tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: nature

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 Ghost in Every Window

There’s an old farm house down there where the road turns. There’s no one living in it, the barn swallows and owls roost, rats and mice and skunks shuffle through openings and go about their business in the secret way that animals do. The Coastal Cypress trees, their trunks obscured by ocean fog, mark the way to the cliffs above the waves. And the waves are working to move the land, they will never tire. They have a deal with the Sea: to throw themselves against the land until the last stone turns to sand, and the oceans all reunite.

In the dark, the house above the sea stands hollow. I wonder of it’s abandonment. I imagine that it has housed many hearts. I am dreaming now, creating maybes and might-have-beens. What ghosts are looking at me through warbling windows? What caused the separation of habitation and inhabitant? There is, I must admit, something beautiful about a structure returning to nature. There is not a single hint of paint. The wood is all the color of drift wood, both grey and green at the same time. And the bleak, scraped land is all around. Artichokes and Brussel sprouts are the crops of choice. Miles of plastics cover the crops and there’s not a hint of plant life save that which is planted and sprayed and plucked and processed. Farming here looks more like a science project. Maybe that’s why the house is empty; new people practicing new ways. Not too far down the road is a sign with the name of Donald Trump in gaudy red letters saying something about making America great. I feel an urge to drive down to the cliffs and watch the ocean, to look at something I know is true.

The low branches of the cypress are huge and rotten. Up 30 feet they are more solid, some of them droop all the way to the ground. Everything is drenched from the rain event last night. There was lightning over the ocean. Just before dark, when the sun was still coloring the upper terraces of the world, a whale surfaced and spouted, the flume hung white in the dark air for a full minute after the whale had passed. And in the night I thought of that whale out there in the dark — maybe hanging in the black with the storm overhead while the lightning spoke the language of the clouds. Maybe thinking bigger and deeper thoughts than any human could ever imagine. Maybe even mapping out the course of all things that have ever been and looking into the future by mirroring the past. Maybe understanding the way of things because it is a whale and not intimidated by vastness and expanse, and, in truth, a child of both those things. And I listened to the rain and thought of that whale and remembered the color of it’s breath as it hung in the air over the water and beneath the clouds that were still lighted by the last rays of the sun. But that was last night and this tree is tall. My nephew is with me and he’s watching me navigate. We are Jacks-in-the-beanstalk. We are climbing to the clouds. And one branch at a time and a 100 feet high and again and again to the sky. My nephew doesn’t talk too much, I think he’s too busy thinking to say a whole lot. He’s strong and listens as we move into the top-most branches. Coastal Cypress trees are cool because you can top out and stand above everything. Several pelicans fly over with a tiny black and white tern in their jet-wash. All the birds look at us, we are odd in their space. Far below is the RV, the dolphin, looking as tiny as ever. I can see my lover reading her book about octopuses in the broken sunlight. A couple miles away sits the abandoned farm house and the ghosts are in every window, looking out.

Looking out. And smiling.

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.

When the Wind Worries the Leaves

My Ma texted me at 7:37 this morning. She told me she loved me and that she was proud to be my mother. At that moment I was holding my phone, checking the time, deciding the layout of my day. Coffee was on the near horizon and the air was chill and the jays were overhead in the cottonwood scolding me for not being a jay. I jumped on my bike and sat up straight, no hands, down First St. and out onto Portland. I noticed the peach tree on the way, heavy with sweetness in the little alley behind 2nd St. I gotta hit that soon.

After coffee I shot down to the river. It was just chilly enough to see my breath. Morning dive. Deep down, eyes open. Green rocks and fish. I jump in this spot 2 or 3 times a day when I’m in Bend. There’s this big rock about 10 feet down, it’s shaped like a flying saucer.  My dive carries me down to it. I know where it is and I find it and I latch ahold of it under the current. My feet flag around and the I am there, fluttering deep. It’s down there where the world comes close, gets right up against me. My heart. My brain. My hands. Me. I am down there with my things. I would stay much longer if I could, but I’m a surface breather and the sky calls. Up. There are clouds floating under the sun. I sit to dry on the edge of the river and an American Dipper skitters by me between the rocks, under water. She pops up a few yards away. Water beads on her back and she gives me a quick tilt of the head, then she is under water, then back to the same spot. I have known her kind my whole life. She is drab grey but her life is as brilliant as a star. She is a favorite of mine. I speak to her in human talk. She responds in the silent language of the wild, which is a most beautiful tongue.

