A Tiger by the Toe

by tobias crabtree

I had a friend who’s uncle had a bunch of different kinds of traps in his shed. Bear traps, wolf traps, fox traps…all kinds. I liked pulling them down and smelling them. Some still had the weird smell of animal on them, like urine or something. I don’t like traps really, you know, it’s kinda mean. I see animals set traps, that seems ok. I just don’t like people traps all that much, we have enough already.

There’s these little critters I used to call ( in fact, i still do call them that ) ant lions. They are pretty fearsome lookin’ little things, with huge mandibles and beady little eyes and hairy, fat bodies. Their legs are kinda pointy and look a little like oars with which they dig cylinders into the loose, loose dirt. They choose the pithy soil beneath trees where the shade is good and the world is quiet and the ants find the things that ants look for. Well these tiny ant lions lie in the bottom of the dirt cylinders that look like funnels and they wait. I think they might be a beetle larvae or something. Maybe you want to google it and correct me if I’m wrong. I’m not gonna look it up cuz, well, cuz I’d rather just try and remember from when I was a little boy and I read it in some zoology book with hand-drawn pictures. So, when the ants are crawling along and they zip down into the funnel at their crazy pace, the ant lion snaps it’s head upward and tosses dirt wildly toward the ant. The flying dirt causes the ant to fall back toward the bottom where the ant lion waits and hopes with huge, wicked jaws. Sometimes the ant makes it, sometimes the ant lion grabs ahold and sinks, fearsomely into the soft dust at the bottom of the hole. I always had a kind of horror in me when I saw this, especially when I caused it, which was more often than not. Morbid sensibilities of the young Tobias, let’s be careful here. I was just intrigued by the brutality of the little thing, often picturing myself as the ant. Oh man, so rough.


Have you ever set a mouse trap? You know that moment when you release the catch and things might not hold? If it’s a rat trap it’s even more intense, but it’s scary with both. I kinda like it in some ways, cuz it might get ya. Traps are like that, they just might get ya.

I was fishing when I was a kid. My Pa had let me wander off, like he did. My Ol’ Man was good like that; he let me wander far and wide. I was in the mountains of Wyoming and he was preaching at some camp. I’d heard aplenty of preaching and he knew it, so he said I could go fishing. Even back then, I think my Pa knew that the woods would be my religion, not the one he was teaching. Don’t take me wrong, I love what my Dad does and what he believes in, I just believe in a broader spectrum of colors. You might say my Pa paints with a smaller pallet, but he sure is creative! I know, I know, it sounds far-fetched, but so am I. I ain’t better, just closer to the Ol’ Man’s roots. Anyway, I’m ranging wide here, so yeah, I was fishing along a creek in the backwoods of the Bridger Nat’l forest, and remember, this was back in 1978 or so. I was rock-hopping along the small, incredibly wild, little stream and I came across a trapped mink. It had been forgotten by the trap-setter and it hung by it’s neck, just above the water. The snare had snatched it up and it had hung there, it’s little paws were both lodged underneath the wire around her neck. Her savage body was hanging slack, skull half shown to the sun that warmed her as a baby. The eyes had wrinkled back into the darker spaces where animal thoughts begin, where dreams used to swarm in bouncing minkish fashion. I smelled her first, and then looked at her in the full light of my 11 year old world. I put my fishing to the side and stood next to the animal that was something so wild that even when it was dead, it felt more wild than me. And I didn’t like traps. Right then, I didn’t like traps.

When I went to the Middle East as a Marine Corps sniper, I was very aware of things that are meant to hurt. I was meant to hurt. We were meant to cause damage. Me and the Boys. My Recon team was bad-ass and I don’t mind saying that, even now, I love every last one of them Boys. Johnny Thomson, Brian Foster, Christian Regenhard, Scotty Young, Tim Bundy, Thomas the Pig Arnold, Mark Baca, Frank Pickering, Ed McGee, Jim Terwilliger, Roger Sparks, Joe Crowe, Curtis Caton…and on and on and on. I ran with ’em and I still love ’em. When we went over there, we were trained to understand the traps set by the enemy. We were trained to set traps for them too. I thought a whole helluva lot about the things we are doing to one another, us humans. Burying stuff that’ll blow feet off. Hiding with an M-40 and the scope set just so and the wind and the breath and the heart. And in the streets there are children’s toys. And in the sky there are jets. And in the night there are stars. And in the end we all lay down and die.

Life is not a trap. Life is life. Sweet and sad and good. I hope the ants and the ant lions figure it all out. And the world is sure spinning, ain’t it? What’s that? Yeah, it’s late I guess. Enough of this, I’m feeling the gravity that calls me to bed and i’m gonna give in.

I think it’s a buddhist teaching that each inhalation is a little birth, each exhalation is a little death. Each day a birth. Each night a death. And why not? cool by me…I’m off to night and whatever that all means.