tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: Philosophy

Imaginary

Give me the backroads, please. The ones with potholes and pullouts. The ones that make less sense and sometimes swerve to allow the tree to stay.

Yeah, backroads, please. Don’t bother listing them on the apps, just leave them be. Let them be found by real eyes and accidental turns.

And what about that old motel? And the old woman cutting roses in the shade of the cottonwood. With miles of open land on every side. And the sky, sitting quiet, watching the silliness below. That sign that says, No. No wifi. And that makes me laugh because that’s a funny thing to make a sign about. She’d rather be cutting roses than answering that question, so she made a sign for her motel.

Here the road turns in Merrill, like it did in Janesville, like it did in Lakeview. And there is little for the average. But for the looker, oh my, there is so much to see.

The annoying needle on the gas gauge is giving me the news. It’s been a while since any sign of a station and the forward progress of my half-bald tires is threatened by the fuel consumption. My foot is lighter on the gas and the dolphin sways with the cottonwoods and the grass as the wind pushes back. There is Paisley, population of 239. The sun just came up and the town is sleepy. Gas station opens at 8 a.m. The diner says Open. I park the dolphin and get the eye from the two women talking at the drive-thru coffee kiosk. I imagine Mayberry (Andy Griffith’s old town where he mostly kept Barney out of trouble–if you don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s ok. But it’s a T.V. show. Back when t.v.’s had rabbit-ear antennae and a knob that changed channels and only 4 or 5 channels to choose from. Back when black and white television was a thing.) might have been like this, minus the coffee kiosk. Something about that show made me sad and happy, both. I loved that Opie and his dad were walking to the creek with fishing rods while the song for the show whistled along. The episodes were everyday-type things. Nothing over the top. Just regular stuff with Barney being a genius buffoon.

Inside the diner there are 4 men at a table. Jan comes from the kitchen. Coffee and an egg sandwich. Paisley, according to the census has had a -4.0 population change since 2000.  The average income is $30,000 or so. Jan is nice and wants me to have meat on my egg sandwich. The 4 men leave with fanfair and jokes for Jan. A woman my age and her father come in and sit. I hear the old man talk, he’s a product of Paisley. His views are apparent. His jokes are easy to read and his daughter is patient as he speaks in circles. I begin to wonder if all old men are destined to be the same. I drop into my memories and picture the middle-age fellas with peculiar cars and hairy ears, and the Me of  now would have been one of these fellas to the Me of then. So will I be the old man with circular speak? And who will be patient as I follow my own footprints, looping in circles through the thick timbers of my darkening mind? Yikes! I shake my head and pay. Goodbye to Jan. Goodbye to Paisley. The dolphin has gas by 8:05 and the road goes on swervilly.

The Doyle grade goes up by Lost Creek where the brook trout are like 10 inch footballs. They are fat and full of lightning. I’ve pinched down the barbs on my hooks so they don’t cause unnecessary damage to them bony little mouths. The stream flows from some source and bounds down through the granite and the chaus and across my shins. The wind speaks in smell. I am tripping through my thoughts about being, about my being in particular. I wonder how many bodies these molecules of water that I’m touching and drinking have been through. What dinosaurs have guzzled these same atoms of Hydrogen(2) and Oxygen(1)? And of the wind. How many trees have these winds been through? Who last breathed this air? Bobcat? Bluejay? Bristle-backed boar? And the smells are colorful and the colors are songs. This is what the senses are for!

