New Year's Letter 2008 (as mailed to friends; photos are all in the links)
NewYear, 2008

Dear Friends and Family,
This is a time of year when we recall, with our friends, some of the highlights of our year. If we include more than you like, skip ahead -- that's what the titles are for.

A Toast to Norway
In what was a first for each of us, we went to Norway in June because Janet was asked to serve as an "opponent" on a dissertation committee. This particularly Scandinavian form of PhD examination entails much more tradition than the minimalist versions with which we are familiar -- involving regalia, processioning, opposition, and a long celebratory afterward of toasting and singing. One highlight of our visit was a trip we made with friend Reidar Mykletun to exquisite Lysefjord where base jumpers free fall from the top of a cliff high above the fjord opening their parachutes at the last possible moment before wafting into one of the few level clearings below. (We think we saw some kiss the ground.) A two-day drive from Stavanger to Geirenger was an opportunity to see the beauty of Norway, from the majestic fjords to the historic stave churches. We never did become accustomed to sunlight at 11 PM, and saw true darkness only once during the week that we were there. Photos .

Iceland is a Hot Spot!
Icelandic Airlines allows a free layover, which seemed a good opportunity for a little geotourism. We were curious to see Iceland because it's along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge where American and Eurasian plates are moving apart (as they have been for over 150 million years). As the plates separate, they allow magma to rise, producing lava flows, geysers, and calderas, all visible and "visit-able" within short distances from Reykjavik. The result is a surreal landscape covered with vestiges of volcanic activity whose barrenness is only occasionally interrupted by startling blue and lavender lupine. Photos .

Of course we headed for Mt. Hekla, the most active volcano in Iceland. Since its 1104 eruption, recorded by the Vikings, it has had 167 major eruption events, the most recent being in 2000 (see the website of the wonderful  Hekla Center ). At Heimaland , a very pleasant guesthouse near Hekla, hosts Jonina and Thorstein explained how fundamental the geology is to the most routine activities. Hot and cold water are both derived from wells. The hot water comes from a deep aquifer heated naturally by hot magma while cold comes from a more shallow level. Photos .

We had two more interests in Iceland: language policy and de CODE genetics. Icelandic is one of the world's most stable languages, kept that way through isolation and through government policy. A deliberate policy rejects borrowing, favoring instead the creation of new Icleandic words built from native constituents. The word for computer, for example, is tölva, created by using the name of an Old Norse goddess from a 14 th century saga. We thought this was Rad.

The same sagas recorded the obligations of "bloodlines" -- and therefore serve as genealogical and family histories of Icelandic settlers going back to the 10th century. In a project still undergoing transformation and contest, the firm de CODE genetics has attempted to articulate this data with medical records to research genetic diseases. Icelanders we spoke to were familiar with the project. It has put them at the forefront of research in human genetics as it has also raised fundamental questions.

Cooling off in Amazonia
When we returned to Maryland temperatures were in the nineties. Janet packed up her thermal sleeping bag and headed for the more comfortable Amazon rain forest where she was scheduled to lead a university field outing. This year's field trip was different. In addition to good friend Barbara Zimmerman, head of CI project among the Kayapo, who co-leads the trip, and six Kayapo instructors, we were accompanied by three specialist instructors: Laura Zanotti, PhD candidate who just completed a year of fieldwork among the Kayapo, Andre Aquino, a graduate student in environmental policy, and Pingo (Adriano) Jerozolimski, a member of Associação Floresta Protegida, a new NGO created by the Kayapo. We hope that the students who were from the University of Maryland, University of Chicago, Penn State, and the University of Brasilia has as wonderful a time as did the instructors. Photos .

In the Amazon, upheavals tend to be man-made rather than geological. We traveled roads and stayed in frontier towns that appeared to have surfaced overnight. A new mining company that had nestled alongside one edge of the reserve was distributing T-shirts to the indigenous inhabitants. 

These were some of our comings and goings in year 2007. As we approach the New Year we take comfort in the many wonderful people who are in our lives. You are one of those and for that we are grateful.

With love for the Year 2008

Steve and Janet