tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: heart

the Edge

He first noticed something in his gate, not so much a clumsiness, but a lack of fluidity. It’s not like he’d ever been a long strider anyway. No one ever confused him with a person of graceful movement. At five foot, eight inches and 145 lbs, you are what you are, and that’s not long and smooth. Since he was old enough to have some kind of self perception, he had always pictured himself as a weasel, maybe a mink. A stone-hopper. A rubble-scrambler. He was not a gazelle nor a horse, not even an elk. Amongst the hooved, he might be some form of sheep. Not that he ever thought about it, well, actually he did.

So maybe because of his self-consciousness he noticed that he was shuffling more than before. When he first started this trek, he had more spring in his step. It’s been some time. He’s been through shoes. Until now, he’d just blamed the changes on aging, that and weariness. Now he’s not sure. It might be something else altogether. Too many days alone will have an affect on you; peeling away the layers, opening those hatches and latches that a busy mind would purposefully ignore. When you’re alone for long enough, you’ll eventually find yourself staring down into the dark basement of your mind. And the basement is not just a room, it’s a world of itself where graves are shallow and beasts prowl with broken limbs, a dreamland of banished thoughts where bristling memories scurry from the light and peer back at you with a strange and familiar fury.

He had avoided his reflection. No streams. No puddles. Now he sat staring at himself in the warped tin on the bottom of his thermos. Something different there. Something distant. He began to hum the way his Mama used to hum when he would rub her back. Another way of sliding out from under the thumb of reality. And humming, he walked. How many days since the last city? A season’s worth of walking since the last voice that wasn’t his own. And what about that last person full of sarcasm at the why of his journey? He made it a point to change his explanation after that. Why tell anyone that he is following some internal compass to somewhere that will present itself in a fashion that he will know but remain dumb to explain?  It’s crazy. He remembers the words of the Mad Farmer’s Manifesto, “as soon as the generals and politicos can predict the motions of your mind, lose it….” And so he did. He had, most definitely lost his mind. And somewhere in the losing of it, he began to change. First it was inward, he could feel it in the night while the fire burned. His body became cavernous and the needle-toothed bats swarmed the ceilings of his mind, the naked mole-rats dug blindly through the dark green-black guano of his guts, and from the center of his world there were groans from sources that aren’t listed in taxonomical records; beasts and beings exiled from creation, but existent nonetheless. Then came the first outward, physical change. His hair. Long, wiry, black and silver hair. First it grew from the tops of his fingers and toes, then it spread to his hands. Now, in the reflective tin, he could see the hair coming off the tops of his ears, off his cheekbones and even a couple off his nose. He noticed a change in his amble. His legs and feet constantly ached. All the walking and fasting made his body become the machine that it was supposed to be. Humans are deemed to walk. We are old pathmakers, all of us. He looked down at his strange feet and grunted. “Animal.” He said it aloud to himself, but also, to the world.

Now and then, he would feel dizzy. This he blamed on lack of food and poor nutrition. Once he woke up and realized he had passed out while walking down the side of a steep hill. He must have tumbled a bit, his knuckles were bloody and it took a minute to realize what had happened. He read once that a pig was the fastest animal to go from domestic to feral. Supposedly long black hair sprouted from their backs within months of running free. How long for humans to go feral?  Probably depends on the person. Two ravens circled and croaked. He stood and swayed and hobbled down the rest of the hill, a raggedy man in a play with no audience, acting in clothes that no longer fit. Crossing an open field, he stopped and looked at the trees that lined the horizon, he could see them breathing under the sky. Of course they were breathing, fuck, listening too. Across and into the woods. His direction was determined by the lay of the land and the angle of the sun. At night he followed the stars, all familiar and twinkling, especially the polestar. Venus was the brightest, coldest light in the sky when he stopped moving. He roasted chicory and drank the bitter tea and slept inside his blankets where dreams wriggled from their holdings like quicksilver from a broken pot. This night he dreamt he awoke among the floatwood at the strandline of the sea, his body was half emerged from a casing like those casings laid by dogfish. He flailed and gasped and stared, wide-eyed, at the retreating tide. He was something between man and eel and his mouth gaped and gulped. He could hear the fluting of the frigate birds descending with their scissor tails and razor beaks. The sand covered his eyes. The sea and the birds and the fear of death caused him to wake. He was calling. And there wasn’t anyone, just the night. He remembered the words of Wendell Berry’s Mad Farmer — “Listen to the carrion, put your ear close and hear the faint chattering of things to come….”

