tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: love

Show Your Teeth

Cannon is 4, he holds up four fingers with the thumb tucked when he says it. His folks let him be in the pool with me whenever they please. Cannon is safe with me. He’s safe with me anywhere.

Tonight I saw a meteor fall in the evening sky over Moreno Valley. It was the biggest light I’ve ever seen from a meteor. Green then white and then the colors of fire in an evening sky with a half moon. With so much light pollution, I just couldn’t believe how much light it created. I half expected to hear the impact and prepare for whatever that means. My lover, 300 miles north, saw the flash from her tent in Death Valley. The world is small in relation to the cosmos; so very, very tiny. I am smaller yet. And little Cannon, he’s smaller even then.

We talked in the pool, Cannon and I. He’s bright and worldly, like an animal. He was naked and full of that otterish disposition that I see in kids that love water. He was on my knees. In the midst of flying arms and flashing butt, he slowed for just a moment and said something I barely heard over his clamor. “All of Life is through my head.” I thought I heard it, but I couldn’t believe it came from his mouth. I slowed his wildness and asked him to say again. “All of Life is through my head.”

Do you hear this? Do you hear what my little love has said?

I asked him what he meant. I feared that too many questions would squelch the loveliness that had just flashed through the sky of the mind of the child. He said more, “All the things and the pictures and the dreams of the world are in my head.” And here I am laid low, a stumbling layman in the presence of God. Then the child’s eyes to the sky, “and that’s beautiful and that’s beautiful and that….” his finger pointing to eucalyptus trees and towhees and blue blue sky.

Are you here? I don’t think I’m the most intuitive of us all. I don’t claim to understand people. I struggle with being too cross with my judgements and too sure of my views. But when the bats fly over the New Mexican canyons I feel my heart become rivers. If the whale plunges from her world beneath and shows her belly to our sun, I will fall on my knees, I will worship. When pieces of the Universe fall and turn to fire over the hills in Southern Cal, I will listen, I mean I will damn listen and say, “I am here.” Then, when this child/god says to me, “All Life is through my head”, I will hear him and love him for his heart. I will follow him through the fire-hate we humans are tending. I will give him audience and room to speak and, in the end, I will trust him to bury me and bury me good and deep.

I asked him then if dreams were real. He told me so very honestly that he did not know. He said that some things were real and some things were made up. I agreed. I felt the time fleeting and I saw him falling away into the world I cannot reach; one where I’m included but not necessary. In these seconds that fall, I can’t help but chase and fail. It’s true, I’m no child. So he flew like the birds that are beautiful and I choked on my adulthood.

But give me words that mean something. Give me hearts that beat with fear of the wild wind. Give me eyes that look into the green and murky water and expect the swimming lions. Please, for the sake of the stars, allow me reverence at the altar of the wilderness. And send the storms. Save room for my knees so that I can worship. Hold me in the rip current and teach me the smallness of me. There are nights to weather and mosquitos to swat and accept, there are distances to cover, bones to break and pretty words to misplace in my buckbrush mind. There are friends to bury and races to lose. I have yet to be tired of a perfect morning, where my coffee is strong, my heart is full and my body finds purchase in the world into which it was born.

There is more to say, but probably less that I can say well. So instead, let me listen. Oh please let me have enough heartbeats to impress the ones that love me. I will fall down and pray to the children and the moon, give me heartbeats to show how much I love this wild, wild Earth. Listen, if to nothing else, that I love the whales and the tiny birds. That I love the little creeks in the aspens and that I’m a product of something good. And by good, I mean small but quite toothy. Also, please, if you don’t mind, call me an animal– nothing grand, perhaps a minnow or a beetle. Just call me something wild.

“All Life is through my head.” Things are beautiful. Follow the children. Show your teeth.

