travels with paul

by tobias crabtree

cave man

he’s a tough one to find if you don’t know where to look.  i remember seeing ol’ paul for the first time in the original crossroads restaurant in joshua tree; dreads to the waist, old worn-out raincoat with a patch or two, heavy brow with some eastern-block remnants around the eyes, wolfish face. paul might stand at 6 foot and tip the scale at 170 but he seems bigger. one thing i know, there ain’t a part of him that’s slack. he’s lean like a raw-boned hound and has the physique that them fellas in the muscle mags can’t figure out how to get. they can’t get it because it takes a little starvation and years of dropping off of cornices in alaska and scrubbing moss off the 30 foot boulder problem that’s 5 miles by foot at the end of the trail above el chalten. it takes thousands of cups of coffee and piles of raw beets and a shit-ton of rollies. you would need to peel off the top of digitalis destructi and break your foot and then let it heal by paddling the baja coast for a couple months. and you’d also have to watch the world break away all around you as you carve across the top side of a chute and ride the white with refrigerator size blocks tumbling like a herd of stampeding buffalo (what was it they tell ya to do in an avalanche, paul? backstroke? try to land head up so they can dig out your head first…hopefully? yeah, right, and set your headphones to your fav song since it might be the last thing you listen to as the white turns to black and your face turns to blue). if you did this kinda stuff for 20+ years you’d be moving along like paul.

i sat in a tiny room with him in buenos aires. it was four walls and a little door that opened to a 5×5 square. the square had some sad little flowers that would get sun when the sun found it’s way down the 3 stories of brick building that rose above. the sky was a blue square overhead with an occasional cloud reeling past. it was volka’s apartment and paul had a key. we sat in the mornings and listened to the computer play paul’s extensive music collection that leaned toward the heavier heavy metal and trippy electronica that would also be on the heavy side. we sat with pens and pencils and drew for hours. in the afternoon we ventured out and found a spot to sit and drink fernet and watch the world. sometimes afternoons would fold into nights and we would move around the city, cab to cab, bar to bar and a kaleidoscope of beautiful argentine faces spinning past.

somewhere around mendoza we headed into the rolling sheep country. paul had heard of a place with some rocks to climb. the landscape was beautiful and strange. grasslands that had enormous domes of stones. i watched paul assess the world and finally say he thought we were close. we climbed off the bus into a place that could have been scotland (but it was sunny) or france or south dakota. it was a place that held it’s own but didn’t give away it’s secrets easily. we walked to a sheep farmer’s house and told him we’d like to walk onto his land to explore. he smiled and said, si buenaventura. paul had called it right. we found good fun stuff to climb on. at night we slept on the grass by the creek. in true paul turecki style, he produced a bottle of fernet and a coca-cola. we drank it down and passed out. somewhere in my fernet induced sleep, my dream world and what i call “real life” mashed together.

i had a dream that two long-legged cats came into our camp. they looked like a small version of a cheetah. they got ahold of our shoes and tore them to pieces. they carried things off into the night and then disappeared. in the morning, i was a mess. first of all, i found my pants down by the creek and they were wet and covered in sand. one of my sandals was down there as well. i was covered in sand in my sleeping bag. paul was rolling out of his bag and he noticed his shoes were missing. there were tracks all around the camp. since climbing shoes are essential for a climbing trip, we were concerned. one shoe showed up in the deep weeds. we followed the tracks around and finally decided it must’a been the shepherd’s dogs. back to the little stoney house at the road. we told our story. the woman told the man. the man laughed and said, si, es el perro bandito. he showed me the hole where the dog lived and it was a den. paul was too big to get in the hole, so i crawled in and sure enough, along with years of items like dolls and pillows and gas cans and slippers, was paul’s missing shoe. i’ve never figured out why my pants were off and down by the creek. maybe i was stumbling after the dogs, fell in the creek, shed my trousers and surrendered to sleep. i’ll leave that stone unturned (you probably should too).

and the trip went on and stretched down to the end of the world where we saw weather from the south pole fall from out of the jet stream and smash into the earth. and we scrubbed mossy rocks and paul found a cave that i loved so much that i lived in it for over a month. and we sat in the cervezaria with volka and lucho and told lies while the world spun above us. and that year i slept through christmas.  and i saw paul tattoo mulo on the floor of a kiosko. and then somewhere, at some point, we left. now paul is in another place. we are similar in some ways, we are both watching our lives in confluence with humankind. we both have seen stuff taken away. we care about the earth far more than we let on. so, maybe because i see bits of our soul that match up, i really enjoy his company. besides, he talks way less than me and makes more sense when he does. we are braided up with the good and the bad. i’m sure glad to know him. he’s a grand beast.