Mountains marched the horizon, dragging the trees. The sky was some color between grey and the blue between there and black, and there was a wind that matched the colors. His feet had changed to the point that he no longer doubted that something was off. His legs bowed out. His arms were thinner than they had ever been in his adult life. The land was wild and rough. The trees that lived here were wind worried and twisted, the product of gravity and pushing forces. Mystery lives unblemished on the edges of the earth. For the last week, the stars haunted the daytime skies and the moon seemed broken and hollow, maybe not real. He heard voices and sometimes called out to them, but they would only pause and then begin anew. After a while he allowed them to speak without disruption, a constant unintelligible uttering. Something was going on with his back, his shoulder blades felt dislocated and the arc of his spine limited his movement. Nothing was left. No packs. No clothes. No pen to draw and no paper to bear the lines as witness. No comforts. The basics were his way of living in those days before he came to the Edge. At first he thought maybe it was a canyon, something he might circumnavigate, but after some deliberation he realized it was simply, the Edge. He spent some hours looking out. More thoughts of the Mad Farmer, “Leave it as a sign to mark the false trail, the way you didn’t go.” The gulf was all of the space of the present moment and he was at the Edge. When he stood to move, something broke free in his back, like a bone long out of place that moves to it’s intended spot. Transformation is essential to growth but from growth there is no return, all is progression. He was past being surprised by his changes, so the wings that broke from his back, quaking and shivering, gave him little pause. And they rose with a mind of their own, unfettered, furious and ranting, like horses held back from the race. His wings, harbingers of flight. All that ever was became a perfect presentness. And he lost his mind and tipped into the star-flung sky buried below him while his wings took him into spaces that would not have ever been found had he never ventured. There is eternity in the blink of an eye. And spinning and fleeting, the cosmos, disregarding past and future, swallowed him entire.

Dark the night,

Dark the sea,

Dark these churning guts

in me.

I cry to muscle,

and beg to bone,

lift this heart and take

me home.  — TLC

We are all children of the universe and eventually we will all return to our source; some screaming and clawing like naughty teens, some solemn, and some with a wild and adventurous heart and gleaming teeth. The last was my buddy and compadre, Chris Pilaro, who went on before me, to light fires in the dark so that I might find my way. Carry on, Chris, you fucking stud! This writing is for you as is today’s adventure and tonight’s whiskey from a tin cup. See you in the big whatever else, brother.  Love.   Tobias

Shine

Running from the dark is a form of pretending. I know it is, because I do it sometimes. But there is no end to the darkness and the night will always find you. Our personal expression, our internal lamp, can’t shine if we are fearful. Out in every darkness there are single points of light. They are people who shine like you. They are the Ones who’ve covered the ground we are walking. They are the early hearts. They are the way givers. But before they found the way, they ran from the darkness. And they looked to the Ones before them. And so this is our fashion, this is our way. To fear and flee, to find courage and look for light, to set our bearings on the light and navigate the darkness, then, when we are ready, we shine the light for others.

These are old metaphors. They’ve been around since the early hearts struck fire from the stones and danced in caves and drew their imaginings across the walls by firelight. But there is a reason that things like this continue while generations of brilliant minds turn back to dust –that old and wondrous, five letter looking glass: Truth.

Shine. At least a little. For the babies. and the whales. and the foxes. and the sequoias.

Shine to help the young hearts find the way.

