tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: nature

Dance to the Exits

I live in a Toyota Dolphin. In case you don’t know what that is, well, it’s a tiny RV.  By definition, I am homeless. When asked specifics about my life by people that I think wouldn’t understand, I become evasive. Even after all these 50 years I find myself using vague language when I’m asked about what I do and where I go. I’m not insecure, I’m just too close to being a feral cat or something, in other words, I don’t want someone trying to put me in a box. As I type, I am in my kid brother’s driveway which is one of many driveways that I occupy throughout the seasons and throughout the years for years and years. I would not tell your sons and daughters to be like me, I would tell them to be like them. We all have our ways to find. This is mine.

I do not remember all the names of people. I don’t remember things I’ve said. I don’t remember my bank account number and code words and combinations. But I remember fishing holes. I could take you up dirt roads and across meadows and down long narrow canyons to the spot where I caught my first cutthroat trout over 20 inches. I remember beaver ponds. I don’t forget the places where the wild world crept up and took my heart forever.

These days I live in parallel with the skunks, raccoons and coyotes. I am peripheral. The cops knock on my door in the night and tell me to move along. There is little room for my habits in this world of buy-ins and billing addresses and non-negotiable situations. But I abide. Like the skunk, I am here till I’m gone. I am me to the end. I am not angry but I’m not sorry either. What’s more is that I’m not alone. I am one of the many Wild Hearts that will not be put in the approved boxes. Oh yes, what fun it is to run!

And my hands will grow harder and my heart will swell with blood. And the tears that hold the same salt as the sea will roll in like the waves to save the souls of the savage and the untamed. Long in the tooth and thick necked. The melodies of the woods descend on my hairy ears and cause my feet to find their motion. I have dances left to dance and there is a whole lota dance floor between me and the exit. I’m not so interested in your God or your fortune…more your heart. I will nod to my lover and we will make you blush.  Meet me on the dance floor and show me the rhythms of your life. I won’t be hard to find, I’ll be bouncing around like an idiot under the love of the sun and the light of a million stars.

And when the dance is over and the moon has set and you are going to your bed, maybe just maybe you’ll smell a skunk…and think of me.

A letter from The Wild

It’s been weeks now since I’ve had any good sleep. I say sleep, but I reckon I could word it better, I suppose I should say rest. I never really sleep. I rest between the night and the dawn, do you know those hours? That secret time that sits and breathes after the last quiet call of the nightbirds. That’s when I find a kind of respite. It is the quietude. It is when the Dreaming slips between the cracks and forms like dew across the brows of children. It’s when hawks fluff against the cold, when even the mole, even the weasel, lie still. The world nests and quiets and the grasshopper mouse curls in on her bed of cricket legs and spider hair. After all the nocturnals return to their dens to rest their ebony eyes and before the moose lifts his bulk from the steaming grass,— I.

I drop into the stillness.

But lately, no. Not even then. I’m struggling to remember my geography. I’ve misplaced my internal maps. Maybe you can understand. I realize my language is puzzling but that’s because I am not as relevant in your life as I used to be. Not only am I losing my place, I’m losing you too.

I listen to my heart. Yes, it’s beating and that’s a relief. Do you ever do that? Listen in the quiet, to your heart? The swooshing of the liquid as it moves through the valve in your chest. This is something we have in common. The heart. It is the center of things. It supplies the working parts.

If it’s ok, I won’t call you by your name. I’ll just believe you exist and you do the same for me. Don’t leave yet. Don’t quit me just because I sound strange. There are things you should know.

