tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: awareness

Help (me).

Lately, how many times have you picked something up to read it and then put it down when it doesn’t say what you need it to say? If you are me, and I am, it happens a whole lot. So that is not what I want to happen here in this bit of writing.

When speaking of beliefs, there’s what you believe and then there’s everything else that doesn’t jive with your heart, or in other words, everything else that is wrong. I struggle with this. I sometimes climb up on my high horse so far that I can’t even see the heads of the ignorant peasants far below.

I’ve been exploring inside my heart lately. Mean-heartedness and righteousness are not really a good mix when it comes to communication.

I’ve always believed in this whole breathing thing. You know, like, if you don’t breathe, it’s tricky to stay alive. So I’ve latched onto that — Breathing. We all do it. I’m not even being sarcastic (for once), I really do believe breathing and what it does for me.

I went home to see my Mama. She got her knee changed out. My folks have grown old and I saw it this last time home. I spent some nights in bed thinking about not having them anymore. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not dead yet, but life’s wear and tear was obvious to me as I sat and talked with them. I worked on Mom’s back, felt her old bones, rubbed her stove up shoulder and massaged her feet while she closed her pretty eyes and smiled just a tiny bit. We talked about breathing and I showed her some exercises that have helped me rehab my back and neck.

Sit up straight. Breathe into the high chest. Spread the ribs. Keep the spread and breathe out through the belly, be strong and tall, use the air to stretch the cage.  5 full breaths to start. Chin in and crown to the sky. 

I was saying these things over and over to my Dear One. It’s tough to get old folks to change, but my Ma did it and felt better. I went back and went over it all with her again. I called her every day and asked if she had done her breathing. She answered yes, and that it made her feel taller. I still check in and she’s still practicing the routine I set out for her. What a cool ol’ gal! My sweet Mother has always loved her flowers, she’s a perennial herself.

My parents and I do not see eye to eye on a lot of things. We do not. That doesn’t change a thing when it comes to me wanting to reduce the pain and suffering in their lives. This is good for me to understand. It’s really important. There is a greater application to this —  Breathing is a starting point for us all.

I got hit by a car the other day when I was running. City runs have their own elemental dangers, just as mountain runs might. I choose mountain runs any day over the city, but sometimes I’m stuck in town for work. I went around a corner, a driver wanted to get somewhere faster, they illegally turned and got me from the side as I was turned watching for traffic in the other direction. I bumped up on the trunk of the car and did a kind of roll. The car’s brakes squealed. The driver hunkered down and sped off with nary a peek in the rearview.  I spun off the back and landed on my feet facing the opposite direction, mad as a cornered cat. I let out a long string of curse words in between attachments to political affiliations as I scampered off.  None of what I said made a damn bit of sense, but I was in a little rage and I was gonna say what I felt like saying. My rump was bruised, and my ego, but that was it. A fella in a city truck pulled up as I ran, his window came down and he asked if I was ok. This surprised me and pulled me outa my innerverse of lightning and lava. I told him, yeah. He shook his head and said, “People, man.” I answered, yeah, people. I finished my run. By the end, my thoughts had returned to my breathing. Ribs expanding. The sky coming in.

Opposition is a kind of darkness. Two sides that cannot be separated (and we can’t be separated because we are all in this world, like it or not) are in a room together and the darkness or blindness descends. We take our beliefs, like baseball bats in the dark, and begin swinging with all our might. Sooner or later, if we don’t create some light, we’re gonna get hurt. So, how to find light?

I’ll tell you where I find light, but you must look for it yourself and in your own way. I find light when I put my arm around my kid brother as he is talking about the geese flying between the pines and I feel the drone of his voice through his rawbone ribs. I find light when I follow that one path, just north of San Francisco where the grass is chest high and the smell of meadow and the clack of the yellow-winged grasshoppers and the color of the dirt all combine to reduce me to the smallest soul on a spinning world. I find light in the tops of the coastal Cypress trees when the wind is screaming in off the Pacific and I am hanging on for this dear life. I find it in the sticky old shoulder of my Mother, while I work my fingers under her scapula and tug and hear my Mama’s lovely whimper as old pain leaves her body. I find light in the heart of my buddy, Foster, as he feeds the feral, 3 legged cat that he couldn’t help but save because, behind his scarred up fighter face, there is an ocean of thoughtfulness.

