tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: change

i, messenger

ages of man

i am a messenger, kill me if you want.

i carry the message from the sufferers whose voices are too weak to be heard,

my voice is strong because i don’t suffer, not yet.

i need to speak to the greedy.

(who are the greedy? i think it’s fair to say that they are those that have plenty but want more.)

i need to speak with you, mr. senator, with your fancy suit and your big words. do you suffer?

how about you, mr. president, who would do all things popular but nothing without an agenda…when did you suffer last?

and you, exxon man, in your castle of dinosaur bones, do you think indigestion is suffering?

we are led by the educated, but not the wise.

difference? the educated are students of success, dollar stackers. the wise are students of life, nurturers.

the greedy have made a machine. the machine teaches those with less to strive for more. work hard to become the greedy. and the greedy collect from the needy. they pay smarter folks to use big words to prove that it’s all ok. there are labs that can spit out all kinds of sarcasm to throw at the person who asks, “why are the birds dropping from the sky?” or “what does radiation do to the fish in the deep blue sea?” or “what about that godzilla monsanto (that fire-breather, that farmer eater, creator of agent orange that-is-eating-my-friend’s-lungs, creator of PCB’s whose side effects read like a horror script  and that were dumped into lake michigan in ’54. how much was released? oh, just one hundred thousand tons is all. there is a brutal disregard for life and a lust for money here, can you see?) who is stomping and consuming and then settling sweetly into the laps of our leaders, what about that?”

some say, “we need to fix the machine.”

i say, break the machine. crack it apart into a million pieces and let the greedy run frantic to collect it back and make it whole again.

like hogs over slop.

can you hear me? if you can, then there’s hope for us. and there’s hope for the sufferers.

do you know the term, the eleventh hour? the meaning is plain, it means, it’s very late.

there ain’t time to pass bills and scratch old bald heads. there ain’t time for that, man.

this is not ranting. these are the words from the sufferers.

they say things like. use what you have and love things that are useful. they say, grow gardens that contain life and include the bugs that eat the leaves. be kind to the farmer that sells greens with holes in the leaves, they taste the same and they weren’t sprayed. drive less, use your bike. know the cycles of the moon, i’m not joking. love the migrating birds. pray for the monarch butterfly. refuse to be bullied by mass consumption. find your tribe and trade with them. use hand tools. lift stones and make your arms thick and your legs sturdy, go out under the sun and let it feed you. walk. give the animals a break, they don’t have much room. try to remember to take bags to the store, use them again and again and again so that they don’t end up in the belly of a bird on some sad island in the middle of the blue blue sea. care. kick your heart door open wide. show the greedy that less makes room for better. take the power in your strong and simple body and shine like a star among many. look at your neighbor and help them shine. teach the babies to love the greenest leaf, the smallest bug, the greatest sea, the deepest canyon, the wildest wind. bare your teeth at the ones who would tell you it is a waste of time to try to change the world.

these are the words of the sufferers. they sent them to us.

awareness is simple. it is the will to see. i have not slept well lately because of all this stuff. i know i know, it’s my problem. but i can’t not say something. what else is there to do? while i’m still strong, i am drawn to fight for the wild things. i would rather scream these words towards all the shining towers than weep at the foot of a dead ocean as the whales wash ashore.

now what?  start.

“step one: get a drum”

i pedaled back up the hill. it’s chilly tonight. as i rode up on the property that nick and elizabeth call home, i could hear a drum.

a single drum, not a drum circle or a group, just one. i rode in through the gate and parked the bike and followed the sound into the house. there was nick in the half-light, head down, slapping the skin of the drum that elizabeth bought for him.  i think the drum is from senegal or somewhere close. it’s sound is deep and mixes well with nick’s disposition.

i danced for about ten minutes to the beat. nick finally took a break and we talked about drums. i spoke of the movie, “the visitor”, and nick asked me about it. i told him how it was about an old man finding music through a drum. i think that movie changed the way i think about music. it helped me connect the dots about how music is in our blood, regardless our culture or upbringing, it’s there, like a dream waiting to be remembered.

