tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: hearts

A Child’s View of the Universe

It’s great. Lately, I get to hang with Cannon. He’s three and a few. He already holds sturdy opinions, albeit mostly about food and dinosaurs and poop. I love asking him questions. When he has the patience, which is difficult to have when you’re 3, he’ll give me the kind of stuff that I love to write down. You know, I mean kids are ridiculously awake! Kids are a swirling new universe of forming planets and streaking comets. As an observer —  perhaps this it the only way I might get by with calling myself a cosmologist — one might see the beginnings of solar systems forming in the eyes of a 3 year old mind after being asked just the right kind of question. Oh I try! I pay close attention to them. Most questions don’t make the cut, but every now and then I’ll nail it. It reminds me of stream fishing for tiny cutthroat trout way up in the backwoods of Colorado.

It’s similar because you gotta love it to do it in the first place. You know the day will include meadows and wet feet and aspens and cold mornings and bug bites and deep, crystal pools with pine root tangles and scratches and lost sunglasses and massive afternoon thunderstorms and tired legs and sunburned ears and little white fluttering cabbage butterflies and mossy stones and slippery logs and the impossibly beautiful, dot-bodied trout that wimple between dreams and reality. And it is the treasure just to see them and hold them for a second. If for no other reason, that and only that. 

So, if you’re willing to wait and try, sometimes you’ll get a real gem from one of these little people. Right now, Cannon is very interested in eggs. He realizes that they hold early life. He likes to know which animals lay them and why. We looked up a platypus and he studied it closely, he was very satisfied to know that they lay eggs. He also is intrigued by blood. I don’t blame him, blood is strange. Inner rivers that rush out from our heart with the power of healing and reviving. A specific kind of red that tastes of elements. It’s like the ocean. It’s like milk. It can leak out and we can make more out of water.  We can’t just exchange it, not necessarily, we must check the type. If we are sick, our blood tells the story. Blood is magic. So yeah, I get it. No wonder he points at scabs and talks with passion about tiny wounds.

I asked Cannon if he knew about his heart. He just looked at me like he does. I said, “you have one, where is it?” He looked down at his hands and put them together like he was cupping water, then he kind of opened them and spread his fingers. He was thinking and looking down and thinking some more. He looked up at me and with a little question on his face, pointed at the center of his tummy. I love it. I smiled and nodded and asked if I had one too. He pointed at my chest and told me for sure it was in there. I told him to take a listen and I pulled him close. I watched him hear my heart and I watched him understand. Planets forming, streaking comets, distant stars and hydrogen flashes. He pulled back and pointed again at my chest. No words. I nodded. He pointed to his mama, Summer, in the kitchen. “Her heart?” I nodded. And then he put his finger on his chest and looked down. There he was, thinking inward and outward, a wild and perfect mind in the world of his origin.

Heartbeats continue to happen in my chest. My heart’s been down the road for a while now. The children I know are running around with their tiny hearts clicking and whirring. I don’t need any more reasons than that to want to grow old. I wanna keep watching and laughing. I wanna ask the questions and watch the eyes of the kids as they gleam with the light from wherever it is that they came.


Aw, just make-out why don’t ya…

I’ve had trouble with Valentine’s Day in the past. All the lovers exchanging long-winded smooches in the park. Diamond sales and red roses. Cheesy poetry and chocolate hearts. I’ve always liked April Fools Day way better than V-day. But that’s all just cuz I can be a curmudgeon about lovey dovey stuff. The truth is that love is good, far better than bitterness or disgust or disinterest. And, even though I’m not super into wild, public displays of affection (like make-out sessions in the grocery line), it’s better than fights in the parking lot. And why should I care if someone wants to check out his lovers tonsils right in front of me…if it’s in line at the DMV I might actually like it, since I’m usually bored to tears while waiting for someone to allow me to pay for a sticker that says I own something I already paid for. I’d like to make something clear, this bit of writing is not going to be a downer. I’m not here to hack away at love or lovers; actually, quite the opposite. I’m gonna take this opportunity to say some things about the heart, yes, that thing in your chest that you probably rarely think about. The faithful engine. That very part of you that is essential because it pumps your internal oceans, pushing and pulling, mysteriously functioning even when you sleep, even when you are unconscious, even when you dream. The Heart. It’s become a symbol of love, and so, on this day dedicated to love, I’d like to honor some hearts that I know and have known.

