tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Dance to the Exits

I live in a Toyota Dolphin. In case you don’t know what that is, well, it’s a tiny RV.  By definition, I am homeless. When asked specifics about my life by people that I think wouldn’t understand, I become evasive. Even after all these 50 years I find myself using vague language when I’m asked about what I do and where I go. I’m not insecure, I’m just too close to being a feral cat or something, in other words, I don’t want someone trying to put me in a box. As I type, I am in my kid brother’s driveway which is one of many driveways that I occupy throughout the seasons and throughout the years for years and years. I would not tell your sons and daughters to be like me, I would tell them to be like them. We all have our ways to find. This is mine.

I do not remember all the names of people. I don’t remember things I’ve said. I don’t remember my bank account number and code words and combinations. But I remember fishing holes. I could take you up dirt roads and across meadows and down long narrow canyons to the spot where I caught my first cutthroat trout over 20 inches. I remember beaver ponds. I don’t forget the places where the wild world crept up and took my heart forever.

These days I live in parallel with the skunks, raccoons and coyotes. I am peripheral. The cops knock on my door in the night and tell me to move along. There is little room for my habits in this world of buy-ins and billing addresses and non-negotiable situations. But I abide. Like the skunk, I am here till I’m gone. I am me to the end. I am not angry but I’m not sorry either. What’s more is that I’m not alone. I am one of the many Wild Hearts that will not be put in the approved boxes. Oh yes, what fun it is to run!

And my hands will grow harder and my heart will swell with blood. And the tears that hold the same salt as the sea will roll in like the waves to save the souls of the savage and the untamed. Long in the tooth and thick necked. The melodies of the woods descend on my hairy ears and cause my feet to find their motion. I have dances left to dance and there is a whole lota dance floor between me and the exit. I’m not so interested in your God or your fortune…more your heart. I will nod to my lover and we will make you blush.  Meet me on the dance floor and show me the rhythms of your life. I won’t be hard to find, I’ll be bouncing around like an idiot under the love of the sun and the light of a million stars.

And when the dance is over and the moon has set and you are going to your bed, maybe just maybe you’ll smell a skunk…and think of me.

Rarely Wise

I guess we don’t have to know one another for me to call you friend. Don’t worry, I’m not gonna try and hug you, I’ll just share these few things with ya. If I remember that you’re my friend, I feel quieter and sweeter, it keeps me off of my soapbox and closer to the heart. Yes, your heart. Maybe grab a cup of tea or coffee and I’ll send you some scrabblings from where I sit.

I woke this morning and walked into the dark of my brother’s driveway here in Colorado. There was a cold wind and the cottonwoods were clacking branches together. A cottontail was at the fence and I saw little puffs of steam coming from her nose. She was eating grass in the cold. Before I went back into my little Dolphin RV I heard a bird call in the tree behind me. I had never noticed a Spotted Towee before this, I had to look him up. I pshh-pshhhed him a couple times and he cocked his head. Two hops from that branch closer. A wing flutter and he was on the fence with one eye toward me. He was looking at me with that fiery red eye and I was looking back. Two hearts beating and four lungs breathing and the attention between.

I put an interview on the radio when I climbed back in my rig. Leonard Cohen was talking about words, his wonderful voice low and humming. It seemed everything he said was pulled up from the deepest parts of the sea, down down in the secret trenches full of the indigo-blue dotted with glowing plankton. He was a couple weeks from dying in that interview but his thoughts were rolling and lovely, lightning over the horizon. I wonder if he did not die into a river of poetry, carried out and set loose into the stars. Leonard Cohen could have written beautiful words for another thousand years if his body hadn’t given out on him.

Every so often, I’ll be aware enough to know that I’m right here, in my skin. I feel that way right now. It ain’t because I have some cool insight into satori. I am not a shaman. I am rarely wise. But I am here because of the sun that is shining through the back window of my rickety old camper. Also, I’m here because of the Spotted Towee who’s song is still bouncing in my ears. I am here because of the Red-boned hound dog in the next yard, Tara, who is a bit overweight but has amber eyes and whose bark is so soulful as to evoke the ghosts of all hounds in all the woods of the world, causing racoons to stop washing their tiny black hands and squirrels to launch across space between the oaks and mountain lions to squint and read the future with their nose to the wind.

