monks in the leaves
by tobias crabtree
I had a dream last night that I walked into a group of monks saying prayers to fallen leaves. The leaves covered the ground all around them and as far as I could see out into the forest. As it often is in dreams, I somehow knew what they were doing without asking them. I mentioned to one of them that there were too many leaves, that they would never finish praying. One smiling monk looked at me and said very simply, “true.”
Several nights ago, I had another dream. I was with my friend, Sarah, and we came across a snake. At first it was a Gopher snake and then it changed and grew rattles. It became a Rattler in front of our eyes, neither of us seemed concerned. Outside of dreamlife, I’m not afraid of snakes. I don’t worry of being bitten despite sleeping on the ground in the areas where snakes move and groove. It ain’t because I’m brave, it’s just that I’ve always liked snakes and I’ve noticed that they just don’t want much to do with us humans. They are focused on smaller things, things they might hunt and eat. In the dream, the Rattler was crawling across the plastic lid from a discarded trashcan, as we watched, a meadowlark landed on the edge of the lid. I told Sarah that the snake didn’t eat birds, and then it did. It struck and swallowed the bird entirely.
I don’t have any insight on dreams. They are as real as everything else, I reckon. They affect me about like the other stuff. And also, I’m tired of my opinion. Lately, it seems stale and old. I’m tired of my own voice when I’m trying to say what it is that I believe in. My beliefs change daily, even if ever so slightly, and so to say them is a bit of a waste of time. I’m tired of trying to drag bigger thoughts up out of the murk only to lose them at the surface; left with only the silver flash and a story that I may or may not be able to convey. I just might not find the words. Lately, I don’t have them. Them monks might have been onto something, sitting there praying to the millions of falling leaves; at least they know what they are doing.
Despite my misgivings and my forgettings and my empty jar of marbles, I do feel compelled to write about a thing or two. If, for some reason you’re still with me, I’ll do my best to keep it short, for all our sakes. These are words about a trip, a drive, but more than that, it’s about stones and mesas and things too old to understand.
When I started my Toyota Dolphin at 4:15 or so, there wasn’t even the slightest hint of dawn to the east. Stars? Yes, by the billions. And that little moon, She was there, dying again in front of my very eyes. Agendas are something I shy away from, for better or worse. I really love to not have one. So was the case as I pointed my nose, and the nose of the dolphin, to the east and the desert that the east held and the thoughts that the desert held. I believe the desert holds old thoughts, not just mine. I think that maybe the old stones and trees have been recording the happenings since before the first minute hand began to click and clock. The Earth remembers on Her own, with or without our recognition. Our own sense of importance has reached a fever pitch. (If smart phones were mirrors, and they are essentially a way to look at ourselves, imagine how many times we are looking at ourselves every day in every conceivable way. ) Narcissus is alive and well, walking miles and miles in our shoes. And with these thoughts, I would beg you to remember the world that made us. Remember what gave us our first imaginings. Our eyes have been fixed on the wonder of a turning world since we were skin-clad tribes and before. This is why I feel inclined to write, regardless of my reckless choice of words and caveman punctuation. Allow me this space to tug your sleeve in the direction of a wonderful, forgotten hollow. Some hidden meadow. A river that still flows with mystery in it’s belly to an ocean that is doing Her best to forgive us our sins.
When the Sun came up, it was across the flanks of Iron mountain. I’ve heard that Creosotes may be the largest ancient organisms, that they are all linked in the roots. Even if that’s not true, I want to believe it. I’ve heard that Aspen trees are linked in the roots as well. And then, while we’re thinkin’ about roots and links and connection, there’s the world of Mycelium. If ever there was a way to be lost in a forest, it’s on your belly where the Mycelium are interlacing and allowing the harmonious breakdown of all that is dead so that everything can live. Mushrooms stand on the fringes of infinity, for sure. And so I saw the Sun shine through miles of Creosote branches, His orange light diffused. My heart beats a little different in the morning, dawn treats me sweetly. Signs warned of a soft shoulder; no pulling off the side of the road ’cause you’ll get stuck. People have died in the desert on the side of a road because, well, it’s the desert and they didn’t have water. The desert and the ocean have much in common, it’s easy to die in either one.
