tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: depression

When the Wind Worries the Leaves

My Ma texted me at 7:37 this morning. She told me she loved me and that she was proud to be my mother. At that moment I was holding my phone, checking the time, deciding the layout of my day. Coffee was on the near horizon and the air was chill and the jays were overhead in the cottonwood scolding me for not being a jay. I jumped on my bike and sat up straight, no hands, down First St. and out onto Portland. I noticed the peach tree on the way, heavy with sweetness in the little alley behind 2nd St. I gotta hit that soon.

After coffee I shot down to the river. It was just chilly enough to see my breath. Morning dive. Deep down, eyes open. Green rocks and fish. I jump in this spot 2 or 3 times a day when I’m in Bend. There’s this big rock about 10 feet down, it’s shaped like a flying saucer.  My dive carries me down to it. I know where it is and I find it and I latch ahold of it under the current. My feet flag around and the I am there, fluttering deep. It’s down there where the world comes close, gets right up against me. My heart. My brain. My hands. Me. I am down there with my things. I would stay much longer if I could, but I’m a surface breather and the sky calls. Up. There are clouds floating under the sun. I sit to dry on the edge of the river and an American Dipper skitters by me between the rocks, under water. She pops up a few yards away. Water beads on her back and she gives me a quick tilt of the head, then she is under water, then back to the same spot. I have known her kind my whole life. She is drab grey but her life is as brilliant as a star. She is a favorite of mine. I speak to her in human talk. She responds in the silent language of the wild, which is a most beautiful tongue.

After the river, I went back to Jason and Rachel’s place. The boys were naked and dancing in the back. The hot tub was open and Jason was smiling. We piled in. Life is quite dandy when I am at the Arbettor’s house. Dandy indeed.

This may be difficult to understand,  I’m not wise enough to relate to everyone, so take this or leave it.(No big deal to leave my insights piled outside the door with the muddy shoes. After all, they’re worth about the same.) I’ve spent a good deal of time switching back and forth between being God and being the dirty ol’ Devil. That’s what it is you know? I don’t think the two of them are sitting out there in the ether playing chess with our souls. I am a real piece of work. Oh my, I’ve been a wreck at times. I know for sure I’m just as capable of good as I am of evil. It’s all there. Choices are waiting for me, like peaches on a tree. All along the way we create the things we need so that we can cope. Sometimes God. Sometimes a bottle of bourbon. It isn’t all that easy being a person. The soul is fragile, just like life. We are here for a blink and then we are gone and then we are forgotten. When people talk about a legacy, I can’t help but see that as a manifestation of pride. I think it’s more important to make a baby laugh than it is to be a billionaire. And if you’re thinking, that’s easy for him to say, he ain’t a billionaire…you are correct. It is easy for me to say.

Years ago, when my buddy Christian died in the towers in New York, I sat in Central Park and wept. It had been weeks since he went down in a cloud of smoke and fire but I hadn’t really stopped crying. No one had stopped crying. Dave Kenneally told me I might never stop crying, and that would be alright.  I had been bulletproof until that point in my life. It took me years to realize that I was bad ass. It took a fleeting moment, falling walls, a phone call, a furious drive from California to NYC and the look on the face of Christian’s dad to lay me lower than I had ever been. Not bulletproof at all. I’ll skip the story, it’s been told and retold. That afternoon in Central Park though, when I sat and wept, I saw my hands in my lap. I stared at them as if they did not belong to me. I kept thinking that I was inside my body and it was just this husk that my soul was using to get around. I wondered that the hands on the ends of my arms were the same ones that belonged to the little Toby that sat by my Ma in church. The same hands that drew super heroes in 6th grade and passed them to Dan Anglin for a laugh. These were the hands that tugged at my Grampa’s pant leg to get him to show me his fake leg with the painted on sock. How could this possibly be? In what dream did this happen? Even now, I sometimes drop in on this feeling. It’s huge, so excuse me while I breathe.