i wondered aloud to nick about the old days, in africa, when tribes pounded on drums to tell other tribes how they felt. we both imagined that feeling. nick and i are not that far away from that kind of communication. he and i could speak through smoke or drums or whistles, no problem.  we talked back and forth about the use of drums in human evolution. he said, “it’s still here. it’s still possible,” and then after a pause, he finished, “step one: get a drum.”

i let my imagination go quite often. i like to imagine what it would be like if our leaders really did believe in the preservation of our planet. no, i mean, like, they really did mean it. what would it mean? first of all, i think there would be more dancing. i think there would be more talking between one another. i think music would thrive.  i think war would abate. the oceans would get cleaner and life as we know it would become more simple. we would need to re-learn basic skills and everyone would get callouses on their hands. hard work would make a come-back and billionaires would become extinct. wrinkled faces would be beautiful and beauty magazines would be used to start fires so we could dance to the beat of the drums. the stars would seem brighter because people would be noticing them for the first time in their lives. the seas would return to their pre-industrial silence and the whales would sing wildly through the blue with their massive, ancient tongues.

and up on the land, the drums, man, the drums.

one man’s dilemma


(i got good news and bad news)

i’d like to start off with the bad news, if you don’t mind, and since you’re not here to say one or the other, i’ll assume it’s ok. i’m going to present the bad news in the form of an allegory, if i was jesus, you might call this a parable but i surely am not jesus, so we’ll stick with allegory.

*note–an apology to those friends of mine who’ve heard this story already, it’s one of my go-to’s whenever i’m digging for some sympathy. double apology to those who’ve heard it more than once due to either my bad memory and/or one too many glasses of bourbon.

setting :   the veteran affairs office in eureka, california.

characters:   1.) a long haired, semi-discouraged, 40-something fella with a hurt back and an aching tooth (me, of course).

                         2.) security guard.

                         3.) i could be mean here and give a full description of the gov’t employee behind the counter in the room at the top of the stairs, but i will refrain…just this once.

i’m not one to go to the doctor or really get help from someone (health-wise) unless it’s really hurting me, the kind of hurt that is affecting my life. so i looked up the vet office and i went down there. i parked and walked in. just to let you know, i was showered and shaved. i took  two steps through the door and was called down by the security guard. he simply said, “turn around, walk back out and come back in without that pocket-knife.” i had a little 3 inch pocket knife on a clip that stuck up outa my pocket. i was taken back by this guy’s aggressive little greeting but i understood…mostly. i walked back in after dropping my cutter in the truck. i walked through the metal detector and the ugly glare that was casting off ol’ hard ass’ glasses.

come on tobe, i was thinkin’, no bad attitude, all flowers and sunshine so maybe this’ll go well. i walked into a little office at the top of the stairs. it was sometime around 11 a.m. 

the woman that was behind the counter glanced at me out of the corner of her eye and then continued to talk…for 10 minutes with a person i could not see in the back of the room. she finally came to the counter and asked me what she could do for me. i said i was looking for some help to figure out my veterans health benefits. she sighed and said i needed to come back after lunch. “when’s that?” i asked, now obviously irritated. “at 1:30,” she said, and turned away.

i went out the door, past ol’ hard-ass and struggled to keep from letting my temper get a foothold this is just a little runaround, i told myself, no big deal.  i was at the door at 1:30.  the same woman asked me for my DD 214. long story short, i didn’t have proper paper work. now i understand that it makes things easier to have the correct paperwork, but in this woman’s eyes, there was nothing to do for me. nothing. she said i could apply for proof of being in the military but that there was a 6 month wait involved with that.

and in my head, there was this: they sure didn’t need tons of proof of who i was in boot camp. i was another shaved head. and 6 months to prove i was a marine? 6 months! and i was a marine corps sniper and a recon man and i’ll bet if i was popping rounds off in the street they would know who i was and what i was in minutes. i mean minutes.

i asked for the papers to begin the 6 month process. that was 2 years ago and i have never received a damn thing in the mail. my guess…she threw my papers in a pile that is still in that office in eureka, california.

ok, that’s the end of that boring story. i want to say that i’m under no illusions here. i don’t think i’m the only person to have this happen. that pile of papers in that office is made up of men and women some of whom are worse off than me by a long shot. there are moments when it’s wonderful to be a nobody, and sometimes it really sucks.

