The Hundredth Meridianrnby Chilton Williamson, Jr.rnDust Thou ArtrnSheep Mountain like a fallen tombstonernlay on the horizon under a sky thickeningrnwith gray cloud ribbons and white lenticulars.rnIt was too cold for snow yet andrnrain had not fallen for weeks in thernmountains. The wind raised smallrnstorms of dust on the pale surface of thernclay road, and whirled the last yellowrnleaves from the brushy aspen stands. Pastrnthe washboard last spring’s ruts, stillrnfixed in the hard clay, shunted the frontrnend of the truck left, right, then back torncenter again. The trailer followed, fishtailingrnin clouds of the fine dust. Fromrnthe cattle guard at the top of the risernsouth of Commissary Ranches the twinrnred triangles of Baldy Mountain andrnWyoming Peak 50 miles north appeared,rnwaiting for snow.rnAt Fontenelle Creek I parked the rigrnon a bench south of the crossing abovernthe beaver dammed flood plain, 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 we followed the wooded switchbacksrndown to the crossing, where wernturned up the right bank of Fontenelle tornBear Trap Creek. The cloud cover extendedrnitself beyond the frontal ridge asrnit thickened and lowered above thernmountains and now the air felt gentlernand soft, full of treachery. I kicked thernmare up to a trot as we ascended alongrnBear Trap, then let her keep her ownrnpace on the steeps. We reached camprnwith only enough light to raise the tentrnby, and gather wood. The night wasrnwarm as in summer, but starless. Followingrnsupper I worked gathering more ofrnthe dry wood and carrying it in underrnshelter of the limber pines and afterwardrnsat late beside the fire drinking whiskey,rnwhile the mare grazed. Deep in thernnight I woke to the sound of a quiet rainrnon the rain fly, which changed as I listenedrnfrom a liquid pelt to a frozenrnscrape. When I woke again a half hourrnbefore dawn a foot of new snow lay onrnthe ground beyond the shelter of therntrees. The mare nickered as I emergedrnfrom the tent and I gave her a measure ofrnsweet grain from the pack. The snowrnwent on falling and the air was colderrnnow, behind the warm front that hadrnpreceded the storm. I dropped a compassrninto the pocket of my orange coat,rnlifted the rifle from the pine snag wherernit hung by the leather sling, and walkedrnoff into the silence of the gray muffledrnwoods and the snow coming straightrndown between the dark pine trees.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 walked onrnthrough the woods under Indian Ridge.rnThe snow had silenced the uproar ofrndead leaves on the dry 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 betweenrnthe trees and across small openings, untilrnI reached the steep gorge where RoaringrnFork cuts down from the ridge behind.rnThen I turned and started back the 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 headedrntoward the 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 time 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 Irnreached the bench, although my windrnheld out, my legs were weak and aching.rnThe tracks crossed the bench to the basernof Indian Ridge and started up the cliffrnface, diagonally across the talus to thernhigh rim above. By taking the mare Irncould cross by the horse trail a half-milernsouth, then ride north and pick up therntrack again on the forested western slope.rnAbout the time I returned to camprnthe snow changed to a gray penetratingrnrain. I built up a fire from the supply ofrndry wood 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 andrnrode back the way we had come tornFontenelle Creek, where we crossed byrnthe ford and rode on across country tornKovaehes’ camp, where they were eatingrnJANUARY 1997/49rnrnrn