I’m not a middle-aged man. I’m not a boy. I’m just an organism in the middle of a giant organism. I am moving to and fro. The world around me moves inside the system to which it belongs. And that system swings on the Orion arm of the Milky Way. And this galaxy dances with Andromeda, while something bigger moves beyond my comprehension. I can’t comprehend it but I see it’s shadow flickering in the corner of my mind. I am wondering. I am everything that ever was. I am absolutely nothing at all.

real as rain

i’ve been doing some experiments lately. i’ve been conducting a series of interviews with youngsters. i don’t have any age parameters, just so long as they don’t change who they are when i start asking questions. ever noticed how difficult it is to be yourself once someone points a video camera at you? actors probably aren’t quite as affected, but i don’t know if it’s because they have just turned into the actor and have lost their real self somewhere in acres of video files, or if they’re simply comfortable in front of the camera. i’m affected for sure. i don’t like the feeling of trying to be myself. i tried these interviews with some video but it just didn’t work. there was too much hamming it up in front of the camera and i lost the connection with the kiddos. so i went old school and wrote the stuff down, that didn’t seem to bother anybody so long as i didn’t have too much silence in between questions. after all, kids live in a quantum physics world where time and space is different. they can be distracted 5 times inside of a second. colors are brighter. sparkles are more twinkly. words are more direct and honest. i like to ask questions that make them think, questions that give me a peek under the veil and into their imaginations…another universe entire.

the interviews are usually short. they usually end with me getting cut off in lieu of something more important, like a cookie, or a butterfly, or a firetruck.

interview with seidel (4yrs old): (setting: on the driveway in the sun. both of us lying on our backs, looking at the clouds.)

me: would you rather be the sky or the ocean?

seidel: i would rather be the ocean because it’s green and blue and also water.

me: would you rather be a tree or a river?

–small pause–

seidel: i’d rather be a bridge, made of wood.

(with that my mouth dropped open and i couldn’t think of another question because that last answer was so good. so i laid there for a few seconds and watched the clouds. soon seidel continued with more thoughts.)

seidel: and the trees are wooden and the red flowers are made of red and the green in the tree makes leaves.

she left me scrambling for my pen and paper. i think she wanted a juice or something.

 

what, and the stars

there’s an answer for everything:

the cynics will tell you to stop dreaming.

the realists will tell you that it is what it is.

the pessimists will hand you a helmet and a gas mask and tell you not to breed.

the religions will tell you to follow, to believe.

the doctors will prescribe you some little white pills in different shapes and sizes.

the yogis will tell you to breathe.

the bankers will tell you to save.

the lawman will tell you to conform.

the anarchist will tell you to light it on fire and spit through your teeth.

the scientists will tell you the cold hard facts.

the philosophers will offer you thoughts.

the mean ones will give you a black-hearted look.

the lover will give you sweet love.

the singers; a song.

the drunkards; a nod.

but the stars, will say nothing…at all.

~~and those stars that are hanging over your head and have been there since you took your first breath, they will never tell you to look at them or to listen to them. they won’t ask if you think they are pretty and they won’t say something that might make you need to google it to see if they are right or not. they won’t talk about how their light has traveled across an impossible distance since before we ever were and is full of the truth from a universe that includes us despite our arrogance and ridiculous pompousness, because they…

they are stars,

wild wonders that live on both sides of our dreams.~~

going to the skins

one time, when i couldn’t have been sadder, i went to a friends house. i felt like i had swallowed the ocean and someone had poked a couple holes in my face, right in the corners of my eyes, and all the ocean was coming out, just one tear at a time. for days i lost the ocean out of my face. tears are not unlike the salty sea, you know? there might not be any difference at all.

my friend told me to cry on. she said it was my choice to cry and i would choose when to stop. although i said nothing, i didn’t agree. i felt like i wanted to stop but there was no stopping. damn the tide. damn that tide. the funny thing is, she was right; we do choose to grieve. i am just less advanced and so i have to be told these things. not long after that i saw my buddy, a big, strong, lanky galoot, come in with a broken heart. he looked like what i imagined i had looked like–the tiredness of sorrow is an obvious pair of shoes–and i watched him. he cried and then he allowed himself to recover. i saw him decide to heal.

i’ve decided to learn to heal as well. i’m not super good at it, but i practice quite a bit. this heart of mine has 45 year old skin, so it’s not as quick to heal as it may have been when i was younger. the thing is, i walk around and eyeball the world for sorrows. it’s in my nature.

