tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

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.

Little Minds

Beans is dreaming on the sofa. She’s obviously running in her dream, all four legs are flicking and twitching and her eyes are rolling under her blue lashes.

Where are you Beans? What wonderful world are you exploring? Are there bacon scented squirrels that never die, only lead you in fantastic chases? I want to see into her dreams and experience her senses. What incredible things her nose must smell! What wild thoughts! A world of wild cries and crow hops and torrid drops through brush choked hollows. Beans is sleeping, but she is dreaming and the dream looks to me like a real gem. Ah Beans!

The skunk has visited two nights in a row. He roots around under the rig for scraps that don’t exist. I’ve seen his tracks and they are bearlike. Skunks rummage. His smell is incredible and sits in the back of my throat in the night. Last night I even heard him snort–it might have been a sneeze. I smiled at the thought. For some reason, a sneezing skunk makes me smile. I like the stinky skunk. A few animals in the world give me a feeling of melancholy. Skunks and porcupines and pangolins have defenses that separate them from a rough-and-tumble world. I feel the need to scratch them all behind the ears and let them know I feel their plight, they have defenses that create barriers. Hearts are out there in the woods, beating and drumming, bright eyes are peering through ferns. The gravity of the forest pulls me inward. I am held in elliptical patterns, swinging close and far, like a planet to a sun, like a moon to a world. My personal tides are affected by my relationships to mountains. There are canyons to be followed and fingers that lead to passages, saddles on the flanks of grand ranges. So much walking to be done. So many paths to trot. I am a vision collector, a dream grower, an image keeper. I struggle to translate the truth I see into the truth I tell. Sometimes a drawing. Sometimes a song. Sometimes a story. Mostly, I just think. There is a lovely space between the seer and the teller that refuses to be mapped. The struggling cartographers are the poets and the quiet hearted, the minstrels and the cave dwellers.

Somewhere, in a hole along the creek, a skunk is curled and dreaming, his wet, black nose is searching for grubs in the wonderland of his mind. And there, beneath twitching lip, a gleaming, white tooth.

It’s fizzix, I reckon.

Whenever I’m trying to get my little toyota RV (the dolphin) to sit level, I use existing props. I pile rocks or stack wood or use curbs. I never get it really good and level, just enough to keep me from rolling out of my bunk or to keep me from piling into my lover, Kayla, if it’s the opposite way. It sucks to spend the night fighting gravity. I check how close to level I am by putting a marble in the center of the floor and watching it run. Genius, right? I must admit, most of the time I can’t find the marble. Kayla smirks while I search, she knows my habits and it makes her laugh.

The last two days, my mind has been at work in the creek below the farm. Nick and Liz are very aware of my migratory tendencies and I am wonderfully welcome here. Making the dipping hole in the creek is considered “farm improvement” and so I go down there with the shovel, take my clothes off and work. Usually when I’m naked, I’m not working, but this is an exception and I like it. I think back on all my other jobs in life and picture myself working naked. Moving furniture, security at the church, lifeguard, concrete work, landscaping, printing, golf course maintenance, night custodian, window washer on office buildings, waiter, construction, Marine — wow, I think I’ll go ahead and stick with swimming hole design as my naked vocation. It’s a good gig. Water comes from the springs and the winter storms, seeps into the gut of the ravine and swirls and curls through the roots and stones until it’s caught in the pool where I stand naked with my shovel. There are fish and crawdads and newts and efts that flutter and wink from the dark. Everything breathes. I stem the push of the water and create a space to think and soak. I shape the world, the world shapes me back.

I’m a pretender. I’m really quite good at it. I close my eyes and fly or swim through vastnessess that only my mind can allow; worlds within molecules. I wonder if this entire universe is but a speck, or atom, inside another universe. I don’t care if this is beyond science or anyone’s belief, I like it and I go there when I want. There’s a portion of my being that thrives on being lost in the mystery. I am made of imagination. It has allowed me true freedom, the kind that is indefinable and without counties and states and licenses and taxes and governors and institutions. I’m the child in class that is staring at the woods out the window. I’ve been gone for a long, long time. I travel through time, in fact, I leave time behind when I breathe deep and explore. It’s better that way.

