tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: soul


I wonder if it’s too late to compete in the Olympics. I guess I’d need to choose a discipline. One of my buddies suggested synchronized swimming, I informed him how difficult those moves are while smiling and holding your breath. Plus I don’t think there’s a men’s division, and even if the girls let me in, I wouldn’t make the team. Maybe if there was an Olympic sport like coffee making, or hide-and-go-seek, which isn’t a sport, but it should be. I won’t take too much time here bragging, but I’m good at hide-and-go-seek. I like to play even when other people don’t want to. I’ll hide from you just for fun. And ya see, that’s what it takes to be an Olympian: You can’t just be good at it, you gotta do it ’cause you love it. I’d probably need an age waiver, but I feel like my immaturity would sway the committee in my favor.

There’s so many things I’d like to try. Like, I wouldn’t mind being a rock star, even if it was just for a bit. I wouldn’t want all the tabloid stuff, but I think it would be so rad to sing a cool song and have everyone all blissed out over it. I mean, wouldn’t you? Maybe I’d make one album (are they still called albums?) and it would be awesome and then I’d just disappear, but then I’d be sitting in some little cafe in Laramie and I’d hear my song come on in the kitchen and the cook would turn it up a little and say, “I really like this song.” And I’d smile and drink my coffee, but I wouldn’t say anything, I’d just love it on the inside. Secret arrogance is easier for people to tolerate. Besides, I have enough hang-ups without being obviously prideful. It’s ok to have dreams that are a little out there. I’m sure there’s a balance between dreaming your life away and not dreaming at all. Life is here, you know? It’s not a clock. It’s a living breathingness. No matter how much we define it or figure it, time isn’t real. It’s a thing that we say is real, but it will be gone when we are. I’m sure physicists would roll their eyes at me, but I would just ask whether the sun cares about time. And they would call me crazy and I would laugh like a fool. The minute doesn’t need to control us, but it does, hence the big rush. The angry man shaking his fist and riding six inches off my rear bumper does not change the moon in her phases. I care more about heartbeats and how we choose to use them. Being prompt and efficient is good, but not at the cost of real living.

I heard some smart person talking about memory, how the amount of times we ruminate over a specific memory determines the accuracy of that event. Come to find out, the more you hash something over, the more it changes. It’s those things that come out of our dusty pasts, mid-morning on some random thursday, that are the closest to the real deal. I guess it doesn’t matter, but it’s a little sad to me. The memories I visit the most, become something else. Memories are changelings .

The past is defined by that same smarty-pants as anything older than 8 seconds. The present is fleeting. Here we are on this big blue earth, spinning through the stars. Trillions of thoughts are fluttering and flitting out into space. Tiny birds are thinking. Somewhere a deer is browsing near a backcountry road, stamping at the horsefly on her flank. Twenty miles away, a car is traveling in her direction. She is making choices, which leaves to pluck. A memory flickers through her head and she moves out toward an especially lush spot along the creek. The road is just ahead. Out of all the possibilities, she will be at the road just as the car rounds a curve. Old instincts will fire and her quicksilver muscles will take over. There will be a moment where lives hang in the balance. There are billions of maybes. Sometimes hearts no longer beat. Thoughts cease. Wonders endure.

I went for a run along the river. It was cool and I felt good. I love running with someone out in front of me. I like trying to reel them in. I’m sneaky, I try not to let them hear me, and then I pounce. Sometimes, when there’s no one out in front of me, I imagine someone catching up to me from behind. My mind creates them and they are always younger and better looking and more talented than me. They don’t have to try as hard as I do, I imagine them thinking that I’m easy pickin’s. And I pick up the pace and I lean into the turns. I run harder up the hills because I imagine that they won’t think I’ll do that. Ha! They are behind the last bend and they don’t know I’ve picked up the pace even more. I imagine them rounding the turn and frowning at the distance I’ve created. They will match my speed, but the end is in view and they might not be able to chase me down. The fire in my gut is too much. Grit wins over talent! And I am heaving and my head is pounding and I am staring at the ghosts that chase me. They are all walking around shaking their heads and they are muttering words like “lucky” and “should have” and I am outwardly humble…but I’m laughing on the inside.

post script: 

