The Hundredth Meridian

The End of Drought

Somewhere between Muddy Gap and the old uranium town of Jeffrey City I became aware of my lungs, painfully expanding and contracting inside my denim shirt. Beyond Jeffrey City the smoke cloud was visible to the northwest, a pinkish-grey mass hanging on the mountainous horizon and planed along its upper edge by atmospheric winds: large portions of the states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming burning up, millions of acres of evergreen timber, pinyon-juniper transitional forests, and grasslands. Who's to blame? The Western Republican governors and congressional delegations finger President Clinton, the timber and ranching interests blame the National Forest Service and the Federal Bureau of Land Management, environmentalists blame the timber companies and—some of them—the NFS; the federal government as an entity blames what it might call an Act of God, if it believed in Him. Probably the conflagration is the result of all of these things, plus others. In brainwashed, juvenilized, sniveling, squishysoft, faux-innocent America, we always have to have someone to blame—and, wherever possible, sue—for a variety of inconveniences and unpleasantnesses that previous generations of humanity accepted as being merely the vicissitudes of life. Hard thoughts, but what else for a 297-mile, six-hour trek across bare interior Wyoming pulling two horses at 55 miles an hour, with no air conditioning in hundred-degree temperatures and nothing...

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