tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: kids

Sprouting Knowledge

I wear a watch, it’s not a smart phone or anything, just a watch. It’s perfectly dependable, it doesn’t try and guess what I’m gonna say and it doesn’t even have an alarm. My watch doesn’t care if I’m late or not, it’s indifferent to whether I think time is important. My watch speaks analogue, not digital, and it can be submerged in water down as far as I ever need to go. Every month, without fail, my watch counts out 31 days. It doesn’t care that months are set up with different endings. I imagine it thinking, “Yeah, well why don’t you just reset me then, you’re the one with thumbs.” It keeps ticking because it’s on my wrist, winding as I gesticulate wildly about inconsequential baloney. Sometimes, because I take my watch off and leave it sitting for too long, it stops. When I put it back on, it begins to tick but the time is not present. It’s almost like it’s telling me the exact amount of minutes that I forgot about it.  I really don’t mind the time being wrong, I wear it for nostalgic purposes anyway. Plus, I like the inner workings of a watch. All those tiny gears. The clickings and turnings. Have you ever seen one of those tiny, transparent shrimp in a lit up fish tank? If you get up close and look, you can see inside. There in the microwonderworld you can see the fluttering heart and the churning fluids of perfection. Maybe that’s why I love the inside of a watch — it’s a beautiful imitation of something perfect, like a model reminder of the things that have hearts that thump because they were born from other hearts. The cosmic wilderness keeps such mysteries under wraps. Our sciences poke around while the universe looks on with a sly, curly smile; somethings don’t need to be known.

But what I really wanted to say before I got side-tracked, is that I love the way my watch communicates with me. It’s as honest as the spinning hands on the front. If the time is not present, it makes no excuses. It just continues to do it’s work. Children are a bit like that, like when they’re real little, in that age between first words and when they begin to grasp their identity. There’s always a little manipulation I guess, but even that is transparent to me. I understand why a child cries over a bottle, or a thing wanted but not gotten. It’s honest. They’re simply expressing desire and they aren’t worried about being selfish or wrong. It’s like this: I want that, and not getting it makes me sorrowful, so now I will shed giant tears and howl from the depths of my soul. That is awesome, man. I kinda want to do that, I just don’t have the guts. If I did it around most of my buddies they’d slap me in the mouth and tell me to get it together.

I don’t know what the study was called, but I recently read about how kids before a certain age don’t have a grasp on quantity. It’s in that stage where they’re learning about amounts and distribution. Like Brian and Summer’s little guy, Cannon. I took a little chip from his bowl and he gave me a stern look. So I said, Sorry buddy, can I snag one of those chips from you? His little brow unfurled. There were two chips left in the bowl. A little chip and a great big one. He handed me the big one. It all made me laugh. He knew he wanted control over the chips, but that was all. Once he had the run of the place, he was like, “meh, whatev’s, have a fat chip, tobias.” I like this kinda communication. It’s right now. It’s real. It’s not backed by hidden agendas or secret prejudices. It’s not shouted through a microphone or written in fancy fonts.

There’s this old saying that my buddy Roger Sparks used to quote, I think it’s from some old monk who died thousands of years ago. It goes something like, the student is present when the teacher is in. I understand it in my own monkey way — when I go to teach, I should be open to being taught. So, when I’m down and chatting up some little 6 year old, maybe that’s when I’m the closest to the secrets of the stars. Listen up, Tobias, don’t forget to not know it all.

Before the Time of Giants

On 1st street the road dead ends at the river. I like it there, the Deschutes is cold and stays pretty cold even when the weather is stifling. There’s a rock that Jason showed me, you can dive from it into the swirls below the rapids. When I’m done writing this, I’ll go there and be in the river for a bit. Till I’m cold. Till my teeth chatter.

Yesterday I went there and jumped in while two little boys with mohawks stared at me with curious looks. I took goggles cuz I like swimming down deep with the current and running into the trout that face upstream. Yesterday, I went down and latched onto a rock. A huge crawdad came out to check the commotion, red claws raised and gaping. I snatched him from his world and swam to the surface. The boys were still staring and were talking about being under water for too long. I asked if they wanted to check out the crawdad, the dad seemed to like it all. Eli and Oz. They seemed the same age, about 7.  I held the crawdad’s claws and they touched him and gave me smiles through missing front teeth. They watched me let the critter go and they asked their dad where crawdads come from. He replied, “under water, under rocks…which is good enough I suppose. I dove back in and the boys watched and smiled.

