tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: travel

It’s fizzix, I reckon.

Whenever I’m trying to get my little toyota RV (the dolphin) to sit level, I use existing props. I pile rocks or stack wood or use curbs. I never get it really good and level, just enough to keep me from rolling out of my bunk or to keep me from piling into my lover, Kayla, if it’s the opposite way. It sucks to spend the night fighting gravity. I check how close to level I am by putting a marble in the center of the floor and watching it run. Genius, right? I must admit, most of the time I can’t find the marble. Kayla smirks while I search, she knows my habits and it makes her laugh.

The last two days, my mind has been at work in the creek below the farm. Nick and Liz are very aware of my migratory tendencies and I am wonderfully welcome here. Making the dipping hole in the creek is considered “farm improvement” and so I go down there with the shovel, take my clothes off and work. Usually when I’m naked, I’m not working, but this is an exception and I like it. I think back on all my other jobs in life and picture myself working naked. Moving furniture, security at the church, lifeguard, concrete work, landscaping, printing, golf course maintenance, night custodian, window washer on office buildings, waiter, construction, Marine — wow, I think I’ll go ahead and stick with swimming hole design as my naked vocation. It’s a good gig. Water comes from the springs and the winter storms, seeps into the gut of the ravine and swirls and curls through the roots and stones until it’s caught in the pool where I stand naked with my shovel. There are fish and crawdads and newts and efts that flutter and wink from the dark. Everything breathes. I stem the push of the water and create a space to think and soak. I shape the world, the world shapes me back.

I’m a pretender. I’m really quite good at it. I close my eyes and fly or swim through vastnessess that only my mind can allow; worlds within molecules. I wonder if this entire universe is but a speck, or atom, inside another universe. I don’t care if this is beyond science or anyone’s belief, I like it and I go there when I want. There’s a portion of my being that thrives on being lost in the mystery. I am made of imagination. It has allowed me true freedom, the kind that is indefinable and without counties and states and licenses and taxes and governors and institutions. I’m the child in class that is staring at the woods out the window. I’ve been gone for a long, long time. I travel through time, in fact, I leave time behind when I breathe deep and explore. It’s better that way.

In the room behind the house there are an incredible amount of spider webs. I like checking in with them, seeing what kind of catch they’ve accumulated. The flies are the specialty of the day, every day. I looked on the sill where a butterfly was perched, laced in web, with tattered wings. I was sure she was dead but noticed her tongue out and searching. A spider was half-way to the scene, waiting movement in order to locate. I reached my finger in the mix. The tongue explored and the butterfly stepped onto my hand. Outside, the sun was warm and the wings opened to catch heat. Halfway to the garden she took flight, wings still good enough to find a few last flowers before sunset. I thought about that butterfly’s journey and how much farther she must go to complete her mission of life. I thought about destiny and luck. I thought about the story she will tell the flowers as she moves through the currents of the wind. She’s important because she exists. I like it that I’m included in her diary …that one time, when I was caught inside a den of spiders, in a world without wind or flowers, I thought I was finished. Then this crazy thing happened, I was lifted by some being the size of a mountain and carried into the sun and I felt the wind and smelled my world again. It was like a dream. Strange things happen, they really do.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sewing Little Patches

This morning I spent over two hours searching through my tiny RV for some embroidery needles that I purchased while visiting my family in Colorado. I know they’re in here, but I’ve given up for now. It’s not like I was gonna do some embroidery this morning, but if I wanted to…well, you get my drift. I found every other kinda needle under the sun, and this particular fact represents a characteristic of myself that I find to be a bit discouraging. (and I think discouraging is the functional word here, although infuriating comes to mind, but that would create the image of me cursing and stomping around, a not-in-a-fairy-tale-but-in-real-life kind of Rumplestiltskin. So I’ll stick with discouraging and maybe insinuate that, at times, the veins in my neck bulge and a curse word may or may not be heard in a voice that sounds suspiciously like my own. This way I continue to prove that I really am the person most capable of pitching myself headfirst down this Life’s long, winding path to the grave) And the fact I’m referring to, if I haven’t lost you already, is this: I have a divine imagination that can create possibilities galore but it’s matched with a limited physical machine (the one and only, me). In other words, my dreams create a hype that my ass can’t match.


During my search for needles, the thing I noted that made me raise one of my overgrown eyebrows was that I have been storing a collection of multi-sized needles in the same pouch as a condom. This is one of those things I regularly wouldn’t talk about because, well, because it makes me look like more of an idiot than I perceive myself to be. I could defend myself by saying that the needles were in a hard case that was sealed, except for the one that was floating around loose. Besides, the condom was old and forgotten. This, by the way, wasn’t intended to be a commentary on my love-life. Just because I have a condom doesn’t mean I’d use it, I mean, I would if I needed to use one, but I don’t, and not because I don’t believe in using condoms…ah, nevermind. That poor, forgotten, little condom went in the trash and I was reminded of Uncle Rico in the film Napoleon Dynamite when he said something like, “if coach woulda just given me a chance….” It’s fitting that I’m having these thoughts this morning. I don’t feel that far removed from being a character in that movie that was full of strange scenes and awkward angles. I feel like a strange scene and I see at awkward angles.


The best part of sitting here in my little Dolphin and writing is the cactus wren that keeps popping in and looking around the corner. He just can’t help himself, curiosity rules his world. Speckled chest. A cute, rusty splash against his little bleepers. And that turned down beak that makes him seem just a tiny bit grumpy! I just love songbirds!  Here he is, checking in. Gone in a flutter.


I’m gonna be ok, folks. The needles are here, and if I never find ‘em, it’ll still work itself out. Maybe I’ll catch up to some of my dreams and pin ‘em down. Hell, I might really get some solid embroidery done and get famous and rich from all the cool patches I make. I’ve always thought I’d be a great action star in a film or something. People are dying to see some 48 year old dude in a camper sewing little patches with colored threads. Strange scenes, awkward angles…that’s me!