After the river, I went back to Jason and Rachel’s place. The boys were naked and dancing in the back. The hot tub was open and Jason was smiling. We piled in. Life is quite dandy when I am at the Arbettor’s house. Dandy indeed.

This may be difficult to understand,  I’m not wise enough to relate to everyone, so take this or leave it.(No big deal to leave my insights piled outside the door with the muddy shoes. After all, they’re worth about the same.) I’ve spent a good deal of time switching back and forth between being God and being the dirty ol’ Devil. That’s what it is you know? I don’t think the two of them are sitting out there in the ether playing chess with our souls. I am a real piece of work. Oh my, I’ve been a wreck at times. I know for sure I’m just as capable of good as I am of evil. It’s all there. Choices are waiting for me, like peaches on a tree. All along the way we create the things we need so that we can cope. Sometimes God. Sometimes a bottle of bourbon. It isn’t all that easy being a person. The soul is fragile, just like life. We are here for a blink and then we are gone and then we are forgotten. When people talk about a legacy, I can’t help but see that as a manifestation of pride. I think it’s more important to make a baby laugh than it is to be a billionaire. And if you’re thinking, that’s easy for him to say, he ain’t a billionaire…you are correct. It is easy for me to say.

Years ago, when my buddy Christian died in the towers in New York, I sat in Central Park and wept. It had been weeks since he went down in a cloud of smoke and fire but I hadn’t really stopped crying. No one had stopped crying. Dave Kenneally told me I might never stop crying, and that would be alright.  I had been bulletproof until that point in my life. It took me years to realize that I was bad ass. It took a fleeting moment, falling walls, a phone call, a furious drive from California to NYC and the look on the face of Christian’s dad to lay me lower than I had ever been. Not bulletproof at all. I’ll skip the story, it’s been told and retold. That afternoon in Central Park though, when I sat and wept, I saw my hands in my lap. I stared at them as if they did not belong to me. I kept thinking that I was inside my body and it was just this husk that my soul was using to get around. I wondered that the hands on the ends of my arms were the same ones that belonged to the little Toby that sat by my Ma in church. The same hands that drew super heroes in 6th grade and passed them to Dan Anglin for a laugh. These were the hands that tugged at my Grampa’s pant leg to get him to show me his fake leg with the painted on sock. How could this possibly be? In what dream did this happen? Even now, I sometimes drop in on this feeling. It’s huge, so excuse me while I breathe.

The attempt here is to explain myself. I am struggling with translation. There are leaves that are falling in the woods high above the roads that cut between the mountains. They still hold life but they are separated from the trees where they budded. They are floating on the wind and the wind is running along the ridgelines. As the leaves flow and rattle, the stones wait. The foxes slide between the quakies and move along the ground on tiny feet. They are smelling the world and they are listening through the wind and their quicksilver hearts are giving them the blood they need to run. They will sleep tomorrow in the sun and they will dream of rabbits and muskrats and they will puff through their teeth as their feet twitch and flutter. These things will happen.

It’s my intent to be here with all my might. My mistakes are piled high, they are too many to count and too heavy to carry. I am fortunate to know love and sorrow. If there are any kids reading this, I want to give you some advice. Hang in there. Life is painful and scary and guarantees are not to be trusted. Trade right and wrong for awareness and compassion. Be sweet to the younger ones, they are trying to figure it out just like you. Instead of arguing, listen. Treat your mother good, even if she’s bad. Write letters with your hand, on paper. Be fair to the animals, they belong as much as we do. Stand in the rain and say thank you to the sky. Sleep on the ground and climb a tree. Ride your bike. Don’t hesitate to sing, no matter what you sound like. Draw without apology, stick figures are funny…and rad. Dance when the song calls you. Never fake love. Remember that your parents are humans. Remember that this life is the only thing you really own, treat it like you love it.

There’s more…but I don’t wanna ruin the fun. Go find it out on your own.