I reckon I’ll end this with a dedication. I know that we all belong. It’s difficult for me to understand this unless I extract myself from the process. I’m not in charge, and I’m sure I’d be a terrible god. Here’s what I do know: no matter how evil we are, the earth will take us back and turn us to elements and minerals. We all become food for the flowers eventually. But I am certainly a witness to some things that qualify as amazing. Sometimes it’s people that amaze me. Chris Pilaro is one such person. He is here in the world, and like us all, he doesn’t know how long he will be alive. However, he’s been told by people in the know that his time is up. Of course, he was told that 4 years ago and he decided that he had more living to do. As the cancer crowds his guts, and his system begins to show the signs of an expiration date, he continues to shine. His eyes are bright and he speaks candidly about life and the living of it. He skates with a colostomy bag in tow. He answers the questions that his boys conjure while they skate together. He meets me for tacos and tells me the pluses of having a bag, how you can eat more by simply emptying it. There is light in his eyes from the edge of the universe. He has no desire to argue, save that for a person bored with living. He’s very here. He’ll be here till he’s not. He showed me how to fill the space between the sky and the ground, just fill it with your heart. Save the meanness and smile. Laugh at the irony. Giggle at the funny stuff. Only quit when your done and then do so with grace and love and awareness. When you run, run! The ghosts are back there but you’ve got more fire in your gut. 

“soulshine, is better than sunshine, better than moonshine, and damn sure better than rain….” Greg Allman

Looking Around

There are days when I wake up dragging. Of course I got a few excuses up my sleeve, but do you wanna hear them? Really? That’s the funny thing about each of us as individuals; we think we’re an exception to the rule. We tend to think our excuse will be the one that people actually listen to. It’s so damn easy for me to forget that there is a whole world of individuals out there trying to find their way, just like me. There are ones that think they’re The Gift to everyone they meet.  There are ones that think they are less than nothing. There are singular little souls that don’t know that they have bodies that will win gold medals in some future Olympics. There are the quiet writers with shy words that glimmer like silver fish in their minds. There are the bossy ones who march around and use a loud mouth to get attention. There are the ones who are confused and don’t know why and they can’t make a decision alone but always need someone to help them. There are the ones that are a spark, loved by all. There are ones not loved and are starving for just a moment of attention.

I’ve been looking around me at the types. I’ve been marking my thoughts. These last few days I’ve been just looking at people, my kind, humans. When I force myself to remain neutral, I can observe and maintain some form of attitude that judges less. I still judge, but it’s less. Mostly, I have come away from the experiment with a kind of guarded hope. Mostly I try not to hope, mostly I try to try. Trying is moving and working to make something happen, while hoping seems more like waiting to see if something works out in a way that’s pleasing. But sometimes, hope fits the bill. Sometimes that’s all you get, you get to hope. Kinda like when a baby is being born and there’s complications, well, I ain’t a doctor, so I hope and believe that things’ll work out. I guess that’s how I feel about Us. You know, the big Us. I hope that somehow kids that are born a hundred years from now will have evolved into something less selfish. I hope they will love bicycles more than Mindcraft. I hope they will want to play in the woods and point at the warblers in the Ponderosas more than pretend to be adults in a coffee shop talking loudly about some “fool” they don’t like. I hope that the public, in general will have realized that social media is not as real as realness and that virtual friends that are numbered in a friends box are not actual friends that will walk to the river with you and cry with you or laugh at some face you made that always makes them laugh. I hope that a generation will come out of this generation and not be afraid to not follow the charlatans who want to lead with big words but no wisdom. This is what I was thinking about as the people walked around me as I sat and ate a slice of pizza in the sun.

My hope definitely goes beyond people, but I gotta include them because, well, because We the people are here in all our gloriousness/disgustingness. Like when I hope for rivers that run from the mountains to the sea and I worry that they will be trapped by some energy hungry company that builds a damn and so damns the fish and the life that can no longer happen as it has since rivers first began, back when mountains happened and the skies were young. I think about this because I’ve seen the streams of my childhood put into metal tubes and buried under concrete like they never even were. All the mint that grew along the banks is gone. Every salamander gone. Crawdads gone. Some of the cottonwoods, the ones that made the cut, still stand and hold the memories of that time before the humans came and covered the world. There is a relationship between the sky and streams, the streams and the stones, the stones and the sea, the sea and the trees, the trees and the whales…and so on. It’s there whether you think it’s hokey or not. Maybe you don’t like to think about stuff like that, but it doesn’t make it go away. One of our biggest faults is simply not recognizing the existence of that relationship. It’s almost like a thing we are intentionally forgetting because it’s not convenient. It is convenient to flip a light switch, it’s not convenient to put everything down for a few minutes, walk to the trees and listen. I think the point here is clear enough, but like I said, it’s not comfortable to think about the things we’re losing while we pander to ourselves. I think about this a lot, mostly because I’m as guilty as anyone every time I ignore the little atrocities that seem to come from every direction. Believe me, I fret over whether to hear the news or pretend like nothing’s happening.