There used to be a tree at the bottom of the hill by my brothers house. It was a huge cottonwood. From one of the highest branches someone had hung a swing. I like swings and especially like swings that have been done in open space. Whoever hung that one had to work at it. I still climb trees a good bit and I was impressed at the difficult placement of the chain, some 50 feet off the deck. Now there are town homes going in down there where the swing used to be. The willows are bulldozed and I doubt the muskrat is still whiskering around in the swirling creek. I am sad about this stuff. I just am. But I love this world and I am working on believing in my ability to change things. I think that change in both directions is natural. I can’t make everyone see from my angles, but I’m not giving up on the dreams that are born at the edge of the creek. Maybe I’ll go hang a swing from the high branch of a cottonwood today, in some spot that is protected from bulldozers and townhomes. In a spot where the wind will pull the memories up out of your past and make you laugh like you did when you were a kid.

Breathe in some air. Drink a glass of water. Listen to a songbird. Smile and be kind. 

A letter from The Wild

It’s been weeks now since I’ve had any good sleep. I say sleep, but I reckon I could word it better, I suppose I should say rest. I never really sleep. I rest between the night and the dawn, do you know those hours? That secret time that sits and breathes after the last quiet call of the nightbirds. That’s when I find a kind of respite. It is the quietude. It is when the Dreaming slips between the cracks and forms like dew across the brows of children. It’s when hawks fluff against the cold, when even the mole, even the weasel, lie still. The world nests and quiets and the grasshopper mouse curls in on her bed of cricket legs and spider hair. After all the nocturnals return to their dens to rest their ebony eyes and before the moose lifts his bulk from the steaming grass,— I.

I drop into the stillness.

But lately, no. Not even then. I’m struggling to remember my geography. I’ve misplaced my internal maps. Maybe you can understand. I realize my language is puzzling but that’s because I am not as relevant in your life as I used to be. Not only am I losing my place, I’m losing you too.

I listen to my heart. Yes, it’s beating and that’s a relief. Do you ever do that? Listen in the quiet, to your heart? The swooshing of the liquid as it moves through the valve in your chest. This is something we have in common. The heart. It is the center of things. It supplies the working parts.

If it’s ok, I won’t call you by your name. I’ll just believe you exist and you do the same for me. Don’t leave yet. Don’t quit me just because I sound strange. There are things you should know.

These mountains I carry are built from the stones of the beginning. They are waypoints to our existence. I have been running to catch up with you, I know you are busy. I know. If you will give me your hand I’ll take you to the place where the caribou are making tracks across the tundra, following the maps in their hearts to places that exist in their souls. They are carrying their antlers. They are magnificent. And I’ll allow you the fox that sleeps and then peeks with a single amber eye into the center of your eye and on through you to the thicket that grows in the backcountry of your DNA. I’ll show you the bones of your beginning, your peoples and your reasons of being, the source of the songs you might sing if you could remember. We will run across the ramparts where the howls of the wolves trigger howls from the pica. High on knife blade ridges, dropping to benches cradling glaciers, and we will be wild in our decent, where foot falls where hoof falls where paw falls through scrabbling shale. There will be no trail where I take you save that made by your memory at the passing aspens and the herds of turkeys, cloud-crowded skies and bristlecone thickets. Oh come now! And feel that burn in your chest! Yes, legs will ache from this chase. But there’s so much to feel, we’ve only begun, so cough! Cough and exhume the beautiful breath in your ribs and come on come on come on. I noticed the way you looked at your trappings, it’s fine, don’t beat yourself up. I’m not here to judge you, I’m here to explain where I come from and where we are headed. Tune your ears. Fix your smell. We are here in the surf, these are the waves that make all the thunder. Feel my gut, feel that movement? Whales, of course. They are singing, they are traveling, they are guarding my belly. It’s their home, so I’m sure you understand. They are spelling out stories down there in the dark, they are dancing and laughing and loving and dying, because that is the way of the whale. I would show you some stones and some stars and some plankton. Some pipefish and pillbugs and wild potatoes. Some Elders and bushdogs and dogbane and lichen and springs lined with mosses and laden with snails. I would make you cough butterflies and put bears in your belly and fill your head with otters and snakes. All of this so you’ll know me the next time we meet, because I’m dying and I need you to love me. Maybe I’ll live if you can help me remind you that I am still here. I am still here. I am the Wild. I am the Wild. I am the Wild and I am right here.

