The Hundredth Meridianrnby Chilton Williamson, Jr.rnThe WandererrnFor three weeks the wind blew hard onrnthe desert and the nights were very cold.rnThe wind dropped, the days grewrnwarmer, and the snow line retreated onrnthe mountains. The winds came againrnand the red sand stiffened between thernclumps of yellow grama grass before therngray clouds moved out, and then winterrnwas over and it was starting to be springrnin New Mexico. In the sand hills belowrnthe cliff front of the West Mesa atrnBosque Ginny Hoyt and I sat our horses,rnlooking across the Rio Grande valley tornthe Manzano Mountains. The horsesrnwere sweated under their winter coatsrnand an excess of sunscreen ran into therncorners of my eyes and stung there. Ginnyrnrode a long red horse as maneuverablernas a vintage Cadillac, and I was mountedrnon a sturdy white Arab named ThernMouse who Ginny had warned me wasrnquick. Ihmting for rabbits, the dogsrnknocked pebbles down from the cliffsrnaboe and a light breeze hummed in thernsage and rabbitbrush. South a mile fromrnus were the barns and corrals, and thernadobe house that Ginny had built afterrncoming west from Brooklyn two years before.rn”Why would you want to live in NewrnYork City when you can be out here lookingrnat the Manzanos?” Ginny asked.rn”I don’t have any idea. If you do, don’trntell anyone.”rn”Even now New Mexico has a populationrnof 1.6 million. That’s less than thernpopulation of Brooklyn.”rn”It’s still too many people for a littlernstate of only 120,000 square miles.”rn”Does it seem to you that our culturernhas totally lost contact with reality?”rnThe Mouse lifted all four feet fromrnthe ground suddenly and relocated himselfrnseveral feet to the left of where wernhad been standing.rn”That’s what he does!” Ginny exclaimed.rn”You took the words out of my mouth.rnDo you know what ‘manzano’ is in English?”rn”It means apple tree.”rn”Isn’t it amazing how we’re assimilating,”rnI said.rnWe rode slowly back to the house,rnmaking plans as we went to meet in earlyrnJune for a horse pack trip into the Gilarnwilderness in southwestern New Mexico.rnGinny was leaving the next week tornspend six weeks in Todos Santos on thernBaja Peninsula, where she is building arnhouse to be the center of a potters’ community.rnShe enters Mexico at the crossingrnat Nogales, ferries across the Sea ofrnCortez, and continues south on the roadrnthat has been made into a modern highwayrnsince the 1960’s when Joseph WoodrnKrutch was exploring what was then arnprimitive region. Making a routine drugrncheck, the federales are regulady dumbfoundedrnby the load of potter’s clay inrnthe bed of her red Ford truck. I have neverrnvisited Baja, California. Instead Irndrove north the next morning to Taos,rnNew Mexico.rnMabel Dodge McLuhan started it; shernand her husband, the Indian chief. Talkrnabout sleeping with the enemy. TodayrnTaos, lying between the deep trench cutrnby the Rio Alto and the Sangre de ChristornMountams, is a dusty Spanish-Indianrntown with an arty and somewhat elegantrnAnglo culture superimposed on it. Therntelephone book lists Trujillos for severalrnpages and the Indians from the adjacentrnTaos Pueblo are a visible presence amongrnthe tourists, spring break students, skiers,rnand art buyers you meet in the streets. InrnTaos—as elsewhere in New Mexico—sacredncssrnis conferred on mountains, animals,rnand potter’s clay. Artists especiallyrnare considered very sacred. In the WadernGallery on North Pueblo I bought a finernoil painting by Chuck Waldman ofrnSonora, California: a medical doctorrnwho paints in the time left over to him byrna busy general practice. Unlike other ofrnhis paintings displayed, this scene of distantrnranges viewed at sunset from a sagebrushrnhill is strongly impressionistic.rnhazy with spring and the gaseous sagernand lit by an indefinable light source. Irnstayed on after making the purchase torntalk with the director of the gallery, arnblonde and lovely Virginian. Peoplerncome to New Mexico from every placernon earth, looking for the beauty, authenticity,rnand truth they believe no longerrnexists—if in fact it ever did exist—inrntheir own cultures. And yet civilizationrnis so simple a thing: a good book, a goodrncigar, a bottle of fine wine, a good painting,rna beautiful woman, exquisitelyrndressed. If only because we carry ourrnown, inherited civilizations with us whereverrnwe go, we need to work out somernsort of accommodation with them.rnIn Taos I visited a woman I had notrnseen for 18 years. Since our last meetingrnshe had acquired a husband, a medicalrndegree, and two small children. WhilernFrank took Isabel and Philip to play in KitrnCarson Park, Carol and I drove westrnacross the mesa to Tres Piedras and uprnthe wmding road into the San JuanrnMountains where we skied cross-country,rnthrough stands of pine and aspenrnand across open parks buried under severalrnfeet of snow. The skies whined onrnthe granular snow which collapsed inrnplaces, bowing them in the wet deeprnholes. The snowfields reflected the heatrnof the late winter sun, and the aspenrnmade a gold matting on the dark forestsrnstanding flat against the blue sky. Wernpaused only to check the topographicrnmap, and drink water from the poly bottlesrnwe carried with us in the packs.rn”Your husband is a fine man.”rn”Frank’s a gem, isn’t he?”rn”You’re exactly the way you were 18rnyears ago. You haven’t changed at all.”rn”You haven’t changed either.”rnLater when our legs ached, “I’m gettingrnold,” Carol said.rn”Don’t say it. If you’re old, I’m thernAncient Mariner,”rnShe leaned out over her skiis to hugrnme. “Eight years made a lot of differencernthen. It doesn’t make any differencernat all now. Do we ha’e enoughrnlight left to get out by?”rn”I was thinking the same thing.”rnWith the sun dropping behind therntree line, we skiied faster through thernsuddenly cold woods to the truck.rnLeaving Taos the next morning IrnJUNE 1997/49rnrnrn