tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: children

The Little Wonderers

Little Sahalie looked at me with them little bleepers and there was a universe beyond. Oh yeah, I’m always flying through distant solar systems, spinning across far off galaxies. It’s the kids, man. They own all the unmapped spaces. Her older brother was there at my other elbow, he gets it. Hell, he gets it better than me! These ages between the baby and the time when we become adults are where the connections dwell. You know what I mean? They haven’t decided to load themselves down with the stones of adulthood.

She was like, “so you can draw anything?”

yeah, i can draw most all the stuff i wanna draw.


yeah. pretty much.

“So, you could draw a person on a toilet?”

Well, then I was laughing and Hunter was laughing because we got to see that little mind race around and think of the worst thing she could think of…and it was some dude (or girl) on a toilet. Now I’ll be damned if that ain’t innocent.

Outside the timbers were reaching towards the sky. Tumalo Creek was rolling towards the Dechutes. The Oregon sky was there as well, and the Oregon sky is godamn good.

When I get angry with humans, I remember the kids. They are just so true. Even the naughtiest of them are true. I imagine that the younger you are, the closer you are to when you were among the stars and so you still shine with that cosmic light. See what I mean? Babies, they are something else. I’m not really even all pro-human, I don’t think we are such a great animal. Personally I like otters better than humans. And mountain caribous. And kingfishers. But I’m a human, so I gotta put up with me. Hell, I don’t know how to figure this out, I can’t even find the restroom in the bar half the time. But when I see the little people with the long eyelashes and the ruby lips and the hearts that beat in harmony with the cosmos, well, I break down and wanna worship. Cuz if I was gonna believe in us, I would want the babies present, so I could be sure.

When Jason walked out of his house there on 1st street and his little Abe spotted me sitting in the sun and said, “tobias.” I was saved. Saved from my dark thoughts. Saved from the way I could be. Saved from the way I know I already am. You see, I get saved all the time by the little ones. Just when I’m ready to sign off and give up and say the worst things about what we are…a little one says, “tobias.” And my heart hears and my soul comes up for air and all of a sudden I’m breathing again.

Don’t think I’ve never been hateful. I got that shit down. I can name times and places. Someway or another I’ve found my way to here and I can no longer find good use for hatefulness. But I’ve been pretty good at it in the past. What? You want an example? Oh yeah, I’m not afraid to show you. Like that time at lunch when I was working for Student Movers in Denver, back in the late 80’s. When I was talking as a youngster and trying to be a badass and I said that all the gays in the world should be put on an island so they could die of AIDS together. And as I was saying that I was in the presence of a sure-fire ass-kicker named Bill Burke, who was gay and never said anything to me even though he was more of a man than I’d ever be and also requested to have me on his crew regardless of my juvenile opinions.  That was years before I knew James Canfield, the ballet artist extraordinaire, who is gay and wonderful and powerful and insightful and is a good friend. It was before I ran into Brett Philpott who is strong and badass and is gay. And before I had ever met my dear friend Katherine Fontaine who loves me dearly despite my long stays under her coffee table and my bourbon habits and my stinkiness…and yes, Katherine prefers her own gender…lovely girl.  I used to worry over the things I didn’t understand, now I worry over lack of awareness. I reckon we might not should worry so much over who people choose to love, maybe we should focus on eliminating some of the hate. We are all capable of black-heartedness as well as lovingkindness. These are choices and we should make them with open minds.

While I was talking to Spencer and Sahalie, I saw the light shining in their eyes. I saw them looking at me and asking me questions about the meanings behind imagination. For one thing, I’m not a smart guy. I barely get by in smart conversations, and this is how I felt with these two little ones. They were asking me what the difference was. Whether dreams were real. And if the light from dreams is subject to the laws of physics. When that much beauty and wonder is in front of me, I lose my bearings. I float. I become a worshiper, no longer a knower. And that’s where I belong. Maybe that’s my gig. I haven’t a problem at all with wondering and, quite frankly, the bigger the better. And what if the world turned inside of itself? And what if there was no one left to know? And what if, in the impossible future, we happen again?