I stopped when the road in front of me pinched down to nothing, as did the road behind me. Straight and flat and foreverish. I climbed out of my rig and walked up the road, the only sound was a kind of a hint of wind, as if it was out there sneaking around in the hidden washes. i looked back at the dolphin, it was perched in the center of the road, and I felt like i was committing a crime. I guess that is a crime, leaving a vehicle on the centerline of a highway. What a wildcat I am. Above me, the sky was laced with the controversial trails of jets, far too many to be a normal thing. Chemtrails or not, I hate that they’re there, blocking me from an empty sky. As far as I’m concerned, even dumping that much fuel into the sky shouldn’t be ok. I walked back to my rig and started it’s fuel driven engine with guilt. Me and the jets, dumping our poisons into this amazing place. I know I’d feel better if i was cranking on a bicycle, but I sure as hell wouldn’t be to my brother’s house for Christmas.
The sign above the highway as I entered Arizona read, “Drive hammered, get nailed.” I have always thought it was crazy that bars can even exist. Since folks drink at a bar, and they usually drive there, ummm. Humans are weird, man. The Mojave and the Joshua trees gave way to the Sonoran desert and the Saguaros. I drove through the day, my thoughts rattling like cans behind my rig, you know, just-married style. Somewhere, I stopped and made coffee and a quesadilla. As evening fell, I crossed into New Mexico. Traffic fell away and the sky showed as a beautiful open hole into the universe. Sleep was all over me, had to stop. A pull-out and a back lot, ice on the ground, the rumble of diesel engines doing their all night burn. I went to sleep wondering, “what ever was wrong with trains anyway?”
4 a.m. Coffee blacker’n Satan’s heart. On the highway it was me and the stars and an occasional big rig. Miles and miles of shining highway lines. As the sun started to shine from under the sheets of the night, i could see the clouds in front of me.
As I write, presently, it is tempting to use words that might be misconstrued. The word, “alien,” for example, is maybe not the best word for the job. Alien, as a word, is loaded with connotation. It’s not just that I believe in something way bigger, it’s that I must. Moving through these deserts and feeling the wild world compounds with each step i take away from my vehicle, from my devices, makes me know that there is much more than what I see. Everything taken from actual living is far more valuable than learning it some other way. So the feeling of mystery becomes real and then I begin to see signs that aren’t going to be found in books or computers, they will only be found in the quiet spaces between my heart and the stars. Way out there, I am not surprised by visions. And all those things, like the things beyond usual, become more and more likely. The New Mexican desert, with it’s mesas and haunted cloud formations, is a portal through which we may travel. The words of the Ancients are carved into stones and all the Others from beyond the stars are standing just out of the corner of our eyes. Go. Be alone and be quiet so that you can hear. Nothing needs to be posted so that you can feel validated, leave that till later. Turn things off. Walk some miles under trackless skies. Drink some of your water and watch the wind sneak through the canyons. Be an alien to what is regular and chase the things that are older and more important. Leave time behind so that you won’t be distracted. Un-name your days. Pull the hours apart and leave them scattered on the ground.
I landed in Colorado. My dolphin spent a night in the town of Elizabeth, where I visited with Stan and Goldie. We sat in the kitchen and looked at the prairies that come from so far away. The little songbirds, the ones that brave the cold, sit outside in the bare-branched trees. They sit on the carcasses of thistles and sunflowers. They come find the seeds spread by Stan and Goldie. Story time with Stan, Lt. Col. Austin. We trade tales that cross one another with familiar names. We served at different times but our community was small and names carry weight. So we laughed and lied and told the truth in no particular order. History is a tangled thread. Stan carries his massive biceps under cantaloupe shoulders. His thick neck is the result of thousands of hours bowing against the tides. He’s a sight. We compare gray beards and laugh at the ticking clock. It’s nice that I can visit some of my heroes. Crazy Horse is gone, but Stan lives on.
From Elizabeth to Golden is only about an hour. My brother waits in the drive. Josh is always lean and mean. We have a beer in the garage while someone swipes my wallet from my rig out front. I let my guard down, I lose a little cash. The wallet gets tossed in the bushes a half block away, the person who owns the house recognizes it as something handmade. A call is made to my brother, Josh, “is tobias here? there’s a wallet in my drive that looks like he made it.” So I get the wallet back minus the cash and cards. Luck isn’t good or bad, it’s just the name we give to what we like and don’t like. You wanna know what I like? I like the thought of monks, under the trees, praying for the fallen leaves.