The Hundredth Meridianrnhy Chilton Williamson, Jr.rnBacktracking for HomernI was gone from Wyoming less than twornyears, not so long as to forget, just enoughrnfor the shock of recognition to bernpoignant. The cold northern skies, therntilted mesas tinged green with sagebrushrnand purple with lupin, and how theyrnsmell after rain; the dark, distant mountainsrnwhose mottling snows above timberlinernmerge with the piling summerrnclouds; the lucid green aspen forestsrnhemmed by black timber; the highrnmountain meadows, designated “parks”rnby the British-born Mountain Menrnstruck by their seemingly human regularit}”;rnthe willowy meairders in the floodplains,rnthe buck-and-pole fences, all thernprett)’ flowers…. It’s good to be home inrnWyoming again. Racial memory is a politicallyrnincorrect theory which stands arngood chance of having reality behind itrnnonetheless. Seeing Wyoming for thernfirst time at the age of 30,1 had a feelingrnof total and immediate acceptancernaniounhng to identity. Nineteen yearsrnlater, watching Braveheart with BilliernJean Redemeyer and Wally Roney onrntheir cattle ranch in the northern SacramentornVallev, I finally understood whyrnwhen an earlv scene of a talus peak inrnScotland rising above a mountain lakernwith a stand of dwarf pine in the foregroLuidrncreated a momentary illusion ofrnthe High Uinta Mountains along thernUtah-Woming border. I have never visitedrnthe north of Scotland where my ancestorsrnin untold generations froze andrnthrove amid gorse, naked rock, andrnmist—things my Celtic blood remembered,rnthough in 1977 they were stillrn”new” to me.rnI’m in southeastern Wyoming now,rnnot southwestern; Laramie rather thanrnKemmerer, 290 road miles away: a universit)’rntown instead of a coal one, orientedrnto Den’er rather than Salt Lake Cit’,rncapital of Greater Mormonlandia. GoingrnG.P. Snow one better, Laramie hasrnthree cultures, not two: the University ofrnWyoming, the ranching community,rnand the townies —the people who sellrnyou Budweiser and boots and the studentsrncomputers and condoms; who fixrnyour roof when it leaks and collect the localrnpropertv’ ta.xcs. In the bars downtown,rngood foreign beer is on tap, and there arernplenty of interesting people to talk to. Inrnthe Buckhorn, where locals aird ruralrnoutlanders gather (along with plenty ofrnthe college kids) after work and gettingrninto a fistfight is as easy as running uprnyour credit card at the mall, the conversationrnhas to do with sports, big-game hunting,rnand women; across the street andrnaround the corner at Cafe Jacques, thernbarman is ready to take on anyone disputingrnhis views of Gormac McCarthy’srnnovels, and a geologist with UW describesrnthe ruins of a Spanish haciendarnhe discovered last summer in the desertrnnorth of Magdalena, New Mexico. Afterrnnine o’clock at night during JubileernDays, squad cars pause beside the openrndoors of the bars while the drivers searchrnout the faces of familiar drunks, and departingrnpatrons are liable to a tail or else arnpolice escort until they’ve had a chancernto demonstrate their legal sobriety behindrnthe wheel. In a town where (thernMatthew Shepard case to the contrary)rncrime is nearly nonexistent and tiie undergraduatesrnare trying to outdrink therncowboys who are trying to put the universityrnfaculty under the table, DWI apparentlyrnis the Laramie PD’s chief concern.rnI imagine Laramie, Wyoming, a townrnbuilt in the middle of a mature cottonwoodrnforest (tough on the allergy-prone,rnthe Cottonwood is nevertheless about thernonly tree that will grow here) to be arnWestern version of Oxford, Mississippi,rnin Faulkner’s day: a universit)- town thatrnis also a rural seat and regional hub.rnWith less than 27,000 residents (by thern1990 census), it doesn’t look to havernchanged much in the last 50 years; certainlyrnnot in the 20 I have known it. Therndowntown business district, earmarkedrnfor historical preservation years ago, isrndominated by the slim sandstone spire ofrnSt. Matthew’s Episcopal Church liftingrnabove the two-storey red-brick facadesrnand flat roofs, everything within a blockrnor two of the railyards where the UnionrnPacific trains rumble between Cheyennernand Rawlins, regular and confident as ifrncommercial flight and the trucking industryrnwere totally unheard of The oldrnresidential district where I live, threernblocks from the universit)’, looks as muchrnMidwestern as Western: handsome clapboardrnbungalows and stucco ones, brickrnhouses, and tall, gabled buildings shadedrnby the massy cottonwoods and grown uprnaround with old lilac bushes and pleasantrnflower gardens (the one belonging to myrnneighbor across the way is exemplary).rnThe streets are named for presidents ofrnthe United States during the First AmericanrnEmpire, and also Civil War generalsrn(fightirrg on the Union side, of course,rnwhich didn’t have many good ones) whorncame West, after thev freed the slaves, tornbutcher the Plains Indians. Their namesrnare carefully inscribed in the curbstonesrnat the iirtersections where the streets thatrnhonor them meet. An Old Americanrntown, Laramie: a relic of the Americarnsome of us still remember, from the timesrnbefore America ceased to be.rnStepping out to the middle of KearneyrnStreet in front of Number 1301, I lookrnwest 15 blocks between the double row ofrnshade trees to the territorial railroad depotrnand beyond it, across the LaramiernPlains, to the Snowy Range pushing uprnacross the border from west of Estes Park,rnColorado. Twelve thousand feet highrnand plainly visible at a distance of 40rnmiles, Medicine Bow Peak stands forward,rna thin wall of granite holding backrnthe western sky. In July, the rock isrnthreaded with platinum veins of snow;rnelsewhere the countr)’ is a cool green, wateryrnlooking beneath the depths of bluernsky where exfoliating thundcrheads likernpink and gold roses are blooming by earlyrnafternoon. Naturally, 1 had to gornthere—by pickup truck first, scouting forrnaccess later by horseback.rnThe weather was cloudy over thernLaramie Plain when I started, with arnpowerful storm cell rupturing itself onrnthe granite peaks. An intermittent rainrnbegan falling as I started into the foothills,rnchanging to hail below Lake Marie andrnthe pass at 10,847 feet. But the skyrnOCTOBER 1999/49rnrnrn