The attempt here is to explain myself. I am struggling with translation. There are leaves that are falling in the woods high above the roads that cut between the mountains. They still hold life but they are separated from the trees where they budded. They are floating on the wind and the wind is running along the ridgelines. As the leaves flow and rattle, the stones wait. The foxes slide between the quakies and move along the ground on tiny feet. They are smelling the world and they are listening through the wind and their quicksilver hearts are giving them the blood they need to run. They will sleep tomorrow in the sun and they will dream of rabbits and muskrats and they will puff through their teeth as their feet twitch and flutter. These things will happen.

It’s my intent to be here with all my might. My mistakes are piled high, they are too many to count and too heavy to carry. I am fortunate to know love and sorrow. If there are any kids reading this, I want to give you some advice. Hang in there. Life is painful and scary and guarantees are not to be trusted. Trade right and wrong for awareness and compassion. Be sweet to the younger ones, they are trying to figure it out just like you. Instead of arguing, listen. Treat your mother good, even if she’s bad. Write letters with your hand, on paper. Be fair to the animals, they belong as much as we do. Stand in the rain and say thank you to the sky. Sleep on the ground and climb a tree. Ride your bike. Don’t hesitate to sing, no matter what you sound like. Draw without apology, stick figures are funny…and rad. Dance when the song calls you. Never fake love. Remember that your parents are humans. Remember that this life is the only thing you really own, treat it like you love it.

There’s more…but I don’t wanna ruin the fun. Go find it out on your own.

I got jokes.

I really like knock knock jokes. One of my favorite things to do is teach knock knock’s to little kids, you know, just right as they’re ready to comprehend that kind of thing. It’s so fun. I make up my own, and they almost always just barely work, kinda like bending words for a poem or a rap song (since I also dabble in rap music lyrics, I know this kind of thing). I guess I like knock knock jokes because most people grow out of them. Most of my close friends are broken in by now. They know to go ahead and play along, because it’s better to just hear the ending and roll your eyes than to sit and have someone (Me) say knock knock over and over with a smirk on their (my) face. Kids are always ready. When I start with the knock knock jokes with kids, they are so down. They especially like the jokes if they’re just a little naughty. Just like me, I loved/love all jokes about poop. Another nice thing about knock knock’s are that they translate well into modern communication — they’re practically tailor-made for texts. And it adds a challenge since you gotta make it work phonetically without giving away the punchline.  Example:

knock knock.

Who’s there?

Eye todd eye tah.

Eye todd eye tah who?

Eye todd eye tah uh puddy tat.

OHhhh! Boom! See what I mean? I’ll give ya a second here so you can finish laughing.


I made that up just this morning between the rap songs I’m working on for my next album. Truth is, I just like joking around. The opposite of joking around is being serious and I do that too, but I don’t like to do it too much because there is so much to be serious about and, well,  things get heavy. I have this tendency to let the heavy things fall on top of me. I don’t have to look far too find something to worry over. None of us do. There are sick babies and forgotten old ones. There are forests that are turning into wild memories, what remains will be remnants to help us imagine what it was like to wander and fly our thoughts like kites between the trees. The glaciers are being milked like cows and the water that hasn’t even fallen from the sky yet is being counted on to wash the cars that sit in vacation homes three states away. While they speak of seeding clouds over LA to squeeze out more rain in order to fix the water problems, water pours down the gutters in the 400+ golf courses in the Coachella corridor. The voices of the whales are strained because they can’t sing over the sound of the war ships and barges and cruise ships. Martini sippers peek out of the square windows of the passenger planes and look down into canyons where the wolves stare back, the former thinking about how much longer till landing, the latter looking with eyes that are arrows from a tightly strung bow.

See what I mean? Did I lose you? When the heavy comes, I can’t lift it. So, back to jokes.

I’ve heard that people who joke all the time are probably hiding some kind of inner darkness. I just laughed it off. Inner darkness…what a joke.

I really like the way kids love to laugh. They’re begging to laugh. A child can go from streaming tears to hysterical laughter in one fell swoop. Maybe the distance between the two is not so far. I think the line between crying and laughing is very thin indeed. I’m not sure what mechanism it is that stirs the tears and creates the quivering chin, the contortion of the face, but it happens.

