tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: death

“We almost got eaten”

When I was 10 years old I rarely left the house without my butterfly net. If the family was heading off to vacation, I had my zoology kit in tow as well as my fishing rod and a few Golden Guide books (I remember my favorites: Pond Life and Mammals). I made it a point to memorize all the different members of the Mustelidae family. I’m not sure why I wanted to commit that to memory, I guess so I could identify a Fisher if I ever came snout to snout with one. I was, um, geeky. Silver-rimmed glasses and striped shirts, a butterfly net, a pocket knife and guide book in my pocket — that was me.

I don’t carry a butterfly net around anymore, but I do stare at the migrating monarchs. And I must admit that my heart skips a beat when a Cecropia moth floats past in the moonlight. I used to want to have everything. I wanted to hold the wild close. Things are different now. I want the wild to be and I want to be. Knowing things exist is a salve to my grow-up worries. I like seeing the tracks of the pumas in the washes where the piñon pines crowd between the boulders. I like the hidden valleys  where the ravens loop and grock in pairs overhead. The human world creeps. The wild world exists. Activists shout through megaphones. Protestors march. Twisted bristlecone trees study the sky as they have for a thousand years. A while back, a big ol’ Bow-head whale washed ashore with an ancient harpoon blade lodged in it’s skull. The whale was over 200 years old. I wonder the dreams of that old roamer! He might have seen the smoke clouds from the battles of the American Civil War. His mind, I’m sure, was an amazing map of the bottom of the sea.

What I’m getting at, or at least trying to get at, is that we live in the midst of something wonderful. As much as we try to be separate, we are not. This body of mine will turn to dirt, just like a pigeon’s body. It’s cool, man. I love that thought. I don’t care how important anyone thinks they are, they have the same destiny as a pigeon (no disrespect to the pigeon). No matter the quantity and quality of our selfies, no matter how big and burly our ego, nothing will stop our return to clay. You never know, it might feel good to be opinion free! To be phone-less. To be dirt.

A while back, I can’t remember how long, I was chatting with my buddy at a campfire. It was late and we were shining from a day well spent. The conversation was about dying and how long it takes to decompose — to turn back to dirt. We both decided that the quickest way would be to be eaten. But that’s tough to do these days, bodies are counted and there’s rules for getting people buried quickly and in a sanitary fashion.  ( NOTE: tiny tangent ahead — Also, hell, there’s lotsa money to be made off a dead dude! Oh let’s build a box that costs a few grand, then let’s make the hole we dig cost a bundle, and let’s fill that ol’ corpse up with some fluid that makes him last a loooong time in that fancy box in that costly hole. — End of tiny tangent.) So after we both decided that we’d like to be eaten, not any time soon, but eaten, like when we’re old and readier, we wandered off to bed down in the woods. Now, my buddy and I were living hand to mouth at the time. We often roosted in illegal sleeping areas and we would stash food here and there. Those of you that knew Joe Crowe also knew he was a grade A rouster. (Rouster-noun-a person capable of living off of very little. Someone used to sleeping in odd places and eating what is available in order to pursue a specific past time.   i.e.- climbing. ) So Joe and I wandered off into the woods and found an old log to snuggle under. In the middle of the night I woke up to being jostled. I had that immediate bad feeling that happens when you come out of a dead sleep to something that is dreadful. I was looking up at the belly of black bear who had stepped across me and was pawing at Joe’s bag. I looked at Joe and his eyes were wide open, his bag zipped, not a peep from his lips. Then, like Houdini escaping a straight-jacket, Joe produced a vest through the head-hole of his bag. The bear snatched the vest and ran off. Now, I’ve been scolded for the whole event. I never feed bears, I’m careful in the woods, I leave the wildlife alone. But when a bear rolls up and wants the honey packets that your rouster buddy has in the vest he’s sleeping in, you give the bear what he wants.

Joe looked at me after the bear bounded off into the dark and simply said, “we almost got eaten.”

Joe’s long gone. He froze to death on the end of his rope years ago. He didn’t get eaten. Looks like it’s up to me, but I’m still not ready. I wanna get older and readier.

…and who comes to see me in the night…

At 4 a.m. I awoke to the sound of a skunk trying to crack into my cooler that was outside the dolphin door. I am fairly accustomed to midnight prowlers; skunks, raccoons and bears, sometimes all three seem to have declared a truce between one another in pursuit of the delectables I keep in my beat up green cooler with the broken hinges and handles replaced by tubular nylon. I do have a difficult time going back to sleep if it’s a morning hour. So now I’m up.

There are things in my head this morning. I do the typical dance and start the hot water for coffee. I creep out of the dolphin, careful not to startle the skunk, he’s busy anyway, like a frustrated bank robber with his ear to a new, unbreakable type of safe. I am careful around the skunks, even more than the bears, because they sometime spray out of whimsy and that would suck first thing before coffee. Like the other night when I left Nick and Eliza in their little house and marched down to the dolphin by the chicken yard (seems I’m always parked next to a yard of chickens with the one obnoxious rooster that crows at 3:40 a.m. just to prove how cool he is…”oh, i’m the first rooster up in the world…oh, i’m so cool.”) and began to smell strong skunk right as I reached my rig. Now, like I said, I’m used to this kinda thing. My rig always has food, it’s a rolling lunch box for the omnivorous type — a category of animals in which I fit quite snuggly, along with coyotes, ravens&crows, bears, pigs, rats, skunks, raccoons, bears and most of my friends. But as I drew near and reached for my door, the black cat (named Mew) touched her little cold nose on the back of my calf. I jumped so bad I almost pulled a hammy. I thought the skunk had come for me once and for all. This morning the skunk just glanced over his stinky little shoulder and now I’m in the big house here at Daisy Creek Farm.

