tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: Life

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

Actual Ass

These are my thoughts on technology, which is similar to a chimpanzee giving a dissertation about the state of the economy. But whatev’s, a chimp might do a better job than a politician.

I like the idea of using modern devices to avoid icebergs, it’s smart and prevents ships from sinking. I don’t think everyone needs to be checking their phones for icebergs. And I don’t think an iceberg is any more special when used as a backdrop for everyones’ selfie.

I like to climb. I often climb alone, I have been doing it for years. I don’t want to explain this too much (boring) but there are systems that work if you are a student of the craft. I use these systems and know them well. Today, while I was setting up a climb, I noticed several climbers had stopped to watch. I paid little attention but noticed three groups had their phones out and were filming. Some groups had more than one person filming. I finally said something to the closest person. I asked if he was getting some really good stuff. He said, “I’m waiting for the kill-shot.” I realized they all thought I was doing something foolish and dangerous (I wasn’t) and they were filming me in case I died. Um, I feel like this is a place I can interject something. –This is a modern age of know-it-alls. At every turn there is someone looking up what has just been said in order to disprove it. I’m all for asking questions, but I’m more into the thought process that goes with knowing more. Looking something up on google does not prove your knowledge base nor does it make you more thoughtful. Actually thinking makes you more thoughtful. The world is fast becoming dummies behind little screens. And so climbers that didn’t know better, instead of speaking and asking questions, stood behind their phones to film me so they might be the author of an internet sensation. Excuse me while I just say this, bullshit.

It never hurts to ask how something is done.  I owe much of my knowledge to my mentors. Men and Women who taught me my stance. Men who taught me the language of my heart. Women who taught me that strength comes from a woman and is bestowed upon men. These are values to which there is no measure, they have made me.

I love pictures. I love the pictures we can share through the various forms of internetlandia, but….but, it’s just gone too far. We are not that cool looking. These cameras/phones, and yes, I have one, are little mirrors. Every time we check our “likes” we are looking in the mirror. Remember that when you hear those little beeps calling you to see who said what about the hot little picture you took of yourself in front of the buffalo/mountain/glacier/tree/waterfall/sunset/caged lion/thunderstorm/riot, you are petting yourself. You are looking in the mirror. I’m not saying don’t check your look, I’m just saying that there’s a max and most of us are too self-absorbed.  I’m not above taking a peek in the mirror to see if maybe I don’t look quite as stupid as I feel. Remember: the world is beautiful and we are most beautiful when we are aware of being. Pictures are not proof of our existence. They are images without a soul from our past. Sometimes we need to simply be here and leave the wonder to our minds, not our picturetakers.

Communication is good. I watched some fella on the telly giving reasons why he was checking his phone during his interview. He said he was staying abreast of the events so he could give the most up-to-date information possible. I was thinking, that I just don’t care. Folks aren’t as good at conversing as they were 10 years ago. It’s true. Coffee shops are not for talking. Even drinking coffee seems like just an excuse to be plugged into the web. My nephews, children of the modern age, are often unable to chuck a football with me because they were up all night pretending to be at war on their xboxes. By the way, it ain’t healthy for your kid to practice war on some game. Just like you don’t need to practice being miserable. War exists, we don’t need to glorify it. Training for war is rough enough, playing war and talking smack and thinking your tough because you play a game is delusional. I know what I’m talking about here, some of my most trying moments came as a U.S. Recon Marine. It ain’t a game. Yeah, so, where was I? Oh yeah, communication, it’s nice to be able to talk things out. Opinions are great and don’t really need to run parallel. As a people, if we all had opinions based on solid observation of our physical world, we would be doing ok. Political stance, race, religion, sexual preference and social status aside, we all have hearts and minds, maybe we could take some time and use them.

I want to point something out. I’m not against all things technical. I love typewriters. There’s nothing negative to say about an old manual typewriter, unless I’m in your house making a racket and typing at 4 a.m. because I can’t sleep. And bicycles, the world is a better place because of bicycles. Most of what we own is disposable. Convenience is a drug. Tiny water bottles and throw-away bags are no-goes. We gotta get better than that. Cigarette butts should be stored in our house with us so we can know that we might ought’a just grow tobacco out back and smoke it from a pipe instead of giving money to the big dogs.

Humans need to tribe up. We need to be more able to live on our own and pay less into the big machine. WE should dictate through consuming less. The machine is strong and we need to take the power back by being capable, thoughtful, simple, beautiful human beings.

All said, we need to kick more actual ass…not virtual.

 

Go Love

My truest living is when I’m loving.

