tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: butterflies

It’s fizzix, I reckon.

Whenever I’m trying to get my little toyota RV (the dolphin) to sit level, I use existing props. I pile rocks or stack wood or use curbs. I never get it really good and level, just enough to keep me from rolling out of my bunk or to keep me from piling into my lover, Kayla, if it’s the opposite way. It sucks to spend the night fighting gravity. I check how close to level I am by putting a marble in the center of the floor and watching it run. Genius, right? I must admit, most of the time I can’t find the marble. Kayla smirks while I search, she knows my habits and it makes her laugh.

The last two days, my mind has been at work in the creek below the farm. Nick and Liz are very aware of my migratory tendencies and I am wonderfully welcome here. Making the dipping hole in the creek is considered “farm improvement” and so I go down there with the shovel, take my clothes off and work. Usually when I’m naked, I’m not working, but this is an exception and I like it. I think back on all my other jobs in life and picture myself working naked. Moving furniture, security at the church, lifeguard, concrete work, landscaping, printing, golf course maintenance, night custodian, window washer on office buildings, waiter, construction, Marine — wow, I think I’ll go ahead and stick with swimming hole design as my naked vocation. It’s a good gig. Water comes from the springs and the winter storms, seeps into the gut of the ravine and swirls and curls through the roots and stones until it’s caught in the pool where I stand naked with my shovel. There are fish and crawdads and newts and efts that flutter and wink from the dark. Everything breathes. I stem the push of the water and create a space to think and soak. I shape the world, the world shapes me back.

I’m a pretender. I’m really quite good at it. I close my eyes and fly or swim through vastnessess that only my mind can allow; worlds within molecules. I wonder if this entire universe is but a speck, or atom, inside another universe. I don’t care if this is beyond science or anyone’s belief, I like it and I go there when I want. There’s a portion of my being that thrives on being lost in the mystery. I am made of imagination. It has allowed me true freedom, the kind that is indefinable and without counties and states and licenses and taxes and governors and institutions. I’m the child in class that is staring at the woods out the window. I’ve been gone for a long, long time. I travel through time, in fact, I leave time behind when I breathe deep and explore. It’s better that way.

In the room behind the house there are an incredible amount of spider webs. I like checking in with them, seeing what kind of catch they’ve accumulated. The flies are the specialty of the day, every day. I looked on the sill where a butterfly was perched, laced in web, with tattered wings. I was sure she was dead but noticed her tongue out and searching. A spider was half-way to the scene, waiting movement in order to locate. I reached my finger in the mix. The tongue explored and the butterfly stepped onto my hand. Outside, the sun was warm and the wings opened to catch heat. Halfway to the garden she took flight, wings still good enough to find a few last flowers before sunset. I thought about that butterfly’s journey and how much farther she must go to complete her mission of life. I thought about destiny and luck. I thought about the story she will tell the flowers as she moves through the currents of the wind. She’s important because she exists. I like it that I’m included in her diary …that one time, when I was caught inside a den of spiders, in a world without wind or flowers, I thought I was finished. Then this crazy thing happened, I was lifted by some being the size of a mountain and carried into the sun and I felt the wind and smelled my world again. It was like a dream. Strange things happen, they really do.


There’s these certain things that you’re not allowed to like and say you like, I guess it’s more common if you’re a dude. I am one. So you’re not really supposed to say that you love butterflies, because that infers that you might be a little un-dudely. But I do, I love butterflies. I could give you reasons but the ones who would listen already know the reasons and the others are already set with what they think. It’s weird how much power there is in words. There are words with so much heavy meaning behind them that people in power treat them like a plague. No matter what, words are only words. But still, I am moved and inspired and depressed by these little sounds that come from our mouths. These flicks of the tongue that send thoughts, one to the other. They are description of our thoughts. They are a reflection of our soul. They are shallow and thoughtless. They are deep, sweet and soulful. They are the fuck you’s and the love you’s. They are the little things my Mama sends me through text that make me hold my breath and remember that most likely, she will be gone before I am gone and that I will have to find a way to be here without her. Words are written in holy script. Words are what people in masks say before they cut other peoples’ heads off. Words are letters put together in some kind of order so that they make sense, but so often they don’t. And then there’s a Mary Oliver, who writes about flying geese in the winter and about blackwater rivers and seashores and shells. And then there’s Brian Doyle who writes about hummingbirds and whales and the hearts that compose them and so I read those words to my sister when she was in a coma and her one eye was slightly open and it was green and searching back and forth and from that eye and the other one that was closed there were tears and I was wearing my favorite orange shirt and, a long time later when she was back in her beautiful form, she said, “and you read some words to me about hummingbirds and whales and you were in that ratty old orange shirt.” So words are something,  if they weren’t I guess I’d be doing something else right now. Instead I’m here and the train is blowing it’s whistle right now and the ringing in my ears is filling the spaces. These are words. They are the crayons of my lumbering mind. I am thick-fingered and slow, but life is wild and lovely so I will color and color and never stay within the lines.

