tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: dancing

Dance to the Exits

I live in a Toyota Dolphin. In case you don’t know what that is, well, it’s a tiny RV.  By definition, I am homeless. When asked specifics about my life by people that I think wouldn’t understand, I become evasive. Even after all these 50 years I find myself using vague language when I’m asked about what I do and where I go. I’m not insecure, I’m just too close to being a feral cat or something, in other words, I don’t want someone trying to put me in a box. As I type, I am in my kid brother’s driveway which is one of many driveways that I occupy throughout the seasons and throughout the years for years and years. I would not tell your sons and daughters to be like me, I would tell them to be like them. We all have our ways to find. This is mine.

I do not remember all the names of people. I don’t remember things I’ve said. I don’t remember my bank account number and code words and combinations. But I remember fishing holes. I could take you up dirt roads and across meadows and down long narrow canyons to the spot where I caught my first cutthroat trout over 20 inches. I remember beaver ponds. I don’t forget the places where the wild world crept up and took my heart forever.

These days I live in parallel with the skunks, raccoons and coyotes. I am peripheral. The cops knock on my door in the night and tell me to move along. There is little room for my habits in this world of buy-ins and billing addresses and non-negotiable situations. But I abide. Like the skunk, I am here till I’m gone. I am me to the end. I am not angry but I’m not sorry either. What’s more is that I’m not alone. I am one of the many Wild Hearts that will not be put in the approved boxes. Oh yes, what fun it is to run!

And my hands will grow harder and my heart will swell with blood. And the tears that hold the same salt as the sea will roll in like the waves to save the souls of the savage and the untamed. Long in the tooth and thick necked. The melodies of the woods descend on my hairy ears and cause my feet to find their motion. I have dances left to dance and there is a whole lota dance floor between me and the exit. I’m not so interested in your God or your fortune…more your heart. I will nod to my lover and we will make you blush.  Meet me on the dance floor and show me the rhythms of your life. I won’t be hard to find, I’ll be bouncing around like an idiot under the love of the sun and the light of a million stars.

And when the dance is over and the moon has set and you are going to your bed, maybe just maybe you’ll smell a skunk…and think of me.

leaving less

by the time i was 15 i had read the tracker by tom brown at least 3 times. i poured over his words and the advice he gave about how to move through the world. i had read every tarzan book that edgar rice burroughs wrote and cursed him for stopping at volume 26 (i mean, i would’ve put a pen in his hand on his death bed and asked him if maybe he shouldn’t just scribble out one more tale…two if he was feeling up to it). the louis l’amour books held some secrets for me as well. those mountain men that lived alone for months at a time were heroes as far as i was concerned and i dreamt of a time when all the rivers ran wild to the sea; the idea that the land to the west went on into infinity was as good as it gets for my teenage passions.

i spent time in the woods, lots of time in the woods. i did my best to figure out tracks and follow animals. i even thought about saving up and going to one of the schools on native cultures to learn more primitive technology. when most dudes were trying out for the football team i was thinking about my future as a mountain man in the woods of whatever place was the wildest. i lamented not being raised by apes. i think back on it now and i gotta laugh. my sweet mom and my tough ol’ dad had this kid that wished they were members of the "mangani". so silly. sheesh.

some of those desires never went away. yesterday, in the perfect mojave sun, i walked out with a couple buddies into the wonderland of joshua tree. there’s always lots of human tracks when you start out from one of the parking lots. tracks last a long time in those washes where the wind doesn’t reach. ethan grew up here. he was a kid in this desert before paved parking lots and rv spaces were available. now he hops rocks with his son as we wander farther out. if you know where to look, there are messages from the past in those winding corridors of granite. ethan has a knack for finding the old places where the elders gathered and re-created history with words while the young men chipped stones and made fire. the wild tobacco plants still sprout at the mouth of these caves; planted from the seeds in the flowers that the elders smoked. in these spots the ground is black from the fires that were built and used for cooking and light. these "midden" sites are usually rich with little artifacts that tell the story of the people that lived before us. there are poorly made points that were from kids learning to make weapons. there are shards of pottery and blunt stones for grinding. all these things are old tracks, the puzzles of our ancestors. i leave the things where they lay because i like the story to stay intact. as a kid i would’ve plundered, but all these things don’t belong in a house or a vehicle, they belong where the wind still howls and the stars shine and the rocks remember. it’s illegal to take this kind of stuff anyway, although i’ve always thought how stupid it is that so many artifacts sit in the drawers of museums, hidden from light and sight so that someone with the proper letters next to their name can study them and tell us about some theory about the way it was. if i die someday in the back of some cave or under the roots of some old tree, leave my bones alone, please, leave them be so they can go back where they belong.