I went for a coffee after that. There was a couple playing ping pong in the square. The game was tight. The dude won but it was after a good many lead changes. Then, they both checked their heartrates on the their heart monitors. I guess it’s good to know how many calories you burn in a heated game of ping pong, that way you know how much protein to put in your muscle milk.

A few homeless rat punks hung out on the outer edges of the coffee shop. These were the type that generally make most folks uncomfortable. Lots of words from the corners of mouths. Lots of slippery movement and eyeballing unlocked bikes. I heard the ring leader talking about how he was doing steroids for his something ‘r other that made no sense.  Lots of calling everyone “brother” with that disingenuous tone that makes me kinda feel like being mean. Out of the ether there was a cop and little steroid dude was suddenly doing his best song and dance for the man. The paper bag in steroid dude’s hand was the subject most talked about. Finally it was opened and the individually wrapped baggies of weed  were being discussed. The kid singing the virtues of medical marijuana and the cop just  listening while being enlightened through many nuggets of wisdom about pharmaceutical companies running the world and one long-suffering young man’s quest to change the world, one baggie at a time. The cop was unbelievably cool and allowed the kid to walk away with his bag of bags and his ringing teeth. I was impressed with the cop, which is a good thing considering the current state of affairs in the good ol’ U S of A.

I rode back toward the forge and followed the path I know well. My bicycle feels like a magic carpet when I get into a rhythm. In the tunnel that leads under the 97 there was a kid with 4 paper bags and 2 cans of spray paint. He was tipped over and his eyes were open and there was a ring of paint around his mouth and nose. Bad route for a young man. I dodged the broken 40 in the tunnel and was rocketing toward 3rd while the sun was going the other direction. I rode past a lady with a bag of laundry and she jumped terribly, I said hello, she gave me her best frown.

At the forge, I remembered that I’d forgotten to buy coffee. I was tired of riding and so I just felt sorry for myself and the morning that would be barren of coffee and so a kind of sorrowful drama that would end in my getting coffee from a coffee shop later than makes me happy. I do believe this falls into the category of 1st world problems. I appeased myself with a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream straight from the carton. The night was hot and the forge a good bit hotter. The majority of the night was spent rolling around. Finally I slept near dawn, then came the day on the world as it spins on it’s perfect tilt and hurtles through another lap around the sun.

As I was drifting off, in those moments around 4 a.m., I thought of the lavender skies over the pines in Colorado. It’s what I think of when I am trying to empty my head of trash. Then I remembered Eli and Oz and the red-clawed crawdad. Then I wondered if the crawdad, in that subaquatic territory of stones and moss, was maybe dreaming of a time when he was pulled from his world and examined and released by giants. His friends gathering around him with small, blue eyes. Antennae flowing with the current and listening to a story beyond belief, spoken across feathery gills in the language of the crayfish, born out of their astacological histories and before the time of giants.

the bug and Dr Jolliff



it’s been 10 years since i decided to build the bug.  i’m sure it started off as something that i knew would lead to me being able to play more; most of my endeavors are linked to me finding a good excuse to play. Marcus Jolliff loves to play, he’s my friend. he’s like a mix of Dr Frankenstein and the mad-hatter.  ol’ marcus had a kind of a bug already built and he trounced around in it causing all kinds of havoc. i thought it would be fun to team up and cause double the trouble. so i built my version of the bug. i built it out of other peoples’ trash; i had a buddy help me with the skeleton structure, made from aluminum, and the welding it involved. the design was pretty good as far as looks, but i wasn’t sure if it would work. you see, it’s a set of stilts with hind legs and front legs. essentially, i’m walking on all fours only i’m 10 feet above the ground. the hind legs have a built-in shock system that allows me to stay in the costume for longer. the entire get-up weighs about 45 pounds and is really kind of a pain in the ass. these stilts are made so you must walk bent legged, so that the leg looks like an animal’s leg, and so they are a different learning process and, unlike most stilts, the balance is under the knee instead of the foot. once i’m up and in the costume, it takes on a look that is really quite strange.

