tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Fuzzy Dot

Actual Ass

These are my thoughts on technology, which is similar to a chimpanzee giving a dissertation about the state of the economy. But whatev’s, a chimp might do a better job than a politician.

I like the idea of using modern devices to avoid icebergs, it’s smart and prevents ships from sinking. I don’t think everyone needs to be checking their phones for icebergs. And I don’t think an iceberg is any more special when used as a backdrop for everyones’ selfie.

I like to climb. I often climb alone, I have been doing it for years. I don’t want to explain this too much (boring) but there are systems that work if you are a student of the craft. I use these systems and know them well. Today, while I was setting up a climb, I noticed several climbers had stopped to watch. I paid little attention but noticed three groups had their phones out and were filming. Some groups had more than one person filming. I finally said something to the closest person. I asked if he was getting some really good stuff. He said, “I’m waiting for the kill-shot.” I realized they all thought I was doing something foolish and dangerous (I wasn’t) and they were filming me in case I died. Um, I feel like this is a place I can interject something. –This is a modern age of know-it-alls. At every turn there is someone looking up what has just been said in order to disprove it. I’m all for asking questions, but I’m more into the thought process that goes with knowing more. Looking something up on google does not prove your knowledge base nor does it make you more thoughtful. Actually thinking makes you more thoughtful. The world is fast becoming dummies behind little screens. And so climbers that didn’t know better, instead of speaking and asking questions, stood behind their phones to film me so they might be the author of an internet sensation. Excuse me while I just say this, bullshit.

It never hurts to ask how something is done.  I owe much of my knowledge to my mentors. Men and Women who taught me my stance. Men who taught me the language of my heart. Women who taught me that strength comes from a woman and is bestowed upon men. These are values to which there is no measure, they have made me.

I love pictures. I love the pictures we can share through the various forms of internetlandia, but….but, it’s just gone too far. We are not that cool looking. These cameras/phones, and yes, I have one, are little mirrors. Every time we check our “likes” we are looking in the mirror. Remember that when you hear those little beeps calling you to see who said what about the hot little picture you took of yourself in front of the buffalo/mountain/glacier/tree/waterfall/sunset/caged lion/thunderstorm/riot, you are petting yourself. You are looking in the mirror. I’m not saying don’t check your look, I’m just saying that there’s a max and most of us are too self-absorbed.  I’m not above taking a peek in the mirror to see if maybe I don’t look quite as stupid as I feel. Remember: the world is beautiful and we are most beautiful when we are aware of being. Pictures are not proof of our existence. They are images without a soul from our past. Sometimes we need to simply be here and leave the wonder to our minds, not our picturetakers.

Communication is good. I watched some fella on the telly giving reasons why he was checking his phone during his interview. He said he was staying abreast of the events so he could give the most up-to-date information possible. I was thinking, that I just don’t care. Folks aren’t as good at conversing as they were 10 years ago. It’s true. Coffee shops are not for talking. Even drinking coffee seems like just an excuse to be plugged into the web. My nephews, children of the modern age, are often unable to chuck a football with me because they were up all night pretending to be at war on their xboxes. By the way, it ain’t healthy for your kid to practice war on some game. Just like you don’t need to practice being miserable. War exists, we don’t need to glorify it. Training for war is rough enough, playing war and talking smack and thinking your tough because you play a game is delusional. I know what I’m talking about here, some of my most trying moments came as a U.S. Recon Marine. It ain’t a game. Yeah, so, where was I? Oh yeah, communication, it’s nice to be able to talk things out. Opinions are great and don’t really need to run parallel. As a people, if we all had opinions based on solid observation of our physical world, we would be doing ok. Political stance, race, religion, sexual preference and social status aside, we all have hearts and minds, maybe we could take some time and use them.

I want to point something out. I’m not against all things technical. I love typewriters. There’s nothing negative to say about an old manual typewriter, unless I’m in your house making a racket and typing at 4 a.m. because I can’t sleep. And bicycles, the world is a better place because of bicycles. Most of what we own is disposable. Convenience is a drug. Tiny water bottles and throw-away bags are no-goes. We gotta get better than that. Cigarette butts should be stored in our house with us so we can know that we might ought’a just grow tobacco out back and smoke it from a pipe instead of giving money to the big dogs.