Coffee is on and it’s 4:27. I put a dollop of 50 year old honey down into the black, some heavy whipping cream…stir. Oh man. I am browsing books on the shelves, looking for Hafiz. I do not know where the light switches are and so I am trying to read titles in the half light. I spend a good amount of time fumbling in the dark in other peoples’ houses because I cannot find the light switches. Recently I had a friend text me, “Please don’t come in the house in the morning, I know you think you’re quiet, but you’re not…” And so I didn’t go in. I picture myself turning into that guy and it’s both annoying and scary. This morning there is no danger of being annoying, I’m magnificently alone.  I know the Hafiz book is here, I’ve picked it up in years past, but this morning it eludes me. I am picturing the mystic poet laughing at me as I look for him, and he is hiding with all his wonderful thoughts written in english symbols, called letters, between all the other books, bound and waiting to be chosen. So many thoughts. And I can picture Hafiz telling me some kind of riddle about how I needn’t read his words to find that magic, that it’s everywhere already. Ok, sneaky Hafiz, I’ll stop looking. You win, again.

Last night I had a dream that Death came. I’ve had this dream before and the other time Death was a woman. Last night Death was a dude. He did not announce himself, He was just sitting at the far end of the camper and he was smoking a stubby cigar. I woke from my perch on the overhead bed and looked at his dark shape. I could not seem him clearly and whatever light reached him did not reflect off of him, instead it seemed to be swallowed. I could see a bit of a gleam in his eyes and now and then a flash of a smile. He was sitting very casual with one leg up on the bench, one elbow on the table. I asked him why he was in my rig and I told him I wasn’t dying. He did not answer the question and said that if I was dying, I’d be gone already. Under the table, in the dark I could make out a flickering movement and I realized it was His tail. There was a moment where I wondered if he was the Devil. In that way that dreams can be, in other words, there are no rules in dreams, my thoughts seemed to be known by both parties and so my visitor smiled. “Death, the Devil…I really don’t care what you’ve named me.” I wasn’t completely afraid in my dream. I was wary but not fearful and I was also slightly aware that I was having a dream. I think more was said but I don’t remember what we spoke of.  I’ve noticed things about dreams, like the crossover is thin and so waking and sleeping are sometimes intermixed. My sleeping bag fell to the floor and was a dark mass, when I reached for it, it became a kind of dark liquid and ran to the end of the vehicle where Death sat. “Are you cold?” was his last question.

I woke and my sleeping bag was on the floor. Now I felt afraid. I reached down and grabbed it and stuffed my naked little ass back into it. I thought about my visitor, at least he closed the door when he left.

Yesterday I learned that Oliver Sacks has terminal cancer. Oliver Sacks is incredible and wonderfully kind and amazingly curious. In his interview on Radio Lab, he talked about receiving the news and he spoke about his condition as if he were looking at a marvelous new specie of mushroom. He spoke of his life and loves. I’ve never read a single book by Dr Sacks but I have heard him speak many times and one thing that stands out is that he loves living. This is what makes me sad, the fact that he doesn’t feel like he’s quite done living, but he’s on a shorter schedule due to cancer. He is a very powerful, graceful man. I wonder his dark moments, his sorrows and his fears. We all have them, I just think we are really good at distracting ourselves in order to save ourselves from them. Oliver doesn’t come across as a person prone to distraction. I imagine he’s sitting across the table from Death, swapping stories, and Death being slightly jealous of the brilliant life the ol Doc has lived.

(and how do we say goodbye to people we don’t even know? I suppose we can just think of them fondly and use the heart as an amplifier to send those compassionate thoughts across the space that separates us, one from another. and maybe in doing so, we are not so separate after all. and maybe we can, in some secret and beautiful way, bear some of the pain and throw some light out into the dark. i reckon that’s my way of recognizing the minds and hearts that inspire me, that make me ok with being a human in process…so yeah, thanks Dr. Sacks.)

Flight

Before I knew what being a student meant, I was one. I can’t recall exactly what grade, but I remember this one grade where we were all required to stand and read aloud. The order started at the front of the first row and went from one kid to the next, each one standing and reading until the teacher said, “next.” I liked it. I enjoyed the feeling of the words flowing from the book, through my eyes, into my brain and then back out as my little, squeaky voice. I still like reading aloud, although it’s mostly to myself, I guess. I no longer sit in classes and wait till it’s my turn, them times are gone, but I do love my books. But there was this one little girl who I loved to listen to as she read, I even remember her name. Patty. She read with this wonderful, soft lilt that was broken every now and again by some kind of nervous catch, as if her breath didn’t permit her to continue for just a second. It was that part that I loved the most, that involuntary break that chose it’s own space, sometime right in the middle of a word. Nothing was ever said and I don’t remember it ever occurring when we were talking, only during those literary moments of singularity when all the ears of all the little ones were tilted in the same direction. I just thought of Patty again the other day, of how I loved to hear her read, and I wondered if she still does that. Back then, I was kind of afraid of girls. I understood what boys were, they were the same as me and so I recognized them as such. It was as if boys were more my specie and girls were very foreign and beautiful, like a sea otter, or a pine marten or a kinglet; all do things I can’t and won’t ever quite understand, all are wonderful and wild and I feel more here when they turn their eyes toward me.

