Oracle breaks winds of change in 2016

(PHOTO: Zoe Connolly, Flickr CC)

(PHOTO: Zoe Connolly, Flickr CC)

Aaron J. Brown

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

The gas burner spews a flame of blue, red, orange and yellow into the ghostly white sphere above. I’m trying to type on an old manual typewriter, no easy task on a hot flying monstrosity operated by a muskrat.

“Gnnaaaaagh!” shouts the muskrat.

Steamy breath in cold air, his jaunty captain’s hat adding authority to a gravely voice that embodies the twin joy and frustration of life in the North. If you were going to call this aircraft by a name, I suppose you’d call it a hot air balloon. Though this model, and its rodent crew, is nothing like the simple rigs found at the county fair or corporate events sponsored by supplemental insurance companies.

Time nearly escaped me this year, but it never can. Time always finds us, even if we seek space outside its view. In this case, my annual appointment with the Oracle of the Sax-Zim Bog was made for me. I woke up one morning to see the words “Loock Beehind U!” scrawled across the pages of my day planner in a nearly illegible hand. Despite the shock, I obeyed, pivoting to see a 14-point buck staring me down in my kitchen.

“King of the Forest?” I asked.

I remember seeing the mighty stag’s head near my own. I woke up on the balloon. On board, in handwriting I knew well, a note read, “Enjoy the flight. I have many predictions for the year ahead.” It was the Oracle.

It is difficult to fly hot air balloons in the cold, especially through the fog rising off the unseasonably warm ground of the Sax-Zim Peat Bog, the continent’s largest repository of biological plant mass and owl sex. Rapidly changing temperature and barometric pressure drives the ship up and down almost at random. The muskrat captain hops between the rudder and the gas burner, barking orders to his crew.

Sometimes the compact hull of the ship drags 50-100 feet on the frozen swamp floor, other times we fly upward fast enough to throw us all to the deck. My brown furry shipmates seem animated, but neither surprised nor unfamiliar with such conditions.

“Are we near the Oracle now?” I ask.

The muskrat captain, he, well, I guess you’d call it some kind of clicking sound. No words apply.

Suddenly, a shrieking whistle off the port side, then an explosion. Now the muskrats are really chattering, moving like ants dug from a summer hill. From the hold below deck emerges a cannon, by goodness, an actual cannon. I survey the horizon to see another ship, this one some sort of dark dirigible.

“Gnnaghahhh!” shouts the captain. The cannon fires, the ball arcing like light from behind a wind-sped cloud. It’s a direct hit! Whoever the enemy was, they made a crucial error in not finishing us with their only shot. The black zeppelin catches fire, falling to the swamplands below.

I look at my furry captain. He places his tiny paw on my shoulder, saying tenderly in an entirely unknown accent, “We. Is. Here.”

Considering the nature of our flight, the landing was remarkable soft, on moss tinted white with snow. As I step from the ship, I see her. Her robes resplendent. Her hair green but clean. It is the Oracle of the Sax-Zim Bog.

“We are in the winds of change,” she says, wasting no time. “The world turns a new era now, how quickly we forget that all life is change.”

“That’s fascinating,” I say. “But as you know, I am only a regional writer.”

That old familiar sigh. She continues.

“Mining company bankruptcies will change the landscape of corporate ownership at some Iron Range mines,” she says. “Meanwhile, area community and technical colleges will see record enrollments amid layoffs. The November electorate will be angrier than normal. But the wind speaks clearly. Only when the humans of this place accept change, will this change benefit the humans.”

“But, what about that other ship? From the battle? Who were those guys?”

“Always, forces conspire to stop the future,” she whispers. “Some mean well. Some do not. Always, they fail.”

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 piece first appeared in the Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.



  1. Great piece of writing, Aaron. Your Oracle totally captures the spirit of where we are, here in the middle of a changing Range.

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