In the room behind the house there are an incredible amount of spider webs. I like checking in with them, seeing what kind of catch they’ve accumulated. The flies are the specialty of the day, every day. I looked on the sill where a butterfly was perched, laced in web, with tattered wings. I was sure she was dead but noticed her tongue out and searching. A spider was half-way to the scene, waiting movement in order to locate. I reached my finger in the mix. The tongue explored and the butterfly stepped onto my hand. Outside, the sun was warm and the wings opened to catch heat. Halfway to the garden she took flight, wings still good enough to find a few last flowers before sunset. I thought about that butterfly’s journey and how much farther she must go to complete her mission of life. I thought about destiny and luck. I thought about the story she will tell the flowers as she moves through the currents of the wind. She’s important because she exists. I like it that I’m included in her diary …that one time, when I was caught inside a den of spiders, in a world without wind or flowers, I thought I was finished. Then this crazy thing happened, I was lifted by some being the size of a mountain and carried into the sun and I felt the wind and smelled my world again. It was like a dream. Strange things happen, they really do.

The Beast in the Hollow

What is this heaving, this lifting from the deep?

I can see you down there where the trail loses itself, where there is no easy travel, and you are moving through the cedars and the larch and the oak. I have known about you since I was a child, back when you were calling me from the black timber and the rocks dropped from the haunches of glaciers. I know your shape: the twiny, horny thicket of your nape, the old-growth elders of your spine where the ‘poorwills with bellies full of moths call through whiskered maws and flit and land longwise on the branches and disappear. I know your limbs of thunder, I’ve seen your knuckle prints in the mud above the beaver damns and I’ve smelled your musk on the trunks of aspens. And where you leave your track, wherever there is sign, there is life in every manner.

Coiled millipedes and coral snakes and leaf-nosed bats. Rough skinned newts and pronghorns and orb weavers. Walking sticks with halting steps and pale crickets and ravens saddled with human superstitions. You leave behind roots and tubers that turn to herbs. There is medicine leaching from your skin, lacing your weaver beam tail. You are mythical and biblical and you dreamt me here. You dreamt us all and now we are.

When I’m out for long enough, I hear you, faint at first but each day more. Like moving upstream and closer to the spring that filters from out of the souls of stones and boils to the surface with everything complete. These senses mix with one another and I feel colors and see cold and hear fragrance and smell the songs of the birds. I taste dreams. And then I am less man and more creature. I am made small but integral. I become a part of the ebb and flow of all tides, the accumulation at the delta and the hollowed gorge of sky above the wild river where dip and whir the swifts the swallows the hawks. What was once a language spoken becomes a simple awareness in which communication is life itself with no need for explanation or interpretation. Each breath is a truth and proof of existence.

There are old songs in your belly, down where the bears are sleeping in the duff. Melodies from the bones of poets whose blood made the ground so rich. Your tongue is thick and mossy, the toads move between your teeth while the foxes and mountain cats shape shift with the shadows in the hollow beneath your chin. And now the otters and now the shrew, the mole, the vole, the heron, the boar, the stomping skunk are migrating through your mane. Painted ladies and admirals and swallowtails and morning cloaks and skippers and sulfurs under the sun, cecropias and lunas and sphinx by moonlight. Goshawks map out silver pathways through the forest sewing the trees together into the most beautiful tapestry. Flying squirrels look through chocolate eyes to calculate distances, the drop and drag and lift and destination. Since the beginning, you have been blending these wonders of life and death, always attending that souls and bodies be taken back, returned to the source.

Include me.  I’ll wait right here where the trees are reaching down. Where the sky of stars are just only out of reach. I’m filled all up with the blues and greys and olive drabs of dusk and dawn. I’m here breathing out of duty and offering dreams as gifts for the passage. My ego, no matter how big, always seems to leave me with an empty heart. So give me instead the bees in the mint below the creek that winds in liquid amber through the aspens whose shadows hide the trout whose speckled tails hold the blueprints to the cosmos.

A Path, A Creek, A Snake

There are so many ways to move through the world. I see the folks who’ve chosen to be oblivious. I wonder about sweet oblivion. I can’t do it. I am a natural born wonderer, for better or worse. I dream and create, sometimes obsessively, in my head. Lately I’ve made it a point to look around me and see. I have to make it a point to do this because humans generally drive me nuts and, even though I’m one of us, I’m tired of us. Given the choice of being infuriated or detached, I usually choose to be detached (which is close to oblivious but not quite the same, to me at least). This is a phase. I’m sure. I’ll find my way free. I think. How many bitter old men have I known? So many! It isn’t any wonder that a thinking man might become tired of the way of things and turn inside, arrange his inner being, and watch the world fall to pieces. It’s an option, albeit a sad one.