It is the love of the early morning in all it’s pearliness and solitude. It is the love of my memories, both tragic and wondrous. It is that perfect descending call of the canyon wren. It is the smell of saw grass. It is the form of my lover beneath the giant junipers. It is sky. It is the long lashes of my little buddy, Abe. It is my Mother and Father as they are.

Life is defined by love. Real love, the kind I’m talking about, comes from the way-down-deep-inside part of the heart. That place kept secret from the schemers and the haters. It is the hidden place. It is the most of you.

And no matter how careful you are, if you love, you will suffer. Because with love there is always loss. Whether it is choice or tragedy, all things pass. So to live is to love is to suffer. This allows me clarity, this thought: Since I love to live, and since I know I will suffer, I might as well love with all my might.

And so I aim to suffer gracefully, to love mightily, and live like a wave rolling towards the rocks in that unflinching way that waves do. So that when I’m done, I’m broken apart, atomized and splintered and spread out with nothing left. Back to the basics.

I remember the highway in Kansas. The storm had been brewing all morning and the plains swallowed the distance in such a way that we seemed afloat in a sea of grass and wind. My dad saw the tornado drop down about a mile away and he hollered over the sound of the BMW 750 motorcycle. I came out of my daydream. I was 12years old. The sky was from the Wizard of OZ and the storm had closed in on all sides. We turned down a dirt road and stood in a flimsy shed with a huge oak bending to the ground just out the open air window. The clouds were dark and dark and the lightning danced crazily in every direction, and they danced and connected the fields to the belly of the sky. I remember being afraid and alive. I remember the strong look on my dad’s face. I remember loving my dad and thinking that there wasn’t a tornado big enough to pull me from his grip. 

–we are lightning, we are lightning, here we are, dancing on the belly of the sky.

Now, go love.

Wheelchair

From where I sit, I can see through the black, metal railing to the pool. Beyond the pool the Gulf of Mexico spills out on the horizon as far as I can see. The fella I’ve been watching is probably 35 years old. He’s got a couple of kids, a boy and a girl, and they’re playing in the pool with their mama. The woman is a blonde with a build that reminds me of a mom from the midwest– a form that is simple and strong but not affected by beauty magazines. But it’s the father I’m watching. He’s watching from his wheelchair. He’s watching his son who is dressed in his little swimming outfit, a superman one-sy. The man is broken, it looks like paralysis from the chest down. He has a little blue tattoo of a surfboard in the middle of his back, between his shoulder blades. I am wondering. I can’t help it.

Three black hooded sea-gulls are heckling from the sign above the cheesy beach bar that is attempting some Carribean theme that is failing in every possible way. The little boy is asking his mama about how a television works. He wants to know if someone draws pictures that move and then puts them in the T.V. She is answering with words like “pixels” and “HD” and “plasma”. The little boy pushes on with more questions about how the things that seem real get inside the television and who puts them there and whether they are real or not. I am listening and loving these questions. I can’t answer them. I love things I cannot answer. Finally the lady says, “maybe ask dad, dad’s smart.” I am watching. The father speaks of how things used to be and how there were pictures that flashed in front of a light real fast and that made things that were still seem alive. He said this as he sat still in his wheelchair, and he was looking out at the Gulf. He said that now things are more digital, the still pictures are gone and have been replaced by small dots of color that are controlled by codes, that the dots imitate what is real. He is thin and white, he is in the shade of a palm tree. He is in board shorts and his slouch is one that cannot be straightened. It makes my back hurt to see him sitting like that.

I’m here with a bundle of athletes. They are all fighters. Dan Henderson is an old buddy, someone I would like even if he had never stepped into a cage. He’s an olympian that came from older blood. His toughness outruns his health in a lot of ways. His ears are wadded up and his profile looks like some cartoon exaggeration of a person who has been punched in the nose many, many times. Brian Foster is a fighter himself. He has come to prepare Dan for the fight. The fight, we found out last night, will not happen because of some kind of substance taken by his opponent. Things are not like the old days. My allegiance lies easily with the friend that is staying in the next room over — Dan is a good ol’ dude. But right now, while the fighters eat sushi, I am wondering about the heart of the man in the wheelchair by the pool. Car wreck? Surfing accident? A 3 martini trip down a flight of stairs? I dunno. He’s wiping his face with the towel his wife just gave him. She is sweet. She scruffs his chin with her hand and allows her fingers to linger on his collar. His eyes follow her as she walks off into the bar for a drink.

