The Hundredth Meridianrnby Chilton Williamson, JrrnA Happy Hunting GroundrnThe alarm clock went off in the dark. Inrnthe light of the electric lantern, frost glitteredrnon shadowed nylon walls. The insidernzipper stuck; after a few futile tugs Irnescaped through the mouth of the mummvrnbag. I had on long Johns, wool socks,rnand a wool shirt; but the predawn cold bitrnan}how. The lantern was weak, the tentrntall enough to kneel in as I gathered myrnscattered clothes: wool army pants,rnleather vest, bandanna kerchief, orangernhunting coat. My hunting knife and revolverrnwere at hand, ready in an emergencyrnat the head of the bag. Muddyrnboots waiting in the vestibule overhangingrnthe tent door, gloves somewhere. Irndidn’t want to be doing this, but I’drnpulled two horses 323 miles to do it, so Irnwas. Same old story every year. A manrnmy age ought to be in Florida—but therernarc no elk in Florida. Only geriatricsrnfrom New York, illegal aliens from thernCaribbean, and the Bush brothers. Tlie illuminatedrndial on my wristwatch read 6:08rnalready. Here we go: like climbing out ofrnyour grave in the middle of the night.rnThe moon, slightly reduced from thernhalf was on its way down as I emergedrnfrom the tent, booted and with thernlantern in one hand. Overnight the firernhad burned down to a sifting of pale ashrnat the bottom of the fire pit. With the aidrnof the lantern I gathered a handfid ofrntwigs and the ends of a few dead pinernboughs which I tossed on the ashes, hopingrnfor a responsive curl of smoke. No go.rnFumbling in the pocket of the huntingrncoat, I came up with a butane lighter:rnchildproof, with a lock that has to be resetrneach time vou thumb the wheel.rnImagining the innumerable childrenrnwho must have suffered third-degreernburns to that necessar}’ appendage whilerntring to ignite a birthday candle or lightrnup an illegal cigarette made me want torncr’, almost. I broke an inch and a half ofrnice on the water bucket, filled the coffeepot,rnand set it to boil on the grate whilernI went to ready the horses. Nobody elsernawake in camp: It looks like just me forrnthe morning hunt.rnThe horses’ breath steamed as Irnworked to saddle up quickly in the redolentrnaura of equine heat, fumbling at thernleather straps with stiffened hands. A fewrnstreaks of color showed above the easternrnmountains, and then a light came up inrnDick McCuistion’s tent, a ruddy glowrnthrough the red nylon walls. (Wliy not arnwhorehouse in elk camp? The bestrnequipped ones have all the other conveniencesrnof home.) God it’s cold, and wernhave to ride in a few minutes.rn”Wind’s up,” Dick remarked. “Goingrnto make the hunting pretty hard thisrnmorning.”rn”Hunting’s always Ixard,” I said.rnWe rode out breakfastless at 6:48, notrnquite early enough to catch the fade-backrnbeyond timberline at first light that followsrna moonlit night and usually makesrnfor the best hunting of the day.rnFor this first season since reestablishingrnresidency in Wyoming I was huntingrnthe eastern slope of the northern WindrnRiver Mountains, after last sununer’srnFontenellc Fire burned 17 or 18 thousandrnacres of my old elk grounds in thernWyoming Range north of Kemmerer.rnWorking from a camp set 26 miles northwestrnof Dubois and a mile and a half eastrnof the Continental Divide, we were concentratingrnnow on the Warm Springs andrnTrout Creek drainages and the high,rnwide ridge between them where we’drnspotted a cow elk and two yearlings thernsecond morning out On foot rather thanrnhorseback, we watched for half an hourrnfrom a pine grove above Warm SpringsrnGreek as they grazed slowly uphill acrossrnthe face of a steep clearing and into therntrees beneath a low saddle in the ridge.rnLater, I’d returned with the gelding, tiedrnup among plentiful piles of elk pelletsrnscattered in the bittcn-down grass, andrncrossed over with my rifle at the readv,rnmoving carefully and keeping just insidernthe forest edge. Beyond the ridgeline therneast-facing aspect sloped downhill at anrneasy angle toward the tawny meadowrnwhere Trout Greek ran. The hillside hadrnbeen clearcut 20 years and more ago, andrnreplacement trees, rising to about eightrnfeet in height, sprung fresh and green.rnSnow lay between the wide-spaced trees,rnand the snow was imprinted with therntracks of elk going across and up andrndown hill: scores of elk of both sexes,rnyoimg, old, and middle-aged. (You canrnsex an elk track by the disposition of thernanimal’s body weight, toe to heel.) Therndiscovery made it possible to completernthe territorial map I’d been sketching inrnmv head. The herd would spend thernnight on the west side of the ridge, grazingrnthe protein-rich grass and browsingrnthe forbs. Before daylight, they’d go torndrink from Warm Springs Greek, thenrngraze their way up and over the ridge afterrnsunrise to the new forest where theyrncould bed down for the day in the sun’srnwarmth, close by the mature timber thatrnis their security. It was what we’d neededrnto know, the kind of natural bus routernthat is the key to successfid elk hunting.rnFinally, a clearcut requires logging roads,rnand we were camped at the head of onernof these, behind a closure gate set inrnplace by the Forest Service, on the eastrnslope of the ridge. It seemed a foregonernconclusion that our road must cross thernclearcut below, offering a downwind approachrnto the bedded elk herd. I recrossedrnthe ridge to pick up the horse andrnrode back to camp, where Dick and I laidrnplans for the morning hunt.rnThe frozen ruts creaked under thernhorses’ hooves as we rode with our backsrnto the creeping salmon-colored light andrnthe wind, blowing eastward across thernridge, blindsided us on our left side. Itrnwas a bullying, penetrating wind, workingrnits way into my eustachian tiibes andrncutting under my collar to my tonsils, alreadyrninflamed by a stubborn infection.rn”I hate the damn wind,” I told Dick.rn”It’s like a personal enemy somehow.”rn”I don’t mind the wind as much as I dornthe rain. I had enough getting wet inrnX^ietnam.”rnJANUARY 2001/57rnrnrn