This to my Mom’s heart, that pounded so hard when she brought my heart to bear. That has loved me across the sorrows and worries. That has never once wavered and that lights the eyes of the One that does not know how to be unkind. I wonder how it is that I am so full of fortune to be the son of my mother.

This to my Father’s old choctaw ticker. The Man who found my Ma. That alone sets his heart apart — the one who has always loved and always will love my Mother. And the iron in his blood has built his jaw to suit, Native and spiritual and gifted. I have seen his heart, upside-down, at the top of a ladder in a handstand. His heart is concussive, like the heavy stroke of a Harley. Old lines, true religion, the heart of Father.

This to the hearts of every baby born. Because, at times, I can’t bear humanity (myself included) and I think the world would be better without us, and then I remember the babies. Tiny hearts that still hold the light of the stars and the sounds of the songs of the wheels of the universe. If we can be this, then we can be. We are born with all the secrets and we spend our lives forgetting them. Maybe babies scare you, or you don’t like them for some reason, no matter, they are the purest form of us.

This to the hearts of the forgotten. To the ones shuffling and struggling and remembering when. There are some who’ve outlived everyone that cared, others that never had that in the first place. It might not even be that bad to be forgotten, maybe it’s all the same, but I feel for them and think of them. Perhaps, in some way, compassion can leak into the faltering minds of the elderly and the sick. It can’t hurt to give them a kind thought.

This to the hearts that are oppressed. Because no one should ever tell anyone who and and how to love. And because there are no exceptions to this rule. To the different colored lovers. And to the gals who love gals and the boys who love boys. To the oldest of lovers. To the rich who love the poor. To the lovers who see across the borders. To the lovers who see across the rules. To the lovers who rattle the chains and rise from the ash and allow their hearts to thunder.

This to the hearts that are open. Because this is the only way we will be ok. Rigidity leads to atrophy. Opinions are fine and even important, but our minds are too complex to ever fully agree on everything, so it’s good to give space to move. Hearts are elastic, we should be too.

I’ve been thinking about my friends, the ones who are alive and the ones whose hearts no longer keep count. In my mind they have their spaces. I can animate them and think of them and even hear them speak. I am so very glad to know them and to have known them. I am in awe of the hearts that leap in their chests. Those whose hearts have quieted, those friends that exist now in my memory, are still affecting my life. There’s a rhythm to it all, I’m sure. And every bird overhead, and the dog at my feet, the bees in the rosemary, the lizard with one eye asquint, and somewhere a fox, red and black, under the roots of a cottonwood, sniffing the wind with a button nose, and then somewhere farther a swooshing heart sends tides of blood into boneless limbs and the body of a beast slips through the belly of the sea, and beyond it all is the pulse of the world. All is thunder and wonder. Let’s face it, we are linked, all of us, by these clunking hearts.

And in a rare public display of affection, Happy Valentines Day….I guess.

on the edge, looking over

It’s a big, orange sun spinning away tonight, down and down over the western horizon. All these rocks are sending slanty shadows toward the opposite horizon and it’s dying moon. Ain’t that much to say because the words don’t work for this kind of thing anyway. Too big. Too much. There used to be dances that told stories of fiery suns and heavy moons, but they died with office walls and busy  streets and cell phones. The real world has no “like” button.  The real world doesn’t even care, It just Is.

Gary’s sign reads, S.O.S. just trying to get out.  I assume it still reads that, unless the sign worked and he got out. When I rode up on him, I recognized him from a time before this time. Last year I was riding in from some ocean time and I passed him sleeping along the bike path that runs alongside the sad, weak San Diego River as it slops into the ocean. He was asleep in the sun with his big, bare feet pointing into the blue and his left mitt gripping an axe handle. His shit was splayed and drying from the night before. The sight was memorable, to me at least.

So there I was, on my bike, next to Gary. He was smoking a cig and he looked at me sidelong to see what kind of human had just rolled up on ‘im.

“Hey man. What’s happ’nin’?”

His answer was steady, “This.”

“I seen you before, last year with one mitt on an ax handle while you slept.”

A grin split his face and showed me some remarkable beautiful teeth. I took the moment to see him, a big, strapping man. He knelt and pealed back the top layer on the trailer that I’d noticed with appreciation (I built a trailer myself and pulled it for a thousand miles…I feel like I am at least a bit of a connoisseur.) and there, under his bedding was the hickory ax handle. His fingers were black toward the ends, like his cigarette. Gary’s cool. I like him.

