tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: rivers

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.

Before the Time of Giants

On 1st street the road dead ends at the river. I like it there, the Deschutes is cold and stays pretty cold even when the weather is stifling. There’s a rock that Jason showed me, you can dive from it into the swirls below the rapids. When I’m done writing this, I’ll go there and be in the river for a bit. Till I’m cold. Till my teeth chatter.

Yesterday I went there and jumped in while two little boys with mohawks stared at me with curious looks. I took goggles cuz I like swimming down deep with the current and running into the trout that face upstream. Yesterday, I went down and latched onto a rock. A huge crawdad came out to check the commotion, red claws raised and gaping. I snatched him from his world and swam to the surface. The boys were still staring and were talking about being under water for too long. I asked if they wanted to check out the crawdad, the dad seemed to like it all. Eli and Oz. They seemed the same age, about 7.  I held the crawdad’s claws and they touched him and gave me smiles through missing front teeth. They watched me let the critter go and they asked their dad where crawdads come from. He replied, “under water, under rocks…which is good enough I suppose. I dove back in and the boys watched and smiled.

I went for a coffee after that. There was a couple playing ping pong in the square. The game was tight. The dude won but it was after a good many lead changes. Then, they both checked their heartrates on the their heart monitors. I guess it’s good to know how many calories you burn in a heated game of ping pong, that way you know how much protein to put in your muscle milk.

A few homeless rat punks hung out on the outer edges of the coffee shop. These were the type that generally make most folks uncomfortable. Lots of words from the corners of mouths. Lots of slippery movement and eyeballing unlocked bikes. I heard the ring leader talking about how he was doing steroids for his something ‘r other that made no sense.  Lots of calling everyone “brother” with that disingenuous tone that makes me kinda feel like being mean. Out of the ether there was a cop and little steroid dude was suddenly doing his best song and dance for the man. The paper bag in steroid dude’s hand was the subject most talked about. Finally it was opened and the individually wrapped baggies of weed  were being discussed. The kid singing the virtues of medical marijuana and the cop just  listening while being enlightened through many nuggets of wisdom about pharmaceutical companies running the world and one long-suffering young man’s quest to change the world, one baggie at a time. The cop was unbelievably cool and allowed the kid to walk away with his bag of bags and his ringing teeth. I was impressed with the cop, which is a good thing considering the current state of affairs in the good ol’ U S of A.

I rode back toward the forge and followed the path I know well. My bicycle feels like a magic carpet when I get into a rhythm. In the tunnel that leads under the 97 there was a kid with 4 paper bags and 2 cans of spray paint. He was tipped over and his eyes were open and there was a ring of paint around his mouth and nose. Bad route for a young man. I dodged the broken 40 in the tunnel and was rocketing toward 3rd while the sun was going the other direction. I rode past a lady with a bag of laundry and she jumped terribly, I said hello, she gave me her best frown.

At the forge, I remembered that I’d forgotten to buy coffee. I was tired of riding and so I just felt sorry for myself and the morning that would be barren of coffee and so a kind of sorrowful drama that would end in my getting coffee from a coffee shop later than makes me happy. I do believe this falls into the category of 1st world problems. I appeased myself with a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream straight from the carton. The night was hot and the forge a good bit hotter. The majority of the night was spent rolling around. Finally I slept near dawn, then came the day on the world as it spins on it’s perfect tilt and hurtles through another lap around the sun.

As I was drifting off, in those moments around 4 a.m., I thought of the lavender skies over the pines in Colorado. It’s what I think of when I am trying to empty my head of trash. Then I remembered Eli and Oz and the red-clawed crawdad. Then I wondered if the crawdad, in that subaquatic territory of stones and moss, was maybe dreaming of a time when he was pulled from his world and examined and released by giants. His friends gathering around him with small, blue eyes. Antennae flowing with the current and listening to a story beyond belief, spoken across feathery gills in the language of the crayfish, born out of their astacological histories and before the time of giants.

A Bridge

Last I checked, somewhere up the 199 going toward Grant’s Pass out of Crescent City, there’s a real good rope swing. It hangs over the Jed Smith river from under a steel bridge. It’s one of those rope swings that gives pause. The bridge is probably 50 feet above the river and the rope must be fished from the air using a long crooked stick that the wild children have stashed in the bushes just under the concrete pilings. The trajectory of the take-off is crucial to landing in the river correctly; wrong take-off, bad things will happen. When you let go at the peak of the swing, the drop is about 35 feet. I’ve seen kids, some of them only 12 years old, doing flips upon release. When I first discovered it, I was there with a girlfriend. The kids were shooting funny looks our direction as if to say, who the hell’r you and why you at our spot. I hadn’t seen anyone go off the swing, although a couple had gone up and chickened out. (Can I still say “chickened out” or is that offensive these days? I’m gonna say it and trust that I haven’t offended anyone.) I swam up the river to the base of the rocks below the bridge, the pool below was really deep and perfectly clear. Under the belly of the bridge, I spotted the crooked stick and used it to fetch the rope, hanging in space. The knot at the end was greasy from hundreds of sweaty little palms. I could see that a direct swing into the deep pool would result in clipping a nasty out-cropping of granite and I pictured myself with a shattered ankle and a bunch of kids telling the story about a time they saw this idiot….