My favorite people are the Observers. They are the ones with the curly smiles and the secret light in their eyes. They not only see the fly in their soup, they are laughing about it. Yes, we are messy, the entire lot of us, but we are here and life is what we do. So I’ve been looking around and here’s what I see. Here’s my non-video, non-photo show. I am the filter. You are both participant and recipient. The world is the stage. We are dancing and tumbling and flinging our arms while the stars spin fire and the whales sing hymns under the wild and wondrous sea.

At the bottom of the grade from high desert to low there’s a creek that sometimes runs, it’s running now. It comes off the reservation and runs itself to death in the desert. I like to stop and climb down below the highway, take my clothes off and sit in the hole where the water swirls deeper. I’ve added rocks for the last 20 years so that this hole will hold enough water to be chest deep when I’m sitting. I think others, probably kids, have added rocks too. I sit and think about the small society of creek sitters, those of us who would sit and listen to the cars as they rocket past above the creek and the concrete and the graffiti that says Mikki loves Cody and then medicated. I don’t think the words were from the same person and I would assume that it didn’t mean that Mikki loves Cody to be Medicated. But maybe.

The desert is big today. Even the giant airliner looks small as it tilts and shows me it’s silver underbelly like a fish gliding past with the sky as it’s sea. There are the big white props generating electricity from the wind and they are standing where they stand and they are turning in unison, now and then a broken one sits, ashamed. I can see every crease in San Jacinto, every possible passage to the summit. Miles of granite and buckbrush and juniper and finally ponderosa. There are a thousand years of wandering in those folds, I think of all the rocks that will never feel human touch. I wonder if the rocks are lonely or content with solitude. I hope they know I think of them so that when I turn to dust, they will recognize my particulates and welcome me. Rocks have been here for a long time. They’ve seen a lot. Rocks hold the ground down.

There’s an old black guy that walks along the path that I run. Or maybe I run the path that he walks, I don’t know which. He’s got a beard and wears a hat, he’s probably 62. He looks fit and light. He always raises his hand to me and I do the same back. I feel like we’re friends. I’m glad we meet in that little space on the trail where we nod and smile and see one another. I wonder what makes him walk. Sometimes I see him twice, out and back, and yesterday he raised his arm and made a fist when I saw him the second time. It was like he was telling me that he liked that I was running. It made me happy and content to be in the world and to be running and to have a common path with a maybe 62 year old man.

They cut an old tree down near Brian’s house. It was probably 75 years old. A desert ponderosa, short and squatty and thick and healthy. There wasn’t a reason, it was just not a part of the plan anymore. Beetles and bugs have been passing for days, migrating out of the tree that was their home and the home of their ancestors for as long as any of them can remember. I hope they find another home. It will be tough here in the desert to find a spot before the onset of summer. I hope some of that old tree’s pinecones get dropped along the way so that she can live through her children. It’s not smart to be a tree near humans; you never know what we’re gonna do.

Several years ago I found a weasel that had been hit by a car on the side of the road. It was so amazing. It was a little male mustelid with the sharpest teeth ever known. It was open-mouthed and looked dangerous even though it’s guts were out on the asphalt. I picked it up and took it about a hundred yards to a big pepper tree in the field. I set it down in the grass and looked at it a little more. That tree is gone and the field is plowed now. I guess they are going to build houses there in that space. I wonder how much water it will take to fill all the swimming pools.

This morning is quiet. My running partner, Scout, is looking at me with yellow eyes. If he had the power to get whatever he wanted we would have been running at 4:30 this morning. Right now he is trying to figure out how to speak human so that he can convince me that it’ll be so great to run. He is young and powerful. He’s a Malinois breed and he was bred for war, I just run with him and that seems to be fine. I’m glad he’s not at war. A while back we came across a huge gopher snake that was beginning a treacherous journey across a busy road. I saw a big truck coming and I couldn’t help myself (cars are not fair to animals), I stepped out with Scout at my side. The truck had plenty of time to stop. The snake was hot and in a powerful mood. I touched it’s tail and it hissed and moved out. Scout watched intently but quietly. He is beautifully behaved because of his owner and my good ol’ buddy, Brian, and the training they do together. The big snake moved. The truck waited. Scout watched with a tilted head. For whatever reason the driver of the truck liked what I had done. He waved. I waved back. The snake went his way and I began to run again. So did Scout. It was one of those days when I am simple and happy.