“Where you gettin’ out too?”

“Ohio. It’s where I come from. San Diego ran it’s course, I’m done here.”

“You gonna walk there? With that trailer?”

“Don’t know. Don’t know if I can.”

“You’re a pretty burly dude, I think you’d make it.”

Gary peeled up his left pant-leg and showed a calf muscle that was bigger that any I’ve ever seen, except for Ethan Feltgus, whose calves orbited the Earth before they found a home under his knees.

“I was a power lifter in college. I squatted 400lbs 25 times at one point.”

I believed him. Gary. His tan face and curly hair and big teeth. His meat-hook forearms and baggy britches and blown-out shoes. His green-grey eyes and Camel wides.

“Where’r you sleeping tonight, man.”

There the smile. There the look into my eyes because he knew he could tell me what it was. There the hard real life that is just a knock on the head away from all of us. I’ll be anywhere, man.  As he said that to me, I took the time to look into the cars that waited  for the light to change. Of all the cars, one man, a tough looking fella, about 50 or so, looked and acknowledged my existence and that of my friend. The rest could not bear to look. Too much to deal with. Too many lights ahead to stop at and stare, straightaheadintooblivion. When I looked back at Gary, he knew what I had been thinking. He knew that I had just felt his invisibility. He nodded at his sign, and said, “I ain’t too good at that…I ain’t too good at asking.”

I reached in my pocket. I already knew how much money was there, i just wasn’t sure the denominations. Twenty dollars, broken. I found the four dollars and change and i dumped that into his palm.

“Here, man, I have 20, but I can’t give ya that. Here’s 4 and change.”

Gary loved it. He showed me what he was gonna do to improve his trailer (his life’s possessions).

I shook his hand and rode off toward the bridge and the beach and the waves breaking big. On the far side of the bridge, about a half-mile distant, I allowed myself the thought. I don’t really need the rest of that 20. I don’t. I have food and shelter and extra everything. I am better than surviving, I am well. So i turned around and pedaled back to the place where the 8 meets Sports Arena Blvd. There he was, squatting by his trailer, talking with full gusto to himself. I heard his words as i neared, he was raving. I felt that feeling of disappointment, that he might be too crazy to help. He saw me and stood.

“Yo Gary, I was thinking and realized that I really can afford to give you all I have in my pocket, so here’s the rest.”

He took the twenty, he squinted his eyes like he was seeing from out of the past into now. The fire of before lit him up.

“Yahah! That’s something!” and now he was laughing and now i was laughing and the cars at the light disappeared. They became invisible and my world was one of possibility. I told him I didn’t care how he used that money. I told him that I just liked him and the return smile and nod spoke truth, with a capital T.

Then I was free to go. Because it was the way it might have been if I had opened my heart, and I had.

So the waves that rolled in from the storms that day, met me and lifted me and allowed me to be a part of them. And all that was came with it. I am allowed these privileges when I follow the tracks laid by my heart. And what is the difference between those waves and the beating of my simple heart? There is only a difference when i disallow my heart it’s sameness.

Roll on Gary, you tough old cuss.


(this essay written with honor and respect while remembering a hero of mine, Christian Regenhard, who i would strive to be like and die falling short. you live on, dear brother, long since the dust of them towers cleared and carried and carried away your very being. there is little else if we cannot remember. i can. i do. let the years pass, let time heal, and let me sing your song.)

the leashless

a hollow, by definition, is a depression. it’s a little space that is empty. the palm of your hand is a hollow. we all have hollows. i know several sweet hollows in the woods and in the deserts. i can close my eyes and go to specific ones. when one spends their life hunting a good spot for bedding down, one learns what a hollow is. it serves as a place to drop gear and make a bed. it is a hide-out. i love hide-outs. and so do you, you who are reading this, you love hide-outs too. it’s in our older nature to know of a place where we can breathe for a second without the masses peeking in. a hollow is, in a very basic way, the beginnings of a home.

i own very little. before you misconstrue this as a pity party, i own little by choice. i used to believe that if you couldn’t carry it, it was too much. i guess i was more militant in my views about what “simple” means. i loosened my grip on trying to define simplicity. my vagabond ways are a good source of entertainment among my people. little bundles in spare bedrooms and sheds and garages. bags with “tobias” written on them. weird collections of kits and gear. boxes of books.

