rivers of thought…

by tobias crabtree

may i write without structure? is it ok if i write things to you that may or may not fit together perfectly, unless you understand that they are thoughts and they come from living and so, in that way, they are of the same family? i want you to see the colors as they happen. i want to be the window that is so clear you don’t notice me. the sources are beautiful with or without me, but maybe you were too busy or too hurt or too sad to go see them; so i would bring them to you as best i could. this i would do.

the strangely shaped man that i saw stand at the doorstep and peek out from his home. and then he sneezed and blew his nose. and then he lurched out and glanced side-long at me and i smiled and it took him off guard. as i think on it now, i think he knows he’s strange looking and i wonder if that is why he pauses at his door…and peeks out. if only we all realized that being strange is ok.

once i saw a naked baby in the streets of lima. the mama had a newborn in a wrap on her back and was busy spinning wool while her 1-year-old picked at a smashed piece of food in the gutter. i was on the far side of the street and could not tell how close the buses came as they turned the corner but i was anxious to the point of losing my appetite for my egg sandwich. as i watched, the little girl put her face to the ground and drank from the water that was rolling past from someone spraying down the sidewalk up the hill. she sat up, saw me looking, and grinned with squinty eyes that showed black in their centers where the universe begins.

jim braiden was a lumberjack/woodsman/teacher that i knew in my youth. he worked in camps as a guy who did everything. he could do handstands on his fingers because he was born with wrists that didn’t go back like most peoples’ wrists. once he walked with me out into the woods of wyoming and we found a spring that came up out of the ferns where the rocks clutch the mosses and the lodgepole’s lean toward the sun. i remember laying down on my belly and drinking, as the water bubbled up from the cracks in the world, and seeing tiny specks of life and i drank like i saw jim drink. when i sat up, he winked at me and said, “pretty good, huh?”. i still drink from springs when i find them. and they let me know about the things i might forget otherwise.

i buried my favorite ring beneath a birch tree yesterday. it was an accident. i was helping joe plant a river birch in front of his cafe. i lifted the rootball and put it in the hole and stuffed the good soil down deep to fill the gaps. when we were done planting, we smiled at one another and then i noticed my ring was gone. it was a ring i made in the forge up in oregon and i had stamped the words “here we go around again” on the inside, where the ring laid against the skin. i gave way easy to the loss. where better to leave a ring than in the roots of a river birch?

several days ago i heard my little friend ruby sing the words to a christmas song. she sang them in perfect pitch and ended with fa la la la la, la la, la la. i looked up from my drawing and saw her face as she sang and looked at her new passion (a kitten in a magazine). what marvelous thought must have been beneath that amazing brow. what a lesson to be so at ease with the world around you! she is 5 going on 75. she is in that outer space beyond convention where singing a christmas song in may is not only fine, but perfect.

there was a fella at the train station in sacramento. he was ringed and earringed and dark from the sun. an old lady stepped off the train and struggled with her drag-along suitcase and looked around, slightly confused. due to the construction at the station, it was a quarter mile walk to the baggage claim. (i’ll call the elderly lady sylvie.) sylvie walked in the direction of the station but realized it was too far. she came back out of breath and holding her chest. the fella asked her if she needed water and told her to have a seat. sylvie’s daughter called and asked if she was ok. i heard the guy ask her if that was her kid calling and she said that it was, that she was waiting. the fella took off at a jog and came back in a golf cart with a station worker who asked if she needed a ride to the station. sylvie stood up with tears in her eyes and hugged and kissed the dark-skinned fella on the forehead. as the cart pulled away, she looked at us and said, ” i never say have a nice day, i say, have a nice forever.” us humans aren’t always a mess. we have our moments where the very best comes through and the bad in us loses traction. as long as we have hearts, there will be shining moments.

i always wonder what it would be like to be brilliant…to be a genius. i wonder if i would wonder more or less. it’s nice to be as simple as i am, i mean, i can stare at an ant pile for an hour and come away feeling smarter. i think of people like david foster wallace, who was so aware of what makes us sorrowful and what makes us connect, and then he killed himself.  perhaps the burden of understanding carries with it impossible traps. i settle into these days with an attention to breathing and singing and listening and drinking water. when it gets to be too heavy, i look at ruby as she sings christmas carols in may; i find a spring and i lay my body down and drink cold, earthy water; i picture beautiful, 85 year old sylvie as she says “have a beautiful forever.” no one said this life is without it’s burdens. no one even said it would not end in tragedy. what i believe to be true is that life is being, and by being, i mean breathing. go breathe a little while you can…go suck in some air why dontcha?