tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: mindfulness

A Path, A Creek, A Snake

There are so many ways to move through the world. I see the folks who’ve chosen to be oblivious. I wonder about sweet oblivion. I can’t do it. I am a natural born wonderer, for better or worse. I dream and create, sometimes obsessively, in my head. Lately I’ve made it a point to look around me and see. I have to make it a point to do this because humans generally drive me nuts and, even though I’m one of us, I’m tired of us. Given the choice of being infuriated or detached, I usually choose to be detached (which is close to oblivious but not quite the same, to me at least). This is a phase. I’m sure. I’ll find my way free. I think. How many bitter old men have I known? So many! It isn’t any wonder that a thinking man might become tired of the way of things and turn inside, arrange his inner being, and watch the world fall to pieces. It’s an option, albeit a sad one.

My favorite people are the Observers. They are the ones with the curly smiles and the secret light in their eyes. They not only see the fly in their soup, they are laughing about it. Yes, we are messy, the entire lot of us, but we are here and life is what we do. So I’ve been looking around and here’s what I see. Here’s my non-video, non-photo show. I am the filter. You are both participant and recipient. The world is the stage. We are dancing and tumbling and flinging our arms while the stars spin fire and the whales sing hymns under the wild and wondrous sea.

At the bottom of the grade from high desert to low there’s a creek that sometimes runs, it’s running now. It comes off the reservation and runs itself to death in the desert. I like to stop and climb down below the highway, take my clothes off and sit in the hole where the water swirls deeper. I’ve added rocks for the last 20 years so that this hole will hold enough water to be chest deep when I’m sitting. I think others, probably kids, have added rocks too. I sit and think about the small society of creek sitters, those of us who would sit and listen to the cars as they rocket past above the creek and the concrete and the graffiti that says Mikki loves Cody and then medicated. I don’t think the words were from the same person and I would assume that it didn’t mean that Mikki loves Cody to be Medicated. But maybe.

The desert is big today. Even the giant airliner looks small as it tilts and shows me it’s silver underbelly like a fish gliding past with the sky as it’s sea. There are the big white props generating electricity from the wind and they are standing where they stand and they are turning in unison, now and then a broken one sits, ashamed. I can see every crease in San Jacinto, every possible passage to the summit. Miles of granite and buckbrush and juniper and finally ponderosa. There are a thousand years of wandering in those folds, I think of all the rocks that will never feel human touch. I wonder if the rocks are lonely or content with solitude. I hope they know I think of them so that when I turn to dust, they will recognize my particulates and welcome me. Rocks have been here for a long time. They’ve seen a lot. Rocks hold the ground down.

There’s an old black guy that walks along the path that I run. Or maybe I run the path that he walks, I don’t know which. He’s got a beard and wears a hat, he’s probably 62. He looks fit and light. He always raises his hand to me and I do the same back. I feel like we’re friends. I’m glad we meet in that little space on the trail where we nod and smile and see one another. I wonder what makes him walk. Sometimes I see him twice, out and back, and yesterday he raised his arm and made a fist when I saw him the second time. It was like he was telling me that he liked that I was running. It made me happy and content to be in the world and to be running and to have a common path with a maybe 62 year old man.

They cut an old tree down near Brian’s house. It was probably 75 years old. A desert ponderosa, short and squatty and thick and healthy. There wasn’t a reason, it was just not a part of the plan anymore. Beetles and bugs have been passing for days, migrating out of the tree that was their home and the home of their ancestors for as long as any of them can remember. I hope they find another home. It will be tough here in the desert to find a spot before the onset of summer. I hope some of that old tree’s pinecones get dropped along the way so that she can live through her children. It’s not smart to be a tree near humans; you never know what we’re gonna do.