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


Running from the dark is a form of pretending. I know it is, because I do it sometimes. But there is no end to the darkness and the night will always find you. Our personal expression, our internal lamp, can’t shine if we are fearful. Out in every darkness there are single points of light. They are people who shine like you. They are the Ones who’ve covered the ground we are walking. They are the early hearts. They are the way givers. But before they found the way, they ran from the darkness. And they looked to the Ones before them. And so this is our fashion, this is our way. To fear and flee, to find courage and look for light, to set our bearings on the light and navigate the darkness, then, when we are ready, we shine the light for others.

These are old metaphors. They’ve been around since the early hearts struck fire from the stones and danced in caves and drew their imaginings across the walls by firelight. But there is a reason that things like this continue while generations of brilliant minds turn back to dust –that old and wondrous, five letter looking glass: Truth.

Shine. At least a little. For the babies. and the whales. and the foxes. and the sequoias.

Shine to help the young hearts find the way.

Take your time. Know your truth. And then,


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.

The Average

I’ve been in Venice Beach, CA for a few days now. I came down here to do some tattoos and spend time in the ocean. VB has it’s own distinct feel. There’s really nowhere else like it. While I’ve been here, I’ve watched homeless folk talk intently, sometimes argumentatively to themselves. I’ve watched the wealthy do the same thing and look remarkable similar except that they are wearing some device linked to a phone. The drug addicts have an alley where they push their carts to and fro, while delivery trucks bring organic, free range, non-gmo, gluten free goods to the restaurants that sell $17.00 sandwiches made by chefs with curly mustaches to the folks in flip flops. While I’ve been hear, I’ve talked to my lover on the phone in an attempt to try and feel her warmth. I’ve talked with her about the differences in people and direction. While I’ve been here, the earth has rotated exactly 5 times, she is tilting and tilting toward winter, although here in SoCal you’d never know it.

There is something about the masses that has a pull. It’s dangerous. Everyone move to the mean. Average is the word. This is where the mundane takes control and there is little beyond what is. And so we begin to accept our trudging fate. Static drowns out the brilliant harmonies of creativity and expression. And so on and so on until oblivion. Even the rich, even the poor fall into the trappings of average life.

Of course, this is my opinion. This is how I see it through these eyes that I inherited from my parents. It’s just an opinion, so not to be fretted over. Maybe you like the average, I’m sure that’s out there. But to rise out of the average is to experience more life. And to experience more life is to extract the most out of the most wonderful of gifts. A wholesome discipline is what separates the average from the wondrous. Small efforts in our daily life. Choosing what to think and how to think it. Allowing the mind to free itself of petty prejudice. It takes intention to push the heart through endurance, and endurance is a good thing. If a person wakes to see the dawn and the stars that hum in the morning sky, and if that person sits quiet and thinks about his/her position under the cosmic silence, changes will occur. Nothing is really all that sudden. It takes a lifetime to practice living. There must be some intention in order to have realization. The truth is that we are all simply here, on the surface of this blue and spinning world. It is up to us to appreciate the value in that fact. The world will spin on with or without us.

There is an old expression about keeping your ear to the ground. It was the practice of old time hunters listening for large herds of hoofed animals, mostly for hunting. I remember putting my ear to the train tracks outside the tunnel in the mountains near the stream I loved to fish. I could here the train click-clacking miles away and I would wonder which way it was going. Having your ear to the ground insinuates that you are listening through the earth and reading what is to come. I like that idea. It’s a good thing to put your ear to the ground. It lets you hear the earth and it’s workings. It connects you to the ones you love. It pulls you from the masses and delivers you back to that ancient feeling of being a part of the world that wrought you. Far more important that what you look like is what you are? Average is easy and sad. Living with intent results in magnificence.

Practice elevated thoughts. You will not be average.

So much Love I lost a Shoe

May I tell you a thing or two about my life? I would assume that your silence implies consent, that and the fact that you’re still reading this. Let’s see, how can I say this without being naughty. My parents have never been crass. My tilt toward the inappropriate must come from some degenerate ancestor. Who knows? I sure as hell don’t. But what I wanna tell you is that I live in disarray. It would be easy for me to cuss right here, but I’ll hold off for a bit (except for the little hell-bomb above…besides, hell is a place, not a cuss word). I know this sounds like I’m about to spend some time talking about how jacked up I am, but nope, I’m not. This has a direction.

