabinmates and I walked the field at various times during the day, including at dusk and sunrise, when the changes in light were the most drastic and when the rods were most visible against the darkened landscape. We got a little rain but no lighting, though we did see several lightning storms far off in the distance due to the field’s openness. “I used to live in Montana,” one of my cabinmates said. “They call it Big Sky Country, which it is, but this is as big a sky as any.”

There’s so much that I still have to process about my time there, but one thing I was impressed by in regards to the installation, and have been repeatedly impressed by this week in regards to the Southwestern United States, is the sheer scale of the land, the sparseness, the distance between things. There’s enough distance for there to be a place between places. Today when I was driving through a flat, straight, vanishing-to-infinity stretch of New Mexico I was wondering how one’s perception of space might be different having grown up here. My brain went: Would your thoughts come out differently? → Would your stories feel more spacious, have different transitions, even if you were writing about some place like New York? → I should read more novels by authors from the Southwest.

I’m in Alpine, Texas, right now, because Alpine is about 30 miles outside Marfa, and some friends in New York and one of my Lightning Field cabinmates recommended I check out Marfa. I’m planning to head up the Texas panhandle and loop back around through New Mexico and Arizona along Route 66. My rental car is due back in LA in a week and a half.

I’ll be spending a good part of that in the place between places.