Prologue: One of my favorite writers died recently. He often wrote about death and grief and what they mean to us, how they affect us. He died. Just like that. He wrote a piece about hearts and hummingbirds and whales and banana pancakes and I read it everyday for a month. When my sister was in a coma from a terrible car crash, I read that piece to her. I sat next to her hospital bed in a tattered orange shirt that I wore like a uniform at the time. Later I found out that she remembered everything and she asked me what I had read to her. Joyas Volaradas by Brian Doyle, I replied. It’s so beautiful is it not? I remember the part in that bit of writing that I cannot read aloud without feeling the tears come into my eyes. It’s near the end and it is as pretty as the sunrise. Brian Doyle did not know me, but he was an observer and a story teller and a human that felt what humans feel. I will visit his thoughts in the words he wrote and I will attempt to tell stories with his level of compassion and wonder. Rest in peace, Brian Doyle, and carry on.

Show Your Teeth

Cannon is 4, he holds up four fingers with the thumb tucked when he says it. His folks let him be in the pool with me whenever they please. Cannon is safe with me. He’s safe with me anywhere.

Tonight I saw a meteor fall in the evening sky over Moreno Valley. It was the biggest light I’ve ever seen from a meteor. Green then white and then the colors of fire in an evening sky with a half moon. With so much light pollution, I just couldn’t believe how much light it created. I half expected to hear the impact and prepare for whatever that means. My lover, 300 miles north, saw the flash from her tent in Death Valley. The world is small in relation to the cosmos; so very, very tiny. I am smaller yet. And little Cannon, he’s smaller even then.

We talked in the pool, Cannon and I. He’s bright and worldly, like an animal. He was naked and full of that otterish disposition that I see in kids that love water. He was on my knees. In the midst of flying arms and flashing butt, he slowed for just a moment and said something I barely heard over his clamor. “All of Life is through my head.” I thought I heard it, but I couldn’t believe it came from his mouth. I slowed his wildness and asked him to say again. “All of Life is through my head.”

Do you hear this? Do you hear what my little love has said?

I asked him what he meant. I feared that too many questions would squelch the loveliness that had just flashed through the sky of the mind of the child. He said more, “All the things and the pictures and the dreams of the world are in my head.” And here I am laid low, a stumbling layman in the presence of God. Then the child’s eyes to the sky, “and that’s beautiful and that’s beautiful and that….” his finger pointing to eucalyptus trees and towhees and blue blue sky.

Are you here? I don’t think I’m the most intuitive of us all. I don’t claim to understand people. I struggle with being too cross with my judgements and too sure of my views. But when the bats fly over the New Mexican canyons I feel my heart become rivers. If the whale plunges from her world beneath and shows her belly to our sun, I will fall on my knees, I will worship. When pieces of the Universe fall and turn to fire over the hills in Southern Cal, I will listen, I mean I will damn listen and say, “I am here.” Then, when this child/god says to me, “All Life is through my head”, I will hear him and love him for his heart. I will follow him through the fire-hate we humans are tending. I will give him audience and room to speak and, in the end, I will trust him to bury me and bury me good and deep.

I asked him then if dreams were real. He told me so very honestly that he did not know. He said that some things were real and some things were made up. I agreed. I felt the time fleeting and I saw him falling away into the world I cannot reach; one where I’m included but not necessary. In these seconds that fall, I can’t help but chase and fail. It’s true, I’m no child. So he flew like the birds that are beautiful and I choked on my adulthood.

But give me words that mean something. Give me hearts that beat with fear of the wild wind. Give me eyes that look into the green and murky water and expect the swimming lions. Please, for the sake of the stars, allow me reverence at the altar of the wilderness. And send the storms. Save room for my knees so that I can worship. Hold me in the rip current and teach me the smallness of me. There are nights to weather and mosquitos to swat and accept, there are distances to cover, bones to break and pretty words to misplace in my buckbrush mind. There are friends to bury and races to lose. I have yet to be tired of a perfect morning, where my coffee is strong, my heart is full and my body finds purchase in the world into which it was born.

