tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: ocean

The Sea and Doc Fitz

There’s a stretch of land in northern Chile that embodies the word barren. For hundreds of miles the world is an arcing horizon without a single sprout of green. The hills are subtle. The sky and the earth look like they’re in a contest with forever. It is a landscape the evokes emotion. It stops the tongue from wagging and galvanizes a kind of soulful inventory that might cause one to think of past deeds and future changes. I stepped off the bus to stretch and look for a snack in the kiosko, and I looked out over the massive Atacama Desert. I remembered reading that scientists believed that during one particularly long period, 1500-something till 1971, the central part of this desert had no rainfall. Four hundred years is a long time to wait for water. But as a man, a human being, there is an inexplicable feeling I get from places like that. I am only me. Just this boney, blinking sack of blood. I am the engine of my mind and my heartbeats are limited, I am prone to think on things like the immensity of this crusty desert. On the bus to Antofagasta, I tumbled backwards in my memories. I remembered other things that were vast like that desert. I finally fixed on the big mama of all things vast. The Ocean.

If you’re a slow-grinder like me, Physics is a thing you believe exists, but it’s kinda like the sun: it affects you, but you’ll never, ever, ever touch it. So instead I read anecdotal stories by the smart people, and I understand more about the internal workings of the universe. Something I read once talked about how every motion, no matter how small, starts a ripple  on the surface of reality that goes on and on. This might be stressful to some, but it makes me feel good about movement. It makes me feel significant against the backdrop of infinity. I’m glad Physics is not something I need to check on, like boiling water for my coffee, ’cause we’d all be screwed. I forget that shit all the time. But I will use a word from physics to begin this story. In fact, I’ll bring the word to life by giving it flesh and blood. Gravity. And gravity to me, on this particularly dark night, had a name, Doc Fitz.

This is about Doc Fitz and the ocean. This is about men, like me, who were focused on survival in a very real way. No matter how tough you are, no matter how hard your fist, the ocean will soften you. She does not wait, she begins at the shore and never relents. The ocean isn’t cruel, but I can see how she might be mistaken for something malevolent. I remember it was February. It was my first week in Reconnaissance Company. Whatever romance there had been with becoming a Recon Marine had been dissolved in the briny Pacific. I worked non-stop to keep my inner fire from being snuffed as I could see no end to days that were lined up in front of me. Cold days. Gaunt days.

I had been charged with the security of the boxes of MRE’s stacked in a tight square just outside of the GP(General Purpose) tent.( MRE=meal ready to eat. And that is a truth and a generalization. A person can eat an MRE, but so can a person eat a box of rocks.) I was there because I was new. I had arrived just a few days too late to be in with the fellas that were in the throes of the dreadful initial training referred to as RIP. (Recon Indoctrination Training) And so I was watching what was to come. This is what I had to look forward to. And with each man that came, shaking and quaking and stuttering out the words, “I quit,” I had to check my desire to be.

These fellas were not sissy-boys. They were studs, all of them. And from the mud cliffs over the sea, with the foggy hinterlands of Pendleton behind me, I could hear them counting off numbers in the dark. And the waves rolled in and brought the cold. And the Recon men sang out in broken unison. And the dark filled my soul right to the top.

“Did you bring your PT gear.” Doc Fitz was looking at me. He was filling his camouflage uniform the way a tiger fills it’s skin. Doc had a beard like mine, black and immediate, but that’s where our similarities ended. Doc Fitz was big enough to eat a bowl of men like me as a snack before coffee. He looked like he might be smiling, which worried me since I wasn’t really all that funny. Later I realized that Doc Fitz always looked like he was smiling, and maybe he was, but it was the kind of smile that is disconcerting. I think Doc Fitz smiled because he had the foreknowledge that as long as man existed, so would pain and the endurance of pain. To Doc, these things were warm and fuzzy. I’m sure he was born on a cold, dark night. My views on pain and suffering have changed. You know that saying, “pain is weakness leaving the body?” Bullshit. Pain is pain. Weakness is weakness. To endure is to desire and all that jabber in between is people trying to make sense of it.

With my PT gear (shorts, t-shirt and running shoes) on, I was able to kill two birds with one stone. I not only could guard the MRE’s in the rain, but I could also do all manners of calisthenics. This matched up perfectly with the powers that be and the boredom that inevitably comes from waiting for the fellas to come back from thrashing about in the surf zone. There were at least 4 other instructors besides Doc Fitz so they took turns running the boys ragged day and night. In case you wondered why the MRE’s needed guarding, especially since no one with any sense would ever want to eat one, well, me too. This is something I learned from the beginning, if you ain’t busy, the Marine Corps can find a job for you.

