by tobias crabtree
feats of strength. i grew up around them. my dad is an old school strong man. he hung out with some of the original strong men. dudes like paul anderson, who looked like a human bowling ball, were pretty commonplace around my neck of the woods. i saw paul blow a hot water bottle up with his mouth and pick up a table with 8 men sitting on it. my dad did stuff too, like, he did a handstand on a plank that was anchored to the top of a 15 foot ladder. and once he walked down the entire flight of 20-some stairs on his hands, all the while talking to a chuckling congregation about the strength of samson, the nazarite, one of god’s judges. i wouldn’t have said it, but i was bored during most church services as a kid. i just wasn’t cut out to sit through a shit ton of messages all talking about how much i was gonna pay for sinning. but you mention some strong guy (a tarzan of the bible) and i was all ears. that one story about samson getting all worked up and snatching up the jawbone of an ass and laying waste to hundreds of men was awesome. i mean, that was my fix, i didn’t even need to use my imagination for that.
time. time is the measurement we use to tell how long we’ve been kickin’ and how much longer we’ll go for. time has passed since those days in church with my old man yucking it up. i always couldn’t wait to grow up and be strong like my dad. i was really gonna go to the gym and crank off some reps with several hundred pounds over my head.
never happened. my body is lean. my dad’s a barrel. i must’a caught some of them older genes way back in the choctaw strain. i’m a small dude and i don’t fool myself about pushing heavy weights anymore. i run and move through the upper branches of trees and don’t leave much of a mark in the wet sand even on my heavy days. in some ways, though, i’m still affiliated with them strong men of that other age.
today is january 17. strong man, brian foster, was born on this day about 38 years ago. i doubt i’ll ever meet someone tougher than foster. i’ve had a chance to add him up through the years. we’ve done miles of swimming together. we’ve walked hundreds of miles for sure. when he started his mixed martial arts career, i sat in the basement of some building and watched him exchange fisticuffs with big angry men that made me wonder about things like brain damage. foster didn’t fight so he could carry around a trophy, he would say that he was just curious. i’m not joking. i always worried some, but then he’d look at me and smirk right as he stepped in the cage and he’d say something like, “life is so good, ain’t it tobe?” damn, that just amazed me. and through the years i’ve seen him mark his face up. when the injuries from all the wars began to wear on him, he stopped. no big deal. nothing to prove. his jaw is about as thick as a brick and his forehead makes me believe that neanderthal’s probably did inter-breed with homo sapiens. his blonde hair is cropped close to his skull and his skull holds the mind that causes his squinty, blue eyes to shine. and man, they shine. we laugh at one another when we are hurting. our lives have run pretty damn parallel with equal amounts of crashing and burning. neither of us hear well anymore, probably from lying next to one another, crackin’ off shots, as we sited in our m40’s. we learned to count on one another in sniper school and it has lasted a lifetime. sure wasn’t like the movies though, more like real life, i’d say. not a lot of folks have tested their friendships by lying still in a cold mud hole for 24 hours, but we did more than once. we also laughed a good bit, which is cool because the other stuff sucked.
i was running under the big ol’ cypress trees in golden gate park today. i was running to the sea. now and then my body feels like i haven’t aged a day since i was in my 20’s, of course, it’s not a true report. i have aged. but today was one of the good ones. i tacked on a couple more miles and pitched my body up another of the winding paths. in a little clearing i saw the wag of a redtail hawk in the top of a big ol’ ponderosa. i slowed a bit and watched the big bird drop from it’s perch, wings folded, and down and down. i even saw him turn his wondrous head and thread between branches and then wings open and then go into a long, low swing. he was just overhead as he passed me, so easy. i saw his feathers and the white and the speckling grey, the burnt orange to red. i saw the auburn glint from those eyes. for just that second i saw the black center of his hawking eye turn onto me. and he looked at my eyes and i looked into his. and i know that he could see like i can’t even imagine so i wonder how far into me he looked and maybe he looked clean through today and saw the moments that hang suspended in tomorrow. maybe he saw far enough to see the suns that will shine on the last of me. and he eased on past, all feathered and taloned and beaked, then up into the top of another of those awesome trees. so i ran on down. and i felt my heart clunking with the rhythm of my feet. and this old heart of mine is amazingly fine, with all it’s brokenness and all it’s wastedness.
i don’t want to dread what’s left of this life. i don’t want to fear the things to come. i see the ones that fight the passage of time. the men who don’t accept the loss of strength. the women who try to buy back the vigor of youth. all that bullshit face stretching and pulling. the plumping of lips. all sexes at odds with the implacability of time. we are vain little creatures, us humans. our vanity cries out wickedly. to me it sounds like dragging brush from the back of a pickup truck. the sadness lies in the fact that while we scratch and claw to stay young, the wonder of life is rolling past. the answer lies in the living. the grandest of all is available to us throughout life, not just in our weird little pretty youth.
and so, i run. i run with time. and there is a slowing in the movements that are not so unlike a floating hawk or a cruising shark; neither fast nor slow, but perfect in the midst. and i clench my old jawbone and i lengthen my stride. bring on the rest…let’s run.