Humans need to tribe up. We need to be more able to live on our own and pay less into the big machine. WE should dictate through consuming less. The machine is strong and we need to take the power back by being capable, thoughtful, simple, beautiful human beings.

All said, we need to kick more actual ass…not virtual.

 

Thunder-maker

I’ve been jumping fences for over 40 years now. I am finding ways to be (at least a little) graceful on the outside. It’s no use to cross over and hide–far better to show others that abnormal is beautiful and normal is average.

Societal norms are shallow, manipulative and unimaginative. Individuality is personal freedom.

Muscles aren’t for show, they are for jumping huge gaps and crossing barren wastelands. They are for swimming against the current and running up stoney paths. And that muscle in your chest? That thunder-maker in your ribs? Oh that, muscle is made for carrying life to your brilliant mind, so that you can think, and love, and remember that not everything new is good and not everything old is acceptable. It is what allows us the privilege to be human and to know what that means.

Flex your muscles. Find your heart. Free your mind.

Shine

Running from the dark is a form of pretending. I know it is, because I do it sometimes. But there is no end to the darkness and the night will always find you. Our personal expression, our internal lamp, can’t shine if we are fearful. Out in every darkness there are single points of light. They are people who shine like you. They are the Ones who’ve covered the ground we are walking. They are the early hearts. They are the way givers. But before they found the way, they ran from the darkness. And they looked to the Ones before them. And so this is our fashion, this is our way. To fear and flee, to find courage and look for light, to set our bearings on the light and navigate the darkness, then, when we are ready, we shine the light for others.

These are old metaphors. They’ve been around since the early hearts struck fire from the stones and danced in caves and drew their imaginings across the walls by firelight. But there is a reason that things like this continue while generations of brilliant minds turn back to dust –that old and wondrous, five letter looking glass: Truth.

Shine. At least a little. For the babies. and the whales. and the foxes. and the sequoias.

Shine to help the young hearts find the way.

Take your time. Know your truth. And then,

shine.

Go Love

My truest living is when I’m loving.

It is the love of the early morning in all it’s pearliness and solitude. It is the love of my memories, both tragic and wondrous. It is that perfect descending call of the canyon wren. It is the smell of saw grass. It is the form of my lover beneath the giant junipers. It is sky. It is the long lashes of my little buddy, Abe. It is my Mother and Father as they are.

Life is defined by love. Real love, the kind I’m talking about, comes from the way-down-deep-inside part of the heart. That place kept secret from the schemers and the haters. It is the hidden place. It is the most of you.

And no matter how careful you are, if you love, you will suffer. Because with love there is always loss. Whether it is choice or tragedy, all things pass. So to live is to love is to suffer. This allows me clarity, this thought: Since I love to live, and since I know I will suffer, I might as well love with all my might.

And so I aim to suffer gracefully, to love mightily, and live like a wave rolling towards the rocks in that unflinching way that waves do. So that when I’m done, I’m broken apart, atomized and splintered and spread out with nothing left. Back to the basics.

I remember the highway in Kansas. The storm had been brewing all morning and the plains swallowed the distance in such a way that we seemed afloat in a sea of grass and wind. My dad saw the tornado drop down about a mile away and he hollered over the sound of the BMW 750 motorcycle. I came out of my daydream. I was 12years old. The sky was from the Wizard of OZ and the storm had closed in on all sides. We turned down a dirt road and stood in a flimsy shed with a huge oak bending to the ground just out the open air window. The clouds were dark and dark and the lightning danced crazily in every direction, and they danced and connected the fields to the belly of the sky. I remember being afraid and alive. I remember the strong look on my dad’s face. I remember loving my dad and thinking that there wasn’t a tornado big enough to pull me from his grip. 

–we are lightning, we are lightning, here we are, dancing on the belly of the sky.

Now, go love.