At some point, in those hours before dawn when the birds haven’t started singing yet, I walked the 20 steps between the boxes and the edge of the bluff that overlooked the melee down below. The ocean was roaring and a red light was blinking in the inordinate blackness beyond the surf. I could just make out the dim chem-lights attached to the boys that were on their pre-dawn swim. A mile out and a mile back. In all the world, I’ll never forget that feeling. It was a foreignness mixed with deep understanding. Each man swimming. The shape of the world and the vastness of the thoughts that came with it. The darkness of the water, which is different than any other darkness, and the lurking unknown beneath. (there is a change in a person once they have ventured alone and into the ocean at night. there is a vulnerability imbibed through the willingness to swim out beyond the security of terra firma. there are equal parts submission and connection. man alone is naked in the sea, beyond all control save that of the simple self, and even that is in constant question.) I stood looking out for a while and then I turned back to the boxes of bad food I was guarding. Doc Fitz was there in the dark, right there, where he lived. “Are you thinking it over, Crabtree?” The question was simple, so was my answer.


And then he said something that fit. “It sure is real, ain’t it?”

Hoofed Beasts and Hurtling Cars

In the heart of any city, desperation is always only a few steps away. I slept in an illegal parking spot on Lincoln, right next to the park last night. I looked for a while for something better, but finally gave in and decided to risk the ticket. Before I went to sleep, I stepped up into the thicket of low lying bushes and watched the city as it happened. I like to do that kinda thing, hide and observe. I know it’s kinda creepy, but so is watching the News on television.

From my spot in the park I could see the long row of houses on the other side of the street. I could see that kinda blue-ish glow of all the flat-screens at once, some windows included the back of someone’s head with the t.v. beyond. It’s easy for me to get sad when I’m doing this kinda thing, easy to make the world into a kind of relentless tragedy. I see them human silhouettes and the mainline that is filling them up and up, I see the branches of the trees outside their houses and the coughing person that is slumping in the doorway, I see the cars hurtling down the lighted streets as they hurry towards the parking spots that will be created as another car leaves to find another parking spot created by another car leaving. There is a madness that I feel creeping up on me when I’m watching all this, it’s creeping, but it sure ain’t quiet and I am looking over my shoulder.

I don’t sleep so well when I have these kinda thoughts, so I didn’t sleep well last night. In the morning haze I tried to put together some kind of plan for the next few weeks. I couldn’t even get past the morning, I couldn’t get past wondering if I had a ticket on my windshield — wouldn’t be the first time.  My planning fell apart. Depression will follow soon if I don’t take action. I know this worn down path all too well, my footprints are everywhere. I should get in the ocean, she always sets me straight.

I love it when I find the sleeping spots of animals, especially when they’ve just been vacated. The heat from the body of the beast still lingers in the ground, and the smell hangs in the air. It’s like a little bit of the animal remains, can be felt. Sometimes I look around for the remnants of their dreams. Those things that cause eyes to roll under velvety lids while wet noses pull down all manner of smells that form colors and stories in wordless languages that are formed from spiraling DNA and patterns passed down through evolutionary reincarnations. The tilting of the head. The feigned indifference. The dances and gifts and displays. All these things must be a part of each animal’s dreams, along with their fears and dreads. I wonder about all that when I feel the heat in the grass that was mashed down by the body of some marvelous ungulate as they slept.

This morning I noticed a human sleeping spot just a few steps away from where my r.v. was parked. There were bloody napkins crumpled all around. Trouble in the night. I’m sure, more than a little misery. I moved the dolphin to a better parking spot, vacated by a work-goer. Coffee at the local shop. Outside the 7-11 there is heavy talk among several homeless folk. One had very little voice left, I wondered if he’s maybe losing it for good. They were talking of displacement and the good ol’ days and people that have been taken away. One caught my glance and we say hello. The old Thai man that haunts this world and this block on Judah street was there, outside the coffee shop. I said hello and he smiled and recognized me even though it has been 6 months since that last time we nodded to one another. He is coughing more these days and his smile seemed strained. I sat and listened to the hubbub and the gossip. Every block in every city is a tiny world.

The walk back to my rig was slow and easy. I saw a kitty-cat, orange and white,in a comfortable window. He was looking down at me and I looked up as a raven following the roofline dropped just low enough to pass within a foot or two of the cat. As the raven passed, the kitty couldn’t help himself and he lifted a paw and placed it on the window. The raven flew on and the cat dropped his little foot back into place and looked back at me, embarrassed. I smiled at him and shrugged.

