The Hundredth Meridianrnbv Chilton Williamson, Jr.rnWyoming PeakrnIt is 145 road miles from Belen to Gallup,rnNew Mexico, a railroad town immediatelyrneast of the Arizona border on oldrnHighway 66 and adjaeent to the Ramahrnand Big Navajo Indian Reservationsrnwhere m grandmother Williamsonrntaught school eady in the century, returningrnto Ohio after a semester or twornwhen an amorous Na’ajo could not berndiscouraged from dogging her footstepsrnaround town. Ninety-some years later Irnhad a similarly unpleasant encounter mrnan Indian bar on the wrong side of therntracks in Gallup with a hairy Navajo whorncarried a knife in his boot, invited me torngo deer-hunting with him, then strokingrnmv beard asked me to be his squaw. Atrnleast that is w hat Ernie Bulow, who is acquaintedrnwith the language, made outrnfrom his somewliat disordered communicationrn—Ernie onl a step or two behindrnme as we made a hurried exit by arnside door. Ernie, the son of a teacher atrna Naajo boarding school, was a teacherrnhimself to Navajos before the federal bureaucrats,rnin their zeal to “Americanize”rnthe students, forbade him to wear cowboyrnboots in the classroom. A critic, author,rnand book collector, he operates arnbookstore from his old bungalow overlookingrnGallup and the forested mesasrnsurrounding the town. He makes arncameo appearance as the trader DonrnWilliams in ”he Fool’s Progress bv EdwardrnAbbey, a longtime friend, and, afterrnsuppK ing Tony Hillerman for years y’ithrninformation pertaining to the Dineh, recentlyrncoauthored a book with him. Irndro’e through town past the pawn shopsrnand trading posts and stopped at a supermarketrnfor a quart of orange juice. ThernIndian ahead of me on the checkout linernwas drunk enough to think he could foolrnthe checkout girl into selling him a pintrnof blackberr brandv, which she confiscatedrninstead.rnRoute 666—the Devil’s Highwa —rnfollows the Ghuska Mountains northrnfrom Gallup until they begin to veer tornthe northwest: Tohatchi, Nachitti, Newcomb,rnShiprock. Shiprock Peak, highmastedrnemblem of the European invadersrnwho smashed up the Navajo wayrnof life forcer, was visible from 40 milesrnto the south; at the northern horizon thernGolorado Rockies like a chain of icebergsrnfloated miraculously beyond the desert’srnreach. West of Shiprock on Highwa’ 504rna tourist in a speeding sports car nearlyrntook out a couple of Indian ponies grazingrnon the shoulder of the road, and vicernversa. From this road in the vicinity ofrnTeec Nos Pos the Four Corners area isrnviewed in its entirety, staked down byrnUtc Mountain at near center. At Bluff,rnlltah, I crossed the silt-laden San JuanrnRiver and had a 20-minute pala er, whilern1 yvaited for the returning pilot car, withrnthe Indian flagger who said it was thernbest job she had ever had. At Blandingrnagain—all roads lead to Blanding—Irnstopped to fill both tanks before startingrnon the 125-mile run across the head ofrnLake Powell to Hanksville. Above thernpurple depths of Glen Canyon hazedrnwith a golden light the I lenry Mountainsrnloomed across the river, baeklit againstrnthe evening sun, their snows scarcelyrnmelted from the steeps above the darkrnprecipitous forests; I watched them inrnthe towing mirror as far as Hanksville,rnwhen they were finally obscured b therndeepening dusk. Beyond Hanksville, arnMormon hamlet of not more than a fewrnhundred souls, night came down at lastrnand the grateful desert, bursting into thernfull bloom of spring, filled the darknessrnwith a myriad of heavy perfumes likernconflicting currents of air pouringrnthrough the open windows of the truck.rnThe town of Green River when I reachedrnit a feyv minutes before ten was sleepyrnwith scent, and the office of the Motel 6rncrowded with tourists wanting to knowrnwhat the smell was.rnI arrived home only a few hours afterrnthe five inches of snow that had fallen inrnKemmerer that morning had melted. Arncold wind blew, and the freshened snowpackrnon Sheep Mountain north of townrnwas monolithic. The latest storm frontrnhit as they were beginning to sheep-shearrnon Thoman Ranch, and Bill Thomanrnwas hustling now to contract the itinerantrnshearers before they moved up tornMontana. Owing to the coldest andrnwettest spring in a decade, the ForestrnService had warned ranchers in thernBridgcr Valley that they might not bernpermitted to put their animals this yearrnonto summer range in the Uinta Mountains,rnwhere the snowpack varied fromrn250 percent of normal to 500 percent,rnand backpackers arriving from the Eastrnand West coasts were discovering thernWind River Range to be impassablernabove 9,000 feet. In Wyoming, the absencernof that most lovely of natural phenomenarncalled spring is one of thernworthwhile sacrifices we make for thernrelative nondevelopment of the state byrnlotus eaters from somewhere else. Irncalled Clyde Clark to make an appointmentrnto have the horses shod, but twornweeks passed before we had a day suitablernfor doing it. Several years beforernwhen we shoed in wet weather, an unbrokerngelding reared as I held his head,rnstriking me in the chest with his knee asrnhe went up and knocking me on my backrnin a couple of feet of mud and horse manure.rnTime arrested itself as he toweredrnabove me, a black Pegasus, and droppedrnback to earth in slow motion, his forelegsrnspreading in the final instant and hisrnhooves planting themselves in the mudrnon either side of mv rigid chest. Shoeingrnhorses in mudtime, as T.S. Eliot said ofrnwriting poetry, is a mug’s game. I thereforernwaited patiently for clement weather,rnpassing the time by sorting gear andrnloading the horse-packs for the season:rntents, tent-stakes, groundeloths, bedrolls,rnwoolen pants, sweaters, and socks, hatchets,rnnylon rope, knives, map eases, 41.rnmagnum rounds, fly spray, cooking utensils,rncanned deviled ham, cannedrnsmoked oysters, biodegradable soap, JimrnBeam in plastic bottles, beer, fine Italianrnwines, a tape deck, recordings of ScottrnJoplin, Maria Callas, and J.S. Bach, therncomplete works of P.G. Wodehouse, andrna few good oil paintings to hang inrncamp—only Boy Scouts are never reallyrnprepared. When at last we got a finernday, I met Clyde at the ranch and hernwent around two horses while I held thernclippers, handed him the nails, andrnOCTOBER 1995/49rnrnrn