tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: songs

Skip the Fuss

Hunter is one of my dearest friends. I believe him when he tells me things. It’s easy, we both like morning coffee. We both look at the stars and wonder what the hell. We both smell bad. And we both understand that we would be completely lost without a solid dose of sober melancholy. A good part of my existence is spent wondering about the lines that separate us all. What makes some folks choose to be mean while others are kind. There are so many different sorts — and they all belong to the big Mama Earth. Somehow or another, I came into being. I grew up under my folks and next to my brothers and sisters. I launched out into the world and went through school and college and jobs and relationships and landed right here, right now. And the now keeps on happening. Hell, now is happening even when I’m groveling in the past or fretting over the future! But the trip is that this collection of elements that is called “tobias” is sitting here at all.

I think it’s pretty damn cool that, in all the eons of time, out of all the possible maybes, I happened where I happened and ran into the folks I know. Don’t you ever think that? Out of all of time, you are now. You don’t have to prove it, you can just breathe and be. That’ll be plenty. In fact, if that’s all I ever did — just breathe and be — I wouldn’t have a thing to be ashamed of. Of course, I’ll muck it up a bit. T’is my nature.

Hunter and I went for a motorcycle ride in the woods on the 4th of July. I don’t really get into that holiday, “bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night…” and all. I can find better things to dwell on than bombs in the air. So yeah, we went riding. Out to the woods. And we walked up a steep trail and sat on some big ol’ stumps while the skeeters celebrated our soft skin. We talked about memories and broken bones and the doctors that set ’em.  The sun set and Hunter pointed out the nightjars overhead, first one and then several. They were calling out in the evening air and Hunt asked if I had ever heard the other sound they made. I hadn’t. Then he began to describe it. As he went into detail, and as we watched the bird overhead, the nightjar stooped and tipped toward us. Just a few feet over our heads, the bird turned and the heavy growl that Hunter had been describing came off the birds wings. We both smiled huge. Hunter simply said, “like that!”

We walked, pleased that the universe tapped us on the shoulder once again and let us know of our origins. On the walk back, we continued to talk about the nightjar and it’s crepuscular relatives. I said I liked them all. That they reminded me of moths. I mentioned how much I loved the whiporwill and Hunter nodded. We reached to moto’s and built a tiny fire. Fireworks flared against the sky, weak in contrast to the heavens and the novas and the light from billions of light years away. Our conversation was that of men who are brothers in the world and who realize the fortune of friendship. There was nothing but the two of us, the dreams of our hearts, and the world we were sitting against.

Then, as if cued from some old and perfect poem,  a whiporwill called out from somewhere in the dark.

Just this life,

skip the fuss.

Take a breath,

turn to dust.

Oh my, from out the wild mind.

Ruby’s 7. She’s been my friend for the same number of years as she’s been alive. It’s cool, i’ve been friends with her Ma and Dad since they first got together, so I get included in stuff. I love it. Little Rube’s been playing the piano for a little while now and she’s been singing for as long as I can remember. We’ve been thinking of putting a band together, we don’t have a name for it yet, but what we do know is that she’ll be playing the piano and singing and I’ll be backup singer and dancer. So far it’s just the two of us, which is cool by me.

She told me that the notes to a piano sit in the strings on the inside. She said they sit there and wait to be chosen so they can make their sound. I pictured that in my mind; the notes perched like pretty little birds on the wires and waiting to be flushed out by the felt and wood hammers. all flying around the room and into peoples’ ears, causing a stir, making eyes to sparkle and dreams to flow. She was very interested in thinking on the inner workings of the piano. She pointed out that it’s not electric, that the sounds were not made by something else except those little wires where the notes wait and wait and hope for a chance to play.

I don’t think I’ve ever loved the piano as much as when Ruby talks about it. It is so pretty to picture it the way she describes it. if i could choose any place to visit, Ruby’s mind would be at the top of the list. I’ll bet it’s an amazingly wild patch of wilderness!

