Saturday, April 25, 2009

Inscription from John Shelton Lawrence

Last night, I received an amazing surprise.

John Shelton Lawrence had sent me a copy of The Myth of the American Superhero, which he had co-written with Robert Jewett.

When I opened it, there was an inscription:

To Rick Stevens, with admiration for your penetrating scholarship.

John Sheldon Lawrence
Berkeley, CA 4/17/09

And did I mention that I have an appointment to meet Robert Jewett for dinner to talk shop next month?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

An unexpected compliment

I recently met with one of the potential PhD candidates the school was trying to recruit. Normally, I steer clear of the process, as I'm trying to establish my own research agenda before I start building a base around it.

But this one was different. During the meeting in which the selection committee set our list, this person had jumped out at me. The perfect combination of coding skills and cultural understanding, I placed him at the top of my list.

When he visited I met with him at length. We talked for three hours in my office and when I found out the school hadn't made dinner arrangements for him, I took him to the Sink for dinner.

During that afternoon/evening, our conversation wandered from systems theory, to journalism business approaches, to popular culture, to topics better unmentioned.

I received a card from the student the other day in which he informed me of his choice to attend another university.

But in the note, he included a surprising compliment:

"You were one of the main people I met on my visit who made it a difficult decision between Colorado and [other university]. I think it would have been fun and invigorating to work with you, and I hope we can collaborate in the future. Personally, I also enjoyed talking with you and would like to continue correspondence regardless. It is rare that I find someone smart enough that I can genuinely enjoy talking with them at length about a range of topics, and enjoy them as a person, too."

Wow. Coming from the person in question, this is high praise indeed.

Every once in a while, I'm surprised by the words of others. I don't often assess my capabilities or efforts, more content to just "get things done."

But this compliment certainly put a spring in my step I hadn't had in a while.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Photos of the Storm Aftermath

I just posted a photo gallery of the snowstorm aftermath:

The Return V2

More YouTube videos

A look at the front deck (Source:

A look at the side deck (Source:

A look at the back deck (Source:

A panoramic view from upstairs (Source:

Home at last

Home at last.

After a couple of days in Boulder, Austin and I returned to Nederland to see how bad the conditions were.

I stopped off for groceries and gas on the way up (who knows how long we'll be cut off from the world). It looked like the majority of people who didn't have electricity were still without.

The drive up was harrowing. The weather was warm (relatively, "warm" was 26) and sunny, but the canyon highways was covered with slush and black ice. One turn almost cost us as I skidded across both lanes to the oncoming shoulder. I managed to regain control (and avoided the instinct to hit the brake, which would have put us in the canyon).

We arrived at our house about 9 a.m. The snow had built up a few more inches, and I could tell that the brilliant sun was beginning to harden the top layer.

Austin and I trudged in to the house. Austin made it most of the way on his own, but once again I had to rescue him when his little legs stiffened up.

The garage door was still open, but no snow was inside, nor was there any evidence of creature invasion. And thankfully, the power was restored.

I took Austin upstairs and dropped him off, stripped off my wet clothes and started looking the house over. Nothing was out of place.

After resting for a few moments, I drank some water, bundled up and headed back out.

Grabbing the snow shovel, I began to create a path back out to Caribou. Foot by foot, I cleared a trench 18 inches across and from 2-4 feet deep. It's easily 100 years, and it took me 2 1/2 hours to clear.

Here's the YouTube video featuring the trench (I originally shot the video in HD, but reduced it in quality before uploading, Source:

Of course, I was extremely hot during this activity, despite the 34 degree weather. The sun makes a huge difference, and I definitely have a sun burn from the snow reflection.

When I finally reached the road, I cleared enough room to park the jeep at the mouth of the driveway.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Refugees 'R Us

Austin and I are currently refugees. We were forced to evacuate Nederland yesterday because of the snow.

This was a pretty big storm (UPI reportage). On Friday, about 36 inches of snow fell between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. By the next evening, Ned had about 48 inches, and Rollinsville (7 miles west) has about 54 inches. That makes this the biggest storm in five years, bt not bigger than the 2003 storm that dropped more than 60 inches in 24 hours all over the region.

Austin and I were in Boulder early on Friday (I teach from 8 to 10:20 on Fridays). Boulder got the weather, but the snow was mixed with rain, resulting in a slushy mix about 4-6 inches deep. I had a couple of meetings in the afternoon and then about 4 p.m., Austin and I set off for home.

The drive up through the canyon was very treacherous. I was in four-wheel drive the whole way, and still almost lost control a couple of times. We arrived in Ned about 4:45 and managed to get up Caribou ok (they were still plowing then). But then we got to the house, we were confronted with a 3-foot pack on our driveway, with a five foot buildup near the road (courtesy of the snow plow).

Austin and I picked our way to the house (Austin made it about half-way before he couldn't make it any further). The trip was exhausting, blazing a trail through thigh-high snow is extremely difficult for a few feet, much less the 100 yards separating the road from the house. But we made it. I deposited Austin, grabbed a couple of shovels, and trudged back to the Jeep.

I spent a couple of hours digging out the first 15 feet of the driveway, just enough to pull my Jeep off the road (I was worried about the snowplow coming along and hitting it, though I didn't know at the time that the snowplows had already given up on keeping Caribou clear).