The grass that grows along the dunes is gray and brown, kinda green in places. There are marks of the scurrying animals in the sand at the base of the grass. There are lost feathers and broken crab shells. There are sand dollars and polished sticks. The foam on the beach is being combed by the sand pipers and their kin. Seagulls are making themselves at home in the air all around. There are two-leggeds and they are running and some are walking with leashes tied to their pet dogs. The ocean looks wild and gray, on the horizon the sky is a lighter version of the ocean it holds in place. I wonder how the whales are doing today, way out there in that massive cold sea. I wonder if they slept well last night.

A Letter about Today

This is from a letter to a friend. Sometimes it’s easier to write the real shit to a person that knows you. After all, the ones that really know you, know where the skin gets thin and the darker blood flows closer to the surface.

in the process of living i end up spending a whole helluva lot of time thinking about the could be’s and the would be’s. it’s probably pretty stupid. i doubt the whales do that. or the bats. or the bristlecone pines. i always figure that them things with wilder souls don’t think about the maybe’s they just breathe and live and see the stars. wild as i wanna be, i’m a pale, frail, little shadow that can’t even concentrate on the moment i’m in long enough to be in the real, honest to jesus, midst of things. what a flop.


i swam today. i went out where the seals and sea lions are herding through the sea grass. the ocean pushes and pulls so much out there that i can’t ever tell if i’m even making any headway. looking down, it looks like i’m in soup and i’m just part of the ingredients being stirred up. the distance, i think, was about a mile, point to point along the cliffs. someone told me they saw a shark from the cliffs not that long ago. “thanks,” i said. when i was done, i hauled my sorry ass outa the water and up the sea rocks to where the big pools that look like goldfish bowls are holding water, waiting to give it back to the sea when the moon pulls the tides up like stockings. the moss was slick, green grease and the smells of dead and alive and everything in between filled me up and up. there ain’t no rhyme or reason to why i do that shit, i’m a little scared of it. sometimes, like today, when i’m out there far enough and alone, i wonder about my heart and when it’ll just kinda have enough of this shit i put it through. little flutters. hesitating life. 


there’s a bar down the hill. i went down and had a beer and a bourbon and a burger, the triple b’s.  seems like everyone in this town is beautiful, almost like they were all made for each other. i feel old today. and worn. neck hurts. body aches. grey in my beard. hard to find the good looks between all the wrinkles i’m cultivating. back up the hill on the bike, it’s steeper than usual. where’s the moon anyway, i think she’s waning so maybe she’s out later. the sky is empty tonight. i’m sick of words and drawing and stuff that i do, i think that’s a good sign that i need to move along. go out and out a little farther. i’ve been thinking of going somewhere else in the world, but i’m pretty sure it’s just me running from something that’s buried down there in my nasty squirmy guts. i think the trick to everything is giving it all less power. the wishing and the loving and the lifting and the pulling…just turn away and walk toward the open spaces. 


i was told that my dreams are abnormal. i went to see my psychiatrist, did i tell you i have one of those? isn’t that weird? lot’s of questions about lots of stuff. i guess i do like it a little, i just haven’t ever had someone that doesn’t know me ask me those kind of things. they got their theories and i got mine. i don’t ever tell them everything, that’s probably why they always want me back. cat and mouse. they gave me a ton of pills, i could make some good money on that stuff! instead they all just sit and roast in my little r.v….i don’t wanna flush them, i worry over the ocean too much to put that weird stuff in the water. i will have so many pills by the time i’m dead that i’ll be able to dope the government and make them stop being idiots. that’s the plan, i’m saving all my pills so that i can dope the government and make them go to sleep, they do less harm when they’re sleeping.


anyway…that’s about it. not much else to report, captain. 

age spots

i got this new spot on the side of my face. it’s what my ma has always called an age spot. i’m pretty sure it’s here for good unless i get it smudged out with some procedure by one of those doctors that promises to make you look better than you ever were. sometimes folks look at it. now i know how the folks from my past have felt when i stared at something they couldn’t help. life sure does teach some solid lessons.

when i was running, i noticed that my one ankle clicks every time i take a step. it’s like a metronome that keeps time while you’re playing piano. i kinda like it as long as it doesn’t swell up afterward, which it sometimes does. i feel like the body is more of an adventure as we get older. you just never can tell what’s around the bend. awesome.

