tripping up

by tobias crabtree

every now and again i’ll stumble over absolutely nothing. i look back for the culprit and the sidewalk is smooth and crackless. the habit is to then look around and see if anyone has seen me trip over nothing. what i don’t want to see is someone laughing at my weird gaff in concentration, because, you know, i learned to walk a long time ago and i should have it down by now. i don’t know exactly when it happens, but somewhere, sometime in our growing up we start being self conscious over making mistakes. adults aren’t supposed to fall down. they aren’t supposed to blunder their words. mistakes can be forgiven with a shrug when we’re all kids, but don’t go tripping and falling once you’re older, don’t even think about it.

i got this theory that the reason adults end up hurting themselves in their older age is because we forget how to recover from our tumbles. we do less and less that might put us in a position to mess up, and then we forget how to fall. along with my theory is my practice. i spend a good bit of time doing things that most grown-ups don’t do; things adults have left behind in the moving memory pictures of their youth. i fall a lot. mistakes? oh hell yes. this morning’s routine includes a puffy ankle and some black toes from a skateboard crash two days ago. i had all the geek-gear on but the flopping on pavement will still twist you up, even if you’re covered in protective plastic. i don’t love my hurt foot but i sure do love how i got it, right up to the point before i turned just a little too hard and lost my board. it’s a part of the game i guess.

playmates are rare. i mean the good ones. the fun ones. the real ones. like markus jolliff, he’s a great playmate. he will always play. last year we intersected in san francisco, each of us on his own journey. i had been climbing trees in golden gate park every day for a week. a tree a day. i saw two giants that had enormous branches that intersected near the top. the one tree was limbless from the ground up to about 35 feet. the other tree was climbable but spooky. both trees had  huge limbs the size of most trees. i asked markus if he wanted to climb it with me. with little more than a curly smile answered with a yep. markus and i have been climbing buddies for over 10 years, we mostly climb on rocks, but he’s solid and strong and loves to laugh. it was quiet as we climbed. the world pinches off when you leave the ground and your safety lies in the choices you make with your hands and feet. gravity is there, watching. at the top of the tree, after the crossing over from the giant cedar into the giant cyprus, we poked our heads through the thick canopy. it didn’t look like we were a hundred plus feet from the dirt path below us. it looked like we were in a well groomed yard on some grand estate.  there were some ravens up there and they had to fly around us for a while to figure it out. they know what’s up and they have memories good enough to know when something is not usual. that’s how it was, the ravens chortling back and forth, landing and gawking at the sight of the two-leggeds high in the world above the world. ocean to the west. bay to the north. markus and his forever-smile forming the words, yeah man.

there’s a sleepiness in the tree tops. i know why the upper regions feel so magical, it’s because dreams happen up there. up there where the songbirds roost and dream their multi-color thoughts. up where the squirrels leap and snooze and flick their tricky tails. and, in the darker spots, the owls, the daytime deep-dreamers who carry quiet souls too and fro between our fixed and cartoned reality and the wonderful otherness of maybes and mysteries, they sit and wait the turn of the world when they will slip out and fly,  soundless, on downy wings. and in the jungles near the equator, high in those limbs are the worn spots where the monkeys rest. there are nests where the sloths pull down their long-lashed lids and think slow in mossy greens. and where a tree might hold 100,000 different species of beetles. yeah, trees are dream makers. they pull life from the ground and carry it to the sky. they are roots and bark and leaf and sap. they’ll connect you if you let ’em. especially if you’ll climb ’em. them ringed and swaying wonders. the elders and the alders. the cedars and the elms. the oaks and maples and rowans and lengas and ponderosas and spruces and ashes and madrones, lovely and waiting till we do our thing; they write their messages against the sky as they sway and lean and hum with the wind.

along with all the understood danger that comes from climbing to the top of some big ol’ tree is another feeling. i do feel an urgency to not make a mistake. it’s not a place to trip or make a bumbling move. the other feeling is an unmistakeable sense of safety and wellbeing. it’s a feeling of being above the madness below. after all, up there, i’m safe from any cord that might charge my computer. i’m safe from the mean looks that make me wonder what i did wrong. the shouting masses aren’t all around me, they are below. even honking horns seem sad and far away. sometimes, when i’m extra fortunate, i’ll look down and see a hawk slip below me, when i see the dappled light of the sun on the plumage of his back in flight i’m reminded that i’m living this life in a different fashion.

we are all here, each looking through the lens of our own experience. it’s up to us to change the angle and understand a new perspective. the more we move and change our point of view, the more our mind understands differences. understanding differences cuts down on meanness. it’d be good if we weren’t as mean. the next time i trip over nothing, i’ll do my best to remember what i’ve written here and i’ll try and laugh, maybe if someone’s watching they’ll laugh too.  that’d be alright.