The Hundredth Meridianrnby Chilton Williamson, ]r.rnCitizen EdrnIt may or may not make sense for the livingrnto think in arbitrary terms of decades,rncenturies, and millennia; what is certainrnis, the dead don’t. Edward Abbey hadrnbeen deceased just two months short ofrnten years and I was defunct about fourrnmonths, entombed that long in the overpopulated,rnelectronicized, ideologizedrnmegasprawl of modern America withoutrnescape or furlough, when I threw therncamp gear in the back of the pickuprntruck and drove 400 miles due west intornArizona to meet Tom Sheeley, on hisrnway south from Flagstaff, in the vicinityrnof Ed’s secret, not quite anonymous,rngrave. Doug Peacock drives out fromrnTucson now and then to say an encouragingrn—or would that be discouraging?rn—word to his old partner in mayhemrnand disruption and empty a bottlernof Jim Beam over the site, and I had beenrnadvised we’d find fetishes and otherrnrelics of remembrance and esteem in thernvicinity. Just how many people havernbeen initiated into this geographical andrntopographical mystery is uncertain, butrnthe number must be very small. Beforernleaving Las Cruces I called Steve Prescott,rnEd’s brother-in-law, in Salt LakernCity for precise directions, scribblingrnthem on the back of a page or two ofrnproperly discarded manuscript while Irnheld the receiver pinned between my earrnand shoulder. Steve gave careful instructions,rnnearly as exact as if he were readingrnthem off a slip of paper or taking them directlyrnfrom a map, but he warned mernthat finding the grave would not be easyrnwork. I told him it was all right, Ed didn’trngive a damn about tenth-year anniversariesrn(a trained philosopher as well as arnnaturalist and poet, he thought in epochsrnand eras rather than in decades), and ifrnTom and I didn’t find where Cactus Edrnwas planted this trip we would thernnext—any pretext or excuse to get lost inrnthe Southwestern desert being an acceptablernone, as Coronado in search of thernSeven Cities of Cibola and the GranrnQuivira proves.rnTen years after Ed last witnessedrnthem, the January skies are browner withrnthe drifting smog of San Diego, L.A., andrnVegas, and the cities of Tucson andrnPhoenix more cankerous and grandiose,rnspreading like toxic amoebas across therndesert and into the side canyons beyond.rnEverything I cherish is either threatenedrnor in the process of being destroyed, Edrnremarked near the end of his life, andrnthings haven’t got any better since 1989.rnIf God has allotted us our three-scorernyears and ten, rather than complain ofrnthe parsimonious brevity of human life,rnperhaps we ought to reflect that in 70rnyears a man—one living in the 20th andrn21st centuries particularly—may see toornmuch; we were not made to suffer andrnperceive such great changes, occurringrnwith the almost incredible speed peoplernhave not only learned to expect but arernnow educated to welcome and embrace.rnThus redefining for ourselves what itrnmeans to be a human being in the 20thrncentury, as our reigning First Female hasrndescribed it. Having a woman aroundrnkeeps a man’s mind off sex—accordingrnto an Abbey aphorism. Could the President’srnproblem be that he hasn’t beenrnspending time enough at home with hisrnwife? Meanwhile, I find it interestingrnthat stream-of-consciousness as a literaryrntechnique was invented before mostrnwriters owned automobiles: amazing thernthought processes that occur as you’rerndriving at 65 miles an hour across the PapagornReservation (the northernmost andrnloveliest extension of the SonoranrnDesert) toward a conflagration of burningrnpink that breaks suddenly from anrnovercast of ashen clouds, then extinguishesrnitself minutes later behind thernwestern mountains like a ship in flamesrnsubsiding in the still, black sea.rnDelayed in Tucson while the fanrnclutch on the truck was being replaced, Irnarrived at the desert crossroads of Why,rnArizona, an hour and a half late andrndrove from one gas station/conveniencernstore to the next until Tom Sheeleyrnflagged me from a gold Dodge Ram withrna tan camper shell over the bed. Tom, arnclassical guitarist who teaches in the musicrndepartment of Northern Arizona University,rnis also an outdoorsman who oncernworked as a boater and camp cook on thernColorado River and as a consultant forrnWild and Scenic Tours, the river-runningrnoutfit on the Green and the SanrnJuan, which introduced him to anotherrnconsultant, Edward Abbey (who, by onernaccount at least, was terrified of Whitewater,rnas every author with a duty to posterityrnshould be). Once when I ventured tornsuggest that The Hidden Canyon: A Riverrnjourney (text by Ed, photos by JohnrnBlaustein) was something less than vintagernAbbey, Tom replied that, after all,rnEd did succeed in capturing the brio andrnesprit de corps of the river-rat fraternity; arnrecent review of the text tells me he wasrnright. To while away the added hour andrna half I had already consumed hangingrnaround the Texaco station in Tucson,rnTom had been browsing the collectionrnof Abbey paperbacks on the truck seat besidernhim, among them One Life at arnTime, Please and Desert Solitaire, Ed’srnfinest production despite his lifelong ambitionrnto write “The Fat Masterpiece,”rnthe working titie of his Great AmericanrnNovel —unfinished alas at his death, orrnperhaps not even begun.rnI had been looking forward to thisrnevening as a culinary milestone in my careerrnas an outdoor adventurer —somethingrnon the order of those safari dinnersrnas pictured in the old New Yorker, withrnchampagne and pheasant, and perhapsrneven white tie and tails—but it was late,rnboth of us felt ravenous, and Tom didn’trnfeel like playing Emeril in the dark. Sornwe drove ten miles on to Ajo, an old copper-rnmining town named for a head ofrngarlic, where Tom had performed a concertrna year or two ago, and drank beerrnwith shots of whiskey in a Mexicanrnrestaurant off the arched plaza shaded byrnpalm trees, waiting for the food to comernout. After supper, while still legallyrnsober, we drove back to Why and continuedrnsouth a few miles, made camprnamong the saguaro, teddy-bear cholla,rnand palo verde, built a fire, whipped arnAPRIL 1999/49rnrnrn