We are strange ones, us humans. These rubbery faces. These wandering eyes and fluttering hands. We walk around like we have it all figured out. I see people choosing people to be leaders and the leaders hopping around like fools, disconnected from the fact that we are all just children of this world. So much to be learned from the quietness in the room when a fussy baby finally sleeps. So much to be learned from the friend whose dad died from a heart that quit working. We don’t need to elect someone to fix our lives, our lives will be fixed by caring for each other. My friends are my leaders and my councilors. They are the ones that help me lift the heavy. They are who I count on when I say, Knock knock.

As cliche as it sounds, being present is a very good thing.

(Knock knock. Who’s there? We are.)

Rocket Science and Brain Surgery

I’m building a rocket ship for the just-in-case. You know what I mean? For the just-in-case I gotta find some other way to find my way. You never know when things might break down. I put the question to myself quite often: what are my reasons for being here? Oh yeah, that might sound like I’m trying to be all deep and philosophical, but it’s really anything but that. That question sometimes rolls up on me in the late night with fangs and claws and a bile filled heart. It’s a question that, when left unanswered, grows and screams and becomes the master. I hide, or worse, I get trapped and grovel.

I don’t like dropping into the dark like that. I reckon we all have our questions and maybe I take things a little to seriously at times, especially when left to myself. With friends, I can and will find a way to play. My buffoonery proceeds me. I have leopard print pants that fit way too tight and cause people to look away in awkward glances. I have dressed as a puppet, hell I’ve been a puppet, I was in the Service. When I can, I will lighten the heavy with an inappropriate joke. I will feign being a cry-baby when I don’t get what I want. I’m a fool when at all possible and like most buffoons, when I drop too far inside, I find that the bottom is too far down. It’s tough to explain and I struggle with making sense here.

Maybe I complicate things. The coyotes don’t sit around and wonder about reasons for being; they just chase down rabbits and yip at sunsets. I’m sure the buddhists have an answer, I should ask my buddy, Dave Kenneally. It’s probably one of them things that’s right under my nose, some tricky set of words like, the reason for being is to be. But my problem is that instead of yipping at the sunset and just being, I’m yipping at the sunset and wondering if it’s the sunset that’s making me yip or if it’s my heart and what if the sunset didn’t happen, would I still yip? Or would I die from the pain of not having anything to yip about?

You think this is silly-talk, don’t you?

I had a good friend who shot himself in the head while his wife was tucking their child in down the hall. He was a good dude, never said anything to anyone about something being wrong. I have always wondered what caused him to do what he did. How big was the monster that crawled into his heart that evening so much so that he sent a bullet in to stop his thoughts. How far down he must have gone into that darkness.

There are Ones who have a certain amount of lightness, it’s as if the beauty in their heart can’t be hidden by their skins. They walk around like them paper lanterns that float up into the sky. Like the candles that float on the rivers in India. They are beautiful in their very existence. My Ma is like that, she’s a light. My Dad too. I guess I collect friends that are Lights as well, so that when I start to get lost in the dark, I start trotting toward the fire. Makes sense. We’re all capable of generating these inner fires, we just gotta stir the coals down there in our guts.

As I sit and see the half-reflection of my face on the computer screen, I am reminded of the me of me. Reflection is a word with lots of meaning. I can see the sun on my face and it is light that causes my sense of sight to kick into gear. The swooshing of my heart is the only sound and it comes from the inside. There are flecks of movement in the trees just outside, crossbill in the mulberry tree. Chickadees at the back window. On the other side of the fence there is a passel of ravens talking it over, making plans about the future and how stuff would be so different if they were running things. I’m a cup of coffee deep into this morning. Darkness seems a long ways away.