The Heart is a Bell

Prequel:

This is a letter to you, whoever you are. These words aren’t for sale, nor am I. My words are for the heartbroken and the ones who feel left behind. They are for the foresaken. They are for the forgotten. This is bone soup, take it in and let it make you stronger. There is a song in the bell that is your heart, and I’m just the one to strike it. This is for you, if you are a woman. It’s for you, if you are from another land where another flag is flying. It’s for you if you believe in nothing. It’s for you if you are a warrior. It’s for you if you are gay or lesbian or transexual. It’s for you if you love a different God or no God at all. It’s for you if you have a baby or lost a baby . It’s for you if you are not the same color as me. Or were born in the middle of America.  It’s for you if you’ve been raped or abused and left to find the pieces you believe yourself to be. It’s for you if you are young and unsure. It’s for you if you are old and losing the memories of your precious life.  It’s for you if you are afraid and hiding. It’s for you, all of you, even the one’s who hate.

There are things that are and then there are things I believe to be. I’m affected by emotion and words. I allow the world to interact with my heart. It’s my choice. The path I’m on is the path I’ve chosen and there’s a good amount of power in that knowledge alone. Every day I make decisions that lead to an array of actions. This is life. I choose what to eat and drink and say. I live in a fairly alternative fashion. Since I was in the Marine Corps, I’ve never owned a house. I’m listed as homeless. I travel in a dolphin RV and my mind is a catalogue of places to which I might travel and stop. I sleep in caves and basements and under the wild and burning stars. I see my friends and eat food with them. I’m invited to hundreds of places, so many that I cannot visit them all. I try to bring more than I’m given, but it’s difficult because my friends are such givers. My experiences cover a broad spectrum from noble to distasteful. I am a man of mistakes and re-do’s. I have been a leader of men and I’ve been led by powerful men during dangerous times. I needn’t spend much time with someone to know if I can follow them, it’s a character thing. And I don’t mind following, if I believe in my leader. I like to kick ass for strong people, in fact, I love it.

And here’s the in-between. Here’s the deal. No one, no country, no man, no lover, no king…owns your heart. Only you, my dear, can own that clunking engine. Only you control that wonderful bell of truth that hangs in your rib cage. We all have a wilderness inside us and our hearts sit in the midst of our being. Life is lost without the heart and so, with the heart, there is always power. There is no controlling the wild heart. It is our connection to the cosmos and the fires that burn from distant stars. And in the petty workings of humanity, in the chaos of our machines, under the silly pretenses of our elections and positions, we still own our fiery hearts. What glory and power!

Leading is secondary. A leader is powerless if no one follows. I have simple rules for who I will follow:

— They must respect women. This is simple. This is because I love my mother. My position and strength as a man is a result of the patience of the women who love me. Anyone who disrespects women is innately weak and not to be trusted.

— They must be fair. In other words, they must understand the qualities that lie beyond skin color or origin. This is the ability to see everyone as human and treat them with equality.

— They must be honest. This does not mean perfect, simply willing to admit when they are wrong and then make adjustments. I have little time for someone who has to tell me what they are through self-proclamation. A man doesn’t need to tell me how hard he works, I’d rather just work with him and find out for myself. The Truth of a person lies in how he is, not in how he says he is.

— They must be willing to listen to criticism and remain open-minded. If you are never wrong, you are a liar.

So here I am at the point. And these thoughts are easy like a Sunday morning. We have come to a point in America where we will overlook the character of our leaders in order to reach an agenda. There is no excuse for the choice we have made. Since when should we choose business savvy over basic human respect. Money is not the fix. Hateful words and dissonance are the opposite of strong leadership. When self-proclamation and hate become the vehicle to victory, we must check our loyalties.

Let me be clear. This is not a call for chaos. This is one heart, ringing like a bell. This is a call to the honest hearts. I am singing out for the ones who don’t know how to sing. I am sending a message that I want to be clear. I will not follow that which is weak. I am no sheep. I am a wolf.

“Make yourselves sheep, and the wolves will eat you.”

