tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: running

A Path, A Creek, A Snake

There are so many ways to move through the world. I see the folks who’ve chosen to be oblivious. I wonder about sweet oblivion. I can’t do it. I am a natural born wonderer, for better or worse. I dream and create, sometimes obsessively, in my head. Lately I’ve made it a point to look around me and see. I have to make it a point to do this because humans generally drive me nuts and, even though I’m one of us, I’m tired of us. Given the choice of being infuriated or detached, I usually choose to be detached (which is close to oblivious but not quite the same, to me at least). This is a phase. I’m sure. I’ll find my way free. I think. How many bitter old men have I known? So many! It isn’t any wonder that a thinking man might become tired of the way of things and turn inside, arrange his inner being, and watch the world fall to pieces. It’s an option, albeit a sad one.

My favorite people are the Observers. They are the ones with the curly smiles and the secret light in their eyes. They not only see the fly in their soup, they are laughing about it. Yes, we are messy, the entire lot of us, but we are here and life is what we do. So I’ve been looking around and here’s what I see. Here’s my non-video, non-photo show. I am the filter. You are both participant and recipient. The world is the stage. We are dancing and tumbling and flinging our arms while the stars spin fire and the whales sing hymns under the wild and wondrous sea.

At the bottom of the grade from high desert to low there’s a creek that sometimes runs, it’s running now. It comes off the reservation and runs itself to death in the desert. I like to stop and climb down below the highway, take my clothes off and sit in the hole where the water swirls deeper. I’ve added rocks for the last 20 years so that this hole will hold enough water to be chest deep when I’m sitting. I think others, probably kids, have added rocks too. I sit and think about the small society of creek sitters, those of us who would sit and listen to the cars as they rocket past above the creek and the concrete and the graffiti that says Mikki loves Cody and then medicated. I don’t think the words were from the same person and I would assume that it didn’t mean that Mikki loves Cody to be Medicated. But maybe.

The desert is big today. Even the giant airliner looks small as it tilts and shows me it’s silver underbelly like a fish gliding past with the sky as it’s sea. There are the big white props generating electricity from the wind and they are standing where they stand and they are turning in unison, now and then a broken one sits, ashamed. I can see every crease in San Jacinto, every possible passage to the summit. Miles of granite and buckbrush and juniper and finally ponderosa. There are a thousand years of wandering in those folds, I think of all the rocks that will never feel human touch. I wonder if the rocks are lonely or content with solitude. I hope they know I think of them so that when I turn to dust, they will recognize my particulates and welcome me. Rocks have been here for a long time. They’ve seen a lot. Rocks hold the ground down.

There’s an old black guy that walks along the path that I run. Or maybe I run the path that he walks, I don’t know which. He’s got a beard and wears a hat, he’s probably 62. He looks fit and light. He always raises his hand to me and I do the same back. I feel like we’re friends. I’m glad we meet in that little space on the trail where we nod and smile and see one another. I wonder what makes him walk. Sometimes I see him twice, out and back, and yesterday he raised his arm and made a fist when I saw him the second time. It was like he was telling me that he liked that I was running. It made me happy and content to be in the world and to be running and to have a common path with a maybe 62 year old man.

They cut an old tree down near Brian’s house. It was probably 75 years old. A desert ponderosa, short and squatty and thick and healthy. There wasn’t a reason, it was just not a part of the plan anymore. Beetles and bugs have been passing for days, migrating out of the tree that was their home and the home of their ancestors for as long as any of them can remember. I hope they find another home. It will be tough here in the desert to find a spot before the onset of summer. I hope some of that old tree’s pinecones get dropped along the way so that she can live through her children. It’s not smart to be a tree near humans; you never know what we’re gonna do.

Several years ago I found a weasel that had been hit by a car on the side of the road. It was so amazing. It was a little male mustelid with the sharpest teeth ever known. It was open-mouthed and looked dangerous even though it’s guts were out on the asphalt. I picked it up and took it about a hundred yards to a big pepper tree in the field. I set it down in the grass and looked at it a little more. That tree is gone and the field is plowed now. I guess they are going to build houses there in that space. I wonder how much water it will take to fill all the swimming pools.