When I finished (around 6:30 or so), I trudged back to the house and collapsed in the garage, exhausted. Then I started to go upstairs when I realized the garage door wasn't coming down. The power was out.

That sent a chill down my spine. We lost power once before for a couple of hours and discovered that when the electric pump that pulls water from our well loses power, we lose water.

Suddenly I realized that we had not heat, lights or water, and about an hour of daylight left. I hurriedly stripped (my clothes were soaked), pulled together a suitcase and started trying to gather resources. I knew I couldn't make more than two trips to the Jeep, and one of those would probably be carrying Austin.

So I packed some supplies and everything I might need for a an extended trip, and made the first trip. Each time down and back cost me about half an hour. On the second trip, I planned to carry Austin, but he proved to be a trooper and he scampered about 3/4 of the distance before his back legs froze and I had to rescue him.

Once in the Jeep, I thought we were safe, but I didn't know the half of the challenges ahead of us.

The storm finally unleashed its fury, and I experienced my first whiteout. The snow fell so fast that when I tried to clear the windows of the Jeep, the first one I cleared would be caked by the time I rounded the Jeep. We were taking on about an inch a minute. And it was only a matter of time before I was going to have to dig the Jeep out.

So I set off, even though visibility was poor.

The problem with driving in heavy snow is that as the snow falls faster and faster, one can't distinguish between the foreground and the background of the view. I couldn't tell the difference between the road and the sky, much less the road and the snow banks on either side.

Adding to this challenge is the fact that you cannot clear the vapor from the inside of a vehicle. I opened the back windows completely and ran the defroster on full blast, but only the middle third of the windshield was clear (and it never improved, not even hours later).

But I knew if I waited, the conditions would only deteriorate. So I pushed on, trying to use the trees as memory markers for where the road was.

I did ok until I reached the turn at the Caribou ridge. This isn't a terribly difficult turn, but it's where the treeline drops away. If you drive off the ridge, it's a good 100-foot drop to the base of the canyon.

There are guard rails and reflective signs, and I eased around the corner.

Right on the other side of the turn, I encountered another vehicle. Caribou is dual lane, but the snowplows usually don't clear a full path. So I moved closer and closer to the edge of the ridge and barely passed the vehicle. At this point, I had rounded the bend and entered the main crosswinds. Visibility was zero. I couldn't see the road, I couldn't the edge of the ridge, everything was pure white.

Nervous not knowing how close I was to the edge (falling off the mountain is not a good image), I tried to get to the center of the road I couldn't see. Then I saw the outline of a cross that marked the death of a local woman who had slid off the ridge years before. I decided I didn't want to be close to that, and slightly overcorrected. Fifty yards later, I had buried the jeep in a snowbank on the left.

At first I didn't know what had happened. Everything was still white, but I couldn't move.. I tried to open the driver side door, but it was held shut.

I climbed over the console and exited the passenger door, and then saw that I was, indeed, deeply buried in the drift. So deep, the light from my left headlight was not visible. I climbed back in and tried to back up, but had no traction. I downshifted into low 4-wheel drive and tried to pull forward, and didn't budge.

Thankfully, I had been too tired to carry the blade shovel back to the house and had thrown it into the back of the Jeep. I began to try and dig the Jeep out, which was up to the roof in the drift.

Over the next hour, alternated digging and climbing back in to move. I finally got the Jeep to rock, and eventually demolished enough of the drift in front of me to pull free.

As I breathed a sigh of relief, I cautiously pulled forward. The snow that had accumulated in my hair began to melt and rivers of cold water ran down my face and down the back of my neck. But I didn't dare kill my inertia, so I slowly picked my way down Caribou.

When I finally reached Highway 72 (Peak-to-Peak), I thought I was golden. But it hadn't been plowed either, and had about 3 inches on snow.

I slowly worked my way toward town. I couldn't see much, and everything looked unfamiliar. The circle was invisible.

I simply trusted that the signs were accurate and turned out the circle just to the left of the sign for Hwy 119. I saw two vehicles get stuck ON THE HIGHWAY, so I made sure not to allow my inertia to fall below 10 mph. When I reached the reservoir, visibility improved a little. Or at least, I could see the dark void to my right that I knew I wanted to avoid.

Once I passed the dam, visibility again deteriorated. I finally caught up to someone and used the dull red eyes of their taillights to aim the jeep. Every turn was a nightmare, twice I lost control and had to fight it back. The Outback in front of me lost control once, and I thought they were headed into the canyon ravine, but they corrected just in time.

It took an hour to get to Boulder. But we made it. And I'm glad. I saw the Associated Press reports later that night. One person had already died and hundreds were stranded in their vehicles. The national guard was mobilized to get people to shelters and deliver cots and blankets to those stuck between communities.

So, Austin and I spent the next 48 hours in Boulder. The snow continued to fall in Nederland, and I later found out that 9,600 people had lost power (including 4,600 in the Nederland area), and it didn't come back all night.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Note from John Shelton Lawrence

Wow. About five days after I returned from the PCA conference in New Orleans, I received a note from John Shelton Lawrence.

My paper had considered the historic portrayals of violence and considering the American Monomyth, and two of the scholars I cited at length (of course) were John Shelton Lawrence and Robert Jewett.

Lawrence was asking me to send Jewett a copy of the paper, and he had high praise for the work.

I was somewhat surprised and humbled. And, of course, I complied.

I even was able to ask both authors some follow-up questions to inform my book project.