Them days were good. Back when I was mesmerized by Patty’s reading, and when I saw the girls the same as birds in the sky. I sure do love birds. They move about above us, often quietly, and they turn every way possible, unencumbered by the ground. Birds are multi-dimentional and their dreams are real, like blues, like grays. They do not wonder what it’s like to fly. They know.

We left the ground in a CH-53, which is a big helicopter, capable of dynamic maneuvers for a craft of it’s size. There were 2 teams being inserted, I was on Team Alpha. Team Bravo was strapped in directly across from us, and we were talking loud and rowdy through the blue-green light being cast from various light sources. Scotty the Body was 6’6″ and all raw boned and muscle. His drawl spilled out straight from Clarksville, Arkansas, and he was talking to the pilot as only Scotty could manage. “Hey, I heard these flying boats could flat out kick some ass, but I ain’t never seen shit. Whad’ya say you show us what she’s got for once!” The flyer in back snapped his head toward the pilot and then moved to his place. Well, that ol’ boy sure did decide to take us for a spin and I ain’t sure how safe it all was, but it felt like we were all gonna die. Somewhere in the turnover (a CH-56 is capable of a barrel roll from what I’ve been told) I saw Scotty with his eyes clamped shut and his huge set of teeth shining out of a grimace that must be what comes from a decent amount of G’s. We dropped from out of the clouds and flew, nap-of-the-earth, to our insert point. As we ran off the ramp, I remember seeing a grin on the pilots face. He had given us a fight that was worthy of a story even now, 20 years later. Scotty is still huge and still smiles real big with a few more wrinkles. He’s a good one to have a drink with.

I flew from Lima, Peru towards Santiago, Chile. I was one of the few gringos on the plane and the wind was spectacular as we began to gain altitude. I politely said a weak hola to the short, round Peruana sitting next to me. She answered quietly with the same. I could see her hand, all rough from the work of life and brown from the kiss of the sun, and it was gripped. The plane went high and, right as the pilot began to speak about turbulence, the plane dropped violently, alarms went off. There was a brief moment where it looked like a bunch of people on a roller coaster, hands were raised and the the entire cabin began screaming. The little woman next to me reached over my shoulder and pulled herself nearly into my lap, I put my arms around her and said, very simply, “esta bien,” although I wasn’t sure. The plane straightened out. My seat mate moved back into the middle of her seat and smiled shyly. I smiled back.

Kathy knew me for over 10 years. We were friends. She was Tim’s Ma. Now, Kathy knew how to party. She was old school and could outdrink and outsmoke most anyone. She had endurance when it came to vices. She would light a smoke in your car, and if you asked her to put it out, she would look at you, take one last long draw, and snap the cigarette out the window with regret. I went on trips with her. Tim, her son, invited me several times to several places around the world, and I went. I love Tim and his family, so it was easy to say yeah. Kathy was dying for years, she just had good genes and she was challenging her own existence by pushing all the possible boundaries. Damn, Kathy was tough. I went to Mexico with her one more time, just last year. By then she had shrunk down to a tiny brown bag of skin and bones. As the Mexican sun came up, I often crawled up out of the ocean after a swim and found Kathy smoking out on the porch. We had coffee and she would laugh at my bad jokes. I could pick her up real easy, she seemed to be getting smaller. I thought of the mother in the book, 100 Years of Solitude, and how she eventually got so light that she blew away while taking down the sheets from the clothes line. I wondered if Kathy might not just blow away. On the last flight I took with her, the one before she died, Tim asked me if I could accompany his Ma back to the States. I said I would be glad to do it. The flight left from Puerto Vallarta and switched in Dallas (if I remember right). As the attendant seated us, assuming Kathy was my mother, she asked if we were ok? I must say that we had been seated first due to Kathy’s condition, she was in a wheelchair. Other passengers were still stuffing oversized bags in undersized compartments and Kathy answered the flight attendant with, “vodka and cran.” My head twirled back and forth and I kinda giggled, neither Kathy nor the attendant thought anything was funny. “Mam, drinks will be served once we’ve taken off.” The flight was too long for Kathy and the drinks weren’t as prompt as she had grown accustomed to in Mexico. She had this knee-jerk type habit of shaking her glass of ice when her drink was finished, similar to me when I used to slurp extra hard on my straw at the bottom of a vanilla shake. That rattle would sometimes drive me crazy!

We landed in the States and Customs and Baggage checks and Passports and long lines and check-ins and departure deadlines. Our layover was tight. Kathy was carrying a long wooden staff, similar to something you’d see in Lord of the Rings. It was checked in Mexico because it might be used as a weapon, so when we were collecting baggage, I asked about the staff. There was some multi-lingual chatter and confusion. Now, I knew what that staff meant to Kath and I said that maybe someone better find it…fast. I had all my tattoo gear, my huge bag of boating and swimming clutter, Kathy’s huge suitcase, two bags, a missing staff and Kathy in a wheelchair. There was a half mile between us and the connecting plane and we had 5 minutes. At critical mass, I heard a person whistle and I saw a uniformed dude running toward me with a staff overhead, like some kind of official Lord Gandalf. I grabbed the staff and began the run toward our flight. And here’s the funny part, as i was running and pushing Kathy in her chair, pulling two suitcases, she said something over her shoulder. “What?” I had to shout it. And with her hair blowing in the wind she asked, “could we stop for a quick smoke?”

We made the flight. I didn’t let her smoke, but I wish I coulda. Kath died not too long after that. She was on the path to do what she did, and there was no stopping her. I really loved ol’ Kath and all her bad along with it. Sure, it’s tough, but she was original and real and crazier than a shit-house rat. She rattled her glass at me, and I filled it. She laughed at me and I laughed back. And that one time, we flew together.