                                                           —  Ben Franklin

Postlude:

I intentionally did not use anyone’s name in this bit of writing. I want it to be clear that I will not follow anyone who fits the description above. Just because you have the title President does not mean I will respect you or follow you. I also did not write about my allegiance to the earth and her oceans and whales and trees and mountains. I am a servant of the earth herself and I believe in protecting her from greed and recklessness. This writing was for the hearts of the humans that need to find strength. Like it or not, this world (not just this nation) is our home. My heart is taking lessons from the ocean; it is wild and raging and uncontrolled.  And don’t forget Love. 

Remember that we are responsible for our own moral compass. Navigation is a perishable skill that requires constant practice. It is your duty to check your truth and make sure you are on a positive heading. Leave fear behind, it is unnecessary baggage. Be strong and walk with purpose.

A Ghost in Every Window

There’s an old farm house down there where the road turns. There’s no one living in it, the barn swallows and owls roost, rats and mice and skunks shuffle through openings and go about their business in the secret way that animals do. The Coastal Cypress trees, their trunks obscured by ocean fog, mark the way to the cliffs above the waves. And the waves are working to move the land, they will never tire. They have a deal with the Sea: to throw themselves against the land until the last stone turns to sand, and the oceans all reunite.

In the dark, the house above the sea stands hollow. I wonder of it’s abandonment. I imagine that it has housed many hearts. I am dreaming now, creating maybes and might-have-beens. What ghosts are looking at me through warbling windows? What caused the separation of habitation and inhabitant? There is, I must admit, something beautiful about a structure returning to nature. There is not a single hint of paint. The wood is all the color of drift wood, both grey and green at the same time. And the bleak, scraped land is all around. Artichokes and Brussel sprouts are the crops of choice. Miles of plastics cover the crops and there’s not a hint of plant life save that which is planted and sprayed and plucked and processed. Farming here looks more like a science project. Maybe that’s why the house is empty; new people practicing new ways. Not too far down the road is a sign with the name of Donald Trump in gaudy red letters saying something about making America great. I feel an urge to drive down to the cliffs and watch the ocean, to look at something I know is true.

The low branches of the cypress are huge and rotten. Up 30 feet they are more solid, some of them droop all the way to the ground. Everything is drenched from the rain event last night. There was lightning over the ocean. Just before dark, when the sun was still coloring the upper terraces of the world, a whale surfaced and spouted, the flume hung white in the dark air for a full minute after the whale had passed. And in the night I thought of that whale out there in the dark — maybe hanging in the black with the storm overhead while the lightning spoke the language of the clouds. Maybe thinking bigger and deeper thoughts than any human could ever imagine. Maybe even mapping out the course of all things that have ever been and looking into the future by mirroring the past. Maybe understanding the way of things because it is a whale and not intimidated by vastness and expanse, and, in truth, a child of both those things. And I listened to the rain and thought of that whale and remembered the color of it’s breath as it hung in the air over the water and beneath the clouds that were still lighted by the last rays of the sun. But that was last night and this tree is tall. My nephew is with me and he’s watching me navigate. We are Jacks-in-the-beanstalk. We are climbing to the clouds. And one branch at a time and a 100 feet high and again and again to the sky. My nephew doesn’t talk too much, I think he’s too busy thinking to say a whole lot. He’s strong and listens as we move into the top-most branches. Coastal Cypress trees are cool because you can top out and stand above everything. Several pelicans fly over with a tiny black and white tern in their jet-wash. All the birds look at us, we are odd in their space. Far below is the RV, the dolphin, looking as tiny as ever. I can see my lover reading her book about octopuses in the broken sunlight. A couple miles away sits the abandoned farm house and the ghosts are in every window, looking out.

Looking out. And smiling.

The Average

I’ve been in Venice Beach, CA for a few days now. I came down here to do some tattoos and spend time in the ocean. VB has it’s own distinct feel. There’s really nowhere else like it. While I’ve been here, I’ve watched homeless folk talk intently, sometimes argumentatively to themselves. I’ve watched the wealthy do the same thing and look remarkable similar except that they are wearing some device linked to a phone. The drug addicts have an alley where they push their carts to and fro, while delivery trucks bring organic, free range, non-gmo, gluten free goods to the restaurants that sell $17.00 sandwiches made by chefs with curly mustaches to the folks in flip flops. While I’ve been hear, I’ve talked to my lover on the phone in an attempt to try and feel her warmth. I’ve talked with her about the differences in people and direction. While I’ve been here, the earth has rotated exactly 5 times, she is tilting and tilting toward winter, although here in SoCal you’d never know it.