i’ve been playing the guitar quite a bit lately. i play it alone and in my toyota dolphin. it sounds cool in here, but i’m pretty sure i suck. i’ve written 3 songs. my buddy tim garrison says they’re my greatest hits, and i guess he’s right since they’re the only songs i’ve ever written. sometimes, when i’m real sad and alone, i play them slow and howl like a hound dog. i’m not sure how it sounds but i’m pretty sure it sounds like cats making love in the alley. but that’s alright. greatest hits, man.

i’m on a string of mornings where i’ve gone out into the ocean before any kind of daylight whatsoever. it’s crazy paddling out on a little board into the black. crazy wonderful. the dolphins and sea lions and whales are already there, waiting.  dark ocean. morning stars. the world underneath and the world overhead and the smallness of me in between. it’s ok, i’m just here. right fuckin’ here. and i really must say that my heart is overwhelmed in the process. i suppose it’s a kind of addiction, this thing i do. hopefully it’s how i’ll leave this world…by mixing with it.

when i wake, i listen to npr. familiar voices in the morning dark. they say things about my world that i can’t believe. sometimes they tell stories that make me cry. sometimes i laugh right out loud, i think they call that lol these days. i call it laughing out loud. but i like them voices on npr. they almost feel like friends.

i don’t know what to chase. i don’t know where to run. i’m sad that folks don’t fear the direction we seem to be headed. i feel the waves swell behind me and the push, the gradual momentum, and the wind; for this moment i am alone in the universe. i am being pushed by the power of the world i inhabit. it is, it is…humbling. sometimes i swim in this same green sea, i swim out where i know that life is so fragile. then i swim back to the land, my towel, my rig, my coffee. i see the seagull on the rocks as i swim in from the green. i am almost nothing. it would be good for every world leader to have to swim alone into the sea every now and then. it would change what they think of themselves. maybe we wouldn’t have as much to fight about.  hey man, we’re here and this is now. tomorrow is starting to look like a bully that’s waiting to beat us up.

i had a bunch of stuff i was going to write about, it all fell away once i put my fingers to the board. i was gonna write about friendship and crosshatching and the dreams i’ve been having. that’s all gone. i ain’t able to write what i wanna write. all these thoughts are running into me like a current, slamming me around and making me lose my paddle. and the river’s big and the rocks seem way too close and i thought i had this all figured out. not true. i’m mostly a mess and in the habit of going under. it’s why i haven’t written as of late. lost in the current. i’m sure there’s them what understand.

what makes us the thing we are? is it the carcass that carries our soul? or is it the song that follows us when we’re gone. if it’s the latter, i hope they don’t sing like me.

ah hell, that’s all.


the biggest problem with bad news is that it’s hard to know what to do with it. do you share it? i mean, then someone else has it as well, and it doesn’t make anything better, not really.  so do you hang on to it? just let it rot inside ya? i personally like to take my bad news for a nice long run or a cold ocean swim. i treat bad news like a training partner that i want to ruin. sometimes it works, but it really sucks if the bad news turns out to be tougher than me. oh man, then i tend to spin out a little. i always tell myself that someone, somewhere is dealing with something bigger and tougher than anything i can imagine, and i know i’m right about that, for sure.

tonight i walked up 4th ave to rose. there’s a whole foods on the corner there and i needed some greens. i built my expensive little salad, walked outside, told a fella i didn’t have a smoke to offer him, and sat down at the next table. he stared hard at me to decide if i was lying about the smoke, so i said i wasn’t lying. he blinked, got up and walked away. somewhere down the sidewalk there was loud laughing, i think it was coming from behind a grocery cart piled enormously with anything you might imagine.  what i noticed about the laughter is that it wasn’t the kind that is from something good, it was the kind that comes from a person that has nothing left to do but laugh. like the kind of thing a person might do as they were lowered into the fire. and man, it went on and on. i finished eating and glanced up to see a dreadlocked man with big hands walk into traffic, long steady strides, while cars locked up their brakes and people laid on their horns. i walked down the walk with my bottle of newly purchased goddess dressing and some greek yogurt. a young kid cussed out his girlfriend in spanish on the corner. a cute girl rode by on her bike with her 9′ longboard in tow.  evening had set and dark was coming on. in the distance i could hear the hidden laugher, still laughing.

there’s this, on a single tuesday night on 4th and rose. and there’s a million things more. i know there’s good stuff going on. of course there is. but maybe it’s like when i’m sad, how i can only hear the sad songs and the happy songs somehow seem kind of stupid and off key. maybe that’s just how we are as a species, we see best through empathetic lenses.