in the cowboy camps there are different things. even in the old days there are signs of the carelessness that were less when the nomadic folk occupied the land. tin cans and bottles were tossed to the side. the birth of disposable. seems like when us humans have more we care less. don’t get me wrong, i like finding these old whiskey bottles, but they indicate a grim future. they foreshadow the time when a swirl of trash the size of texas will be in the middle of our ocean.

in a time when it seems like everyone wants to be noticed, i find myself looking back at when there were these bands of people who did their dead-level best to go unnoticed as they crossed from one hunting ground to another. they used what the earth gave them and danced with wild eyes by the midnight flames. they worshiped the sky and the stones and the sea. they loved one another and created life as naturally as they braided their hair. they told history through beautifully woven stories and songs. pictures on the walls of the caves. dances under shining moons. teeth gleaming in the lights of the fires that were made from spinning sticks. words and actions were life.

as we drove out of the park rowan (who is 13 years old) was talking about a new phone. his dad said he’d need to wait. technology in the truck began to come to life. phones beeping and dinging. radio buzzing. seat belt alarm telling me to buckle up. we pulled into town and a carload of twenty-somethings pulled into the parking lot of ethan’s store (coyote corner). i glanced over because no one was getting out of the vehicle. there were 6 people in the car, every single one of them was looking down at their phones with the snazzy covers. no one was talking, just flipping and touching and staring. i thought about where i had been just an hour before, the still spaces with the drawings on the stones.

it’s my opinion (which is admittedly too forceful at times) that the more we depend on these devices for happiness, the farther from the truth we will wander. the old ways are the secrets that can give us everything we need. when we are together and laughing, we are returning. the feeling of love and contentment is as tribal as it gets. caves are not nearly as empty as the feeling i get when a room of humans is staring into a device designed to take the place of human contact. put your phone down, smile at the hottie across the room, kiss your lover in the mouth, remember a song and sing it out loud, dance like a fool to the beat in your head, climb a tree for a piece of fruit and thank the sun for what you got. give more, and when you leave, do it with humility because we are all lucky to be here. and guess what, you can’t take your phone when you go.

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a broken tusk

i remember the morning I broke my tusk. It didn’t break off completely, not right away…it took weeks. But the first crack woke me from my sleep. I thought it was a tree branch at first. I was in the woods under the grey pines and I know they sometimes shed their branches. I climbed up from my sleeping bag to take a leak and make a fire. While I was gathering wood I glanced at my tusk and that’s when I noticed the fracture.


There’s really no way to describe a broken tusk. No matter what I say you won’t understand, unless of course you’ve broken one. It is a loss so great that words tend to turn invisible as they move to describe it. I don’t remember when the tears began but I remember when they ended. It was exactly a year, one month and nineteen days. It doesn’t matter what I did during that time, I hardly know myself, but I know I carried that broken tusk with me everywhere. I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I thought about swimming it out to sea and letting it sink down and settle with the bones of the whales. i dreamt of burying it and seeing it grow again from my face but this time made of wood and sprouting green like a cedar.


I finally decided to make it into a pen. I hollowed it out and filled it with ink and wrote a story about a river, and a tribe.


Here is one of the stories. It is one of many and it is as real as rain.


   There is a place in the mountains where a river runs between granite walls that are a half-mile high. There is a tribe of people that have a village that starts by the river and spills up the hill as far as the granite will allow. In a house, up that hill live the Kerr’s. I go there to eat the pancakes that Nate makes from scratch. He also makes a tiny cup of espresso for me and tells me which cup I am drinking from and what it means. I believe him because the espresso is so damn good. I can sit at the table and watch Calliope and Scarlett eat their pancakes before they run for the school bus. I think the girls are 9 and 7, consecutively. i believe they have the power to heal a broken tusk.