This morning I swam down the coast with the water flat and smooth, as if it were made of something heavier, like milk or blood. I swam strong and easy. I walked back on two serviceable feet (yeah, they click and clack and give off tiny pains, but they’re certainly good enough) and made coffee. Henderson’s fans were fluttering to and fro when he checked to see what we were up to. Poncho, the big, good natured Brazilian, was joking and laughing. Gonzo, the lean and wily cuss from Aspen, was already scheming some kind of plan that will be one part fun and two parts trouble. Heath was smirking at me. Foster had his coffee and his blue eyes were looking at me, and I understood the look, deeper than most, and that our existence here on this planet, together,  is not lost on him.

When I think about fortune, it is not in a usual form. It’s tough to say this without it sounding trite, but I do know I’m lucky. I am so privileged. I have a free and beating heart. I can buy a brick of cheese whenever I want. My Ma calls me and tells me she loves me. My body is strong enough to dance under the stars and run down long stretches of dirt road. And my mind is fishing for awareness. That in all this, there are lessons that matter.

And two of the seagulls have flown. The last is silent.

And the little boy in the superman swimsuit is sitting on his father’s lap.

And the father is still looking out at the Gulf. I wonder if he is looking forward or back. I hope the former.

Life Metaphorically

There’s this life. My buddy Jason Arbetter could tell you how life is like a river. Each submerged rock is a possible problem or a moment of play. Jason floats a kayak like I walk on two feet, and I walk like a boss. My buddy Hunter Dahlberg might tell you how life is like hot metal. How it takes work and attention and muscle and heart to make an elemental chunk of Iron (Fe) to become a wonderful tool or a handrail in a friend’s house to protect against a fall. My pal Gary Begley might tell you that life is like a wind current. It can’t be predicted and cannot be discouraged. It will continue on it’s own until it has curled out in even temps under the bows of the pines where the titmouse sings. If you fly, you must understand that you are a passenger and the wind is the conductor. The train rambles, you ride. My friend Tim Easton might say that life is a song. That the ideas exist before the words put them to use. That there is nothing which hasn’t been felt since hearts began beating and so songs are simply an homage to everything that has ever been felt. And sweet life is a song. My friend Paul Turecki might tell you that life is a stone, because stones are always waiting and they are basic and they hum with the sound of the beginning. Paul’s face is a stone. Old Brian Foster might say that life is a fight. That punches being thrown at your face are simply an offering. The fight is easy because you are living. The end is sad because it is over. Everything in the midst is life in wondrous animation full of blood and sweat and spit. Katherine Fontaine might say that life is a building. A structure with hallways and arches and doors. Pay attention to stress points and defects and old weather wearings. And there are views and lights in the distance and moss on the bricks and grains in the wood. My kid brother Josh sees life as endeavor. It’s what’s in front of you with nothing left out. It’s Mom’s broken washer, it’s Dad’s love of God, it’s the kids’ inner workings, it’s his wife’s love of dogs and his older brother long wanderings through the extra thick fog. I think Dave Kenneally sees life as a breath or a laugh, but really, what’s the difference? Kenneally laughs with his breath and breathes in his laughs.  Dave Muller sees life as a line. It might be the line from the crest of a wave on the very outer sunset (the outer outer sunset where civilization gives way to wilderness and voices drop off and dolphins braid lines in the waves underneath) and it might be the line in a drawing or the line at the door of his restaurant or the line of a song that he’s singing. He might say that life is a line…non-linearly. Elizabeth Luma sees life as a shape. Whether clay or the flowers or the clouds or the food on your plate, it’s a thing you can see…it’s right there in front of you, you might as well get to know it!

I am in awe of of the hearts of the ones that I love. (And I have left out a good many…this time around) The folks that see through all the metaphors and pay attention to life as it is. Life.

I’m with these folks. I believe what they believe. I am walking behind them all, making sure they make it. These kinds of folks make a difference. We are all just children of the universe. Remember to believe.

Morning Letter

(This is a letter to my dear friend, Laura, who is way smarter than me but who likes me anyway…which is cool. I should point out that this is the unedited version, complete with some naughty words. So, if you don’t like reading naughty words, maybe skip today’s post.)