Take your time. Know your truth. And then,

shine.

nakey

I gotta start with a little story.  My friends Nick and Elizabeth used to live in a yurt in Prescott, Arizona. They lived below some folks who had a little boy, I think I remember his name to be Henry. It don’t matter what his name was, he was damn cute and stern. I think little Henry liked me. I was around a good deal, often with my shirt off and in shorts. When i left once he told my friends and his mother that I was, “beautiful and nakey.” I may be making up the beautiful part, but I’m allowed, because this is my story and if I want to pretend to be beautiful, I will. I wonder what little Henry’s doin’. I hope he’s looking at the stars or something cool like that. Nakey is cool.

These days I can lie in bed and make a fist, put it behind my back crack it. I’ve been told by the ones-that-tell-you-these-things that I’ve got a good case of arthritis in my back. I don’t like the sound of that so I ignore the words and I say I need to stretch it on out. And I do. I stretch it on out, and I crack my back with my fist.

I ignore a good many of the things told me. I ignore the words of the folks who tell me not to listen to sad music, that it’ll make me depressed. I ignore politicians. I ignore the words I love you if they come from someone I don’t know. Maybe ignoring that many things categorizes me as ignorant, but if it does, I’ll ignore that too.

Last night I climbed in my sleeping bag after some tea, it was late for me and I felt the cold creeping into my bones something fierce. Great billows of steam rose out of my mug, rolled out of my mouth and nose. Click of the light. Ringing in my ears, ever-present gift from the military. Wool blanket over the top of my sleeping bag. Naked in the dark, under the weight of the blankets and bags, I realized I needed to take a leak. Life is like that, the order of events goes as it goes, not as we want it to. So I roust myself to the inevitable. Unzipping and flinging and barefooted and naked, out into the night. Relieving myself and in full shiver I looked up at the moon, she was pink with a complete ring around her and I’m pretty sure that means something. I try to remember what I’ve been told, it was either that you’re supposed to make a wish or that weather is coming in. I cover my bases and choose to wish that weather is coming in, that way I can believe both things are true.

The cedars, firs and ponderosas stood, towering above my little dolphin and my naked me in the pink moonlight. I felt them looking down, they are family, so I’m good with feeling small around them. My ears adjusted and I picked out the plaintive call of some bird from out in the dark. Sounded like an owl, and I allowed myself the memory, even so cold, even with the down bed and the woolly blanket so close, I allowed myself the moment of collection. And these moments are very much like the wondrous assortment of stones that lie in the shallows of some backcountry stream, they are there for you if you have the time to sort through them, to find the one that catches your eye and pulls you to pick it from the millions. And into your pocket and into your mind.

And leaping and dancing across sharp rocks and pulling open my door. Big puffs of breath in the dark. Bare butt first, into the bag, dirty feet into the darker, stinkier end. Time doesn’t matter one bit. The day of the week is whichever it wants to be, I don’t care to know. It’s been days since my phone told me anything and I don’t have a single question for it. One sad song before lights out, just one. I pick it out and put it on. In the dark, something about lost and broken things and the begging of another to remember when things were the way they were before the losses, before the endings.

The song ends and that’s it. Back to the ringing in my ears mixed with memories. I think about me and how I trip over impulses and desires. I ask myself how I could possibly ever be cocky, as if I was something special, when I live in a world that has pink moons and 100 foot cedars and little owls that call in the night.

Somewhere there I fell asleep. It’s icy gray outside. The ring around the moon allowed a wish to be true and the weather is here. I walked up the mountain on some old logging trail and followed the tracks of a black bear as they meandered like a dog from log to stone to puddle. In the deep mud I could see where she had stopped and thought it over. Dreamy bear thoughts, deep green pools and fields of summer berries and dark timber with snow piling and the big, heavy winter sleep coming on. Suckling cubs. Fat, earthy grubs. I reached down and put my index finger in the center of the paw print, pressed perfectly in the mud. The hum of life still present, to me at least.