I think it’s a choice. It’s all a choice. With what do you share your soul? If the most soulful thing you do is post witty quotes or videos that begin with “this guy did this, and you won’t believe what happened next…” on facebook or insta, maybe you should try turning that stuff off for a bit and go ask your grandma about her first kiss. Or ask your mom about the house she grew up in, or maybe what her fears were as a child. Ask your dad about when he learned to ride a bike, or if he ever skinny dipped. You see, it’s my opinion that these things are good for your soul. Things that create our person and form us are where the soul hooks onto us. And it’s our soul that moves about and mixes with the wind and rivers. It’s in the dark ocean and stars and as far out as we can imagine it to be. It’s a shadowy part of us that doesn’t really translate that well in these computer-type things. It’s what stirs us on the inside when we stare at the panthers that are pacing in cages. It’s what shudders when we hear about the polar bears swimming for places that no longer exist. These souls of ours have giant sails, they are powerful and capable but useless if we don’t tend to them.

Here we are, all of us with our sails up. The winds are blowing and blowing and the water’s deep and full of wonders both magnificent and terrible. We are all around one another and the stars are sharp and singing, and the planets are spinning above us in unison around the sun. It is only life and death here. We have our own existence, but there is so much more than that! There are stars that were shining on this earth before the first clock was invented, before time enslaved us and taught us to check in with the numbers that tell us what we should be doing. We are a thread in the most intricate tapestry. We have options, we can tend sails and fly like the wind herself, or we can go below and lock the cabin hatch and pretend like we are not on the sea at all.

We have a little lost boy…

The Villa Italia mall is a memory. It no longer exists, not even a bit or a piece. It used to set back in the center of it’s parking lots on the corner of Alameda and Wadsworth in Lakewood, Colorado, where I grew up. Whenever I’m chatting it up with my buddy, Nick, especially about home, we somehow bring up the Villa Italia Mall. We both chime in and sing the ditty that was played on the commercials, both radio and telly. Nick has a knack for remembering the things that make me laugh anyway, and so we sit around and laugh at the memories of a mall long since torn down.

My Ma worked at Jocelyn’s, which was a kind of Macy’s or Nordstrom’s from back in the day. When I was a wee tot, just learning how to ditch my Mom in that weird way that a 5 year old can do, I somehow wandered off. This was back when there wasn’t as much baby snatching and stuff. My Ma had 5 of us kids going this way and that, and so, it was easier for my to pull a stunt, like a quick walk down the wrong aisle and on out into the oblivion of lostness.

I kinda remember the first few minutes of not knowing where Ma was and they were similar to holding your breath for too long. A dizziness right before hysteria. Absolutely no logical thought at all. Then running and some quiet crying before turning it up a bit and then full on, like a siren. I think I was corralled somewhere up the mall near the Orange Julius, a lady that knew my Ma saw me with a security guard. The word was on the street, I’d been found. I heard, as if I was a part of an international emergency, my name mentioned over the loud speakers; the usual, weird, mall music interrupted with, we have a little lost boy, named Toby, he is at the security station at the center of the mall. It was only minutes and my Ma was picking me up with twinkling eyes and the knowledge that I was me, a little wanderer, even way back then with 5 years tucked firmly under my belt.

There is a grand timberland on the western slope in Colorado. The Uncompahgre Wilderness stretches for several hundred square miles across some of the most wonderful land in the United States. The high country streams are full of trout and the Aspen groves are miles long. It’s full of elk and bear and winding passages that crawl up the flanks of 13,ooo foot peaks. If the Rocky mountains were a mama, she’d be proud of this pretty child, The Uncompahgre. When I was 17 I went out into the hills for a week or so. I did this kinda thing often, but mostly with my buddies. Kevin and Kelly, two tough ranch kids from my school, were always down for a good fishing excursion. Fishing was always just a good reason to give for any kind of mountain adventure, so when we said “fishing”, we really meant runningswimmingclimbingwanderinglaughinglyingandeverythingunderthesun. I loved the thought of leaving and being in the woods. But this little meander was different, I was out and walking over country, alone.

