The Hundredth Meridianrnby Chilton Williamson, Jr.rnAlternative CaliforniarnIt felt as strange flying west—not south,rnnot east—from Salt Lake City as if thernearth had reversed its rotation and werernspinning in the opposite direetion. Basinrnand range, range and basin: the long barrierrnmountains were heavy with snow,rnbut now in early March the desert separatingrnthem lay bare, dramatizing therntopographical disjunctions. The skiesrnwere clear and the view unbroken untilrnwe crossed into Nevada over Wendoverrn(a gambling town, where recently myrnfriend Brad Willford of Kemmerer wasrnmisidentified as Joe Waldholtz by a femalerndrunk who demanded that he bernarrested and sent to jail), and snowcloudsrnpiled above the mountains. Thernmountains, where they were visible betweenrnthe vapor masses, closed up tornform deep trenches and high basins, arnmoiling confusion of dark rock andrnbright snow. The clouds vanishedrnabruptly, and we were flying above an expansernof forested wilderness broken byrnthe high peaks of the Sierra Nevadas,rnopen snow fields, and the southern endrnof Lake Tahoe passing directly beneathrnthe body of the plane. The high mountainsrnended, and roads and housesrnappeared in the foothills. The planernbanked steeply to the south, the SacramentornValley—wide, green, and humidrn—rose to meet us, and I saw the geometricallyrnneat farms, the water-coursesrnrunning high and brown, stands ofrndrowned trees amid the newly plantedrnfields, and the towers of Sacramentorngleaming through the haze. Billie JeanrnRedemeyer waited for me at the gate.rnShe was a tall redhead in jeans, boots, arnpatterned vest over a pink blouse, andrnlooked reassuringly like the cowgirls backrnhome in Wyoming.rnI had been hearing about Billie Redemeyerrnfrom Jim Catron for the past year,rnbut I had first heard from her threernweeks before when a fax message camernin, handwritten on stationery decoratedrnwith a drawing of seven cows making arncow pyramid to allow the topmost onernto chainsaw a tree branch supportingrna spotted owl on its nest. “GreetingsrnChilton,” the message began, “My dearrnfriend Jim Catron asked me to send thisrnarticle to you.” From Jim, I knew thatrnBillie had had an urban upbringing inrnSan Francisco where she was employedrnas a fashion model before moving to thernSacramento Valley. Eventually she wentrnto work for the Roney Land and CattlernCompany, eight miles north of Chico,rnbecoming not only a rancher herself butrnan activist on behalf of the catde ranchingrnindustry. Between us, Billie and Irnburned up the fax lines for days before Irnput an end to the business by invitingrnmyself to Chico to witness at firsthandrnranching California style. Now, 50 feetrnabove sea level and 100 miles east fromrnthe Pacific coast, palm trees soared aboverngardens in spring flower, and the air wasrnwarm and soft. We drove north throughrnMarysville, Yuba City, and Oroville,rnMexicanized communities supplying laborrnto the wilderness of fruit orchardsrnstretching on either side of the highway.rnAt Chico Billie stopped to purchase groceriesrnand show me this pleasant universityrntown of 80,000 people with its handsomernVictorian business and residentialrndistricts, its overstory of palm and oakrntrees, and its pervasive sense—characteristicrnof all university towns, as of the novelsrnof Hemingway—of physical wellbeingrncoexisting with existential despair.rnWally Roney’s great-great-grandparentsrnhomesteaded the upper SacramentornValley, wedged between the Sierrasrnconverging from the southeast to meetrnthe Cascade Mountains and the coastalrnrange lying between the SacramentornRiver and the Pacific Ocean, on land acquiredrnfrom the Stanford Land Grant.rnThe open pasture between Wally’srnhouse and that of his parents’, stretchingrnas far as the foothills rising to the LassenrnNational Forest, was good to see after therntens of thousands of acres of almond,rnwalnut, pistachio, and plum trees, interspersedrnby kiwi vines, I had looked at onrnthe drive from Sacramento. Wally, Billie,rnand I sat up late that first night,rndrinking California wines and saying unkindrnand subversive things about thernU.S. Forest Service, and the next morningrnit was raining. The weather was toornwet for branding, so we spent the dayrndriving on muddy back roads through orchardsrnalong the swollen SacramentornRiver in sheets of the warm spring rain.rnThe trees were black with the rain exceptrnfor the whitewashed stumps to which thernwalnut shoots had been grafted. Somernof the orchards had been cut over for replacement,rnand the bucked trunks andrnbranches were stacked in black drippingrnpiles beside the roads. Stands of blossomingrntrees alternated with buddedrnones, waiting to be pollinated by beesrnfrom the beehives set at intervalsrnthrough the orchards. Much of the propertyrnwe looked at was owned by Wally’srnrelations, although some of it had becomernalienated over the years by familyrnwho had ignored the Roney tradition ofrnnever mortgaging the land. Wally is arnknowledgeable orchardist, but whatrninterested me more was his work as arnprogressive cattle rancher.rnA graduate of the state university atrnSan Luis Obispo, familiar with the workrnof Dr. Wayne J. Burkhardt (retired associaternprofessor of range management atrnthe University of Nevada, Reno) and ofrnthe late Professor Jan Bonsma (a specialistrnin livestock ecology and climatology),rnWally Roney believes that grazers arernpart of the natural economy of landscapes,rnand that scientists and livestockrnbreeders are capable of breeding adaptablernlivestock totally in harmony withrntheir environment. Suspecting that cattlemenrnwho emphasize the number ofrntheir animals over the number of poundsrnof beef they produce annually are selfeliminating,rnWally is careful to adapt hisrnmanagement practices to changing conditions,rnin order to sustain a high level ofrnproductivity. “Poor management,” hernsays, “will hurt your cattle before yournhurt the land.” Having convinced hisrnfather, Elwin Roney, that Roney LandrnJULY 1996/49rnrnrn