What’s done is never done in 2021

PHOTO: Eli Sagor, Flickr CC-BY-NC
Aaron J. Brown

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

The otter’s hot breath stirs me from my slumber. I do not know how long he’s been standing there. My eyes open to see him on his hind legs, his front paws dangling expectantly in front of his tiny burlap overalls.

“Is time,” he whispers. 

Behind the otter stands a black bear holding an empty potato sack. 

“You know the drill,” he growls.

Indeed, I do. The bear puts the bag over my head and guides me into the steam powered side-by-side chuffing whimsically outside my house. 

Each year the loyal swamp creatures of the McDavitt Township mire whisk me from my warm bed on a deep winter’s eve. They take me to see the one and only Oracle of the Sax-Zim Bog, an ageless muse whose words carry the power of fate.

For several years, a rising cabal of shady critters had muscled the Oracle from her native fen. Their Stump Tower rose from the muck toward the sun. But like the myth of Icarus or the Tower of Babel these grifting rodents and mustelids reached beyond their grasp. Stump Tower wasn’t toppled from without so much as it collapsed from within. They scattered into the swamp. We’ve not heard the last of them.

The otter’s steampunk dune buggy deposits me outside the Oracle’s freshly dug sod bungalow. I blink into the morning sun as the bear removes the sack from my head.

“She see you now,” coos the frolicking water mammal.

The nostalgic smell of the Oracle’s abode fills my nostrils. She sits in her old mossy chair, sipping a steaming hot cup of tamarack tea.

It’s good to see you, I say. 

“It is good to be home,” she croaks in her sultry voice. “I am ready to give my 2021 forecast. First, two major announcements will come from Iron Range mines,” she rasped. “One will be good news, the other bad.” 

But what about the economy? Aren’t we due for a good year?

“Yes,” she replies. “But once summer comes and the people realize that the vaccine won’t protect them from lost income, the rich will cash out. We will see new challenges come fall.”

We’ll be able to go back to normal, though, right? No more masks? No more social distancing?

“In a way, yes,” says the Oracle. “You won’t have COVID-19 to worry about anymore.” 

But …

“But fire,” she says. “In a word, fire.”

Yikes, that’s pretty grim.

“Only if you live near trees.”

Any good news? It can’t all be doom and gloom.

“Oh, certainly not,” she intones through the vapors of her tea cup. “Concert season is gonna be lit, yo.” 

Will our political divisions start to ease? I mean, it just feels like there are two different realities out there. 

She leans back to rest her head between the wide wings of her earthen recliner. “There is only one reality,” she finally says. “But the biggest challenge of 2021 is that no one wants to admit they don’t understand it. As long as that continues the people will keep making the same fruitless arguments.”

She is finished. I thank her. She nods in return. The otter shows me to the door.

Outside the Oracle’s dugout home, animals return to their normal lives. Birds tweet. Deer nibble at bark. Frogs sleep below the frost. It’s a beautiful scene. 

But there’s a strange sound coming from deeper in the swamp. It seems to come from all directions. Suddenly I realize that it’s the displaced critters of Stump Tower. I strain to hear their chant. I can’t be sure, but it sounds like they’re saying, “two plus two is five,” over and over again.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.




  1. Joe musich says

    Lovely…Thank you.

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