There is something about the masses that has a pull. It’s dangerous. Everyone move to the mean. Average is the word. This is where the mundane takes control and there is little beyond what is. And so we begin to accept our trudging fate. Static drowns out the brilliant harmonies of creativity and expression. And so on and so on until oblivion. Even the rich, even the poor fall into the trappings of average life.

Of course, this is my opinion. This is how I see it through these eyes that I inherited from my parents. It’s just an opinion, so not to be fretted over. Maybe you like the average, I’m sure that’s out there. But to rise out of the average is to experience more life. And to experience more life is to extract the most out of the most wonderful of gifts. A wholesome discipline is what separates the average from the wondrous. Small efforts in our daily life. Choosing what to think and how to think it. Allowing the mind to free itself of petty prejudice. It takes intention to push the heart through endurance, and endurance is a good thing. If a person wakes to see the dawn and the stars that hum in the morning sky, and if that person sits quiet and thinks about his/her position under the cosmic silence, changes will occur. Nothing is really all that sudden. It takes a lifetime to practice living. There must be some intention in order to have realization. The truth is that we are all simply here, on the surface of this blue and spinning world. It is up to us to appreciate the value in that fact. The world will spin on with or without us.

There is an old expression about keeping your ear to the ground. It was the practice of old time hunters listening for large herds of hoofed animals, mostly for hunting. I remember putting my ear to the train tracks outside the tunnel in the mountains near the stream I loved to fish. I could here the train click-clacking miles away and I would wonder which way it was going. Having your ear to the ground insinuates that you are listening through the earth and reading what is to come. I like that idea. It’s a good thing to put your ear to the ground. It lets you hear the earth and it’s workings. It connects you to the ones you love. It pulls you from the masses and delivers you back to that ancient feeling of being a part of the world that wrought you. Far more important that what you look like is what you are? Average is easy and sad. Living with intent results in magnificence.

Practice elevated thoughts. You will not be average.

Random Case of Funk

Words. They spell out our feelings, kinda. Depending on how well we use them, they transfer our thoughts into the heads and hearts of others. We explain ourselves. Well chosen words are magnificent.

Lyrics and quotes and poems and sayings. My life is filled with the thoughts of others. I comfort myself with words written by someone long dead. I can read Rumi’s poems and learn to be better at being. The back portion of my RV is lined with books. I can see them when I lay down at night and I can feel their presence. Thousands of thoughts held, like butterflies in an aviary.

I am less a writer. More an illustrator. I have more control over the lines in a drawing than I do in script. I try to write. Most of the time I feel like the fella who showed up for the triathlon in jean shorts and flip flops — I’m down to try, but I ain’t gonna impress anyone.

It does seem like the old-fashioned use of words is changing. Conversations are not the same these days. Distractions are rampant. Words are being traded in for digital expression. Misunderstandings thrive in a world of texting and shortened messages.

I sure do like sitting with my friends and seeing them see me. I like laughing out loud with my lover, in person. I like to see the expression on a person’s face as they speak to me. Words with heart. Words with smiles. Words that I need to hear coming from the face of a friend. Words that hold the sound of my Mama’s voice, warmed by her wonderful heart. Words that tell my good people I love them. Words in the night, with the stars overhead. Whispered words. Remembered words spoken in earnest. Words that tell a story and hold the precious attention of the little ones. Words kept for the sake of the fragile. Words properly placed to help a limping soul.

