MinnesotaBrown’s Top Posts of 2022

The author at the top of Black Elk Peak in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Another year has come and gone, and what reason — what good reason — could I give you to look back at my written work of 2022? Are we not awash in such tripe? Is there no end to the vainglory that impels the propagation of a “website” run by a “newspaper columnist”? 

Well, I can offer this. My editorial policy in 2022 became clearer to me. Write only what my research, experiences and perspective allow me to write well. Do not repeat or amplify noise. If it’s on this list, I think it reads tight and says something you haven’t read somewhere else.

Yes, I must lament that I’m still working on the book I thought I’d finish in 2022. This again curtailed frequent blogging or breaking news coverage. I skipped election night live-blogging for the first time, and it actually felt pretty good. Regrettably, this has meant that traffic on my little corner of the internet was pretty light. Most eyeballs remain on social media, where I can hardly compete with the likes of “$hit You See On Crime Watch.”

However, I am getting great response from my e-mail newsletter. That’s just my weekly columns and occasional extras sent to your inbox. So I guess I’m a homemade Substack now? Anyway, my subscriptions are free. I encourage you to sign up because I want to reward my subscription readers when my book comes out.

For what it’s worth, here are my top posts of 2022, followed by categories of favorites. 

1 – Gas Prices in Context

Gas was $3 a gallon when I was in Hibbing yesterday, a far cry from the above $4 prices that elicited this column in March. You might recall the theatrics of that time, the “I did that” Joe Biden stickers that people would purchase online and then affix to gas station pumps. Then gas dropped and the stickers all went away. This column predicted that happening and talked about the cost-of-living issues that should really have us howling.

2 – Awesome ‘Blossom’ shows Hibbing memory in ‘Jeopardy’

Mayim Bialik talked about Hibbing on Late Night with Stephen Colbert. In the memory, she recalled a cherished trip she took with her late father to the hometown of their beloved Bob Dylan. In the interview, she shared a picture she took in front of Dylan’s boyhood home. The only problem? It was the wrong house.

3 – The woman who lifted up those who were low

This tribute to my late friend Norma Schleppegrell was well-read, mostly due to her enormous family and circle of friends and colleagues. Norma would be looking for something good to do for her community next year, and so we should carry that banner ourselves.

4 – Steel wheels turn for iron mining’s future

Back in July I talked about technological breakthroughs happening in the global steel industry. Specifically, hydrogen could play a huge role in reducing carbon emissions from steel production. These changes will eventually come to the Iron Range, or at least they better if our local mining industry is to be relevant going forward. I’ll have a new, much more involved piece on this topic next week in the Minnesota Reformer.

5 – ‘Hockeyland’ comes home

I was in a movie! Yes, a real movie that was in theaters and streaming on fancy TVs. “Hockeyland” follows two northern Minnesota high school boys hockey teams as they skate for glory. You might say, “Aaron, you never played hockey. You can’t skate. In fact, you don’t even watch hockey.” All true. But I’ve been researching Iron Range history for a number of years, and at some point you can’t avoid learning about the origin story of North American hockey. I’m a context man.

6 – Novak’s ‘Steel’ holds enormous weight

Kathleen Novak wrote a haunting novel rooted in Iron range historical fiction. I wrote a review. Who doesn’t love book reviews? 

7 – Five northeastern Minnesota colleges merge

So, why isn’t the book done? Why you so stressed out, bro? Well, you might know that my full time job is teaching and leading the academic affairs committee at a community college, one of five northern Minnesota colleges that merged this past year.  Merging is hard work. And this is a big deal for the region that most folks still don’t know actually happened.

8 – The best and worst of times on the Range

The Iron Range is known for having good years and bad years. But 2022 was both. Some aspects of the economy were super heated. Jobs were plentiful. And yet there are real warning signs in local mining employment. Social problems like homelessness and addiction seem as bad as ever. Being prepared for the future means means understanding that all of this can be true at the same time. We need a vision that takes ups and downs into account.

9- The final leg of the Cross-Range Expressway

I’ve got kind of a history/memoir/current events formula going on these days, easily identified in this column about the history and dimming prospects of the “Cross-Range Expressway.” One-hundred years ago, the Iron Range was promised a modern highway spanning Grand Rapids to Virginia. A century later, we’re still talking about it as a definite maybe.

10 – This little light

I wrote this inspirational column before my mom had a stroke in late November. At the time, I thought it might cheer up some folks going through some stuff as the holidays approached. I didn’t realize that I was writing it for myself. Don’t worry, there are poop jokes. It’s not all serious.

After the top ten, I pulled a selection of columns and posts in certain topic areas.