sometimes i gotta look elsewhere. i go outside of the human predicament to look for some kinda light in the dark. all i need’s just a little, you know, like even the slightest glow can keep you from falling in a hole. i look at the old dogs that are full of lumps and weird bulges and i see how they wag their tails. or like the redtailed hawk i saw flying in the thick red smog hanging over highway 10 as i drove into the heart of LA.  hell, i even find comfort when i see the moon remain so faithful to her ocean. the fact that we can’t last forever leads me to believe that it might be worth our while to appreciate what we got, while we got it.

tonight, while i sleep, i’ll be breathing the same smog that that ol’ redtail was flying through. i am alive in this world with all the whoevers and all the big-timers and the mean ones and the beautiful ones. the ones that hurt unimaginably. the ones that will live and die sucking on a silver spoon. the ones with the evil hearts. the ones with enough good to carry us. the moms. the sweetest of sweeties.

one of these days i’m gonna work this all out, make it better. it really would be nice to fix things up a little bit around here. yeah, that’ll be a good thing to do and i’m gonna.  but first i think i should probably try to figure out if that laughing wasn’t coming from inside my own head.

the rarest mettle

yesterday there was some atmospheric phenomenon that made the air look like silver. one of my buddies told me it was from the surf and it’s size. the waves have been huge and crushing and i heard that the rollers out at sea have been unusually large. it makes sense to me that it would affect the air. all that water pushing and smashing, eventually floating in tiny particles that diffuse the sunlight. i don’t need it to be a scientific fact for me to know that there’s a different look to the world, i like the wonder.

in the silver light, just after dawn, i went for a walk down to the sea. on a small block of wood, along a fence, i found a hummingbird. the life was gone but the iridescence of the feathers was still glowing. it was just lying there with it’s tiny wings folded perfectly, it’s delicate feet curled into fists. i picked it up and carried it with me on the walk. i couldn’t stop looking at it. it was like a gem or a crystal, something precious. when i would look up, i couldn’t even feel it’s weight in my hand. i laid it down on a piece of driftwood. the wood was so polished and brown that it made the bird shine even more under the strange light. i thought about where that chunk of wood began, from what tree it was cut and hewn. that wood that was once a tree and became a shaped piece that was used by a carpenter to create some form. and then broken off and discarded and down to the sea where it traveled on the currents, maybe far out, and then tossed in the waves where the sand polished it smooth. at some point it was moved into the dunes where i found it.  i laid the colored bird against it. both objects are the husk of something that once lived. the journey isn’t over, i guess. both will continue until they are dust and particle, mixed and blown and indecipherable.

with the thoughts of the bird and the wood and the mixing of life, i went to swim. china cove. above the cove where i like to swim there is a warning sign saying that people have been pulled out to sea in the rip currents. there aren’t life guards at this beach so it’s swim at your own risk. i’m by no means the only one that swims here. there is a collection of eclectics that haunt the upper deck. they brown themselves in the filtered sun and they have the same kind of look in their eye as the sea lions that haunt the beaches of distant islands. they are folks of the sea. on this day, this particular silver day, i was alone. there is no set time for the swimmers to show, but i am usually early. i swam out. 51 degrees fahrenheit, 10 celsius. it felt cold and achey against my head, i wear a thermal swim cap, but still, it’s tough.  to eagle point and back and as i swam to shore i noticed a figure on the beach. the man watched me emerge from the surf and he was smiling and shouting. he was a japanese man and spoke broken english but it didn’t matter, i understood. he was excited that i was out in that cold and he was talking about hearts and health and the sea. i smiled with a rubbery face and stumbled with words from frozen lips. a short exchange, but good. both smiling. i waved and ran to my gear. up on the deck the sun was thinking about coming out, just a hint. as i was sitting down, i heard something from the beach below. i looked down and the man who had greeted me in was standing where the waves came just to the tips of his shoes. he was laughing, with both arms stretched in front of him, he was laughing out to the horizon. and laughing and laughing. i walked from the deck and out to one side as he continued to laugh. i didn’t want to bother him or get too close but as he turned i could see that he was laughing to tears.  it was a practice, pure and simple. he was probably early sixties, but his smile made him look 30. he saw me watching and he laughed and so did i. we laughed at the sea and life and the sky. we laughed against the heavy. we laughed against the broken.  we laughed under the silvery light and found our mettle with which to withstand the furies to come.

rare moments do live. they do.