As can happen, it got cold. A bit of snow fell and I was a day or two out from where I had left the car. I was intimidated by the onset of the cold and I decided I should loop back in the direction of my vehicle. I remember that I was confident as I followed ridgelines back to the place where I’d started but I also noticed that everything looked slightly different in the snow. Darks were light and mountains changed shape. The birds, ravens, jays, and hawks tipped and slid across a rugged Colorado sky. My pace was fine but a little quick with a little anxiety as I thought about my route back.

When I came across some footprints in the snow, there were several thoughts that passed immediately. Who the hell is out here this far? How old are these tracks? and then a kind of comfort in the thought, i’ll bet this person is going to the trailhead as well. I kept on with my direction but was, I guess, a bit more carefree for some reason. It’s human to be drawn to humans.  About 2 hours later I came across yet another set of footprints. I was tired and I sat down and looked out as the two sets of tracks rolled off in the snow.

You know that weird sickness that you feel when you’ve made a mistake? Like when you walk out of your friends house with your morning coffee after saying goodbye and you see that you didn’t set the emergency brake after you started your rig and now it’s rolling, mowing down mailboxes? or like when you get up to the ticket counter at the airport and start to dig for your ID and then you remember it laying there between the seats of the taxi where you set it to put your gloves on because it’s damn cold in NYC that time of year! or like you just dropped out of a helicopter into the pacific and you are a mile from shore and it’s night time and you realize the strap on your left fin has broken from hitting the water. — Well, that’s the kind of sick I felt as I realized that those footprints, both sets, were mine. I had just walked in a huge circle for the second time. It was early evening. With a tightness in my throat that is the onset of panic, I forced myself to walk, not run. I studied every slight variance of my trail and finally saw my mistake: I had followed a false ridgeline that skirted the top of a large plateau. I dropped off and stayed steady, soon I saw a marker and knew I was ranging back onto the trail system that led down to my rig. Being lost in a circle is a strange thing.

I hope I don’t sound like a know-it-all here. I ain’t one. Getting lost really isn’t that terrible. For some reason, it feels bad but I really do think it’s because we are not in control when we are lost. Control is a contrivance. It is all dependent on the environment. The most lost I feel these days is in the middle of huge crowds that have given up on being aware. Like when the Peregrine slammed into a dove and dropped into the middle of an outdoor coffee shop in LA, bounced off a table, hissed at the onlookers and then flew away with bloody coup in her talons and I hooted out loud and everyone looked at me like I had caused this terrible thing and were aghast that I loved it…yeah, like that! Awareness isn’t some new age word that can only be used in yoga practices and Sanghas, it’s simply looking with a wide open lens. So, instead of being wrapped up with being separate, it’s believing in your inclusion, understanding that sight is only part of seeing. What we do with what we see is more a part of being aware than simply seeing. When I’m too self-conscious, I am more lost. I think that’s why I feel lost on the highways during rush hour, because I can only want out but I am driving in a long line of souls and we are all kinda sad that we are trapped in our worlds of confusing, fast, raging stuff. I include me because I gotta.

But every now and then, when everything stops, I’ll look over into another window, and I’ll see a soul and that soul will see me. Contact made. Humanness for a second. A chance at realness that includes a heart, lungs, eyeballs, smelliness, sadness, hands, wrinkles, and feet that could, if given the chance, make marks in the snow next to mine. And I wouldn’t be alone, or lost for that matter.

blue to indigo


this morning, while the sun came up over the bay to the east, i watched a crow shadow a redtail hawk. the crow above, the hawk below, each completely silent. i know it’s not a game for either. redtails often prey on crows, especially the youngsters. i think about what it must be like to do what that crow is doing.  a decent analogy would be if i went looking for great whites and then swam above them, prodding them to drive them from my favorite swimming area. of course, a crow is in it’s element on the wind; the ocean, no matter how much i love it, is not my natural element. but those two birds, the hawk and the crow, they did the most breathtaking dance. it could be that it was so wonderful because of what is at stake. and isn’t life like that? we give more when more is at stake. duh.

i decided to drink my coffee out of a smaller cup this morning. that way it seems like i’m having more cups but i don’t suffer from the shakes as much because i’m drinking less. it’s self-psychology, or at least that’s what i’m telling myself. and i’m not telling myself out loud, i’ve been trying to not talk to myself out loud as much because people stare. oh, we’re allowed to do it when we’re 7 but it’s a different deal when you’re 46. so yeah, i talk to myself, it’s just with my inside voice…and i mean inside.

