Spring brings a new world on foot

The Prairie River as seen from a recent spring walk. (PHOTO: Aaron J. Brown)

Aaron J. Brown

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

And suddenly the road is clear enough to walk. A little mud but less than usual. Spring came late to Northern Minnesota, but like the prodigal son we welcome it into our hearts. Last month’s winter lamentations hang like deflated balloons in faraway trees.

Fresh spruce fingers reach beyond last year’s grasp. Small dumb flies emerge from their winter eggs, a harmless introduction to the more serious insects we’ll meet later. Pileated woodpeckers mate in the trees, yowling like newlyweds.

All told, things are good.

For the past six months I’ve been walking five miles a day, mostly in tight circles around our kitchen and living room. Like a circus lion, I adopted what seemed odd behavior at first, but gradually my pacing became accepted as a normal if annoying fact of life in compromised circumstances. But all of a sudden last week, snow retreated from the road, a riot dispersed. I return to the glory, the absolute glory of marching toward a fixed point on the horizon, flattening hills along the way.

Humans are in the business of forgetting nature. We put it out of our minds, hide it behind fences or control it like a fearsome beast taught to ride a unicycle. We view nature at a distance from inside moving metal vessels bigger than a prospector’s cabin, connected by Bluetooth to all of our favorite songs.

You realize this on foot. Suddenly you are not apart from this world but squarely within it. Encountering a deer on foot, you realize that if you were faster you could catch it, and if it had sharper teeth you would be its meal.

I came to realize something walking on the roads near my house. The smaller the road, the more reaction I’d get from passing motorists.

On my little dirt township road, every car and driver was someone I knew. Not only did I know them, but I could ascertain what they were doing based when I saw them. Afternoon shift. The dump. A not-so-secret affinity for fast food. They might even stop and talk to me.

Out on the small county highway, the cars move a little faster. But the curves keep even the speediest drivers under 55 mph most of the time. Nine times out of ten, a walker like me elicits a wave, a finger lift, a nod or at least that strangely deep eye contact one makes with people we see for only three quarters of a second.

But out on the larger county highway, just a couple miles away, traffic hums along. You see more semis and sports cars, transients and tourists. And even though you’re the same distance from the drivers as they pass, sometimes just a few feet, you mean no more to them than the mailboxes or power poles. You are an obstacle to avoid, to remark upon only if on fire or being climbed by a raccoon.

It only gets stranger the bigger the highway. Think of the four-lane State Highway 169, the so-called “Cross-Range Expressway.” Pedestrians here are viewed not as people, but as threats. Hobos with hungry eyes and hitchhikers with hooks. You’d no sooner wave than stop and pick them up.

Thus I am reminded as another spring arrives, that our cars and our speed take us far away from what we are. No one needs that reminder more than myself, a perpetually impatient driver and myopic workaholic. But it’s not just me. It’s everyone in every car.

Don’t drink and drive. Don’t text and drive. But whenever possible, don’t drive.
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 Sunday, April 29, 2018 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.


  1. Nicely captures this beautiful time of year…

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