rivers, roots and passages

there are things happening. some of them seem very important. sometimes i feel like we are witnessing the changes in our earth, our home, that may very well spell out the extinction of our species. i do want to emphasize that, although i am a cynical son of a gun, i’m not a fatalist. i don’t have my “end of the world” sign stapled to a stick so i can stand on the corner and frown at the people as they drive past.  no.  i don’t want that. i don’t like to think about it all. i don’t want to know that chunks of ice the size of rhode island have fallen off the ice cap. i don’t like it when i hear the glacier i know and love in patagonia is now 6 miles from where i used to walk and meet it.  i am sad when i hear about lost migrates.  hummingbirds in the wrong hemispheres and pelicans eating seagull chicks.  things are changing and the decided ignorance of our race is nothing less than a type of denial. i have noted that most of the people who argue that nothing is changing, spend little time out in the wild. temperature controlled office buildings do tend to make the weather seem like very little else but something that fills a slot during the news hour.

but what if it is the big change? i think about my own life and my little march toward the day that i will cease to breathe.  i remember being a child and thinking about death. death was what happened to grandpa. i didn’t hold the death of an ant as significant, but a human, that meant something bigger.  we as people are able to categorize death into levels of importance. the death of someone famous is heavily grieved while some unknown child in mexico or tanzania is a passing note. even on the news small tragedies are mentioned and, in the same breath, some hair-sprayed dude will talk about someone’s dog doing tricks. and all the while smiling and smiling and smiling. weird.

i think we are off.  we hold ourselves above the laws of life in this world.  as if we should be allowed a better chance.  there are feelings of allegiance to our race over other species, to our country over the rest of the world, to our religious affiliation and then down the line to friends and family.  the truth is that the lives are a part of the bigger world. one is not without the other. maybe this is boring and typical, but we cannot expect to live in a world that we continue to disrespect and ravage. if we are watching a big change here, it is a pony we’ve been saddling up for a long time.  i just don’t think we’re ready to ride.

i have a buddy who has the merced river drainage tattooed on his forearm.  he spends his days moving rocks and building trails north of san francisco. when he is free, he goes to where he was raised, down by the river that is rendered on his arm, down in yosemite valley. i’ve gone there with him and surfed on the waves below his house. the river flows and eamon skates like some strange superhero on the glass above a huge reversal. he does it better than anyone else…home court advantage, man.  but the tattoos on his arms look a bit like a root system and they also mysteriously resemble the veins that course in blue and carry the red-salty blood under his skin.  and maybe the three are not so different. roots, rivers, and passageways are simple manifestations of one another. all things moving and flowing. even our own paths as they form organically along the lay of the land are very similar to the streams that are running, will forever try to run, back to the sea.  the end of our being would not spell the end of the world.  when the last of our clocks tick to a stop and time is no longer counted, the animals that are left will do as they have done. the river otters will bounce along river banks. dirt will fill the balconies of the high dollar high rises and the elk will bugle in the city parks. concrete will crack and decay and old rivers will find there way back to their old bellies.  migrations will adjust. whales will swim through silent oceans and speak across the black with their beautiful tongues.  no more jet trails…no burping industries.  all that is radioactive will begin the long journey back to being stable. healing and healing and healing.

i suppose if it can’t happen with us here, it will happen when we aren’t. i don’t want humans to fail at being good to this world. in my life, i’ll do all i can to give it my heart and love. it will take more than me. we all gotta love it. we need to find our roots and wear them like tattoos on our hearts.

while we fight for the rights of our race and argue over the importance of our governments, the world we stand on is trying to get our attention.  we all need to quiet ourselves and take a walk through the woods, or maybe take off our fancy clothes and swim into the ocean. connection is our only hope.

i, passenger

this morning i’m sitting on a stoop outside the Carville Annex in the outer sunset of san francisco. it’s early enough that people are still wearing their rubbery, morning faces. the N train is cruising by every so often, pausing at 48th to re-sync, and then on forever and ever, amen. the thought of writing this morning feels difficult because i know it’ll be lacking compared to what really is. this is a common feeling of mine, i just write anyway, hoping some of the realness will rub off onto the words.

this morning i’m a passenger, like the people on the N train. the world is my conveyance and i am jotting down some things i see. my dad might call them “signs and wonders” because he’s a preacher, but i’ll just call them “things i’m seeing.” (i like what my dad says better).