Yeah man, what if? I love it that I may indeed remain, long after I’m dead, in the minds of the little wonderers.

one word at a time

i haven’t been able to write lately. oh, i write, but it’s all pithy blather and i throw it out. that delete button is handy. i do believe that in order to understand how to say things, one must practice even when it seems useless. and then sometimes you just gotta go and do other things. there will always be things to say and there will always be the words that say them the best, i’m the little idiot running wildly with a butterfly net trying to catch and deliver meaning, maybe with some semblance of intelligence as well as a good old fashioned helping of soul. it’s possible, i know, i just have my ups and downs. lotsa downs.

so it figures that when i awoke this morning and decided to draw some stuff, i had no sooner sat down with pen and paper that i began to feel the need to write some thoughts. writing is such a jealous lover. and fickle. she will wait until interest is bent in some other valid fashion and she will walk out all arrayed in beautiful style, words flashing like sparkles in a fountain. ideas and wonder moving like the shadows of trout in some colorado mountain stream. she is beguiling and breathtaking. there is much to be felt and transferred but there is nary a promise. i will say this, when she wants to dance, you’d best dance or she will leave and you’ll be left with vague memories of beautiful things that might have been.

i jumped on my bike. 5:21a.m. it’s raining this morning in santa cruz. i criss-cross puddles on the way to buy cream for my coffee. i am thinking of words. and words and words. these symbols of sounds that send thoughts to other minds.  they whirl in many forms and are used and misused for good and bad. there are somewhere around 7,000 languages. think about all the words! an italian fella named roberto, whose story is as broad and spectacular as his mind, swims in the ocean at china beach. we spoke after a swim one day when the sun was just barely warm enough to stay undressed and wait, like turtles, for the heat. he told me a bit about his life. i was asking about the language of his birth. in a non-bragging way he finally admitted to knowing 5 languages. i learned spanish when i was 33 and i still speak with less fluidity than the average 5 year old that was born into it.  language is wonderful. words are brilliant. think about it, allow yourself the freedom to imagine; there is this thought in your mind, some bright and shining thing that you would like to share. so,  you create the way to say things that will turn this thought into a shape that will be discernible to another mind. there is care to be taken. proper craftsmanship is not a requirement, obviously, but a thought well-crafted will hold up better under scrutiny. for an example of what the shoddy use of language will get you, think about how many times you’ve been misunderstood in a phone text. when care is taken, less words need be spoken and, in turn, there is better communication. in other words, we are better understood when we think about what we say.

i read that by the year 2100 between 70% and 90% of all the languages spoken at the beginning of this century will be extinct. words are dying. when they aren’t used, they just go away. all those native expressions that said it from the level of the earth will be lost forever. they become the past. skeletons of the thoughts of the ancient ones. i don’t like it. not at all.

my gramps used to speak choctaw. he would say mentay elientempa, ysiki soma…i don’t know how to spell it, nor do i know exactly what it meant, but when he said it, and when he pointed those words at me, i squealed and ran to him and he hugged me. he said the names of animals in his native tongue. it was pure magic. i was my light. he shone his language of the past into my heart and i became a part of his tribe. i cried for the birds and the sky. i ran with sharp sticks. i was convinced that, one day, i would ride off on a pony into the mountains where the cities dropped back and the drums of the tribes would guide me in. and fires and stars. and dances in the sweet grasses and skins stretched and painted with all manner of symbols. and caves and trees and feathers and the old way to love. the light from my grampa’s words still heat my heart. i feel the fire from his ways burning in me even now. it will never go out…not if i can help it. i give it to the kids, to the ones that hear me. the rubys the rowans the leithians the lochlans the masons the tuckers the hudsons the bellas the santi’s the m’sos the josh’s the cannons the olivias the luc’s the seidels…and i could go on.  some will respond and carry the old fire and, with it, the wonders of the earth.

