The Hundredth Meridianrnby Chilton WUliamson, Jr.rnThe Seventh DayrnThe first thing you notice is the heat andrnthe intensity of the light, glaring on thernwhite-painted adobe walls of Mesillarnwhere Indian rugs, sun-rotted and sunfaded,rnhang behind deeply recessed windowsrnbarred with iron. Stepping outrnfrom the coolness of San Albino on thernplaza after Mass into the blinding Sundayrnnoon had a final quality, like dyingrnsuddenly and seeing God face-to-face.rnThe tourists outside the church watchedrnfrom a safe distance as the congregationrnemerged, as if we were extras in an historicalrnrecreation or a multiculturalrnpageant. Even with the tourists, the silencernat noon was nearly as striking as thernstillness, and the heat. Across the plazarnthe barman at the Double Eagle drewrnthe first glass of beer beneath the polishedrnwood and glass overhang of thernmassive backbar, brought all the wayrnfrom Chicago where it was once a fixturernin the Hotel Drake.rnhi Dofia Ana the air had a perceptiblernbite from acres of ripening chili peppers.rnI found the horses shaded up in theirrnstalls; they emerged reluctantly at myrncall, extending only their heads andrnnecks beyond the adobe wall. Out onrnRedland Drive the neighbors’ horsesrnwhinnied from the orchard at the end ofrnthe road; roosters crowed; somewhere arnpeacock screamed. In the backyard wererncatbirds, grackles, and a bobwhite quail.rnThe catbirds softly cried, the gracklesrnracketed, the quail bobwhited from thernwillow, fig, peach, and apricot trees. Thernhouse with its narrow windows shadedrnby the portal remains cavclike throughoutrnnrost of the summer days.rnIt faces east, giving a view of the OrganrnMountains thrusting from the desertrnfloor through deltoid upsweeps of grass,rnpancake pear, mesquite, and yucca. Thernmountains change, almost from onernminute to the next, with alteration in thernlight produced by the traveling sun, andrnby atmospheric humidity. Change isrnregistered in color, in density, in texture,rnand in perceived depth, the range progressingrndaily from the single dimensionrnof a theatrical backdrop through the secondrnand third dimensions until, aroundrnsunset, it achieves the mystical qualitiesrnof a fourth—fleetingly, aided by thernmoist opacity of the evening light. Becausernit is humid in the south-centralrndeserts of New Mexico in August, whichrnis the monsoon season here.rnAt dawn the mountain peaks are obscuredrnby cloud, the pediments shroudedrnin a bright white mist. By mid-morningrnthe clouds have lifted away from thernmountains and vanished, the sky is bluernoverhead and very hot, and the horizonrndistant and clear. Near three o’clock orrnsooner, if sufficient moisture is beingrnborne in the atmosphere, eariy thunderheadsrnare building in the west. Otherrndays storms amass above the easternrnmountains and spread westward, arnphenomenon I have never witnessed inrnUtah and Wyoming. They are discrete,rnsharply defined systems of chaos in anrnelsewhere serene field of blue sky saturatedrnwith sunlight, preceded by violentrnwinds and blinding clouds of red dustrnsoon beaten down and muddied by thernadvancing rain, and producing fiery displaysrnof corded, muscular lightning,rnbaseball-sized hail, and flash floods. Unlikernsummer storms in the north, thernmonsoons do not clear the air but leave itrnheavy and still at evening, impregnatedrnwith moisture that persists through thernnight. Monsoons ordinarily are a dailyrnsummertime occurrence in the upperrnSonoran desert where they operate likernclockwork, but this year Arizona has experiencedrndrought, while New Mexico’srnown hit-or-miss system has been mostlyrnhit.rnAmerica is the promised land forrnautomobiles, not people. This is true especiallyrnof American cities, and LasrnCruces, New Mexico, is home to somern70,000 human inhabitants now, notrncounting the vehicular population. InrnAmerica, cars stable their humans inrnhumble sheds painted brightly and decoratedrnwith flowers and trees, as peoplernonce maintained the horses that werernthe Neanderthal automobiles. Contraryrnto what James Burnham thought, carsrnare the new American elite to which evenrnthe bureaucratic and managerial classrndefers, as evidenced by the time and attentionrnit devotes to creating a morernabundant life for its automotive masters.rnFor someone who has spent the last 20rnyears in an isolated community of a couplernof thousand people, and whose onlyrnprevious urban experience is of New YorkrnCity (the automobile equivalent of feudalrnEurope), moving to a city built to automotivernspecifications and architecturallyrndesigned to suit the aestheticrntastes of automobiles is a shock. So far asrnthe American city of today is unlivable,rnthe automobile—not gangs, or even ethnicrnpoliticians—is the chief culprit.rnTo escape the city and the traffic,rnhoping to find a trail into the RobledornMountains, I took the highway north, uprnthe valley of the Rio Grande from LasrnCruces to Hatch, an agricultural townrnthat calls itself the Chili Capital of thernWorld and feels as much like Old as itrndoes New Mexico. Following a channelrncutting down through tilted strata ofrnweathering rock, the gray-green riverrnpushes along past grassy bottoms andrnmesquite thickets, vernally fresh andrngreen from the recent rains. Severalrnmiles south of Hatch the Border Patrolrnhad set its orange cones out, divertingrnnorthbound traffic toward the checkpointrnwhere the Mexican-American officerrnon duty looked into the bed of thernpickup and inquired, in a heavily accentedrnvoice, if I were an American citizen. Itrnoccurred to me to recount for him thernanecdote in which the Duke of Wellington,rnwhen asked if he is Mr. Smith,rnreplies, “My good man, if you can believernthat, you can believe anything.” Butrnthe application was elliptical or inverted,rnand the Border Patrol deserves our supportrnand respect. In Hatch this Sundayrnmorning a chili shop sold ristras and Tshirtsrnto the tourists, while outside thernchurch the local congregation stood con-rnNOVEMBER 1997/49rnrnrn