I hadn’t seen Ruby in almost a year until yesterday. We caught up while she bounced from the bed onto a mattress on the floor and then up again onto the other bed. She might have bounced down and up and back over 200 times, i don’t know, but she only stopped when I got up and walked out for a drink. She is a real live Sprite from out of the old fairy tales. Hundreds of freckles, long, wild, ruby colored hair, and enough energy to start up the sun, should it ever go out.

Later in the day, I had a chance to ask her the “Would you rather” routine that I like to do. Grown-ups don’t like to play it that much, well, some do I guess, like Foster and Johnny Thomson, but for the most part, only kids play. It went like this:

Would you rather be:

the sky or the ocean?   answer: the sky.

the wind or a cloud?   answer: a cloud, because the clouds can go get a sip of the ocean and also rain or lightning.

a cloud or a bird?   answer: bird, that’s an easy one.

a bird or a unicorn?   answer: a unicorn.

a unicorn or pegasus?  answer: i’d rather be an anicorn which is a unicorn with wings.

me: oh, really? so that’s what that’s called?

ruby: yes, and they’re beautiful and white or black.

me: did you know that there’s a whale that has a horn like a unicorn? it’s called a narwhal.

ruby: yes, but it doesn’t really come out of their head, it’s more like a tooth.

me: oh.

a turtle or frog?   answer: turtle.

ruby: please don’t tell me you’re gonna ask a horse or a cheetah.

a wolf or a bear?    answer: wolf.

a wolf or a horse?    answer: horse.

a horse or a cheetah?    answer: ohhh, man, that’s a really tough one. ummm. oh, i can’t even choose!

me: ok, here’s the deal. i’ll let you be one of them on the weekend, so for two days you can be one. The rest of the 5 days you get to be the other. Which one do you wanna be on the weekend?

ruby: ummm, the horse.

me: so you’ll be the cheetah when you go to school?

ruby:  cheetahs don’t need to go to school.

me: oh. you’re right.

the sun or the moon?   answer: the sun.

the darkness or light?   answer: the light.

sand or mud?   answer:  oh, if i choose sand do i have to be the deep down sand or can i be sand on the top?

me: whatever you want, little rube.

ruby:  ok then, sand on the top.

me:  why?

ruby: because it’s warm and nice to feel and it’s not cold and dark.

me:  you like the light don’t you?

ruby:  uh huh. i like being warm.

a flower or a tree?   answer: uh, do you think we should walk down and see what the ocean is doing?

me: sure, do you need a sweater?

ruby: naw, it’ll be quick if we just hurry.

me:  ok. should we bring a snack?

ruby:  naw.

me:   ok.

postscript: i’m increasingly aware of the distance between my beating heart and the grave, it seems a bit of a catch 22. i love to run and make this ol’ heart clunk, while all the while it is clipping toward it’s end. at times, it’s heavy for me to think like this, other times, no. when i sit my heart next to a life that is so brilliant, like Ruby’s, i am lifted, caught up in the vapor trail of her rocket engines ripping through the blue. oh, life will pass, sure enough, but not without me filling up with the little birds that are flushed from the wires by felt covered hammers. c’mon Ruby girl, let’s us have a dance!

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.

leaving less

by the time i was 15 i had read the tracker by tom brown at least 3 times. i poured over his words and the advice he gave about how to move through the world. i had read every tarzan book that edgar rice burroughs wrote and cursed him for stopping at volume 26 (i mean, i would’ve put a pen in his hand on his death bed and asked him if maybe he shouldn’t just scribble out one more tale…two if he was feeling up to it). the louis l’amour books held some secrets for me as well. those mountain men that lived alone for months at a time were heroes as far as i was concerned and i dreamt of a time when all the rivers ran wild to the sea; the idea that the land to the west went on into infinity was as good as it gets for my teenage passions.

