Peter Shelton

The Dogs of Nucla

Posted in Animal Dreams, How the West was Lost, Watch columns by pshelton on May 30, 2013

Twenty-one years ago, the microscopic town of Nucla (population 711), at the west end of Montrose County, garnered national attention for its Top Dog World Championship Prairie Dog Shoot. (more…)

A Death in Colona

Posted in Animal Dreams, Watch columns by pshelton on January 25, 2013

We first saw her nibbling saltbrush outside the living room window. She was a small-to-medium sized doe with a scraggly winter coat, long eyelashes and huge, scanner ears. (more…)

The Eagle and the Cranes

Posted in Animal Dreams, Watch columns by pshelton on November 29, 2012

Balmy weather drew me up the hill behind the house one recent afternoon. The adobe clay was dry and loose underfoot and the air so still I could hear flocks of sandhill cranes coming from several miles down the valley. (more…)

Cats Nap 20 Hours a Day

Posted in Animal Dreams, Confessions of a Grandpa, Watch columns by pshelton on September 7, 2012

The last couple of times Cecily has called from Bishop it has been in the afternoon, during Boden’s afternoon nap. He’s a high-energy little guy, and will sometimes take morning and afternoon naps, to recharge his batteries. But now Cecily is trying to encourage only the afternoon naps.

She has found a day-care pre-school situation that will give her some time a couple mornings a week. It’s called Smokey’s. (The name comes from the fact that children of Forest Service employees – Boden’s dad Mike is a wildland firefighter – are reserved spaces at the school.) At Smokey’s there is no morning naptime.

We accept the need for naps at either end of Shakespeare’s seven ages of man – while little bodies and brains are growing fast, and again when things are slowing down, before we are “sans everything.”

My dad, who turns 89 in a few weeks, has earned his afternoon naps. He went hard for all those decades in the 20th century; he’s still busy, but now his schedule is his own. He’s got one of those very comfortable loungers that tilts back and pops a footrest up under your calves just so, supporting every inch of your length in soft leather.

He watches TV in that chair, and he falls asleep in it. He’s probably watching the U.S. Open tennis right now. But unless it’s a particularly exciting match, he may be catching a few zzz’s between points.

I was reading on the couch on Sunday. Patti Smith’s memoir, Just Kids. The early chapters zero in on her poor-starving-artist years in New York City with Robert Mapplethorpe, before he became a famous photographer and she became a famous punk-rock poet. This was in the late 1960s. They are almost exactly my age. (Smith is my age; Mapplethorpe died, of AIDS, in 1989.) They lived on day-old bread and lettuce soup. Smith would come home from her job at Scribner’s bookstore to their ratty apartment in Brooklyn, and the two would stay up all night working side by side on their art. From the sound of it, they rarely slept.

My eyes were swimming across the page a little bit. I had to reread the same paragraph twice. Then a third time. Ellen has a phrase: “Just resting my eyes.” Not sleeping, just resting my eyes. I placed the book face down on my belly and set my reading glasses on the table. I would rest my eyes for just a few minutes.

We frown on naps in the productive years. Unless you are sick. Or recovering from a hellacious night. As Americans we are expected to be doing, creating, generating wealth or at least producing satisfaction from our work, or our play. Doing nothing is a kind of Puritan sin. Napping in the middle of a perfectly good day is somehow unacceptable.

Look at Spain. They siesta after lunch and then they can’t manage supper until 11 p.m. Not productive. Not acceptable.

My mother took a nap one afternoon while hiking on Catalina Island. The rest of the family was roaring around on the beach, and she needed to get away by herself. She lay down in the dry grass in the shade of a small tree and fell blissfully asleep. She was awakened by an odd sound and found herself in a staring match with a rattlesnake just a couple of feet away. Though terrified, my mother managed to back away as carefully as Marcel Marceau.

I once fell asleep at the base of the White House Ruin in Canyon de Chelly. It was the middle of the day. I wasn’t supposed to be there. I’d scrambled down the opposite canyon wall at an unauthorized spot near some Navajo sheep corrals. For the longest time after I awoke I believed I had just scaled the impossible, featureless sandstone to the upper ruin in its cave. At the very least, I was sure I had been shown something inexplicable, something marvelous that haunted the rest of my drive to Colorado.

When I woke on Sunday, the sun had shifted position in the sky. For a second, I didn’t know where I was, or who I was. I felt sheepish for having “missed” the last 60 minutes. Then I wasn’t. And I was able to stay up until 11 p.m. finishing a couple of stories for this week’s newspaper.

Boden still needs his naps. Cecily is not about to deprive him of that sweet time, morning or afternoon. He needs his sleep. So does his grandpa.

Born to Run

Posted in Animal Dreams, At the Movies, Watch columns by pshelton on September 15, 2011

I don’t run the Imogene; I’ve never run the 18 miles up and over from Ouray to Telluride. I don’t run much at all anymore, unless it’s to sprint after a grandchild who is crawling toward the stairs.

But I do remember the feeling, from years past, when limbs and lungs were working just right, and the trail led away into Siren-call hills and it felt as if I could run forever. (more…)

Raven Steals the Sun

Posted in Animal Dreams, Watch columns by pshelton on September 1, 2011

The first golf ball was not far outside our fence line, within driving distance (or long-iron range), maybe, of the house.

There it sat in the adobe clay, like a shiny white egg. What the . . ? What was a golf ball doing out on this dry sage hillside? (more…)

When the Enemy is Adorable

Posted in Animal Dreams by pshelton on May 13, 2011

They look so cute up on the rock sunning themselves in the morning: a mother golden-mantled ground squirrel and her litter of five fuzzy youngsters. (more…)

Tick Tock

Posted in Animal Dreams, Watch columns by pshelton on May 12, 2011

I was lying under the car in that strangely peaceful place where dirty oil is flowing into the pan and I’m about to unscrew the old oil filter – when I saw a tick crawling on my sleeve. There was another one ambling across the old blue camp pad I use to soften the gravel in the driveway. (more…)

Hunt or Be Hunted

Posted in Animal Dreams, Watch columns by pshelton on February 12, 2011


I know which way a mind wended this morning, what horizon it faced, by the setting of these tracks . . .

– Henry David Thoreau


Last week on a long, slow chairlift ride at Powderhorn my eye fixed on a meandering set of animal tracks. (more…)

Seven At One Blow

Posted in Animal Dreams, Watch columns by pshelton on November 5, 2010

Tonapaw, when he was still with us, decided that one of his most important jobs was to catch and eat houseflies. He’d pin them against a windowsill with his paws, peer under, and gobble them up with a couple of quick bites.

Ellen and I praised him every time he did this. And he did it right up until the last month or so of his life. Did it with astonishing dexterity and reflexes: the reflexes of a cat.

The only problem was, he was too good at it. In the fall, during Indian summer, when the days are still quite warm and it’s maximum housefly season here at Boulder Rock, Tony could consume dozens of flies in an afternoon. When he overdid it, we’d find disgusting puddles of cat barf swimming with fly bodies, some of them maybe still struggling in the soup. (more…)