Every time I’ve been in love with someone, and then it didn’t work out, I felt like I was falling backward off a cliff. Then after some time I realized that it wasn’t their fault. I realized that I had been trying to get them to love me along with all my weirdnessess. Like, I have a ton of them. I mean, I live in a damn r.v. and I have all my belongings, every thing I own, in bags. I own nothing besides this. Nothing. I leave shit scattered from one end of the States to the other, hell, I even have things stashed  in other countries. I have forgotten that I lost more things than the number of things I own. Essentially, I don’t own a thing, because I will have forgotten it somewhere eventually. So, when I think about the lovers I’ve “lost”, or whatever you wanna call it, I can’t help but see myself as being the agent of my own distress. It’s always been this way…until a year ago.

Some people talk about what is referred to as a “sure thing.” That has never been me, or at least that ain’t how I picture me. A year ago I ran into a girl that looked right past my bags of junk and piles of shit and she looked right at me. I squirmed around a good bit at first and even pointed at my baggage as a kind of distraction. I wasn’t used to that kind of acceptance. For a while after we met I talked about the improbability of the two of us being linked. I used words like foolish and unlikely. I would string together longs sentences filled with examples and reasons for why a thing like us would never work. It was like throwing snowballs into a volcano in hopes of putting it out. She’s stronger than me. She’s even tougher than me, and I’m good at taking a beating.

When I hear people talk about love, most of the time I kinda wanna vomit. You know…Love at first sight or He’s perfect in every  way or We’ve been soulmates since we first laid eyes on each other. Yuck. My eyes begin rolling even before those statements make it out of someone’s cakehole. But now I’m loved. Like, completely loved by someone.  I’ve written tons of sappy letters (and some brilliant ones). I’ve taken her to meet my family. I’ve met hers. We’ve had fights (I lose). Our love is…um, really fun. So, what it is is that someone doesn’t count my mess-ups.  Someone loves me despite of my jackassedness. Someone loves me relentlessly and without fear. I found someone who loves me. Period.

I’m a geek when it comes to science. I might not understand something, but I’ll read a damn 3 volume book on it. I listen to podcasts like This Week In Microbiology. The world of microbes and viruses is amazing to me. Little jungles under our fingernails! The thing I’ve learned about viruses that sticks out the most is that we don’t really know viruses. Scientists still argue over what they even are. Life? Non-life? I like that.

My lady and I recently drove across the deserts to see my folks in Colorado. I picked her up in Taos. I hadn’t seen her in a month. On the way to get her, I began to feel bad. I didn’t know it, but I was coming down with a case of the Shingles. It’s a kind of herpes that attacks the nerves and effects the body in meridians. Big nasty bumps formed under my arms and on my nipple. My lady, Kayla, spotted the first one and said, “What is that?!” in a way that I didn’t like at all. You know that feeling when someone looks over your shoulder into the dark and gets a scared look on their face? Or when a dog barks down a dark hallway? Or when something drops from a tree onto your sleeping bag in the dark…and then skitters away? Yeah, that’s kinda how I felt when she said there was something weird developing on my spine. Needless to say, I became a hack expert on viruses over the next few days. Kayla helped me and soothed my nasty sores. She laid next to me and kissed my face. She put up with my grumpiness over the entire stay at my brother’s house. She was sweet and…well, pretty near perfect.

When we drove back to the desert, we had a fight. It was over something that I was saying in a too harsh kinda way. In the end, I realized once again that I was picking on her, pushing her. She endured. She has level gray eyes, like Tarzan, like the kind I grew up wishing I had. I’m jealous of her eyes. Did that sound sappy? Whatev’s. She is rad…and we are good.