There is more to say, but probably less that I can say well. So instead, let me listen. Oh please let me have enough heartbeats to impress the ones that love me. I will fall down and pray to the children and the moon, give me heartbeats to show how much I love this wild, wild Earth. Listen, if to nothing else, that I love the whales and the tiny birds. That I love the little creeks in the aspens and that I’m a product of something good. And by good, I mean small but quite toothy. Also, please, if you don’t mind, call me an animal– nothing grand, perhaps a minnow or a beetle. Just call me something wild.

“All Life is through my head.” Things are beautiful. Follow the children. Show your teeth.

the Edge

He first noticed something in his gate, not so much a clumsiness, but a lack of fluidity. It’s not like he’d ever been a long strider anyway. No one ever confused him with a person of graceful movement. At five foot, eight inches and 145 lbs, you are what you are, and that’s not long and smooth. Since he was old enough to have some kind of self perception, he had always pictured himself as a weasel, maybe a mink. A stone-hopper. A rubble-scrambler. He was not a gazelle nor a horse, not even an elk. Amongst the hooved, he might be some form of sheep. Not that he ever thought about it, well, actually he did.

So maybe because of his self-consciousness he noticed that he was shuffling more than before. When he first started this trek, he had more spring in his step. It’s been some time. He’s been through shoes. Until now, he’d just blamed the changes on aging, that and weariness. Now he’s not sure. It might be something else altogether. Too many days alone will have an affect on you; peeling away the layers, opening those hatches and latches that a busy mind would purposefully ignore. When you’re alone for long enough, you’ll eventually find yourself staring down into the dark basement of your mind. And the basement is not just a room, it’s a world of itself where graves are shallow and beasts prowl with broken limbs, a dreamland of banished thoughts where bristling memories scurry from the light and peer back at you with a strange and familiar fury.

He had avoided his reflection. No streams. No puddles. Now he sat staring at himself in the warped tin on the bottom of his thermos. Something different there. Something distant. He began to hum the way his Mama used to hum when he would rub her back. Another way of sliding out from under the thumb of reality. And humming, he walked. How many days since the last city? A season’s worth of walking since the last voice that wasn’t his own. And what about that last person full of sarcasm at the why of his journey? He made it a point to change his explanation after that. Why tell anyone that he is following some internal compass to somewhere that will present itself in a fashion that he will know but remain dumb to explain?  It’s crazy. He remembers the words of the Mad Farmer’s Manifesto, “as soon as the generals and politicos can predict the motions of your mind, lose it….” And so he did. He had, most definitely lost his mind. And somewhere in the losing of it, he began to change. First it was inward, he could feel it in the night while the fire burned. His body became cavernous and the needle-toothed bats swarmed the ceilings of his mind, the naked mole-rats dug blindly through the dark green-black guano of his guts, and from the center of his world there were groans from sources that aren’t listed in taxonomical records; beasts and beings exiled from creation, but existent nonetheless. Then came the first outward, physical change. His hair. Long, wiry, black and silver hair. First it grew from the tops of his fingers and toes, then it spread to his hands. Now, in the reflective tin, he could see the hair coming off the tops of his ears, off his cheekbones and even a couple off his nose. He noticed a change in his amble. His legs and feet constantly ached. All the walking and fasting made his body become the machine that it was supposed to be. Humans are deemed to walk. We are old pathmakers, all of us. He looked down at his strange feet and grunted. “Animal.” He said it aloud to himself, but also, to the world.

Now and then, he would feel dizzy. This he blamed on lack of food and poor nutrition. Once he woke up and realized he had passed out while walking down the side of a steep hill. He must have tumbled a bit, his knuckles were bloody and it took a minute to realize what had happened. He read once that a pig was the fastest animal to go from domestic to feral. Supposedly long black hair sprouted from their backs within months of running free. How long for humans to go feral?  Probably depends on the person. Two ravens circled and croaked. He stood and swayed and hobbled down the rest of the hill, a raggedy man in a play with no audience, acting in clothes that no longer fit. Crossing an open field, he stopped and looked at the trees that lined the horizon, he could see them breathing under the sky. Of course they were breathing, fuck, listening too. Across and into the woods. His direction was determined by the lay of the land and the angle of the sun. At night he followed the stars, all familiar and twinkling, especially the polestar. Venus was the brightest, coldest light in the sky when he stopped moving. He roasted chicory and drank the bitter tea and slept inside his blankets where dreams wriggled from their holdings like quicksilver from a broken pot. This night he dreamt he awoke among the floatwood at the strandline of the sea, his body was half emerged from a casing like those casings laid by dogfish. He flailed and gasped and stared, wide-eyed, at the retreating tide. He was something between man and eel and his mouth gaped and gulped. He could hear the fluting of the frigate birds descending with their scissor tails and razor beaks. The sand covered his eyes. The sea and the birds and the fear of death caused him to wake. He was calling. And there wasn’t anyone, just the night. He remembered the words of Wendell Berry’s Mad Farmer — “Listen to the carrion, put your ear close and hear the faint chattering of things to come….”