now, i can laugh real good, i mean, i can laugh loud and long. i can laugh till the tears roll…and i do. but i see the sad stuff. i’m so damn ready to put myself in the skin of another. it’s almost a problem.

i sat outside a coffee shop yesterday and watched some dude with two deformed legs hurry between cars at the light and collect cash. i’ve given him some cash here and there but i know it won’t fix that messed up set of wheels he has under him. he’s got that for life. on and on. as i sat there a little dove came flying in and tried to go through the window. there was a thump and he fell to the ground by the trash can. i saw some people look and furrow their brows at the grey lump on the sidewalk. i was drawing and i left the dove to try and recover. i realized his tiny neck was broken and that he was suffocating. someone tried to pick him up to move him from in front of the door, but when he fluttered they jumped back. as he went into his final fight to bring air into his lungs he flopped around and i saw people look away. i stood up and grabbed him, he was dying for sure now, and i walked across the street to where the palm trees are wild and the racoons hustle between the bushes. i set the dead little dove down on the dirt at the base of a tree and i was sad.

i don’t know what will happen. i guess life will happen to me. and maybe when i’m flopping around and trying to fight off the inevitable, someone will help me find a spot to lay down. that would be cool.

there’s an old saying in Chile that i learned from some rowdies in the far south. they said that an old way of saying you wanted to go to bed is, “me voy a ir a los pieles.”  the loose translation is, ” i go away to go to the skins.”  i love that. it is what we use to do. we use to sleep under the skins of animals that were done living in them. in that way the skins had life under them again. it is an old way, for sure. our skins are like blankets to our bones. we wear our blankets around for a lifetime and we lay on down and go back to the big whatever else. that’ll be good for me.

fire makers

 

i lean towards dramatic. i find it pretty easy to believe that, quite possibly, my heart is aching worse than anyone in the history of life. sometimes i think the dark cloud over my head is the darkest of them all, with it’s deadly lightnings and it’s howling winds. oh my, i can imagine myself being the loneliest man. let’s face it, depression is a jealous mistress and she doesn’t allow for distraction. it’s easy to drop into the maelstrom and hear the groanings of the world, the splitting firmament, the crumbling foundation. dramatic.

but then today happens. all of a sudden, without any discussion, a new day forms and my angle of thought has changed. the light of the sun is just right. the canyon wren sings her perfect descending song. the orb weaver sits in the center of her stranded masterpiece. a cricket warms up his chirping wings in plain view under the porch swing. the pretty tattooed lady at the bakery in san francisco tells me the chocolate croissant is “on the house”…and her smile is real. all these things and i notice that life is breathable again. of course, there is no averting sadnesses; they belong here in my heart along with the grand and the average.

i’m not completely under the thumb of my emotions. i’ll admit i’ve given in to the onslaught brought on by new love, when fiery passion storms the castle gates and breaks down the best laid defenses. all the personal promises out the window. heart raging. curling smiles. day long bedroom events. eventually the fire drops down from these events and we can see through the flame…very similar to coming up from the depths of depression and swimming for the light of the surface, lungs burning, holding on for a gulp of sweet ok-ness. dramatic.

but see, i admit it. i know i go in all the way. i see my penchant for burning and drowning. and so i’m learning; i mean, i am learning, right? don’t we all struggle like this? maybe some are born just a little further along the path of understanding but, even so, we all struggle. few people have ever shown me a more transparent soul than Mary Oliver. there is a way in which i think of people like her. i’ll explain.

i have spent years, most of my life, living and sleeping outside. when i was a kid i went with a number of different burly dudes on week long trips down into canyons and across big expanses for various reasons, sometimes fishing, sometimes exploring and looking for bones and artifacts. drinking from the high mountain creeks and hunkering down for the night in some enormous aspen stand was a huge portion of the road that formed me. on those bitter cold mornings when the water in the canvas bags was frozen solid i would lay in my sleeping bag and watch with wonder as a thick-necked, bearded man built the fire in his shirtsleeves. i learned, in time, that someone must build the fire, i mean, it don’t get built on it’s own. i realized the importance of being the one who is willing to roll out in the cold, crack the sticks, scratch the match, and put on the coffee (oh my god, yes, the coffee). i live my life roaming around with a cusp group of people who are willing to start the fire. i know they will because they do, and so do i. it’s important.

