And fate shall dwell at the crossroads

PHOTO: Alan Levine, Flickr CC-BY
Aaron J. Brown

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

The intersection of Itasca County Highways 57 and 336 is one of those sleepy crossroads you see all over the back woods of northern Minnesota. When my wife and I moved to that neighborhood 16 years ago I learned that no road goes directly from one place to another. Every highway leads to an intersection — left or right — or maybe straight on to another crossroads further along. 

This is confusing at first, disconcerting to visitors, but eventually each turn becomes familiar. If you grow tired of one route, let fate drive you home. A right and two lefts or two rights and a left. Same destination. 

One time a few years ago I was setting up for an event at the Lawrence Township Hall. I had to run home to get something. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky or another car to be seen. I was in no hurry. The radio played while the aspen trees whizzed by like a green kaleidoscope. 

Thinking back, the stop sign was clearly visible. But for some reason I remember looking ahead and thinking that it stood at the end of a side road, not intended for me. My thoughts drifted to the song on the radio, the small task I was to perform, what friends I might see that night.

And then that stop sign sailed past me at 55 miles an hour.

Mindlessly daydreaming, I had blown through the intersection of 336 and 57. 

Shaken, I slowed the car to a crawl, considering whether stopping in the middle of the road would somehow make up for running the stop sign. I saw neither a car nor a person, bird nor beast. Fortunately I drove alone on this quiet road. Not only did I avoid an accident, no one ever need know about this fateful occurrence. 

And for a long time no one did. But I think of that day often. 

I cross that intersection frequently, each time pondering my luck. Every time I approach the stop sign on 336 I picture my car continuing forward at highway speed as I apply the brakes. In my imagination I watch the car hurtle through the intersection. And I look to see if this imaginary version of myself gets hit by a full speed logging truck or a family on vacation. 

Almost never.

Highway 57 is a cut-across. It doesn’t go anywhere. Only a few locals drive that road. Some trucks cross from State 65 to the Scenic Highway. There’s no traffic. 

Except one time I watched my ghost cross the road and pass through a pickup truck. So the odds were set. Maybe one chance out of a hundred. Pretty good. Not great, though. 

Last Monday, Minnesota Conservation Officer Sarah Grell lost her life driving across that same intersection while she was on duty. A semi rig struck her truck as she crossed Highway 57, the same road I blazed across that one day. The accident remains under investigation. I don’t know the details. Nevertheless, I’m haunted by the fact that it could have been me, but was instead this exemplary officer, aged 39, a wife, and mother of three.

Though I didn’t know her well, I’d met Officer Grell a couple times. My son, now 16, is interested in conservation. She often spoke at schools and Scout meetings, giving interviews on the radio. She was everything we’d all want a conservation officer to be: knowledgeable and fair, equally passionate about people and the law, and nature in all its glory. 

It’s not fair. It’s random. One different turn. Two seconds slower or faster. I know because I’ve done the research. I will always watch myself cross that road, tallying the times I would not survive.

The next day I drove by the scene of the accident. The intersection is still there, unchanged, though where else would it be? It will outlive us all. Here, two roads cross this peaceful place where rolling hills of ancient glacial rocks and clay give way to the sandy silt of the lake country. Ninety-nine percent of the time nothing bad ever happens.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, May 30, 2021 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.




  1. Joe musich says

    Sorry Aaron.

  2. Dick Pearson says

    This writing stands out to me.
    Being from Balsam twp knowing that intersection along with several people close to what happened that day I almost didn’t want to read this. I m glad I did. It certainly connects with those who drive these roads……..99.9 percent of the time u don’t even meet someone on any of our roads. But then you do. ……. seconds before or after skill or luck lost or direction locked traffic or no traffic…… why her and not us???? This one will stay with me for a long long time………
    God bless

  3. David Kannas says

    Thank you.

  4. Now another fatal crash a week later at this obscure intersection between a dump truck and an ambulance. Details are sketchy at this point.

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