From down below I heard one of the local boys yell up at me. “Run out to the left, you’ll miss it.” How funny it is that I would listen to some young punk that I’ve never met, 40 feet off the deck, hanging on to a greasy little rope swing. But I did listen. And I went. And I flew out around the rocks and up into the piney air, arms a flappin’, body twisting, blue-green below, world turning slowly, time almost to a standstill. And the splashdown and the cold of the river that carries the water that it’s always carried, through the gills of millions of fish, on it’s way to the sea. And the most present form of me at the surface and hooting and swimming to the rocks. Mad scramble up and out, back up for a one-more-time-at-the-very-least-one-more-time. I heard one of the kids cheering me on, and so i went a few more times. When I came across the beach, the teenagers wanted to talk. They gave me a Bud light. They asked me how old I was because it mattered to them. I suppose, in some ways, it’s kind of validating to know that what’s fun at 15 can be fun at 45. There were no more stares or glares in our direction. We all were just hanging out under the yellow sun. The common language was learned through a rope and gravity and a certain river and a perfect bridge. And we all swam and sat and looked at the river as it looked back at us with it’s forever memory and it’s secret past.

I believe in swings. I believe in bridges, both physical and figurative. I believe in beating hearts of all kinds, young and old and in-between. I believe in love, sadness, wonder, pain and magnificence. See you later? Maybe we’ll be waiting in line up under the belly of some old bridge. I certainly hope so. Hell yeah.

the imagitarium

the landscapes always change according to the information being processed. there’s no guarantee what the final product will look like, nor is there a way to know when it will show up. but, my god, the images!

there are worlds and oceans, sometimes worlds of oceans. with green and glowing waves that light up with the life that they sustain, the glowing things that swim between substances.

there are cities with billowing, black fumes where the rivers carry the sewage and sludge to dying oceans, heaving and gray. the beaches bear the signs of what used to swim through the deep. skulls the size of small cars, jaws agape.

wars. there are wars and people have weapons of all sorts. there are weapons in my hands, some recognizable, some strange and even broken. there is hiding in defilade and bad communication and missions gone awry. there are crashes and inescapable destruction. and bullet wounds, always bullet wounds, the sucking kind.

there are meetings with people. sometimes there are encounters and love that makes very little sense. a kind of pleasure that is unsure and almost always half-way finished. and there are paths that lead on and on, paths that have been traveled but lead off into complete and utter nothingness.  all creatures are welcome but not necessarily present.

thoughts mix. hearts hammer. lips and limbs akimbo. dying forests. dancing stuffed animals. impossibility loses momentum and could be becomes what is. lost arrows are not somewhere, lying in the bushes, they are still flying on into the blue. tongues are used for language and french kisses and tastes that happen only once. shape-shifters abound. nothing is inanimate. gods become tangible.

sometimes there is flight.


i’m not really sure if waking life is the opposite of dreams. what if dreams come from a flowing current, a giant river, made up of the wonders of every living thing? maybe we came from that river and our dreams are just a reminder that we are on a business trip called life, collecting more wonders to take back into that endless current when we die. so many things to see. colors to collect.  chocolate to taste. coffee to brew. stories to tell.  fires to build. lovers to love. or, if you’re me, there are grosbeaks to chase from the fig tree (for selfish purposes) in the early morning before you swim in the river after coffee, on a saturday in the month called august of some year of this life.

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.

just like a monk…

from a letter to dave…who is more like a monk than me, but then again, who’s checking anyway? (love you, dave)

i went to the river, just like a monk. i ran barefooted, just like a monk. i intentionally meditated (rare occurrence), just like a monk. i drank cold water, just like a monk. i sat under the sky and watched the trees that were pushed by the wind. i took my clothes off and sat in the river that ran from the mountains that hold the snow. i watched some little songbird sing on the stump of a ponderosa that was probably around when america was not america but was named something else by some other people that lived here. i watched a mother goose and a daddy goose with 9 goslings that were the color of gold mixed with green ( the strangest thing). i soaped up in the river and cleaned myself the old way and realized how i’m living like some person from another time or another place or both….all these things i did like a monk. but i’m not one. no, i’m sure not. know how i know? because monks do not continue to doubt the entire shit show that they see around them. monks have a bigger grasp. i just grasp at a whole lot of nothing….then i drink a glass or two of whiskey and go to bed and wake up in pain and drink some coffee and ice my aching body and start it over again. long live my little forgetful mind! i’m not a monk. no…not at all.


tonight i talked to a fella that’s 63 years old. he’s a blacksmith and he’s pretty bitter about people. i don’t blame him but he’s probably overreacting a little. i mean, people do suck but they also pay the big price, you know, the one that starts with “d” and ends with “eath”…and besides, i’m people too and i suck sometimes (sometimes a lot). we talked about stuff and then we started talking about ballistics. man, did he love it. hours went by and when we were done he was excited to speak again. he had things to say that i didn’t agree with so i just stayed quiet. it was nice to see him shine.  he was interested and spoke more freely than most other times.  when we were done i saw a sparkle in his eye that i hadn’t seen in him before.


i know why the sparkle. it is a re-kindling. it is a rejuvenation of things that might have been given up for dead.  it is the realization that life is so godamn short and that the time we have should be ,at the least, worth our while…and i do like being here.


so i’m not a monk. i’m just a dude….abiding.   t.