A friend recently pointed out that cynicism is a closed circle, that it feels good but leads to nowhere. I’ve noticed a ton of cool cynicism lately. It’s like our culture is promoting it. It bums me out because I kinda always thought that it was my jam, what’s up with everyone horning in on my act? I’ve decided to cut back. Rather than being cynical, I’m trying to be an observant student. I want to be a good animal. I want the earth to be stoked to receive me when I turn back to dust. I think I’ll start with breathing and moving and looking for light.



Note: I rarely dispense this kind of knowledge in my writing, but this has really made a difference for me, a couple of my buddies, and my Ma.  It’s just a suggestion so don’t think I’m a doctor or  a warlock or a sooth-sayer. It’s just good (and free, which is great). It’s mostly breathing. If you have pain in your body, give “decompression” breathing a try. It has helped me stay in motion. Doesn’t matter your age or fitness level, it will help. This ain’t an infomercial, I just think it’s good to reduce suffering and clear the mind so we can all see one another. You know, like, get outa the dark. There are places to find instruction (like youtube– Eric Goodman). Free info. Another such place is the Instagram of  Shane Cuppett @foundationshane. I don’t know him at all but his info is solid and there are examples like the stuff I shared with my Mama. 

Ok there, that felt kinda weird but whatev’s. I’m kinda weird too. Basics will help us find a way through the dark.



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.


My Spirit Animal is a Dung Beetle

“Any time when I lay awake at night and heard the wind in the screens and saw the moon ride up the sky, or sat reading in the shade of the shack and heard the wind moan and mourn around the corners, or slept out under the wagon and felt it searching among the spokes of the wheels, I knew well enough who, or what, I was, even if I didn’t matter. “

                                                                                        Wallace Stegner

Just in case you might’a thought different. Just in case that it matters to you, one way or the other. And, come to think of it, it probably doesn’t. But if it does I have to say that there’s a possibility that I’m writing right smack dab in the middle of my own personal junkyard. Every time I decide to tap out words I reason with myself about the good it does — whether it’s a waste of time. It’s all observation from a single mind that has been shaped by my experience, jaded by my prejudices and affected by my opinions. I am the same as you and we are all stones set in a field; one side is weathered and visible, but lift the stone to it’s rooty underneath and see the things that pinch and bite as they skitter for darkness. See the dangling fibers and the subterraneans. When I think of the man that I am, I can’t escape what I was. It took that to get to here. And where is here? I refer humbly to Stegner’s quote at the start of this piece. He says it in a way I can’t. I don’t need to complicate things at all, I’m what I am as I am told what I am by the blowing wind, the blinking stars, the chattering creek. When I can be a listener, I can be a learner. Seems the wild world is always willing to teach, I’m just a naughty student. When I was a kid, I loved wildlife. I collected books that gave me the names in latin. I loved the wild things so much that I wanted to have them. Not so long ago I was with my friends Gus and Amy. They have a little boy named Santiago. Little Santi found a salamander in the back yard and I felt myself going back and back in time until I was a little boy. I remembered fishing a young snake from my coat pocket over and over until it’s jaw went slack, it’s mouth hung open. I remember the feeling, I knew I killed it from simply “over-having” it. I took it out to the creek and set if free. It didn’t move, white belly to the sky. I ran away. Santi was having a similar experience. He wanted the salamander and his Ma was explaining that there was a time limit to holding it. He let it go, but with tears. Some things are so beautiful that it hurts not to own them and it’s difficult to see that the beauty would die with ownership.