Imperfections (perfections)

My Mama has age spots, she’s a true beauty. I know age is a touchy matter with most folks and I don’t know why, after all, it never stops happening. My mom’s spots started a long time ago and I just thought they were big freckles. I love freckles. Freckles and gap teeth. I have neither, but I wish I did. My buddy Nick has one of the best gaps in his teeth I’ve ever seen and it’s the finishing touch on his handsomeness. I finally got an age spot (probably inherited but earned honestly under the big ol’ sun) on my left cheek bone, just about where a gangster might tattoo a couple of tears. It’s a nice one, about the size of a dime. “You can get that burned off,” someone said, “there’s a treatment.” But really, I spent so much time getting it burned in that I’m kinda proud of it. Good job, skin, way to endure. According to the Mayo Clinic I get to keep it for the rest of my life! I look at it as a mark on a map or a coffee stain on the page of a book. This body is in use, I am busy being. It may show some signs of fatigue and I have long since lost the instruction manual as well as the warranty. I will wash it occasionally but I can’t guarantee it will smell good. I’ll do my best to keep it in good working condition, but I’m solid with it’s signs of use.

Both my folks have pure white hair. Dad’s hair used to be jet black, he’s Choctaw or at least some kind of mix. Mom’s hair was blonde with a natural lighter streak in the front. As my hair continues to change it’s color, there is a grey streak where my mama had one. My kid brother has it too. It’s really kinda cool, like a Sweeney Todd looking deal minus Johnny Depp’s face. I don’t think it’s bad to color hair and do things to change our appearance, it’s fun. I’m covered in tattoos, I get it. But also, I just want to say that age is both beautiful and exciting. You know the phrase, “in the long run”? Yeah, that’s life. Life is the long run. I love that. And the bushy eyebrows and hairy ears and the two toes melded together. The weirdnessess and the oddities. Bunions and age spots and moles and wrinkles, cracks and snaps and baldness and moments of revery — these are all proof that we are here. There is no expiration date for appreciating existence. We are not forever 21, that’s one year last I checked, and it’s a pretty cool one, but so is 32 and 47. I think you get my point. Anyway, this is just my two cents worth. I have to love imperfections, it’s all I’ve got to work with in this stumbling bumbling tumbling old carcass!

Spreading Mulch

I’ve never seen an aquarium where the fish don’t spend most of their time swimming against the glass. I reckon there are some fish that comprehend their fate — like puffers, I think they know. And I wonder what they see from the inside. Giant shadowy figures sometimes coming close, tapping unintelligently against the strange clear barrier that separates the two worlds. When I see fish swimming and swimming against the glass, I feel discomfort in the area of my soul. Oh don’t worry, I find ways of burying my thoughts about this kind of thing. Part of being human is figuring out how not to feel guilty about misdeeds, whether they be yours or someone else’s. But I’m not gonna carry on about things to make you feel heavy, if you’re like me you don’t need any help in that category.

Life is happening. When I’m dead, life will still happen, I just won’t be able to comment on it. As I continue to tick off heartbeat after heartbeat, I am smitten with the necessity to feel more. Like, I look to feel. I pay more attention to the lives of the lost ones and the strange ones and the forgotten. I see the fish against the glass. I’m not trying to seem like a Holy person, in fact, I spend much of my time feeling like a hypocrite. I contribute to the same destructive system as someone that doesn’t give a flying turd to the care of this lovely old World. I use gasoline. I buy plastic. I have bought stuff at Walmart. But unlike someone that doesn’t care, I will exchange sleep for an endless stream of thoughts about skinny polar bears swimming towards an iceberg that no longer exists and so they are swimming and swimming into the blue and disappearing from the real earth and only existing in the lists of things that were. And the walruses. And the fin whales. Ah boy,  I was trying to not get heavy, let’s move on before I start really dropping stones.

