Peter Shelton

The Fight on Everest

Posted in At the Movies, More Sport, Watch columns by pshelton on June 6, 2013

I wish I could have been there for the Everest 50th anniversary show at Mountainfilm, with Jim Whittaker, Tom Hornbein and Conrad Anker. (more…)

Six Tips for Conquering Writer’s Block

Posted in Uncategorized by pshelton on June 7, 2012

Can’t come up with a column this week? Here are six sure-fire ways to break through the writer’s block and come up with ideas galore.

One: Head downstairs to the basement and wax your skis for summer storage. You left the skis out because there was always that chance someone would invite you up to Alaska for a late-season film shoot. But now that that seems unlikely, it’s time to get busy and put ‘em away.

Fill the dings in the base from that last sketchy day at Aspen Highlands when the rocks were hidden under a late-April coat of paint. Drip flaming P-tex into the gouges. Let P-tex puddles cool. Scrape smooth. Run your finger along the edges to detect burrs that need to be worked with the diamond stone. Run upstairs to get a Band-Aid for your finger. Select mystery yellow wax from the bottom of the box and iron into bases. With Pozidriv loosen the springs in the binding toe and heel pieces so they’re not wound tight all off-season. Reluctantly move skis to the storeroom.

Two: Read the story in The New Yorker about the American, William Morgan, a runaway kid from Ohio obsessed with magic tricks who went to Cuba in 1957 to join the revolution and became a Yankee Comandante in Castro’s army, and married a Cuban woman revolutionary (Hemingway, eat your heart out!) and was later recruited (maybe) by the CIA to organize an anti-Castro plot, which turned out to be a double-cross, which made him even more of a hero in Cuba, for a while, but he was executed by firing squad eventually anyway.

Phew! I mean this guy must have been some kind of charming, and fearless, and mercurial – or hollow – in ways that even his family never understood. His beautiful Cuban wife – she was his third, or fourth, I forget (he married his first in Reno 24 hours after they’d met on the train) – she loved him with a gran amor. She was imprisoned in Havana, too. But she drugged her guards with sleeping pills dissolved in hot chocolate and escaped, was caught again, beaten to the point of disfigurement, and eventually shipped out on the Mariel boatlift. J. Edgar Hoover was obsessed with Morgan, developed a huge dossier on him, but couldn’t figure him out either.

No column ideas there.

Three: Go for a walk on the hill behind the house. But first, because it’s the middle of the day, and pretty hot, slather your exposed areas with sunscreen. Work it into your ear wrinkles. Rub it through the stubble of your weekend beard. Make sure you get it around the back of your neck between the hairline and the line of your t-shirt.

This task will make you think of the man you once saw in Telluride scraping his windshield on a frosty winter morning. A fastidious man, he tackled the windscreen with unhurried precision. Then he scraped each of the side windows perfectly clean, edge-to-edge, deep in the corners, no white left anywhere. And the rear window the same. Then he did the taillights. And the headlights. And the grille. And the windshield wipers. And the side mirrors. Maybe he was trying to come up with a column idea.

Four: Search the bookshelves for your first-edition 1967 copy of On the Loose, by Terry and Renny Russell. Because at the Mountainfilm festival last weekend a friend introduced you to Renny Russell, the younger brother, now a leathery artist/curmudgeon, who had just completed his annual solo trip down the Green River in a wooden dory he built himself.

Renny was 19 and Terry 21 when the Sierra Club agreed to publish their book, which featured Renny’s beautiful calligraphy and quotes and photos and Whitman-esque reveries from their soulful, wildland wanderings.

Just before the book was to be released, the brothers took off on a celebratory float down the Green. Their boat flipped, and Terry drowned. On page 85, there is this: “Adventure is not in the guidebook and Beauty is not on the map.”

Five: Put Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks on the record player. Maybe there’s an idea there. “If I ventured in the slipstream / between the viaducts of your dream . . . Could you find me? / Would you kiss-a my eyes?”

Six: Get out the push mower and mow the lawn, even though it is patchy and drought hardened and has only a couple of green spots tall enough for the spinning blades to lop. Clockwise in a circle. Then counterclockwise. It takes only about a minute and a half. There is no resistance. Still, there are a few grass clippings stuck to your sandals. Carry the mower back to the shed.

