The Hundredth Meridian

The Alternative Candidate

Several thousand feet below a smoke cloud 20,000 feet thick and 1,500 miles in diameter, the American West looks so peaceful, so at ease, so normal, no matter that over a million acres of it are on fire. The fires, most of them started by dry lightning strikes and burning out overmature forests thickened with dead and down timber, aren't really the problem. The threat, at the present moment, comes from Philadelphia and Los Angeles, where America's vaunted two-party system is engaged in further deconstructing the country whose welfare is ostensibly its raison d'être, not least by its encouragement of aggressive millions of immigrant aliens whose effect on American culture and institutions, as well as on the land itself, is comparable to the damage a pine beetle infestation wreaks on a Western forest. The powers that be, getting things backward as always, want the fires extinguished, the invasion ignored. Still, the traffic is noticeably lighter than when I came this way through Colorado last year: high gas prices discouraging the native tourists, unfavorable exchange rates keeping the foreign ones at home. Between Climax, the mining town that over the past century has removed and chewed up the topmost part of a 14,000-foot mountain, and Leadville, three young women in shorts and haltertops, their skins deeply tanned, jog in the shoulder of the road between two protecting motor homes decorated with banners reading "BORDER...

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