yesterday i woke up in the headlands. i stayed at eamon’s house. his front yard falls away to the ocean and the cyprus are tall with mussy hairdo’s. in the evenings and mornings, during what Steinbeck calls the “pearly hours”, a big ol’ great-horned owl visits. he sits and calls out his questioning on the top-most branch of a huge mossy timber. he tips and nods and listens for a response to his calls. i don’t think he’s lonely, i’ve heard his ladies calling back from the distance. there’s a female deer that nibbles at the bunch grass in the yard. the wild is creeping in and with it, magic. eamon nurtures this communion on the cusp of things that are wild and things that are cultivated. it’s in the wrinkles around his eyes and is manifested in the contrast of his actions. the callouses on his hands are from moving stones and his fingers click as they play a sad, minor tune on his piano. he can teach music theory and show you where grow the nettles on the hillside.

we laughed at the deer when she tugged at the netting over his raised bed of beets and kale…them deer know a good thing when they sniff it. then she was gone and so were we; into the city on the other side of the Bridge. from Land’s End i can see everywhere that i will go. i can see past the Haight and on through the Mission. i’m riding eamon’s beach cruiser and it’s a big strong bike. ain’t no gears and so i’ll be testing my conditioning on san francisco’s ridiculous landscape. through the park and down onto the Wiggle, 16th to Guerrero to 24th to Folsom (whoops there’s Philz and everyone all jacked on caffein) to Caesar Chaves and under the highways and on to Evans and then 3rd…and back again. i don’t ride the same roads but the scenes are similar and urban. i don’t need to go into detail, better writers than me have told the stories of this city and the humans that define it. there are moments, though, that stand out so vividly. the glance from the tough, skinny man and the tougher looking woman at his side as they walked from under the overpass where it’s dark even in the day. every race is represented in those hidden places. and then there’s the tiny person sitting outside the vietnamese store up on 25th and Irving; here is this person who’s gender is disguised by age, a small person who is shrinking with time and who is growling and barking like a dog. i wonder at that person’s dragons. do they fill the skies and crowd the sidewalks of that tiny person’s mind? people pass and answer texts and sip coffee. the world goes on while the dragons breathe their fire on that corner of the inner sunset. i ride away and drop toward the sea.

katherine has a loop that she rides on her long board. i’m kinda scared of skateboarding. i know what happens when you fly off of one…the pavement is so damn unforgiving. katherine makes me feel brave because of the casual way she says, “i get scared too, ” and so i go. as we skate toward the park i am calling out all the different kinds of body armor i wished i was wearing. “i want a helmet with a chin-guard and a mouth piece, and some big knee-pads and those weird wrist protectors.” i can see katherine grinning and quietly laughing at my stupid banter, and she’s so cool, like really, with her dark khaki ball cap and her chuck taylors. i just kick and fear and carve (oh my, it is so fun) and laugh all the way. and then we are done and our eyes are teary from the wind…and maybe from happiness. katherine is good for hearts like mine. she’s helped put me back together before.

in the evening i cut cards and write on them as i sat outside of Outerlands. dave came out and made me feel famous by talking to me about the realest of things. we are going to draw something one of these days; i think they call that a collaboration. we will collaborate to create something. chris made me one of the best drinks of my life…something about rye and vermouth and chartreuse made by carthusian monks in france, it tasted as perfect as it could possibly taste, and then it sent me to bed.

the friends that know me and know my love for the wild country have asked me about how i cope with the big cities. i wonder about that. i know this: the city holds wild things. the wild wants to take the city back; it’s right on the doorstep waiting till the time is right. if you walk down to Ocean Beach, right there at the end of Judah, and if you swim out into the cold San Francisco water, into the savage waves, you will find all the wild you can handle. if you wanted, you could swim on out and never come back. i don’t mean that in a morbid way, i am just pointing out the wonderful truth. there is much to ponder as we pass. we are all just passengers and regardless of the seating, we are moving and moving toward something outside of what we understand. from where i sit, i can hear the ocean calling…it’s time to get in. don’t worry, i’m not gonna swim on out too far, not yet anyway.

the sweet spot

inevitably, in every sport and every trade, you will come across the sweet spot. it is a place on the diving board. it is a spot on a baseball bat. it is where you find the perfect bounce on the trampoline. it is the exact point where the surf board is deflecting off the wave as it rises out of the ocean. it is the perfect hammer blow. it is the only place your foot will stick in the middle of that one boulder problem, when your feet are ten feet off the ground and your knees are too old to take that kind of a fall. it is the perfect pitch of your tattoo machine as the needle bears down on the skin. it is the angle of your ski when you carve perfectly across new powder. it is the sound that comes from two sisters singing an old gospel song in perfect harmony in front of a group of people who love perfect harmony. it is that rhythm you fall into in the middle of a foot race when the world falls away and you only listen to your heart and your heart becomes your keel and the air becomes your ocean. it is when you love so much that you would forfeit your life to save the life of your beloved.