I catch myself imagining what the wildlife is thinking. Usually the thoughts I give them are cynical and disdainful (in other words, I make them be me). When I do this I’m no different than the modern-day shaman assigning spirit-animals to adoring disciples (for a small/not so small fee) while taking them on a poncho-clad vision quest that, if you’re lucky and cute, might land you in said shaman’s sacred teepee. It’s amazing to me how many people have the wolf, or the eagle as their “spirit-animal”. I’ve never heard anyone say they were linked at the soul to weasel or a mosquito. Some animals/insects must be kept from the ol’ spirit animal list. Wouldn’t wanna lose a client by giving them a bunk critter. Don’t get me wrong, I think there are men and women connected to the earth in a way that is deeply spiritual, I just don’t think they’re advertising it and popping it up on facebook.  —-  Whoops, there I went. I do tend to run on once I start being cynical. I’ll try to get back on track.

The orioles and the grossbeaks and the tanagers are on their migratory paths. The mulberry tree in front of Chris and E’s is full of them. The colors are ridiculous: oranges and yellows and whites all cased in black. They are brilliant. They are upside down and right side up. They are quick and skittish. Along with them, the hummingbirds are buzzing about. Birds really are gems of the animal kingdom. Now and then a cooper’s hawk will slash through the yard and take a song bird out. It puts a hush in the trees, then they start again, minus one. This is where it’s easy to put my thoughts into the heads of the animals. I wonder if they miss the one that’s gone. And what of the hawk? What about the Red-tailed hawk that is looping in circles through the thick brown smog over the I-10/I-15 interchange? Does she wish the world was like the world before the ribbons of concrete and asphalt scarred the country from sea to shining sea? Do the polar bears remember, through their DNA, a time when icebergs were loaded with bearded seals and the North was an expanse of connected ice? Do the whales tell stories of a time when their songs were by far the loudest things in all the fathoms? We can’t know what the wild ones are thinking, I’m sure they aren’t as ornery as I am. They probably think more like the stars and the trees. And maybe, because they are busy living and surviving, they don’t have a worry in the world! I’m not so sure about the human measure of intelligence. Perhaps our mental wagons are so full that we cannot travel to where the hawks and whales play. While I’m dragging awkward profundities toward my ol’ buckboard, the herds of elk are moving through the quaking aspen, ruminating in the moment and speaking the language of the mountains.

Being a thoughtful human is a pain in the ass. There’s always something to distract us and it’s comfortable to stay inside our zones.  Awareness can change everything but there’s some discomfort involved with it. I am slightly encouraged when I remember that I too, am an animal. I’m included, we all are, even the ones that don’t give a damn. Line me up with the weasels and the cockroaches and put me under the big old yellow sun. There’s trails to run and rivers to swim. Give me a handful of flat rocks to skip across a river that still flows to the sea. Allow me the presence of my friends to keep me from falling down too hard over things that don’t matter. Some coffee. A bit of cream. A glass of whiskey now and then.

Yep. That. So anyway, back to school for this old grump.


From where I sit, I can see through the black, metal railing to the pool. Beyond the pool the Gulf of Mexico spills out on the horizon as far as I can see. The fella I’ve been watching is probably 35 years old. He’s got a couple of kids, a boy and a girl, and they’re playing in the pool with their mama. The woman is a blonde with a build that reminds me of a mom from the midwest– a form that is simple and strong but not affected by beauty magazines. But it’s the father I’m watching. He’s watching from his wheelchair. He’s watching his son who is dressed in his little swimming outfit, a superman one-sy. The man is broken, it looks like paralysis from the chest down. He has a little blue tattoo of a surfboard in the middle of his back, between his shoulder blades. I am wondering. I can’t help it.

Three black hooded sea-gulls are heckling from the sign above the cheesy beach bar that is attempting some Carribean theme that is failing in every possible way. The little boy is asking his mama about how a television works. He wants to know if someone draws pictures that move and then puts them in the T.V. She is answering with words like “pixels” and “HD” and “plasma”. The little boy pushes on with more questions about how the things that seem real get inside the television and who puts them there and whether they are real or not. I am listening and loving these questions. I can’t answer them. I love things I cannot answer. Finally the lady says, “maybe ask dad, dad’s smart.” I am watching. The father speaks of how things used to be and how there were pictures that flashed in front of a light real fast and that made things that were still seem alive. He said this as he sat still in his wheelchair, and he was looking out at the Gulf. He said that now things are more digital, the still pictures are gone and have been replaced by small dots of color that are controlled by codes, that the dots imitate what is real. He is thin and white, he is in the shade of a palm tree. He is in board shorts and his slouch is one that cannot be straightened. It makes my back hurt to see him sitting like that.