thoughts from a fella who used to be a little boy in church chewing peppermint gum

If everything went away, by everything I mean people and clocks and devices and cars and all things man-made, and I was afoot and wandering on the earth, I wonder if I would recognize Sunday. For whatever reason, Sundays are a bit different to me. Sunday mornings speak to me in low, personal tones. The fog stays a bit longer. The sunlight carries into spaces that are usually dark. The early morning stars sing stories of every faith and imagination since man first began to look for some kind of god. Sunday holds my thoughts for me all week and spills them out when I arrive. I can remember certain feelings from my childhood that took place on Sunday, things that couldn’t happen on any other day. After all, Sunday was church-day. It was the day when my family acknowledged God, my parents’ God. My Pa sat in the kitchen with the Bible open and my Ma helped round up the kids, all five of us, for the trip to the church. I endured church. Some things were good and some were boring. My Ma knew it was tough for me to endure so she helped my little spirit by giving me a half stick of peppermint gum, she knew that I was not above plucking a used piece from the bottom of the pew so she gave me a freshie. Plus my Mom was the bomb, she still is the Sweetest Thing between the stars and the bottom of the sea. The service itself was usually boring unless the speaker pulled some stunt or told a really good story about some dude possessed by the devil or some poor fella (which usually ended up being the speaker himself) who used to be a fighter/drug dealer who found God through some unbelievable event. Usually the sermon was just really boring and it was followed by the invitation which was sometimes cool if someone made a big scene out of going down the aisle to get saved or someone decided to confess something in front of everyone; otherwise, the invitation was boring and often too long because the speaker was bummed that he hadn’t dragged more people out of their seats with the well prepared guilt trip he just finished delivering. These weren’t my favorite things about Sunday, although I do actually think back on all that and smile. It’s a slice of my life that I wouldn’t trade if I could. I love that my parents are who they are and they love me right back, no matter how much of a pain-in-the-ass I am. And I kinda am that.

I had secret church on Sunday’s. Come to find out, the creeks still ran under grassy banks and over sunken logs on Sunday. And the painted slider turtles still sat all in a row on the edge of the half-submerged concrete. And the butterflies still followed intricate pathways through the pond-grass and nettles; the Cabbages and Brownies and Painted Ladies, the Swallowtails both Tiger and Black, the Monarchs the Morning Cloaks, the Admirals, the Skippers and the Sulphers, all in an endless river of colors that continue, even now, to amaze me. My church was any stream, any tree, any field. The timbers of my church were rooted in living soil and they swayed under skies that surrendered to the seasons. In those places, I learned to worship and I spent hundreds of hours on my knees watching the magnificence of the earth unfold like the wings of a dragonfly. Some might say this is not the Truth. I would say it is nothing but the Truth and it is as pure as it was before I knew it. So maybe, because of the fact that I was taught what it meant to believe wholeheartedly in something, maybe that’s why I still find myself walking out into the woods with a pounding heart. Ready for the moment of complete submersion in what I know is real and good and not words and not text and not some translation of a thought from someone else.

I’m not sure what nostalgia is. I can tap a button and find a definition. Or I could define it from my experience. Nostalgia is a slippery word, kinda like deja vu. If I were to give nostalgia a color it would be somewhere near the color of a morning at Trinidad beach just north of Arcata, California. It would be grey but there would be that early morning periwinkle kind of blowing in and out from behind it. Yeah, and there would be the colors of the sounds of sea gulls and terns and sea lions that are beyond that big stone that knows all the great white sharks by name and talent and etiquette. I think of nostalgia as a bit of a condition. I have it. I have it almost all the time. It doesn’t have to include sadness, but sometimes sadness leaks in from the gaps between the thoughts. I wonder if nostalgia is just a realization of the facts of life. Life, this utterly amazing, irretrievable, electrifying collection of heartbeats and daydreams. Nostalgia might just be the wind blowing over the wild flowers of a life that has been lived, catching us in the now and delivering a fragrance that cannot be revisited. Every day is a yesterday in the making. I am aware of the hurt-and-heavy that comes with living, but even that is a treasurable item.

I’ll end with a story of a Sunday, a once upon a time. It isn’t at all that different than any of your Sunday stories because it is only a story. It is a telling of a thing as I remember it from a more innocent me. I was 11. My family had just turned left from Pierce st. onto Jefferson. At that precise moment, a neighbor named Ed, 19 years old, from the other end of Jefferson was speeding in his hotrod firebird and he was coming towards us. The little 6 year old blonde girl from across the street chased a ball into the road. Many things happened at once. Ed saw the beginning of a sorrow he would never forget as his car struck the girl and sent her into the air. My Dad stopped the car and said, Oh my. The little blonde girl tumbled lightly and fluttered to the ground like a leaf, her socks still in the road where she was hit. I stood over my father’s shoulder as he held the little girl’s head. Softly, so softly, my dad was speaking to God and me and that little blonde girl, Oh darling, oh my, oh little darling. I do remember seeing her eyes looking about for a few seconds and then fluttering off into that other space that we don’t understand, way out there where there ain’t a single track to follow and where we dump our tears into the shadows cast by the ones we’ve lost to that space.