Everyone talks bad about viruses. I think they are life. I think they are here and they are fighting to be. There is something about the virus that I like. They don’t quit. If you don’t stamp them out completely they come back stronger. They are patient. They are adaptable. They are opportunistic. When you think about it, they are like us. We are capable of all those traits along with others that are far more insidious. It is my good luck to have stumbled into love like I have. I think it’s cool that Kayla has endured my orneriness. She has seen me be a mess and helped me get up again. We first met in the mountains between Bend and Salem, Oregon. It was a year ago, up on a road called Homestead. It was so good that I lost a shoe. I reckon we should go back soon, I miss that ol’ shoe. It was homemade.

I don’t think I deserve a thing. I really don’t. I think I get what I get. But there is this shining eyed woman that keeps coming back to me and loving me and believing in me, and it makes me wanna say something sappy. So instead of that, I’ll just say this: if I’m dreaming, leave me be. Don’t wake me up. This one is too good to quit.

Post Script: I rarely write about romance. When I do, it’s usually with a solid dose of sarcasm. So I appreciate your patience through this essay. I don’t plan on becoming a romance writer, but if I do, it will be under a fake name. Like Henry James Ironloins or Jackson Suede Klinsingtonsonstien. 


Aw, just make-out why don’t ya…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bind the Cynic to the Post

Rumi tells me to be a ladder or a lantern or a lifeboat and the cynic in me jumps up and says that ladders break and lanterns burn lifeboats.

Hafiz tells me that God and I are fat men on a small raft, laughing and bumping into one another. But my cynical  heart cracks off some comment about God and war and skinny men on sinking rafts.

Mary Oliver tells me that love is wild and untamable. And I cannot look her in the eye because I am sneering and clenching my  teeth, “if love is so wild, then why must she call from behind my ribs? and why is she dressed so silly in human skin? and why doesn’t she leave us behind, we who stare into our i-things so we can be less profound?”

And the cynic in me is full of rage. He is big-mouthed and quick to fight. He is long-winded and dark-hearted. My cynic stomps around with big shoes and laughs at the ones that think they can fly. And the cynic is alone. The cynic doesn’t know the mysteries nor does he see the turning of the world.   Closed ears can’t pick out the difference between the call of the nuthatch and the canyon wren. The clenched jaw will cause the ears to ring. Fists do not cup water from high mountain streams. The heart of the cynic is weak and sad and full of fear.

Here’s the catch — I am the cynic, but only when I put my love away. When I’ve put away love, I am weak and angry. So I read Rumi and I tell the cynic to sit in the corner. Because “I am a part of the load not rightly balanced. I drop off in the grass like the old Cave-sleepers, to browse wherever I fall.”(Rumi — I am part of the load)

Oh, I know how to furrow my extra-heavy brow. I know how to cast dreadful glances. I can cuss a black streak in the presence of saints. But what good do these things do? Instead, I look to the Ones with the fire inside. And I feel my inner dark begin to break and peel away, and maybe I hear the fluttering laugh of a small child, and maybe I remember the soft voice of my lover, and maybe I am the crying child in my bunkbed, afraid from a dream, and my mother is touching my forehead and kissing my face, and maybe I am listening to my father sing a song to a dying cowboy in a hospital bed, his boots on the floor. These are the things that tend to my soul, and my soul needs some tending. At some point in my life I decided that bitterness and cynicism tend to put callouses on my heart. They are tendencies I suppress because they make me blind to anything wonderful. And man, I sure do like to wonder.