i write sometimes to my buddy, dave kenneally. we’ve been bud’s since ’96 or somewheres there about. he knows me well, i know him well. we were both marines together and then we had several years where we suffered through the same tragedy. life must’a known we needed to share that one or else one of us might have just quit on things. dave used to be a great drunk, one of the best ever. it came fairly natural to him, like a talent. one of my favorite stories he tells is the night he drunkenly told me we needed some mcdonald’s. it was in the days when i might eat something like that if i was drunk enough. we ordered and then he tore through his meal before mine was open, when i came back from the restroom, my meal was gone as well. i told dave the next day to get a laugh but i only saw sadness. soon after he stopped drinking alcohol. now he’s a practicing buddhist. now he smiles like he used to drink — with all his heart.

davey tells me i’m sometimes too hard on myself. i just tell him he couldn’t understand unless his brain was way smaller, like mine.

my skateboard is just lying here next to me as i write. i want to take it for a spin down the hill. my ankle is still swollen from the last spin down the hill that ended with an unplanned trick involving several summersaults. i think i’ll wait one more day. sometimes inanimate objects have a louder voice than my voice of reason. my skateboard is a loudmouth.

before my fingers start shaking too bad to type from my third tiny cup of coffee, i’d like to put down a few more words. something about understanding. something about soul. i sat in the sun and talked for a bit with johnny’s daughter, seidel. the sun was nice and warm on the stoop while we chatted. she’s 4 years old. i asked her if she knew the word soul.  the yes she gave seemed like a no. i assumed she might be telling the truth and i asked her where we could get a soul or two. she glanced at me sideways like kids do when tricky questions get asked. “from the flowers,” i asked,  “or from the hummingbirds?” again, the glance. she never answered, but instead walked off with nary a word. later that night she gave me a fresh painting from out of several that she was working on. she told me it was for me. it was a beautiful blue with a bit of indigo on one side…

colors of the soul.

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.


second heart


a friend of mine told me that in her culture the word for foot is translated as “second heart”. oh i just love that so much. what a wonderful way of talking about the feet. it is so incredibly telling.

my feet are cracked and calloused all the time. i believe in being barefooted. there are very few things that connect me to my humanness more than running barefoot on a trail. it is such an ancient thing to do. you can’t just slam your feet around like you do when you’re wearing shoes, you must give attention to the path upon which you run. and what a perfect lesson for me…it’s so perfectly fitting. when i’m careless, i step on a cactus (i have several times), or i stub my foot into a rock. when i’m mindful, the feet fall where i put them; i notice every nuance of the path. i am a better animal.

my mama’s feet hurt her all the time now. they have arthritis in them and she walks in her pretty shoes and they hurt. i love going home, making my ma sit in a chair, and rubbing her feet. i love making her little bones move around and seeing the smile on her lovely face. she never complains about her feet, but i can see how they hurt her; so i rub them.

the earth remembers our passing; our feet touch the earth more than any other part of our body. and so the connection. the second heart. there is the heart up in our chest that is caged in ribs and bound about by muscle, covered with skin. that heart is carrying our blood out to our fingers and our brains and our toes. it is that faithful ol’ muscle than starts working for us when our tiny body begins to form in the belly of our mother and continues to keep time with the rhythm of our life until, when we breathe our last breath, we die. this is our heart.

then there is the second heart; our faithful feet. they carry us through the world. they hold our weight. they are the foundation of our uprightness. mine are only beautiful to me. the nails no longer grow back on my big toes because of all the times i’ve smashed them doing various things (i’ll spare the details). some of the cracks in my toes never go away and they grow bigger in the dry sand of the desert. my feet are scraped by coral and cut by rocks. they are mine.

and these paths we walk are the language of our feet. they are our signature and a sign of our passing. i love to think about all the footprints i’ve left behind me. there they are, spilled out like pepper on the kitchen floor. when i was 2 years old, they were tiny and unsteady. when i was 16, they spoke of self consciousness and rambunctiousness. when i was 25, they lead to the bars and parties. when i was 30, they ran in boots through sand and they did whatever the sergeant told them to do. when i was 33, they walked the paths in Torres del Paine and climbed the rocks. when i was 40, they ran miles in the deserts and slept with me in the caves. when i was 44, they lifted a broken heart and did not set it down until it healed. tonight they hum beneath my sleeping bag and wait for anything under the sun. should i run for my life in the night, my feet will be there. when i wake to make coffee, they will carry me to the kitchen.

and my mind is the spark and my soul is a little blue kite on the end of a tether and my feet touch the world and the world calls me her own. and the world knows my hearts.