The Hundredth Meridianrnby Chilton Williamson, Jr.rnElk CountryrnAs the supernatural world is eternally atrnwork behind events in the natural world,rnso the world of man-in-nature continuesrnto operate behind the synthetic, abstracted,rnand unreal world of man-outside-rnof-nature. For that reason alone, Irnshall always hunt elk. (Though of course,rnI reallv don’t need any reason.)rnOn the afternoon before the start ofrnseason, I rode past the busy huntingrncamps along Fontenelle Creek, amongrnthem Kovaches’ 25-man Army tentrnguved in a stand of tall aspen. Ten or 12rnvears ago, when I was still learning therncountry, I had hunted with John and JimrnKovach, riding the mountains all day onrnsheepherders’ horses borrowed from thernTaliaferro ranch and returning at nightrnto John’s elk-heart stews cooked withrnmilk, potatoes, and sliced onions. Sincernthat time, all but one of the Koyachrnbrothers has moved out of the area, Johnrnto Flagstaff, Arizona, where he nearlyrnlost his life when a chainsaw kicked backrnon him, splintering his rib cage and cuttingrnup his heart like a jigsaw puzzle.rnNow, alone save for the mare beneathrnme, I forded the creek at the crossing andrnascended the West Bear Trap trail in thernsmoky light of a dying October afternoonrnto make camp under the red steepsrnof Indian Ridge, within a stand of limberrnpine at 9,080 feet. As we approached thernsite, the mare unprompted stepped fromrnthe trail, walked between the trees to thernfire ring I had built years before, andrnhalted with her nose against the familiarrnpine trunk, where I snubbed her shortrnand unloaded the packs. An hour andrna quarter of light remained. I raised therntent in the oval clearing, removed thernrocks from the ash and added them tornthe ring, and went in search of wood forrna fire. The dead lower boughs of a nearb’rnpine made smears the color of driedrnblood on the blue twilight of the forest. Irngathered several of these brushes andrnlaid them over a handful of twigs in thernbottom of the fire pit. They exploded inrnflame at the touch of a match, and Irnthrew on some larger sticks from the pilernthat remained from the year before.rnWhile the conflagration burned down torncoals I removed the cook pots from thernhorse packs, and the eating utensils asrnwell. Tonight instead of elk-heart stewrnthere were canned chili and beef stew tornchoose from. I opened the stew with myrncamp knife and scraped the contents intornthe battered, carboned pot. Somewherernin the timbered hole not far fromrnhere an old boar bear has his den. Irntossed the empty can and the greasy lidrnwith it onto the fire, so as to put temptationrnbeyond him. Finally I took the fifthrnof Jim Beam from the pack and poured arnfinger or so of whiskey. It tasted all right,rnbut failed to exhilarate. While I drank, Irnset the stew pot on the fire and ate a hurriedrnmeal while the mare grazed at thernend of her picket line. When I finishedrneating I cleaned the pot with boiling waterrnand a rag, retied the mare to the tree,rnundressed to my longjohns inside therntent, and got into the sleeping bag.rnThough it was eariy still for sleep, todavrnwas over. Tomorrow at daybreak I wasrngoing to hunt bulls.rnThe mare stood without stampingrnthrough the night. At dawn the air wasrnstill, the brooding wilderness hushed. Irntook a long drink of cold water from arnpoly bottle and walked away from camprnwith the rifle at a few minutes before seven,rnmoving carefully through the bluerndusk with the morning star over my leftrnshoulder toward the rise of cliff thatrnblocked the final stars. A tired half moonrnti])ped in the western sky signaled anotherrnfine Indian summer day, dryer andrnwarmer than preferred for hunting. Asrnthe sun rose behind me I glassed thernridge from a polished log before slippingrnalong its rocky base into the trees, wherernwithout warning the elk smell jumped atrnme like a startled overpowering herdrnfrom the massed black trunks of the forest.rnAlmost at once I cut fresh sign, therntracks nearly indistinguishable on thernforest floor but the droppings still moistrnand slick. I bent to finger the pellets andrnheard a sound like a hammer striking arnwooden plank: a rifle shot, miles to thernnortheast and far below. I listened, butrnheard no more shooting. Following therngame trail for half a mile, I found muchrnsign but no animals, not even in therngrassy openings where elk often linger torngraze after sunrise. There were plenty ofrnelk in the forest, some of them perhapsrnobserving me as I paused, but approachingrnthem in the timber without trackingrnsnow or another hunter to work with mernwould be very difficult. The tops of therntrees were still in the windless morning.rnI hunted my way back to camp under arnsmall bombardment of pine cones tossedrnby the chattering red squirrels thatrnflowed up and down the tree trunks andrnalong the branches, picketed the mare,rnand built up the fire to boil coffee andrnplan out the day’s hunt. I had justrnpoured a second cup when an orangerncoat bobbed up from a gulley 100 yardsrnaway, and beneath it a large man with arngray beard, wearing an orange coat with arncamouflage pattern in it and a rifle overrnhis shoulder. I offered him coffee, whichrnhe refused politely. “Where do you getrnwater for your horse?” he asked. I showedrnhim on the map how to find the springrnon the west slope of Indian Ridge. “Irnguess we’ll go deeper in then,” he said. “Irnain’t cut any fresh sign this morning.rnMust be because there ain’t no waterrnhere. No use huntin’ ’em where theyrnain’t at.” I nodded sympathetically, butrndid not mention the sign I had foundrnin the timber. “Where are your horses?”rn”Oh, just over there.” He gesturedrnvaguely at the trees on the other side ofrnthe trail, from which I understood thatrnhe and his party had tied up only a fewrnhundred yards away. We wished one anotherrnluck, and he walked off in the directionrnhe had indicated. He was scarcelyrnout of sight when a volle of shots rangrnout behind Indian Ridge; it was followedrnby a pause, then another volley, andrnfinally by spaced but nevertheless sustainedrnshooting. I tossed what was left ofrnthe coffee over the coals, seized the riflernfrom a tree branch, and, leaving the marernto graze on the picket, ran toward therncliff with my orange coat flapping fromrnJANUARY 1996/49rnrnrn