It’s nice to see you’re putting your emojis to work. I too have recently started to use them, but I get stuck picking out which one to use and then the email/text takes twice as long. It’s like me picking out which food i want to commit to in the grocery store — sometimes I realize I’m the dude I used to hate, the one standing there reading what cave in France the cheese was aged in and whether there was a monk living in the cage practicing silence and listening to the sounds of his hair growing. (I’ve often wondered about being alone for long periods of time like the old school tibetan monks…wonder is as far as I get. I just wouldn’t be able to wait to tell everyone how long I went without talking and about all the fucking amazing shit I learned while being so quiet for so long, and by long, I mean like 10 minutes or so.) I think emojis are such an indicator of where we are as a society. Now, instead of saying how you feel, you can just send someone a tiny cartoon shit. Or a face with sunglasses. Or clapping hands and an A-ok sign. “Hi Ma! with smiley face and face with tongue out, How you doin? More smiley faces and one inquisitive face.” Hey, it says a lot, don’t it? Foster and Johnny and I trade off on doing what I just did. We write out the emojis instead of using them –crazy face — because we’re crazy! google-eyed face and three thumbs up with some stars.

 

I hope you’re doing well, for reals. I’m a failure for not stopping in…ever. I guess I’m just making up for all the times I did stop in without warning and then stayed for 3 weeks. I’m trying to make your heart grow fonder by being absent. You’d be so proud of me to know that I’ve been geeking out over microbiology lately. I’m really into the fact that there are thousands of different kinds of bacteria in one drop of snot on the end of my nose. I’ve taken my grief over the disappearing wilderness on the planet and turned it into focus at the microscopic wildernesses in a single drop of sea water. It doesn’t completely satiate my burning desire to be sad at something, but it helps keep me from practicing my hang-man knots in the shed. (inappropriate joke, I know, I know) I’m also really into reading about viruses, they’re amazing! They’re like little pets that take care of themselves. No having to hire someone to watch them and feed them when you leave for vacation — they’re coming with! Sometimes they show off a little when you don’t want them to, but whatev’s, that’s just part of the deal. I like the idea that I’m walking around like Noah’s ark, all the little critters just romping around all over me! And when I die, well, they run the show for a bit. It’ll be like a huge house party when the parents go out of town. Broken windows. Broken beds. Backyard flooded. Lights burned out. Cabinets emptied. Microscopic life is a party. I wish I had flagella to motor around with, as it stands I gotta use knees and ankles that get sore and crack a lot.

 

Well, that’s all I have for ya today. I know it’s been a while since I wrote anything worth reading and, after this, it’s still that way. I can’t seem to write anything lately about anything that’s deep and lovely, so I’ve decided to be shallow and stupid. (did you know that “stupid” used to be used as a word that measured how intelligent a person was? along with idiot, moron, imbecile and others…each had it’s level and, although I’m not sure the order, I personally have been called each and every one of them at some point in my life. In fact those words have been coupled with colorful 4 letter adjectives to enhance my personal moral during difficult moments. Thanks Marine Corps!)

 

Love ya, Laura.

 

Your prodigal step-son,

 

tobias

Looking Around

There are days when I wake up dragging. Of course I got a few excuses up my sleeve, but do you wanna hear them? Really? That’s the funny thing about each of us as individuals; we think we’re an exception to the rule. We tend to think our excuse will be the one that people actually listen to. It’s so damn easy for me to forget that there is a whole world of individuals out there trying to find their way, just like me. There are ones that think they’re The Gift to everyone they meet.  There are ones that think they are less than nothing. There are singular little souls that don’t know that they have bodies that will win gold medals in some future Olympics. There are the quiet writers with shy words that glimmer like silver fish in their minds. There are the bossy ones who march around and use a loud mouth to get attention. There are the ones who are confused and don’t know why and they can’t make a decision alone but always need someone to help them. There are the ones that are a spark, loved by all. There are ones not loved and are starving for just a moment of attention.

I’ve been looking around me at the types. I’ve been marking my thoughts. These last few days I’ve been just looking at people, my kind, humans. When I force myself to remain neutral, I can observe and maintain some form of attitude that judges less. I still judge, but it’s less. Mostly, I have come away from the experiment with a kind of guarded hope. Mostly I try not to hope, mostly I try to try. Trying is moving and working to make something happen, while hoping seems more like waiting to see if something works out in a way that’s pleasing. But sometimes, hope fits the bill. Sometimes that’s all you get, you get to hope. Kinda like when a baby is being born and there’s complications, well, I ain’t a doctor, so I hope and believe that things’ll work out. I guess that’s how I feel about Us. You know, the big Us. I hope that somehow kids that are born a hundred years from now will have evolved into something less selfish. I hope they will love bicycles more than Mindcraft. I hope they will want to play in the woods and point at the warblers in the Ponderosas more than pretend to be adults in a coffee shop talking loudly about some “fool” they don’t like. I hope that the public, in general will have realized that social media is not as real as realness and that virtual friends that are numbered in a friends box are not actual friends that will walk to the river with you and cry with you or laugh at some face you made that always makes them laugh. I hope that a generation will come out of this generation and not be afraid to not follow the charlatans who want to lead with big words but no wisdom. This is what I was thinking about as the people walked around me as I sat and ate a slice of pizza in the sun.