Have you ever built a little boat out of sticks and put it into a stream? You should try it. Put a little time into it and make it so it floats, even if it’s not perfect. When you set it free in the current, there is a flicker of time where you are still attached to that simple, tiny craft. And when it disappears around the bend, you will miss it.

A Case for the Pallid Swallowtail

Papilio eurymedon, the pallid swallowtail, is an easy favorite with me. Their close relative, the Tiger swallowtail, carries with it the ohs-and-ahs that come from being so bright and large and winged. Butterflies are one of this worlds favorite accents, they have so much within and without. The Pallid swallowtail looks like a Tiger swallowtail that was put in the wash before it’s colors were fully set. There’s a slight hint of soft yellow, while some are more the color of cream. I have always loved them for their discretion, their lesserness. I’m like that, I guess, loving things for being on the quiet side of glorious.

Some nights are tough for me. I wake up and the years look like they cheated and piggy-backed onto me. That’s this morning. Jesus! I know it’s a common theme for aging dudes to write about aging, but I’ll be damned if it don’t look like I slept in a time machine last night and accidentally bumped the forward button. But it’s cool. I’m down. Let’s go.

I was awake at 4:44 a.m. and I thought how that was a nice, round number. Those were my first thoughts, then I thought about my dreams, then I thought about how quiet the world was at 4:44 a.m. on a Wednesday in the industrial area of Bend, Oregon. I rousted my ass up of the pad here at the forge. I slept in one of my favorite indoor venues last night; Orion Forge is Hunter Dahlberg’s creation. His own little baby Frankenstien. My spot here has always been upstairs at the foot of a big home-made bookshelf full of the books that help fill in the secrets behind what makes a person become a Hunter Dahlberg hammer-swinger. Once I decided to give in to the morning, I groped around in the dark for my headlamp. The forge at night is much like a cave and it smells of metal and sweat and coffee-blacker’n-sin. I’m a habitual creature and often move through other peoples’ spaces wearing a headlamp rather that fumble around with unfamiliar light switches that may or may not turn on the needed illumination. Out of my life comes these strangenesses that are just enough to keep me weird and may indeed lead directly to a padded room and a real long sleeve shirt with buckles on the ends of the sleeves that match up with the ones sewn into the back. Should that happen, the plan is to continue to travel on the inside of my head.

This morning I can just barely hear a radio that has been left on. The long heavy bass notes are just enough for me to hear through the pipes and the metal. I have made my way to the door and the sky is showing signs of another day in the making. Bend reminds me a tiny bit of Wyoming, there’s something about the sage and the smell of the hills at dawn. I am hesitant to turn on NPR and listen to news, I’m feeling ok with things this morning and I don’t wanna muck things up by hearing what anyone has done to someone. I know it’s going on, I just ain’t ready to hear it. A kind of chosen stasis until something from without breaks in and I must deal with life as it is. I think I’d prefer to ponder in the half-dark until the outside catches me sneaking around in my bubble of solitude.

I have a buddy that doesn’t really think the moon and the stars affect us humans. He kinda has that “prove it” attitude to which I don’t respond that well. Like when I tell a child to be careful not to fall in the pool, if they don’t believe me, I will not try and prove that they should be careful. I’m fine if they fall in, I’ll get them out, and they might have learned something, and maybe not. Life is a great teacher, but only if you are open to learning. My question is, how can you not know we are affected by this cosmos?! Are you blind? Humans (me included) are ridiculously arrogant and that is usually coupled with a kind of blind ignorance that comes from thinking we are smarter than everything else. Do you see the circle of stupidness? I guess it all depends on what drives you. If you only ever deal with other humans and you spend enough time counting dollars, you might not ever see the moon again, not because she’s gone, but because you never look up.

Here we are, creatures made up of mostly oxygen and then some carbon, we are filled with something called a soul that came out of the cosmos to which it will return, we are moving about between the sky and the dirt and we are thinking because we have this gray mass we call a brain. We are kin to everything. We are under a yellow sun that is the source of our lives. There is everything we can imagine and all the things we can’t imagine, happening here and between the stars that go out into a distance that we simply cannot comprehend. And here in our world, there are bright, yellow Tiger swallowtails, and quietly floating on some secret draft between the wild lilacs is the lesser known, softer-colored, Pallid. And she too is perfect, waiting for the moon and the sun to tell her what time it is…waiting to be affected.

If our minds and hearts are open in this life, death will not be a dread, it will be a step into the cosmos.