undoing things

by tobias crabtree


today i took apart fences.  deconstruction, i’m down with it. i’ve got some past that i like to work on, especially when i’m taking things apart.  we all got some past, don’t we?

my gramps on my dad’s side was a choctaw indian. he signed some kinda papers that stood up for indian rights at some point or another. his name was elmer. he died in a chair with a half drank cup of coffee, his boots were still on. i love that. i guess he was a strong dude. i remember him as a real gentle fella but my dad has told me about elmer’s life and it was a rowdy one. he was born in the century before last…1898. one time gramps taught me to make a little live trap so i could see song birds up close, “let ’em fly once you get a look at ’em, they’re made for the sky, not a cage.” i think he still had a lot of the old world in him. it showed up when he was teaching me things in his back yard.

i don’t have to follow any order here do i? can i write like i live — haphazardly? may i go anywhere i please? it’s my favorite route, the one unplanned. i’m still taking things apart. the fence with my hands, remember? and then there was this time when i was near indian creek in southern utah. i found this dead redtail hawk in the woods. i don’t know how it had died but it was huge and beautiful. i was with joe crowe. we had met to climb. we were both months on the road. in our shagginess, we were primed for the fires and the winds. i’m crusty as it is, let alone with months of sleeping in the dirt and climbing sandstone buttresses. i do love this stuff. along with the hawk i had a dead female tarantula, she had died at the sting of a tarantula hawk while i watched in awe. i kept her but didn’t know what i wanted to do with her. she began to smell terrible and so i kept her outside my truck whenever i wasn’t traveling. she was ingloriously entombed in a coffee can. i decided i wanted the hawks skeleton. i wasn’t sure how to do it but i thought about letting nature take it’s course for as long as i could stand it and then maybe help things along. the result was that i smelled like dead things and joe said so. i posted the bird off in the woods and checked on it daily. when i finally gathered it’s skinny remains, i began to feel sorry about the whole thing. seeing the bird without it’s glorious plumage was sad and i finally took it out and buried it under a big pine tree. death is so real. as the hawk fell apart, so did my desire to keep it’s bones. they belonged, i thought, to the wild. they belong to the sky.

fences are weird. they mark territory that we say we own. we are silly. we never own anything (ok, maybe we own our heart, but then we sometimes give even that away don’t we? now that’s crazy talk). we mark it off and build on it and sign papers that tell other humans that it is ours; meanwhile, the birds fly to and fro, the cats slink across our gardens in the night, the raccoons turn our trash cans over, the skunks look us in the eye and show us their rear, the wind blows, the sun shines and, in a million years, the ground will not be ours anymore. i personally have noted that the fishing is almost always better on the other side of the fence…no joke, it really is.

kevin and i used to hop a fence or two whenever we fished up at the moffat tunnel. we had to cross private land to get into the back country. i remember hurrying and loving the sneakiness of it. and above timberline, on the other side of the fences, my buddy and i would fish for cutthroat trout that hadn’t been tampered with in a hundred years. maybe them fences are to thank, i don’t know.

as the days tick off and the fences get put up and taken down, i reckon we’ll live on one side or another. i’ll do my share, but i like carrying wire-cutters just in case the fences get between me and the distance that i need to survive.