could it possibly be that simple? probably not. but it’s a start. i think that when kids are officially starting to grow up is when they stop saying what they think. ever been called wrinkly? or fat? or weird? kids’ll call that shit out. at some point they realize that there are things that hurt and things that could be left out in order to be in a better space. some of it’s tact and some of it’s manipulation. so much to sort through in order to be accepted and understood. the world is at the mercy of the humans it has spawned. in order to make change, we must choose our words wisely. we must be mindful in order to offset ignorance.

i’ll end with a reference to a book written by rick bass. it’s a novella called the sky, the stars, the wilderness. there is a part in the book where an old man has a stroke and looses his speech. his love is the birds. he retains the ability to do bird calls through whistling  and so he sits on the porch and whistles all day. his calls become so ornate that he’s able to call in even the rarest of birds. at some point, he shapes a word through his whistling. his grand daughter hears it and begs him for more. he forms more words. he speaks to her and tells her all the things he had wanted to say after his stroke stole his tongue; his words more beautiful than ever in his life because they are part and parcel, words from a birdsong. they speak for days. it wasn’t long before he died.

all had been said, through the song of a bird.

sweet heart

there’s this spot in oregon where the fir trees touch the oaks and the oaks touch the cedars, where a little creek drops down and rolls through the ferns, where there’s an old A-frame house that is owned by one of my good ol’ buddies and where his daughter, ruby, swings on a swing in the yard by the garden. it ain’t perfect, but it’s pretty damn close.

the other night, i was feeling blue (i make it a habit to feel blue at least once every couple of days, just to stay in practice) and i couldn’t quite put a finger on it. might’a been the thought of an old lover and familiar territory. it also might’a been the feeling of feeling sad and being so far from my ma. it could’a been the thought of life being a river and never slowing down, not even a little, but always rolling  and surging and swirling towards it’s destination which is whatever whoever believes it to be…or less. i ain’t really sure what was causing me to sit and wrinkle up my forehead, but it was happening and i wasn’t trying to stop it. and, as i have a tendency to really drop onto that particular wave, i started to stand up and leave the company i was in and go somewhere to flounder alone. so i started to stand and just then, someone put a hand on my knee. it was ruby, my 5 year old friend.

i looked down at her little hand and then i looked at her face and she wasn’t even looking at me, she was watching her dad kick everyone’s ass at badminton in the yard below. she stayed my departure. i was still intent on leaving but i was surprised by her decision to put her hand on me (she’s choosy with her affection). i know that she loves me but i couldn’t help but wonder if she felt my heart as it began to fall away for the night. finally she looked at me and said, “what are you doing up here, tobias?” i answered that i was just thinking. with her eyes as blue-grey as the falling evening she said, “isn’t this so nice?”

as dark as my heart can get, no matter the heavy, i will make it because of the little lights like ruby. there is a lifetime of knowledge, my lifetime of knowledge, that cannot be ignored. in it are the faults,dreams, lies, vulgarities, beliefs, losses, meannesses, imaginings and terrors. my wicked monsters walk hand in hand with my personal accomplishments. i am both sinner and saint, sometimes in the same day. but all this is buried and behind me…it all turns to smoke when i am in the presence of the sweet-hearted.

and, come on, really, isn’t this so nice? for me, for now, it most certainly is.

tattoos, children, and 16,705 days


 his name is Blue. he’s standing in my lap with both hands on the wheel of my 1970 jeep. the dirt road is empty except for my rig and whatever time is ticking off on some clock makes absolutely no difference to me nor my little compadre. Blue is maybe 5 years old and a complete wonder to behold.

there he stands, his legs are planted and his shoulders shrugged. “you got the wheel, Blue. you ready?”


“i’m gonna go slow, but you gotta steer. now, you ready?”

