The Iceland Report

We’re happily back home in Chicago again, though it’s colder here today than it was in Iceland, just for the record. Of course, we have a bit more daylight in which to appreciate  the cold, so I suppose that’s a reasonable trade.

I’ve put my usual photo album documenting the trip up at my Flickr site, if you’re interested in giving it a look-see: Icelandic New Year. Also ten quick thoughts, observations, or stray neuron firings, all of which are supported by photographic evidence in the linked Flickr gallery.

1. We did see the Northern Lights on this trip, and they were impressive, as expected. But we also saw something in the heavens that I didn’t expect, when our Northern Icelandic guide pointed out a pair of “glitský” scuttling across the sky one morning. He translated the word as “glitter cloud,” which was apt, though I now know they are actually called stratospheric or nacreous clouds. Like so many things in the sky, it’s hard to take their pictures, but imagine a line of luminous, rainbow colored UFOs passing overhead, leaving wakes in the blue sky behind them, and you’ll get the general gist.

2. Speaking of our Northern Icelandic guide, his name was Gísli, he was a fantastic companion, and he had the best hyphenated job listing I’ve ever heard: Farmer-Guide-Viking-Opera Singer-Classic Car Collector. Our Southern Icelandic Guide, Arne, was a Photographer-Designer-Guide. Multiple jobs are big in Iceland, which I like, as a Professional CEO-Writer-Critic-Crank-Gadabout.

3. I’ve already written about the New Year’s Eve Fireworks. They still blow my mind. And eardrums. Totally awesome.

4. We got our metal on with a visit to Dimmuborgir. If you have to ask, then you’ll never know. Brutal!!!

5. My favorite tasty thing on the trip was smoked arctic char on buttered lava bread. I ate it at a restaurant near Lake Mývatn that doubled as a cow barn. They also sold an Icelandic chocolate there that has the best brand name I’ve heard in recent memory: OMNOM. My other new taste sensation is a non-alcoholic drink that’s only consumed during the Icelandic Christmas season (which lasts 13 days): it’s a mixture of two independently bottled beverages called Malt og Appelsín. It’s sort of like a combo of beer, chocolate, and orange. Better than it sounds, honest.

6. As I usually do, I visited record shops to score some real local musical flavor of the variety I’m not likely to find easily in the States. I came home with six CD’s ranging from ambient jazz through to extreme pagan metal. Initial favorites after first pass are Önnur Mósebók by Moses Hightower, and Börn Loka by Skálmöld, though there’s not a dud in the bunch I acquired.

7. I don’t watch Game of Thrones, but we visited a cave that Gísli informed us featured heavily in the story line as “the love cave.” We also visited a couple of other scenes from that show, and when we were watching the last Star Trek movie on the plane on the way home, we were informed that several scenes from that were also filmed in Iceland. I guess it’s just the place to go for alien arctic landscapes.

8. Arriving just after the winter solstice, we knew we’d experience limited daylight, but it honestly wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. Sunrise was around 11:30, sunset was around 3:30, and the dawn and dusk periods were long, so you actually had a reasonable amount of time to process Vitamin D.

9. During the widely hyped 1972 Bobby Fischer-Boris Spassky  duel in the World Chess Championship, Fischer stayed at the S-Room Presidential Suite at Hotel Loftleider in Reykjavik. I remember eagerly following those matches as a kid, and playing chess more then than I probably have in any year since. Fast forward 40+ years, and the old Loftleidir has been acquired by Icelandair as part of its country-wide chain of hotels. it is now named Hotel Reykjavik Natura, and we stayed there for the two nights that we were in the capital city. I was rambling about exploring as I do, and I was tickled to come upon a nice little exhibition dedicated to the matches and (more specifically) Fischer. He was something of a tragic case with some noxious beliefs, but Iceland did open its heart to him and provide him sanctuary as a citizen for his final years, and you see a lot of “Bobby Fischer ate here” type recognition around the town. He’s actually buried in a tiny church yard on the south of the island, if you’re a chess nerd and want to make a pilgrimage.

10. When we were in Iceland in 2010, the harbor area was torn up as a new performance art center was under construction. We were pleased to see the final results this trip: Harpa. It’s architecturally striking, and we had a very good meal (fish soup for me, yum!) and saw a nice classical music show on New Year’s Day there. A good way to greet the year, peaceful and quiet after the fireworks carnage of the night before!

Growth Rings In The New Year


December 11, 2016

Dear Friends of the Urban Forest,

Annual growth rings in temperate-climate trees mark the increments of new wood added each year. As you all know, we can learn a lot by studying a tree’s annual rings: its age, the climates it has thrived in, its relationships with symbiotic organisms, and even the nature and quality of its interactions with humans.