This morning is quiet. My running partner, Scout, is looking at me with yellow eyes. If he had the power to get whatever he wanted we would have been running at 4:30 this morning. Right now he is trying to figure out how to speak human so that he can convince me that it’ll be so great to run. He is young and powerful. He’s a Malinois breed and he was bred for war, I just run with him and that seems to be fine. I’m glad he’s not at war. A while back we came across a huge gopher snake that was beginning a treacherous journey across a busy road. I saw a big truck coming and I couldn’t help myself (cars are not fair to animals), I stepped out with Scout at my side. The truck had plenty of time to stop. The snake was hot and in a powerful mood. I touched it’s tail and it hissed and moved out. Scout watched intently but quietly. He is beautifully behaved because of his owner and my good ol’ buddy, Brian, and the training they do together. The big snake moved. The truck waited. Scout watched with a tilted head. For whatever reason the driver of the truck liked what I had done. He waved. I waved back. The snake went his way and I began to run again. So did Scout. It was one of those days when I am simple and happy.

Prologue: One of my favorite writers died recently. He often wrote about death and grief and what they mean to us, how they affect us. He died. Just like that. He wrote a piece about hearts and hummingbirds and whales and banana pancakes and I read it everyday for a month. When my sister was in a coma from a terrible car crash, I read that piece to her. I sat next to her hospital bed in a tattered orange shirt that I wore like a uniform at the time. Later I found out that she remembered everything and she asked me what I had read to her. Joyas Volaradas by Brian Doyle, I replied. It’s so beautiful is it not? I remember the part in that bit of writing that I cannot read aloud without feeling the tears come into my eyes. It’s near the end and it is as pretty as the sunrise. Brian Doyle did not know me, but he was an observer and a story teller and a human that felt what humans feel. I will visit his thoughts in the words he wrote and I will attempt to tell stories with his level of compassion and wonder. Rest in peace, Brian Doyle, and carry on.

How to lose 140 pounds

I sat inside my buddy’s house with a cup of coffee, waiting for the morning to happen. The sun came up again and proved that Tuesday still lands between Monday and Wednesday. I like Tuesday, it’s the day nobody talks about. It’s spelled kinda funny, I guess Wednesday and Tuesday have that in common.

On this Tuesday –it might have been this last one, but who’s counting– I sat and watched a little California Towhee throw himself against the sliding glass door over and over. At first I thought, ” aw, look at little buddy, he wants in where it’s warm, ” but then I figured out that he was fighting with his reflection in the glass. I wondered what he was thinking, like, “damn, this guy’s quick, he knows my every move!” or maybe he was thinking he would outlast the other bird staring back at him. There he was, pecking and scrapping and fluttering against his own image in the window. While he was busy with that, I was busy thinking about what he was thinking. I even excused him a little, at least he’s getting some cardio in. I finally couldn’t take it anymore, I started feeling bad for a lot of reasons. You see, the California Towhee is a drab little guy, he often goes unnoticed and when he is noticed, folks often call him a sparrow. I guess there’s nothing wrong with being confused with a  sparrow, but why grow out that long narrow tail if you ain’t gonna notice it? And what about that beautiful fade from brown to rust on the lower belly and thighs? I like the California Towhee because he’s just making his way, drab brown with a pretty little voice and a shy demeanor, through the big blue world. I reckon that somewhere out there are two little Towhees all mated up and snuggled beautifully and brownly on a branch, singing deeply each into the others’ heart, and all else is lost. But this little guy at the back window had somehow picked a fight with himself and he was pretty damn determined to win, or lose, however you wanna look at it. I got up and opened the door and broke up the fight. He bounced backward a couple feet, looked at the giant ape that ruined his fight, and flew away chip chip chipping into his Tuesday.

Little dude flew away, but he stayed with me all morning. Hell, he’s still with me, right here in this story, right here in my mind and as plain as day. I think, and this kinda bothers me, he reminds me of me. When I went for a run later that morning, I was daydreaming back and back into my life. All the steps I’ve taken. How many of those steps wasted? How many times have I walked a path toward the same mistakes I’d already made, and staring down at my own damn tracks all the while. Oh yeah, I’ll learn, eventually I’ll learn. These thoughts were in my head and creeping toward my heart while I ran. The path turned and my shadow crossed in front of me, I could see the shape of my nose and the tilt of my head. Sure enough, that’s me, right there in that shadow. I wondered how much of my soul my shadow owns. That ol’ Shadow, cast out on the ground, running and meeting me, only leaving me when I leap. I guess I own my shadow, maybe the sun is a co-owner. If either one of us goes away, the shadow is gone.