no thanks to my government, i’m healthy as an ox now. i’m healthy because i’m eating veggies from a land that is tended with love. the meat from the sheep is honored because they were raised here, on the same land. there is another way that is less dependent on the government. we should all be exploring these processes…it’s a matter of survival and simple awareness.

this is where i get to the good news. i believe in a way out from under this foolishness. it involves working in small, strong thinking groups that learn how to depend less on what’s being tendered as “need” by the big shots (hey, this includes pharmaceuticals and  bank accounts)  and depend more on one another. here i’d like to say, i’m not against modern medicine, i’m against it’s abuse by doctors who use it as an easy way out.  it involves open-mindedness. the folks in washington do not have open minds. they do not understand. (if you doubt me, ask yourself this question, do you think any senator or house member would ever be treated like i was at the vet’s office? come on, now…they do not know what it’s like to be a nobody. how poor has the poorest president ever been?)

it’s never easy to begin the process of change. it always requires discomfort. the alternative is what we’ve got, and worse, what it’s moving towards. a goal should be to be aware and to start cutting out our dependency on anyone that simply wants a vote (cash).  we should be aware of where our items come from and be willing to support our friends and neighbors (our tribe).  use technology as a tool against the powerful, aggressive money hoarders. the more we understand our own systems, the less we need the system that seems to exclude us. i believe the common man/woman is way more resourceful (and valuable) than any suit in washington.

let ’em play their games. let’s meet out here on the earth and get strong.

this isn’t me shouting faith, it’s me telling truth.

(also, let me make something clear, i don’t think we need to revert to the dark ages here.  i’m not against modern medicine, i’m against it’s abuse by doctors who use it as an easy way out. i had a great doctor when i was a kid, he encouraged us to eat right and play hard. we need those kind of doctors, not the ones more interested in what combo of drugs will make you feel almost the same as if you weren’t using any.)

(and banks, yeah, they suck. i might carry my cash around in a sock if i had enough to put into one…oh yeah, i don’t have socks.)

ah, good night!

i can sing like my dad, not nearly as good but good enough to make my brothers and sisters laugh. i know his changes in cadence and expression.  my pop sings a lot and he sings damn well. he is a preacher and he will break into song whenever the spirit leads. he’s a wonder.

when my dad is surprised, he never cusses. he uses one expression more than any others. he say’s, with a little pause prior, “good night!” i have friends who’ve never met my old man that use this expression because i’ve talked about it so much. i love it. i love him. i have the tendency to falter into a litany of four-letter expletives that would make a sailors neck turn red. i’m nowhere near as eloquent, nor as disciplined as my father. he’s a man of God. i’m less. 

in my experience, it’s what i don’t say that usually makes the difference. like, the more i’m willing to listen and think and refrain, the more help i can be. i’m mostly scratching my head because i just don’t know or i’m thinking and probably won’t know after i’m done doing that. if i’m comfortable, i might start giving my opinion, then we’re all in trouble. my opinion is mixed with experiences that make little sense to me. what i dreamed life would turn me into has resulted in my present person. this ain’t what i expected. i thought maybe it’d be a little more heroic or something. the guy i am is, umm, is, how should i say this without sounding pathetic, is…less. now, i know there’s ways to cope with this; whiskey and long distance running and cold water swimming and blogging (oh my, the last is so damn pathetic i can hardly stand it) but whatever, i gotta write it somewhere and napkins are just too damn flimsy.

wanna know something? i’ll tell you. “good night” is a perfect expression.  it helps set thing aright. somehow, my dad found a way to affect me even through all our differences. he wasn’t there in the ocean when my buddies and i were being thrashed and february was proving that 28 days can be a long, long time. he wasn’t surface swimming with me in the middle east toward failaka island with my recon team while the submarines cruised like nuclear whales below us. he wasn’t with me when christian and i came down in the winds that were crashing against the aleta del tiburon in the french valley. he couldn’t stop my world from turning in it’s course as time ticked off seconds and september 11th approached. (and christian left me in patagonia to take his job as a new firefighter right there across the brooklyn bridge from the world trade center.  i came back a couple weeks later and went to climb in yosemite. while i was 1000 feet off the ground i was told that the towers fell in new york city.) my dad, couldn’t help my relentless heart as i drove toward the city where i was convinced i was going to find my dear brother and he would be safe and he would be full of stories, because no way could he have died; i knew him too well.  i knew that he had found a strong-hold where he and the folks he would save were going to be found. and when i needed help, as i sat in a truck stop and watched, for the first time, the towers fall and turn to powder, there was nothing my old man could do. he couldn’t stop my changing life, as much as he would have liked. i was falling. 