when i was in my infancy and learning the way (i’m still learning), Mary Oliver, was out there in the middle of bitter cold heartbreak…and she was starting the fire. and as i’ve lived and walked through life’s mountains and fallen down in life’s deep, shoe-stealing marshes of depression, the Mary Olivers of this world were building fires so that i might see them in the dark. so that i might find my way. so that we all can come in from the cold and be together by the flame.

here is a poem by Mary Oliver:

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

by Mary Oliver

 

painting by tobias

painting by tobias

 

words

i came down to mexico to help a buddy start a new business. i’m never the “brains” of anything…most often i’m the knuckle-dragger. it fits my personality to be just that. the last three days i’ve been laid up with a bad case of bathroom blues. i’ve traveled aplenty and know the risks of drinking the water and eating the food, i’m careful to some extent but never really too careful. this time around i think i got what was coming to me. i dove into some sewage drainage to retrieve a $300.00 boat part (what can i say, i’m a bit of a cheap skate). i couldn’t find the part and i was sick within 24 hours. i know the signs and i took the appropriate precautions, stayed pretty “herbal” with tea and potions, and feel like i’m on the upswing. this, however, isn’t what i’m wanting to write about. it’s just that staying close to a toilet for 3 days led me staying in a house, which led me to spending time with 4 year old ruby. ruby’s one of my dear old friends. i’ve known her since birth.

so ruby’s learning letters and sounds and language and time and reason and “heads or tails”. all these things and more are very interesting to her. i took the opportunity to jump in and knock out a couple school lessons with her. we went over the vowels and the longs and the shorts of them. we tackled “Y” as well. we dabbled in some spanish in between. whenever she ran out of steam for the brute learning part of things, we dipped into easier stuff, like drawing cute dresses with matching shoes. i’ve realized i have a real knack for outfits since hanging with ruby. she went crazy over a couple of my designs and even had me re-draw one a little bigger so she can show it to someone in order to have it made. hell, yes. 

now and again, i would have to take a break to head you know where. of course she started noticing and would say, “tobias, again?!”, and then we would laugh. she’s such a smartie. we talked and drew the most of three days while her dad picked up my slack on the boat and her mom took care of everything that moms take care of…which i think might be a never-ending list. 

when we were going over letters, making the sounds and combining them to make words, i saw some lights going on in little ruby’s eyes. it was downright amazing. one sound, and another and another…now faster. put them together. letters go from sounds to a word that carries a meaning that we recognize. so ruby has words in her head that she understands; the mystery lies in the symbols that are written.  

these little forms. these typed letters. signs for sounds.

maybe this isn’t interesting to you, but to me, it is profound. i don’t need a computer to leave my thoughts to be seen by someone. i don’t need an iphone. i don’t need a typewriter (remember those?). i don’t even need a pen and paper. i can scratch words into stone or mud. i can put thoughts together and leave them for the past. words are colors on a pallet and it’s up to us to put them together so that they paint our thoughts correctly. words used recklessly are amateur. words chosen wisely can change the fate of life. 

as i sounded out “c-a-t” with little ruby, and watched her freckly nose, i felt my heart begin to swell. us two humans, one 4 years old, one 45…both of us dreaming our wild dreams. and when she is 45 and i’m turning to dust in a hole, maybe she’ll find some of these symbols written and bound by hope for her survival in this human laden world. 

i can think of nothing better to do than spend time with a friend and have them help me lose some of my cynicism while i help them sound out “c-a-t”. alright, off to the bathroom…again.

