first person, singular

by tobias crabtree

Simple systems are great. The gear that turns the wheel leading from the crank is spinning beautifully in the sun. This particular terrain is by no means popular. Loose talus and cactus and the washed out stone contribute to the dispopulation of one of my favorite haunts. There is distance to spare, a kind of lonely openness that lends the heart to queries without answers. I am on and off the bike, under the sun, under gravity, under the sound of my creaking knees. This is not training. It is not for some future feat of physical prowess. I am striving to be simple and so I am watching the earth roll along as I cover ground for no other purpose than to be among the rocks.

As I move, I allow myself the view. The granite is baked and hardened, first when the world formed and then and still, for thousands and thousands of eons under ol’ Father Sun. Today is a day on earth. I don’t mean that to sound flippant either, I love it when I can remember that I, Tobias Lane Crabtree, am living a day on Earth. What if I could always remember that the day is my fortune? What if we all could? These thoughts and all the others are flying through my head, all around me, and some are just outa reach. There are some that I want to think but my brain is like some wild-eyed conductor, unable to keep the orchestra together and so just makes the musicians play something they already know instead of something more genius and amazing.

The Jojoba plants are growing out from between broken shards of stone. A sleek and shimmering whiptail lizard appears and slips marvelously over the sand, not at all unlike quicksilver, a bullet from out of the so-long-ago when the saurians ruled the earth with tooth and claw and scaled wing. And down into a hole in the ground, I am stopping as the last of his long blue tail slides from my view. Here is where I am so little different than when I was a boy and let loose in the summer to follow my zoological passions, there is a difference (among others) between the me of now and the me of then; the desire to have each of these wonders has been replaced by the simple feeling of being included in and among them. I still cannot help myself, at times crawling through the rocks, or upside down on a creek bank, staring and watching as some magic of the world boils to the surface.

The whiptail dislodges a memory from those boyhood days. As the last of the tail disappears down into the ground I say aloud, “reminds me of mercury on the loose.” Suddenly I remembered that time at the side of the house, near the russian olive tree. I had pulled an old thermometer from a kit and I had broken it. I dumped the mercury into my palm where it raced around magically, I was amazed at how it would break apart and then find itself again. It was as if it did not belong apart from it’s bigger self, wherever the mercury of the world resided, and it was restlessly searching for a way back. I remember thinking about maybe a huge reservoir, somewhere deep in the earth, of pure, silvery, tremulous mercury, perhaps with creatures to match, down there in that stalactite maw. I allowed the mercury to have a heart and soul and, in doing so, I felt sad for it’s capture all these years in a glass thermometer. I promptly walked to an ant hole and dumped it down, figuring that it’d be a good start to it’s long journey back to the land of it’s origin. I’m sure the ants really loved my sudden campaign to save Mercury.

Back on my bicycle and over the hills. My original intent at the start had been to make my heart pound, now it seems to have changed as I find more and more to distract me. As is true of so many that love to climb rocks, there is excitement when an area shows promise of large stone with climbable features. The fissures and splitters and aretes and dihedrals, overhangs and slabs, wacos and chicken-heads, all are among the things that catch the eye of a climber. I can’t help myself and I am off my bike again, walking through the 20 foot stones that tip this way and that. Some ancient drawings are pecked into the stone, some old world artist and a message still delivered. Spray paint on stones not too far from the old message, a newer, sadder form of expression from a trapped generation.

Farther down the hill, I realize I’ve dropped into the old dump. It’s been closed for a long time now. There are places where the trash is showing, the earth cut open and tubes and pipes and wires show like viscera. Here the stones still stand majestically, beautifully, in the face of human insult and the trash left behind. They will out wait the trash and the ones that made it. They will stand and listen to the stars and the birds. I love to climb the stones, but I love them more because they do not judge. They are silent observers of the world, start to finish.

I am done from the ride. I am done and tired and sun kissed. I am back in the Dolphin and driving it down the dirt road. I am here in the world and alive and trying to be aware. I am delivering messages to you. I have no idea if the message delivered can even be considered valid, they were laundered through my brain and my brain has been known to misbehave. Mostly, I just try and keep it as real as it was when my heart was pounding in the middle of it all.

All this, not much else. You know, like a letter, in the drawer of your desk, nothing more.