The Hundredth Meridianrnby Chilton Williamson, Jr.rnGroundhog Days,rnJavelina NightsrnHow a people as addicted to novelty asrnthe modern American public can remainrnindifferent to an experience restricted tornthe last three or four of the thousands ofrnhuman generations, drawing their airplanernwindow shades to watch a moviernor study an organizational chart, is—orrnought to be—a subject of major interestrnto the psychological profession. Apparentlyrnthe only way I will ever obtain anrnaerial view of the canyon wilderness thatrnsurrounds the confluence of the Greenrnand Colorado rivers in southeasternrnUtah is by hijacking a commercial flightrnfrom Tucson or Phoenix to Salt LakernCity—nothing serious, just a cordial inducementrnto alter course by a few degreesrnso as to pass a hundred miles east ofrnBrcc Canyon instead of directly above itrnon an unswerving northerly heading. Ifrnthere is a more thrilling experience thanrnthat of observing from 37,000 feet anrnarea of remotely beautiful and inaccessiblernterrain intimately experienced atrnground level, then it must be somethingrnI haven’t tried yet, like bungee-cordrnjumping or gang warfare. The deserts ofrnsouthern Utah and northern Arizonarnextend beneath an arctic sky in overthrustingrnshelves of rose-hued and rustcoloredrnrock, broken by the dark whalebackedrnbulk of Navajo Mountain andrnfissured by the straightened gorge cut byrnthe Creen River below Clen CanyonrnDam through uplands rising towardrnthe North Rim of the Grand Canyon.rnPresumably my seatmate, pagingrnthrough a Morris Air publication calledrnThe Great American Bathroom Book,rnwhich contains synopses of 25 or 30 greatrnworks of world literature from DonrnQuixote to The Old Man and the Sea,rnhad never set foot on the wild, austere,rnineffably beautiful country below. Whyrnshould he care?rnProm the air, the American Southwestrn—most of it, anyway—appears stillrnto belong to the Empty Quarter. Unfortunatelyrnthe appearance is as illusory asrnphotographs routinely transmitted byrnsatellite cameras 250 miles above thernsurface of the earth that reveal no sign ofrnhuman habitation, including even LosrnAngeles. The Southwest, Arizona in particular,rnis rapidly filling up, though it isrnnot exactly being settled: more accurately,rnit is being consumed. In contemporaryrnArizona, any place that is notrnintolerably hot in season or intolerablyrncold (like the White Mountains in therneast-central part of the state) is either thernobject of invasion and development byrntens of thousands of disillusioned Galifornians,rnretired Minnesotans, and uncomfortablernPhoenicians or it is at risk ofrnbecoming one. In the last 40 years, millionsrnof people from all over the UnitedrnStates have transplanted themselves tornPhoenix in order to be warm; in the lastrnten many of these have been movingrnnorth out of the desert to the once pleasantrnmountain communities of Preseott,rnSedona, Cottonwood, and Flagstaff torncool off. Then when the autumn snowsrnarrive on the Mogollon Rim, they headrnfor Phoenix again. Such has becomernthe American way. The Pima Indians,rntoo, led nomadic lives, but theirs were arnlot less rough on the environment. InrnAmerica, land ought to be listed mrnPatagonia, L.L. Bean, and Orvis cataloguesrnand sold from them. Perhaps onernday it will be.rnSomehow Arizona remains a beautiful,rnscenically varied, and biologically diversernstate in spite of massive urban andrnsuburban sprawl, booming geriatric communities,rntrailer parks the size of Easternrncounties, copper mines expiring amidrncubic miles of spoil, military bases occupiedrnby high-tech barbarians, Indianrngambling casinos, the sandy tracks ofrnonce-living rivers rendered extinct to providernwater for air-conditioning systemsrnand asparagus farms, and artificial lakesrnquietly evolving into suppurating mudholesrnwhere sunken houseboats andrndrowned bass fishermen will eventuallyrnbe memorialized in fossil form. Fromrnthe headwaters of the Gila River onrnthe New Mexico border to the GrandrnCanyon, the Mogollon Plateau, an uplandrnregion covered by low pine, scrubrnand live oak, and chaparral overshadowedrnby the White and San Franciscornmountains with their forests of aspenrnand tall pine, divides the high northernrnand low southern deserts. The southeasternrncorner, strangely lush despite itsrnblond meadows, purple volcanic turf,rnand creosote plains sweeping betweenrnsharp blue ranges, is also mountainous.rnBut Arizona has a desert heart, and sornthe best and most typical parts of it arerndesert, almost deserted—the NavajornReservation (26 million acres) that fillsrnup the northeastern corner and PapagornLand (home of the Tohono O’Odhamrnand bigger than the state of Connecticut)rnsouthwest of Tucson.rnOf course the tourists, second-homernowners, and snowbirds are not here forrnthe desert, or even for the less forbiddingrnhill country. In fact, they have not comernfor Arizona at all. They are drawn bvrnwhat they call The Climate, or whatrnmight more accurately be termed I hernEnd of Weather. During the threernmonths I spent in liicson the winter beforernlast, the sky barely changed from arncustomary milky blue that prevailedrnacross a wide spectrum of increasing andrndecreasing temperatures, as if an electricrnoven were being turned up or down.rnPleasant enough in its way of course, butrnalso rather eerie and very monotonous.rnBut the Bluehcads, as the AARP crowd isrnknown locally, seem not to notice. Theyrnwant life at womb temperature andrnpeace, not variety and excitement.rnLate winter and early spring are myrnwandering time, less because I am fed uprnwith the northern snows than becausernthe summers in Wyoming are so perfectrnand evanescent that I am unwillingrnto miss so much as a week of them. Andrnthe Southwest, lovely at all times of thernyear, is especially beautiful in March andrnApril. In order to appreciate it, though,rnyou need to get far away from the “seniors,”rnwho with their short pants andrnsneakers, discounted prices, unadulteratedrnleisure, and general irresponsibilityrngive new meaning to the words “secondrnJUNE 1994/49rnrnrn