Come in and have a nice dinner with your wife.

Give up.

Go to bed. Tomorrow is another day.

Myth of the Automatic Earth

Posted in Uncategorized by pshelton on May 31, 2012

I should have seen Under African Skies, the movie about Paul Simon’s controversial album Graceland, on Mountainfilm Saturday.

It was a dry wind

And it swept across the desert

And it curled into the circle of birth

And the dead sand

Falling on the children

The mothers and the fathers

And the automatic earth . . .

Telluride had its very own haboob, or dust storm, on Saturday, as the sky turned gray and wind gusts in the 60s and 70s swirled through the streets, dropping branches and cutting power temporarily to the theaters. Instead, I saw it on Sunday night in the park, under a scimitar moon and brilliant, cold, dust-free skies. The automatic earth reset.

But is the earth automatic still? Will it be able to reset – its climate, its water, its ice – now that we’ve passed seven billion? That was the big question at this year’s gathering of films and film people. A significant percentage of the movies, and the presentations, were about artists, artists becoming activists, particularly when confronted with oppressive governments (Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry), with pigheaded injustice (Bidder 70), and with willful denial in the face of photographic evidence (Chasing Ice). Paul Simon, too, in 1985, defied an international embargo, and accusations he ripped off the natives, to make music with black South Africans in the midst of apartheid.

These are the days of miracle and wonder

This is the long distance call

The way the camera follows us in slow-mo

The way we look to us all . . .

The way we look to Paul Ehrlich is morbidly funny. Ehrlich, the author of the 1968 mind-blower, The Population Bomb, told the symposium audience on Friday that there was in fact one “essential purpose to the automobile – as a place for American teens to have sex.”

Ehrlich was deadly serious, too. He insisted that “population and consumption cannot be separated . . . Starting a war over oil (to burn) is like starting a food war over cyanide (to eat),” he said.

“We will need many Uncle Tom’s Cabins to change the story” of our consumptive trajectory. We have had successes, he added, some hope hedging his bleak humor. “When the time was right, we have changed. We changed consumption patterns completely during World War II, for four years. We had the political will. Our biggest challenge now is to ripen the time. Like the civil rights movement. Like the fall of the Soviet Union.”

What if, a questioner in the audience asked, we found a completely clean energy source, like nuclear fusion? “It would be like giving an idiot child a machine gun,” Ehrlich responded. The consumption would reach berserker stage.

These are the days of lasers in the jungle

Lasers in the jungle somewhere

Staccato signals of constant information

A loose affiliation of millionaires

And billionaires and baby . . .

Journalist Richard Heinberg, author of The End of Growth, told the same symposium that we need to “contemplate a future without growth.” Though, “for politicians, including the Obama administration, there is no getting off the growth treadmill.”

Ehrlich interjected, “There are people in the administration who know the path is insane, and they tell him, and he believes them. But his political advisers tell him he can’t go there, or he won’t get re-elected.”

Poet/biologist Sandra Steingraber, of Cape Cod, was the subject of the film Living Downstream, which chronicled her ongoing struggle against bladder cancer and her investigation into the more than 100,000 toxic chemicals that have been introduced, with little understanding, from pole to pole. As a scientist she knows better than to blame her personal disease on environmental pollution, but her worry, her “living in ambiguity,” is a clear metaphor for the near panic she feels for the planet as a whole.

(My wife, Ellen, who had breast cancer in her 40s, remembers riding bikes with her friends in the cool fog behind the DDT truck on Long Island.)

Steingraber’s newest book is about fracking for natural gas. “We’ve got to stop blowing up the bedrock and setting the results on fire so we can turn on the lights,” she said from the stage at the Palm Theater, her face tight with anger.

Asked if there is a weak spot in the headlong rush to fracking in this country, she said, “Water. Four to 9 million gallons is required to frack each hole. And it’s poisoned. Half of it stays in the ground. Half comes back up, with other poisonous hydrocarbons like benzene. It cannot be cleaned. We’re taking water out of the water cycle forever. We have water to blow up the bedrock, but we don’t have water to grow food? I think most people won’t support that.”

