tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: hope

Dancing Preacherman

I have vivid memories of church. Church happened 3 times a week for me when I was a youngster. My Pa was the assistant pastor. He led the congregation in song before the message was given by the Preacher. My Dad is a showman, a regular circus performer who took his skills to church. I remember his rowdy acts I witnessed as a child: squatting tables loaded with men, handstanding on ladders, tiptoeing across the backs of seats. Smiles spread and songs erupted and laughter rolled like thunder. He doesn’t just lead songs, he dances and hops and jumps from the pulpit to the floor. He is 80-something and still does this stuff. Age has affected the height of his forays but his enthusiasm never wains. God is proud, I’m sure.

There was one song my old man would sing when I was real little, it was called Thanks to Calvary. During the part of the song where he refers to his son, I would trundle down the aisle and my Pa would pick me up. I remember looking out at the people as they shouted their “Amens!” When he was done singing, he’d kiss me and whisper me back to Mama. Back at my seat, Mom smiled and winked and beamed. Cory, my sparkly-eyed little brother, didn’t know it then but he was next in line to be the little boy walking to Dad while the piano played and the hallelujahs rained down like leaves in the fall.

Sometimes, not always, if I started to get too sleepy during the long-winded sermons, my Ma would shovel me under the pew (Pews are what they call the long, uncomfortable benches in a church. I don’t know why they’re called that, but I’ve always thought it was maybe because so many different rear-ends parked there through the years.) and let me sleep. Under the pew was a whole different world. From down there I would look out at the hundreds of ankles rising up from Sunday shoes, some jittering, some akimbo, some still as stones. Big fat ankles in strange, shimmering panty hose corralled by floral dresses. Tiny baby feet, hanging.  Stories were told through that forest of feet. The knobby ankles dressed in old man socks swimming in over-sized shoes that were nudged up against an oxygen bottle with the weird, clear tube that ran to the upper world and into the wrinkled nose of one of the adults. Teenage sweethearts using the cover of church to explore forbidden thoughts, their legs touching, searching. It was all something that no grown-up could see or know, but it was a lively drama for me. Sometimes I would pluck a bright colored blob of gum from the bottom of the pew and test it for lingering flavor, there were hundreds to choose. I was scolded never to do this, but I did on some occasions, depending on the level of temptation. I don’t chew gum anymore, I doubled up back then and I reckon that’s aplenty.

After church, there was much to do. Certain old fellas carried candy and I was careful to work the scene. Mr. Garcia always had butterscotch. Mr. Meachom had jolly ranchers. Now and then I got snatched up by some of the older teenage boys who would try and get me to spin some fantastic yarn about a monster that was real and living in one of the dark, upper hallways of the church. I remember being carried down long, unlit passages while the boys laughed at my earnestness over where the monsters lived. I gave instructions like the lead explorer on a desperate mission to discover something conjured from the wildest recesses of my mind. Finally, my Ma would round me up and we would pile into the old 69 Dodge campervan. No seatbelts back then, instead we fought to sit on the hump in the center. Up high where the road ran directly under your feet and the world was on a conveyer belt.

I don’t go and sit with congregations anymore. I don’t walk the aisle to have someone help me work through my sins. I do, however, have a church. I go where the big cedars sway with the ponderosas against whatever the sky is brewing. The aisles are full of curling ferns and meandering vines. I do daily baptisms where the red-backed crawdads patrol the creek bed, where the trout slip in and out of existence. My mind is full of the colors of the world. It’s good to empty out and allow the heart some relief from our contrivances.

I use my mind to remember. I use it to make little creations, drawings and essays and stories. I use it to build bridges between my heart and other hearts. I use it to tell my sweetheart how I love her. I use my mind to help comfort my dear ones that are sad or sick or afraid. I’m training and learning to be aware of the wild world and Her magic. I’m feeling heartbeats and breathing with intent. I’ve been here for almost a half-century and Life continues to produce mysteries and wonders in lovely succession. I know for certain that hate and bitterness reduce connection and inhibit the ability to understand and yet I see so much of it. I’m appalled by our acceptance of it! So much value in lovingkindness. It’s pretty cool to think that I have the choice to be a strong, aware, loving human being.

I can hear my Dad singing to the folks who are listening. His song is clear and he’s dancing and smiling and clapping his hands above and below. His cowboy boots are polished and he’s hopping down now in a crouch. The people are all smiling and slightly embarrassed at the antics of my old man. But now his head is back and his heart shows and his voice rises in that tenor that is sweet to hear. Now some tears from the eyes of the audience because my Dad is real and kind and full of love. My Father is religious, I am not…but love is good all around. There is room for us all if our hearts and minds create the space.


i have a friend whose son was born with a hole in the top of his head. it was a home birth and the little guy came out before the skull had finished growing closed. the mother was in rough condition following the troublesome labor and the father, under the urgent circumstances was faced with a frantic drive to a distant hospital with his newborn son. as Scotty tells me this story, we are sitting under a sea of indigo, the dreamtime stars are spilt and spread overhead, giving hints of the existence of a forever that we simply can’t wrap our heads around.