Creeks are baby Rivers

Well, here I am. For whatever it’s worth. The birds are still flying. And I watched a rough-legged newt stuff her square head into the mud, there she was, hanging in the clear, clean pond above Nick and Elizabeth’s house. There wasn’t no one but me watching, and I doubt she knew that I am even in existence. I wonder what that little newt thinks, like, what’s she thinking now. Maybe she still has her head in the mud, she certainly outwaited me. Is she dreaming? Does that simple mind still have Pangaean dreams? Do amphibians somehow remember when they ruled the world? Back before voting for presidents existed? Before clowns existed? Before countries or circuses? Do they communicate in some kind of Devonian web made up of algae and mycelium?

I went down to the creek. I caught a bunch of little trout in a jar and took ’em up and tossed ’em in the pond. One of ’em hit the water and immediately chased a water-boatman around in circles. The little bug got away this time…but it won’t be long before that trout gets faster and grows bigger teeth. At the creek I picked up a crawdad. Time stands still when I’m at a little creek. Just leave me alone. Leave me there. I’m fine. I’m a little boy. I’m gone from time and everything else that grown-ups need. I go back to where I used to be, when I was a boy. I remembered the first tiger salamander I came across down in Weir gulch, and I remembered that I felt incredible joy. — I get it, Charlie Darwin, I get why you were such a nut. I’m a nut. You were on the Beagle. I am in the Dolphin. You were here before the world became this. I am here now. I think I’da liked you there, Chuck. I really do.

I read about them little rough-legged newts. One of them crawled right up into my hand with not a worry in the world, and it’s no wonder they don’t really worry; they are deadly poisonous. Really not too worry about unless you eat them, or somehow ingest one of them. If you eat one, you’ll die. Funny how they get so docile because they’re so deadly.

Up the creek a little ways I stopped and drank from the water between my knees. It was sweet and tasted like moss and rocks and roots. Overall it tasted like life. I keep having this feeling, like I mighta missed out on a sweeter world. The truth is, I’m human and I’m prone to mis-deeds. We all are. Charlie Darwin’s gone, turned to dust. So is my Gramps, ol’ Elmer Crabtree, who taught me about the little song birds. And Wendell Berry’s gone, he left behind some words, but it’s tricky to follow them without the old Farmer and his piercing eyes. This present populace seems less equipped with naked gifts. Sure we are more capable of having answers, hell, just google that shit, but what to do with them? You can’t conjure heart on a search engine.

We do have love. We have that at least. And there are strong limbed folks still pounding out miles with their feet just because there is earth to run upon. There are the wild hearted. There are the true beloved ones that are laying their bodies down against the stones and looking up to wonder at the stars. It’s not like I’m just assuming all is lost, it’s just that, well, I am worried. I really want the streams to be ok. And the whales. And the verdins. And the garter snakes and the blue jays and the worms. It’s like Nick says, “there’s really no bad plants, there’s just plants that don’t do what we want.” Ain’t it just like Nick to sum it up like that? Nick, with his muddy feet and his wild hair and his wrinkled brow.

Yeah, I’m ok. Not that you’re worried, but I’m fine. I’m loved and warm and I just ate a burrito. These words are clumsy and tossed out on the screen. Forgive me, I’ve been away. I’ve been at the creek and the glow of this screen ruins my eyes for looking down into that flowing amber where the crawdads creep and the baby trout slip back and forth between the world that I live in and the one that used to be.

a ribbon between the keys

I love writing from my brother’s garage. I don’t know exactly what it is that I love about it, something…something old and nostalgia based. Maybe it’s from the memory banks, back when all us boys used to hang out in the ol’ bus garage, when my Pa moonlighted as the mechanic at the church. I still love the smell of old engines and greasy parts, oil drenched benches with big vices for clamping things that need clamping. I’ve never been much of a mechanic, I’m the guy that will take something apart and THEN call for help, sometimes losing a part or two in between feeling confident and lost. Both my brothers are better with that kind of stuff. Cory will help me get my computer going again, over the phone. Josh is the one who tells me to label the parts, put ’em in a bag, take a picture before you take it apart. Yeah, I’m more like the guy with greasy fingers and a hammer and a weird look on my face because I just realized i haven’t a clue as to where this one extra part goes. But none of that changes anything about me liking to write in the garage. The only thing I can loose while I’m writing is my train of thought and, if you’ve ever read anything that I’ve written, you know that’s just part of the ride. If I thought I had any style at all it would be based on big, looping circles that drop down into the creek bottoms, cut under bridges, follow old deer trails, go up and down trees, and finally, if we’re lucky, end up somewhere that makes some kind of sense. But don’t count on it.

