Monday, September 16, 2013
The One Hundredth Meridian is a symbolic and somewhat arbitrary demarcation of the arid west, called out by John Wesley Powell in the 1800s.
We've crossed it 10 times during the past four summers (on 10 different routes between Nebraska and Manitoba), but each time as we get close I forget to take note.
We crossed it this past Saturday afternoon and I actually remembered to stop. An ideal picture would show well-watered corn and alfafa to the east and wheat and cattle to the west - but the already fuzzy line is blurred these days by irrigation practices that depend on replumbed rivers, groundwater pumping (mining?), and more federal subsidy than folks around here probably want to admit (and maybe a little luck in the late 20th century climate, too).
On U.S. 12 in South Dakota (east of Selby), there is a plaque marking the line. The sign dates to 1956 and shows true western boosterism and revisionist geography. True, the high plains have been much more productive than many could have imagined, but I think Powell's point was that the ground rules would have to be different, particularly when it came to land division, farming practices, and water apportionment.
It was sort of ironic that it was drizzling when we crossed the line!