In a way, I fly all the time. I fly forward with wonder, backwards with memory. I fly inward with dreams and outward with love. I fly away from fears and I fly into storms with reckless abandon when I’m terribly sad. We all fly, sometimes. Like little birds.

And our words are our wings. Like way back when. When Patty read them words with that soft voice, like a bird.

A Tiger by the Toe

I had a friend who’s uncle had a bunch of different kinds of traps in his shed. Bear traps, wolf traps, fox traps…all kinds. I liked pulling them down and smelling them. Some still had the weird smell of animal on them, like urine or something. I don’t like traps really, you know, it’s kinda mean. I see animals set traps, that seems ok. I just don’t like people traps all that much, we have enough already.

There’s these little critters I used to call ( in fact, i still do call them that ) ant lions. They are pretty fearsome lookin’ little things, with huge mandibles and beady little eyes and hairy, fat bodies. Their legs are kinda pointy and look a little like oars with which they dig cylinders into the loose, loose dirt. They choose the pithy soil beneath trees where the shade is good and the world is quiet and the ants find the things that ants look for. Well these tiny ant lions lie in the bottom of the dirt cylinders that look like funnels and they wait. I think they might be a beetle larvae or something. Maybe you want to google it and correct me if I’m wrong. I’m not gonna look it up cuz, well, cuz I’d rather just try and remember from when I was a little boy and I read it in some zoology book with hand-drawn pictures. So, when the ants are crawling along and they zip down into the funnel at their crazy pace, the ant lion snaps it’s head upward and tosses dirt wildly toward the ant. The flying dirt causes the ant to fall back toward the bottom where the ant lion waits and hopes with huge, wicked jaws. Sometimes the ant makes it, sometimes the ant lion grabs ahold and sinks, fearsomely into the soft dust at the bottom of the hole. I always had a kind of horror in me when I saw this, especially when I caused it, which was more often than not. Morbid sensibilities of the young Tobias, let’s be careful here. I was just intrigued by the brutality of the little thing, often picturing myself as the ant. Oh man, so rough.

Traps.

Have you ever set a mouse trap? You know that moment when you release the catch and things might not hold? If it’s a rat trap it’s even more intense, but it’s scary with both. I kinda like it in some ways, cuz it might get ya. Traps are like that, they just might get ya.

I was fishing when I was a kid. My Pa had let me wander off, like he did. My Ol’ Man was good like that; he let me wander far and wide. I was in the mountains of Wyoming and he was preaching at some camp. I’d heard aplenty of preaching and he knew it, so he said I could go fishing. Even back then, I think my Pa knew that the woods would be my religion, not the one he was teaching. Don’t take me wrong, I love what my Dad does and what he believes in, I just believe in a broader spectrum of colors. You might say my Pa paints with a smaller pallet, but he sure is creative! I know, I know, it sounds far-fetched, but so am I. I ain’t better, just closer to the Ol’ Man’s roots. Anyway, I’m ranging wide here, so yeah, I was fishing along a creek in the backwoods of the Bridger Nat’l forest, and remember, this was back in 1978 or so. I was rock-hopping along the small, incredibly wild, little stream and I came across a trapped mink. It had been forgotten by the trap-setter and it hung by it’s neck, just above the water. The snare had snatched it up and it had hung there, it’s little paws were both lodged underneath the wire around her neck. Her savage body was hanging slack, skull half shown to the sun that warmed her as a baby. The eyes had wrinkled back into the darker spaces where animal thoughts begin, where dreams used to swarm in bouncing minkish fashion. I smelled her first, and then looked at her in the full light of my 11 year old world. I put my fishing to the side and stood next to the animal that was something so wild that even when it was dead, it felt more wild than me. And I didn’t like traps. Right then, I didn’t like traps.

When I went to the Middle East as a Marine Corps sniper, I was very aware of things that are meant to hurt. I was meant to hurt. We were meant to cause damage. Me and the Boys. My Recon team was bad-ass and I don’t mind saying that, even now, I love every last one of them Boys. Johnny Thomson, Brian Foster, Christian Regenhard, Scotty Young, Tim Bundy, Thomas the Pig Arnold, Mark Baca, Frank Pickering, Ed McGee, Jim Terwilliger, Roger Sparks, Joe Crowe, Curtis Caton…and on and on and on. I ran with ’em and I still love ’em. When we went over there, we were trained to understand the traps set by the enemy. We were trained to set traps for them too. I thought a whole helluva lot about the things we are doing to one another, us humans. Burying stuff that’ll blow feet off. Hiding with an M-40 and the scope set just so and the wind and the breath and the heart. And in the streets there are children’s toys. And in the sky there are jets. And in the night there are stars. And in the end we all lay down and die.

Life is not a trap. Life is life. Sweet and sad and good. I hope the ants and the ant lions figure it all out. And the world is sure spinning, ain’t it? What’s that? Yeah, it’s late I guess. Enough of this, I’m feeling the gravity that calls me to bed and i’m gonna give in.

I think it’s a buddhist teaching that each inhalation is a little birth, each exhalation is a little death. Each day a birth. Each night a death. And why not? cool by me…I’m off to night and whatever that all means.

Just a little bigger than a chickadee

I noticed the marquis sign below PT’s topless strip club read, open Christmas Day! This set my mind to thinking as I continued on my drive. The first thing I did was count the days since Christmas and figured that about 10 days had passed since that sign had been put up. Then I thought about who exactly puts the letters up there. Maybe the grounds keeper? Do places like PT’s have a grounds keeper? I remembered the parking lot as being square and trash-strewn, almost like the building which was square and dirty looking. I pictured a middle-aged bartender with a mean look yelling at some newly hired kid, “Get out there and change that godamn sign, it’s been up for a month now!” Then I thought about working as a stripper on Christmas, what kind of choice crowd that would be.