Back to camp I use that same finger to tap away on my computer. It seems almost irreverent. From the print of a beast so grand to the black keys of my little silver device. There is coffee black in my mug. There is frost on all the ferns. There are ravens in the trees and a billion stars on the other side of the clouds above the world. There are things, so many things to be bowed to, things that don’t need keys or power cords or investments. If only I had the grace to find the words to name them.

inner workings

open me up. that’s it, maybe use a pocket knife. maybe use a finger nail.

take a look. that’s the inner. that’s the workings.

all those meshings and timings. some gears and rails and hammers.

since sometime, i don’t know when because my workings began before i left the factory, but since sometime, i have never ceased to tick and ping and spin.

the other night i heard my heart. i couldn’t tell if it was from the in or from the out. it is the key to the motion. it’s the pusher of the blood and the blood holds the mysteries of my beforeness. it has a story i feel but cannot read.

see me? it’s all so now. there are no guarantees from the manufacturer. all parts are present. maybe some sit still but they are connected to the original blue-print and so they have a reason. some parts have secret origins.

it’s delicate. the machine. the human. we must hold each other with care. our parts are important. and when things are broken we must do our best to fix them, lest they fail completely. 

i’ve seen some wear. there’s a little rust. i think some gears have lost a tooth. it happens, you know? all machines have limits. the me’s and you’s.

and tick tock. and tick tock. spinning and pinging and shiny little parts.

and when the whirring stops, set me down. it’s ok. just put me down near the sea, she will know what to do.

 

second heart

feet

a friend of mine told me that in her culture the word for foot is translated as “second heart”. oh i just love that so much. what a wonderful way of talking about the feet. it is so incredibly telling.

my feet are cracked and calloused all the time. i believe in being barefooted. there are very few things that connect me to my humanness more than running barefoot on a trail. it is such an ancient thing to do. you can’t just slam your feet around like you do when you’re wearing shoes, you must give attention to the path upon which you run. and what a perfect lesson for me…it’s so perfectly fitting. when i’m careless, i step on a cactus (i have several times), or i stub my foot into a rock. when i’m mindful, the feet fall where i put them; i notice every nuance of the path. i am a better animal.

my mama’s feet hurt her all the time now. they have arthritis in them and she walks in her pretty shoes and they hurt. i love going home, making my ma sit in a chair, and rubbing her feet. i love making her little bones move around and seeing the smile on her lovely face. she never complains about her feet, but i can see how they hurt her; so i rub them.

the earth remembers our passing; our feet touch the earth more than any other part of our body. and so the connection. the second heart. there is the heart up in our chest that is caged in ribs and bound about by muscle, covered with skin. that heart is carrying our blood out to our fingers and our brains and our toes. it is that faithful ol’ muscle than starts working for us when our tiny body begins to form in the belly of our mother and continues to keep time with the rhythm of our life until, when we breathe our last breath, we die. this is our heart.

then there is the second heart; our faithful feet. they carry us through the world. they hold our weight. they are the foundation of our uprightness. mine are only beautiful to me. the nails no longer grow back on my big toes because of all the times i’ve smashed them doing various things (i’ll spare the details). some of the cracks in my toes never go away and they grow bigger in the dry sand of the desert. my feet are scraped by coral and cut by rocks. they are mine.

and these paths we walk are the language of our feet. they are our signature and a sign of our passing. i love to think about all the footprints i’ve left behind me. there they are, spilled out like pepper on the kitchen floor. when i was 2 years old, they were tiny and unsteady. when i was 16, they spoke of self consciousness and rambunctiousness. when i was 25, they lead to the bars and parties. when i was 30, they ran in boots through sand and they did whatever the sergeant told them to do. when i was 33, they walked the paths in Torres del Paine and climbed the rocks. when i was 40, they ran miles in the deserts and slept with me in the caves. when i was 44, they lifted a broken heart and did not set it down until it healed. tonight they hum beneath my sleeping bag and wait for anything under the sun. should i run for my life in the night, my feet will be there. when i wake to make coffee, they will carry me to the kitchen.

and my mind is the spark and my soul is a little blue kite on the end of a tether and my feet touch the world and the world calls me her own. and the world knows my hearts.