talent is not needed to know what i’m talking about. effort is needed. if you seek to feel, you will come across a sweet spot eventually, and when you do, you will know.

i can’t help but smile at my opportunity. this life, man, it’s going on. i honor life when i lay down in my sleeping bag every night. i lay there, wherever i am parked or camped or bedded down, and i say the words, “well, there was another day.” it is just a practice. i say it in the yellow lamp-light of mortality. i will someday wake up for the last time…that is such a humbling, wonderful thought! i am only for a while. damn that’s good…and sad.

when i look at myself honestly, which is maybe 65 percent of the time (and that might be an exaggeration, it’s probably more like 50 percent), i see a fella that is pretty good at a good number of things, terrible at a few, and great at even fewer. i’m usually pretty good at the things i try really hard at. of course, like most everybody, i’m terrible at the things i dislike or am afraid to try (like bowling). i can say that i am great at one thing for sure:   i can wonder. i’m pretty much an expert wonderer. i can prove it, but it might be boring to watch; and besides, i don’t need to prove it because it’s pretty damn selfish.

here’s the thing; i wonder because of the fact that i am here. that’s enough, no kidding, to keep me going for a while. that i can make sense of symbols and put them in order so they can transfer my thought and allow someone else to understand my thought! do you realize how amazing just that is? it is a transfer of thought! we must realize the importance of existence! of being! i mean, we ARE. my goodness, i’m shuffling through the scraps of thoughts at the feet of Aristotle and Einstein and Emerson, but as simple as my thoughts are, they are true.

find the sweet spot. it’s there if you look a little deeper. if you crack your heart-door open a little wider. if you find yourself looking for it, you’re bound to run into me. it’ll be real good to meet you.

dangerous days

from a letter to sarah fontaine…because she listens to me even when i’m sketchy:

i had some fun in mexico. i did some stuff i knew was kinda sketch. but what fun! i did a little too much drinking and then i swam it off in the ocean. salt purifies.

today i’ll buy lotion (for my skin) and glue (for the cracks in my feet) and some stuff to rebind my black book. it’s coming apart. it’s getting old (so is my skin). maybe i’ll never finish it. i guess you could say i’m working on my skin and my book’s skin. the spine is fine on both of us…or as good as can be expected considering how i’ve treated them both.

i feel good in the soul area. how is your soul area? how’s the love?

you asked me questions in your last oh-so-fucking-good email that i’m not qualified to answer. and by “not qualified” i mean i haven’t the slightest clue what the answer is.

love is…well, hey, do you know how i live for the wildest of things? you do know. well, i am afraid of some of the things that interest me the most. i am afraid of the cold of the ocean even while i’m wading into it with my swim cap on. i’m afraid of those thin cracks that crawl up pure granite faces and call me to come on up to where they get too thin to read from the ground…i have to find my way there using my fingers and toes and lungs and then, when i get there, i sometimes don’t know how to go any farther except to try something…anything. i’m afraid of the fragility of tree limbs when i’m standing 70 feet off the ground and 5 miles in. i’m afraid of the grizzly bear that leaves the paw print in the mud by the blueberry bushes while i’m picking.

and i’m afraid of love. it is the ever beautiful, ever cruel, ever beckoning beast that prowls the wild woods of our hearts. it’s there and i want it and i chase it and when it sees me i am afraid i’ll be eaten whole, digested and shat out on the ground.

there is, however, something that can’t be felt until one is consumed by love. it is something that will draw out the most brilliant colors that we humans posses; a kind of blooming before death. and isn’t this the way things work anyway? are not the running salmon the most wonderful crimson as they die in there birthbeds at the upper reaches of free running streams? and what about the maple leaves in the fall? the scribal messages left in the wrinkles around the eyes of an old person?

maybe love lasts a lifetime like my mom and dad. maybe it burns so hot that it burns out in a month. i’m not an alchemist, i don’t know what makes it work nor do i know what makes it crack apart and leave sharp little pieces that we step on for months (years? maybe, i hope not).

here’s my advice. love the wild things. stand in the way of love every chance you get. when you get clobbered, i won’t ever say “i told you so”. i’ll just help you up and i’ll rub your shoulders and make you some tea and tell you to breathe big and drink water. a tomorrow will show up carrying a wilder heart. that is what i tell myself and it’s what i believe.