then comes oldness

by tobias crabtree

i heard this old guy talking on a copied cd. his name was bill keys and i happen to know a little bit about him from having wandered in the desert where he wandered. i’ve probably stepped into bill key’s footsteps more than once. there are some geographic features in the high desert near joshua tree, california that are named after him. he was cool. i got my hands on that old cd and i listened to him talk about life and death. he was a philosopher but i’m sure he’d have said he was just a fella living out his days. it was apparent that he’d been alone for a long time. his wife died out in that desert and he lived the rest of his life never too far from her grave. he spoke of the stars as points of light and he talked about the world as if it was a giant crystal. he was born in that time when the cowboys were a dying breed. he was a cowboy and he was as wild as the ground he walked upon. i loved hearing ol’ bill speak of the ways of things. just imagine the changes he saw; from horseback cattle runs to skies full of jets and rockets.

i know that desert. i’ve slept in it and started my morning fires to make my coffee. i’ve walked miles and miles, from rock pile to rock pile. i’ve seen the green mojave rattlers and their dangerous look. i’ve found old treasures in hidden spots. i’ve loved women from the desert who were as pretty as the blooming cacti…and just as spiny. the desert…it’s a wild place that’ll give you wrinkles overnight. 

and speaking of wrinkles, i remember seeing them when i was a kid and loving them. i wanted them. all them lines in my grampa’s face! i thought crazy things as a kid. i thought that having grey hair meant you’d be smart and that wrinkles made you tough. good grief, i know it doesn’t work like that…not at all. one day i was fishing for crawdads in the creek behind the house, mom was calling me home for dinner, and the next day i was 45! i mean, what the hell happened?! i looked in the mirror this morning and saw these wrinkled eyes and a grey beard. the funniest part of it is that i’m still that same kid i was when i had those crazy notions. the only explanation is that oldness came. it comes for us all (thank goodness). we have choices to make along with it’s arrival: love it and navigate gracefully, or live in denial. 

the former is a grand adventure, the latter is misery.

so, to the ones who’ve gone before, nicely done. to the youngsters, i say, love your footsteps and love your breath and love your heart, you’ll do just fine. who knows, maybe you’ll find me making coffee at a little fire in the distance.