ol’ Steinbeck whispers

by tobias crabtree

When I was a kid, growing up meant getting old. Now that I’m not a kid, growing up is realizing that I need to listen more, talk less and understand that I will eventually die. It’s easy to write these words, but living by them is difficult for me. I struggle. My mouth flaps, my ears close and death is a thing that happens to everyone else.

A while back I found a baby rattlesnake with a broken back. It had been cracked in a door at a campground and was wedged there waiting for life to pass. I pulled it out thinking it might not be hurt, when I set it down it could only move its front half. First I walked away. Then I thought about starving to death and I went back and killed it with a rock. It was just a little tiny thing. Real pretty.

When I was a kid I thought I needed to have things. Snakes, turtles, mice, crawdads, bluegills, hawks, raccoons, sparrows, trout, foxes, rabbits and squirrels…I brought them home. My mother would look at the beast and check it’s condition and decide if it’s chances were better in the wild or in my handsy little clutches. Some I raised and set free. Some I lost in the house. Some died in ways that make me shutter to think about all these years later. I thought that by having these things I might be closer to them. It’s the opposite. Having them steals the connection. There’s a kind of deadness that happens  when wild things are taken away from the wilderness. I saw a big Dorado dragged onto a boat once and the most cosmic colors I’ve ever seen where pulsing through it’s skin, like it was translucent and the insides were glowing. As it died, the colors bled out and slipped back into the sea. The fish became flat dusky gray and I couldn’t help but think that maybe we’re gonna pay for the things we do. I ain’t against killing to eat, I just don’t think we should do it mindlessly. We are mostly mindless these days, just look next to you on the freeway. Look one car over. Look around you in the lines and crowds. All is not lost, but it’s going in that direction.

Did you know the moon pulls the sea? Have you ever walked with your feet in a tide-pool (and if you haven’t , you might need to and you might need to go slow and take a day and give it to that and only that…and you might hear old Steinbeck himself whispering soft as a summer breeze cool stuff in your ear about secret places all along the edges of that big old sea) where the miniature oceans have tiny monsters? There are caves along the ocean where the little crabs are wedged sideways with clockwork hearts and trilling gills along the walls and under the stones that are stacked by older oceans and waves pushed under Mesozoic tail fins. Did you know that some birds migrate across the oceans and follow the stars. Some fly off the push of the sea and rarely flap their wings, the sweet Mother carries her babies aloft. Some of those same birds, like the Sooty Shearwater can dive more than a hundred feet down into the sea, down among the sharks, for food. Their journeys are like some wild dream, a life of endurance. Some of their kind live for 50 years. What wonders! Little wings. Forever hearts. And the tides of the ocean that are pulled and pushed by the moon live in the forests and the deserts and mountains as well. Everything with fluid is pulled and pushed by that moon, affected by her swooning passage. You and I. We aren’t apart. Within our riverine blood vessels flows that salty red stuff, that old connection to the start and the path to the finish. And while plants push up to meet the heavy full moon, so do the roots find the sliver of silver that floats up and down with Venus. The word Cosmic comes to mind, and the Cosmos goes as far inside as it does out. I’ve come to love the not knowing of it all. Oh my, this little heart of mine, it’s only here for these few billion heart beats if I make it to be old manish — the fortune is easy and sweet and I certainly don’t need to prove it. It’s cool that I am. Cool that we are. After that, it’s all guesswork.

While the majority of our kind fumbles with cell phones that record our every moment, there are herds of whales migrating under antarctic stars and they are singing songs passed down from the beginning. They are rolling their massive tongues and they are smiling at the calves that are learning to soul speak and they are swimming and swimming to the places that have feelings and the stars know all this and so does the moon and even the tricky little penguins with their chattery snouts and golden ears and so on and so on it all goes…with or without us. I reckon any one of us can tap into it, the wise ones say it’s there, just like air, all we gotta do is breathe. So if Hafiz can shine from out of yesterday, and if Mary Oliver can glue broken hearts with ten sad lines, and if a dude named Maurice Sendak can scratch lovely stories from the prettiest of minds so that kids can smile in their pj’s when the lights turn out…well, if all that can be then I think I could maybe find a way to find my way. Here I go. Breathing happens. Heartbeats happen. I just so happen as well.