My hope definitely goes beyond people, but I gotta include them because, well, because We the people are here in all our gloriousness/disgustingness. Like when I hope for rivers that run from the mountains to the sea and I worry that they will be trapped by some energy hungry company that builds a damn and so damns the fish and the life that can no longer happen as it has since rivers first began, back when mountains happened and the skies were young. I think about this because I’ve seen the streams of my childhood put into metal tubes and buried under concrete like they never even were. All the mint that grew along the banks is gone. Every salamander gone. Crawdads gone. Some of the cottonwoods, the ones that made the cut, still stand and hold the memories of that time before the humans came and covered the world. There is a relationship between the sky and streams, the streams and the stones, the stones and the sea, the sea and the trees, the trees and the whales…and so on. It’s there whether you think it’s hokey or not. Maybe you don’t like to think about stuff like that, but it doesn’t make it go away. One of our biggest faults is simply not recognizing the existence of that relationship. It’s almost like a thing we are intentionally forgetting because it’s not convenient. It is convenient to flip a light switch, it’s not convenient to put everything down for a few minutes, walk to the trees and listen. I think the point here is clear enough, but like I said, it’s not comfortable to think about the things we’re losing while we pander to ourselves. I think about this a lot, mostly because I’m as guilty as anyone every time I ignore the little atrocities that seem to come from every direction. Believe me, I fret over whether to hear the news or pretend like nothing’s happening.

I think it’s a choice. It’s all a choice. With what do you share your soul? If the most soulful thing you do is post witty quotes or videos that begin with “this guy did this, and you won’t believe what happened next…” on facebook or insta, maybe you should try turning that stuff off for a bit and go ask your grandma about her first kiss. Or ask your mom about the house she grew up in, or maybe what her fears were as a child. Ask your dad about when he learned to ride a bike, or if he ever skinny dipped. You see, it’s my opinion that these things are good for your soul. Things that create our person and form us are where the soul hooks onto us. And it’s our soul that moves about and mixes with the wind and rivers. It’s in the dark ocean and stars and as far out as we can imagine it to be. It’s a shadowy part of us that doesn’t really translate that well in these computer-type things. It’s what stirs us on the inside when we stare at the panthers that are pacing in cages. It’s what shudders when we hear about the polar bears swimming for places that no longer exist. These souls of ours have giant sails, they are powerful and capable but useless if we don’t tend to them.

Here we are, all of us with our sails up. The winds are blowing and blowing and the water’s deep and full of wonders both magnificent and terrible. We are all around one another and the stars are sharp and singing, and the planets are spinning above us in unison around the sun. It is only life and death here. We have our own existence, but there is so much more than that! There are stars that were shining on this earth before the first clock was invented, before time enslaved us and taught us to check in with the numbers that tell us what we should be doing. We are a thread in the most intricate tapestry. We have options, we can tend sails and fly like the wind herself, or we can go below and lock the cabin hatch and pretend like we are not on the sea at all.

Mark’s Diner

A line of reasoning. This usually amounts to a bunch of your own opinions all crammed together in order to make sense of something. I’ve used it and had mixed results. Usually my line of reasoning has some kind of something in it that betrays me, sometimes it sends me flailing off like a fool with my arms waving over my head, whatever cool I might have collected scattered to the winds. So I’m careful with my line of reasoning. Often, it stays in one of the half empty cupboards in my head. I might share it with ya now and then, but I try to put it out there with a disclaimer — same as if I’m cooking a dish for the first time and I think it might suck.