Scotty told me that on that drive to the hospital with little Orion in his car, he spoke to the universe entire. he called on the stars and all the mysterious machinations and told them he was on board with it all. Orion is maybe around 10 years old these days. he more than made it. he’s a spitting image of his dad and is also one of my good friends. the stars knew what they were doing, they still do. we don’t run things here.

three days ago i was out in the desert on the dry lake bed. i imagined back a million years before that. the world takes her time and her changes are always in style. i wondered if i would be in deep water, under the lake, if i could time jump and be here when things were then. such sweet mystery. such simple thoughts. while i thought about this stuff i was looking up into the blue, flat on my back. a line of buzzards, turkey vultures to be exact, were flying overhead. they were flying in layers, some only a couple thousand feet up and others almost in the jet stream. the sun had set, but the flapping rooks were still in the full light of the sun as it bent around the world from it’s 90-some-million-mile perch. not a mile distant, on the edge of the old lake is a spine of granite that jumps up a few hundred feet off the floor, as the buzzards reached it’s mass they began to swing into circles, some clockwise, some otherwise. tipping their 8 foot spans with nary a flap, they climbed the swirl of hot air and in doing so they allowed me to see the invisible thermal, alive with hundreds if not thousands of their kind. i’ve read that turkey buzzards have incredibly sensitive noses, able to smell a carcass over the panels of the wind from miles away. as i stared up at them, i wondered if they could smell amazement. i hoped so. the sun was sinking lower, the birds were climbing higher, their wings blinking a beautiful red as they turned their bellies at the light. the line of buzzards started from the top of the swirl and they continued on some secret journey that might be whispered about in the rookeries where the dark trees limbs bow from the weight Cathartian bodies as they shift and blink and wait for dawn.

i heard some guy talking about a thief that had been pointed out among a crew of workers. he was making excuses for the fella whose character was in question. he said something about how we just needed to keep our eye on him and he used the analogy that “vultures fly over us all the time, we should just let them pass.” i was disgusted with his comparison of some dude who steals wallets and money and tools to such an amazing bird as the turkey vulture whose name, Cathartes, means purifier. seems like we’ll use any means necessary to drag the animals into our nasty habits. anyway, i walked away thinking that i didn’t trust either one of those dudes, and also feeling righteously akin to the vultures myself.

notice: we humans are on this world, it’s our spaceship. it is not limitless. with or without us, it has an expiration date and the quality of our stay here is our own responsibility. the milky way galaxy is our home as well. the cosmos is spread out like a blanket for us to play on, night after night. our fortune is enormous but we are lacking in gratitude. we gain so little from our blinking pads and our fancy pants, while an entire universe waits for us to use our senses to see into everything that already is. beauty fades, strength wanes, relationships crumble, families grow up, jobs get mundane, eyes will fail, but life is a gift till the last breath. count your lucky stars that you were ever here….

(i wrote this while thinking of my little buddy, Orion, who made it aboard. and last night, under a late night sky, i saw the Hunter up in the sky, Orion with his bow, and i thought of the wonder of it all. i hope for very little because hope is difficult for me to really believe in, but i must hope for the children, that somehow a wonder and respect for the world can be restored. so that they can swim in oceans that are not caustic and walk through the woods that are not broken and drink from springs that bubble up in the moss where the bull elk still bugle and the grizzlies still rub their shaggy backs against the trees.)

gimme a little yellow light

this whole thing is just a big chain of events, ain’t it? no need to answer, i know it is. one minute after the other. day after day. sunrise, sunset, sunrise…and so on.

i got a chain of events goin’ on, i’ll tell ya that much. here’s a little gem for ya. it’s cold. going to freeze tonight and the frost is already on my pumpkin, if you know what i mean. my fingers don’t type so well in this cold and i can see my breath puffing whenever i sigh from not being able to write a godamn thing worth reading. so i see my breath quite a lot.

i have the shed that i live in set up so that all the lights run off of one power strip on the wall. the lights are good, they throw a yellow light, which i love, and i really look forward to the evenings when i strip down wild-animal-style and shoot into my sleeping bag for a good read. i got things set up so i can turn the power strip off with a long stick that i keep by my little pallet; that way i don’t have to get outa bed in the cold. i know, i know, genius right? hey that’s what i went to college for…wait, no it’s not. i don’t remember why i went to college, but i’m pretty sure i did.