Last night I went to bed early. I read from A River Runs Through It, and promptly had dreams of big mountain rivers with monster trout, lurking in the foamy swirls. The literature that calls me most these days is the stuff that leans into an older, more loving view of the world. I am reminded, on the daily, how much there is for us to learn from the woods, the ocean, the rivers. I don’t need anything that takes batteries or a power source, I need only to give time to the world that formed me. These Wild Things put their mark on me. They put wrinkles around my eyes, muscles on my body, and memories that can stir a fire in the heart of the kids that will bury me. I wonder, as I think about the way things are, if the time of the Story Teller is over, replaced by shiny devices that give us so much pleasure through beeps and follows and likes. Let’s face it, the human being is a specie so in love with itself that it is in danger of losing it’s vision, walking head down and staring at a pretty screen right out into oblivion. Don’t believe me? Drive by a middle school when the kids are let out and count the interactions that don’t include a smart phone. Coffee shops aren’t for physical interaction anymore, they are cyber-world. I wonder what would happen if something happened, like a solar flare or something, and the ability to use the web went away. I’m not wishing for a stone age here, I don’t want us to loose knowledge, but would kids even know how to look stuff up in the dictionary? People would be lost in their hometowns because they’ve never learned about street addresses, how there’s a North and South, East and West division to every town and the street numbers increase from that point. And what would happen in coffee shops? For a while, people would talk about losing the web, but then what? Everyone would be forced to look up when they’re walking in Central Park. People would begin to say Hello again because the ol’ cop-out of pretending to look at the phone would be gone. Maybe kids who no longer have their ipad would like books and crayons again. And I’d be typing on an old typewriter (for those who don’t know what a typewriter is — and I just met a kid that didn’t — it’s a machine that hammers words onto paper by holding a ribbon of ink in between the swinging keys that have the letters of the alphabet. It’s wonderfully noisy. It was created not long after the cotton gin).

I’m intentionally sarcastic, but I’m including myself in this wave of stupidity and dependency. I don’t want things to regress, I would much rather see us progress and use what we have in a positive way. Convenience is not always the correct choice, nor is comfort. Frustration is an important part of our development, it’s good to have to deal with it.

Being smart and simple is so damn refreshing! I’ve got the simple part down, the smart part is still a work in progress. I do, however, spend time with the Ones who are marvelously smart and wise enough to listen and good enough to teach and simple enough to enjoy the moments where the only sound is the thumping of their own heart and the whisperings of a forgotten world.

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.

life.

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)

what i cannot promise you

i cannot promise tomorrow. i’m pretty sure it’ll come, it always has, but i cannot promise it.

i cannot promise you that you won’t cry again, i hope you do. it’s good for you, you should check it out. don’t do it all the time, though, it’ll run people off.

i cannot promise you that there will be coffee in the morning. if there isn’t, you should have planned better.

i cannot promise you that the newspaper will set your mind at ease when you read it in the morning. hell, you can read it whenever you want and it won’t set your mind at ease.

i cannot promise you that people won’t die tomorrow. i can’t even promise that you won’t die tomorrow. it’s kinda spooky, but that’s just the way it is, sorry.

i cannot promise that you will be happy. chances are, you’ll be happy at some point. if you’re lucky, you’ll be happy a lot. but i wouldn’t count on happiness, it’s a slippery fish. you could always do what i do and grovel in some self pity for a while and it’ll make happy moments seem fantastic.

i cannot promise that i will never lie again. i’ll try not to, but i will lie again, i’m sure. i’ve lied to those i love the most so it’s kind of a sure thing. what sucks most about lying is that it pulls the rug out from under you. lies will make the best person look bad. so yeah, i’ll probably lie again. maybe soon.