These mountains I carry are built from the stones of the beginning. They are waypoints to our existence. I have been running to catch up with you, I know you are busy. I know. If you will give me your hand I’ll take you to the place where the caribou are making tracks across the tundra, following the maps in their hearts to places that exist in their souls. They are carrying their antlers. They are magnificent. And I’ll allow you the fox that sleeps and then peeks with a single amber eye into the center of your eye and on through you to the thicket that grows in the backcountry of your DNA. I’ll show you the bones of your beginning, your peoples and your reasons of being, the source of the songs you might sing if you could remember. We will run across the ramparts where the howls of the wolves trigger howls from the pica. High on knife blade ridges, dropping to benches cradling glaciers, and we will be wild in our decent, where foot falls where hoof falls where paw falls through scrabbling shale. There will be no trail where I take you save that made by your memory at the passing aspens and the herds of turkeys, cloud-crowded skies and bristlecone thickets. Oh come now! And feel that burn in your chest! Yes, legs will ache from this chase. But there’s so much to feel, we’ve only begun, so cough! Cough and exhume the beautiful breath in your ribs and come on come on come on. I noticed the way you looked at your trappings, it’s fine, don’t beat yourself up. I’m not here to judge you, I’m here to explain where I come from and where we are headed. Tune your ears. Fix your smell. We are here in the surf, these are the waves that make all the thunder. Feel my gut, feel that movement? Whales, of course. They are singing, they are traveling, they are guarding my belly. It’s their home, so I’m sure you understand. They are spelling out stories down there in the dark, they are dancing and laughing and loving and dying, because that is the way of the whale. I would show you some stones and some stars and some plankton. Some pipefish and pillbugs and wild potatoes. Some Elders and bushdogs and dogbane and lichen and springs lined with mosses and laden with snails. I would make you cough butterflies and put bears in your belly and fill your head with otters and snakes. All of this so you’ll know me the next time we meet, because I’m dying and I need you to love me. Maybe I’ll live if you can help me remind you that I am still here. I am still here. I am the Wild. I am the Wild. I am the Wild and I am right here.

Spreading Mulch

I’ve never seen an aquarium where the fish don’t spend most of their time swimming against the glass. I reckon there are some fish that comprehend their fate — like puffers, I think they know. And I wonder what they see from the inside. Giant shadowy figures sometimes coming close, tapping unintelligently against the strange clear barrier that separates the two worlds. When I see fish swimming and swimming against the glass, I feel discomfort in the area of my soul. Oh don’t worry, I find ways of burying my thoughts about this kind of thing. Part of being human is figuring out how not to feel guilty about misdeeds, whether they be yours or someone else’s. But I’m not gonna carry on about things to make you feel heavy, if you’re like me you don’t need any help in that category.

Life is happening. When I’m dead, life will still happen, I just won’t be able to comment on it. As I continue to tick off heartbeat after heartbeat, I am smitten with the necessity to feel more. Like, I look to feel. I pay more attention to the lives of the lost ones and the strange ones and the forgotten. I see the fish against the glass. I’m not trying to seem like a Holy person, in fact, I spend much of my time feeling like a hypocrite. I contribute to the same destructive system as someone that doesn’t give a flying turd to the care of this lovely old World. I use gasoline. I buy plastic. I have bought stuff at Walmart. But unlike someone that doesn’t care, I will exchange sleep for an endless stream of thoughts about skinny polar bears swimming towards an iceberg that no longer exists and so they are swimming and swimming into the blue and disappearing from the real earth and only existing in the lists of things that were. And the walruses. And the fin whales. Ah boy,  I was trying to not get heavy, let’s move on before I start really dropping stones.

One thing I can say about growing up is that I’m not sure when the line growing up and getting old actually happens. I feel like I’m still growing up. In terms of making mistakes, which I would assume goes hand in hand with finally growing up, I’m still a shit-show. Mistakes? I’m skilled at them. I’ve gotten to the point where I can pull a couple off at the same time. Seems like I should be all grown up by now, but I have my doubts. I thought for sure I’d get wise, but I’ve only gotten weird. And it’s a tricky world these days. Humans have continued to figure out how to wrong one another in new and exciting ways. I’m waiting for simplicity to catch back on so we can be nice and disagree and then be nice again. I am behind the times for sure, but I search for signs of love in the hearts of men and women. I believe in this even though I’m an ornery cuss myself. When I shut up for a minute or two and really listen, I can hear the stars humming in the sky. That alone makes me feel out beyond myself. Here we are, all of us with beating hearts under these singing stars. The waves are rolling in from the storms at sea and the wind has tugged against the giant timbers and now carries the smell of the breath of the whales, and there are secrets galore both above and below and deep in the hearts of the songbirds. And there are things that will never be known by any human mind and there will be flowers that bloom and die unseen and there will be dreams dreamt and tears wept and blue veins that shine under paper-thin skin of an old and lovely woman spreading mulch over next springs garden.