I’m here with a bundle of athletes. They are all fighters. Dan Henderson is an old buddy, someone I would like even if he had never stepped into a cage. He’s an olympian that came from older blood. His toughness outruns his health in a lot of ways. His ears are wadded up and his profile looks like some cartoon exaggeration of a person who has been punched in the nose many, many times. Brian Foster is a fighter himself. He has come to prepare Dan for the fight. The fight, we found out last night, will not happen because of some kind of substance taken by his opponent. Things are not like the old days. My allegiance lies easily with the friend that is staying in the next room over — Dan is a good ol’ dude. But right now, while the fighters eat sushi, I am wondering about the heart of the man in the wheelchair by the pool. Car wreck? Surfing accident? A 3 martini trip down a flight of stairs? I dunno. He’s wiping his face with the towel his wife just gave him. She is sweet. She scruffs his chin with her hand and allows her fingers to linger on his collar. His eyes follow her as she walks off into the bar for a drink.

This morning I swam down the coast with the water flat and smooth, as if it were made of something heavier, like milk or blood. I swam strong and easy. I walked back on two serviceable feet (yeah, they click and clack and give off tiny pains, but they’re certainly good enough) and made coffee. Henderson’s fans were fluttering to and fro when he checked to see what we were up to. Poncho, the big, good natured Brazilian, was joking and laughing. Gonzo, the lean and wily cuss from Aspen, was already scheming some kind of plan that will be one part fun and two parts trouble. Heath was smirking at me. Foster had his coffee and his blue eyes were looking at me, and I understood the look, deeper than most, and that our existence here on this planet, together,  is not lost on him.

When I think about fortune, it is not in a usual form. It’s tough to say this without it sounding trite, but I do know I’m lucky. I am so privileged. I have a free and beating heart. I can buy a brick of cheese whenever I want. My Ma calls me and tells me she loves me. My body is strong enough to dance under the stars and run down long stretches of dirt road. And my mind is fishing for awareness. That in all this, there are lessons that matter.

And two of the seagulls have flown. The last is silent.

And the little boy in the superman swimsuit is sitting on his father’s lap.

And the father is still looking out at the Gulf. I wonder if he is looking forward or back. I hope the former.

We have a little lost boy…

The Villa Italia mall is a memory. It no longer exists, not even a bit or a piece. It used to set back in the center of it’s parking lots on the corner of Alameda and Wadsworth in Lakewood, Colorado, where I grew up. Whenever I’m chatting it up with my buddy, Nick, especially about home, we somehow bring up the Villa Italia Mall. We both chime in and sing the ditty that was played on the commercials, both radio and telly. Nick has a knack for remembering the things that make me laugh anyway, and so we sit around and laugh at the memories of a mall long since torn down.

My Ma worked at Jocelyn’s, which was a kind of Macy’s or Nordstrom’s from back in the day. When I was a wee tot, just learning how to ditch my Mom in that weird way that a 5 year old can do, I somehow wandered off. This was back when there wasn’t as much baby snatching and stuff. My Ma had 5 of us kids going this way and that, and so, it was easier for my to pull a stunt, like a quick walk down the wrong aisle and on out into the oblivion of lostness.

I kinda remember the first few minutes of not knowing where Ma was and they were similar to holding your breath for too long. A dizziness right before hysteria. Absolutely no logical thought at all. Then running and some quiet crying before turning it up a bit and then full on, like a siren. I think I was corralled somewhere up the mall near the Orange Julius, a lady that knew my Ma saw me with a security guard. The word was on the street, I’d been found. I heard, as if I was a part of an international emergency, my name mentioned over the loud speakers; the usual, weird, mall music interrupted with, we have a little lost boy, named Toby, he is at the security station at the center of the mall. It was only minutes and my Ma was picking me up with twinkling eyes and the knowledge that I was me, a little wanderer, even way back then with 5 years tucked firmly under my belt.