I’ve been thinking about the imagery of annual growth rings as I reflect on my first year with TREE Fund, much of it spent traveling to meet, listen to, and learn from professionals working in the tree care community. We’re a year older now, so what would our latest annual growth ring say about our nonprofit organism if you peeked inside?


Click the growth rings to support our work.

First off, it would show that we’re growing in both resources acquired and resources expended, and that the ratio of those two flows is trending in a healthy direction, as we’re working to get more of every dollar we raise back out to support our colleagues in the field. We’re doing this by growing new branches and adding new coverage — additional programs, larger grants, and more awards — all to the benefit of the professionals who shelter under our canopy of knowledge.

To sustain this healthy growth, we’re continuing to “open the circle” in a healthy, non-invasive fashion, thereby allowing new friends and supporters to build atop our strong roots, injecting new revenue streams that will ensure we remain vibrant for many years. Trees are long-lived organisms — just as endowment funds are — and we exist to provide long-term support for tree care professionals, helping them adapt to the ever-evolving challenges facing our urban forests.

Of course, there’s another meaning to “annual ring” — namely, a once-per-year call — and I’m hoping you’ll indulge me on that front here as well. As we move forward and upward, solid sustenance sets the stage for potentially transformative growth in 2017, so I respectfully request that you consider a gift to our 2016 year-end appeal. Please make your contribution at today. With your support, growth can ring in the New Year from day one.

With best regards, and deep gratitude,

J. Eric Smith, President and Chief Executive Officer


Press Release: TREE Fund names J. Eric Smith as its new President and CEO


TREE Fund names J. Eric Smith as its new President/CEO

 Naperville, IL, August 21, 2015 – The TREE Fund is pleased to welcome its new President/CEO, J. Eric Smith, who will take the reins at the Naperville, IL foundation August 24.

A South Carolina native, Smith is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and the University at Albany’s Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy. He served for ten years with the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program and the Department of Energy. Since leaving Federal service, he has spent 20 years in the public sector working in fundraising, communications, public relations, operations and executive management, most recently as the Executive Director of the Salisbury House Foundation in Des Moines, Iowa.

17741079020_307d1ddb3a_z“As an avid outdoorsman, hiker and lover of green spaces I am a life-long beneficiary of the arboriculture industry’s contributions to the health and beauty of our planet,” Smith said. “I am excited by the opportunity to help the industry address the challenges to the urban forest posed by climate change, urbanization and other ongoing social and scientific changes. There are few things more powerful than knowledge, and I believe that the types of primary research and education programs that the TREE Fund makes possible can and should be widely communicated and leveraged to benefit as many communities, businesses, citizens and industries as possible.”

Randall H. Miller, TREE Fund Board Chairman, expressed confidence in the foundation’s new leadership. “Eric’s unique skill set includes the intelligence of a nuclear physicist, the dedication and discipline of a naval officer and the fundraising and interpersonal skills of an experienced public sector executive. He is eminently qualified to lead the TREE Fund into the future, and we’re looking forward to working with him.”

About TREE Fund

The TREE Fund is a nonprofit foundation dedicated to the discovery and dissemination of new knowledge in urban forestry and arboriculture (the science of caring for trees in a landscape). Since 2002 the TREE Fund has distributed nearly $2.6 million in research grants, scholarships and funding for environmental education to advance the science, practice and safety of tree care and engage the next generation of tree stewards.

With support from individual and corporate donors and major sponsors STIHL Inc., Bartlett Tree Experts, The Davey Tree Expert Company, Arborjet, Asplundh, ISA, KASK, TCIA and Florida Chapter ISA, TREE Fund research has contributed to:

  • Better understanding of air pollution reduction and carbon sequestration by trees
  • Quantification of the benefits trees provide to urban settings
  • Improved survival rates for trees in difficult sites
  • Improved strategies for vegetation management by utilities
  • More effective disease and pest management strategies for urban trees

For more information, visit

Speak for the trees with a gift to the TREE Fund!

Des Moinsk, Iowaberia

OMFG, why do people live here?!?

OMFG, why do people live here?!?

John Ruskin once said “There is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.”

But STFU, John Ruskin. Because Iowa.

We have collected some inspirational Iowa weather quotes below to help gird your loins (hopefully “gird” means “make warm”) through the Arctic days ahead. Yes, it really is that bad. Stop gloating, Florida. We hate you.

Scarves, mittens and hats are great ways to express personality in cold weather. My ensemble says “Bitter, desperate, resentful crank.”

Would you bet your paycheck on tomorrow’s weather forecast? If the forecast is “Something horrible in Iowa,” then yes. Yes I would.