Several years ago I found a weasel that had been hit by a car on the side of the road. It was so amazing. It was a little male mustelid with the sharpest teeth ever known. It was open-mouthed and looked dangerous even though it’s guts were out on the asphalt. I picked it up and took it about a hundred yards to a big pepper tree in the field. I set it down in the grass and looked at it a little more. That tree is gone and the field is plowed now. I guess they are going to build houses there in that space. I wonder how much water it will take to fill all the swimming pools.

This morning is quiet. My running partner, Scout, is looking at me with yellow eyes. If he had the power to get whatever he wanted we would have been running at 4:30 this morning. Right now he is trying to figure out how to speak human so that he can convince me that it’ll be so great to run. He is young and powerful. He’s a Malinois breed and he was bred for war, I just run with him and that seems to be fine. I’m glad he’s not at war. A while back we came across a huge gopher snake that was beginning a treacherous journey across a busy road. I saw a big truck coming and I couldn’t help myself (cars are not fair to animals), I stepped out with Scout at my side. The truck had plenty of time to stop. The snake was hot and in a powerful mood. I touched it’s tail and it hissed and moved out. Scout watched intently but quietly. He is beautifully behaved because of his owner and my good ol’ buddy, Brian, and the training they do together. The big snake moved. The truck waited. Scout watched with a tilted head. For whatever reason the driver of the truck liked what I had done. He waved. I waved back. The snake went his way and I began to run again. So did Scout. It was one of those days when I am simple and happy.

Prologue: One of my favorite writers died recently. He often wrote about death and grief and what they mean to us, how they affect us. He died. Just like that. He wrote a piece about hearts and hummingbirds and whales and banana pancakes and I read it everyday for a month. When my sister was in a coma from a terrible car crash, I read that piece to her. I sat next to her hospital bed in a tattered orange shirt that I wore like a uniform at the time. Later I found out that she remembered everything and she asked me what I had read to her. Joyas Volaradas by Brian Doyle, I replied. It’s so beautiful is it not? I remember the part in that bit of writing that I cannot read aloud without feeling the tears come into my eyes. It’s near the end and it is as pretty as the sunrise. Brian Doyle did not know me, but he was an observer and a story teller and a human that felt what humans feel. I will visit his thoughts in the words he wrote and I will attempt to tell stories with his level of compassion and wonder. Rest in peace, Brian Doyle, and carry on.

a list…and some other stuff

i dreamt that my sister came to me in the night. there was that old look that i know so well because i’ve seen it on my own face, it’s like certain things expressed in the genes but that you can’t quite put your finger on. some stuff we can hide, some stuff we can’t. anyway, my sis’ wasn’t trying to hide a thing. there was broken-heartedness spilling out all around her. i invited her in the camper and pulled open a drawer that was full of tiny records, about the size of a silver dollar. i picked one out that was labeled “for the broken-hearted” and put it on the player. we sat and listened to perfect words that i cannot recollect and looked out at a moon-filled world. she sat and drank tea. i drank coffee. we both looked out the big picture window in the back and the view was from the top of some high-rise in downtown manhattan, and i felt the dream seamlessly blend the real and the other. malia, me and my camper, looking out over the lights of millions of other hearts, some happy, some broken, some deciding whether to stay or to go, some loving, some losing, some never thinking past the money. i don’t know what really happened after that, but i remember that things were kinda starting to be ok.

life really is just a continuous series of feelings. it’ll run off and be pretty damn selfish if you don’t pay it proper attention. that’s where the soul comes into play. way out there on the end of it’s tether, close to the stars and the circling birds, the soul is outside of races and species and dictionaries and languages. it can’t be accurately weighed and measured and timed, even though we try. it ain’t science. it fills us up.

and life is the result, with it’s sweet, little goods and nasty,stumbling bads.

