There is a region of the upper Midwest known as the Driftless Area.
Covering parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa, it’s a section of entirely passed over by the last continental glacier centuries ago. Untouched, the landscape is eerily sculpted, dripping from mountain to valley and back again. There is a coursing serenity, a deep reverence and awe for this land that looks more like an Impressionist painting than typical Midwest farmland.
Without any knowledge of the natural phenomenon we were stepping into, but with lots of road trip snacks, Lydia and I headed for the hills of Decorah, Iowa. I dropped by her house early in the afternoon, a regular occurance when I’m in Iowa, and told her to pack her bags. Planning with her mom insured the whole trip went off without a hitch. Lydia smiled, ran upstairs, and threw together a weekender.
We drove without any sense of time, the way you float with your closest friends, one minute unpacking massive, theological ideas and the next crying of laughter over forgotten raps of the early 2000s. A sunset like we’d never seen stopped us in our tracks about an hour outside of Decorah. We pulled off, ran to a better vantage, and looked at eachother stunned. The moment of bliss and total gratitude was interrupted by concerned bypassers, but we returned to the car expecting something special from this little city in the hills.
Our host, Liz, welcomed us graciously. Her home, secluded and built by her and her husband, Daniel, felt cloistered. She told us stories of the land she loves, the travels of her youth, and the community that binds Decorah. Recommendations and routes into town were scribbled on a map as she explained which trails were best for walking early and where to find a classic breakfast.
Exhausted, Lydia and I read in bed for an hour and slept until the sun swept through the windows next to us. Making our way to a local diner, we ate in what felt like a time warp. Guests were leaned back, settled in, coffee was continually refilled. From there, we hiked, walked downtown, and stocked up on snacks at the local co-op for the drive home.
The whole trip was a reminder of the significant joy that comes from uncovering beauty with someone you love. I'm always grateful for Lydia in new ways. And I'm thankful we'll always have Decorah.