The Hundredth Meridianrnby Chilton Williamson, Jr.rnPresent for the DurationrnKemmerer, Wyoming: Population 3,500,rnmore or less; throw in another thousandrnor so for Frontier and Diamondville, thernthree together making Greater Kemmerer.rnFive churches, two Mormonrnstake houses. The Lincoln CountyrnCourthouse and the Lincoln CountyrnLaw Enforcement Facility (late 20thcenturyrnterm meaning Sheriff’s Office).rnFive motels, two supermarkets and anrnALCO store, five restaurants (not includingrnfast-food joints), seven bars.rnArchie Neil Park, the Kemmerer FieldrnClub and golf course. The LincolnrnCounty Library and the Frontier Museum.rnNo art gallery, no symphony orchestrarnor string quartet, no ballet, nornmovie theater, no research library, nornbookstore even. A stripped-down existence,rnyou might say. Ld rather be deadrn(others have suggested). Nevertheless, Irnlike it—in fact I flourish—here.rn”Why would you want to live inrnWyoming?” the horrified editor of arnprominent neoconservative journal askedrnlue about a decade ago. “Don’t you likernpeople?” a learned professor inquiredrnat a literary conference in Jackson,rnWyoming, last spring. In spite of my unconsideredrnreply (“Not much”), therntruth is that I do of course like people, inrnparticular those of the female persuasion.rnBut I do not care for large concentrationsrnof people, and I am even lessrnfond of the sort of environment thatrnmodern people in large numbers creaternfor themselves and seem to enjoy. Forrnone thing, these environments—calledrn”cities” or “suburbs”—are human andrnaesthetic disasters, designed primarilyrnfor a more abundant life for the machinesrnthat inhabit them and only secondarilyrnfor the flesh-and-blood robotsrnthat operate the machines; for another, Irnprefer a setting where the natural ratherrnthan the manmade world is the dominatingrninescapable presence. Not just dornmen and women seem to be most themselvesrnliving in small communities adriftrnin natural space, they appear to appreciaterneach other better too. Cities wererngood enough things in centuries pastrnwhen the)’ were, at least by comparisonrnwith the megalopoli of the present age,rnrelatively small, and even more so whenrnenclosed by walls that prevented themrnfrom metastasizing like cancers. But atrnsome point in the 20th century citiesrnceased being centers of learning, the arts,rnand even trade—or perhaps it is fairer tornsay that learning and the arts virtuallyrnceased to exist, while the objects of tradernbecame humanly worthless, consumeristrnbaubles produced by the greedy for thernstupid, the ignorant, the lazy, and therndepraved. Unhappily, coincident withrnthese developments municipalities degeneratedrninto command centers for anrnimperialistic modernism whose aim isrnto make over the provinces and hinterlandsrnit despises as “provincial” (whatrnelse?) and “unprogressive.” It is possiblernthat finally they will not succeed in thernendeavor, since living in Kemmerer,rnWyoming, or in Magdalena, New Mexico,rnor in Wolf Hole, Arizona, in thern1990’s often seems comparable tornwatching from a lifeboat at a safe distancernas the Titanic goes down. Thesernare times for prudent and thoughtfulrnmen to position themselves a little beyondrnthe maelstrom, for perspective’srnsake as well as security’s. And to keeprntheir powder dry. Probably freedom hasrnless to do with constitutions, bills ofrnrights, an independent judiciary, freernmarkets, and free speech—all of whichrncan be repealed by the stroke of a pen—rnthan with living far out on the edge ofrnthings where you’re hard to find andrnkeeping a sidearm handy. Not that itrnhelped Randy Weaver much.rnI suppose life in a small mining townrnin western Wyoming must have its limitations,rnthough for me they are so slightrnor so little galling that I ceased to bernaware of them many years ago. No artrngallery means Robert Mapplethorpe exhibitsrndon’t visit here, while looking atrnlandscape paintings in Wyoming is likernexamining Botticellis at the ChickenrnRanch. Movies are the Enemy, and television,rnfor which you need a cablernhookup costing $25 a month in Kemmerer,rnis an even greater enemy. (I don’trnhave any hookup; writers ought to economize.)rnNeedless to say, for such minorrnprivations outweighing compensationsrnexist, or I wouldn’t be here.rnThe first of these is exactly thatrnprovincialism so repugnant to all Americanrnmoderns, in particular Easterners,rnCalifornians, and moderns everywhere—rnincluding in the provinces. Provincialism,rnso far from representing human existencerntragically blighted, is actually itsrnfullest realization; in Mexico it is symbolizedrnby the Tree of Life, a gaudy ceramicrnwork in the form of a spreadingrntree whose branches are filled with humanrnBgures (including Christian saints),rnbirds, butterflies, and other creatures.rnUnlike megalopolitan life, the life of thernprovinces blends forms and levels of humanrnexperience that in cities either dornnot exist or else are sharply stratified, includingrna familiarity with nature andrnwith natural forces, with animals, andrnwith a variety of human types directlyrnshaped by natural reality and mutuallyrndependent upon one another, both economicallyrnand socially. Even at this advancedrndate, the artificial life is largely arnconstruction of the suburbs and therncities, and if it is still worth living, it isrnhardly worth examining, as recent Americanrn”literature” suggests.rnUnlike the first, the second compensationrnis almost exclusively every nativernWesterner’s birthright, the fundamentalrnground and condition of existencernthroughout the Rocky Mountain region:rnI mean space, of course, space enough tornallow a man ten square miles to back arnpickup truck around in, if he wants orrnfeels he needs it. The spaciousness ofrnthe West is a thing that non-Westernersrncan never imagine but only experience,rnand often enough it produces an overpoweringrnsense of loneliness if it doesn’trnscare them almost to death. The touristsrncall it emptiness—an emptiness enhancedrnby the nakedness of the giganticrnlandforms, treeless between the mountainrnranges and cedar breaks and cov-rnAPRIL 1994/49rnrnrn