My mind found a place in the past, when I was in the Marine Corps. I heard an instructor yapping at me with a hard smile on his mouth, “Crabtree, how much do you weigh?”

140 pounds staff sergeant.

“Well, that’s a small pile’a shit, ain’t it, Crabtree?”

Yes it is staff sergeant.

And then, years later, on Tuesday, that same 140 pound pile of shit was running up a hill near Fosters house toward the rocks that sit in the middle of the buckbrush where the lizards lie cold and wait for the sun to stir their blood and the roadrunners run with chattering beaks, swallowing the frozen lizards, and the little black stink bugs lumber with their hind ends high and my feet were finding the ground over and over, each time meeting my shadow, and I was looking at myself and wondering about that little Towhee in the window. I hope he makes it. I hope I make it.

a song for the long run

In grade school we had this day, once a year, called field day. It was the day that each child competed in several different physical events against other children in the same grade. There were a bunch of different events including a softball distance throw, long jump, standing long jump and, of course, running different distances. There were ribbons given to the first, second and third place winners, kinda like the olympics. I’ve heard that these days they give out ribbons to all participants, which makes me wonder about why they even have competitions. But anyway, I never won a first place ribbon, maybe a third now and then, but I sure did like that day. For one thing, any day where I didn’t have to sit in school was wonderful to me, also, I liked to run.

That all happened years ago, more than I like to add up. Lots of things have changed since then. Nowadays competition is scrutinized and people sue for burnt meals and coffee that’s too hot, there are cameras on street poles and flu shots at Walgreen, there are little televisions in every pocket and not-so-coincidentally, zombie movies are all the rage. There is a zombie-esque feel to people these days. As planes hurtle across the sky making criss-cross patterns above land that takes weeks to walk into, I wonder about our future. And by “our”, I mean us human critters. These days I have heavy thoughts about the way we tax our pretty blue world. Water runs down the gutters of the golf courses in the desert. Pills get flushed down the toilets. Roads are widened and widened again. There is chaos running amuck in the minds of people who sit in millions of hours traffic. Can you imagine the combined amount of hate and fury that is emanating from each and every traffic jam on each highway in every city around the world? It can’t be good. I think first, second and third place ribbons are the least of our worries.

I don’t like thinking about all these things. I feel a little guilty writing about them because they’re so heavy and I don’t have the answers. I feel like the guy who is alone on an asteroid and comes across a broken space ship; I know there’s a way to fix it and fly it, but I’m too simple to do so. Instead, I just sit in the cockpit and imagine flying back to my world with the oceans and whales and redwoods and ferns and blueberries and high country streams and heavy whipping cream and coffee.

Whenever this all gets too big, too much, I have a way that I fix it. It might seem silly to you but it works, at least most of the time it works. I run. That’s it, I just run. Like the little Tobias kid that ran after them first place ribbons, I run. And I ain’t training anymore for anything. No races. No tryouts. No finish lines. I run to allow my heart the freedom it gets from pounding. These hearts, our hearts, were born to pound. So, not unlike the wolves and the antelope, I run across the land. I even close my eyes for a few steps sometimes and picture my silhouette against the sky and the earth turning under me, and I picture the terrain changing from deserts to mountains to long, beautiful beaches. I breathe in the air that is here, however good or bad it is, and I don’t pass judgement because, well, because I’m running. And I think of the Masai running with their beautiful smiles. I think of the Tarahumara running under wild, Mexican skies. I see early man as he dreams over distances and into his future, which is now my past. We are running and we are wild. Wolves run. Coyotes and cheetahs run. Gazelles and rabbits run. There aren’t ribbons here, there is sky and ground and beating heart, burning legs and clacking teeth. And as we run the world turns in space and I can see a white-hot trail left behind, a single thread against the black, and that thread runs through everything that ever was. It cuts through the red-rimmed eyes of the thin man digging in the dumpster for his meal. It creases the brow of the one-who-has-everything as he weeps over his ocean of emptiness. It meanders through the guts of the prison guard who walks long hallways of cages holding his kind. It is a thread that hems us all together, like it or not, on a planet that carries us but is not owned by us and will not ever be owned, no matter how much money changes hands. It is life. We each carry it for a bit, and then we give it back. I guess that’s why I feel it when I am running, because I feel my heart and I know that someday, my faithful little machine will divvy out it’s last thump, and I will cease to be.