walking along minding your own business and running headlong into a painful yesterday. creosote in the sandy washes. the tiniest vireo. the smell of rain against the monzonite. the quick tracks of the coyote and the pearly light that hides the bobcat, the huntress, at dawn. the barn owl that peeks at me from deep in that one cave (yes, you know who you are, tyto alba, in your lair above the rest of us). my elbow, clicking and hurting. the sky that holds the moon, much as that cave holds the owl. and that moon in her death throws, here at the end of her cycle, running before the sun with the last of her light…the last of her light. and my coffee that’s strong and cooling. and dad with his thoughts as he lies there next to my mama. and mama with her thoughts lying by my dad. and the rocks on the slopes that hold the recordings from the beginnings. and the puma in the wash with her twins. and the nolina that stands 20 feet tall where the lightning struck the pinon and the pinon crushed the oak. and that heartbeat that sometimes flutters and reminds me that, no matter how healthful i am, no matter how much turmeric i ingest, no matter my meditations on the spirit, i will someday drop deader than a pair of worn out socks. the words that i arrange to say what i mean in varied degrees of success. the cities that hold humans close. the cicada waiting in hiding for that 7th year. the wonderful song that is in the heart of the one who has not yet lost the love of her life but will and who has not yet begun to sing…but will. the colony of pill-bugs beneath the old plastic bag at the end of the road. the abandoned roadrunner nest above the door to the chicken coop. the old man that puts more sugar in his cup than coffee, and who does’t have teeth, and who seems like he’ll live forever anyway. the shack where david lives. the way ruby sings when you play an A-flat. the saddest book i’ve ever read, that i can’t talk about.  my younger brother josh, who i wanna grow up and be like. the distance that i worship because it holds everything including what is near, because what is near is far when you move away. the ocean and her need for us to be more careful and love her more and also to love her heart, which is every beast in her belly. the thoughts of kenneally as he walks toward mindfulness with the wildest of smiles. old photos when my belly was round and my mama had my brother cory in her belly, so her belly was rounder. memories of swimming with guns and radios and men who could use them. twisting lenga trees on the bench where the wind will blow the skin from your bones. barefootedness. openheartedness. the lone and honest sun, who, if you let him, will bleach out your faults, like old bones, until they are lighter and easier to carry. the winding down and the end, which is as perfect as birth but not nearly as popular. this breathing which is now, and doesn’t need to be labeled or claimed…it is simple and should be left that way.

this is what i think is, this and all the other stuff i missed. a collection of sorts.


shining quiet

at 3:53 a.m.  hafiz glows on from the pages of the poetry book on the table. at 3:53 a.m. orion is in full stride and the sky is cold and perfect for hunting. there is such quiet in the air that i think i might hear the stars, i really might. and the 7 sisters are bunched in the hump of taurus’ back and taurus has the sly-eyed knowledge that orion will not get him this night, nor any other. i think maybe eternity takes a little break in these moments and allows the mortals to look into her eyes to see things that are almost within reach; like a mom showing a child the fit of a single piece of puzzle. within that maze overhead are things beyond things and small sparks of light from other darknesses and things that are moving with the forces of an incomprehensible past into my view and then carrying on, dead-set on forever. and as the tiny lights that move in the skies share a glimmering moment with me and then disappear, they then exist in two places at once; they go on as they were into the cosmos but also, they continue to move in the recreated night of my memory. and no one can say if something i’ve seen and re-imagined is not but just another branch of the real deal.

such a wild sky at 3:53 a.m.    such a blend of silence and light.    this shining quiet.

back when things were different, there were real hunters that walked across this continent. they weren’t hunting for 7 point racks or the biggest on record. there weren’t any tags given to hunt in some sought after, herd-rich stretch of land. there were tribes of people that migrated with the seasons and sat under these same stars. and before them, there were others that did the  same. they didn’t need a global positioning device because they traveled by foot, at the speed of life. they made fires and talked intelligently about what was prevalent; the curve of a well crafted bow, the rains that came early or late, the visions that came to the open-hearted. the love that happened in those days was made upon the ground and the heart of the world knew the heart of the people. when food was scarce, the sign showed on the face of those that had not tracked keenly enough, those whose arrow had missed it’s mark. surely there were years where the animals were less predictable or less available and the humans suffered in turn. black elk painted it all so clearly with one quote, “the gaunt belly truly sharpens the ear.”

