tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: imagination

riding shotgun

when you tend a fire, you care for it. you make sure it doesn’t get too big, that it doesn’t burn out. you tend it. so, to tend, in my opinion, is to care for something. someone might tell you tend to your own business, and they might be right. my business needs tending, that’s for sure. i like to tend. it’s a good thing.

i like to pretend as well. i guess pretending is tending something that doesn’t exist yet. it’s abstract tending. pretending is ok by me.

i have always pretended that the passenger seat in my vehicle, in this present case it’s a toyota dolphin, is reserved for the person that is my running partner. i have always wanted some hottie to ride shotgun with me, someone that can take the wheel and let me ride shotgun. hell yeah, that sounds cool to me. and we’ll drive toward the farthest wilderness and on and on until the road runs out. riding shotgun is like saying, “i got your back.” i like to pretend that this is something that is possible and that i am possible. i think i’m possible. pretty sure, anyway.

i mean, what do we want? i think we want a solid affirmation that we’re gonna be ok. that we are ok. we want to be ok. ok is good enough for me. i used to want to be better than that, but i think i might just want to be ok. all the way to the end, please. that’s good.

i run along in my old vehicle and i sing songs out loud to myself, mostly out of tune. but i sing them loud and wildly. i sing about what i believe in and what i believe will never happen. i sing about suns and moons and little birds and love and the loss of the love. i sing about being badass and about raging into the night under the stars that came from all of yesterday’s yesterdays. i don’t sing well, but sure as hell do sing. it’s a part of my pretending.

i slept so hard during a nap today that i had a dream. it was a dream of a speckled eagle flying back and forth out of a window. i don’t know why it was flying through that window and i don’t know exactly where i was in the dream. i was in some secret spot where i could look at speckled eagles without them knowing it.  i woke up and felt like i had just seen an eagle, i suppose i just had. in the middle between what is and what might be, there is a gap. that gap is where i spend a good bit of time. i’m there, pulling on the strings of reality so that i might tie them to my dreams. i’m closing the gap. if it works out, i’ll let you know.

so the next time we’re hanging out and you see me drift, don’t be mad at me. i’m just out there in the gap, pulling on strings and trying to make things better. it’s a kind of pretending. tending what might be.

big hearts are very important. we should stretch them out.

cache’s take

cache is 4 and a half. his mother and father are good friends of mine and i had the opportunity to interview cache while dinner was being made at heather’s house on the river. the specialness of the place and the purity of the little dude blended together to make me understand that life is sweet, time is short, and wisdom is not just a product of old age.

me: how old are you, cache?

cache: i’m four and a half. not too long ago i was only four.

me: wow, do you know how old i am? i’m 46.

cache: whoa.

me: what’s the most amazing thing that’s happened to you in your life so far?

cache: well, so far, umm, turning 4 and a half is the most amazing thing. (this followed by a two shoulder shrug that indicated that i should know this kind of thing). getting to 4 and a half was kind of a short, long time.

me: nice. can you think of your earliest memory?

cache: not really, but i think i remember my mom.

me: do you know what your first word was?

cache: umm, yes, i said boobs because i love my mama’s milk. i saw myself on a video once and i said it. i was really little.

me: where do you think babies are before they are in a mama’s tummy?

cache: oh, they are in tiny capsules in between the stars and they are sent down when it’s time. and people think they are from nasa but they aren’t they are from farther away. the aliens know where they are because they are out there too.

me: so babies wait out there in the stars before they are ready for a mama?

cache: yes, mmhmm. way out there, like farther than the moon and even the sun.

me: that’s amazing. do you lay in bed and dream about stuff like this?

cache: well, sometimes i have dreams but mostly i sleep when i’m in bed.

me: do you like to set an alarm and wake up early?

cache: no way, i don’t need an alarm; after all, i’m only 4 and a half so why would i need an alarm?

me: i guess that’s a silly question. 4 and a half year olds should throw their alarm clocks toward the sun.

cache: yeah, cuz  when your 4 and a half you don’t need to worry about alarms or phone calls.

me: no phone calls, huh?

cache: nope.

me: what about texts?