Of course, a line of reasoning might be referring to something a tad more literal, maybe it’s what you call them wrinkles on your face from reasoning too much. Wrinkles. Lines of reasoning. If that’s the case, I got a solid collection going, although I’ll admit they ain’t all from reasoning. I’ve managed to put a few up from any assortment of my emotions. I could name them off, but why waste your time with that shit? You know. Well, if you’re human you know, and if you’re not human, I’m actually quite surprised you’re reading this. Hell, I’m surprised if anyone’s reading this. If you’re a whale and you’re reading this, I have something to say, I’m sorry for messing with your ocean. also: Thank you for being so amazing. Tell your babies to be careful and that I hope I meet them. I mean I doubt a whale would be reading this, but I like to be sure about that kind of thing. But if you’re an extra-terrestrial and you’re reading this, I have something for you too, I’m sorry that we don’t believe in you, well, not all of us, I do. I just don’t say so all that often because people stop listening whenever I say I believe in bigger things. Things way out beyond what we see and have listed in our science books and our religious books, like the mysterious stuff. Like you. But don’t judge us too harshly, we have our moments. We really can love things we’ve never seen; like people we’ve never met or forests that need to be protected or stars who’s light hasn’t reached earth yet or the tiny butterflies on some little chain of islands or even beings from far away who maybe travel at the speed of thought! We can do a lot of things with love, it’s just that we’re easy to distract. But if you want a human to study, I’m your huckleberry. I’m relatively healthy and I’ve been wanting to practice traveling by thought…sooo, just come get me I guess. And be gentle with the probes, although that might be something I just picked up from the movies, maybe you don’t need to do that at all.  Chances are that this writing won’t be read by that broad of an audience, it’s not like I’m giving Melville a run for his money here.

Supposedly there’s a kind of coherence to good writing, which is where I bounce off the proverbial road and into the literary ditch. The only thing cohesive about my stories and essays is that they all do come from between my ears, after that I have trouble explaining  how any of this is gonna line up. It’s a bit like controlling a spill — sometimes it looks like something, (you know, like you’ll see Abe Lincoln’s face in the spilt milk) and sometimes it’s just a mess.

A few days ago I stumbled across my birthday. I neither love nor hate my birthday, I guess that means I’m ambivalent towards it. ( That’s my $4.00 word of the day, and I use a word like that to show that I’m getting a little smarter each year. not a lot smarter, just a little ). So I had my little birthday, just like you did not that long ago, right? Because the last birthday is never more than a year ago. Yeah, I had it and it went like i like them to: I stayed alive. I tried something new by jumping into a river at the exact moment I was born, 7:44 a.m. I played a guitar poorly, but with a lot of passion…but by myself so I felt like it sounded cooler than it probably was. I road my bike and ate a chocolate croissant. I laughed with Jason Arbetter about imaginary scenarios in which we did the things that we sometimes want to do but we don’t because we’re not that mean (especially Jason, who’s not only not mean, but may be the nicest person alive). I drew a couple drawings in my picture book. I had a drink at a bar, and then another drink, and then wished I hadn’t had the second. I rode my bike to Safeway on the way home and stopped for coffee supplies. It was 11:30 p.m. and I was closing out my day. I saw some old timer in a wheel chair out by the entrance to the parking lot. I’ve seen him before, the ground around him always has remnants of smokes and drinks and food. He’s hard put, my guess is that he won’t last much longer but who knows? It was the last few minutes of the day that I was born. The day I got to start being here on this planet, in this world of feeling and color and smells and coffee and songs and babies and pretty girls. The day that my Mama supported my head and held me tight while my Dad looked at me like I was the coolest thing ever. The day that somehow has become a day when we might expect things but really should be a day of unrelenting gratitude for having breaths and heartbeats and loves and dreams and, yes, even losses. So I walked over to Mark,  his name is Mark because he told me so, and I asked him if he wanted something to eat. Mark was slouched heavily and his beard was piled on his chest. I heard him say, Yeah.  What do you want?

Whatever they got.

It’s a grocery store, Mark.

Yeah.

So I bought him a roasted chicken, nice and hot. And a can of Modelo against my better judgement. And a bottle of water to offset the beer. And a Milkyway candy bar for desert.

Mark barely moved as I put his meal in front of him on the curb. God bless, he said. And I rode back to my Toyota Dolphin. This was my day on that day in the long line of days since my very first day and it was a good one. When I look at it in the past, it makes less sense. It’s just a bunch of things crammed together that only belonged to me as I lived in them, then they were gone. This is life, at least as far as I know.

I follow a fairly swervy line.

Oxygen Appreciation

There was this part of training when I was in the Marine Recon Indoctrination Program, called RIP for short, that I found particularly daunting. The corporal running the morning evolution would say it with a particularly wicked snarl on his lips, “oxygen appreciation, fellas, get ready.” Corporal Siedenswartz certainly had a way about him, and it wasn’t a pleasant way at all. Oxygen appreciation might consist of any number of different events, but you could count on one thing for sure, you would be counting every second of your existence until the drills were over. They all took place in a swim tank (that’s the term used for a swimming pool, since “swimming pool” has a note of pleasure to it, they used “swim tank” in it’s stead) and, most often but not always, there were props. The props might include ropes, different sized camouflage blouses and trousers, combat boots, cinderblocks, 45 lb. weight-lifting plates, helmets, 7 and a half lb. rubber rifles, and anything on the pool deck that might add chaos to the churning, gasping, wall-eyed debacle that was called training.

