I've returned from Decorah and the Lutheran Writing Fest. The topics brought up at the the conference were as dark as you could hope (if you're the kind that hopes for a little darkness) and if I didn't know better, I would have just thought it was a regular writing conference that happened to be at Luther College.
The most striking thing about the whole weekend (besides all the stunningly nice, helpful people) were the sunny, cold days and clear nights I spent camping at Pulpit Rock campground. The campground curled around a river, which itself curled into downtown Decorah. I stayed at a tent site that was relatively isolated, since many of the sites near my own were deserted. It was the campground's last weekend of the season and it felt like it, too. But I liked the quiet-if it had been summer, the place would have been way too packed, the sites a little too close together with no trees in-between. I made a fire both nights and drank whiskey mixed with cola as I stared into it. I also saw a falling star each night (almost no light pollution to speak of-you can tell not just because you can see a lot of stars, but because you can see the actual milky glow of the Milky Way) and the river/campground seemed to be a stop along a geese migratory superhighway. While I fell asleep, I'd listen to the geese honking to each other as they flocked past, and then I'd wake up to a new group honking again at false dawn.
You could also hear bells in the far distance on Sunday morning, a church in Decorah calling the people of Iowa toward service. That early morning walk across the frosted campground was cold, bone-chillingly cold, but it felt a little purifying, too.