    When Calliope turns her squinty eyes at me and curls the corner of her mouth, I feel a quiet magic that reminds me of seeing a trout slip in and out of my vision in a mossy-bottomed creek. She carries the mystery found in the fern forests where the newts hide among the Morrell’s.  She will read you.


    If you are ever lucky enough to dance with Scarlett, you will better understand forces of nature. She is not looking at who is looking; she is looking at you. If you don’t have the energy to dance, she will leave you and take a little bit of you with her. When she leaves the dance floor, the lights are never quite as bright. She is fire. She is a rock song that can’t be written.


    And who is their mother? Who is Nate’s wife? She is the tall, beautiful woman at the edge of the crowd with the Buddha in her eyes. She is the strong lady putting gear on her harness before she leads you up a climb that you will struggle on. She has the guitar in her hands and is teaching herself a Led Zeppelin song and Calliope is reading about swords in her red velvet dress and Scarlett is screaming the words to the song with her mother and Nate is making me an espresso that will be the best on earth and we are all looking back and forth at one another…and my tusk is healing. 

and then, i was dancing

when bobby brown came out with My Prerogative, i watched him dance on MTV and decided i wanted to learn to dance. i didn’t quite know how to do it but, by god, i was gonna figure it out. that’s right, i was going to buy a video or watch MTV until i got it down. there was a dance studio near my mom’s house that i drove by all the time and i stopped in…i stammered and hummed and hawed and signed up for a street dance class. the teacher was hot, so i was pretty faithful. and i started finding some rhythm, kinda…i think. 

years passed and so did my cavaricci’s. the dance clubs where i haunted and flaunted whatever i thought i knew changed ownership, and then changed again. some were torn down. some just got boarded up and stand as a stale reminder of “hammer time”. 

when grunge came to town i felt it down deeper than i felt the music from before. Nine inch Nails and his Head like a Hole made me stomp and rage. the Chili Peppers screamed. the flannels filled the dance floor, and i was there, grunging away with rest of them. i had a buddy named craig white and we never missed a thursday night at our favorite club. the lines were long and we all looked the same because we wanted to be different. to me, dancing was being on the dance floor and looking bad ass and looking around at everyone else who believed they were looking bad ass as well. all smooth and cool and rhythmic. but let me just say right here, i was not really dancing. i was doing whatever that was…whatever you want to call it, but i wasn’t dancing, not yet. 

time went by, like it tends to do, and i went into the marine corps where i didn’t do much dancing (none). grunge left and took it’s flannels with it. craig white shot himself in the head and i cried. i gotta say, i didn’t feel much like dancing when i came back from kuwait. i was tired. i left the country and went to Chile. it was coming up on new years and i was there with a buddy who got out of the marines when i did. i hadn’t been to a country like Chile. i began to learn Castellano when i got there…so i sounded like tarzan, at best. we made our way to Valparaiso where Pablo Neruda had a house. the streets were old. it was new years eve. we walked with the high that comes from nights like those. we had a piscola and a beer and a buzz. we were old pals, arm in arm, in a foreign world. a dog ran by with a butchered goat’s head in his mouth; happy new year for him, for sure. in an alley, down some stairs, there was some singing. christian led the way and we walked into a song. the bar was hot and the music was live…so alive…so damn alive. the bar had no room but the entire room raised their glass and yelled us to come in. an older, very round, chilena stepped up and grabbed me and pulled me into the movement through sweating, cheering, drinking throngs.

and for the first time in my life, i danced. and i didn’t care how it looked. and i didn’t care who watched. and i loved those people in the room with their grand smiles and their wonderful clapping. and i thought maybe i would never do anything else. 

when the sun came up, we sat on a stoop. christian was smoking a cigarette and he looked at me through those blue, bronx-born, irish eyes and said simply, “yeah, man.” and i smiled from ear to ear.   yeah, man.