the floor sleeper

i sleep on the floor, it is my preference. maybe it’s because the floor seems like the ground, and i like the ground. i have my reasons for liking it; some hold water, some don’t. sometimes it’s difficult when i’m staying at someone’s house, they think i’m just being polite, so they say things like, “oh, you’ll love this bed. it’s my favorite” or “don’t be silly, no one sleeps on the floor when there’s a perfectly good bed and besides, i just changed the sheets.” i had a bed when i was a kid but once i moved out i never bought another. i make a pallet on the floor. i sleep outside a lot. when i lay down and i’m near the ground, things are better; the stars are more brilliant. when storms come, believe me, i know it. as i’ve gotten older i’m more aware of the necessity to practice staying close to the earth. i believe this awareness will continue to grow until, one day, i’m planted.

a friend and i once talked about buy the plot of land somewhere in the woods where we would be buried. the conversation continued and evolved into having a place where people could be buried, but not traditionally. they would be buried so that they would fertilize nature. under the roots of trees, no clothes and no coffins, re-immersion into the stream of things. i want that. ball me up and stuff me in the roots of a cedar tree, thank you very much! put me back. the worms know what to do. oh we had a fun conversation, and it really wasn’t morbid.

but i think i’m a long way from death. i feel like there is so much life to live…and yet, i remember thinking that 45 years old was an eternity. guess what? yeah, that’s right, eternity happened. so really, it’ll be here way sooner than i think. so i guess if i’m ever gonna start ballet, i should at least start taking some lessons.

i found someones bones once. i was in the mountains near huascaran, a burly peak in peru, i was walking across boulders as big as busses and where the sun shined down through the boulders, 20 feet below, i could a white bone. it would be a nasty fall into that space and it took me a bit to work my way down. the body was small and upside down. the head was nothing but a shell and the teeth had washed away. in the sand, where the head was positioned, it was easy to see that the years of water running down from the mountain had deteriorated the skull. the rest of the body was less touched by the run-off and the bones were white and very fragile. i pushed on one of the ribs and it cracked in half. my guess was that it was a campesino who had been wandering out and had fallen. someone never came home. when i went to sleep that night, out on the ground, i felt the wind and the movements of the world deep below me. the earth has guts too…they move and rumble and moan. i woke several time that night and i felt it was from something within…maybe me, maybe things deeper than me.

when i spend lots of time alone (and i do like to do this and, although i’m not a loner, i believe we should all do some quiet inner seeking. it’s a good thing.)  in a quiet place, i eventually begin to see things out of the corner of my eye. it doesn’t always happen. i’m not a person prone to believe in ghosts and i do love science, but i’ve definitely seen things that i had to shrug my shoulders about.  and why not? there is plenty we will never know. i prefer to defer to mystery. those whispering voices that are in the quaking leaves. that flash of movement in the canyon. waking from an afternoon nap in the aspens and feeling almost certain that someone called my name.

dreams? maybe. and what is the difference between dreams and reality anyway? who are those made up beings that are characters in my dreams?

thank goodness these questions cannot be answered. if you know the answer, don’t tell me. i would rather wonder.

i read once about a fella that grew old. he had adopted a boy of a different race and taught him an older, deeper way of living. he taught him that the stones could talk and that the mountains cried when they were disrespected. he prayed to the sun and the moon and the rivers and trees. his last words were to the boy-turned-man and they were simply to remember the path he had shown him. the best of it was that the old man walked off and was never found. i like to think he went and laid himself against the ground and gave himself back.

oh to be like him.

between the devil and the deep blue sea

Imagethere is a cove in southern mexico, way south, where the mountains come right down to the sea. it’s a tiny cove, just big enough to allow a boat to anchor without being hit with direct ocean swell. on a map it shows as a little dip in the coastline, definitely not something you would think was worth a stop-over. i was sailing with two buddies. we were unsure of whether to anchor and get sleep or to sail through the night.

