Driftless Junior: Reflections of Last Spring

Last spring I learned how to be alone.

By Anja Madsen
Decorah High School Senior

Last spring I learned how to be alone. With no one to talk to and no one to visit, I had only my family for company. On days when my brother’s chatter filled the house, I took refuge in my room. I spent my days discovering and rediscovering music, filling up coloring books and reading. Lots and lots of reading.
I probably read more books that spring than I did the whole school year before. At my peak, I was averaging a book about every three days. When I exhausted the ones in my room, I emerged to the living room where a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf sits nestled into the wall.
There, my parents pulled book after book from the shelf, saying things like, “I think you’ll love this one,” or, “This one’s a classic.” I carried the stack back to my room and put the little pyramid by my bed. The Catcher in the Rye, A Walk in the Woods, The Boys in the Boat. I devoured them.
Some days I was too restless for my room, my sky-blue walls coaxing me to step outside. I walked through prairie, wood, paved trail, abandoned road. I stopped to capture the first spring blossoms peeking up through tiny leaves with my mediocre phone camera. I listened to trees creaking in the wind, wildly imagining a close call with a falling one. I followed winding creek beds, testing my footing on rocks hidden by fallen leaves, feeling my stomach drop when the world tipped suddenly. I looked up at the sky, watching the clouds glide across my vision, seeing the wind change their shapes, falling in love with their fluidity. I was seeing so much more than I ever had before: vibrant green moss, little brown sparrows, tall sweeping trees, clusters of fluttering leaves, wispy puffy clouds, solid gnarly rocks. The world was opening up to me, and I felt more and more aware of my surroundings.

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As I spent more and more time outside, I recalled the summer before when I spent three weeks backcountry canoeing through the lakes of Canada and down to Minnesota with four other girls my age and a college-age counselor. One memory of a morning on a trail came flooding back:
It was only our second or third day, but when I woke up silence and stillness surrounded me. I methodically packed up my sleeping bag and pad but moved more quickly when I heard a call to come outside. I poked my head out, expecting to see the usual view of bright blue sky and pine trees surrounding and reflecting on a lake, but instead, all I saw were evergreen trees on either side of me disappearing into a thick mist hovering over the entirety of the lake. The slate gray sky matched the rock beneath our feet and the water in the lake; the only vibrant color came from the depths of the evergreens. The mist enveloped our once bubbly group, silent now as we took in the serenity. It felt like the world was holding its breath. The glassy water had no reflection, just a foggy gray like a decades-old mirror that had never been cleaned. The only sign of life came from a seagull drifting down from the sky and landing without a flutter at the edge of the lake. It, too, made no sound as it glided slowly through the water. We all stood rooted, eyes roaming the lake as the mist revealed, inch by inch, the trees farther and farther away. As the mist receded, the spell was broken by birdsong coming from the surrounding forest, signaling it was time for breakfast. We continued with our day, but the collective sense of peace from the early morning lingered on.

 . . . driftless Junior #futureleaders 
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