One thing I can say about growing up is that I’m not sure when the line growing up and getting old actually happens. I feel like I’m still growing up. In terms of making mistakes, which I would assume goes hand in hand with finally growing up, I’m still a shit-show. Mistakes? I’m skilled at them. I’ve gotten to the point where I can pull a couple off at the same time. Seems like I should be all grown up by now, but I have my doubts. I thought for sure I’d get wise, but I’ve only gotten weird. And it’s a tricky world these days. Humans have continued to figure out how to wrong one another in new and exciting ways. I’m waiting for simplicity to catch back on so we can be nice and disagree and then be nice again. I am behind the times for sure, but I search for signs of love in the hearts of men and women. I believe in this even though I’m an ornery cuss myself. When I shut up for a minute or two and really listen, I can hear the stars humming in the sky. That alone makes me feel out beyond myself. Here we are, all of us with beating hearts under these singing stars. The waves are rolling in from the storms at sea and the wind has tugged against the giant timbers and now carries the smell of the breath of the whales, and there are secrets galore both above and below and deep in the hearts of the songbirds. And there are things that will never be known by any human mind and there will be flowers that bloom and die unseen and there will be dreams dreamt and tears wept and blue veins that shine under paper-thin skin of an old and lovely woman spreading mulch over next springs garden.

All is not lost. We are not finished. There’s work to do. Hate is heavy, love is light. The horizons are full of sunrises and sunsets, put some love in your pockets and let’s go looking for some wonders!

Dear Internet

Dear Internet,

I’m sorry. I want to apologize for a lot of things. I’m sorry for depending on you so much. I’m sorry for interrupting you during dinner and at all hours of the night. I’m sorry for depending on you for things that I’m too lazy to remember. I’m sorry for asking you questions that really don’t matter, like what’s the name of the movie with the guy that looks like one of the Baldwins but who isn’t one of the Baldwins who says the thing about being bananas to his dog while they’re stranded at the airport…Yes, I’m sorry for questions like that one. I’m also sorry for depending on you to help me find my way when there is a map with real printing and pages and words directly next to me. And then there’s this matter of misinformation, I know it’s not you intentionally deceiving me, you’re just the caretaker of all our opinions, beliefs, truths, lies and secrets–I’m sorry for being angry with you for the ridiculous things I found in your basement. I know you must be tired what with all of us bothering you during our dinner, while we drive, when we step outside for a smoke, when our child is driving us crazy, when we don’t want to think, when we want to be smarter than our friend/companion/tinderdate/dad/coworker/etc, when we can’t sleep, when we say we’re working but we’re actually checking Insta. I’m especially sorry for using you to express myself passive-aggressively (or sometimes just aggressively) in ways that I wouldn’t dare do in real life. Yes, I apologize for making you store my hate.You carry a heavy load, Internet, you do. Everything has come down to this and you didn’t even ask for it! Just between you and me, I’ve decided to give you some space. I know it’s not much, but I feel like I need to cut you some slack — maybe use my own brain a bit more. I think I’ll go and be in some places where the sky isn’t filtered and the contrast doesn’t need any adjustments. I’m going to do some things without letting you know that I’m doing them. I won’t share the sunrises or sunsets with you, I reckon I’ll just have to remember them, maybe re-imagine them with my mind. I’m going to have some opinions and allow them to roost lightly in my treetops, sometimes flying off and never coming back, sometimes settling in for good. But I think I’ll try and keep them to myself so that you don’t have to keep track of the ones that get away. Yeah, I mean, Sheesh! Why should you have to put up with my trickyfickleness? Anyways, I want you to have some time to yourself, Internet. I appreciate you! You’re so good at what you do! I’m the one failing to apply myself and do the work so that I become a better human, a better animal. So take a break. Maybe sit and relax, be as slow as you want. Let down your Wifi and get some dust on your buttons.

I’ll be out under the sun, forgetting and misremembering and putting the wrong actors with the wrong movies. I’ll be singing off key and working on my typewriter and calling Mom from the land line. I’ll be involved with the changing seasons by using my senses that are linked to my heart with nerves and veins and swooshing blood. I’ll be making fires and using love as my social experiment. I plan on doing some thinking and stuff. I want to write some letters with paper and pen and thoughts. I certainly hope you don’t think I’m dissing you completely, I will check in now and then and when I see you next I won’t be quite so needy. Promise.