marcus and i talked it over some. mostly we just laughed at our own ideas. since he’s much smarter than me, i just listened to what he thought was good and then applied it. in the early days, we often got together to brainstorm, but that really meant that we got together to laugh at one another. we still do. once we went down to venice beach and stopped traffic on the main drag. cars stopped and people climbed out to take photos of the two weird creatures in the street. some people locked their doors. the bugs are quite famous when they’re tramping around. oh yeah, man, we bugged. and we still go bugging.  and, always, we laugh. good job, marcus.  you crazy fool.

i don’t speak with my mouth while i’m the bug, it’s better that way. talking verbally takes up time and most stuff can be said without speaking anyway. it’s all body language. when people ask a question and then realize i don’t talk, i see their intelligence flare up. it’s wonderful to communicate through the movements and expressions that are in us but have been long unused. they are inside us, dusty and buried. we use our phones these days to express ourselves. (what do they call those stupid things? emoticons? umm, i hope it don’t offend, but i like real life smiles, thanks.)  there are long, clacking tubes attached to the arms and they sound like something an insect might do to give a warning. the face is long with the eyes mounted on a helmet that i wear on my head. my face is in direct view but few people look me in the face, they stare above me. i realized soon after i started running around as the bug that i am perceived as a new entity, i’m still myself in these stilts way above the crowd but i’m the bug to everyone else.

as you might imagine, children love it but are also terrified of it. since most of what i do is for the kids (because, duh, they are the ones most likely to change the world. and because they already love whales and hummingbirds and so they don’t have to be convinced that these wild things are more important than jobs or money. and because they are honest even in their lies and so i love them and relate to their transparency. and a lot of other reasons, but i don’t wanna list them here, but yeah, i love the kids) i needed to find a way to keep them from being too terrified. after all, a 10 foot, black insect is both wonderful and daunting. for the same reason that movie about the kid who trains his own dragon is popular, i am popular. if i win the children over, they become my allies. i see the wonder in their eyes. as i walk with long, sideways strides, and as i move up toward the tiny ones, i use the body language i’ve discovered works the best. the distance is important; too close, they run away; too far, they don’t connect. i find the space and begin to interact. if ever i can get them to reach out and touch the weird, spiky foot, i’ve won them over.

and so i walk around with squealing children at my feet. i, in my world, they, in theirs. two worlds not so far apart. the main difference is the 40 years of separation between when we came into this world. the kids haven’t had to face the conflicting decisions of what we adult humans are supposed to be. the children are so ready to wonder, they are so down! they are tiny collectors of dreams. they are little geniuses searching for discovery. they are intrigued by their own fears and not afraid to let the tears roll. they are the little, untainted versions of ourselves. i can cope as long there are kids to teach and love. i’m learning too, while i dance and crawl across the desert, 10 feet above the stones, just under a wild, blue sky.

i am the bug.

and dancing and playing

and not using words

the children all laughing 

and singing like birds

and dancing and playing 

i can hear the notes play

till i stumble…

               and stumble…

                                 and stumble away.

back when then was now

there was a time when i just believed. if my dad said i could do it, i believed him and i tried like i believed. handstands and unicycles and wrestling moves and races and backflips off the high dive, they all fell into the category of trying because my dad said it was possible. of course, i landed on the back of my head a few times; it’s part of the game, you know what i mean. i’m less like that now, way less. i still believe in stuff that seems impossible, and i even kinda know that it won’t work out, but i believe because i don’t like the alternative. maybe that’s what my old man was going for anyway; it certainly wasn’t that he thought the unicycle would land me a solid job someday. (although i did try to get into the circus when i was 14. the carnies putting up the tent in the mall parking lot called me over from atop my 10 foot unicycle and asked me what i was doing. “wondering about a job,” was my answer. the thick bearded dude with the eastern block accent told me that you can’t just run away and join the circus anymore. “come back when you’re 18,” he yelled as i rode off with a red face.)

once my dad wanted me to go to where he spent his early childhood, redrock, oklahoma. he told my ma we were going on a trip. neither ma nor i knew what dad was planning,  that he had worked it out so i would ride my own motorcycle down there from colorado. to top it all off, my older sister, malia, was on the docket to go as well. the facts came out all at once and my ma gave in with a look that said, “if something happens to my kids….” my dad was a confident fella. we were going. i was 15. i didn’t yet have a license and that didn’t seem to sway ol’ chuck in the least, “it’ll be fine, tobe, you and your sister will just follow me.”

