Peter Shelton

An American Abroad, Part Zwei

Posted in Personal History, Watch columns by pshelton on June 20, 2013

I hadn’t been in Heilbronn a day when Mutti decided I had a fever and needed to “sweet” it out. “You sweet it out, Petey.” (more…)

Giving Thanks, With Reservations

Posted in Personal History, Watch columns, Weather & Climate by pshelton on November 22, 2012

I’m thankful for the way the election turned out. Not all the races, certainly, but for sure the big one, President Obama’s re-election. As New Yorker editor David Remnick wrote, it is OK, recommended even, to sigh a huge sigh, to let the shoulders drop, breathe, relax . . . (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.

Singing the Cell Phone Blues

Posted in Uncategorized by pshelton on February 10, 2012

Way back in grade school somewhere we were forced to learn a poem and then recite it back to the class. The poem was “Eletelephony” by Laura Elizabeth Richards.

Once there was an elephant / Who tried to use the telephant –

No! No! I mean an elephone / Who tried to use the telephone.

(Dear me! I’m not certain quite / That even now I’ve got it right.) . . .

Phones and I have had a complicated relationship ever since. (more…)

A Kind of Madness

Posted in Uncategorized, Watch columns by pshelton on August 18, 2011

I maybe should have turned around when I got to the place where the spruce blowdown crisscrossed the trail like a giant’s pickup sticks. (more…)

What the coffee table said

Posted in At the Movies, Ski evolution, Watch columns by pshelton on November 18, 2010

The coffee table was piled high with stuff, as usual. We had a visitor coming, a friend from New York who stopped in rarely and so warranted a neater living room than the semi-pigpen we allow when we are home alone. I waded in.

First thing to get put away was the road atlas. We’d had it out to look at New Jersey. We’ve been watching old episodes of The Sopranos, and Ellen wanted to see where the Pine Barrens are. I’d also wanted to check on the whereabouts of Wasilla, Alaska.

That little bit of research happened after I read Nancy Franklin’s hilarious review of Sarah Palin’s new “reality” show, Sarah Palin’s Alaska. (more…)

Salinger letter surfaces in Ouray

Posted in Watch columns by pshelton on February 11, 2010

I was intrigued to learn, a few days after J.D. Salinger’s death on January 27, that Mary Ann Dismant, for many years the director of the public library in Ouray, had a letter from the famously reclusive author.

Salinger wrote stories in the 1950s and 60s that deeply affected millions of readers, me included. I devoured Catcher In The Rye, of course, and clutched its irreverent teenage hero, Holden Caulfield, to my equally (or so I thought) sensitive/rebellious heart.

Holden is so funny—unintentionally most of the time—and so right on: “Take most people, they’re crazy about cars. . . I mean they don’t even interest me. I’d rather have a goddamn horse. A horse is at least human, for God’s sake.”

Or: “That’s the thing about girls. Every time they do something pretty, even if they’re not much to look at, or even if they’re sort of stupid, you fall half in love with them, and then you never know where you are. Girls. Jesus Christ. They can drive you crazy. They really can.” (more…)