For almost 6 weeks, there were 4 of us. The 4 united by a strange and convoluted training regimen that was loaded with unknowns. Everyday was different. We did not know the schedule, only that the day would usually start in the zero-dark thirty and end when the bodies no longer performed the functions commanded of them. The 4 of us were men, not boys. We looked to one another to make it. Another thing to point out was that we had volunteered to be where we were. Recon is a volunteer unit, you can quit at any point in time and you will be sent away accordingly. Back to the normal Marine Corps.

“Looking to your left, looking to your right, making sure your buddy comes up on the other side, underwater crossover…GO!” Siedenswartz’ voice was always audible. The distance underwater varied from 25 meters to 50 meters. The time between intervals always collapsing down as the burn in the lungs created a panic in the heart of the 4 of us. To come up in the middle of a crossover would create a world of hurt that included burly instructors with tree-trunk legs entering the tank and riding the panicky fool to the wall. Once the instructors were in the water, the games became far more difficult. Each of us would swim under the shadow of the shark above us. Each of us knew that to come up would result in a struggle that would escalate and spread to the rest of  the 4. We learned the hard way, but by god, we learned. A kind of steel started to set in. As we ran like soaked rats to the chow hall, we would find peace in the quiet jokes about the instructors. Jokes they would never hear but might feel just a little when the 4 were in the water with our beady little eyes just above the surface and our hearts slow thumping like alligators. So used to the dreadful evolutions were we that panic became a far off world that took a very long journey to get to. More weights in the water. Tie and re-tie the knots in the ropes that waited down by the drain.

One morning we got to the tank and there was a heavy feeling amongst the instructors. I never figured out what had happened but it was probably personal. The had lives other than being professional bruisers, it’s just that the 4 of us hadn’t a clue what their lives were like. The bottom of the pool was dark and the sun was still a couple hours away. For warmups we would often lie on our backs with fins on our feet and do flutter-kicks while Siedenswartz walked around with a hose, blasting cold water in our faces. “I can’t hear the count! Start again.” We were told to find our boots on the bottom of the tank and put them on before we showed our cake-holes (mouths) above water. This meant, put the boots on the correct feet and have them tied because we might very well be going on a run straight out of the water.  –Ever ran with boots on the wrong feet? I have. It sucks.– We all surfaced with boots on, tied and ready. The 4 of us were Jamie Urlahb, Christian Regenhard, John C. Thomson, and my ownself, Tobias. Christian and I wore boots that were close to the same size. John’s feet were a couple sizes bigger and Jamie’s were bigger yet. In the meeting at the bottom of the tank, there was a quick sorting out. Time is of the essence when surface air is unavailable. We would do our best to quickly put all the rights to one side and all the lefts on the other, then it was a grab at sizes. It sucks more for a bigger footed guy to try and jam his foot into a too small boot than the other way around. –Ever seen a big guy go for a run in a too small pair of boots while you were running in a pair too big? I have, and it sucks.– These are precious seconds without air that make a big difference in the long run. It paid off to let it burn and sus it all out on the bottom, down there where all of our eyes seemed glazed and tiny bubbles collected around our mouths while our hearts thumped and thumped. At the surface, the instructors commented on the time we spent below. They joked that maybe we were starting to like it down there. That maybe it was more peaceful because they weren’t yelling at us. Maybe it was a little peaceful in that particular way. They told us to fetch the 45 lb. plate that was at the bottom. If you’re a water polo player, this would be your kinda gig. It takes a good amount of strength to get a plate that heavy off the bottom. It takes more to keep it at the surface. And it don’t matter who you are, it ain’t staying on the surface for long, especially when the object is to hold the plate free of the water. I went down and got the plate, half way up, Johnny met me and grabbed ahold. Levels, man, levels. The trick was we all were given the task to keep the plate up, but our legs were kicking into one another. The boots weren’t making it easier, that’s for sure. Somehow we kept it up long enough for Siedenswartz to get bored, “drop it, partner up!” Here I could continue to tell you about the different things we were told to do, but it’s easier to go to a pool and show you, so I ain’t doin’ it. Just know that it sucked, and in the end, we made it through that dark morning. There were more days and nights of dread and pain, but I believe that week and those hours were the pinnacle of what amounts to the most difficult moments of my life. To this day, I never enter a swimming pool without thinking of the tank and the living, walking, menace of  Siedenswartz. He pulled me aside once and said, “Crabtree, you’ll never have harder days than these…never in your life.” He might’ve been right about that, as long as we’re talking in the physical realm. I believe I’ve endured things heavier than that in the region of my heart. There’s a difference and I’m more suited to physical suffering. I guess I’d have to thank ol’ Siedenswartz for that.