All is not lost. We are not finished. There’s work to do. Hate is heavy, love is light. The horizons are full of sunrises and sunsets, put some love in your pockets and let’s go looking for some wonders!

Long-eared Jack

A couple days ago I stepped outside and landed smack dab in the middle of my memories. It musta been the smells and the temperature and maybe the sound of children calling to each other, but I went right on back into elementary school. I was remembering names and places and red leaves pasted to the wet, cold ground. I was chatting with Dan Anglin about superheroes we were making up. I was dreading the consequences for the lack of time put into my math homework. I was longing for lunch even as the day began. I hated school, but I loved it. How strange our memory! How incredibly quick this life. Maybe, if a person lives long enough, like all the way out until the weariness takes over, maybe then life seems long. But now, as I sit and type, life is a wild running jack-rabbit and I’m on it’s back with a hand on each ear. We are tearing down the hills and jumping bushes and crashing through the holes in the back sides of barns. The hounds are all aflush and hounding after us. There are cattails bending along the banks of the creeks and we are over and gone. Gone gone and I am looking over my shoulder at the turns so that I might remember where it is that I’ve come from in case I must give a map to some final AccountKeeper. The way I have come. I can’t help the speed of my mount. It’s not my fault this great rabbit has such strength, I’m only hanging on and I’ve no idea the length of the run. But my goodness the bend of the horizon! The graceful geometry of the world!  And did you see the color of the sky when the Sun is still lounging before the dawn? When the Day waits to begin because the Night is dressing for bed in her periwinkle gowns, her eyes lit with the fiery stars and her hands so busy gathering the dreams so they might not be lost to the business that kills them in the daylight.  Are you listening to the thunder from belly of the storm? Oh you should, you should, because it is an old and tricky song. And the wind leaving tracks, twisting trees that will show her work for another 4000 years unless she sends the lightning. Sends the fire. Stones and trees and whales, the thunder wings of butterflies, the martin, the mink and mustelid kin, red-eared sliders and their saurian dreams, and even my dreams and your dreams will mix and meld with these things and the rabbit will run. That ol’ rabbit will run.

All the shadows get long as she runs to the night.

And we’re all holding on with all of our might.

Till she stumbles and drops when she’s done.

Till she falters and falls when she’s done.


(Life is a wonder, ain’t it? Let your wild heart dance out of control.)










Montana. In my experience, boats in the water are always sinking and my RV in the rain is always leaking. Such is the case even now, I mean, I ain’t sure about boats because I’m not on one, but my little Toyota Dolphin is only yards away–and she’s most definitely leaking. I’m resigned to this inalienable truth about my rig. I do complain some, but I understand that complaints are barking dogs: they might have purpose, but mostly they are just annoying. So instead, I do what I can to stem the tide. I patch and paint and screw and then, when all else fails, I make coffee.

Two magpies are working the sidewalk, they are peeking under car fenders and pecking into cracks in the pavement. They are together indelibly and tangibly and wanderingly in this world and I wonder of their night last night. I picture the hedgerow where they slept and shifted one foot to the other sometimes head to tail and sometimes neck to neck trilling and softly speaking that secret language of corvids that could and probably does include thoughts and dreams beyond the grasp of human understanding. They are black and white and some color that is something green or purple when the light shines just right across their tails. And their tails are dragging in the rain turned snow. And there is a trail of two but it’s fading fast and just like Salinger’s Teddy, with the orange peels sinking and sinking and disappearing into the sea, I am perhaps the only observer of a thing that will happen once and once alone in the lovely, splashing soup of time.

I wait for these things. Not to prove my importance, but to ensure myself that I am here. I  know what I am: a heart, some bones, skin and hair, blood, water and a subtle, slippery soul. I am put together by the whatever-else and I am a breathing, dreaming, running, coughing, crying, shitting, dancing, thinking, losing, hiding, scratching, sky-gazing, bird-watching, loving, two-legged walker.