It’s been gray for days now and the streets are slushy and filthy looking. As far as i’m concerned, I don’t wanna think about PT’s anymore, nor do I want to think about the people inside that place on Christmas Day. I’d also like to say that I ain’t passing any judgement on them folks, I’m just glad I ain’t dealing with that in my life. I gotta admit, the thoughts of all that put me in a kind of funk. It all got me to thinking about quality. You know what I mean? Just the quality of the moment, which leads to the quality of the next moment and the next. It all adds up after a while, and not a very long while at that. Life continues to prove Itself as fleeting. The old geezers talk about it all the time. As we get older, the good old days seem to get gooder and gooder. I guess it could be that what was good becomes better as our memories become more malleable with age. That ain’t a bad thing. I love a good old story teller. The movie, Big Fish, comes to mind…loved it.

Patient, consistent, impartial, attentive, unflinching — these are all words that I would consider complimentary should someone use them to describe me; these words are also completely true of Death. Death is happening all around us all the time, but when It comes close, right up against us, few of us handle it gracefully. And I am including myself here. I am not a morose type person. I don’t dwell on Death, but I think it’s important to pay attention to our mortality, our limited heartbeats. I do believe that these thoughts are very important because, after all, we’re gonna be dead — all of us.

A couple days ago I woke up early and checked out sports on ESPN. It’s a habit that I struggle with, especially since I think most pro athletes are over paid, grossly over paid. And I just can’t stomach so much of the incredibly over-grown egos, I mean, it is ridiculous. It’s just sports. On the other hand, I love to watch great athletes do great things. And sports is a marvelous forum to express our capabilities. Most of the time I pop on, read a little, and then I can’t take anymore so I leave. I looked at the headlines and saw that Stuart Scott had died. Now, out of all the folks I’ve ever listened to on ESPN, that dude was my favorite.  Several times over the years I heard him call the highlights of a basketball game or a tennis match and I would look it up to see who that voice was that made me laugh. When I heard he had cancer, it made me sad. Then I heard him give a speech at an awards show and I knew he was a special dude. His view on Life was smooth and sweet, just like his commentary. I know, I know, it’s just sports. It’s just another person. But I think it’s rare to live in the face of Death, and die with grace. Stuart Scott was one of the Good Ones, and I never even met him.

When I got back to my brother’s house, the world seemed like it was melting. Huge amounts of black water poured down the gutters and filled the streets. I remembered hearing how California owns most of Colorado’s water and I thought about how silly that seems. I’m sure it ain’t silly to the developers building houses on the golf courses in the mojave desert. After all, we gotta keep our greens green. There’s some important shit for ya. I hacked away for about an hour at the ten-inch-thick pad of ice at the base of the drive, freeing up the water so it could hustle along it’s way to the golf courses. At some point in all my pick-swinging and heavy-thinking, I heard a bird. It was a call I didn’t recognize and so I quit my work and walked toward the spruce tree at the side of the yard. Finally I saw the singer, a little fella that looks like a chickadee, but maybe a little bigger. His song was real good, up and down with a sad melody. I watched him and he spied me back, first one eye and then the other, the turn of the head so fast that I couldn’t really even see when it happened. Beyond the bird with the little song, was the sky that holds the winter clouds over the Colorado mountains. Somewhere out beyond that is the low slung, winter Sun. And beyond that is the Other Stuff that is so far away that I can only imagine about it.

Life. Life really is. Life really is fleeting. All the in-betweens and trivial distractions are ways of un-thinking about the wonder of it all. Life is grand if you learn to love it all, even the end.

this little day

At 4:13 I snap out of dreamland into regularville. This morning, regular is 11 degrees below zero, fahrenheit, and a serious need to take a leak. I have my little dolphin nussled up in my brother’s drive, which is in a cute, little neighborhood on the outskirts of Lakewood, CO. I chance it and jump out naked, and I let’r fly between my rig and the blue spruce. My feet are squealin’ to get back into the dolphin and I can’t tell where my cold parts begin and end, if you know what I mean. Yes, you know what I mean.

Coffee is on and I have my trousers draped over the space heater, while I do my cold-man dance in the low, yellow light of the stove. I love this. The heavy whipping cream that I left on the floor by the door is frozen almost solid and I gotta pick at it with my pocket knife — one chunk aaand one more chunk. I hear my brother’s rig start up. He’s on his way to the job site. Ol’ Josh has always been more of a man than me. I step out and we talk about the cold and he laughs at my barefoot prints in the snow in front of his truck. “Call of nature must’a been pretty strong,” he says. He pulls out onto the street, the squeak of the snow is loud in the air. I grab my cup and go to the garage. There’s a thirty degree difference that makes my face feel hot as I hit the lights and say, “g’mornin’ ladies!” to no one in general. (I suppose only Hunter’ll understand that one, since that’s what he yells to me in the mornings and he kicks the lights on when I’m staying there at Orion Forge up in Bend…what up Hunt?)

Drawing pictures from the dreams the night before. Old matchboxes and pocketknives. Fishing kits and dog-eared maps. My dreams are a jumble that I’ve yet to piece together. I imagine i might just live out this life without finding any rhyme or reason to my night-time travels. I’ll tell ya this much, they sure do provide me with material for drawing!