i took the sewing machine out in the sun and sewed curtains for my camper today. the sun was good and warm in the middle day and it made me pretty happy to make stuff in such a cool setting. there’s a black kitty that kinda follows me around and gets in the way. somehow she knows how to do it without getting on my nerves too much.  i suppose it’s good for me to have her around, it’s like being alone, but not really. sewing machines are amazing. so much work done so fast. i have always sewn by hand because sewing machines and backpacks don’t go together, but when i get around a machine, i remember what my mama taught me and i sew. i sew stuff that doesn’t even need sewing. what’s that, you gotta mend them britches? hell, bring ’em over.

it’s been weeks since i climbed a tree. that’s on the agenda for tomorrow. it’s important you know? how long’s it been since you climbed a tree? you know, it’ll give you a pretty unique perspective. a tree that has been in your life for a long time takes on a whole new meaning once you’ve put yourself in it’s care, high above the mess. i lived in a tree in brian and summer’s backyard for about a year. they let me come in the house and use the facilities, but my nights and my passing moments were spent in that ol’ tree. my ma even came out to visit me and i put a rope on her and she climbed up. we sat in the dappled sunlight 30 some feet off the ground and i  saw the little girl shining in my 70 year old mother’s eyes. she smiled so easy and she had so much to say. we looked at the goats and the horses and the chickens. the ravens checked in. the world was turning just so. no wonder the birds sing from trees…there’s so much there, we should all sing about it.

i guess it’s time to shut this little light box down. my fingers are cold. i can see my breath on every breath. i’ll reach for the stick and shut off the switch and another day is gone. you know, we don’t get ’em back? these days? they are precious little gems that we often pay little attention to. the world is not spinning because of us, it’s spinning and we just happen to be here.

what grand fortune.

let’s not lose hope. let’s breathe and make it good.

rock ‘n roll, man.

now, where’s that stick.

hope is a silver minnow

for over sixty years now my dad has traveled almost exclusively by motorcycle. he is a traveling evangelist.  he’s pretty crazy. he goes mostly to native american reservations and preaches jesus to the people of the earth. i don’t know if they care what he talks about but i know they like him because they invite him back. 

my dad is choctaw. i suppose that makes me a little bit choctaw as well. i live more like a native than my dad does and i can see the shine in his eyes when i tell him that i’ve been living under a tarp tied to the manzanitas for the last couple of months. we have an understanding, he and i. 

i traveled over 12,000 miles on the back of my dad’s motorcycle when i was a kid. he took me to every youth camp to which he was invited as a speaker. he would speak and i was turned loose into the woods. for whatever reason, my dad didn’t make me attend the camps’ meetings. i ran into the woods and looked for the world. without a doubt, this shaped me into who i am today. i remember finding the smallest streams, ones that could be heard but were hidden by the undergrowth. i remember my pounding heart as i looked into the pools and hoped to see that flicker beneath the surface. i carried a fishing pole…always. there is something i can’t explain about the magic existence of trout in a tiny stream. it’s as if they will be there for those willing to believe, otherwise, they do not appear. 

i remember traveling to the Jim Bridger Natnl Forest with ol’ pops one time. he had to spend a week at Pine Creek Bible Camp. as per usual, he turned me loose soon after we arrived. i had seen the creek as we crossed a tiny log bridge on the way into camp. it was a mile back along the 20 mile dirt road. i walked as the crow flies through the pines and heard the creek before i smelled it and i smelled it before i saw it and when i saw it, my heart leaped. it was wild…very wild. the trout were beautiful brown-backed cutthroat trout from the dawn of time. i watched a mink slink and hop back and forth on the far bank. i walked for miles and only fished a little because of everything else there was to see. that evening, as i walked back to where i first found the stream, i saw a mama moose with a calf standing in a meadow. i had never seen a moose and i’ll not forget the feeling. the earth was breathing under my feet.  i got back just before dark and my dad smiled at me, “did you see some things?”. the next morning, there was a large cat track just outside the door of the tiny cabin. i was off and running. i walked down through the trees and looked into the meadow. this time there was a bull moose and he was bedded down in the tall grass. his antlers looked like two trees with no leaves. he heard me coming and stood up and there was steam coming from his nose and rising off of his back. he was running on unimaginable furnaces and a thundering heart that allowed him to stay warm even in the brutal wyoming winters. i was shivering under my layers of coats and wool and i was afraid of that enormous beast. i stayed on the ridge above the meadow. he ambled off into my imagination where he lives, even now, 30 some years later. 

i really have never come back from that little excursion. i’m still out there. i’m far more jaded from the years of living, but i still believe in those little silver minnows that streak from under the bank where the roots of the pines dig down deep and grip the stones that come from the center of the world.