The Hundredth Meridianrnby Chilton Williamson, Jr.rnWork SuspendedrnIf compensation is possible l^or a summerrnso brief that the growing season is limitedrnto 55 days at best, it is the most beautifulrnIndian summer on earth climaxedrnby elk season in the last two weeks of October,rnWhile friends of mine, here and elsewhere,rnseem politely convinced thatrnwriting is merely a reasonably transparentrnexcuse for hermitism and other forms ofrnindolent and antisocial behavior, neverthelessrnthe writer’s trade is, always hasrnbeen, and ever will be among the mostrnarduous means invented by man to answerrnand assuage the call of his innerrnvanity. As much as his neighbor toilingrnin the coal mines or contemplating thernrear ends of a hundred head of cattlernfrom the back of a tired cow ponv, thernwriter requires his respite; his period,rnhowever brief, of rest and recuperation.rnCome the 13th of every October myrnwork, finished or not, is done for the followingrnweek or ten days, and I havernjoined the majority of able-bodied menrnin town, all of them buying supplies fromrnthe IGA store, sighting in their rifles, attemptingrnto catch their horses on thernback forty, loading their pickup trucksrnand backing them up to their horse trailersrnand campers, and kissing their wivesrnand children goodbye, while trying tornlook sorry about it.rnBy late morning on the 14th of Octoberrn1993,1 was on my way west to TwinrnCreek to collect my animals, and byrnmidafternoon we were rumbling alongrnthe dirt roads north from Kemmererrnthrough Pomeroy Basin, across the braidsrnof the Oregon Trail, under the steep longrnbrow of Sheep Mountain, across SouthrnFork of Fontenelle Creek, past Krall’srnranch, over the cattleguard that marksrnthe National Forest boundary, and alongrnthe base of Absaroka Ridge to FontenellernCrossing. Here the horse trail begins itsrnascent by Bear Trap Creek to my perennialrnspike camp beneath Indian Mountain,rnbut having been caught out in thernpast by snowstorms and mud I havernlearned to continue another six miles,rnfollowing Little Fall Creek down to LarnBarge Creek and parking in a meadowrnbeside the gravel road. Of course this extendsrnthe ride in and out bv 12 miles, butrnpeace of mind is worth it. Last year I hadrna wrangler, Linda Meller, along to handlernthe horses for me while I devotedrnmyself to the hunt. Since she bred themrnboth and sold them to me for enoughrnmoney to pay for her children’s orthodonture,rnshe ought to know as well asrnanyone what she is doing.rnExcept for writing, every one of my activitiesrnis about gear. We spent 45 minutesrnsaddling the horses; loading on thernpacks that straddle the croup behind therncantle; attaching the lariats, canteens,rnbedrolls (tied into the saddle stringsrnahead of the horn), and the guns slungrnin their leather scabbards from the Dringsrnand tucked beneath the skirts; andrnmaking the necessary adjustments andrnbalancings. As we were about to departrna game warden, on loan for the seasonrnfrom another part of the state and unknownrnto me, drove up and asked to seernmy permit. We rode out from La BargernCreek, where Joseph La Barge was killedrnby Indians in 1825, at just past fiverno’clock on a ten-mile ride through thernshortened light of a mid-Octoberrnevening.rnWe made good time on the clay road,rnarriving an hour and a quarter later at therncrossing. The trail begins as a jeep trackrnending at an old hunting camp, beyondrnwhich it narrows to accommodate a singlernhorse before going on above thernfloodplain of Bear Trap Creek, where therncurious beaver swim in slow circles behindrntheir dams. The slope rises steeplyrnon both sides of the creek, sagebrushrnand aspen on the south-facing aspect,rnblack timber and talus on the north.rnClinging precariously to the bank, thernbadly eroded trail crumbles in places beneathrnthe horses’ hooves. I have neverrnaspired to be rolled on by a fully loadedrnhorse. At the third or fourth turn werncame upon a cow moose who stubbornlyrnheld the right of way for several minutes;rnas twilight approached I reined in tornglass the long ridge high above, wherernthe big bulls hold. Where Bear Trap descendsrnthrough a pass on the left, therntrail goes right and the angle of ascentrnbecomes more acute. Breaking from thernheavy timber, we watched a herd of doerndeer browse their way peacefully throughrna stand of aspen thin as cobweb in therndeepening dusk. By the time we hadrnstruggled up the steepest stretch to therntreeless saddle, the light was almostrngone. Within the pine forest on thernother side of the saddle it was entirelyrngone, yet a strange glow persisted as if risingrnout of the ground, which rang with arnhollow sound beneath the hooves. By itrnwe made our way on to camp, unloadedrnthe horses, raised the tent, and gatheredrnwood enough for a small fire to heat ourrnsupper of canned beans and chile.rnThe alarm sounded at six-thirty in totalrndarkness within the nylon tent. Lindarnhad slept badly in her lightweight bagrnand could not be roused. I slipped fromrnmy own bag, fully dressed except for myrnboots, crawled from the tent into a faintrndawn streaked with a few high cloudsrnand brightening above the spires of therntrees, and lifted my orange coat and riflernfrom the snag where I had placed themrnthe night before. The air was cold, butrnnot cold enough to have frozen the coldrn.sweet water in the canteen. Movingrncarefully, I walked off from camprnthrough the subacqueous light in the directionrnof Indian Ridge, already turningrnpink at the top where the horse trail goesrnover. More carefully still—three stepsrnforward: halt, look; three steps forward—rnI began to flank the ridge, a 45-degreernslope of red clay and shale intermittentlyrncovered by deadfall, a few windblastedrnold pine trees, and clumps of supple newrngrowth replacing them.rnA movement like the drop of an eyelashrncaught my attention: a tail whiskingrnsomewhere among the young trees. Irnput the glasses on these and found a cowrnelk and two calves, their cream-coloredrnscuts turned to me. Searching farther, Irnsaw a second cow; farther still and a thinrnray of sunlight assumed material formrnOCTOBER 1994/49rnrnrn