There is a grand timberland on the western slope in Colorado. The Uncompahgre Wilderness stretches for several hundred square miles across some of the most wonderful land in the United States. The high country streams are full of trout and the Aspen groves are miles long. It’s full of elk and bear and winding passages that crawl up the flanks of 13,ooo foot peaks. If the Rocky mountains were a mama, she’d be proud of this pretty child, The Uncompahgre. When I was 17 I went out into the hills for a week or so. I did this kinda thing often, but mostly with my buddies. Kevin and Kelly, two tough ranch kids from my school, were always down for a good fishing excursion. Fishing was always just a good reason to give for any kind of mountain adventure, so when we said “fishing”, we really meant runningswimmingclimbingwanderinglaughinglyingandeverythingunderthesun. I loved the thought of leaving and being in the woods. But this little meander was different, I was out and walking over country, alone.

As can happen, it got cold. A bit of snow fell and I was a day or two out from where I had left the car. I was intimidated by the onset of the cold and I decided I should loop back in the direction of my vehicle. I remember that I was confident as I followed ridgelines back to the place where I’d started but I also noticed that everything looked slightly different in the snow. Darks were light and mountains changed shape. The birds, ravens, jays, and hawks tipped and slid across a rugged Colorado sky. My pace was fine but a little quick with a little anxiety as I thought about my route back.

When I came across some footprints in the snow, there were several thoughts that passed immediately. Who the hell is out here this far? How old are these tracks? and then a kind of comfort in the thought, i’ll bet this person is going to the trailhead as well. I kept on with my direction but was, I guess, a bit more carefree for some reason. It’s human to be drawn to humans.  About 2 hours later I came across yet another set of footprints. I was tired and I sat down and looked out as the two sets of tracks rolled off in the snow.

You know that weird sickness that you feel when you’ve made a mistake? Like when you walk out of your friends house with your morning coffee after saying goodbye and you see that you didn’t set the emergency brake after you started your rig and now it’s rolling, mowing down mailboxes? or like when you get up to the ticket counter at the airport and start to dig for your ID and then you remember it laying there between the seats of the taxi where you set it to put your gloves on because it’s damn cold in NYC that time of year! or like you just dropped out of a helicopter into the pacific and you are a mile from shore and it’s night time and you realize the strap on your left fin has broken from hitting the water. — Well, that’s the kind of sick I felt as I realized that those footprints, both sets, were mine. I had just walked in a huge circle for the second time. It was early evening. With a tightness in my throat that is the onset of panic, I forced myself to walk, not run. I studied every slight variance of my trail and finally saw my mistake: I had followed a false ridgeline that skirted the top of a large plateau. I dropped off and stayed steady, soon I saw a marker and knew I was ranging back onto the trail system that led down to my rig. Being lost in a circle is a strange thing.

I hope I don’t sound like a know-it-all here. I ain’t one. Getting lost really isn’t that terrible. For some reason, it feels bad but I really do think it’s because we are not in control when we are lost. Control is a contrivance. It is all dependent on the environment. The most lost I feel these days is in the middle of huge crowds that have given up on being aware. Like when the Peregrine slammed into a dove and dropped into the middle of an outdoor coffee shop in LA, bounced off a table, hissed at the onlookers and then flew away with bloody coup in her talons and I hooted out loud and everyone looked at me like I had caused this terrible thing and were aghast that I loved it…yeah, like that! Awareness isn’t some new age word that can only be used in yoga practices and Sanghas, it’s simply looking with a wide open lens. So, instead of being wrapped up with being separate, it’s believing in your inclusion, understanding that sight is only part of seeing. What we do with what we see is more a part of being aware than simply seeing. When I’m too self-conscious, I am more lost. I think that’s why I feel lost on the highways during rush hour, because I can only want out but I am driving in a long line of souls and we are all kinda sad that we are trapped in our worlds of confusing, fast, raging stuff. I include me because I gotta.