News and Politics

In a tumultuous change election, I was disappointed to lose an independent-minded state representative like Julie Sandstede of Hibbing. She came up the ranks as an outsider and stayed that way. Not only did she direct the city band just two days after losing her election, she even agreed to pose with me and the Hibbing Public Utilities Commission squirrel mascot. Julie once famously held a PUC official’s feet to the flames at a public meeting by declaring that not all problems could be blamed on squirrels in the substations. In the years that followed, the PUC engaged in a new direction and, apparently, purchased the squirrel costume you see in this picture. She can be proud of her service to the region.

The hard work of political change on the Iron Range

A century later, Range towns seek to regain energy independence

The real value in recycling

Nature, Philosophy and Humor

Life is a dangerous activity

Beyond the swan song

A higher angle of light

When the storm comes

A ghost in the woods

Making sense of horses


Legacy visions in Bob Dylan’s hometown

With great technology comes great responsibility (A little known story about Hibbing’s fascination with early radio broadcasting technology and ethics).

The restless hunger of America (This story introduces a 19th Century Irish-American runaway who lived by a harsh and unforgiving vision of the American dream).

The death of stories and their resurrection

Old wars, new generations

Talented couple dazzled Range baseball league in 1915


Henry Brown

Henry Brown (PHOTO: WDIO)

My son Henry earned his Eagle rank in Scouting after finishing a new disc golf course in Balsam Township. I remark on our journey together after we climbed Black Elk Peak together in “Climbing fatherhood mountain.” With Doug and George just two years behind, our birds are learning to fly.

Still Reforming

Last summer my work in the Minnesota Reformer won First Place in the large daily newspaper editorial writing category of the Society of Professional Journalists “Front Page” awards. Prizes are nice, but this one came because of the opportunity to write challenging essays for good editors and wider audiences that the Reformer provides.

I was able to explore why extracting and using natural resources causes such such dissonance in northern Minnesota life with, “The troubled border between consumption and conservation.” I analyzed the rightward shift of Iron Range politics in essays like “Shifting lines and changing times on the big lake they call Gitchi Gummi,” “As Bakk retires, new era begins on the Iron Range,” and “Iron Range, seething at Twin Cities, continues right turn.”  In “Automatic or the people,” and “New labor movement might save America just yet” I revealed struggles and opportunities for workers in our modern economy.

I opined about the pocketbook challenges facing working families with “Cost of living is our harshest tax.” Using current and historical examples, I explained how “From Mesaba Energy to Foxconn, boondoggles light money on fire.” I also remembered how the death of Paul Wellstone in 2002 previewed the rise of partisan manipulation of news stories in “Sen. Paul Wellstone and the portents of his death, two decades later.” Tired of constant pathos in our watered-down political discourse, I implored readers to “Stop vibing and start thinking.” 

A couple of my Reformer essays stood out to me, though. One, “A homespun stitch in time could save us,” is a memoir-style piece that celebrates some memories of my mom, who is struggling with her health this winter. Another, perhaps my favorite, “Fascism from Italy to Hibbing and back again,” details the way early 20th Century fascist politics took hold not just in places like Italy or Germany, but in Hibbing, Minnesota. These lessons of the past echo loudly in our current times. 

My TV audition

This year I challenged myself with a new endeavor, guest hosting a special edition of Almanac North. “Core Conversations on Mining in Northern Minnesota” explored the future of our region’s industry from multiple points of view. I enjoyed learning some new skills. Who knows, I might have a long career in part time regional public television broadcasting ahead of me.

Yes, the book

Work on my book, “Power in the Wilderness,” continues at this hour. As I wrote last spring, I completed the first draft of the manuscript. It came in very long, a product of my ambitious theme. The editing process has taken longer than expected, waylaid by some life events. Late this fall I completed a new chapter that consolidated three chapters of back story. Now I need to trim at least 75,000 words out of the rest of the chapters. In other words, I must remove a books worth of stuff from the book. Family obligations and my day job had me down to about five hours a week on book work. Progress continues, albeit slowly. I keep struggling for equilibrium that will allow me to knock out the remaining work. I don’t make promises anymore, only reports. I’m committed to finishing as soon as possible.  

Beyond the book, this year I’m going to challenge myself to write some impactful essays on rural issues. Health care, real estate costs, and child care are on my radar. I’ve also got energy, industrial technology and climate change on my mind. 

Good luck to you all in 2023! Thanks ever so much for reading the work.

2022 brought the debut of my Joe Pera-inspired bean arch. We learned a lot from the garden this year. Next year will be even better. (PHOTO: Aaron J. Brown)

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