POLES APART

IF EVER A PLACE NEEDED A GOOD JOLT, THE SNOOTY LIGHTNING FIELD IS IT

@rule:
@body:We woke up the next morning before the sun rose, threw on our jeans and down jackets and rushed out to catch the first rays of light on the stainless-steel poles. At 7,200 feet, it was cold.

"Doesn't it look like a graveyard?" Hope asked as we huffed toward the Lightning Field. When we got closer, we could see that not all the poles were equally shiny. A bat was hanging from the top of one, and a bird had apparently succeeded in clinging to the top of another, and of relieving itself at some length. I was cheered by these small signs of nature's fighting back. I was beginning to dislike Walter De Maria intensely and to resent the arrogance of his installation, and I wondered if that was the point.

Hope hiked exactly halfway around the Lightning Field--it makes you act that way; it discourages freeform wandering--while I went back and examined the blanket on my bed. Just as I thought, a genuine Hudson's Bay blanket, something I'd always wanted but could never justify spending the money for. Then I sat down and thought. Everything--the Mission furniture, the enamel plates, the lack of curtains--seemed aimed at a certain class of people. Such items were a shared vocabulary of good taste, an acknowledgement that we wore alligator shirts, drove foreign cars, had gone to good schools and knew about art.

The accouterments of the place evoked the summer homes of privileged East Coast childhoods. There were always metal bed frames in those houses on the New England shore. In the bathroom, someone had installed one of those old sinks with separate spigots for hot and cold water. Those houses always had those sinks, too. It must not have been easy to lug all that stuff from wherever they found it to that cabin in the middle of nowhere, and I was amazed at the single-mindedness of the pursuit.

I went into the kitchen to get a cup of coffee. Barbara was working on breakfast, and, bless her heart, she had wrestled with the percolator and produced the same noxious brew I remembered from the pot I tossed out the window. Faced with the task of outfitting the cabin, almost anyone would have bought a Mr. Coffee. But that would have been too suburban middle class for the folks who owned the Lightning Field. A fashionable few might have bought a Melitta. But that would have been too nouveau riche.

Whoever bought the percolator was after something else. It was part of a Spartan denial of comfort in the cabin that reeked of the worst snobbery. That coffeepot was mechanical, difficult to operate and deliberately out of style. Its selection was not offhand, although it may have wanted to look that way. It had a studied carelessness akin to that New England old-money frumpiness of baggy old tweeds--patched, of course--dumpy old Fords and leaky old wooden sailboats, the tasteful but not at all fashionable style of people who don't need to prove anything. It was impossible to separate the work of art from its packaging. I wished we'd just been able to drive up to the Lightning Field and think about it on our own terms. Walter De Maria and the Dia Art Center had turned it into the very commodity the earthwork movement had been rebelling against in the first place. What they were selling was the chance for people to feel superior. I couldn't wait to leave.

A few minutes later, Hope reappeared, claiming breakfast would never be ready and that she was about to perish of hunger. Then she dug some oat-bran cereal out of her suitcase and went off to the kitchen to look for some milk.

I had another cup of coffee. God, it was bad.

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