i can’t promise that you’ll find love. you probably will, no matter who you are, but here’s the catch. if you do find it, you will suffer. you might love someone who doesn’t love you back. you might love someone who loves you, but also loves someone else…more.  you might even find someone who loves you dearly but you can’t find a way to love them enough, and so they leave you. there’s a ton of ways to suffer if you fall in love, but the heaviest is if it is perfect. if it’s perfect, then one of you, someday, must lose the other. we all die.

the only things i can promise are things i can’t really prove; like, i hear crickets in the oak forest above the farm; like, i watched the finches in the corn talk in the sweetest, softest tones to one another for 30 minutes today; like, i feel pretty good right now. but really, promises are kind of bullshit. they might change and then, so what? life is one big fat bundle of changes and we might as well get use to it.

i ain’t sure what causes us to get up out of the wrong side of the bed, but i know it happens. sometimes i wake up and i have ugly written all over my face. i should know, i see it in the reflection of the window, or in the mirror if i’m brave enough to go there. (mirrors aren’t my favorite human inventions — when we’re not looking at how pretty we are, we’re ripping ourselves to shreds.) but i realize that i’ve done this since i’ve been conscious. even back when i was a 12 year old, smily-faced, protected little boy i had my bad starts. i guess it’s just a part of being human.  what i’ve noticed is that bad starts look a little uglier on a 46 year old face. if i ever want that job as a super-model i’m gonna have to keep my “ugly-mug” starts to a minimum.

hell, it’s ridiculous that i complain at all. i can see the stars. the ‘poorwill is calling from beyond the hedge. the old ‘fridge is groaning, but i bet the cream will still be cold in the morning. the fall harvest is coming on wonderfully. there are breaths to breathe and loves to love. there’s roads to bomb on our skateboards. there’s wild mountains that are ready to teach us. there’s rivers that hold secrets in their granite bellies. there’s caves whose walls hold the etchings of our history in ancient form.  it’s here for us to behold if we just pay attention. the world is full of soulful humans who are hoping and fighting for a higher way of being.  i can close my eyes and think of dozens of people with the power to change the world. i have a certain confidence that reaches beyond bombs and poisonous gases…it reaches into the hearts of the open-minded, the ones who swim deeper, the fire carriers.  strip away money and belongings and you get people. give me them kinds and i bet we’ll make it out just fine.

i am, we are

i don’t know when exactly. it was a long time ago. it might have been in first grade, in Mrs. Baze’s class.  we were asked what we wanted to be when we grew up. i remember the moment, not the details surrounding. i only remember answering, “tarzan” and then i remember my face flushing with embarrassment as it was explained to me that that was not an actual thing one might become.

it’s been a long time since that moment. i don’t blush as easily anymore. i might not even blush, i’m not sure. i hope i do about something, but i don’t know what it is. i still hope to become tarzan. i still love his savage ways. and to cast my body through the canopy, ten stories up, and to swim the wildest of rivers and to speak the language of the beings who inhabit the woods…yes, i wish on these things.

i woke up this morning at 4 a.m. That hour is a bit early for me but this morning i obliged. i rose.

it is not uncommon for me to say to myself, before i fall asleep, “this was another day of my life.” it’s just my acknowledgement of existence; nothing monkish. but today would not let go. today existence stayed in my face, like a schoolyard bully. i am here. the sky is above and the ground waits for me to return. the dirt under my feet is my next of kin.

mom called at 7:44 a.m. which is the exact minute 46 years ago that she brought me into this world. she bore me. she nursed me. she raised me. she put money in my checking account today. she called me and said she loved me. 46 years of unconditional, unabashed, unrelenting love. if there is ever anything that keeps me from feeling alone, it is my mother. so i am here. she made sure of that.

as far as what i want to be. well, i’m still working on that. my hair is shaggy. my skin is brown. i live under the trees much of the year. i climbed a cedar today. i ran through the woods. i drank 4 cups of strong coffee. i ate peach and blueberry pie. i did pushups under a madrone. i drank a snort of whiskey. i laughed. i tattooed a friend. i wrote words. i thought thoughts. i told my ma i loved her. i listened to the crickets. i looked at the stars and told them i’d be along shortly.

i did other things, but they might bore you. but as i go to bed, i still want to be tarzan, all these years later.

what’s weird is that i can say, “i am here,” and so can you. so, no matter what we have this in common.

that alone is enough, or at least is should be.