“uh huh.”

i let the clutch out and the old engine torques us forward. the jeep has a great granny gear, so it’s slow. as we begin to cover ground, Blue is just hanging on. i have him by the waist, keeping him steady. he’s gripping the wheel but not steering. he has never done this and so does not fully understand the power at his disposal. as we begin to veer to the edge of the road lined with joshua trees and yuccas i speak. i tell him he must steer us to the safety of the middle of the road. as he turns the wheel and the jeep responds, he becomes aware of his responsibility. now he is working! now he is over-correcting and frantically turning each way with his little tongue sticking out of his mouth from the massive amounts of concentration. as we come toward Blue’s parents i can see them laughing. they laugh at their little wild man because they see his wild eyes, his wild heart. they see his innerness glowing out and lighting the spaces all around.

when we are done, Blue climbs down and looks at me. he looks at me anew and the reason is because i showed him his power and allowed him to use it. so i was seen and the power was given back in a more pure form. it’s like how a bee turns nectar to honey and allows us to taste nature in it’s wildest, sweetest form. they help us with our immunities and our allergies and our deficiencies. Blue is like a bee; he transforms something simple that i’ve given him, into something far more universal, then he gives it back. i am nourished. i am better than before.

i have a secret. i’m in good with the children. i’ve seen parents look at me and shy away. i’m maybe a little scary, depending on the demographics. i must be patient in the communities that are not used to a person who lives outside of the usual accepted boundaries. i am tattooed. i smell like woodsmoke from the fire that i use to make me warm. i don’t have any particular hair-do; it’s whatever it is when i come in from the wind. my folks taught me love by giving me excessive amounts, so much, in fact, that i have yet to run low on the precious commodity. and so it is that the kids eventually discover me.

i guess it’s been about 12 years since i first started the long process of learning to tattoo. needles, machines, ink, terms, techniques, blood-born pathogens, flash, stencils, tracing paper, tradition, appointments, cancelations, ridiculous desires, vanity, memorials, deposits, waivers, misnomers, and every imaginable desire to be represented in some way upon the body…this is tattooing. i have seen the art form change even in the twelve years i’ve paid attention. i can’t even imagine what the old artists have seen. grand changes! i’ve seen the amazement in the eyes of my costumers. people walk different when a tattoo is exactly what they wanted. it is an interesting perspective, this way of the tattooer.

i hear people say quite often, “yeah, but it’s forever!” when referring to tattoos. i understand what they mean, but i must disagree. tattooing is far from being forever; in truth, it is quite similar to what the buddhists practice when they draw beautiful pictures with colored sand. when they walk away, the wind blows and the drawings that took amazing skill and many man-hours are blown away. tattoos go away when life ends. if you were to draw on a piece of paper and put it in a sealed box, it might last several hundred years. make no mistake, we are here for but a moment. we are like beautiful lines of colored sand before the wind.

sometimes, i’ll take colored markers and set up shop at a music festival. i draw on the kids. i don’t take money. the kids ask their ma and pa and then they give me the nod. there are favorites of course. flowers and butterflies and dragons. i have many photos of the look on some little punkin’s face as i draw on their arm. it is really quite amazing how much it makes me feel like a rock star. the children. my goodness, they can swarm! i never knew how it feels to be famous until the children. i have been in the middle of a mass of giggling, wild-ones as they clamor over their dreams and desires. i become the instrument. it is waaaay bigger than me. it is the feeling of immortality. it is a higher power.

there was a day, 16,705 days ago, when i was born. it was in the morning; a sunday. my mama held me and my pa looked on as i breathed the air of the world outside of the womb. my mama gave me the necessary bacteria to be equipped for survival. they named me tobias and kept me in their world that was full up with love and teaching. i was a little kid and wild and running. time went by, i think it was minutes, and then it was today.  what of this spectacle we have labeled “life”?  if i may, i will tell you my goal for this carcass that my soul inhabits. i would like to be good at being human. this human animal with complicated thoughts and grand schemes is a child of the sun. and down here, on the surface of the world, i think i’ll nurture the things that are simple.  my heaven is being wonderful in the eyes of the kids.