But every now and then, when everything stops, I’ll look over into another window, and I’ll see a soul and that soul will see me. Contact made. Humanness for a second. A chance at realness that includes a heart, lungs, eyeballs, smelliness, sadness, hands, wrinkles, and feet that could, if given the chance, make marks in the snow next to mine. And I wouldn’t be alone, or lost for that matter.

V after V


Sunday morning. A tiny, waning moon rose like a tea-cup in the east, way out past the lights of downtown Denver. The moon is so sweet in this phase, so quiet and hidden and ready to give way to whatever comes next. So many early mornings, when I’m the crazy man at 4a.m. and She’s the quiet dying moon, I have told her about all the things I’ve hidden, or dropped, or buried, or broken. I’ve talked out loud about the heaviest of lies, the ones that weigh as much as a bag of stones, and I’ve told her about the pieces of me that are missing and where it was that I think I might have lost them along the way. She knows all that stuff about me, She’s heard it all many times; still She shows up and lights, just barely, the eastern horizon that is over the stove that brews my coffee. Today, I’m not talking about my faults or furies. Today we are just old friends in the company of one another. Good ol’ friends, you know? One quality of a great friend is that they make me feel exclusive and listened to. And that’s how it is, of course I ain’t their only friend, but when they’re with me, they are with me. I’m sure there are many folks spilling their guts to the big Mama Moon, and She listens to them as well. What a damn good Moon!

Yesterday Ma & Pa came to visit me before I head back out on the road. Ma hadn’t been inside my little r.v. and she’s been askin’. They came over in separate vehicles because, well because my dad’s crazy and my mom’s had fifty years of deciding how to handle him. Oh, they love one another and all that, but Ma has made her decisions and that’s how they’re gonna finish this thing out. So Ma brought me 2 rugs and a book that was written in 1888 with old ship schematics she thought I might like to draw. She’s right, of course, I will draw from that ol’ book. The rugs I didn’t appreciate until this morning at about 5, no cold toes! Pa brought me an old Bible with his name engraved on the cover in gold letters. Chuck Crabtree, it says. Ma had slipped a photo inside the cover, it was a pic of the pet raccoon I had when I was 12.  Smiling, she said, ” maybe you should get a pet, like a little dog or something for when you’re lonely.” My Mom has sparkly eyes and they were extra sparkly as she looked at me in my 1984 toyota dolphin.

I made my Ma some tea. Pa had some strong coffee that he said he loved. They both sat in the drive while the earth turned on it’s winter tilt, leaning away from the Sun, and the Sun was given a special, winter allowance of warmth. I’m quite sure the Universe conspired to give me this moment with my folks. I was on my knees working on a pair of shoes and my Parents watched and asked questions about the sweetest little things. It was a unique occurrence, so rare as to be singular in all my life and since all life began. There has been no other me, that I know of, and no other them, all of us together under this winter sun in my brother’s driveway, and me making shoes and them drinking tea and coffee and asking sweet questions. And it happened once, and I witnessed and noted it’s rarity with lovely attention. This is the closest I come to any God; my religion, the moment of awareness. It felt, umm, good ( like the kind of good that’s not average or overused, the kind of good that you say to yourself when there’s extra butter on your toast and it’s melted just right and the toast is still nice and warm and exactly what you need or want and then you sip your tea or your coffee and, well, you know what I mean. ) to know I am a beloved son, as bumbling as I am, and still beloved. The Begotten, kneeling beneath his true Source.