between the devil and the deep blue sea

Imagethere is a cove in southern mexico, way south, where the mountains come right down to the sea. it’s a tiny cove, just big enough to allow a boat to anchor without being hit with direct ocean swell. on a map it shows as a little dip in the coastline, definitely not something you would think was worth a stop-over. i was sailing with two buddies. we were unsure of whether to anchor and get sleep or to sail through the night.

there are several facts that i should disclose here. i am not a sailor, although; i was on a sail boat for over six months. my buddies are not sailors either. we were sailing, we just weren’t sailors. all of us are capable in the common sense kind of way and all of us have had plenty of adventures together. we weren’t too worried. we were real happy to be doing something we didn’t know how to do. ok, so that’s the preamble. oh yeah, and we didn’t really know where we wanted to go…mostly, we wanted to go toward the sun.

so, back at the little cove…and the world and the stars and the sea and the wooden boat and the breath from our bodies and the beating hearts, all together. all in one place. we had sailed for 40 and a few hours without the modern sailing-conveniences of GPS’s and auto-pilot. we were tired. we dropped anchor and did everything we had read in Sailing for Dummies to make sure we didn’t end up on shore (a kind of rocky looking strip in the failing light) in the middle of the night.

i didn’t sleep well. i was worried about our anchor that had dropped too deep and seemed to be almost straight down. in the night, the waves stopped completely and i woke to silence…complete silence. it was like the universe was on pause. i stood up out of my sleeping bag and looked at the stars as they ran all the way down to the sea. beyond that amazement, the silky flat ocean was full of glowing plankton that were spaced out like the stars. it was as if the sky and the sea had come together and become the same thing. the truth is, they are…they are the same thing. i went to my bag and slept in the middle of the cosmos, for reals.

the morning was soft and wonderful. the cove was deep and blue. the anchor was stuck when we tried to pull it so i swam down to check. i went down, hand over hand, on the anchor chain and the clarity of the ocean was unbelievable. huge fish swam far below me and into the bluer farther farther. i worked at the anchor and several breath-holds later, we were loose and heading out.

i have always loved that saying, “between the devil and the deep blue sea”, and i know that it means to be stuck. i like to think of it different. i’m not worried about the devil and i love the deep blue sea. this is the truth i feel from living like i do; i am capable of any possible good and evil, the best version of myself is the one standing on the deck of that boat, in between the stars and the plankton. right there, exactly there…and hopefully someday, everywhere else too.

chasing genius

i have no illusions about my own genius. i know what my IQ is and it’s average; not to say that i don’t have my moments where i feel pretty damn sharp, like the other day when i remembered where i hid my keys. (i often hide stuff in spots that i don’t remember and then they’re lost for an undetermined amount of time, sometimes forever) but yeah, if you believe in IQ tests, and i guess i do, sort of, then i’m average. what’s cool is i know a few geniuses. they range in size and age. some are women, some are men. i’ve even known a few dogs that gave me a sneaky suspicion that they were at least smarter than me…maybe way smarter than me.

here’s the deal, though; i kinda think that it might rub off. the route to genius is tricky. i definitely have spent some time thinking about it but i try to do that in private because when i think really hard, i don’t look that smart. i take on the distinct features of a caveman when i am really perplexed. i like to hang out with the smarty-pants types and i’ve found that, if i keep my mouth shut, i do tend to know more afterward. it’s great, it’s like sitting in an advanced math class but not being called on for questions. sometimes i leave these little get-togethers feeling downright, well…genius. and maybe feeling genius is part of the secret. i just figure it can’t hurt to allow yourself to feel smart now and then, especially if you keep it a secret.

but genius goes beyond IQ and doctorates and physicists. i really think it does. i’ve known little kids with beautiful, amazing minds that lit up everything around them. i’ve watched a peruvian lady spin wool and weave me a sweater in a day, and it fit perfect and i wore it for years until it fell off of me…she was a genius. i’ve seen my friend, nick, make fire by spinning sticks while wearing socks that he knitted and a shirt that he made…he’s a genius.