I have a confession to make — that rocket ship that I said I was building, remember? Well, I don’t actually know how to build a rocket ship. I could draw one and it’d be cool but I am not a Rocket scientist, nor am I an Astronaut. I’ve been called a Brain surgeon before, but if you were to have heard the way it was applied, you would understand the sarcasm. The rocket ship is a metaphor (duh) for my way of escaping the heaviness that comes to us all. It’s built out of friendships and uses love as a kind of nuclear fuel. Fission, if you please. If we’re all made of stars, and I believe we are, then that would make love a by-product of the universe. We emit love like stars give off light. Like trees exhale oxygen.  Maybe we are rocket builders, one and all. Love is fuel, baby, let’s cruise!

Disclaimer:  Every single time I interact with a child, I am reminded of the value of life. The tiny hugs and laughs are enough dispel any bitterness I sustain from my stubborn, life-worn opinions. Children wield love like a light-saber, chopping and cutting to the core, and it is that kind of love I’m talking about in the essay above, not some kind of cheesy, acted-out form that we read about in beauty magazines or see on some god-awful reality tv show. 

Hoofed Beasts and Hurtling Cars

In the heart of any city, desperation is always only a few steps away. I slept in an illegal parking spot on Lincoln, right next to the park last night. I looked for a while for something better, but finally gave in and decided to risk the ticket. Before I went to sleep, I stepped up into the thicket of low lying bushes and watched the city as it happened. I like to do that kinda thing, hide and observe. I know it’s kinda creepy, but so is watching the News on television.

From my spot in the park I could see the long row of houses on the other side of the street. I could see that kinda blue-ish glow of all the flat-screens at once, some windows included the back of someone’s head with the t.v. beyond. It’s easy for me to get sad when I’m doing this kinda thing, easy to make the world into a kind of relentless tragedy. I see them human silhouettes and the mainline that is filling them up and up, I see the branches of the trees outside their houses and the coughing person that is slumping in the doorway, I see the cars hurtling down the lighted streets as they hurry towards the parking spots that will be created as another car leaves to find another parking spot created by another car leaving. There is a madness that I feel creeping up on me when I’m watching all this, it’s creeping, but it sure ain’t quiet and I am looking over my shoulder.

I don’t sleep so well when I have these kinda thoughts, so I didn’t sleep well last night. In the morning haze I tried to put together some kind of plan for the next few weeks. I couldn’t even get past the morning, I couldn’t get past wondering if I had a ticket on my windshield — wouldn’t be the first time.  My planning fell apart. Depression will follow soon if I don’t take action. I know this worn down path all too well, my footprints are everywhere. I should get in the ocean, she always sets me straight.

I love it when I find the sleeping spots of animals, especially when they’ve just been vacated. The heat from the body of the beast still lingers in the ground, and the smell hangs in the air. It’s like a little bit of the animal remains, can be felt. Sometimes I look around for the remnants of their dreams. Those things that cause eyes to roll under velvety lids while wet noses pull down all manner of smells that form colors and stories in wordless languages that are formed from spiraling DNA and patterns passed down through evolutionary reincarnations. The tilting of the head. The feigned indifference. The dances and gifts and displays. All these things must be a part of each animal’s dreams, along with their fears and dreads. I wonder about all that when I feel the heat in the grass that was mashed down by the body of some marvelous ungulate as they slept.

This morning I noticed a human sleeping spot just a few steps away from where my r.v. was parked. There were bloody napkins crumpled all around. Trouble in the night. I’m sure, more than a little misery. I moved the dolphin to a better parking spot, vacated by a work-goer. Coffee at the local shop. Outside the 7-11 there is heavy talk among several homeless folk. One had very little voice left, I wondered if he’s maybe losing it for good. They were talking of displacement and the good ol’ days and people that have been taken away. One caught my glance and we say hello. The old Thai man that haunts this world and this block on Judah street was there, outside the coffee shop. I said hello and he smiled and recognized me even though it has been 6 months since that last time we nodded to one another. He is coughing more these days and his smile seemed strained. I sat and listened to the hubbub and the gossip. Every block in every city is a tiny world.

