The Hundredth Meridianrnby Chilton Williamson, Jr.rnEnclosurernLate in the afternoon of tlie day beforernthe final day of elk season I parked therntruck and trailer above Blue Jay Creekrnnorth of Krall’s ranch and rode into thernmountains against a cold wind and thernlowering sun.rnhi spite of having been kicked on therncannon bone in her off rear leg fourrnweeks earlier the mare stepped outrnbriskh. breasting Absaroka Ridge withrnenthusiasm; we carried with us only therntent, the two hatchets, extra clothes, andrncanned food in the packs, my bedroll,rnthe gallon canteen, and the rifle in itsrnleather scabbard. My face was stiff fromrncold before wc reached the first aspenrnstand, but within the trees the air wasrngray and still. Twice we had to detourrnaround logs, and when we broke ontornthe treeless shoulder the wind barrelingrndown Clear Creek canyon struck usrnhead-on with chilling force. Deflectedrnfrom the western aspect of the ridge itrntipped the mare sideways above the 50-rndegree slope, causing me to flatten myselfrnover the bedroll and the mane tornlower our center of resistance. Wherernthe trail converged with the creek wernfound a gut sack lying with the severedrnhead of a cow elk, apparently undisturbedrnb- bears. I dismounted anywa’ tornlook for sign before riding on up therndraw to the forested saddle and takingrnthe trail farther west toward Commissar-rnRidge. M’ plan to make Spruce Creekrnand fix camp by dark was thwarted byrnour late departure; before we reachedrnthe switchbacks and the long descentrninto Bear Hole Creek the sun was downrnand the light fading fast. I built a fire arnfew feet off the trail in the shelter of tallrnpines and in its glare, with the aid of arnfla.shlight, pitched the tent and unpackedrnthe cook pans. Starting to unsaddlernthe marc I recalled the difficultiesrnin saddling up in the morning dark, andrnloosened the latigo instead.rnNo lights showed at Krall’s far belowrnus, but the sky was thick with stars. Irnwent for the bottle and had taken a couplernof pulls of Jim Beam when the mare,rnsnubbed to a small tree several yardsrnawa^^ pointed her muzzle at the darknessrnand stared. I walked over, placed myrnhand on her neck, and felt her tremblernlike a racehorse. A bear is said to havernsummered on Clear Creek this year. 1rnbuilt up the fire, spun a shell under thernhammer of the single-action .41 Magnumrnand belted on the holster, andrnstood b- the mare while she traced withrnher nose the bear’s progress as it movedrnout of the timber, across the trail, andrndown the steep sidehill into the raine tornwater. When she quit shaking I openedrna can of beef stew and set it in a pot onrnthe fire, taking care not to let the gravyrnburn and removing the pot from the firernbefore the stew grew redolent. I had finishedrnmy lukewarm supper and cleanedrnthe pot thoroughly with the end of arnpine bough and boiling water when thernmare began to back and stamp on thernrope and toss her head. I stood by her reassuringlyrnagain while, shuddering, shernfollovyed the bear scent from the bottomrnup to the crest of the timbered ridge.rnThen I snubbed her short for the night,rnput away the bottle, threw more logs onrnthe fire, crayvled inside the tent, and fellrnasleep in the leaping glow of the flamesrnthrough the nylon panels.rnAt five the new moon rode at centerrnskv and the water in the canteen wasrnfrozen solid. I pulled on my boots andrncoat, slipped the rifle into the scabbardrnunder the saddleskirt, and led the marernthrough the black forest down the trailrntoward Bear Hole, going step b step intorndaylight. In the bottom 1 mountedrnand rode on through the cold blue duskrnto South Fork, where we spooked a largebodiedrnbuck with a heavy rack whichrnhad been drinking from a pool behind arnbea’er dam. The tops of the sugarloafrnhills vithin the basin went from pink tornyellow, but nothing moved on the sagebrushrnslopes or among the standing pinerntrees and polished snags. At SprucernCreek I reined in and sat the mare, lettingrnher graze while I turned in the saddlernto survey the sidehills. From a steeprnpark directly behind us and abo’e, a cowrnelk stared with forward ears. With herrnvere two more cows and a couple ofrncalves. At the edge of the park a set ofrnhindquarters, heavy and bull-colored,rnprotruded from behind a tree.rnI dismounted, drew the rifle from thernscabbard, and looked around. Takingrnthe daypack from the saddlehorn, Irnplaced it on a small sagebrush while therncow continued to study us. I got on myrnbelly behind the pack and laid the riflernacross it. The range was between 700rnand 800 yards, the vertical inclinationrnabout 300 feet. The quarters shifted tornreveal a deep bullish body and a darkrnshagged neck, but distance and the qualityrnof the light made it impossible to discernrnantlers as the cows milled and thernherd drifted toward the timber. Thernbull turned, exposing a double row ofrntines. I put the reticule two and a halfrnanimal bodies above the heart-lung area,rndrew breath, and at that instant a cowrnstepped directly behind him on her wayrninto the trees. Then they were all gone,rnheaded to bed down for the morningrnnap. We rode out of Bear Hole in a lashingrnwind under a skv no longer clear butrnstreaming with frozen stratus clouds beneathrnpewter lenticulars haloed in yellow,rnstopping only to pack up camp onrnour way out. The snow began falling afterrndark, and at sunrise next day, the firstrnof November, the mountains were starklyrnvisible from town like a line of whiterntents on the horizon.rnFrom the beginning of Novemberrnwell into December the winter stormsrnroll inland from the Pacific Northwest almostrnwithout pause, one trough followingrnanother so closeh’ that it is often impossiblernto distinguish between them.rnThe diving barometer foretells the appearancernin the west of a dark shelf thatrnexpands, pales, and softens as it approachesrnlike clouds of spun glass, blottingrnthe landforms. Mountains, hills,rnand gulleys vanish, together with trees,rnhouses, the highway and blizzard posts.rnThe wind shrieks, the snowflakcs whirlrnFEBRUARY 1995/49rnrnrn