We all get our kicks through something. I know that some folks can’t run and some folks don’t want to, but that’s not the point here. A thought or two about our place in the midst of it all wouldn’t hurt. We are all beating hearts, which gives us something in common. That thought alone could begin to fix some of the things that seem unfixable. Put your hand on your chest and feel…see, it’s there, clunking away. Ain’t that pretty?


feats of strength. i grew up around them. my dad is an old school strong man. he hung out with some of the original strong men. dudes like paul anderson, who looked like a human bowling ball, were pretty commonplace around my neck of the woods. i saw paul blow a hot water bottle up with his mouth and pick up a table with 8 men sitting on it. my dad did stuff too, like, he did a handstand on a plank that was anchored to the top of a 15 foot ladder. and once he walked down the entire flight of 20-some stairs on his hands, all the while talking to a chuckling congregation about the strength of samson, the nazarite, one of god’s judges. i wouldn’t have said it, but i was bored during most church services as a kid. i just wasn’t cut out to sit through a shit ton of messages all talking about how much i was gonna pay for sinning. but you mention some strong guy (a tarzan of the bible) and i was all ears. that one story about samson getting all worked up and snatching up the jawbone of an ass and laying waste to hundreds of men was awesome. i mean, that was my fix, i didn’t even need to use my imagination for that.

time. time is the measurement we use to tell how long we’ve been kickin’ and how much longer we’ll go for.  time has passed since those days in church with my old man yucking it up. i always couldn’t wait to grow up and be strong like my dad. i was really gonna go to the gym and crank off some reps with several hundred pounds over my head.

never happened. my body is lean. my dad’s a barrel. i must’a caught some of them older genes way back in the choctaw strain. i’m a small dude and i don’t fool myself about pushing heavy weights anymore. i run and move through the upper branches of trees and don’t leave much of a mark in the wet sand even on my heavy days. in some ways, though, i’m still affiliated with them strong men of that other age.

today is january 17.  strong man, brian foster, was born on this day about 38 years ago.  i doubt i’ll ever meet someone tougher than foster. i’ve had a chance to add him up through the years. we’ve done miles of swimming together. we’ve walked hundreds of miles for sure. when he started his mixed martial arts career, i sat in the basement of some building and watched him exchange fisticuffs with big angry men that made me wonder about things like brain damage. foster didn’t fight so he could carry around a trophy, he would say that he was just curious. i’m not joking. i always worried some, but then he’d look at me and smirk right as he stepped in the cage and he’d say something like, “life is so good, ain’t it tobe?” damn, that just amazed me. and through the years i’ve seen him mark his face up. when the injuries from all the wars began to wear on him, he stopped. no big deal. nothing to prove. his jaw is about as thick as a brick and his forehead makes me believe that neanderthal’s probably did inter-breed with homo sapiens. his blonde hair is cropped close to his skull and his skull holds the mind that causes his squinty, blue eyes to shine. and man, they shine. we laugh at one another when we are hurting. our lives have run pretty damn parallel with equal amounts of crashing and burning. neither of us hear well anymore, probably from lying next to one another, crackin’ off shots, as we sited in our m40’s. we learned to count on one another in sniper school and it has lasted a lifetime. sure wasn’t like the movies though, more like real life, i’d say. not a lot of folks have tested their friendships by lying still in a cold mud hole for 24 hours, but we did more than once. we also laughed a good bit, which is cool because the other stuff sucked.