cache: no way, man. (laughing)

me: 4 and a half year olds should throw their phones toward the sun as well. (laughing)

cache: yeah! (laughing and acting it out followed by a kind of burning up sound that he makes with his mouth…you know, like the sun burning up a phone kind of sound that 4 and a half year olds tend to make when they are really getting the point across)

me: what do you think of salamanders?

cache: love ’em. but i love my dog more because he doesn’t bite, he only licks my face because he loves me.

me: i see that (dog licking cache’s little scrunched up face). umm, cache, do you  mind if i write some of these words down and put them on the interweb? you might get kinda famous.

cache: naw, i don’t mind. why would i get famous?

me: because you’re so real, people aren’t used to that.

cache: oh, ok.


this interview took place over the course of an hour and a half. some of the things were edited out because they were too wonderful to even put into words. like his favorite animal which is a koowee, an imaginary animal with the head of a bandicoot and the body of a turtle (kind of) and sharp teeth that are spaced out like a crocodile’s teeth. it can be as small as a dime or as big as a house. it also has antlers that are like antennae. the time with cache also included talking about mountains and birds and rivers and how many miles it is to the sky. all of this stuff combined. all these bits of a wonderful imagination mixed with an already amazing reality. and heather was in her kitchen making dinner. and the merced was rumbling a couple hundred feet below us on the way to the sea where it will send messages of the mountains to the stones underneath. and the stars blinked on while we talked. and the little babies in their tiny capsules zipped around in between the galaxies. and the life that is the universe was churning and turning like it has all these millions of years.

good job, young cache, thanks for the lesson in life.


imaginary tendencies

i live in a toyota dolphin. it’s handy little rig, pretty small for a cetacean. i drive it around and park it where i feel like it’ll be unobtrusive. i make coffee in it. i sleep and draw in it. i listen to willie nelson cassette tapes in it. recently, i got the ol’ heater to work, so now i even kinda lounge in it. dolphins are cool to begin with, and now i have vehicle named after them.

this dolphin of mine reminds me of a sail boat. there’s all kinds of similarities.

~ to move it, you kinda got to pull up anchor, clear the decks, check for loose items.

~ it floats down the road, listing and swaying.

~ backing up is a pain in the ass.

~ speeding motorists fly around it as if it were a permanent fixture, much like powerboats do when passing a sailboat.

~ i have a dingy (my bicycle) that is very important once i’m parked (docked).

~ i took out the restroom because it was weird and i think it’s weird to carry a sloshing tank of shit around with you. (this could lead me into a story about a similar sloshing tank on a boat i spent months on before discovering the tank that had been capped for years. we always wondered what that lingering stench was, until that discovery. it made an impression on me and caused me to dislike tanks of shit.)

~ it’s slow.

~ the roof is in a constant state of repair. when you do not maintain it, it will leak. this is comparable to a sailboat and how it is always trying to sink. no up-keep, sinky boat.

these are a few of the similarities. there’s more but i don’t want you to amaze you anymore than i have already. mostly, i pretend i’m sailing while i’m in it. i see the stars overhead through my “escape hatch” and i feel the wind pushing the rig in the night. i wake and make coffee and step into the world. sometimes it’s a street corner in san francisco and i walk a block or two to the fontaines’ house. the fontaine sisters are strong supporters of my wily ways. they put up with the sand i leave in the shower and my project piles in corners and on porches. they see me living imaginatively and their eyes light up. they too, live imaginatively.

sometimes i land in the yard outside of chris and ethan. i float in and haunt their property that lies at the foot of the park in joshua tree.  there are bows and arrows with targets in the yard. there are stones all stacked with wild desert plants. chris (chrispy) is the hot mama of all things on this land and ethan walks around with shoulders as big as boulders. when i sail in, they shout and smile and throw food onto plates and tell me to stay. rowan is their boy. he’s a teenager now and still my friend. usually kids get too cool during a certain age, you know what i mean, and they create a little distance while they figure it out. rowan seems to have skipped it with me. we’ve been buddies all along. he makes me feel cool. the family listens to my same old, worn out stories and they are sweet enough to let me slide when i tell stories twice. when i stop there, their shine rubs off on me and i leave there a better looking man.