 

Love,   Tobias

Long-eared Jack

A couple days ago I stepped outside and landed smack dab in the middle of my memories. It musta been the smells and the temperature and maybe the sound of children calling to each other, but I went right on back into elementary school. I was remembering names and places and red leaves pasted to the wet, cold ground. I was chatting with Dan Anglin about superheroes we were making up. I was dreading the consequences for the lack of time put into my math homework. I was longing for lunch even as the day began. I hated school, but I loved it. How strange our memory! How incredibly quick this life. Maybe, if a person lives long enough, like all the way out until the weariness takes over, maybe then life seems long. But now, as I sit and type, life is a wild running jack-rabbit and I’m on it’s back with a hand on each ear. We are tearing down the hills and jumping bushes and crashing through the holes in the back sides of barns. The hounds are all aflush and hounding after us. There are cattails bending along the banks of the creeks and we are over and gone. Gone gone and I am looking over my shoulder at the turns so that I might remember where it is that I’ve come from in case I must give a map to some final AccountKeeper. The way I have come. I can’t help the speed of my mount. It’s not my fault this great rabbit has such strength, I’m only hanging on and I’ve no idea the length of the run. But my goodness the bend of the horizon! The graceful geometry of the world!  And did you see the color of the sky when the Sun is still lounging before the dawn? When the Day waits to begin because the Night is dressing for bed in her periwinkle gowns, her eyes lit with the fiery stars and her hands so busy gathering the dreams so they might not be lost to the business that kills them in the daylight.  Are you listening to the thunder from belly of the storm? Oh you should, you should, because it is an old and tricky song. And the wind leaving tracks, twisting trees that will show her work for another 4000 years unless she sends the lightning. Sends the fire. Stones and trees and whales, the thunder wings of butterflies, the martin, the mink and mustelid kin, red-eared sliders and their saurian dreams, and even my dreams and your dreams will mix and meld with these things and the rabbit will run. That ol’ rabbit will run.

All the shadows get long as she runs to the night.

And we’re all holding on with all of our might.

Till she stumbles and drops when she’s done.

Till she falters and falls when she’s done.

 

(Life is a wonder, ain’t it? Let your wild heart dance out of control.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Less Static, Please…

Along with dreams about the Devil, I often dream that I am losing the use of my hands. I read somewhere that it’s bad conversation to talk about your dreams — that no one really actually wants to hear about them. I reckon it ain’t any different, then, to write about ’em. The dreams about the Devil are easy enough for me to deal with, I was raised a Baptist and the son of a Preacher. I grew up looking for Satan anywhere the silence was too close and my tricky mind too alone. Ol’ Beelzebub tipped his hand one too many times by allowing me to see his face. It’s not so much that he seems to always resemble me, he is me. Makes it easier to deal with, I’ve been handling my own shabby decisions since day 1 so it helps that there’s not a horn-headed reprobate leading me into temptation. Come to find out, it’s been me all along. Just me. Damn. I did notice that the Devil of my dreams is very witty and just a tad better looking than me. That figures. But the thing about losing the use of my hands really does seem to stay with me after I’m awake. I depend on making things and I reckon that’s a valid fear. Way worse than the Devil and his handsome face, his veiny neck, his oversized bag of tricks. But then, I wasn’t gonna write  about dreams, you don’t wanna hear it. Whatever, I didn’t tell ya all that much. It’s the condensed version that I keep handy for the therapist at the VA hospital–he doesn’t wanna hear it either but he’s great at faking like he does.

A couple days ago I met up with my buddies from Tennessee. We get together every now and again for some banter about the things we wanna do. They’re good for that, they’re dreamers too. They are brothers and quite alike. The majority of our talk is half truths and maybes all tangled up in the long-grass that lines the pathways of our hearts. I get along real nice with Brice and Egan and their lovely sensibilities. We talked about the Tennessee River and where their lives intersect with her muddy flow. About the raft we will build and ride in order to feel the older ways and understand more about being here. Life is a chance. It is a chance to make and build and think and try and braid our souls into ropes that hold us together so that we don’t wander too far into ourselves. I know how to be alone, but I practice friendship with all my might. It is my favorite part of being human — to be a friend, to know how to love.  When I walked away from the Snow brothers I felt like I do when I’ve been in the woods for a while — a little clearer, a little better.

