tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: desert


i was up early this mornin’. the wind was up and my rig was rocking between the creosotes.  i could hear the cactus wrens and their scratchy call; open the door and they’ll come in without a worry in the world.  i rolled outa the rig and saw myself in the glass outside the privy, creases and gray and shaggy, long hair caused me cut the look short.

coffee made, i bare-footed it back to the rig. i was prep’in up for a tattoo, that usually puts me in a good mood. there was a song in my head, something i was making up. it had to do with saying that “i don’t mind, if you wanna sing the blues. and i don’t mind, if you got scuffed up shoes…” i sang and liked it.

the wind was cracking by mid-morning. it’s spring in the desert so there really ain’t a pattern. could be wind. could be cold. could be blazing hot. i sat and chatted with ethan about the migrating birds and the wind. i told him about a time in patagonia when i watched song birds drop to the ground and resign to hopping, single file, up the dirt streets, against the wind.

i left ethan and his grand presence and went to do some work. i thought of my good buddy, hunter, as i drove the washboard roads and cranked metallica through my shitty little speakers. the song was good and i imagined hunter swinging a hammer in front of his forge to some good, old, heavy metal song. the road led to my friends’ house.  travis and shea laughed and joked through the time we spent together. i finished a big piece on shea’s leg. i finished somewhere around 2 o’clock.

on the way back to ethan and chris’s place, i saw a little grossbeak dead on the side of the road. it looked like a something too bright to be real, lying in the sand at the side of the road. i slowed, but i didn’t stop. i kinda wanted to move it away from the pavement but i didn’t. i got back to the house and chris was looking out the back window. she was up on a chair, a higher vantage point for looking out and down at all the little songbirds on the ground, eating mulberries. the wind. just like in patagonia, it had grounded the little migrators. in the yard there were wrens and vireos and tanagers and grosbeaks and sparrows and orioles, all spread out on the ground like a spilled bag of skittles. we laughed and talked about the way they were waiting for the air to slow down.

they all have their own song. so do i, i guess. i was singing it this morning, and maybe tonight i’ll sing something else. maybe i’ll sing something by ol’ willie nelson, or maybe neil diamond, or maybe i’ll sing something by iron maiden, something like run to the hills, and dedicate it to hunter. the point is, there are songs to sing. so warm up your chords and sing. the world is in dire need of some honest singing, i’m quite sure it won’t hurt if we warble just a little.

blues by the hand

i’m sure it’s already been said. all of it. the things explaining the things. the words used to paint the pictures that make us feel, they’ve been laid out in fancy form and are set in some beautiful font in the library of wonderful words. i am building sandcastles at the foot of the taj mahal. i am folding paper airplanes in the museum of flight. i’m carrying sea water in a bucket and filling a hand-dug hole on the shores of the pacific. what else am i to do? how else to let loose the birds in my brain? i tell myself it’s ok to say it in a squeakier, smaller voice, because it can’t hurt. i have to believe that, i just have to believe that it’s ok to write even if it feels like i’m running with my pants down around my ankles.

ok, i got that said.

i’m glad i can’t see into the future. i’d probably take more risks if i could see the future. i’d probably believe less in what might be if i just try hard enough. i’d probably quit playing the guitar (playing takes so much of my concentration that i sometimes drool on the frets) and picturing myself singing to my friends and making them smile with delight. there’s a lot of things i might give up on if i could see the future. if i could see the future i don’t know if i’d try and dodge the blues or not, but either way it would seem false.

i stood above some train tracks on the bluffs in north portland last night. i could hear some teenage girl talking about how her boyfriend is not good at sex and how she’s ready to break up with him. the teens were all sitting and sprawling in the grass overlooking the train yard. every now and then a car would cut loose and go trucking off down the track like a headless chicken and the kids would cheer,  happy for it’s freedom. seems like there is always a desire for anarchy amongst the people who feel most controlled. the idea of everyone running around screaming with their arms flailing is better than being in a straightjacket and tied to a wall with someone peering into your eyes with a light and muttering some unintelligible medical jargon. i’m not so into anarchy, i might be into revolution, as long as it lead to quiet oceans and less cars and less walmarts and less prisons and less old bald guys in washington making up idiotic rules that apply to the people but do not apply to the rulemakers. yeah, i’m into a revolution that allows damns to crack up the middle so the rivers may stretch their legs again. i’m into allowing scientists to apply their beautiful brains to making us understand how to use less instead of how to do more with less effort. my kind of revolution would want to see the youth fighting for a return to an older, wilder, better form of unity that doesn’t need a like button or a hashtag. more dancing in the starlight and feeling the power of the earth as it meets our feet and tells us to look around at our fellow creatures, not just the two-leggeds. but yeah, that’s where i was last night after the sun set. i was there with the teen to my right and her stories of sexual frustration. on my left, i was watching two of my friends connect and tell stories of other times, other places. connection on one side, frustration on the other, while i looked down at my feet, 1 and 2. there they were, right there in my funny-looking, hand-made shoes. and my feet were down there, pegged to the world and holding the two legs that were holding up this container of guts and blood. and way up on top was the spinning head that holds the eyes that tell me i’m seeing and the brain that is doing it’s best to not be confused, but is confused quite a bit. from my head, i could see my hands that were sunk into my pockets and just chilling there.  the trains were moving back and forth, dropping cars and reconnecting. the kids were smoking weed and drinking pabst and being cool. my friends were standing and connecting. i was thinking about how running far away has never been able to fix the blues because the blues are waiting for us in all the places we go. so i pulled my mitts from my pockets and took the blues by the hand and walked back to my buddy’s rig. somewhere, hundreds of miles south of here, there is a desert that’s calling my name and there are lots of thoughts to be had under it’s wonder.

