The Hundredth Meridianrnby Chilton Williamson, Jr.rnGive Me Wilderness,rnOr Give Me . . .rnBetter than anyone before or since, FrederickrnJackson Turner explained the pecuharlyrnAmerican fascination withrnwilderness that continues to perplex and,rnoccasionally, to annoy European observers.rnIn his instantly famous paperrndelivered before the American HistoricalrnAssociation’s annual meeting 101 yearsrnago. Professor Turner declared, “Americanrnsocial development has been continuallyrnbeginning over and over again onrnthe frontier. This perennial rebirth, thisrnfluidity of American life, this expansionrnwestward with its new opportunities, itsrncontinuous touch with the simplicity ofrnprimitive society, furnish the forces dominatingrnAmerican character. The truernpoint of view in the history of this nationrnis not the Atlantic coast, it is the greatrnWest.”rnAmericans whose ancestry is long establishedrnin this country have an instinctrnfor wilderness—wilderness as opposedrnmerely to “nature”—received naturallyrnfrom their forebears and nurtured by arngenuinely American cultural memoryrnthat cosmopolitan immigrants arrivingrnimmediately before and in the aftermathrnof World War II, as well as the homegrownrnmulticulturalists and globalists ofrnmore recent date, have not succeededrnentirely in extirpating from the UnitedrnStates. This is the instinct to which thernpopular purveyors of the myth of thernWild West appealed in print and onrnfilm, with spectacular success; and onrnwhich, since the 1970’s, the advocates ofrnpreservationism have substantially relied.rnThe only changes, in fact, that the fabricatorsrnof the mythology of the New Westrnhave made in respect to that of the Oldrnis the removal of the entire cultural componentrnand the inflation of the naturalrnone so as to create a vision of nature undefiledrnby the presence of a humanity yetrnto be born—or else rendered extinct millenniarnago. By the criteria of the SierrarnClub, the canyons of the AmericanrnSouthwest circa A.D. 1000 were not arnbona fide wilderness area, being inhabitedrnby the Anasazi who lived in cliff villages,rngrew corn in the creek bottoms.rnand enjoyed the use of artifacts providedrnby their most advanced technology.rnA proponent of wilderness and evenrnmore wilderness, I am reminded eachrntime I enter the Bridger-Teton Wildernessrnin the Wind River Mountains arnhundred miles or so from home that myrnunderstanding of the term differs fromrnthat of the Social Democratic WildernessrnParty (SDWP). This business ofrnhorses, for instance. Partly because I amrna lifelong horse fancier, but also becausernto be astride a good horse in the RockyrnMountains is one of hfe’s great experiences,rnI am unapologetically reliantrnupon horses in wilderness country,rnwhether de facto or officially designated.rnThis means that my animals and I arerna serious offense to the majority ofrnthe lycra-bottomed backpackers we encounterrnalong the trail. For the fewrnwho are willing to listen, I argue that thernuse of horses by the Sioux and Mandanrntribes did not make the Dakotas less ofrna wilderness than they were before thernIndians acquired their mounts from thernEuropeans; when pressed, I have maliciouslyrnsuggested that the West wasrnnot explored and won by yuppies andrncollege kids outfitted from Patagonia andrnREI catalogues.rnLater after such encounters, smokingrna pipe and drinking whiskey beside a firernof krummholz pine while my two Arabians,rnwhite and black, graze on picketrnlines across an alpine meadow as thernflames deepen from yellow to orange tornred and the surrounding spires of pinkrngranite fade through shades of lavenderrnto blue and finally to a flat black againstrna sky made silver by the full moon, Irnhave contemplated the meaning ofrn”wilderness.” For me, anyplace where Irncan travel horseback 20 or 30 miles a dayrnfor days on end without meeting morernpeople than I could count on my twornhands; where no human constructions orrnfenced lands exist; where the trails are oftenrnno more than granitic troughs or arnline of exposed boulders on which a panickyrnhorse can mean severe injury hundredsrnof miles from a well-equipped hospital;rnand where, if you are seriouslyrninjured or die, you are very likely never tornbe found at all qualifies as wilderness.rnFor others, however—usually people livingrn50 of the 52 weeks a year in Scarsdale,rnDenver, Philadelphia, or San Franciscorn—”wilderness” is a “pristine” arearnfrom which every kind of power tool isrnbanned and horses and hunting prohibited.rn(If I ever have the bad luck to loserna horse in wilderness country, my job, accordingrnto the Forest Service’s regulations,rnwill be to quarter it with a huntingrnknife and handsaw, bury the carcass in arntrench dug with a portable latrinernshovel or the lid of an empty tuna-fishrncan, and pack out the saddle and bags onrnmy back.) For these people, so it seemsrnto me, “wilderness” is essentially arnfantasy allowing them to pretend for arndemarcated period of time that notrnonly the modern world but the worldrnsince the creation of man does not exist,rnwhile ignoring the obvious if unpleasantrntruth that in the circumstances of thernpresent era it is the tract of land, howeverrnextensive, protected by arbitrary codernthat is artificial; not what lies beyond it.rn(Once, having ridden past a line ofrnbackpackers beside the trail, I heard arnman remark loudly that horses are arn”lazy-ass way” of going into the mountains.rnIf only it were so. People with littlernor no experience of horses often regardrnthem as self-guiding, hay-burningrnCadillacs of flesh and blood upon whichrnthe rider passively and effortlessly sits.rnIn fact, they are highly nervous, oftenrnirrational, and potentially dangerous animalsrnweighing half a ton or more and requiringrnthe keenest concentration, muchrnforethought, and careful anticipationrnbased on a familiarity with equine psychologyrnto avoid disaster. If you don’trnwant to ride a horse, fine. But don’t callrnyourself an outdoorsman if you can’t ridernone.)rnThe University of Arizona published arnAUGUST 1994/49rnrnrn