The Hundredth Meridianrnby Chilton Williamson, ]r.rnA Sinner in ParadisernWhite sky, white earth. In the foregroundrna fencehne: three strands ofrnbarbed wire stretehed taut betweenrnerooked posts eut from a juniper forestrngrow ing along the sandstone hogback,rnthe bottom strand running in and out ofrnlow drifts of scalloped snow. The brushyrntips of sagebrush yibrahng on a stiff windrnaboe the snowglaze, the brown buncligrass,rnpurple villows marking therndrainage where a creek runs beneath arnlid of semi-transparent ice, the black waterrnbreaking through in places wherernmoss and tiny waterplants show green. Arnmoose and her calf, blackened and misshapen,rnbrowsing half-concealed in thernwillow and greasewood; farther along thernfence the fro/en carcass of a doe antelopernhanging b’ the heels of the top wire shernfailed to clear. A pair of bald eaglesrnperched in a wind-polished snag, waitingrnfor a semi to hit a crossing deer, hi thernmiddle distance die dark sliapes of cattlernpointed in the same direction with theirrnmuzzles dovyn, grazing the knolls wherernthe w ind has swept the ground bare ofrnsnow; at the horizon a black timberedrnridge patched and runneled with white,rnblurred b snow like sifting flour. TherernactualK are people in the yorld who dislikerntliis scene.rnFour inches of ice to break on the wateringrntrough this morning. It’s constructedrnof gaKanized iron, the ice formingrnalong the inside curye and growingrntoward the center in an oyal, ever-thickeningrnledge that resfsts loosening underrnblows from an iron pike with a snakeshapedrnhead. The horses are eatingrnsnow, which the’ shouldn’t do, but howdorn} on keep a horse from eating snowrnwhen he’s pastured on a couple of acresrnof it? The’ look like yaks vyith theirrngrow n-out coats but moye differently,rntossing their heads and kicking up theirrnheels as w c converge on the wooden cribrnwhere I throw down a third of a 110-rnpound bale of Elk Mountain hay, thernbest grass grown in Wyoming, rich inrnproteins and ‘itanrins. You buy cheaperrnstuff, your horses can process hay all dayrnand still post a calorie deficit over a 24-rnhour period. The wind out of the northwestrncuts beneath m’ hatbrim like a macheternand sends scarves of gray snowrntwisting across the highway into town.rnMy friend Rhonda, her six-year-oldrndaughter Micaela, and Australian sheeprndog are leaving this morning for ManhattanrnBeach, California, to spend Christmasrnwith their family. Posted on m’rneonrputer are the phone numbers for diernWyoming Department of Transportationrnand the Wyoming Highwa Patrol. Bothrnreport dry roads and favorable weaHierrnalong Interstate 80 from Rawlins west tornSalt Lake City; between Laramie andrnRawlins, a distance of 98 miles over thernredoubtable Elk Mountain pass, expectrnsnow, blowing snow, high winds, slickrnroads.rn”Remember: l^rive SLOWI..Y, breathernon the accelerator, use your left pinky onrnthe steering wheel, brake with the middlerntoe of yom right foot, and keep yourrnheadlights and flasher on.”rn’Til be all RIGHT. If it gets too bad I’llrnpull off the road and stop.”rn”Rhonda, it’s a hundred miles betweenrntowns. You’re from California,rnyou have no idea how bad it can get outrnhere.”rn”Stop it, you’re making me nervous. Irndrive 85 miles an hour in eight lanes ofrntraffic all the time.”rnIn m- 52-and-a-half years I’ve neverrnmanaged to tell a woman anything.rnSeasonal stories in the press of collegernstudents reported lost in the RockyrnMountains. The weather was mild w henrnthey started their hike, so they had onrnjeans, a light shirt and jacket, Nikes, Adidases,rnor just plain tennis shoes. Whererndo kids grow up these days? When Irncame out West 20 years ago I wasn’t sorndumb, having read in Laura IngallsrnWildcr’s books her terrifying accounts ofrnthree-day blizzards closing within minutes,rnfarmers losing their way betweenrnthe barn and the house, wandering off intornthe whiteout prairie to freeze stiff as arndried codfish. (I spent years looking overrnmy shoulder in the Wyoming mountainsrnin elk season, expecting to be sandbaggedrnby a South Dakota storm.)rnAround Whiskey Mountain south ofrnDubois the Bighorn sheep are comingrndovii, crossing from one drainage to thernnext across the mountain’s tawny shoulder:rnthree, five, nine, a dozen, twentysomernof them appearing o er the ridge,rnspidery black shapes plunging downhillrnat a trot into the next creek bottom. Forrnpractice, I put the glasses on them torncheck for length of horn: Your friendlyrngame warden will issue you a citation forrntaking a ram as little as one-eighth of onerninch short of full curl, and you’re shootingrnat two to three hundred yards. At TorrevrnLake the deer are browsing the sagebrushrnbeside the dirt road, one of tliem arnfat four-point buck w ith an agreeable expressionrnand a notable curiosih’ about us.rn”If I had my gun along, his d – – k wouldrnbe in the dirt!” My friend Jack Mootzrnspeaking from our oilpateh das, 20 yearsrnago: I can still hear—and feel—the blastrnof his .264 magnum going off beside mernon the front seat of the old CMC Jimmyrnwe took hunting with us back then. TodayrnI park at the turnaround at tiie headrnof the road, and Norma and I hike thernBomber Lake trail a couple of miles upstream,rnfollowing the creek as it plungesrnover the piled-up pink granite. To ourrnleft, a thousand feet abo e, the shoulderrnof the mountain is being scoured by a 60-rnmile-an-hour wind sweeping the snowrnfrom the open park and the trail we traversedrnhorseback as far as Cannett Peak,rn23 or 25 miles back in on the ContinentalrnDivide, four or five summers ago. Thernhmneling wind is what remains of a w interrnstorm ravaging western Wyoming asrntar as the Wind River Range, w hich stopsrnit in its tracks abruptl)’ as a 12-gauge shotgunrnhalts a grizzly bear: Here in the valleyrnof the Wind River—known to the Indiansrnas the Warm Valley —the day isrnspring-like, as if the year were playing itselfrnbackward like a tape recorder in reverse.rnIt’s an illusion, of course; the yearrnwinding down to the dreaded “holidays,”rnwhich are to holiness what Disneyland isrnMARCH 2000/49rnrnrn