we each have ourselves to live with, but it’s good to remember that these bones are on loan. the earth owns us, bones, blood, brains and even our satellite-faster-than-the-speed-of-light thoughts. big thoughts are good for us and they lead to bigger dreams. connection has come to mean something different than it use to mean. modern connection is defined by how many bars you are getting on your phone or whether you need a password or not, it might mean you need to contact your carrier or see what networks are available.  i would have it go back to the older meaning. wouldn’t it be cool if connection was seeing a pair of soulful eyes looking you in the eyes and causing your breath to change pace and maybe a smile and a hello? what if connection was a decision to be less cool and more kind and to have room in the heart for differences? to me, that’s the beginning of a revolution.

one little god

for whatever reason i love the overhead. i was born with these fancy fingers, this simian form. i reach and clutch for a higher view. i’ve never been dis-allowed by parent nor fear. the fear would be the fall but my hands and feet have proven themselves up till now, and so i trust them with my heart and fragile head. they carry me aloft. and there i sit and watch, like a little god,  the world in it’s spinnings.

there are patterns. maps. lines. tracks. weavings from the earth bound. sometimes the sweetest of views, the passing raptor and it’s sacred, speckled back. to look down into space and see a raven in it’s element is to see it anew.  i dream in flights of fancy, i imagine the world of the birds. the sky is to the bird what the sea is to the whale.  it is the fourth dimension in which flight and gravity interact and create beautiful arcing loops, gut-twisting turns that swing through the clouds and plummet to within inches of the stones that will someday claim every flying thing, every marching army, every twisting fin. the stones are the most patient of them all; they know that each prodigal heart will return to them, will lie down against them and stop.

and from the top of the rocks, i can see the below-ness.  with a little wind and the november sun, i shut my trap and think about the things that i read from the script that the desert provides. there is a pellet from the gullet of a barn owl in the crack at my feet. i see the skull of a mouse that must have been caught in the open. them quiet, strange owls…all white and silent like a moth. i know a cave where a barn owl roosts in the coldest parts of the winter. i’ve climbed past her as she sat in her torper, awaiting a warmer day, storing energy. and i climbed in close as she sat atop a pile of sticks built in the stoney, black hole where two monoliths meet. almost too cold to climb, my hands stinging from the cold. i passed the barn owl close, maybe 6 feet, and she opened just one eye and moved her head slightly. the medicine between she and i was good and her eye floated closed. what a privilege. and for that second, in the eye that was only black and darker than the space between the stars, i was seen. what are the dreams inside that creamy white skull? can you imagine?

but that was a time last winter and not now. now is warm and the sun is sweet. out from my perch, i am moving toward the ground. i am coming down.  from 40 or so feet above the joshua trees i see the lazy j marks left by a traveling rattlesnake. they are clear from here. i follow them to a thick creosote bush and there, in the sand and freckled shadows, is the maker. a group of climbers with a dog are walking the path.  i am watching and i start to say something but the space between is enough to let the world turn on it’s own.  the dog wets on the other side of the bush. the snake does not blink. now i am down and i squat to look at the one that goes without being noticed.  there is no rattling, i suppose there is no need. i wait to see if there is anything more and, without a sound, the snake moves out across the sand, leaving it’s j’s in cursive behind.

there ain’t anything more. there isn’t a finishing point. there is only the perfect distance and the chance that my heart doesn’t decide that it’s too tired to continue. and your heart, too. here’s to our hearts and the rhythm in between.

then comes oldness

i heard this old guy talking on a copied cd. his name was bill keys and i happen to know a little bit about him from having wandered in the desert where he wandered. i’ve probably stepped into bill key’s footsteps more than once. there are some geographic features in the high desert near joshua tree, california that are named after him. he was cool. i got my hands on that old cd and i listened to him talk about life and death. he was a philosopher but i’m sure he’d have said he was just a fella living out his days. it was apparent that he’d been alone for a long time. his wife died out in that desert and he lived the rest of his life never too far from her grave. he spoke of the stars as points of light and he talked about the world as if it was a giant crystal. he was born in that time when the cowboys were a dying breed. he was a cowboy and he was as wild as the ground he walked upon. i loved hearing ol’ bill speak of the ways of things. just imagine the changes he saw; from horseback cattle runs to skies full of jets and rockets.

i know that desert. i’ve slept in it and started my morning fires to make my coffee. i’ve walked miles and miles, from rock pile to rock pile. i’ve seen the green mojave rattlers and their dangerous look. i’ve found old treasures in hidden spots. i’ve loved women from the desert who were as pretty as the blooming cacti…and just as spiny. the desert…it’s a wild place that’ll give you wrinkles overnight. 

and speaking of wrinkles, i remember seeing them when i was a kid and loving them. i wanted them. all them lines in my grampa’s face! i thought crazy things as a kid. i thought that having grey hair meant you’d be smart and that wrinkles made you tough. good grief, i know it doesn’t work like that…not at all. one day i was fishing for crawdads in the creek behind the house, mom was calling me home for dinner, and the next day i was 45! i mean, what the hell happened?! i looked in the mirror this morning and saw these wrinkled eyes and a grey beard. the funniest part of it is that i’m still that same kid i was when i had those crazy notions. the only explanation is that oldness came. it comes for us all (thank goodness). we have choices to make along with it’s arrival: love it and navigate gracefully, or live in denial. 

the former is a grand adventure, the latter is misery.

so, to the ones who’ve gone before, nicely done. to the youngsters, i say, love your footsteps and love your breath and love your heart, you’ll do just fine. who knows, maybe you’ll find me making coffee at a little fire in the distance.