there are several facts that i should disclose here. i am not a sailor, although; i was on a sail boat for over six months. my buddies are not sailors either. we were sailing, we just weren’t sailors. all of us are capable in the common sense kind of way and all of us have had plenty of adventures together. we weren’t too worried. we were real happy to be doing something we didn’t know how to do. ok, so that’s the preamble. oh yeah, and we didn’t really know where we wanted to go…mostly, we wanted to go toward the sun.

so, back at the little cove…and the world and the stars and the sea and the wooden boat and the breath from our bodies and the beating hearts, all together. all in one place. we had sailed for 40 and a few hours without the modern sailing-conveniences of GPS’s and auto-pilot. we were tired. we dropped anchor and did everything we had read in Sailing for Dummies to make sure we didn’t end up on shore (a kind of rocky looking strip in the failing light) in the middle of the night.

i didn’t sleep well. i was worried about our anchor that had dropped too deep and seemed to be almost straight down. in the night, the waves stopped completely and i woke to silence…complete silence. it was like the universe was on pause. i stood up out of my sleeping bag and looked at the stars as they ran all the way down to the sea. beyond that amazement, the silky flat ocean was full of glowing plankton that were spaced out like the stars. it was as if the sky and the sea had come together and become the same thing. the truth is, they are…they are the same thing. i went to my bag and slept in the middle of the cosmos, for reals.

the morning was soft and wonderful. the cove was deep and blue. the anchor was stuck when we tried to pull it so i swam down to check. i went down, hand over hand, on the anchor chain and the clarity of the ocean was unbelievable. huge fish swam far below me and into the bluer farther farther. i worked at the anchor and several breath-holds later, we were loose and heading out.

i have always loved that saying, “between the devil and the deep blue sea”, and i know that it means to be stuck. i like to think of it different. i’m not worried about the devil and i love the deep blue sea. this is the truth i feel from living like i do; i am capable of any possible good and evil, the best version of myself is the one standing on the deck of that boat, in between the stars and the plankton. right there, exactly there…and hopefully someday, everywhere else too.

flowers with teeth

my friend sent me a poem. it was about purpose and loss of purpose. it was about losing your way and forgetting where you’ve come from.  it spoke of rivers and oceans and forests and fins and shells and teeth. it pointed it’s quiet finger at me much like the silent stars remind me to shut my mouth. that friend, who is a buddhist, is at a retreat where he is looking inward so that he can see out. i want to see in and farther out too.

last night i slept at an ex-lover’s house. i was in love with her when she lost her twin babies at birth and i saw her cry tears that men do not…cannot know. i still feel her sadness all these years later, especially that one day in august. i think of it now and then and it makes me explore places in my own busted up heart that may have never been found had it not been for her terrible loss. it’s like a door that was opened by the suffering of another. 

i heard a fella singing about his gay uncle and how he didn’t know what that meant when he was little. and he talks about wondering whether he was gay or not and, my god, he spells it out! all the misconceptions. all the rules and the notions.  he shoots arrows from a righteous bow and they cut through bigotry and hatred and, godamn, if they don’t hit the heart. what is up with us humans and our limits to love? i must live with my heart and so must we all. can we not leave love to grow on it’s own? i can.

while the politicians smile and lie and while the pro athlete’s hit home runs and dunk and score goals…and while the rich folk buy vacation homes and talk about “going green” and while i type words onto my cool little computer there are women who are losing babies, there are babies without mothers, there are limbless warriors and innocent prisoners, there are lost and homeless, there are moaning whales and treeless forests and poisoned rivers.  we humans have a knack for heartbreak, especially our own. 

and if you find yourself heartless, purposeless…here’s some unprofessional advice:

go out and sleep under the stars…just go. lay your heart down against the earth, even if you are a politician…especially if you are a politician. love the unloved. walk into the ocean, take the long way, and breathe.  listen to the wind in the trees in the park. help the helpless. look at the rocks and find a small one that calls you, put it in your pocket and remember where you came from, whatever that means to you. put your hate away. close your eyes, feel your blood in your veins, open your heart. plant. turn your car off. laugh and mean it. open up like a flower…and show your teeth.

come on, give it a try. i do. i’m out there in the wind for sure.