maybe genius has to do with living so that our feet tell our hearts where the ground is and our eyes tell our hearts where the sky is. maybe it’s in the living. yesterday i saw genius in the world. i was on a little boat with a good buddy. we were looking for waves to surf, out where the sun was on the water, we saw a whale. tim turned the boat toward the whale and, when we got near to where we thought we had seen him, we turned off the motor. “maybe we spooked him,” i was just thinking out loud. tim nodded.

the whale came out of the water about 20 meters away. he went straight towards the sky and rotated and the water poured off of him by the boatload and our mouths dropped open. i have never, ever been so amazed. i saw the pink color under his fin and the wrinkles in his skin. barnacles. his eye. he carried a soul so big that i felt it’s pull, like gravity. he fell longways back into the sea and was gone down through the dark, dark, dark.

when the world gives us this, and we stay quiet and feel, we get a little more genius. of course, this is only the opinion of a caveman so don’t take my word for it, check it for yourself. i betcha it’ll rub off on ya.

then comes oldness

i heard this old guy talking on a copied cd. his name was bill keys and i happen to know a little bit about him from having wandered in the desert where he wandered. i’ve probably stepped into bill key’s footsteps more than once. there are some geographic features in the high desert near joshua tree, california that are named after him. he was cool. i got my hands on that old cd and i listened to him talk about life and death. he was a philosopher but i’m sure he’d have said he was just a fella living out his days. it was apparent that he’d been alone for a long time. his wife died out in that desert and he lived the rest of his life never too far from her grave. he spoke of the stars as points of light and he talked about the world as if it was a giant crystal. he was born in that time when the cowboys were a dying breed. he was a cowboy and he was as wild as the ground he walked upon. i loved hearing ol’ bill speak of the ways of things. just imagine the changes he saw; from horseback cattle runs to skies full of jets and rockets.

i know that desert. i’ve slept in it and started my morning fires to make my coffee. i’ve walked miles and miles, from rock pile to rock pile. i’ve seen the green mojave rattlers and their dangerous look. i’ve found old treasures in hidden spots. i’ve loved women from the desert who were as pretty as the blooming cacti…and just as spiny. the desert…it’s a wild place that’ll give you wrinkles overnight. 

and speaking of wrinkles, i remember seeing them when i was a kid and loving them. i wanted them. all them lines in my grampa’s face! i thought crazy things as a kid. i thought that having grey hair meant you’d be smart and that wrinkles made you tough. good grief, i know it doesn’t work like that…not at all. one day i was fishing for crawdads in the creek behind the house, mom was calling me home for dinner, and the next day i was 45! i mean, what the hell happened?! i looked in the mirror this morning and saw these wrinkled eyes and a grey beard. the funniest part of it is that i’m still that same kid i was when i had those crazy notions. the only explanation is that oldness came. it comes for us all (thank goodness). we have choices to make along with it’s arrival: love it and navigate gracefully, or live in denial. 

the former is a grand adventure, the latter is misery.

so, to the ones who’ve gone before, nicely done. to the youngsters, i say, love your footsteps and love your breath and love your heart, you’ll do just fine. who knows, maybe you’ll find me making coffee at a little fire in the distance.

tiny drawings

lucas and olivia

there is magic in tiny drawings. don’t get me wrong, i have always loved going to the Met in NYC and standing thirty feet away from a giant masterpiece with my mouth hanging open, but the little stuff is cool too. when i do tiny drawings, little kids like it. i think it’s because they know they can put it in their pocket and go somewhere with it. i know that’s why i like it too. i can draw the world and put it away and then pull it out on a train on the way to see my mom.

i gave one of my little friends, who was (i think) three years old at the time, some little drawings of regular stuff. tiny pants and shoes and hats, all on separate pieces of two inch paper squares. her mother told me a couple days later that she had found each little drawing in individual socks in her daughter’s sock drawer! even more wonderful- she delivered some drawings to my doorstep soon after…sweet little darlin’.

it’s pretty good when that happens, right? yeah, it’s pretty cool.

fishing