Every now and then, when I’m left to myself, I will think too much and feel the darker side begin to creep on me. It’s in these moments when I look for something to pull me back. Sometimes it’s a book, sometimes a song. Last night it was a TV show. It was Louis C.K. in his show Loui. I’ve watched it before and I think he’s interesting. I think most of those funny folks are really sad on the inside. I see them bending their sorrows into humorous arrows and firing them off in all directions. I laid there and laughed and studied Loui with the freckled skin and the red hair and listened to him process the world as he sees it. He is both amazing and heavy like a stone. There is a reason that laughter produces tears. I hope you’re ok, Loui.

When I was a kid I thought a lot about dying. I thought about it mostly at night.  Sometimes I called out for my Mom. She would show up at my bunk and explain without lying to me that it would be ok. She would say we all were going to die, that all things that live must eventually die. There is something comforting about everyone having to die. We are born in need. From the moment we take our first breath, we begin to need. I reckon dying is our chance to give back. We will make a damn good mulch.

There are groves and meadows where the grasshopper mice are hunting and howling under tiny sliver moons. The mountains are marching and migrating by the stars across the millennia with infinity mapped out before and behind. Wind fills the hollows, worries the leaves. And storms push the waves and cause shearwaters to boil and streak down to feed with the sharks. Thunder is pounding like a drum on the deep and down and down, past all of the sound are lumbering mysteries that slip to and fro through the caverns and forests and ranges of our dreams.

We are humans. We should be here more.

The Beast in the Hollow

What is this heaving, this lifting from the deep?

I can see you down there where the trail loses itself, where there is no easy travel, and you are moving through the cedars and the larch and the oak. I have known about you since I was a child, back when you were calling me from the black timber and the rocks dropped from the haunches of glaciers. I know your shape: the twiny, horny thicket of your nape, the old-growth elders of your spine where the ‘poorwills with bellies full of moths call through whiskered maws and flit and land longwise on the branches and disappear. I know your limbs of thunder, I’ve seen your knuckle prints in the mud above the beaver damns and I’ve smelled your musk on the trunks of aspens. And where you leave your track, wherever there is sign, there is life in every manner.

Coiled millipedes and coral snakes and leaf-nosed bats. Rough skinned newts and pronghorns and orb weavers. Walking sticks with halting steps and pale crickets and ravens saddled with human superstitions. You leave behind roots and tubers that turn to herbs. There is medicine leaching from your skin, lacing your weaver beam tail. You are mythical and biblical and you dreamt me here. You dreamt us all and now we are.

When I’m out for long enough, I hear you, faint at first but each day more. Like moving upstream and closer to the spring that filters from out of the souls of stones and boils to the surface with everything complete. These senses mix with one another and I feel colors and see cold and hear fragrance and smell the songs of the birds. I taste dreams. And then I am less man and more creature. I am made small but integral. I become a part of the ebb and flow of all tides, the accumulation at the delta and the hollowed gorge of sky above the wild river where dip and whir the swifts the swallows the hawks. What was once a language spoken becomes a simple awareness in which communication is life itself with no need for explanation or interpretation. Each breath is a truth and proof of existence.

There are old songs in your belly, down where the bears are sleeping in the duff. Melodies from the bones of poets whose blood made the ground so rich. Your tongue is thick and mossy, the toads move between your teeth while the foxes and mountain cats shape shift with the shadows in the hollow beneath your chin. And now the otters and now the shrew, the mole, the vole, the heron, the boar, the stomping skunk are migrating through your mane. Painted ladies and admirals and swallowtails and morning cloaks and skippers and sulfurs under the sun, cecropias and lunas and sphinx by moonlight. Goshawks map out silver pathways through the forest sewing the trees together into the most beautiful tapestry. Flying squirrels look through chocolate eyes to calculate distances, the drop and drag and lift and destination. Since the beginning, you have been blending these wonders of life and death, always attending that souls and bodies be taken back, returned to the source.

Include me.  I’ll wait right here where the trees are reaching down. Where the sky of stars are just only out of reach. I’m filled all up with the blues and greys and olive drabs of dusk and dawn. I’m here breathing out of duty and offering dreams as gifts for the passage. My ego, no matter how big, always seems to leave me with an empty heart. So give me instead the bees in the mint below the creek that winds in liquid amber through the aspens whose shadows hide the trout whose speckled tails hold the blueprints to the cosmos.

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.