can i tell you? i know everyone has their story. my hurt wasn’t more, it was just mine. i watched my buddy, brian, crawl out of my car and cry. you see, brian loved christian too. let me tell you something, brian doesn’t cry. i watched new york city cry like brian. i sat on the subway and cried like brian. and when nothing of christian was ever found, i conjured his face in the stories i told in the bars i began to haunt and his firefighter fellows raised their whiskeys and their wild irish hearts. i watched the cuban girl cry as she took my money in the breakfast joint on the upper west side. on the train, i watched the jewish woman hold the thick-necked black man whose wife worked in tower 1. and we all cried, man, we all cried. a day before i left nyc, i went to central park and sat on a bench. broken is an understatement, i was shattered from that event. i lost one of the most significant people in my life when christian regenhard burned. he was a powerhouse; he was a raging, dancing-on-the-bar, carrying the-light, fighting-the-man, towing-the-line, i-gotcher-back kinda guy. so, as i sat on the bench, i wondered if what my buddy dave said was true, that i might never stop crying…and so what? a woman with a little dog sat down on the bench next to me. she said, after a minute or two, “darling, you’ll get better. life is made for this. your heart will heal.” well, i put my long-haired head on her little shoulder and crumbled down to nothin’. and you know what? she was right. life keeps on plugging away. since then i’ve been broken down a few times, loves have been lost…and so have keys and wallets, and i’m godamn fine.

like my old man says, “good night.” and good night is right, christian, love you man. i’m carrying your fire.

between the cosmos and the open road

there’s this old saying that i like, “even a blind pig finds an acorn in the mudhole sometimes.” consider me a blind pig. i don’t think i’m smart–well, sometimes i do but i’m usually wrong. but if i was to say something that is my “acorn” it would be this: move towards an open mind. all of us. everyone. the world suffers while we walk around, too proud to listen to the voice inside our heart. you might think this is a bit dramatic but i believe this message is important.

consider this: there has never been a mind born that wasn’t fallible. we all make mistakes. our most brilliant products: Einstein, Beethoven, Wilbur, Melville, Stein, Tesla, Di Vinci…they all made mistakes. and so these ideas that are called “Truth” might very well be wrong. we, and i’m talking about the most common of us, we can question anything we want. it is what makes us so very different and very wonderful. we need to wonder.

i ask people all the time about the “what if’s”. i have a habit of creating imaginary scenarios and putting my friends in them as the main characters. but really, what if there is way more than what we know? i mean, isn’t it more than probable that we only know a fraction? have you ever looked out into the stars and allowed your mind to wander. the spaces between those glittering lights are longer than a million lifetimes. we, are a blip; born, raised, loosed, broken, fixed, mixed, pulled, taught, torn, lifted, lost, loved and buried. some stars, whose light has not yet reached the earth, have long since died. and so their light, what might be called their “life”, is traveling towards our seeking eye and yet they no longer exist. are we all like this? will our message travel after we have turned back to dust? oh my! what little creatures we are.

there is more beyond. we think we know it all. we write in our little books. we use words like, “indisputable”. we compute and write in computer languages. we create complex scenarios and put them before those who are judges. we consider our decisions to be the “best” for the world we live in and still the world suffers. rivers are black from our refuse. polar bears swim farther and farther to find their place. trees are chopped and ripped and painted and burned. seeds are altered. our science has run out in front of us and yet we cannot hear the voices from beyond our monumental egos. i am one of us; i am guilty of all the things i’m pointing out. i am a slave to money and the system as well. but this moving, breathing world does not run on money. take away the dollars and the sun would rise, cherries would bloom and babies would be born. there is something bigger here. i am convinced we are running wildly in a direction but we haven’t a clue why we are running. and we are lonely. even when we are together, we find loneliness. i think, in part, this is because we, as a civilization, have forgotten where we came from. we are children of this blue world, but we act as if we created it. the earth won’t leave us, just like a good mother, she will wait. if we just listen to her cooings, we will begin to grow up. we are not lost, we just can’t see our mother. “there is no person without a world.” — anne carson


we have to begin to choose to think.