Inside the house, the boys are asleep. I hear the dog let go with a little growl at the top of the stairs, she don’t trust me yet. I like that about Blue Heelers, they’re slow to let down their guard. Seems smart to me. I go out and start my rig and then the jeep. The old dolphin cranks alive and I let’r warm up a bit then shut it down. I gotta run up north this morning and grab some parts. It really ain’t important where I’m headed, but it’s through my old stomping grounds, so i take the side roads. The roads are treacherous and icy, the temp. hovers at zero. The jeeps locked in 4 wheel drive and I’m listening to Terry Gross do an interview on the radio.

Of course, this might seem mundane to you. It’s not some shining thing, bright colors flashing, to keep your attention. This is only life, and it ain’t even yours. Hell you might even want to cut out now while you got the chance.

There’s always something sad about old neighborhoods and this morning, with the blue in the air, even more so. The Colorado cottonwoods are white as bones along the ditches. North on Kipling to 32 Ave., take a right. All these old farmfields are covered in snow. Now a patch of yellow thistles along the fence. The old graveyard where my Granny is buried. Somewhere out there, I don’t even know where, under the snow and dirt, is a casket with my Granny in it. I wonder about all that stuff, you know, all the things we do to deal with death. I pass the cemetery and turn north on Sheridan. Along the way I see things that seem like they are typical of Colorado; some place called Lube and Latte, where I’m sure you can get a good oil change and a bad latte, and then there’s Senor Burrito in an old Taco Bell building, and burly homeless folks wearing thin coats and standing in the snow drifts, faces red, noses dripping. And Terry is talking on the radio. She’s interviewing a famous cartoonist who wrote a memoire about the death of her parents. The cartoonist, whom I recognized from the New Yorker, was funny as hell but as she spoke I could hear the tone of her voice and the sorrow it carried. She missed being by her Mom’s side by only minutes when her Mom died. I was impressed by her nature. So candid. And she said, “yeah, when I got there, she was gone…but she was still warm.”

I stopped and walked out into the park before I got back to my brother’s place. It’s always a wonder to me how the wild world is just around the corner. It ain’t like the wilderness has a choice, we certainly ain’t waiting for permission to move in. Down in the creek bed, I see fox tracks and coyote. On the other side of the creek are raccoon prints, their tiny hands obvious even from here. Up toward the tangle of cottonwoods and willows and birches are a whole bunch of skunk tracks, back and forth. I think about the time my brother walked out the back door to find a skunk, raccoon and his cat, all eating from the same dish while politely taking turns; a fragile but necessary entente cordial. I walk back to the jeep and notice some graffiti on the back of an old fireplace, the last remains of an old burned down house. Written in tricked out letters, it read,  zombieland. A different kind of wildlife, I think to myself, but wildlife, indeed.

The air is amazing. Icicles are forming in giant patterns on my dolphin. My breath shows in billows out in front of me. My back is stove up from the cold. The sun is shining cold with a kind of flat light. Foxes are curled in their dens awaiting the night. Skunks are walking with impunity, snuffling and rooting and bandylegged. Now my nose is dripping. We do not know the number of our days, guarantees are cheap. I am walking around noticing stuff, something i sometimes forget to do. If all else fails, I gotta try and remember that we can’t get ’em back, these little days.

mama’s tea

out the back door of my parent’s house

at the bottom of the stairs,

where the ghosts of the dogs of my childhood

gather with lolling tongues,

there is a world.

that yard is smaller, less steps to the side gate.

time made it shrink.

the old bikes are mostly gone, those that remain

are quiet on flat and rotting tires.

they lean in repose, remembering.

down the hill is the creek in it’s sandy bed,

ancient races of crawfish, shellshod and blue-eyed,

hunker down into muddy holes.

this same creek that watered comanche horses

before england and spain came.

the hill home is steep on a single speed.

banana seat and coaster breaks.

mama bakes in the kitchen while pa studies

the words of the prophets.

the smell of tea and coffee.

in between the words birth and death

there lies a distance.

our eyes collect the colors and our ears

hear the clunking heart that will tell us

when we are going home.

the imagitarium

the landscapes always change according to the information being processed. there’s no guarantee what the final product will look like, nor is there a way to know when it will show up. but, my god, the images!

there are worlds and oceans, sometimes worlds of oceans. with green and glowing waves that light up with the life that they sustain, the glowing things that swim between substances.

there are cities with billowing, black fumes where the rivers carry the sewage and sludge to dying oceans, heaving and gray. the beaches bear the signs of what used to swim through the deep. skulls the size of small cars, jaws agape.

wars. there are wars and people have weapons of all sorts. there are weapons in my hands, some recognizable, some strange and even broken. there is hiding in defilade and bad communication and missions gone awry. there are crashes and inescapable destruction. and bullet wounds, always bullet wounds, the sucking kind.

there are meetings with people. sometimes there are encounters and love that makes very little sense. a kind of pleasure that is unsure and almost always half-way finished. and there are paths that lead on and on, paths that have been traveled but lead off into complete and utter nothingness.  all creatures are welcome but not necessarily present.

thoughts mix. hearts hammer. lips and limbs akimbo. dying forests. dancing stuffed animals. impossibility loses momentum and could be becomes what is. lost arrows are not somewhere, lying in the bushes, they are still flying on into the blue. tongues are used for language and french kisses and tastes that happen only once. shape-shifters abound. nothing is inanimate. gods become tangible.

sometimes there is flight.