and all around the world, each race of humans struggled in a similar fashion. everyone’s roots go back to a time when a fire was light and the earth was a bed. we have so much now. there is clutter in our yard and clutter in our soul. apple will surely make us think last years ipad is obsolete compared to this years. somewhere someone will trade their 100,000 dollar, year-old  car in for this year’s model because the headlights are cooler. i’ll burn gas going to some place that is remote and feel guilty for supporting a practice that’s raping the world. it’s a heavy trip, that’s for sure. this life is a heavy trip.

for the moment (and i can hear the seconds ticking on the analogue clock in the kitchen) i am in the shining quiet. it’s 4:41 a.m. now. i will think about what i can do to live in a way that allows my soul to hover closer to the older ways. maybe i need to go watch the frost roll in. maybe a few moments with the chickadees bouncing around the mint that’s gone to seed. maybe a little closed-mouth, time in the woods where the madrones stand all red and the mushrooms start to sneak around in the soft, loamy shade.

a poem: a mammal soul

i’m allowed,

because there are roots under trees,

to try and speak my heart.

there is a pinching,

between forever past and forever future,

that is now.

i have this mind,

because there are trees above roots,

and inside, a mammal soul.


(and i can take little credit for being here, i am, as we all are, a child of this blue-green world. it is up to me, and you, to realize the preciousness of our situation. let your ego sleep for a second, let the world see your gentle soul)

extra medium

there are things i just can’t spell out, no matter how hard i try. i can’t make you feel the freezing, crystal, colorado mornings from my childhood. and the ice at the bottom of the stairs in the backyard by the woodpile. and the squeak of the snow between my shoes and the ice. and the way the wood splits under the ax that is different than in the summertime.  and the way that the world is quieter because sounds can’t fly as well when their wings are cold. 

there is a part of me that is still the 8 year old boy who is walking toward weir gulch at the bottom of harlan hill. i still carry a butterfly net and some fishing line and hooks. i’m prepared to catch things and witness the world that lies beneath the mint plants at the edge of the creek. i’m ready to assign names to creatures and feel the whirl of the earth. all my mindfulness is barely enough to give me a cupful of real, honest wisdom. instead i think with awe at what i’m missing and how i can’t explain the things i actually understand. growing up is a trip…and i think i’m grown up. or at least it sure does feel that way. 

i have a friend who always gives me a hard time. he says things like, “hey, tob, the eighties called and they want their hair style back.” he will ask me whose little sister gave me the pants i’m wearing. he says i like my t-shirts that are extra medium. he really loves his own jokes and, quite honestly, they are pretty good, even though i bear the brunt.  but about that term “extra medium”…well now, that’s a good one. it’s funny because it makes no sense. i relate to that. i’m in the middle of my life (i think) and i might be a little beyond that. that might make me “extra-middle”. 

writing tonight is just barely worth it. it feels like when i am groping around in the dark for a toothbrush that i can’t find, so i settle for the old toothpick i find in my shirt-pocket. i feel caught somewhere between the delete button and the bourbon bottle. i might use both, one for sure. there’s little beyond the force of practice, but that i do believe in. i never planned on a pulitzer and i wouldn’t have a place to show it off,  beyond the dashboard of a 1983 toyota dolphin. that might be kinda cool though. 

earlier today, before the rain came in, i watched the little black kitty hunt and catch a tiny vole. she’s a great hunter and the vole just didn’t have a chance. she caught it and began the long, drawn-out session of catch-and-release. i finally took heart for the tiny vole and tried to pull the cat off so i could finish the job. the cat turned and bit and i let her go. she continued to be a cat, i continued to be a strange, melancholy, two-legged observer. some don’t care. i care a whole helluva lot. it’s all so beautiful and terrible. do you know what i mean?