Mountains marched the horizon, dragging the trees. The sky was some color between grey and the blue between there and black, and there was a wind that matched the colors. His feet had changed to the point that he no longer doubted that something was off. His legs bowed out. His arms were thinner than they had ever been in his adult life. The land was wild and rough. The trees that lived here were wind worried and twisted, the product of gravity and pushing forces. Mystery lives unblemished on the edges of the earth. For the last week, the stars haunted the daytime skies and the moon seemed broken and hollow, maybe not real. He heard voices and sometimes called out to them, but they would only pause and then begin anew. After a while he allowed them to speak without disruption, a constant unintelligible uttering. Something was going on with his back, his shoulder blades felt dislocated and the arc of his spine limited his movement. Nothing was left. No packs. No clothes. No pen to draw and no paper to bear the lines as witness. No comforts. The basics were his way of living in those days before he came to the Edge. At first he thought maybe it was a canyon, something he might circumnavigate, but after some deliberation he realized it was simply, the Edge. He spent some hours looking out. More thoughts of the Mad Farmer, “Leave it as a sign to mark the false trail, the way you didn’t go.” The gulf was all of the space of the present moment and he was at the Edge. When he stood to move, something broke free in his back, like a bone long out of place that moves to it’s intended spot. Transformation is essential to growth but from growth there is no return, all is progression. He was past being surprised by his changes, so the wings that broke from his back, quaking and shivering, gave him little pause. And they rose with a mind of their own, unfettered, furious and ranting, like horses held back from the race. His wings, harbingers of flight. All that ever was became a perfect presentness. And he lost his mind and tipped into the star-flung sky buried below him while his wings took him into spaces that would not have ever been found had he never ventured. There is eternity in the blink of an eye. And spinning and fleeting, the cosmos, disregarding past and future, swallowed him entire.

Dark the night,

Dark the sea,

Dark these churning guts

in me.

I cry to muscle,

and beg to bone,

lift this heart and take

me home.  — TLC

We are all children of the universe and eventually we will all return to our source; some screaming and clawing like naughty teens, some solemn, and some with a wild and adventurous heart and gleaming teeth. The last was my buddy and compadre, Chris Pilaro, who went on before me, to light fires in the dark so that I might find my way. Carry on, Chris, you fucking stud! This writing is for you as is today’s adventure and tonight’s whiskey from a tin cup. See you in the big whatever else, brother.  Love.   Tobias

Help (me).

Lately, how many times have you picked something up to read it and then put it down when it doesn’t say what you need it to say? If you are me, and I am, it happens a whole lot. So that is not what I want to happen here in this bit of writing.

When speaking of beliefs, there’s what you believe and then there’s everything else that doesn’t jive with your heart, or in other words, everything else that is wrong. I struggle with this. I sometimes climb up on my high horse so far that I can’t even see the heads of the ignorant peasants far below.

I’ve been exploring inside my heart lately. Mean-heartedness and righteousness are not really a good mix when it comes to communication.

I’ve always believed in this whole breathing thing. You know, like, if you don’t breathe, it’s tricky to stay alive. So I’ve latched onto that — Breathing. We all do it. I’m not even being sarcastic (for once), I really do believe breathing and what it does for me.

I went home to see my Mama. She got her knee changed out. My folks have grown old and I saw it this last time home. I spent some nights in bed thinking about not having them anymore. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not dead yet, but life’s wear and tear was obvious to me as I sat and talked with them. I worked on Mom’s back, felt her old bones, rubbed her stove up shoulder and massaged her feet while she closed her pretty eyes and smiled just a tiny bit. We talked about breathing and I showed her some exercises that have helped me rehab my back and neck.