i spent time in the woods, lots of time in the woods. i did my best to figure out tracks and follow animals. i even thought about saving up and going to one of the schools on native cultures to learn more primitive technology. when most dudes were trying out for the football team i was thinking about my future as a mountain man in the woods of whatever place was the wildest. i lamented not being raised by apes. i think back on it now and i gotta laugh. my sweet mom and my tough ol’ dad had this kid that wished they were members of the "mangani". so silly. sheesh.

some of those desires never went away. yesterday, in the perfect mojave sun, i walked out with a couple buddies into the wonderland of joshua tree. there’s always lots of human tracks when you start out from one of the parking lots. tracks last a long time in those washes where the wind doesn’t reach. ethan grew up here. he was a kid in this desert before paved parking lots and rv spaces were available. now he hops rocks with his son as we wander farther out. if you know where to look, there are messages from the past in those winding corridors of granite. ethan has a knack for finding the old places where the elders gathered and re-created history with words while the young men chipped stones and made fire. the wild tobacco plants still sprout at the mouth of these caves; planted from the seeds in the flowers that the elders smoked. in these spots the ground is black from the fires that were built and used for cooking and light. these "midden" sites are usually rich with little artifacts that tell the story of the people that lived before us. there are poorly made points that were from kids learning to make weapons. there are shards of pottery and blunt stones for grinding. all these things are old tracks, the puzzles of our ancestors. i leave the things where they lay because i like the story to stay intact. as a kid i would’ve plundered, but all these things don’t belong in a house or a vehicle, they belong where the wind still howls and the stars shine and the rocks remember. it’s illegal to take this kind of stuff anyway, although i’ve always thought how stupid it is that so many artifacts sit in the drawers of museums, hidden from light and sight so that someone with the proper letters next to their name can study them and tell us about some theory about the way it was. if i die someday in the back of some cave or under the roots of some old tree, leave my bones alone, please, leave them be so they can go back where they belong.

in the cowboy camps there are different things. even in the old days there are signs of the carelessness that were less when the nomadic folk occupied the land. tin cans and bottles were tossed to the side. the birth of disposable. seems like when us humans have more we care less. don’t get me wrong, i like finding these old whiskey bottles, but they indicate a grim future. they foreshadow the time when a swirl of trash the size of texas will be in the middle of our ocean.

in a time when it seems like everyone wants to be noticed, i find myself looking back at when there were these bands of people who did their dead-level best to go unnoticed as they crossed from one hunting ground to another. they used what the earth gave them and danced with wild eyes by the midnight flames. they worshiped the sky and the stones and the sea. they loved one another and created life as naturally as they braided their hair. they told history through beautifully woven stories and songs. pictures on the walls of the caves. dances under shining moons. teeth gleaming in the lights of the fires that were made from spinning sticks. words and actions were life.

as we drove out of the park rowan (who is 13 years old) was talking about a new phone. his dad said he’d need to wait. technology in the truck began to come to life. phones beeping and dinging. radio buzzing. seat belt alarm telling me to buckle up. we pulled into town and a carload of twenty-somethings pulled into the parking lot of ethan’s store (coyote corner). i glanced over because no one was getting out of the vehicle. there were 6 people in the car, every single one of them was looking down at their phones with the snazzy covers. no one was talking, just flipping and touching and staring. i thought about where i had been just an hour before, the still spaces with the drawings on the stones.

it’s my opinion (which is admittedly too forceful at times) that the more we depend on these devices for happiness, the farther from the truth we will wander. the old ways are the secrets that can give us everything we need. when we are together and laughing, we are returning. the feeling of love and contentment is as tribal as it gets. caves are not nearly as empty as the feeling i get when a room of humans is staring into a device designed to take the place of human contact. put your phone down, smile at the hottie across the room, kiss your lover in the mouth, remember a song and sing it out loud, dance like a fool to the beat in your head, climb a tree for a piece of fruit and thank the sun for what you got. give more, and when you leave, do it with humility because we are all lucky to be here. and guess what, you can’t take your phone when you go.

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