I went for a walk after my parents left me, just wanted to test the shoes I made. Shoes are tricky. They might be the right size and shape and everything but something doesn’t feel right. The difficulty lies in the small adjustments that produce comfort and performance. A flip-flop’s easy, but a shoe that you can depend on for everything, hell, that’s a trick.  So I went west and up around the corner, up Colfax past the tattoo shop and the bars and the other bars. I dropped into the old cemetery where people were put in the dirt way back at the start of the 1900’s. It’s on a hill and the older part of the graveyard is less ordered. Tombstones are tilted this way and that. I walked over graves in my homemade shoes and thought of that expression, like someone just stepped on your grave. I guess that refers to someone stepping on the spot in which you will be buried. Seems like that makes more sense. A feeling kinda like when someone starts talking about tiny biting insects and your skin starts to itch. A sense of things to come…what’s the word? Foreshadowing? Yeah, that’s the word, perfect for that kind of feeling. I was surprised to see a tent down the hill, just between the graves. I don’t think it was occupied, no movement and the front zipped up, but the tent was definitely being used. It’s kinda smart, setting up camp as a homeless person is not that easy these days. An unkept, old graveyard eliminates a good bit of harassment, as long as you don’t mind sleeping on top of dead people.

The geese have been flying over in massive formations. They pound the air and honk and tilt their piebald heads to see through dark-coffee eyes, the lay of the land. Perfect internal navigation, bearing the memories of their parents who visited marshes that no longer exist, old goose tales of giant feeding grounds now buried under outdoor strip malls with fake streams and false waterfalls. All the mapping systems from their DNA are overlaid with a new, human powered paradigm. They must consult with the whales, and the caribou, and the elephants, and the wolves, and the Monarch butterflies. They are looking for open country that has no agenda, where rivers run and trees stand and stones hide the secrets of a world formed by cosmic fires. THAT, i’m sure, is what they are discussing as they fly overhead, V after V, swapping leads, searching for the sweet spot. Sometimes I smile and wave at them, and they wave back, because they feel my love for their odyssey. The geese and I, we have that in common; the love of journeys without end.

Yeah, if I could save up on any one thing, I’m pretty sure it would be as many horizons as I could fit in my pockets, and I like my pockets big, man.

monks in the leaves


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.

that ain’t a fire alarm, that ringing is in your head

there’s no better reminder of something in the present reminding me of the deeds of my past than the ringing in my ears. when it’s super quiet, the crickets and frogs have sung it out and the night is utterly quiet, my ears ring. oh man, do they ring. it’s from popping off too many rounds from my M-40 with no hearing protection while i was hunkered down in some hide-site. just to keep from sounding too much like a guy at the bar getting ready to brag about some hard-core thing he’s done, i’ll admit that it’s also partly from my decisions when i was 13, to play some song by Journey, over and over,(probably “wheels in the sky” or “faithfully”) too loud in my headphones while i was laying in bed at night.

my ears ring and it’s amazingly loud, in my head. it’s something i’ve learned to live with and i seem fine with it now. live with something long enough and you forget what it was like before. memory; it’s a wrinkly old dinner napkin. as true as we’d like our memories to be, they betray us. they are faulty and really quite slippery. from what i understand, the memories upon which we dwell most incessantly are the most likely to be different from the way things actually were. terrible isn’t it? so, that lover that you lost, for whom you have pined for hours with all the “why’s” and “maybe if’s” thumping through your sleepless heart, is most likely a castle made of sand. and time, my friend, is the in-coming tide. the most accurate memories are those things we immediately put aside and then, maybe days later, maybe decades later, they are yanked from the dust by whatever life does to make that happen. there they are, shiny and new. almost like they were when now was then. it seems kind of unfair. let me get this straight, some of my favorite memories are going to change into some deformed version of the way it was, but i might remember perfectly the time i got a pair of socks in my christmas stocking? awesome.

i guess i should just try and let everything go, that way i’ll remember everything well. problem is, i’ve been known to dwell on things…for years. i’m certainly a lost cause in this department. one thing you can count on from me is, i will definitely forget where i put my wallet, and that might happen in the next few minutes. but i do so love old memories! i really do. i sometimes sit and close my eyes and the memories begin to whirl past like slides on a carousel. they flicker and shine with the energy from old sunsets and childhood fires. some are so fragile that they seem to wave like the glass in old buildings. i am not above deliberately going back. i have gone back to the hallways of my elementary school. i’ve gone looking for old playgrounds where the slide seemed a tower to the heavens. i’ve followed old creek beds and climbed old trees that hold the secrets of my youth. in these words, i risk losing you. where i find sentimentality, you might begin to think about balancing your bank account. such is the way of us humans; what is sacred to one is really quite mundane to another.