The walk back to my rig was slow and easy. I saw a kitty-cat, orange and white,in a comfortable window. He was looking down at me and I looked up as a raven following the roofline dropped just low enough to pass within a foot or two of the cat. As the raven passed, the kitty couldn’t help himself and he lifted a paw and placed it on the window. The raven flew on and the cat dropped his little foot back into place and looked back at me, embarrassed. I smiled at him and shrugged.

The grass that grows along the dunes is gray and brown, kinda green in places. There are marks of the scurrying animals in the sand at the base of the grass. There are lost feathers and broken crab shells. There are sand dollars and polished sticks. The foam on the beach is being combed by the sand pipers and their kin. Seagulls are making themselves at home in the air all around. There are two-leggeds and they are running and some are walking with leashes tied to their pet dogs. The ocean looks wild and gray, on the horizon the sky is a lighter version of the ocean it holds in place. I wonder how the whales are doing today, way out there in that massive cold sea. I wonder if they slept well last night.

fire makers


i lean towards dramatic. i find it pretty easy to believe that, quite possibly, my heart is aching worse than anyone in the history of life. sometimes i think the dark cloud over my head is the darkest of them all, with it’s deadly lightnings and it’s howling winds. oh my, i can imagine myself being the loneliest man. let’s face it, depression is a jealous mistress and she doesn’t allow for distraction. it’s easy to drop into the maelstrom and hear the groanings of the world, the splitting firmament, the crumbling foundation. dramatic.

but then today happens. all of a sudden, without any discussion, a new day forms and my angle of thought has changed. the light of the sun is just right. the canyon wren sings her perfect descending song. the orb weaver sits in the center of her stranded masterpiece. a cricket warms up his chirping wings in plain view under the porch swing. the pretty tattooed lady at the bakery in san francisco tells me the chocolate croissant is “on the house”…and her smile is real. all these things and i notice that life is breathable again. of course, there is no averting sadnesses; they belong here in my heart along with the grand and the average.

i’m not completely under the thumb of my emotions. i’ll admit i’ve given in to the onslaught brought on by new love, when fiery passion storms the castle gates and breaks down the best laid defenses. all the personal promises out the window. heart raging. curling smiles. day long bedroom events. eventually the fire drops down from these events and we can see through the flame…very similar to coming up from the depths of depression and swimming for the light of the surface, lungs burning, holding on for a gulp of sweet ok-ness. dramatic.

but see, i admit it. i know i go in all the way. i see my penchant for burning and drowning. and so i’m learning; i mean, i am learning, right? don’t we all struggle like this? maybe some are born just a little further along the path of understanding but, even so, we all struggle. few people have ever shown me a more transparent soul than Mary Oliver. there is a way in which i think of people like her. i’ll explain.

i have spent years, most of my life, living and sleeping outside. when i was a kid i went with a number of different burly dudes on week long trips down into canyons and across big expanses for various reasons, sometimes fishing, sometimes exploring and looking for bones and artifacts. drinking from the high mountain creeks and hunkering down for the night in some enormous aspen stand was a huge portion of the road that formed me. on those bitter cold mornings when the water in the canvas bags was frozen solid i would lay in my sleeping bag and watch with wonder as a thick-necked, bearded man built the fire in his shirtsleeves. i learned, in time, that someone must build the fire, i mean, it don’t get built on it’s own. i realized the importance of being the one who is willing to roll out in the cold, crack the sticks, scratch the match, and put on the coffee (oh my god, yes, the coffee). i live my life roaming around with a cusp group of people who are willing to start the fire. i know they will because they do, and so do i. it’s important.

when i was in my infancy and learning the way (i’m still learning), Mary Oliver, was out there in the middle of bitter cold heartbreak…and she was starting the fire. and as i’ve lived and walked through life’s mountains and fallen down in life’s deep, shoe-stealing marshes of depression, the Mary Olivers of this world were building fires so that i might see them in the dark. so that i might find my way. so that we all can come in from the cold and be together by the flame.

here is a poem by Mary Oliver:

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

by Mary Oliver


painting by tobias

painting by tobias