Sit up straight. Breathe into the high chest. Spread the ribs. Keep the spread and breathe out through the belly, be strong and tall, use the air to stretch the cage.  5 full breaths to start. Chin in and crown to the sky. 

I was saying these things over and over to my Dear One. It’s tough to get old folks to change, but my Ma did it and felt better. I went back and went over it all with her again. I called her every day and asked if she had done her breathing. She answered yes, and that it made her feel taller. I still check in and she’s still practicing the routine I set out for her. What a cool ol’ gal! My sweet Mother has always loved her flowers, she’s a perennial herself.

My parents and I do not see eye to eye on a lot of things. We do not. That doesn’t change a thing when it comes to me wanting to reduce the pain and suffering in their lives. This is good for me to understand. It’s really important. There is a greater application to this —  Breathing is a starting point for us all.

I got hit by a car the other day when I was running. City runs have their own elemental dangers, just as mountain runs might. I choose mountain runs any day over the city, but sometimes I’m stuck in town for work. I went around a corner, a driver wanted to get somewhere faster, they illegally turned and got me from the side as I was turned watching for traffic in the other direction. I bumped up on the trunk of the car and did a kind of roll. The car’s brakes squealed. The driver hunkered down and sped off with nary a peek in the rearview.  I spun off the back and landed on my feet facing the opposite direction, mad as a cornered cat. I let out a long string of curse words in between attachments to political affiliations as I scampered off.  None of what I said made a damn bit of sense, but I was in a little rage and I was gonna say what I felt like saying. My rump was bruised, and my ego, but that was it. A fella in a city truck pulled up as I ran, his window came down and he asked if I was ok. This surprised me and pulled me outa my innerverse of lightning and lava. I told him, yeah. He shook his head and said, “People, man.” I answered, yeah, people. I finished my run. By the end, my thoughts had returned to my breathing. Ribs expanding. The sky coming in.

Opposition is a kind of darkness. Two sides that cannot be separated (and we can’t be separated because we are all in this world, like it or not) are in a room together and the darkness or blindness descends. We take our beliefs, like baseball bats in the dark, and begin swinging with all our might. Sooner or later, if we don’t create some light, we’re gonna get hurt. So, how to find light?

I’ll tell you where I find light, but you must look for it yourself and in your own way. I find light when I put my arm around my kid brother as he is talking about the geese flying between the pines and I feel the drone of his voice through his rawbone ribs. I find light when I follow that one path, just north of San Francisco where the grass is chest high and the smell of meadow and the clack of the yellow-winged grasshoppers and the color of the dirt all combine to reduce me to the smallest soul on a spinning world. I find light in the tops of the coastal Cypress trees when the wind is screaming in off the Pacific and I am hanging on for this dear life. I find it in the sticky old shoulder of my Mother, while I work my fingers under her scapula and tug and hear my Mama’s lovely whimper as old pain leaves her body. I find light in the heart of my buddy, Foster, as he feeds the feral, 3 legged cat that he couldn’t help but save because, behind his scarred up fighter face, there is an ocean of thoughtfulness.

A friend recently pointed out that cynicism is a closed circle, that it feels good but leads to nowhere. I’ve noticed a ton of cool cynicism lately. It’s like our culture is promoting it. It bums me out because I kinda always thought that it was my jam, what’s up with everyone horning in on my act? I’ve decided to cut back. Rather than being cynical, I’m trying to be an observant student. I want to be a good animal. I want the earth to be stoked to receive me when I turn back to dust. I think I’ll start with breathing and moving and looking for light.

 

 

Note: I rarely dispense this kind of knowledge in my writing, but this has really made a difference for me, a couple of my buddies, and my Ma.  It’s just a suggestion so don’t think I’m a doctor or  a warlock or a sooth-sayer. It’s just good (and free, which is great). It’s mostly breathing. If you have pain in your body, give “decompression” breathing a try. It has helped me stay in motion. Doesn’t matter your age or fitness level, it will help. This ain’t an infomercial, I just think it’s good to reduce suffering and clear the mind so we can all see one another. You know, like, get outa the dark. There are places to find instruction (like youtube– Eric Goodman). Free info. Another such place is the Instagram of  Shane Cuppett @foundationshane. I don’t know him at all but his info is solid and there are examples like the stuff I shared with my Mama. 

Ok there, that felt kinda weird but whatev’s. I’m kinda weird too. Basics will help us find a way through the dark.