there is so much.  so much to worry over. so much to love.  there will be crops that fail, babies will be born with tricky hearts, a sparrow will fly headlong into the window and leave a dust print like a tiny angel. our oceans will suffer from our addictions to convenience. the moon will swing and swoon across our sky. the robins will hop and tilt and stab and pull the worms from the fresh turf on million dollar golf courses. whales will swim to where the ocean goes quiet and there, in the extra-middle of nowhere, they will love one another and they will breathe the sky and drink the ocean and they will wonder if everything is going to be ok. they will wonder about folks like me and i will wonder about folks like them. 

one more sip, no more words, a few more thoughts, a trillion stars. that’ll be good for now.

off to the ’83 dolphin. the dashboard is safe from clutter.

between the cosmos and the open road

there’s this old saying that i like, “even a blind pig finds an acorn in the mudhole sometimes.” consider me a blind pig. i don’t think i’m smart–well, sometimes i do but i’m usually wrong. but if i was to say something that is my “acorn” it would be this: move towards an open mind. all of us. everyone. the world suffers while we walk around, too proud to listen to the voice inside our heart. you might think this is a bit dramatic but i believe this message is important.

consider this: there has never been a mind born that wasn’t fallible. we all make mistakes. our most brilliant products: Einstein, Beethoven, Wilbur, Melville, Stein, Tesla, Di Vinci…they all made mistakes. and so these ideas that are called “Truth” might very well be wrong. we, and i’m talking about the most common of us, we can question anything we want. it is what makes us so very different and very wonderful. we need to wonder.

i ask people all the time about the “what if’s”. i have a habit of creating imaginary scenarios and putting my friends in them as the main characters. but really, what if there is way more than what we know? i mean, isn’t it more than probable that we only know a fraction? have you ever looked out into the stars and allowed your mind to wander. the spaces between those glittering lights are longer than a million lifetimes. we, are a blip; born, raised, loosed, broken, fixed, mixed, pulled, taught, torn, lifted, lost, loved and buried. some stars, whose light has not yet reached the earth, have long since died. and so their light, what might be called their “life”, is traveling towards our seeking eye and yet they no longer exist. are we all like this? will our message travel after we have turned back to dust? oh my! what little creatures we are.

there is more beyond. we think we know it all. we write in our little books. we use words like, “indisputable”. we compute and write in computer languages. we create complex scenarios and put them before those who are judges. we consider our decisions to be the “best” for the world we live in and still the world suffers. rivers are black from our refuse. polar bears swim farther and farther to find their place. trees are chopped and ripped and painted and burned. seeds are altered. our science has run out in front of us and yet we cannot hear the voices from beyond our monumental egos. i am one of us; i am guilty of all the things i’m pointing out. i am a slave to money and the system as well. but this moving, breathing world does not run on money. take away the dollars and the sun would rise, cherries would bloom and babies would be born. there is something bigger here. i am convinced we are running wildly in a direction but we haven’t a clue why we are running. and we are lonely. even when we are together, we find loneliness. i think, in part, this is because we, as a civilization, have forgotten where we came from. we are children of this blue world, but we act as if we created it. the earth won’t leave us, just like a good mother, she will wait. if we just listen to her cooings, we will begin to grow up. we are not lost, we just can’t see our mother. “there is no person without a world.” — anne carson


we have to begin to choose to think.

in this life, there could be an awakening. the stars are singing. it’s up to us to hear them. there is no limit to realization…i mean, we can continue to explore in any state. i’ve read about people who were trapped in their bodies in a coma and still wrote their life stories, or symphonies, or songs. cages and bars and boxes cannot enclose the foreverness of the mind. their is a universe inside.

out beyond what we believe lies what really is. the only limit is our inability to understand this fact. i too struggle with it, but i’ll be damned if i don’t die trying to jump the fences.