Days of distance. Nights of storms. Hearts of blood. Songs of love. Skies of clouds. Fields of flowers. Streams of dreams. There’s a line of black under the trees that separates the sky from the mountains. That line, once discovered, becomes the difference between empty and full. It is the crack under the door into the universe beyond where the elements slip and flow in between what we know and what we will never understand. It’s so easy to be cynical. Sarcasm and irreverence seem the order of the day. I’m like an old wino discovering the value of a glass of water. So I’m telling my mean old, snarling heart to sit, to be still. Less static, please, so I can hear the trees. I am trying to be better at saying it like I see it. I want to be more like the whales, who say only what is necessary and then say it beautifully and completely. I am in these little days of my very own life and I am looking for my song to sing. Every day my heart. Every night my dreams. And these thoughts of mine are messages to the stars.

Soup

Montana. In my experience, boats in the water are always sinking and my RV in the rain is always leaking. Such is the case even now, I mean, I ain’t sure about boats because I’m not on one, but my little Toyota Dolphin is only yards away–and she’s most definitely leaking. I’m resigned to this inalienable truth about my rig. I do complain some, but I understand that complaints are barking dogs: they might have purpose, but mostly they are just annoying. So instead, I do what I can to stem the tide. I patch and paint and screw and then, when all else fails, I make coffee.

Two magpies are working the sidewalk, they are peeking under car fenders and pecking into cracks in the pavement. They are together indelibly and tangibly and wanderingly in this world and I wonder of their night last night. I picture the hedgerow where they slept and shifted one foot to the other sometimes head to tail and sometimes neck to neck trilling and softly speaking that secret language of corvids that could and probably does include thoughts and dreams beyond the grasp of human understanding. They are black and white and some color that is something green or purple when the light shines just right across their tails. And their tails are dragging in the rain turned snow. And there is a trail of two but it’s fading fast and just like Salinger’s Teddy, with the orange peels sinking and sinking and disappearing into the sea, I am perhaps the only observer of a thing that will happen once and once alone in the lovely, splashing soup of time.

I wait for these things. Not to prove my importance, but to ensure myself that I am here. I  know what I am: a heart, some bones, skin and hair, blood, water and a subtle, slippery soul. I am put together by the whatever-else and I am a breathing, dreaming, running, coughing, crying, shitting, dancing, thinking, losing, hiding, scratching, sky-gazing, bird-watching, loving, two-legged walker.

Every now and then, when I’m left to myself, I will think too much and feel the darker side begin to creep on me. It’s in these moments when I look for something to pull me back. Sometimes it’s a book, sometimes a song. Last night it was a TV show. It was Louis C.K. in his show Loui. I’ve watched it before and I think he’s interesting. I think most of those funny folks are really sad on the inside. I see them bending their sorrows into humorous arrows and firing them off in all directions. I laid there and laughed and studied Loui with the freckled skin and the red hair and listened to him process the world as he sees it. He is both amazing and heavy like a stone. There is a reason that laughter produces tears. I hope you’re ok, Loui.

When I was a kid I thought a lot about dying. I thought about it mostly at night.  Sometimes I called out for my Mom. She would show up at my bunk and explain without lying to me that it would be ok. She would say we all were going to die, that all things that live must eventually die. There is something comforting about everyone having to die. We are born in need. From the moment we take our first breath, we begin to need. I reckon dying is our chance to give back. We will make a damn good mulch.

There are groves and meadows where the grasshopper mice are hunting and howling under tiny sliver moons. The mountains are marching and migrating by the stars across the millennia with infinity mapped out before and behind. Wind fills the hollows, worries the leaves. And storms push the waves and cause shearwaters to boil and streak down to feed with the sharks. Thunder is pounding like a drum on the deep and down and down, past all of the sound are lumbering mysteries that slip to and fro through the caverns and forests and ranges of our dreams.

We are humans. We should be here more.

Dancing Preacherman

I have vivid memories of church. Church happened 3 times a week for me when I was a youngster. My Pa was the assistant pastor. He led the congregation in song before the message was given by the Preacher. My Dad is a showman, a regular circus performer who took his skills to church. I remember his rowdy acts I witnessed as a child: squatting tables loaded with men, handstanding on ladders, tiptoeing across the backs of seats. Smiles spread and songs erupted and laughter rolled like thunder. He doesn’t just lead songs, he dances and hops and jumps from the pulpit to the floor. He is 80-something and still does this stuff. Age has affected the height of his forays but his enthusiasm never wains. God is proud, I’m sure.