i was running under the big ol’ cypress trees in golden gate park today. i was running to the sea. now and then my body feels like i haven’t aged a day since i was in my 20’s, of course, it’s not a true report. i have aged. but today was one of the good ones. i tacked on a couple more miles and pitched my body up another of the winding paths. in a little clearing i saw the wag of a redtail hawk in the top of a big ol’ ponderosa. i slowed a bit and watched the big bird drop from it’s perch, wings folded, and down and down. i even saw him turn his wondrous head and thread between branches and then wings open and then go into a long, low swing. he was just overhead as he passed me, so easy. i saw his feathers and the white and the speckling grey, the burnt orange to red. i saw the auburn glint from those eyes. for just that second i saw the black center of his hawking eye turn onto me. and he looked at my eyes and i looked into his. and i know that he could see like i can’t even imagine so i wonder how far into me he looked and maybe he looked clean through today and saw the moments that hang suspended in tomorrow. maybe he saw far enough to see the suns that will shine on the last of me. and he eased on past, all feathered and taloned and beaked, then up into the top of another of those awesome trees. so i ran on down. and i felt my heart clunking with the rhythm of my feet. and this old heart of mine is amazingly fine, with all it’s brokenness and all it’s wastedness.

i don’t want to dread what’s left of this life. i don’t want to fear the things to come. i see the ones that fight the passage of time. the men who don’t accept the loss of strength. the women who try to buy back the vigor of youth. all that bullshit  face stretching and pulling. the plumping of lips. all sexes at odds with the implacability of time. we are vain little creatures, us humans. our vanity cries out wickedly. to me it sounds like dragging brush from the back of a pickup truck. the sadness lies in the fact that while we scratch and claw to stay young, the wonder of life is rolling past. the answer lies in the living. the grandest of all is available to us throughout life, not just in our weird little pretty youth.

and so, i run. i run with time. and there is a slowing in the movements that are not so unlike a floating hawk or a cruising shark; neither fast nor slow, but perfect in the midst. and i clench my old jawbone and i lengthen my stride. bring on the rest…let’s run.

you can’t copy soul

tonight i walked to town.

i do this a lot, but mostly i do it for exercise. sometimes i run. tonight i did it because i wanted a glass of bourbon.

the deer trail i take is through the woods. i think i’m the only human who takes it. it’s longer than if you take the road, by about 3/4 of a mile.  it’s narrow and full of poison oak, which i catch on the daily. this evening i saw a passel of turkeys and i messed with ’em a little. i’m sure it’s tricky being food. i don’t know what it’s like but i’ve killed a few animals to eat them and i never did really like it. animals are alive, know what i mean?

got into town about sundown. the cop, hidden off the road, was looking at me the way most cops do; corners of his mouth down, tapping his fingers. it’s weird, i know some cops, i’ve tattooed them, and they treat me so well. i mean, i wore a tie every day of college (i crammed 4 years into 6) and i saluted every damn blue sticker for years in the marine corps but i can’t walk down the street without a cop giving me a bit of a look. i feel like a turkey sometimes.

i picked out a bar that had liquor. ordered a whiskey neat and a pale. a toyota commercial comes on and cindy lauper is on the juke box singing “time after time. the commercial has dancers trying to imitate the dancers on soul train. they have fake afros and are doing amazing moves, but they ain’t the same. soul train did it before it was cool. soul train was full of soul…these guys can’t even get a ticket on that train. copying stuff is always less. you just can’t copy soul, you gotta get your own.

and football and shiny glasses full of bourbon. pretty girls that look but look away because of the way things are. people enter the bathroom and come out higher than before they went in. the juke box is playing comfortably numb. perfect.  now i leave. now the run home. it’s about a mile on the road.

i pass a bunch of folks. it’s saturday night and people are walking the streets. i run by some older folks, 70’s i think. they are drunk and their comments about me make me laugh. (i also have a tolerance range for folks who laugh at me, the ones outside that range, make me wanna fight, inside, it’s all a chuckle…gotta work on that) now i’m out of town. christian and i used to run after we drank. we ran from bar to bar in new york city and san francisco. i miss ol’ christian, this run is for him. now the wind. now the rain. and i’m back and the goats are bleating for the storm that’s coming on. the oaks are dropping their acorns on the roof in lieu of the wind. i guess i ran to get back and write this but now that i’m doing it, it seems kinda stupid. no problem, i’ve been doing stupid in bucket-loads all my life.

it’s nice to be here. you know, like, on this planet. it’s good. and the night is wild and my bed has a wool blanket.