The Hundredth Meridianrnby Chilton Williamson, Jr.rnSpring, Like a LionrnThe cloud was no bigger than a puff ofrnwhite smoke above the western horizonrnat a point equidistant between thernHenry Mountains and the Book Cliffs, Itrnwas a nice cloud, a point of interest in anrnotherwise banal skv, soft blue palingrnaround the edges. I tamped down therncookfire I had built in this official “nohrernzone” (penalty 500,000 U.N. dollars,rnten vears in a Park Service dungeon, orrnboth), slung the daypack on my shoulders,rnand walked out of camp under arnwarm spring sun, taking care not to steprnon the cryptogramite that, according tornthe government 2,000 miles away inrnWashington, holds the whole of southeasternrnUtah together. The red sandrnwarmed, the blackbrush opened intornnew leaf, and the snow line lifted towardrnthe triangular peaks of the La Sal Mountains,rn30 miles away across the ColoradornRiver. Horseless in deference to Parkrnregulations (penalty 20 million U.N. dollars,rnand/or Hfe imprisonment in BorisrnYeltsin’s Siberia), I stepped out bravely inrnthe direction of the overlook, where thernwalls of the 6,300-foot mesa between thernGreen and the Colorado close in a rockyrnpoint north of the convergence of therntwo ri’ers.rnAdmiring the desert wildflowers andrncursing the Park Service’s hippophobia, Irnwalked for a mile or so without looking atrnthe cloud. It was bigger now, about thernsize of the Goodyear blimp, and turningrndark on its bottom. I forgot it in the pleasurernof physical exertion, the warm sunrnon my back sending sweat between myrnshoulderblades under the thin cottonrnshirt, the jinking birds through the juniperrntrees, and the bottomless sky overhead,rnand when a breeze sprang up Irnpulled the shirt from my belt and let it inrnunderneath. When I was barely a milernfrom the point the breeze stiffened to arnlight wind and I looked west again, wherernthe cloud had dropped its benignant aspect.rnIt was a storm front now, sweepingrnacross the slickrock wilderness towardrnthe Green River and the Sky Island, arnblitzkrieg of wind and lightning extendingrn50 or 60 miles to the north and south.rnThere was a rolled flannel shirt in thernpack. I stopped long enough to pull it onrnand button it, and reached the exposedrnpoint in a blasting sandstorm as the hrstrnfat drops of rain fell, steaming on thernsun-charged rock. The rain turned tornhail as I climbed below the rimrock, followingrna deer trail leading to a shallowrnoverhang 2,300 feet above the Coloradornrunning swift and green in its blood-coloredrntrench. There was a view of thernAbajo Mountains and Elk Ridge, Six-rnShooter Peak and Lavender Canyon, andrnthe Needles before veils of rain and hailrnblotted the expanse, cutting away thernvalley below and leaving me shallowlyrnencased in rock and floating in thernclouds. Lightning bolts struck overheadrnand flashed across the canyon bottoms asrnwaterspouts poured with the runoff: fallsrnof liquid mud and foam, bearing alongrnsticks, cacti, and small rocks, streakingrndown the cliffs. I worked the pack fromrnmy shoulders, opened it, and peeled andrnate an orange. Then, as it continued tornstorm, I lay down in a cramped positionrnin my small dry space and took a nap.rnWhen I woke the rain had stopped. Thernsky was clearing, and wraiths of cloudrnrose among the rain-darkened rockrncolumns above the river. Returning onrnthe slick trail going up to the rimrock, Irnhad to grasp at the rocks and bushes tornavoid pitching backward into the abyssrnbelow.rnIn camp the sagging tent remainedrnupright. My clothes were dry inside, therncamp boxes intact. I restaked the tentrnand built the fire back to a defiant blazernbefore allowing it to burn down to cookingrncoals. The wind kept up that evenmgrnand throughout the night, and it wasrnvery cold. Several times I woke with thernnylon walls billowing around me and thernaluminum poles swaying, as if the tentrnwere a great bird attempting to becomernairborne. At dawn my hair and beardrnwere filled with the fine red sand, butrnwhen I crawled out I was still on thernverge of the cliff, not at the bottom of it.rnThe wind had subsided, but it continuedrnto blow hard and cold from the northwest,rnwhere a shelf of gray cloud piledrnabove the horizon. A spring blizzard Irndiscovered, when I caught up with itrnlater the same day.rnKemmerer lay under a foot of thernheavy wet snow, and snow squalls blewrnthroughout Easter weekend. The deeprnmud froze hard in the night, and thawedrnduring the day to a thick gumbo. FredrnChambers called Easter morning fromrnthe ranch asking for help. He had beenrnhauling water for the horses when thernpickup became mired and sank tornthe frame in mud. Fred abandoned therntruck and slogged the last several hundredrnyards on foot to the house, where hernbrewed coffee and drank the pot whilernhe waited for Marcia to return from townrnin the Bronco. But when Marcia andrnFred, using a tow rope, attempted to jerkrnthe truck backward onto firmer ground,rnthe Bronco stuck too, and Fred returnedrnto the house to call me. Taking alongrnropes and a sheepherder jack in the LandrnCruiser I drove to Twin Creek, where thernChamberses in muddy clothes waited onrnthe creek bottom. We tried jacking uprnthe rear end of the Bronco to lay cutrnsagebrush under the tires, but the bigrnjacks sank in the wet clay without findingrnbottom in the bottomless road. So Fredrnattached one end of a nylon rope to thernleft rear leaf spring, while I advanced onrnhim slowly in compound low. Almostrnwithin reach of the other end of the ropernthe jeep stalled out, sinking in mudrnabove the axle as soon as its forward momentumrnceased. “Well I’ll be dipped inrnsh-t,” Fred said. “Come on to the house,rnand I’ll fix us a pot of hot coffee.”rnFred telephoned Richard Lewis at thernLewis Ranch for emergency aid, andrnwhile the three of us waited for Richardrnto arrive with his big stock truck and arnwinch Fred recalled an incident from hisrnyouth as a boy of 15 or 16, back in Tennessee.rnHe was being harassed at schoolrnby a much bigger and stronger boy, whornhad it in for him and was threatening torngive Fred the beating of his life. FinallyrnAUGUST 1996/49rnrnrn