I wrote last night until late. I came to a point in writing this where I wondered if it was even worth writing about. The weather was steady, rain and wind against the big window in Fosters’s living room. Finally I put the computer down and went out to my RV, my dolphin, to find some sleep. Dreams are never that far away and I depend on my nights to settle my monkey brain. Somewhere in my dreams I was in a cove where the waves were breaking against the cliffs. The salt spray smelled of sometime in my past. I remember seeing colorful seashells. And I worked my way down to the foot of the cliffs in a spot that sheltered me from the brunt of the thundering waves. There was an emerald green pool and I looked into it as if it was a looking glass, and I could see to the bottom of the ocean. Everything was magnified and clear — Long eels with spotted faces, nurse sharks and hammerheads curling about, red-backed crabs with blue claw dances,  shrimp with transparent shells that revealed all their inner, Cambrian workings and clickings (and what if we were transparent in this way, so the world could see our heart pick up pace as we look past ourselves and into the guts of one another? would we be less judgmental and more forgiving to see the ravaged lungs of some vietnam vet? would we be quicker to understand frailties and insecurities if we could watch pulsing blood and nervous limbs? there is something sad about seeing the inside of something that is living, it feels invasive. As if i’m stealing secrets from the very heart of the creature that hovers in the light.) , a tan and brown sturgeon with scales that are from the age of dinosaurs, snuffling along the belly of the sea, anchovies spinning and flying in schools that form shapes like the clouds do, like the birds do. This was in my dream. I took a deep inhalation and swam down and I looked at my watch, it was 3:o5 in the afternoon. Somewhere down there in the under I began to struggle for breath, and I walked along the bottom back to where I had entered. The surface above me was raging and frothy but I could see where I had entered and I walked to that spot. Just as before, when I entered the sea, this looking-glass pool was clear to the world above. I could see flying pelicans and skittering animals. There were people looking down from the tops of the cliffs, children pointing. There was a long-tailed otter slipping quietly beneath the noticing world, mustelid tendencies in tow. But I was desperate for the air that feeds my brain and I couldn’t wait any longer, so I climbed out of the drink and so, out of my dream, even out of my sleep. I must have been holding my breath in my sleep as well because I heard myself suck air — don’t know if I like that part.

I know I’ve wandered from the start of this essay until now, and maybe that’s just my writing style; the kind you just can’t quite follow. I do think these things tie together, albeit loosely, because if I didn’t have the glorious, natural world, I would fall under the weight of my nasty cynicism. I am made lighter by the blurry grey horizon at dawn down by the ocean. The tone of a calling loon seems so sad to me that I’m forced to let go of my own sorrows. Heartbreaking beauty…that’s what I call it. How a hound dog lays her nose against my leg and drags in all the data from my DNA and can smell the old Choctaw blood, and maybe even hear the barking dogs that ran beside those old tribes as they were forced to walk out of Mississippi, and maybe smell the tears that dropped on the rocks beneath leathered feet. Every single time I see a red-eared slider on a log between the cattails, I am reminded of my job here. I am reminded to love the beauty of the heart of things. Even the heavy things. And I’m reminded to check the knots that bind the Cynic to the post.

I will end with a quote by the late Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are.

” I wish you all good things,  live your life,  live your life,  live your life.”

Rocket Science and Brain Surgery

I’m building a rocket ship for the just-in-case. You know what I mean? For the just-in-case I gotta find some other way to find my way. You never know when things might break down. I put the question to myself quite often: what are my reasons for being here? Oh yeah, that might sound like I’m trying to be all deep and philosophical, but it’s really anything but that. That question sometimes rolls up on me in the late night with fangs and claws and a bile filled heart. It’s a question that, when left unanswered, grows and screams and becomes the master. I hide, or worse, I get trapped and grovel.

I don’t like dropping into the dark like that. I reckon we all have our questions and maybe I take things a little to seriously at times, especially when left to myself. With friends, I can and will find a way to play. My buffoonery proceeds me. I have leopard print pants that fit way too tight and cause people to look away in awkward glances. I have dressed as a puppet, hell I’ve been a puppet, I was in the Service. When I can, I will lighten the heavy with an inappropriate joke. I will feign being a cry-baby when I don’t get what I want. I’m a fool when at all possible and like most buffoons, when I drop too far inside, I find that the bottom is too far down. It’s tough to explain and I struggle with making sense here.

