The beaver wears a pinstriped suit. That’s how I know things have changed in the swamp. This year’s visit to the Oracle of the Sax-Zim Bog will be unlike any before.
Until now, my New Year’s journey to the Oracle had wound through the frozen marsh like the familiar bends of Stony Creek.
The Oracle’s muskrat courier rapping at the door. The ride in the back of his birch bark replica ’88 Buick Riviera while he and two friends operated the wheel, throttle and brakes, respectively. The three-mile walk into the winter bog, our hot breath forming an icy fog in the crisp air.
However, where the faint smell of wood smoke and smoldering peat usually signaled my approach to the Oracle’s mounded sod hut, now a new odor hangs on the breeze.
Was that … cologne?
“Bwwaaa Chichichichi!” yells the well-dressed, overly perfumed beaver as I approach. I can read beaver, but I don’t speak it. From his frantic hand gestures, I determine he is upset that I’m not wearing a tie. Before I know it, a spike buck emerges from the brush carrying a suit jacket and a bright red power tie on its tiny antlers.
Donning the dinner wear, I follow the beaver — already chattering on a wood block cell phone — down the trail where I am shocked to see dramatic new architecture.
Dozens of beavers dig into the earth, extracting stumps from the frozen bog. Behind them, a towering beaver dam extends into the sky. The front is emblazoned with letters cut from lake ice. The symbols form two glistening words: STUMP TOWER.
“What happened to the Oracle’s hut?” I ask.
The beaver stops. He turns slowly to face me.
“Moook Muck Muck,” he says softly, pointing at the ground. He resumes his brisk gait under a moss canopy into the large double doors of Stump Tower’s grand entryway.
Inside, more dapper beavers scurry about. They all freeze when they see me.
The lead beaver directs me to an elevator made of tamarack boughs. The doors open. I see only one button. It reads, in beaver, “Oracle.”
Pressing the button, I hear a cacophony of grunts from many small swamp mammals apparently tasked with working the manual pulleys.
“I’m going to lose weight in the new year,” I yell below.
A lone beaver calls out “blaaaaaah!” The groaning continues.
After an uncomfortable three minutes, the doors open to reveal the Oracle of the Sax-Zim Bog in her penthouse suite. She looks up from her desk. While she still wears her traditional robes of moss and canvas, her posture reminds me of the iconic picture of President Lyndon Johnson listening to tapes from the front lines of the Vietnam War.
“Distant powers have said they wish to ‘drain the swamp,’” says the Oracle. “But they never said which one. I fear they will come for mine.”
“Then why did you build such a garish tower in the middle of your swamp?” I ask.
“That was not my doing,” she says. “The beavers thought it would make them feel better. They think it will make the problems go away. Alas, it will not. It is just a big distraction.”
“The future. So much changes all around the world. Here in your world, the iron mines prepare for profits and bigger machines to do the work of many. Even your fast food restaurants prepare to hire touchscreen robots instead of people. Computers will drive trucks. Working people see no security in this future.”
“So what do we do?”
“In the past, people were paid to work for the profits of businesses. In the future, they must be paid for doing the work that needs to be done — no matter its agency.
“Jeez, Oracle. That’s pretty radical coming from you. I’d just like to know how to get people to stop arguing on social media.”
“William Blake wrote ‘there is poison in the standing water,’” she said. “There is poison in the standing mind, too. If you do not open your mind, you will be corrupted from within.”
“Is that your prediction?” I ask.
“I hope not,” she replies. “But it has been like this many times before.”
She turns away. The elevator doors open again. The snazzy beaver motions for me to leave.
I am slow to move. My thoughts run like voles in the snow.
Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Jan. 1, 2017 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.
~ ~ ~
FLASHBACK: Read about my trips to see the Oracle in 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, and 2011. The series began even earlier, but this collection shows you how these New Year columns have become some kind of steampunk farce series after humble origins as exhibitions of puns and one-liners.