 

i’m not really sure if waking life is the opposite of dreams. what if dreams come from a flowing current, a giant river, made up of the wonders of every living thing? maybe we came from that river and our dreams are just a reminder that we are on a business trip called life, collecting more wonders to take back into that endless current when we die. so many things to see. colors to collect.  chocolate to taste. coffee to brew. stories to tell.  fires to build. lovers to love. or, if you’re me, there are grosbeaks to chase from the fig tree (for selfish purposes) in the early morning before you swim in the river after coffee, on a saturday in the month called august of some year of this life.

a touch more seasoning

i’ve had little to write about lately. or maybe there’s plenty to write about but i don’t know how to do it. i think i might start this way quite often. i suppose there’s little things here and there, and if i was a better writer i’d be able to do something with them. like make something out of nothing, the way jesus and houdini did, but i ain’t and i don’t. i’ve wanted to write about the people i’ve seen. some of the waves i’ve been involved with. the owls in eamon’s trees. i’ve even wanted to write about my glitchy shoulder that turned out to be my glitchy neck, but i knew that would lead to whining and self pity and, while i really do love to carry on about myself in a cry-baby kind of way, it’s just not tolerable to read. i save that shit for conversation when i can just blame it on my runaway mouth.

i also wonder if my lack of writing stems straight from some kind of genetic deficiency. some old fashioned folks might call it laziness but i don’t like the sound of that, and i certainly don’t want to blame that on my mom and dad. i just think there’s something wrong with my thyroid. maybe even my thromboid. i’m sure it’s something. you know, one of those things i never knew existed nor do i know exactly where it functions from within my body. i would know more but i haven’t found any lumps, although i rarely check for those. checking for lumps of any kind makes me paranoid. if i do happen across one, i pray for it’s twin on the other side and will settle for almost anything in a general proximity. can you tell i don’t love doctors? or maybe i should say, i don’t like doctors who are checking me over. i don’t mind them if they’re walking down the street.

i love the seasons. there’s this set of prints by alphonse mucha that i think are called the seasons of man, and if they ain’t called that, they should be.  mucha mostly drew and painted lovely women with long, flowing hair, but in the seasons of man, he threw some fellas in the mix. granted there is still an emphasis on women but there are four male figures. the first is a child being held, the second is a youth being taught, the third (my fav) is a strapping dude having his hair braided, and last is an old grey beard teaching a group of ladies. seasons. for me they match up to my age. i loved spring as a kid. then summer became my favorite, but kind of a spring-summer mash up due to all the fishing and romping that would be done in the summertime sun and the beautiful, starlit colorado mountain nights. fall is creeping in. i notice how much i love the turning leaves. there is a wistfulness in the fall along with the clearest of skies. autumn winds are full of melancholy and the colors seem to match. i look to my tribe and see what they’re doing.  nick and elizabeth gear up for the harvest. hunter feels the heat relent in the forge and swings the hammer with an easier pace. eamon moves the stones under clear skies above san francisco. johnny paddles out. foster mulches his trees. turecki checks the landscape, inner and outer.  my kid brother, josh, takes his family for a jaunt in the aspens where the calling phones can’t follow along with the frantic questions of his workers. the fall is alright. and if it fits where i am in life, so be it.

i like how the word works in several meanings that cross over one another. if i refer to some fisherman as “seasoned,” it means he’s been out many a season and the marks of the weather are worn on his face; the nautical miles traveled,  show in his gate. if you season a meal, you give it more taste. that’s what living a full life does, it adds color and taste. wrinkles are a part of the process. wrinkles and limps and gimpy parts. grey in the beard. scars and hair in the strangest of places. twinkling eyes and slow grins. mis-grown toe nails and age spots. all these roll in like the tide, and ah my good friend, even the pretty ones deal. the fall is a rendering. an evening. it is a sweet reminder that winter is coming and, while beautiful and essential, it spells the end.  of course there’s always next year, but with life and it’s seasons, we come around once. sure, there are assurances on many fronts about eternity or a possible return as a nifty, rebuilt version of oneself, but i’m down to simply not be anymore. i love the thought that, in the end, we change shape. whether you get incinerated or buried in the dirt, eventually you become dust or ash or both. and to think of dust and the way it is particular in nature, it reminds me that we are infused into the world. kinda like the cinnamon that’s spinning in my coffee, i’ll swirl into the cosmos in pieces. as for my soul, i’m sure it will find it’s color and blend right on in…probably in the early morning greys and blues.

here we are. and we’re sitting in the world. and time is passing. and we are here. after this, the other.

graceful exit

i’m writing to you. if you decide to read this, then you’ll know i’m for reals. at least i’m for reals right now. sometimes, i’m full of shit. but this is important to me and i know the ones who know me also know that sometimes i dig in a little. so yeah, i’m diggin’.

rewind to yesterday. i left a crew of friends, i pulled a semi-secret exit, in other words about half the people knew i was leaving. i like leaving like that, i call it a french exit but i don’t know why it’s called that. i hope it’s not something racist but i don’t think it is. i just figured maybe the french don’t love a ton of goodbyes so they just leave when they’re ready. i’m not french, at least mom and dad never said anything about frenchness in my background, but i like french exits. french kisses too, but that’s off track.

so yeah, i left the tiny party and pedaled my bike back toward point loma where johnny lives. it’s 8 miles. as i rode through the dark (i forgot my light) i began to push myself. i ain’t sure why, but i was racing some other version of myself, maybe the younger, stronger tobias, or maybe the older, smarter one. i was going hard. on the bridge over the bay i began to picture my heart inside me. i pictured it glowing orange, suspended in black. i was carrying the engine of my life and it, in turn, was giving me blood to carry it. in my mind, there were exhaust towers that were pumping out massive amounts of steam. legs burning, mouth open, my avatar shadow screaming past me and stretching and fading at each street lamp. i was going to win against my other self…hell yeah, i was gonna win.