in this life, there could be an awakening. the stars are singing. it’s up to us to hear them. there is no limit to realization…i mean, we can continue to explore in any state. i’ve read about people who were trapped in their bodies in a coma and still wrote their life stories, or symphonies, or songs. cages and bars and boxes cannot enclose the foreverness of the mind. their is a universe inside.

out beyond what we believe lies what really is. the only limit is our inability to understand this fact. i too struggle with it, but i’ll be damned if i don’t die trying to jump the fences.

all ships are sinking…or, my plan to change the world

i’ve spent time on several boats. i lived on a sail boat for six months. i’ve had more than one captain tell me that all boats are sinking. even in million dollar yachts the bilge pumps must run; old wooden boats sink quicker. today i went by a boat that some workers were trying to bring up from the bottom of the bay with barrels full of air. and so it is that even the most sea worthy vessels must be maintained or they will be lost. a good boat can sink.

i heard an astronaut named edgar mitchell talking about orbiting the moon. along with his words there was video of some of the things he saw from his window on the apollo spacecraft back in 1968. he’s an old man now but there, in the apollo, he was young with a strong jaw and sparkly eyes. i’ll not forget what he said; it was eloquent and profound.

“…so every 2 minutes a picture of the earth, the moon, the sun and a 360 degree panorama of the heavens appeared in the spacecraft window…and i had studied astronomy and cosmology and fully understood that the molecules in my body and in my partners’ bodies and in the spacecraft, had been prototyped in some ancient generation of stars; in other words, it was pretty obvious, from those descriptions, that we are stardust.”

edgar’s words are even better when they are spoken from his wrinkled, old face. there is something in his eyes…something that is humble. he was humbled by what he saw and his tone of reverence for this big blue world bleeds out of his description of that trip. i know people who don’t think we ever landed on the moon. i don’t argue about that stuff but i loved hearing from someone who spoke with teary eyes about this planet.

now, i’m no hippie. i don’t ride bandwagons. i find enough fault in myself to worry too much about pointing my finger in other peoples’ faces; but something must change. i gotta say something because i swim in the ocean and i climb on the cliffs and i run in the woods and i sleep under the stars. i want to see people see themselves as creatures on a planet that is alive. i can’t look at the people on the television screen fighting over who wore what to which party without being angry at myself, angry at us!  i am talking about us living, breathing, thinking human beings. and, for crying out loud, stop it with the “reality” bullshit on t.v….please stop. we’ve got some problems here; there’s birds and fish dying from all the plastic we spew out everywhere, there’s bad air, there’s bad water, there’s endless fighting. i mean, come on! i hate talking about it but i hate seeing it even more. so here we go, let’s do something. (don’t worry i’m not gonna ask for cash)

i don’t want to rant without having answers, so here’s my list of things i think will change our direction (this is for everyone and doesn’t change according to tax bracket or political affiliation or country or color or language or religion or taste in music or shoes):

consume less. learn to know the soil. plant plants. treat water like you love it because you should because you would die without it. drink water. respect other species and give them their due space so they might have some privacy to mate and sing and grieve and argue and create. YOU go dance and sing and grieve and mate and argue and create. drive less, ride your bike more. fix old things. allow love, period. learn to make fire with two sticks(i’m not joking, i did). look at one another, like, look at one another and notice one another…we need to do this, goddamnit! put your phones down for a second. smile and breathe in better air because we are riding our bikes more. don’t let little pieces of plastic float in the ocean…go get them, the swim will do you good and you will go back and swim more (because there’s always more floating pieces of plastic). be mindful of how to make less impact; you can figure out better ways, you really can.  look for beautiful rocks on a river bank or at the seashore, pick a small one up and take it home with you so you can remember what you did. laugh out loud, don’t lol. go to a good place that has good people and feel good. make tiny improvements to the world everyday…after time a little will add up to a lot.

edgar saw it from a space ship, i see it from here–this place is our home, our beautiful glowing blue-green ball of life; let’s treat it good. if you need more motivation than this, i can take you there. i know some places that will break your heart. i know some places that will restore your soul. it’s all around us… just like stardust.