Wherever you go in Iowa, no matter what the season, always bring your own sunshine. Usually in a flask, to numb the weather-driven despair.

If you want to see the sunshine, first you have to weather the storm. Because once it passes, you can get on the plane and leave Iowa forever.

Who cares about clouds when we’re together? Just sing a song and bring the sunny weather! Okay. That didn’t work at all. I hate you.

Climate is what we expect. Weather is what we get. Plus depression.

It is only in sorrow bad weather masters us; in joy we face a storm and defy it. Then we wake up, and sorrowfully scrape ice off the car.

Bad weather always looks worse through a window. Especially when you’re outside freezing to death after losing your house keys in a snow bank, in the dark.

Everyone talks about weather, but no one does anything about it. Because we’re trapped inside the house, and our cloud-busting guns are out in the garage, where we can’t reach them.

Long, dark, dreary winter months make great campaigning weather for the devil. But he just sends the Republicans to Iowa and vacations in Florida, since he hates the cold too.

Five Statements, Five Questions IV

Continuing where this, this, and this left off . . .

1. I’ve long been fascinated by the careers of musical brothers John (RIP) and Brian Glascock, who jointly or separately played bass and drums respectively with Mick Taylor, Greg Lake, The Gods and Toe Fat (Uriah Heep precursors), Carmen, Jethro Tull, Chicken Shack, Octopus (a Split Enz precursor), Captain Beyond, the Bee Gees, Iggy Pop and James Williamson, Joan Armatrading, Dolly Parton, and the Motels, among others. Who are some of your obscure/collectible musical heroes?

2. I love watching college sports, but if it were up to me, any college or university that pays its Athletic Director more than it pays it Chief Academic Officer should be required to compensate its student athletes as employees and should have its academic accreditation suspended until it corrects this mission-creep based discrepancy. Do you think the current college athletic model is fair and sustainable?

3. I would be very, very happy to never see another movie based on a comic book character, a board game, a theme park ride, or a toy — and also not to be subjected to previews, commercials, or marketing tie-ins related to such movies while trying to watch other movies based on things like, oh, I dunno, let’s say something crazy like books. Do I just have to stop watching movies?

4. Marcia and I will be traveling to Milwaukee to see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and to Chicago to see YES this summer. What bands would you travel for, and how far would you go to see them?

5. The weather forecast in Des Moines today is for 70 degree temperatures, bright sun, and a gentle breeze. Is the Little Ice Age over in your hometown, or do you think this is just another tease?


1. I’ve never been a weather whiner, but since legitimate complaints about legitimate problems do not constitute whining, I would like to note for the record that I am seriously tired of shivering all the time at this point in the winter season, especially as our latest Thundahailapocablizz drops feet of Lightninslush and Typhoonisleet and Ice 9 and God only knows what else outside. Yeah, I know that my friends in Snowbany are having a worst time than what we’re experiencing in Hoth Moines right now, but I don’t care, because I am a selfish pig who just wants to be warm, right now, forever. Make it so!

2. I don’t edit my Album of the Year articles once I publish them, even though sometimes my affection for select albums wanes over time, or I miss something great at the time of its original release. The latter has happened at least once in my 2013 list, as I’ve really been loving Suns of Thyme’s exceptional Fortune, Shelter, Love and Cure album, which was released last November. Give it a listen, starting with this song.

3. Call me curmudgeonly (it won’t be the first time), but I am completely and totally disinterested in anything happening in the Winter Olympics right now, as I don’t like seeing the noble concept of “sport” being used as a prop to bolster the reputation or financial strength of inept and violent kleptocracies like Vladimir Putin’s Russia. I truly believe that the Olympics Movement has outlived its utility, and would be delighted to see this outmoded quadrennial fit of nationalistic jingoism fall to the wayside, so that the absurd resources put into these circuses could be applied to health and fitness and nutrition programs that benefit the greatest number of people, rather than tiny cohorts of elite competitors in sports that virtually no one in the world really cares about, except when the television reminds us they exist, every four years

4. Marcia and I recently booked a two-week vacation in August to celebrate our 25th Anniversary (which I know is in June, lest you think I goofed on the date). Here’s where we’re going. This will be the first time that we’ve ever gone anywhere on vacation together for more than a week, so we’re very excited about it.

5. Oh America, this photo makes me gag with revulsion and grieve for your soul!! This is our culture? This is how we entertain ourselves? This is what we like? Gah! Edward Gibbon has rarely offered more relevant perspective on our Nation’s possible futures than he does today, though 99% of the people who will pay to personally encounter the hideous, garish, trashy, crass and utterly stupid spectacle documented in that photo will likely not know or care who he is. So bring on the Visigoths and the Vandals, please. They have better taste in culture and music than we do, apparently.