for a long time i always pictured myself with a little spot where i would bring all my stuff together and place it. some folks refer to this kind of place as a home. yeah, that’s it, a home. i planned on doing this kinda thing when i no longer felt a migrate’s pull. i also got a lonely feeling when i thought about making a place just for me to sit and wait it out. there’s a term in spanish “patas de perro”, yep, i got that; a reference to the feet of a wandering mutt. once i designed a huge bookshelf that would be the center of a cabin i would build. a “one-roomer” with a loft. and the burly bookshelf would be in the center and all four of it’s sides would be used to hold all my books and writings and jars of rocks and skulls of animals and bits of colored glass from the seashore. the bookshelf would be the ladder to the loft where i would keep more of the things that prove to me that i am here. rocks and sticks and bones and stuff like that. and books. and pencils and paper just in case, while i rested, i couldn’t wait to write something or make lines that imitate the things tangible in nature.

i went so far as to go to hunter’s blacksmith shop, orion forge (one of my favorite places in the world not just because it’s a forge but because it’s hunter’s forge…have you ever known someone who is the soul of any place they occupy? yeah, well, that’s hunter. when he is in a space – any space – i like being there),  to make the hardware for this aforementioned bookshelf. hunter helped me lay it out and smash out the steel so that it would hold the wood that existed in my mind. so, i got the parts to a wonderful, herculean (“herky”) bookshelf in some kit in brian foster’s backyard. thanks hunter. thanks foster.

wait, where was i goin’ with all this? that’s the great thing about writing (notice i didn’t say good writing), i guess i don’t need to be heading anywhere. but really, i was heading somewhere…oh yeah, i was talking about home. in some ways, my home is wherever i run into my tribe. i built a treehouse once in brian and summer’s backyard. i lived in it for a few seasons. slept through those wild santa anna windstorms, 30 feet off the dirt, a billion feet between the stars. i even put a harness on my ma and she climbed up with my help and spent a sunny afternoon watching the goats and chickens below, watching the clouds above move along, herds of their own kind. people came and visited me in the tree. foster came out and climbed up and looked at me from under his rough and tumble brow, through his squinty, shiny baby blues, and he smiled and we didn’t say nothin’ at all because we don’t need to anymore.

once i built a little cabin in the woods behind luke’s house in new zealand.  he and i dug out a spot beyond the vineyard, down the hill a bit. over there by the creek. we dug in deep with picks and shovels and we laid “deadmen” back in the hill to keep the earth from washing the cabin into the creek. we drug old fallen trees up from the gully and used ’em for rails and braces. we got old discarded wood at the lumber yard and bought it for small prices. it only took a week or so. that was 10 years ago and it’s still standing in that little hollow below heron’s flight vineyard. ferns and flora has grown in around it and luke still goes back now and then to give it a little love and care, he sends me reports. mostly, i think it sits alone while the wekas and the pukekos walk on their stilty legs above the creek that holds sea-run eels with heads as big as dogs.

there are caves and hollows and trees all around the world. i have spent time in many, each one has been my home for a spin. some remain, some have faded, the treehouse in brian’s yard fell from the sky along with half the tree during a wind event. my tribe is scattered but strong and their tolerance for the one with ‘patas de perro’ is amazing. each, in different ways, has kept me from the leash.

and even that is questionable. i’m a slave to plenty of things. i guess you might say i’m a bit out of bounds with how i live. i love making my way and carrying little. i am wonderfully linked to my people. the one’s who have sparkling eyes when they laugh about my comings and goings. i don’t know how long i’ll go. i’m not tired yet. and when i finally run outa steam, maybe i’ll lie down in one of them hollows, fill it with my bones.

and what is our chest if not the house for our heart?

and what is our heart if not the home for our soul?

and our souls are flying about like the sparrows, singing, and tilting tiny heads.