rewind again. three days ago. i was in the park by the beach. a tree had grown up and around a pole on a fence. at some point someone had simply cut the pole on both sides and the tree held the piece of metal as if it had been impaled.  of course, it wasn’t a part of the tree but the tree was carrying this odd chunk of metal in it’s body until, well, until whenever.  we do this. i do it.  there are things that i grow around. things i take in, that become a part of me. sometimes i don’t even want them but my heart wraps around them anyway and i’ll be damned if i don’t just carry them away.

so far i’m all over the map. i know you’re wondering if i’m gonna ever get to the point. maybe i will, if you know me, you know i can ramble…i ain’t worried, some of ya’ll will finish this out with me. you’ll get it.

after the bike ride, you know, after my imaginary race, i got to johnny’s and i was burning up. i stripped down in the dark and showered under the hose in the front yard. naked in point loma, stars overhead, heart crashing, i thought about the ones who would understand this if they could see me. the ones who know what has brought me to be here and to be who i am. no excuses. the raw dog deal of whatever it is i’ve become. several names came to mind, but they were easy because they are close, like brothers and sisters. surprisingly one name stood out. phillip.

i don’t know when phillip was born. he’s old. i met him through my buddy dave mayville. dave, i’m quite sure is the offspring of a demi-god or something. he was born wild, is wild and will die wild. his body can barely keep up with the pace his spirit sets for him. dave told me that phillip, all 6 foot 5 of him, was one of his mentors. naturally i wanted to know what phillip was like because i’ve climbed with dave for years and never met anyone quite like him. the fact that dave had a mentor made me want to see what this guy might be like.  i needed to see what was up with phillip.

description of phillip: tall and thin. long pure white hair. dressed wonderfully, usually with a bandana tied in a knot, turned to the side of his neck. please note that these are all physical descriptions so in no way can truly describe the man. how do we explain a soul? how do we describe the light that is burning in the eyes of the ones that get it?

i hope i’m not losing you.  this is the important part, it’s not about me or any of my smarty pants comments, this is about phillip and it’s goddamn important.

i sat down with him. we chatted several times for at least 2 hours. we expressed the desire to swap books. he wouldn’t talk about oldness or youngness. he believed our existence to be now and so age was negated. when i first knew him, i was with a lover. he saw the happiness that rolled before me like a steam engine and his smile was curly. when next i saw him i was broken hearted from the loss of that lover. i mean, like i was ugly…45 year old broken hearted ugly.  oh man, did he ever step up. he was exactly what i needed. like when you’re weak and you think you need a candy bar but someone hands you rice and beans and cilantro and  sour cream with some hot sauce, it was like that.  he listened to my ridiculous flurries of self pity. he lifted me up and shed light on the dark spots in my head. i kinda wanted to just hang out with phillip, the fella who would not let me fall down too far.

after that, i saw him time and again. sometimes for minutes and sometimes for a good spell. i left town and did what i do so well. i’m not the world’s best contact guy. i suck at it. i don’t like phones and, when i’m out in the deep blue-green world, i am wonderfully lost in that place. i was away for a while.

a year. then two.

a week ago i was in joshua tree. it was hot. i mean, really hot. i was heading out of town and i looked over and saw the tallest of thin men getting in his car. i yanked the wheel to the curb and jumped out running. i caught ol’ phillip as he was pulling away from the empty, summertime parking lot. his skin was so thin, i could see the pulsing of the blood in the beautiful blue veins in his neck.  his bandana was perfect. he went straight for my heart and checked on it. “it looks like you’re healed, tobias.” yeah, yeah, you know i danced my little dance and he read my every move. he knows the dances. i asked, sincerely, about him and his heart.

“i’ve been doing some work, tobias. i am thinking much on the mis-deeds of my youth and some of the things i would rather not have done. sometimes i lied to get what i wanted from ladies, and that bothers me.” these words from phillip, a most gentle man, stopped me in my tracks. i thought of my own mis-deeds. i thought of my lies and my tricks and my petty lusts. i tried, quite clumsily, to excuse my noble friend but he was light years ahead of me and already smiling at the words i might have said. so i simply told him that i held him in the dearest part of my heart and that i was his friend. “i know that, tobias. i most certainly do.”

we planned on coffee. i took his phone, under his instructions, and put my number into it. he called me and i told him it was me. ‘yes, yes, we will have some coffee, ” he said.

i’ve gone long this time with this essay. i usually try and say what i want to say with less words. after all, we don’t have time, do we? so i’ll end. i saw a missed call on my phone this afternoon at about 6pm.  i noticed that it was a joshua tree number.  i called it back. it was dave mayville’s girlfriend, jill. she sweetly told me that phillip was gone.

today it rained. i swam out over the green, squiggly seaweed about a half mile off the cliffs. at 5 something a.m. a big gray hawk landed in the eucalyptus tree in the  backyard. johnny, as he often does with me, nodded without speaking to point out the bird. i looked. it dropped it’s head, spread it’s checkerboard wings that remind me strangely of a houndstooth jacket, and laced it’s path, perfectly down the canyon.

phillip up and left us.  french exit, man. come to find out he was dying of cancer all along. i’ll be damned if i don’t miss him already.

and how do those wings lift such an enormous soul? how will the world replace such a magnificent heart?

carry on, phillip, i’ll see you in the stars, i’m sure.

 

this life, if nothing else, is an honor.