The day I saw Steingraber speak happened to be Rachel Carson’s birthday. Rachel Carson, who was dying of breast cancer in 1963 as she testified before Congress about DDT and other pesticides in the food chain. Rachel Carson, who wrote: “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”

The Sierra Club once dubbed Steingraber “the new Rachel Carson.” But once Steingraber learned that the doyen of environmental groups had accepted $25 million from gas-driller Chesapeake Energy, she composed an open letter which began, “Dear, Sierra Club, I’m through with you. Call some other writer your new Rachel Carson . . . The hard truth: National Sierra Club served as the political cover for the gas industry and for the politicians who take their money and do their bidding.”

The way we look to a distant constellation

That’s dying in a corner of the sky

These are the days of miracle and wonder

And don’t cry baby, don’t cry

Don’t cry.

Mountainfilm: Coming Into Its Own

Posted in At the Movies, Watch columns by pshelton on June 3, 2011

It’d be wrong to say Mountainfilm has finally grown up. It is 33 years old, after all. My 34 year-old daughter has comported herself as a grownup for at least the last 15 years.

Perhaps better to say Mountainfilm has come into its own.

This is not to say the behavior last weekend was always strictly adult. Eating ice cream with your fingers, for example. (more…)

Fear of Falling

Posted in At the Movies, Ski history, Watch columns by pshelton on May 19, 2011

Years ago, I had a great volunteer job over the Mountainfilm weekend: I would get up before the sun and lead anyone who wanted to go on a ski tour from Ophir to Telluride via East Bear Creek. The festival was smaller then. Just one theater – the Sheridan Opera House. And films were programed only in the evenings, so festivalgoers could get out and climb or ski during the day.

One crunchy, blue-snow morning in 1988, I found myself hiking with a solo festival guest, a powerfully built but shy seeming, somehow reticent young man named John Harlin III. (more…)

Hand Me That Monkey Wrench

Posted in At the Movies, Gas Pains, Watch columns by pshelton on June 10, 2010

Tim DeChristopher came to Mountainfilm representing a new generation of environmental monkey wrenchers. At least he hopes there is a growing cadre of young activists behind him.

At a breakfast panel called “Three Generations of Monkey Wrenchers,” DeChristopher, 28 (and awaiting trial for disrupting a BLM oil-and-gas lease sale in Utah), was the one with the close-cropped head and burning dark eyes.

Sitting in the middle was Dave Foreman, at 63, the gray-bearded co-founder of 1980s eco-saboteurs Earth First! And next to Foreman was 90-year-old river rat, protest singer and sometime nudist Katie Lee, who fought with all she had (and still does) the early-60s damming of her beloved Glen Canyon of the Colorado.

The passionate, uninhibited Lee, in fact, stole the show almost everywhere she went, but this morning she was equally matched. (more…)

When filmmakers become their stories

Posted in At the Movies, Gas Pains, Watch columns by pshelton on June 3, 2010

Some documentary films advocate unapologetically for change. Gasland, for example, which screened last weekend at Mountainfilm.

Josh Fox’s personal journey of discovery through the natural-gas fields of Pennsylvania (his home state) and west to the Rocky Mountains is a forthright indictment of an industry largely unregulated, and stubbornly secretive, when it comes to the air and water pollution it creates. (In one harrowing scene, a Colorado man instructs his wife to dial “91”—and then keep her finger hovering over the final “1”—while he takes a lighter and ignites the stream of water from their kitchen faucet.) Fox’s film is designed to stir outrage and action.

Bag It is another one. (more…)

Tim DeChistopher’s Peaceful Uprising

Posted in Gas Pains, Watch columns by pshelton on May 27, 2010

Clean-cut University of Utah senior Tim DeChristopher didn’t know what he was going to do when he walked into a Bureau of Land Management oil-and-gas lease auction in Moab. He just knew he had to do something.

“I thought of yelling something or throwing a shoe,” he said after his December 2008 arrest. “What I did was far more effective than I could have been with a shoe.” (more…)