There was one song my old man would sing when I was real little, it was called Thanks to Calvary. During the part of the song where he refers to his son, I would trundle down the aisle and my Pa would pick me up. I remember looking out at the people as they shouted their “Amens!” When he was done singing, he’d kiss me and whisper me back to Mama. Back at my seat, Mom smiled and winked and beamed. Cory, my sparkly-eyed little brother, didn’t know it then but he was next in line to be the little boy walking to Dad while the piano played and the hallelujahs rained down like leaves in the fall.

Sometimes, not always, if I started to get too sleepy during the long-winded sermons, my Ma would shovel me under the pew (Pews are what they call the long, uncomfortable benches in a church. I don’t know why they’re called that, but I’ve always thought it was maybe because so many different rear-ends parked there through the years.) and let me sleep. Under the pew was a whole different world. From down there I would look out at the hundreds of ankles rising up from Sunday shoes, some jittering, some akimbo, some still as stones. Big fat ankles in strange, shimmering panty hose corralled by floral dresses. Tiny baby feet, hanging.  Stories were told through that forest of feet. The knobby ankles dressed in old man socks swimming in over-sized shoes that were nudged up against an oxygen bottle with the weird, clear tube that ran to the upper world and into the wrinkled nose of one of the adults. Teenage sweethearts using the cover of church to explore forbidden thoughts, their legs touching, searching. It was all something that no grown-up could see or know, but it was a lively drama for me. Sometimes I would pluck a bright colored blob of gum from the bottom of the pew and test it for lingering flavor, there were hundreds to choose. I was scolded never to do this, but I did on some occasions, depending on the level of temptation. I don’t chew gum anymore, I doubled up back then and I reckon that’s aplenty.

After church, there was much to do. Certain old fellas carried candy and I was careful to work the scene. Mr. Garcia always had butterscotch. Mr. Meachom had jolly ranchers. Now and then I got snatched up by some of the older teenage boys who would try and get me to spin some fantastic yarn about a monster that was real and living in one of the dark, upper hallways of the church. I remember being carried down long, unlit passages while the boys laughed at my earnestness over where the monsters lived. I gave instructions like the lead explorer on a desperate mission to discover something conjured from the wildest recesses of my mind. Finally, my Ma would round me up and we would pile into the old 69 Dodge campervan. No seatbelts back then, instead we fought to sit on the hump in the center. Up high where the road ran directly under your feet and the world was on a conveyer belt.

I don’t go and sit with congregations anymore. I don’t walk the aisle to have someone help me work through my sins. I do, however, have a church. I go where the big cedars sway with the ponderosas against whatever the sky is brewing. The aisles are full of curling ferns and meandering vines. I do daily baptisms where the red-backed crawdads patrol the creek bed, where the trout slip in and out of existence. My mind is full of the colors of the world. It’s good to empty out and allow the heart some relief from our contrivances.

I use my mind to remember. I use it to make little creations, drawings and essays and stories. I use it to build bridges between my heart and other hearts. I use it to tell my sweetheart how I love her. I use my mind to help comfort my dear ones that are sad or sick or afraid. I’m training and learning to be aware of the wild world and Her magic. I’m feeling heartbeats and breathing with intent. I’ve been here for almost a half-century and Life continues to produce mysteries and wonders in lovely succession. I know for certain that hate and bitterness reduce connection and inhibit the ability to understand and yet I see so much of it. I’m appalled by our acceptance of it! So much value in lovingkindness. It’s pretty cool to think that I have the choice to be a strong, aware, loving human being.

I can hear my Dad singing to the folks who are listening. His song is clear and he’s dancing and smiling and clapping his hands above and below. His cowboy boots are polished and he’s hopping down now in a crouch. The people are all smiling and slightly embarrassed at the antics of my old man. But now his head is back and his heart shows and his voice rises in that tenor that is sweet to hear. Now some tears from the eyes of the audience because my Dad is real and kind and full of love. My Father is religious, I am not…but love is good all around. There is room for us all if our hearts and minds create the space.