The Hundredth Meridianrnby Chilton Williamsou, ]r.rnDust Thou ArtrnSheep Mountain like a fallen tombstonernla’ on the horizon under a sky thickeningrnwith gra cloud ribbons and white lenticulars.rnIt vas too cold for snow yet, andrnrain had not fallen for weeks in thernmountains. The wind raised smallrnstorms of dust on the pale surface of therncla road and whirled the last vellowrnleaves from the brushy aspen stands. Pastrnthe w ashboard last spring’s ruts, still fixedrnin the hard clay, shunted the front end ofrnthe truck left, right, then back to centerrnagain. The trailer followed, fishtailing inrnclouds of the fine dust. From the cattlernguard at the top of the rise south of Commissan,rnRanches the twin red triangles ofrnBald- Mountain and Wyoming Peak 50rnmiles north appeared, waiting for snow.rnAt Fontenelle Creek I parked the rigrnon a bench south of the crossing abox’ernthe bcaer-dammed floodplain, saddledrnthe mare, and strapped on the pack andrnthe rifle in its leather scabbard. Red firernwinked in the early dusk from campsrnsheltered by aspen groves across PomeroyrnBasin as wc followed the wooded switchbacksrndown to the crossing, where wernturned up the right bank of P’ontenelle tornBear Trap Creek. The cloud cover extendedrnitself beond the frontal ridge as itrnthickened and lowered above the mountains,rnand now the air felt gentle and soft,rnfull of treaclier)’. 1 kicked the mare up torna trot as we ascended along Bear Trap,rnthen let her keep her own pace on thernsteeps. We reached camp with onlyrnenough light to raise the tent by, andrngather wood. The night was warm as inrnsummer, but starless. Following supper Irnworked gathering more of the dry woodrnand carring it in under shelter of thernlimber pines and afterward sat late besidernthe fire drinking whiskey, while the marerngrazed. L^ecp in the night I woke to thernsound of a quiet rain on the rain fl’,rnw hich changed as I listened from a liquidrnpelt to a frozen scrape. When I wokernagain a half hour before dawn a foot ofrnnew snow lay on the ground beyond thernshelter of the trees. The mare nickered asrnI emerged from the tent, and I gave her arnmeasure of sweet grain from the pack.rnThe snow went on falling and the air wasrncolder now, behind the warm front thatrnhad preceded the storm. I dropped arncompass into the pocket of my orangerncoat, lifted the rifle from the pine snagrnwhere it hung by the leather sling, andrnwalked off into the silence of the grayrnmuffled woods and the snow comingrnstraight down between the dark pinerntrees.rnThree hundred yards out from camp Irncame on the tracks of a cow elk and calf,rnmade within the last five minutes. Irnstepped over them and salked onrnthrough the woods under Indian Ridge.rnThe snow had silenced the uproar ofrndead leaves on the dr)’ forest floor, now arnhalf-inch of purple mud beneath sixrninches of wet snow. Mud mixed withrnsnow filled in between the lugs of myrnboot soles, but the going was all right asrnlong as I was on the level. I walked onrnslowly through the lightening woods,rncradling the rifle in my left arm and stoppingrnevery 20 or 30 feet to stare behveenrnthe trees and across small openings, unhlrnI reached the steep gorge where RoaringrnP^ork cuts down from the ridge behind.rnThen I turned and started back die way Irnhad come, only keeping a little downhill.rnI was halfway to camp already when I sawrnthe fresh track of a big bull ahead in thernsnow.rnThe bull had been moving uphill at arnwalk from the ravine. Taking care not tornstep in his prints I followed him for 150rnyards to where he had intersected myrnown, coming from camp. Here he hadrnstopped, stiffened, turned, and headed towardrnthe ravine again at a trot, his ungulaternhoofs biting into the wet clay andrnscattering particles like drops of bloodrnacross the white snow. It was dark in thernravine where the firs closed up into thickrnforest. I hesitated, and started downhillrnwith the gun on my shoulder, lifting onernmud-laden boot after the other over thernslippery logs.rnThe bull kept ahead by several hundredrnyards, never allowing me to sightrnhim, although I caught his strong bullishrnscent occasionally when the wind camernjust right. I followed him through therndeep woods and into the darker gorgernwhere, among the milling tracks of thernherd, I lost him for a fime before pickingrnup the trail again, going back uphill. Irnshifted the heavy rifle to the oppositernshoulder and began climbing out. Thernbootsoles were balled with snow andrnmud, and each time I set the up-slopernfoot and pressed down it slid back severalrninches in the wet clay. Before I reachedrnthe bench, although my wind held out,rnmy legs were weak and aching. Therntracks crossed the bench to the base of IndianrnRidge and started up the cliff face,rndiagonally across the talus to the high rimrnabove. By taking the mare I could crossrnby the horse trail a half-mile south, thenrnride north and pick up the track again onrnthe forested western slope.rnAbout the time I returned to camp thernsnow changed to a gray penetrating rain.rnI built up a fire from the supply of dryrnwood and considered, drinking freshrnboiled coffee while raindrops hissed inrnthe flames. Then I rose from beside thernfire and got to work. In less than an hourrnthe camp was struck and loaded and wernwere on our way down to Pomeroy Basin,rnthe mare sliding behind me in the mudrnas I led from the knot at the end of thernlead rope.rnRain fell all the time we were comingrnout of the mountains, and it was fallingrneven harder in the basin. Mixing withrnthe Indian Summer dust, the water hadrndropped the bottom out of the road,rnwhere the mare struggled heavily. Irnpulled the pack down, threw it in therntruck bed, and unhooked the trailer fromrnthe pickup, while she stood miserably inrnthe rain. Then I mounted again and rodernback the way we had come to FontenellernCreek, where we crossed by the ford andrnrode on across country to Kovaehes’rncamp, where they were eating a late dinnerrninside the canvas army tent with a firerngoing in the woodstove. Someone gavernme something hot to eat, and Jerry tookrnthe mare from me, saying that he hadrnplenty of feed to keep her with his horsesrnJULY 2001/49rnrnrn