Maybe I complicate things. The coyotes don’t sit around and wonder about reasons for being; they just chase down rabbits and yip at sunsets. I’m sure the buddhists have an answer, I should ask my buddy, Dave Kenneally. It’s probably one of them things that’s right under my nose, some tricky set of words like, the reason for being is to be. But my problem is that instead of yipping at the sunset and just being, I’m yipping at the sunset and wondering if it’s the sunset that’s making me yip or if it’s my heart and what if the sunset didn’t happen, would I still yip? Or would I die from the pain of not having anything to yip about?

You think this is silly-talk, don’t you?

I had a good friend who shot himself in the head while his wife was tucking their child in down the hall. He was a good dude, never said anything to anyone about something being wrong. I have always wondered what caused him to do what he did. How big was the monster that crawled into his heart that evening so much so that he sent a bullet in to stop his thoughts. How far down he must have gone into that darkness.

There are Ones who have a certain amount of lightness, it’s as if the beauty in their heart can’t be hidden by their skins. They walk around like them paper lanterns that float up into the sky. Like the candles that float on the rivers in India. They are beautiful in their very existence. My Ma is like that, she’s a light. My Dad too. I guess I collect friends that are Lights as well, so that when I start to get lost in the dark, I start trotting toward the fire. Makes sense. We’re all capable of generating these inner fires, we just gotta stir the coals down there in our guts.

As I sit and see the half-reflection of my face on the computer screen, I am reminded of the me of me. Reflection is a word with lots of meaning. I can see the sun on my face and it is light that causes my sense of sight to kick into gear. The swooshing of my heart is the only sound and it comes from the inside. There are flecks of movement in the trees just outside, crossbill in the mulberry tree. Chickadees at the back window. On the other side of the fence there is a passel of ravens talking it over, making plans about the future and how stuff would be so different if they were running things. I’m a cup of coffee deep into this morning. Darkness seems a long ways away.

I have a confession to make — that rocket ship that I said I was building, remember? Well, I don’t actually know how to build a rocket ship. I could draw one and it’d be cool but I am not a Rocket scientist, nor am I an Astronaut. I’ve been called a Brain surgeon before, but if you were to have heard the way it was applied, you would understand the sarcasm. The rocket ship is a metaphor (duh) for my way of escaping the heaviness that comes to us all. It’s built out of friendships and uses love as a kind of nuclear fuel. Fission, if you please. If we’re all made of stars, and I believe we are, then that would make love a by-product of the universe. We emit love like stars give off light. Like trees exhale oxygen.  Maybe we are rocket builders, one and all. Love is fuel, baby, let’s cruise!

Disclaimer:  Every single time I interact with a child, I am reminded of the value of life. The tiny hugs and laughs are enough dispel any bitterness I sustain from my stubborn, life-worn opinions. Children wield love like a light-saber, chopping and cutting to the core, and it is that kind of love I’m talking about in the essay above, not some kind of cheesy, acted-out form that we read about in beauty magazines or see on some god-awful reality tv show. 

Flight School


It’s not like I’m an expert at this or anything. I’ve never even really been able to say when it’s gonna happen or why it’s happening. Once when I was talking to Ruby (Ruby is 7 years old), she told me that she can do it whenever, but only just a little at a time. Flying might not be for everyone, but I personally don’t know why you wouldn’t want to. That fourth dimension that is so not linear, the movements in every direction. The blueness that is all around you. No wonder Ruby says she can fly, she’s so little and light; a bird in everyway. I remember her looking up with eyes made of sky and saying, “Tobe, um, how is the sky and the birds, I mean, are they hooked together?”  If you ever wanna melt my heart, and you’re talking to me and you wonder what words you can use to gain my attention, just ask me that kind of question. Hell if I know, little Ruby, but they might be connected from way down inside to the tip of their wings. No wonder the birds sing!