One thing I can tell you, I do indeed like to breathe.

The Little Wonderers

Little Sahalie looked at me with them little bleepers and there was a universe beyond. Oh yeah, I’m always flying through distant solar systems, spinning across far off galaxies. It’s the kids, man. They own all the unmapped spaces. Her older brother was there at my other elbow, he gets it. Hell, he gets it better than me! These ages between the baby and the time when we become adults are where the connections dwell. You know what I mean? They haven’t decided to load themselves down with the stones of adulthood.

She was like, “so you can draw anything?”

yeah, i can draw most all the stuff i wanna draw.

“Anything?”

yeah. pretty much.

“So, you could draw a person on a toilet?”

Well, then I was laughing and Hunter was laughing because we got to see that little mind race around and think of the worst thing she could think of…and it was some dude (or girl) on a toilet. Now I’ll be damned if that ain’t innocent.

Outside the timbers were reaching towards the sky. Tumalo Creek was rolling towards the Dechutes. The Oregon sky was there as well, and the Oregon sky is godamn good.

When I get angry with humans, I remember the kids. They are just so true. Even the naughtiest of them are true. I imagine that the younger you are, the closer you are to when you were among the stars and so you still shine with that cosmic light. See what I mean? Babies, they are something else. I’m not really even all pro-human, I don’t think we are such a great animal. Personally I like otters better than humans. And mountain caribous. And kingfishers. But I’m a human, so I gotta put up with me. Hell, I don’t know how to figure this out, I can’t even find the restroom in the bar half the time. But when I see the little people with the long eyelashes and the ruby lips and the hearts that beat in harmony with the cosmos, well, I break down and wanna worship. Cuz if I was gonna believe in us, I would want the babies present, so I could be sure.

When Jason walked out of his house there on 1st street and his little Abe spotted me sitting in the sun and said, “tobias.” I was saved. Saved from my dark thoughts. Saved from the way I could be. Saved from the way I know I already am. You see, I get saved all the time by the little ones. Just when I’m ready to sign off and give up and say the worst things about what we are…a little one says, “tobias.” And my heart hears and my soul comes up for air and all of a sudden I’m breathing again.

Don’t think I’ve never been hateful. I got that shit down. I can name times and places. Someway or another I’ve found my way to here and I can no longer find good use for hatefulness. But I’ve been pretty good at it in the past. What? You want an example? Oh yeah, I’m not afraid to show you. Like that time at lunch when I was working for Student Movers in Denver, back in the late 80’s. When I was talking as a youngster and trying to be a badass and I said that all the gays in the world should be put on an island so they could die of AIDS together. And as I was saying that I was in the presence of a sure-fire ass-kicker named Bill Burke, who was gay and never said anything to me even though he was more of a man than I’d ever be and also requested to have me on his crew regardless of my juvenile opinions.  That was years before I knew James Canfield, the ballet artist extraordinaire, who is gay and wonderful and powerful and insightful and is a good friend. It was before I ran into Brett Philpott who is strong and badass and is gay. And before I had ever met my dear friend Katherine Fontaine who loves me dearly despite my long stays under her coffee table and my bourbon habits and my stinkiness…and yes, Katherine prefers her own gender…lovely girl.  I used to worry over the things I didn’t understand, now I worry over lack of awareness. I reckon we might not should worry so much over who people choose to love, maybe we should focus on eliminating some of the hate. We are all capable of black-heartedness as well as lovingkindness. These are choices and we should make them with open minds.

While I was talking to Spencer and Sahalie, I saw the light shining in their eyes. I saw them looking at me and asking me questions about the meanings behind imagination. For one thing, I’m not a smart guy. I barely get by in smart conversations, and this is how I felt with these two little ones. They were asking me what the difference was. Whether dreams were real. And if the light from dreams is subject to the laws of physics. When that much beauty and wonder is in front of me, I lose my bearings. I float. I become a worshiper, no longer a knower. And that’s where I belong. Maybe that’s my gig. I haven’t a problem at all with wondering and, quite frankly, the bigger the better. And what if the world turned inside of itself? And what if there was no one left to know? And what if, in the impossible future, we happen again?

Yeah man, what if? I love it that I may indeed remain, long after I’m dead, in the minds of the little wonderers.