there are many ports. nick and elizabeth and the farm, where i spend part of my year in awe. tim and bonnie and the A-frame, where little ruby climbs the walls and dances for all. brian and summer and the urban oasis, where i see my old friend and we laugh. johnny thomson for the surfing and the swims. gus and amy and santiago de la trinidad, where i can be in the driveway or in the house or in the garage.  hunter dahlberg and the forge and the hammers and the shelf of books that i love.  my brother, josh, and the world into which i’m always invited. on and on and on….

so i’m a sailor. i sail to and fro. the world is an ocean and the skies are the map. there is an end out there somewhere, for sure. i picture the edge of the world, where everything dumps off into space, and that’s where i’m sailing. there’s plenty of sea ahead full of the stories that are yet to come. i’ve abandoned my compass. the charts i quarter are make-believe and i only do it for fun. these are the places i’ve been, these and others. when i’m lost, i wait for something to jog my memory, some distant siren, some floating hint. i keep track of the angles of the suns and the moons, each day slightly different, every pattern changing. i study the birds as they chase the poles and memorize stars.  the future unfolding into now, and here i am, caught in the colors that jump from what’s real.

imagination fills these sails. so much open sea!

pre-dawn secrets

the sun isn’t up yet, in fact, it’s hours till dawn. i can hear each separate wave as it rolls in from it’s long voyage and ends on the beach; and it’s message is delivered,  be it shell or carcass or tiny wiggling creature. the birds have not yet started their call for the sun. the streets are quiet with only an occasional lonely reveler calling out to himself, the night is spent like his money; swirling, dreamless, drunken sleep awaits him at the next park bench.

this is the hour that calls me. there are certain secrets contained in this darkness before dawn. there is the coffee that is so fine and strong and devilishly dark-hearted. there is the sound of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks as he sings out the genius of his youth. there are the thoughts lined up like patients in a doctors office, waiting to be seen; i am writing prescriptions as fast as i can.

more than what happens at this hour is the capacity for what might be. the day seems so grand, as if a bit of the night has been broken off and added. my colored pencils sit in their box, glowing. my pens jump into my hand and lean into the lines i do so love to draw. i wear a headlamp (years of living outside and reading from a sleeping bag have created  habits that are strange when practiced in a more civilized environment) to provide a more pointed light. just a little light, please, not too much. just enough to see the words, to find the way, to chase off just enough of the shadow but not all of it. it is the feeling of solitude and gratitude that drags me from my pallet at this unpopulated hour. i’m not the only creature awake, this is sure. crepuscular ones.

and while i can find little more to write about at this dark hour, than my thrill of writing at this dark hour, i guess that’s good enough. my mind is the sneaky little mammal, leaving tracks in the sand in the dark. (i woke once, appalled to find skunk tracks all around me, some of them just inches from my face. i must have had my nose turned off or something.) that is what a writer’s mind is anyway, a hungry little varmint that leaves tracks all across papers and screens. some meandering. some chasing prey. some on a long, long migration. each of our tracks differ in that they are possessed by different souls and produced at our own pace. and so it is with me, in my own stumbling, limping way i’m leaving my passage, interesting or not, as i continue the chase.

in closing, i’ll tell a little story. i love following tracks. i’m by no means an expert but i love being able to pick up a line of tracks and follow them. there is so much to be seen and read. the interests are revealed. most of the time, the sex of the animal becomes known. intimate details of a creature’s life can be pulled from the placement of their paws as they live and hunt and eat and mate and play. i have also come across things that i just couldn’t figure out. that would have been the case for this story had i not witnessed it first hand. i was in the desert after a strange snow storm. it had happened late in the winter season and the mojave was covered in almost two feet of snow. everything spiny and snowy. the joshua trees had tall white caps of fluff. i was up and walking with the sun and it was incredibly quiet; everything insulated from the powder. i was looking out over the white and saw a coopers hawk flying low, eye-level, straight towards me. she wasn’t flying hard, mostly gliding, and she had a chipmunk in her talons. all was perfectly clear as she passed; the chipmunk hanging, eyes closed, a drop of bright red blood fell from it’s nose and landed in the snow a few feet from me.  one brilliant, crimson drop on a desert of pure white. i saw another fall after a wing beat. and so i followed, making circles when i lost the line of red. i walked for over a mile and finally lost the little hawk and the bleeding chipmunk.

while i will never capture the purity of the world as it really is…i can’t help but try to re-color it in a dime-store version of the real thing. it’s the best i can do.

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.