Mud for our modern world

The austere approach to MinnesotaBrown World Headquarters in Balsam Township, Minnesota. (Aaron J. Brown)

The austere approach to MinnesotaBrown World Headquarters in Balsam Township, Minnesota. (Aaron J. Brown)

Aaron J. Brown

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

Thus ends the afternoon meeting. You can hear him now, the co-worker who’d rather be fishing. He slaps open the conference room door as though exiting an outhouse. Then comes the husky voiced lady from the department that has no name, the one who smokes reds on the loading dock without blinking.

“Clear as mud,” he says.

“Clear as mud,” she replies.

Two hours lost, in plain sight of springtime out the window. Birds chirp. The flag beckons with one red-and-white striped arm as if to say, “Here is the parking lot.”

A siren call. We have very important work to do. What is it, again? How long must I sit under these false lights before I can go?

Dry roads and sunshine give way to the country mud and swollen culverts. I loosen a button, untuck my collared shirt as I step out to pick up the mail. Spring clothing catalogues arrive in stacks. Fashion clearly does not live down my road.

I’m not talking about style. I’ve made my peace with style by dressing like my great-grandfather, a WWII-era Iron Range mining engineer. He worked in offices and mud, too. At least the family photos will have continuity.

No, what the catalogues fail to note are the effects of mud on the spring collection. So many whites and yellows. Fine prints and neat patterns, things missionaries would wear on a third date. To don these items on my road would be to forever hold the shocked expression of one holding a naked cross-eyed baby.

No accounting for mud. Mud up the sleeve from closing the car door. Mud sprayed up the back tire of a bike. Mud-dipped shoes, like old chocolate melted over a radiator. Mud, the color of my last name.

Mud is the great equalizer of the modern age. One recent spring day I hopped into my car after work, not realizing that the strap of my laptop bag was hanging out the passenger door. Surely no problem if I lived along the highway, but I live down a mile of dark treacle trail, an old mud road where one might find the skeleton of a voyageur each time it rains.

When I went to retrieve my bag the strap appeared to have been used to fish keys out of a Biffy. Caked an inch thick, it painted the sides of the bag, my clothes. It was the kind of mud that could be used to make foley sound for a TV show about gall bladder surgery.

We pay $9.99 for the Platinum wash, desperate to remove the mud from our cars. When it comes back we’re back in line, watching mud drip off the muffler of a hopeless pickup truck. We put the kids in mud boots to keep them dry. Do you have any idea how much mud can fit inside a mud boot?

The politicians sling mud. They’ve been doing it for days, weeks, months and years. We vote for one of them, hoping they’ll stop. They mix fresh mud with our tears.

You can curse the mud. But the mud will stare back at you, unimpressed. You can hit the mud. But then you and mud are one. Mud is the simple byproduct of water and Earth, the only two reasons we’re still here to complain.

The future is clear as mud. Mud means spring and spring means change. Change means we’re still alive. Mud is life. You can fight it or you can accept it. I welcome the mud.

You got a problem with muddy shoes? You don’t live down my road.

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, April 24, 2016 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.



  1. It is definitely more muddy here than other places I’ve lived. I wonder if that has to do with the deepness of the frost in the ground: The ambient water can’t sink in to drain away. But, on the other hand, when our soil was tested for “percolation” by the man who OKs the septic system permit, we had no percolation, zip. And that was mid summer. We have, by the accounts of the now gone older folks, 60 feet of solid grey clay, the sticky kind that you could make into pots. This was proven true when we had to get a new well. This is the mud that sticks to the canoe paddle if you dip too deep. It doesn’t come off when the pedal is vigorously swished in the river. This is the mud that builds up two or three inches thick on the bottom of your boots if you check out your garden plot too early. OUR mud, our clay.

    Sometimes the sun and breeze give a hint of spring in February. I hear people exclaim, “I hope the snow melts and we have an early spring.” I’m always the wet blanket who says, “I don’t.” I know that spring won’t really get here until almost May. I’d rather have two months of snow than two months of mud.

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