de-isolation Prologue:


    Jenifer K. Ward
    President, Luther College

    This volume is an anticipatory archive, the work of memory as it unfolds, 2020 not in hindsight but in a confounding present marked by a global pandemic. When people read the selections within these pages decades from now, they will encounter the fears and anxieties of the residents of a college and river town in northeast Iowa trying to come to terms with the confusing necessity of staying apart because of a novel and unseen pathogen. They will also feel the generative spirit and creativity of a community connected, even in its physical distance.

    Nonfiction, fiction, poetry, diary, and fantastical reckonings with COVID-19 personified – all are represented here. But regardless of genre, there are common themes: both the compression and elongation of time and the calendar, once events and in-person gatherings fell away; the loss of ritual moments and events and the new rituals that replaced them; the need to ground oneself in nature, when it seemed the ground of culture was shifting daily. What will be canceled? Where can I go? What is closed? When will it be safe to venture out again?

    There are moments of observation that “observance” had been throttled by the tyranny of pre-shutdown schedules. Writers express gratitude for the chance to notice natural rhythms again: birds migrating across the river bluffs, eagles nesting along Trout Run Creek, gardens growing, clouds skittering. There are references to the ubiquitous props of our daily dramas – masks, Zoom, sourdough starter, lawn chairs in driveways. There are characters who play crucial roles in this narrative: the farmers who deliver nourishment, resilience, and connection to their neighbors, and the business owners who figure out how to turn their operations upside down and inside out in order to respond to the instinct to serve. There is a residential college that had to watch its students drive away before it was time and the students who formed new bonds in unexpected modalities.

    There are also exhortations to breathe, even when “breath” is the carrier of the cursed virus, and particularly poignant as I write this, at the end of a summer when “I can’t breathe” were the words that ushered in the next leg of a march toward racial justice. (Many of these selections were written before the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25, 2020.)

    Through it all, there are reminders that home, family, friends, and community are greater than any toilet paper shortage, murder hornets, or technical pause because someone has forgotten to unmute herself, and will endure long beyond when we have either vanquished or discovered treatments for SARS-CoV-2. When we look back, I am grateful that this small volume will reveal that neighbors in Decorah, Iowa, in the year 2020, turned to things that mattered and to each other, even if at a distance and from behind colorful masks, and I hope that what we remember will be less about the uncertainty of these days than about the grace we found as recalled in these pages.