so i’ll bring back one more memory before i lose you for good. one more and i’m done for now. this one shines, literally, in my mind.

on a rocking sail boat, in a little cove that sheltered us from the bigger, blacker sea, we anchored. tim, shane and i did our best to secure both bow and stern. we were dog tired and the cove we were in was not a “listed” cove for good anchorage. i slept on the deck and the other two went below. at some point in the night i awoke to take a leak. i went to the edge and leaned my knees against the stanchions. my bleary eyes adjusted and i looked into the black of the bay, there, hanging in the same darkness as the heavens, were jellyfish and plankton all aglow. the water was perfectly calm and the stars shined off the surface while the life from below shined back up to the sky. i could scarcely tell where earth began and heaven ended. there are few moments in my life in which i have felt as if i am a part of the divine but, at that spot on that little, lonely boat, i was a part of the universe entire. and in my faltering way, i still am. maybe that memory too has shifted and changed, but it still means the same. it still serves as an anchor to keep me from being washed away by my daily dreads and the worries that seem to fill my pockets no matter how many times i empty them with mindful living. because we are here on this world, i gotta try and bring things like this to light. i don’t want to shout, but i will if i have to. we have to care more for the existence of life than the existence of just our race. it’s the duty of each person to fight for the health of the world in which we live. i won’t march toward oblivion, i won’t be in that line. there is a world to defend. if you find yourself shrugging your shoulders at this kind of thinking, you are right where the machine wants you to be. be human, be smart and find ways to change the world.

a few words from the center of the universe

or, a hack’s attempt at being present…

yesterday’s future is set in stone. what was a maybe has taken place and the “sure things” that never happened were simple expectations. i don’t need to go into too much detail about expectations, we all know that they are a boat that floats upon a sea of disappointment. even armed with that knowledge, i spend much of my time expecting one thing or another. it’s a pretty natural thing to do, you know, want stuff.

there’s yesterday and then there’s the yesterdays that came before that, they’re all laid out there in the past with memories whirling in and out of them. some of those memories are dimming and changing with age while others are buried or forgotten, or both. you know how you can stand between two mirrors just right and see the reflections trail off into the distance,a weird kind of forever? that’s how i picture yesterdays. they are like mirrors reflected off of right now.

i’ve had discussions with people about being present, and i’ve read books on it. i’ve listened to people far wiser than myself talk about it. the real truth is that you can’t help but be in the present, our failure is in the way we pitch around and  pretend not to be here, in this moment. all the guru-ing in the world can’t change the seemingly limitless energy that we spend avoiding reality. hey, i’m not talking like i’m on some other plain here, i do it too. i can name times and places within the last weeks/days/hours where i dodged reality.

but i sure do love breathing. i love walking and looking at the big cyprus trees that throw craggy branches across the sun. i love that back-woods creak when two huge trees are rubbing together in the wind. i don’t need to spell out the wonders of the world in order for you see them, they are here and ready for us to be aware of them. they wait as sentinels of the only real truth. out beyond our mischievous words and wagging tongues are rivers and skies and plums and crickets and stones and planets. they don’t lie because they don’t need to. they are as real as rain.

since i’m living inside this carcass that goes by the name tobias, i have only this perspective. i’m wrong on the daily. i think i’m perceived one way and, come to find out, someone will have perceived me differently. “I” am in everything i do. i can’t not be the center of my universe. i can only fight to make sure that i believe, and i mean truly believe, that i’m no more important than anyone else, including the people in whom i find little value. it is a fight for me. i take jabs at people all the time. i’m wrong when i think i’m better; it’s as simple as that. i have to choose to think differently. in my little made-for-tobias world, i must check in and remember that the sun shines on us all and even the ones who couldn’t care less about the sun are a part of the bigger picture.  we are all living out our own stories in the midst of infinity. we are dust come to life and destined to mingle with the stars. tomorrow’s past is perched perfectly right up in your grill. smile, damn it, and take a breath.