Journey to the Center of the Sax-Zim Bog

The Sax-Zim Bog in Northern Minnesota. (PHOTO: JPC.Raleigh, Flickr Creative Commons)

The Sax-Zim Bog in Northern Minnesota. (PHOTO: JPC.Raleigh, Flickr Creative Commons)

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Like a gnarled oak, the world below the Iron Range is as complicated as the one above.

This becomes clear riding underground in the DrillRover 5000X, boring a bullet’s highway from the long forgotten I. Tripplarbee underground mine south of Eveleth into the moist morass of the Sax-Zim bog.

The DrillRover 5000X is a curious machine. Cylindrical, powered from the rear by some sort of nuclear propulsion, thrusting behind a mighty apparatus of spinning maws, slashing blades and one titanic rotating bit the size of the Hibbing Caribou Coffee. (A relevant point of reference, because a fully operational Caribou Coffee rests inside the machine: similar to Hibbing’s in design, though staffed by woodland swamp creatures such as a tattooed muskrat, a stoned snapping turtle barely able to shut his jaws, and an overly enthusiastic rabbit).

Stones pass my window like snowflakes. Casually, I arise from the plush red passenger seat to go for a stroll. I walk to the front, gaze over the shoulder of the pilot perched atop the platform in the bow, not far from the pine-scented bathrooms. When I ask how such a contraption could move so quickly through miles of taconite, jasper and granite, the pine marten manipulating the complicated steering mechanism simply shrugs. I’m not sure he speaks English. I suppose it is sufficed to say that the Oracle of the Sax-Zim bog possesses technology we have yet to discover. On this trip, I am merely a guest.

I return to my seat, sip my Ho-Ho-Latte, and begin to compose questions for the Oracle, who each late December regales me with exclusive Northern Minnesota regional news predictions for the approaching new year. A well-groomed beaver asks if I want a refill. I nod.

Much is revealed under the ground (PHOTO: davidd, Flickr Creative Commons)

Much is revealed under the ground (PHOTO: davidd, Flickr Creative Commons)

We feel a jolt as the DrillRover 5000X bursts from the hard shale shelf near the United Taconite concentrator plant, penetrating the soft, wet pulp of the state’s largest combined peat bog and birding hotspot. What has been a noisy, violent ride suddenly becomes a floating whisper.

“Braaaachhh!” calls out the pine marten captain. At this signal, the rabbit pulls down a steel curtain indicating that the Caribou Coffee was now closed. The beaver comes by to ensure that my seat belt is properly fastened.

The drone of the engine grows lower. The machine shakes. After a moment, a metallic clang echoes through the interior of the underworld vessel. We have docked to the Oracle’s labyrinth deep beneath her ancient mound in the Sax-Zim Bog.

So strange to think of the solid earth as a liquid, and warm winter peat like air. So it is for the Oracle.

As the doors open, swamp water drips from the seal connecting the ship to the entrance. I see her. The Oracle maintains strong, alluring femininity despite what can only be presumed as many decades, if not centuries of life behind her. The smell of her earthy garments of moss and canvass tell you exactly how far to stand from her powerful presence.

“Madam Oracle,” I say. “I have returned.”

“I know,” she says. “Who do you think sent the underground vehicle to pick you up?”

“Touche,” I say. “So, listen, this has been a lot of exposition. Maybe we can, you know. Cut to it.”

She sighs. “With falling demand for taconite in 2015, production will slow and at least one Iron Range mine will announce a lengthy shutdown. Meantime, Essar construction will continue, but further consolidation and reorganization of area mines will happen by year’s end.”

“What about the rest?” I ask. “There’s more to 2015 a dip in taconite demand, isn’t there?”

“Yes,” she said, tousling her green hair. “But the future is murky.”

“All due respect, we are in a secret submarine base a quarter mile beneath a peat bog. How can anything be more murky than that?”

“The people above this ancient ground stand at a crossroads in time,” she says. “They can make 2015 a year of change, developing and accepting new ideas. Or they can watch bitterly as their past sinks beneath the swamp.”

I stand in stunned silence. Sensing my loss of words, she concludes:

“But don’t worry. If you don’t figure this out, the cyber-lizards who will one day replace humans will. I see a bright future for them. And, to a much lesser extent, you.”

“Braaaachhh!” calls the pine marten. It was time to go home. Until next year, which is now this year.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This post first appeared in the Jan. 4, 2015 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.


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