Denyse and I began to see signs pointing to Pietown when we were driving through Navajo country (I know this was Navajo country only because I was told so by the young man who pulled me over for speeding. His exact words were: "This is Navajo Country. We do things differently here." words which, if I had a job that allowed it, I would find every opportunity to utter) on our way to Quemado, New mexico, our meeting spot for our Overnight Experience at the Lightning Field. As we drove we saw signs pointing us towards both Quemado and Pietown, along with a few other place names that I recognized from four days with the map in my lap.
I liked the feeling of hurtling towards pie. I suppose I was a little nervous about this whole Lightning Field thing: Will I get it? Will it get me? Who else will be there with us in the vast desert surrounded by Lightning rods, stars, and darting rabbits? Will they have coffee? will they have MILK? Everyone knows that nothing is a better match for nerves than pie, so the signs were giving me a lot of comfort in their simple promise and straightforwardness. But suddenly we found ourselves at an intersection that forced us to decide: Right to Quemado (and serious art) or left... to Pietown. No scary mystery as to what will happen to you in a place called Pietown, but a place called Lightning Field, on the other hand, that could mean a lot of things. Denyse calmly told me that we did not have time for a quick trip to Pietown, we needed to be on time to meet our ride out to the Lightning Field. I agreed, there was probably no such thing as a Quick Trip to Pietown anyway. We would go the next day on our way back to Albequerque, she promised. The pie would wait. That's the other thing about Pietown. It's not going anywhere.
I could probably stand a day away from eating pie anyway. Denyse has the metabolism and dining schedule of a hummingbird and a sweet tooth that puts my 10 year old niece to shame. After a week or so of keeping up, I had gained a noticeable amount of weight. Only one pair of pants in my suitcase still fit and my silhouette was expanding with the rapidity and soft force of a chia pet. I'm not a small girl to begin with, mind you. On laundry day in Santa Fe when I was folding our clothes I had noticed that Denyse's underpants looked like my underpants had had a baby. She's as slender as a cat (not my cat). And really, that girl can eat. Still, this was little solace as we took a right and made our way towards Quemado.
The Lightning Field exceeded any expectations. Vast flat land stretched out in every direction, with a central flat expanse a mile wide and a kilometer long studded with row after row of tall, thin, stainless steel poles, their tips sharp like needles, measuring up to 26 feet in height. There were six of us in total, two couples and Denyse and I. We ate and slept in an old ranch-house, as lovely as anywhere I have ever spent a night in my life, spending much of our time on the low slung back porch watching the sun rise and set and marveling, in general, at the universe.
Opportunities for exploration, study, and pontification were endless. Everything about the place from the smile lines on the face of the real-life cowboy who drove us out there to the small bleached skeletons collected by past visitors and arranged carefully along an outside wall commanded our full attention. Something about the fact that a whole day was given to us in the form of a work of art allowed for a certain outwardly view of our lives past and present, and about who we were when everything about us was left behind. I felt myself describing my work to someone as though I was describing someone else's job, with little attachment or interest. How nice it was to get away from myself for a while.
We had long been warned to not expect lightning during our visit. An artists statement at the ranch house explains what the poles are really meant to do, what the place is really meant to encourage and provide, but little explanation is needed, even without lightning. It was lovely, uplifting, and terribly inspiring. I really think, to my relief, that I completely got it.
The publishing of photos of the Lightning Field is not allowed, which is why I have not included any here. The reason for this rule is not what I thought (I had assumed it had something to do with copyright) but has more to do with the fact that the real feel of the place is not something that can be captured on film. Sort of like pie.
By the time we FINALLY pulled into Pietown (population 50) it was mid afternoon. We had been told about a place called The Daily Pie, hard to miss when driving eastbound. I was drawn to the berry pie, personally, but we were encouraged to try the New Mexico Apple Pie, made with green apples, chilis, and pine nuts (or pinons). This is the pie that had made this town famous. This is the pie I will never, ever forget. This is also, happily, the pie that you can make at home thanks to the generous posting of this recipe by the owner of The Daily Pie, which you should definitely do as soon as possible. If you are not a baker or don't trust yourself, you can also order this pie and have it shipped to you pronto. We were told that this is exactly what one Pietown mother had just done for her home-sick daughter who is stationed in Iraq, requiring five days and a large box of dry ice.
After one bite, I completely got it.