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.

love proof

words jump around.

the same word can mean very different things.

i used to play a game with someone while we drove across the country. it was kind of a homonym game but i would always cheat and twist words to sound like other words. like i would say, ” i got one, inanimate.” and then i would give examples, “that rock is inanimate,” and then, “i’ll be out… “in-a-minute.””she would laugh a little and tell me no, no, no, you can’t make that shit up like that.

in context, the game we played was proof of a certain kind of love. love of company and time spent. love of travel. love of sky and distance. love of love. i mostly avoid thinking of all that now, but somehow those times re-conjure themselves in the night. things that were then, become now. it’s like a trick that life plays on the sad and the sleepy. i think about heartache sometimes and i try to send it on down the river. i try to let it go, but damn, them old thoughts are strong swimmers. they can come back up stream like salmon. so it becomes a ritual; each day, sometimes more than once, i let ’em go. now i look at it more like letting the dogs out for a run…i know they’ll be back, but at least they won’t bother me for a bit. and in the interim, maybe i’ll fill the space. maybe one of these days, they won’t have room to stay and they’ll just go somewhere else.

if proof is a noun, it means to give something legitimacy or make it true. proof, as an adjective, is resistance. water-proof, bullet-proof, or whatever-proof.  i wonder about love; applied, it is probably our most worthy aspect. if it weren’t for love, i don’t know that we would have anything that sets us apart and gives us a good enough reason to be on this planet; however, it brings with it the possibility of evil. where there is something so powerful as love, there will always be a way to abuse it. it comes in the form of feigned affection. fake love, man, that shit is wicked. it can topple the powerful and crush the determined. what’s worse is that everyone is likely to experience it. some will be the dealers and some will be dealt. oh my, these tricky hearts!

if they made a love-proof jacket, i don’t know if i’d buy one, but i certainly would check to see if they had it in my size.

rubber dog

when i was a senior in high school my dad brought a puppy home from the reservation he had just visited. he looked quite a bit like the dog from the t.v. show The Little Rascals, he had a big black spot on his back and a half black, half pink nose. if you rolled him on his back, which he loved, you would see that his belly was as pink as a rose. because of that pink color, and the fact that he would let us kids pick him up from any limb (kids are so bad about mauling puppies) he earned the nick-name rubber dog. his real name was brewster, but in a family with five kids there seems to be an endless flow of name shortenings. brew, brewskie,ski, and on and on…he answered to them all, with a wagging tail. he grew into a 90 pound staffordshire terrier and was muscle from ear to caboose. my mom was his favorite in the family and i know why, she simply loved him so much.

let me break off and tell you about my mama. maybe everyone feels this way about their ma, i don’t know, but i have never met a better human. she has always had the ability to absorb all my bad, and love me just the same. i know dozens of hard-case marines that i’ve taken to meet my ma, many of them have returned just to stop in and eat pie and have coffee…even when i ain’t there! she has a way.

once i took my buddy, Christian, home for christmas. we were leaving on a long trip together and we stopped in to put our gear into order. christian slept in the guest bedroom that had a lacy bedspread and frilly pillows and my ma teased him appropriately. two weeks later my ma was seeing us off on a journey that would last 8 months and cover most of south america. it was the last time my ma would see christian. i guess we never know these things…they seem too unfathomable until they happen. christian would fly back to the states, take the job as a fireman that he had waited on for months, be stationed on the brooklyn side of the brooklyn bridge, ride a firetruck to the base of the twin towers, run in with 4 other men, and be turned to dust.  i went to NYC, i think it was a day or two later…i don’t really remember. i was awestruck by the grief. i felt the hot, terrible sadness as i realized that i would not find christian in a hospital or under a piece of rubble. the big maybe was too big. they never found a trace of my buddy, not a smidgeon. i stayed for his funeral…but i hadn’t called my mom. i was afraid to call her. i wasn’t sure if i would be able to hear her voice and not break apart into little pieces of myself. when i did call, it was her voice that made the damn break free…just the words, “oh, tobe…”. i never did completely come back from that one. i still have some trouble when my mom mentions ol’ boy christian.

it’s that kind of love that makes someone shine a little brighter than others. it’s why rubber dog sighed and posted up with his nose to the crack under the door anytime he was locked out of a room that ma was in; and my, my, did he make here laugh. he was terrified of spiders, rubber bands(i’m sure that’s because us kids shot him once or twice), and the dark. he loved to lay in the sun on his back with his pink stomach to the sky. one day we noticed a patch of angry skin on his belly…it was cancer. rubber dog died within a year. my ma never wanted another dog. i think brewster’s death hurt my ma more that she ever let on. it’s difficult to explain our human attachment to other hearts.

love.  that thumping heart, hurried breath, furrowed brow, kind of thing that comes from losing another being. everyone has their own opinion about souls and eternity. i lean toward the simple…love with all your might and without excuse. love till the stars fall from the sky and the earth cracks into pieces. love most the things that love you back and be careful not to waste it on the trivial. love relentlessly like a river. love…aw hell, love like my mother.