My younger brother Cory and I got our hands on a huge, red and blue umbrella. I was 4 years older than him and I could, especially then, talk him in to just about anything. This particularly pretty winter day was one of those ones that I remember like it was yesterday. We were on the roof of our two story house on Newland St., Ma and Pa still live there and maybe they are even sitting there right this moment remembering when 5 kids ran wild through every room and hall. But yeah, Cory and I were talking about flight and all the possible freedoms it offered. We could float to the hills and go fishing without even asking, you know, we can’t be blamed for floating up into the sky! Ma and Pa would understand, and besides, they’d be so proud that their sons had been so brave. But first a test flight, and Cory, as I explained to him, was smaller and lighter and so more suited for the job. Brave little dude furrowed his brow and looked at me as I, half believing it might actually work, nodded and gave him the thumbs up. Part of my theory was that if you left the umbrella down, kind of half collapsed, that it would flare open after you jumped and then drift up onto the breeze. Little Cory white-knuckled the hook handle and jumped up and out right after giving me the I’ll-see-you-after-I-float-back-to-earth look. Two things happened: The jump up made the umbrella snap in the closed position and Cory crashed into the cyprus bushes growing by the front porch. My mother, who was cleaning in the kitchen, saw my brother fall past the big front window. I covered my ears and ran down off the roof and towards the front yard. My ma ran out, still carrying the broom, and Cory thought she was coming to give him a whack for having jumped off the roof. I turned the corner in time to see my brother crawling like a hurt bird as my ma ran towards him with a broom. It all worked out. Cory had two sprained ankles and a sprained wrist along with some solid scratches on his forehead. I was grounded from the roof and any further flying experiments. My ma is still appalled to think my brother thought she was gonna beat him with a broom. I’ve learned that flight takes more than just a good imagination and that any such real attempt to fly should be left to birds, bats and aviation experts. Unless, of course, you happen to dream.

The majority of my flight dreams involve me doing something awkward in order to gain altitude. In my most common dream of flying, I gotta run in a straight line and then, slowly but surely, my strides become longer and longer. Sometimes I’m able to leap a really long way but I tend to turn sideways if I try to go too far. Flying takes great concentration, at least in my experience.

Swings are kind of like flying. If they’re big enough and over a river, you can feel birdlike for a second or two. Being in the tops of giant trees allows you to peek into the world of the birds as they move both above and below. Like when Markus and I broke out of the top of a giant cyprus tree in Golden Gate park and the ravens flew from all around and landed on branches and stared at the two of us. Their curiosity was obvious and they just couldn’t stop chattering lightly between themselves. Markus and I had to laugh. We just laughed and sat in the sun and looked out at the ocean where the surfers surfed and the seagulls seagulled and the boats boated. I think I climb trees because it separates me out from the rest of the world. Maybe it’s a little like flying.

I’m sure an orca would tell me that swimming is just as cool as flying. He would probably tell me about his forays under the ice where the world becomes aquamarine and the only sound is his thunderous heart. He might tell me of his hunting technique and how he has tipped icebergs and swallowed seals whole. And there would be stories of older orcas who dived to amazing depths and maybe he would roll his big pink tongue and tell me their names with reverence. I would want to know if he can see colors from sounds and if there are monsters in the depths and I would ask him about his preferences in music and love. Oh yeah, and I would wanna know about migration and whether or not he communicated with other worlds. I would ask him about his dreams and his terrors and if there are languages among the creatures of the sea. Does a whale from Japan have a heavy accent? Can he understand the tongues of the fish and the birds? Does he think about getting old and dying? The ocean is such a mystery, perhaps I might rather have the power of deep water diving, like a whale or elephant seal, so that I could bear witness to that wilder world.

Instead I am an earth dweller. A ground walker with an overactive imagination. I’m a dreamer of the flights of the birds and the deep water divers. I am forced to wait for the night so that I can fly while the stars, those wonderful conjurers, kick-start my dreams. I’m no more than a single soul, touched by a terribly beautiful world in which I have learned to stumble around and fall through loves and hurts and frights and wonders. I was a kid full of dreams who did a bunch of laps around the sun and became a kid full of dreams and wrinkles. I like Ruby’s take on things…that every time I leave the ground just a little bit, I am flying.