we left early in the morning. it was summertime. interstate 25 south and then east into kansa. dodge city then south. i rode a honda 354 motorcycle and my sister was on a honda 750. even my kid brother, cory made the trip on the back of my pa’s old bmw 750. it was quite a group. as we dropped into oklahoma, i realized that it was a whole different world. the humidity made the air feel like i was sitting in a warm bathtub. i was in a dream state. i was 15 and i was on the rode! the truth is, that trip sent me off and i have never really stopped. in some ways, i never came back from oklahoma. poncha city, enid, eucha, redrock, tulsa, disney and on up the neosho river to the grand lake o’ the cherokees. we were in kin-folk country. i met my great uncle edgar, who coulda been my gramp crabtree’s twin. same kinda man, same look. he was a choctaw indian and spoke clear and simple in a way that called out from the woods like a cicada song. great aunt ellen was as sweet as the smell of the lilacs growing wild along the fence. my brother and i swam daily in the cow pond and left with a solid case of giardia, straight out of a cow’s hind end, i’m sure.

in redrock, we stopped where my dad used to swim in a pond out behind the garage my grand dad owned. the pond was still there some 40 years later. a rope hung from the tree where the kids still swung out and dropped in. my dad said, “look at that rope, it must have been replace a dozen times since i swung on it.” i wasn’t so sure, it looked like it had been there since time began. i remember seeing my dad as he looked into his past, his eyes, green looking glasses that kind of shined from the inside out. i think back at his face, and i can feel his blood in my blood. for as much as i thought i’d be different, i see quite a few similarities between us. funny how we end up like our parents in so many tricky ways.

on that trip i saw one of my cousins drag an alligator gar out of the water with fishing gear that looked like it was made for sharks. as that dinosaur of a fish flopped and snapped in the mud i could see the older ways written on the ruddy face of my kin. at night, down at the bottom of the field where the fence ran along the forest and off into the edge of forever, i saw the lightning bugs blink on and off with a silence that tugged at my need to be laid up against all things wild. barn kitties bred like, well, like barn kitties. dogs ran up the dirt roads with their hind ends swinging wide and wonky like trailers out of alignment. oklahoma has a jungle feel. oklahoma is old country and it hides it’s old ways in the deep, black mud back among the big-leafed trees. oklahoma brought out my pa, it brought him out and fired him solid as a hickory stump.

and along them pocketed roads with the big dips and all along the fences and the endless power lines and then that once (was it on that trip or another? i don’t know.) when ol’ chuck and i stopped and dipped in a creek and a snapping turtle grabbed at his achilles tendon and he howled and we charged, naked, from the ditch. and under heavy summer skies with black clouds that threw down lightning in sheets and rain in buckets. and diners with women in gingham dresses serving coffee and chicken fried steak and the women winking at me, just a kid, and my dad with the eyes that knew what was in front of me.  we adults all know and fear what the future holds for the little ones. we know that life will come and get the young ones. and they’ll grow and be hurt and tossed and some will fall far from the load. they will fall out in the wicked thicket and there’ll be no getting them back. some will make it. some won’t. i see the tendency to lose the care for the humans once they’re old enough to know better. i do it. but i fear for the little ones before they become the ones we don’t care about anymore. if you have a heart, you must care for the kids, you simply must. every forgotten prisoner was a child under the stars.  every person, no matter how dark their deed, was born under some wondrous moon. we all needed help when we got here.

so it was that my pa looked at me, in my teens, and the wrinkles that formed along the sides of his eyes showed the hope and the fear of all my tomorrows. and so it is that i’m here in the now that was hanging way out there in my future, back when then was my now. i love the old man. he’s a damn good dude. my path is different than his. i’ve no children that are of my blood, but i have lots of kids that i love. i remember my grandpa telling me that i had the heart of his ancestors regardless of the percentage of indian blood in my veins. that makes me feel different about my bloodline. i’ll give what i know to the kids that want it, and in that way, i’ll pass along whatever it is that i am to younger, more sparkly minds.

the sweetest things are simple. it doesn’t matter the billions of bucks you might be made of, you can be a complete loss. it doesn’t matter how great you look if your insides forgot how to love. there are old roads in oklahoma that curve and turn and hum with something lovely. steinbeck felt it. it’s simple and old. the songbirds sing it. the rising suns color it in. the indigo nights still carry the thoughts of some dreaming child that will grow and become someone. and on and on. we fill in the blanks. and when we’re gone, our now will become then.