We set a lot of store in words. We even choose what we will say on our tombstones! Us humans are a crazy lot. Seems like we always have one more thing to express. I’m included. This morning, I’m here, trudging away and writing with one of those little black clouds over my head. Grumpy. Bad night’s sleep. Barking dogs. Upset stomach. Right smack dab in the middle of this life. I reckon I’ll end this pile of writing with a misunderstanding. I’ve always kinda liked the band Rage Against the Machine. Yesterday at the tattoo shop I heard a song by them that I hadn’t heard in a while. I was drawing mountains. As usual, I knew some of the lyrics but not the name of the song. So I was singing, “it’s a random case of funk, it’s a random case of funk….” I looked at the name of the song and it is,  Renegades of Funk. No biggie, I’ve just been singing Random Case of Funk for 16 years at the top of my lungs and no one has told me that ain’t right. Thanks a lot everyone. And you know something? I like Random Case of Funk better anyway. It fits me.

 

The Ghost of my Grandad

Proem: This piece has been brewing. It began in my head, in the woods, over the hole my buddies dug. I worked for a couple days building an outhouse over the hole, all the while my thoughts collected and boiled.  It continued to steep in the woods by the creek. Down there where my rig was stuffed between the cedars and madrones like a tick on a dog’s haunch. It takes time and coffee and early morning blue to choke the words outa me. This morning things are lining up.

 

The ghost of my Grandfather payed me a visit today. He was in the cedars.( His blood is back in the earth now, so he goes where he pleases these days. Seems a Crabtree trait to do that — go where you please.) The day was beautiful, the woods busy. I was happy Grandad decided to check in on me.

He saw me hand cutting the cedar poles and tacking them down and measuring out the tin roof. He watched me leave my hammer on the ground and cuss and climb down and back up to the roof. This day full of estimates and guesstimates and re-conjured tricks-of-the-trade. I am, and always will be, a hack carpenter. I’m at my best with less codes and proper materials, more improvisation and crooked beams.

Gramps was there earlier, when the sky still held the stars in a belly of periwinkle. He saw me hear the owl call and he liked it. He always liked that I loved the birds. He loved the birds. He loved the birds before me, way back in 1905 when he was only 7 years old. Back when more rivers ran free to the sea, before the World Wars and Carbon dating and nuclear reactors. Before rocket ships and airplanes filled the sky. And then a more distant owl answered, muffled by the duff of the forest. Or maybe that was Grandpa himself, speaking owl speak, that one language that crosses over. Owls do cross over, you know? They don’t subscribe to petty realities. They are denizens of all spaces and they move softly on speckled wings, unfettered, with hearts that chase the midnight voles through bone-colored grasses.

Then by the creek. Gramps remembered his blood as he watched me drop into the cold pool below the deadfalls. A Blue Darner flew through the shade with the speed and patience of all great hunters.  And there with the lilting trout and the red crawdad I settled in to wait for my bones to chill. From under the water I could see the sky and the trees overhead. At the head of the pool, wedged flat and quiet between the layers of serpentine, I spotted the slick body of something different: An eft, waiting to become.

And when the day came down and I headed back to the company of my people, my Grandfather stayed back. He stood at the edge, where the cedars cast their shadows. I called out loud to him and told him I loved him. That I would not forget him. He stood there with a hand full of feathers and his hair was long and beautiful and his spirit was throughout.

Epilogue: Elmer Lindson Crabtree was born in 1898. He was a native, a Choctaw. He called himself an Indian. He died sitting up in a chair with a cup of coffee in his mitt and a pair of old, worn out boots on his feet. His dog, Barney, had been used in Vietnam to spot planes, and he could still spot planes from the back stoop of the house. There were tools in his shed of all sorts. The ones without handles were waiting against the wall, while Elmer worked with shaky hands to fashion new handles from old wood. He broke his back on a fall from an oil derrick when he was in his 40’s and he lived with a shake for the rest of his days. I still remember him threading hooks even with his tremors, just kinda waiting them out, and then giving me a smile when he got it. In one of those legend-like stories that everyone has about someone, he lifted the back of a car while his brother fitted a tire back on the studs after the jack had failed. Of course, I didn’t see that happen, but I told the story like it was gospel when I was a kid. He showed me how to catch songbirds in homemade live-traps, see them up close and then set them free. He told me that being an Indian had less to do with blood and more to do with heart…and that everyone was a native from somewhere. He roams the mountains. He watches the stars. He calls to the owls from the hollow, just the other side of this life.