More Genius-er

I’ll admit, I’ve had a little trouble writing lately. I don’t mean that I don’t wanna write, I mean that it all just doesn’t seem that interesting. There seems to be a huge gap between me being amazed by what I see and then me transferring that amazement into words that can be read and enjoyed. There are so many quotes by folks smarter than me about how we each have our own distinct view of the world. I mean, I can’t even be sure that the red I see is the red you see. With that in mind, it makes me feel almost useless when trying to explain my love for something complex in a way that I feel you might also feel. Damn.

I have an example. I’m really into the elements and the periodic table. The other day I was riding with a good buddy, we were going for a beer, and I was talking about my newest discovery (and by my newest discovery, I mean my personal, simple, elementary understanding of Hydrogen and it’s role in the physical universe) from this book I’m pouring over about the periodic table and it’s order and stuff. My buddy, who I might add is a real smart dude, surprised me by asking why I am talking about that and what am I trying to prove. He wanted to know, genuinely, if I was trying to seem smart by talking about that kind of thing. Now I’m not above wanting to look good, in fact, I have a helluva ego that can really take over and ruin whatever I’ve done to make it seem like I’m a nice guy. But in this instance, I was talking about something that was humbling to me. And so, when asked why I was even talking about it, I didn’t have an answer. Honestly, I didn’t have an answer because of the oceans of thought I was swimming in. You could have just stood me in front of everything that ever was and asked me, “why?” I would have had the same stupid look on my face. I don’t know, but I love it and I’m amazed by it and so, sometimes when I think I might talk about it, I try to find words. Mostly, I can’t. It would be like me going for a ride in an F-16 and then, while my heart is still pounding from the ride, I tell you that I’m a-gonna build one of these suckers…from scratch. You know, like mine the ores and build the rockets and make the computery thingies and chop down some rubber trees and shape the wings and make the glass outa the crap that glass gets made out of and polish the windows and, while I’m at it, weave myself a flight suite out of space age materials that I harvest from a space age farm.

I reckon I was defensive under my buddy’s questioning because it was insinuated that I might actually understand it all. I don’t. I’m pretty sure you have to be at least a bit of a genius to begin to get a handle on most of that kind of stuff and, while I consider myself to have passingly good common sense, I can say that I’ve never been referred to as a genius (unless you count the times in the Marine Corps where someone screamed at me for doing something incorrectly and used the word, brainiac…and, although I do think that word is funny, I don’t believe it was intended as a compliment). And so, since I’m not a genius yet, I seriously doubt I’m gonna get any genius-er as I get older. Most likely, it’ll be oppositeville. Anyway, it sure did make me shut my mouth about my amazing little discoveries concerning the physical world. I know what my buddy was thinking, “shut up and go watch some star trek, you wannabe physicist.”

Trouble is, I still wonder. I stopped driving at about 3 a.m. this morning. I pulled over somewhere in the mountains and listened for the creek below me in the dark. My legs were aching and my heart was really, kinda heavy. Sometimes, for all the reasons there are and maybe some there aren’t, I just feel sad about things. Trucks were ripping by me on the highway beyond the trees. For a second, there was a break in the endless line of traffic between the Oregon highlands and LA, the sound died down to the wind and the trees and the creek. There were clouds moving, big ol’ dark cattle in the sky, and they were heavy heavy with rain. A few spatters began to snap off the black-berry leaves in the gully and I saw through a break in the clouds. A single, magnificent meteor streaked all green against a backdrop of forever. Out there, where the hydrogen shines purple and yellow and green, beyond my vision and my comprehension, is the stuff of wonder. Perhaps it’s better left unsaid, maybe even unwritten. Then again, fuck it, I’ll sing how I want.

a home: from the eyes of a nomad

i am sitting in the upper level of a blacksmith shop. there is a home-made bookshelf that holds hundreds of books standing quietly and knowledgeably to my right. my bed roll is out. i’m plugged into the wall where someone else pays the electric bill.

i pedaled one of Hunter’s bikes to the bar tonight and sat with him over a whiskey and a beer. we talked easily about life and it’s rolling hills. we are buddies, Hunter and i. as we talked, i began to spew about what home is. every now and then, when i start blowing a bunch of air out of my mouth, it will contain something worth hearing. tonight i felt like something was said. it was about home.

i live an unconventional life; in america, it is a little unacceptable. first of all, i owe nothing. i am debt free. i’ve paid my college tuition off. i did 4 years as a marine. i owe nothing to my credit card company. i have very little in the bank.  i’m 45, single, strange, imaginary, and a little sad (and a little happy). as i sat next to my good buddy, having just left my good buddy, nick, i realized that home is wherever i sidle up next to those who are dear to me. it’s not just the being there, it’s the having something to give to my people. what do i have to give? and if i bring enough, i feel at home.

so the wonder is this: if i bring all i can, and i give what i bring, i am at home with the ones i choose to be with. there are names i can give who are changing the world. they are the hope that i have. i don’t really have trouble with hoping for impossible bullshit. i hope for the things that are tangible. i see the fight-scarred brows that sit over the broken nose that separates those thoughtful blue eyes of Brian Foster as he plants his fruit trees in the desert. i see the dirt filled toenails of Nick Mahmood as he digs out the dark black soil from his favorite sink hole in the woods behind his garden. i see burly Hunter Dahlberg stand in front of his fiery forge and teach college students about life’s sweetest curves. i see Joshua Crabtree lift his boys over his head and show me through his love that life is worth the living. these are tangibles.

the names of the people i name might not mean anything to you, the reader, but they are folks. they are home. i haven’t a purchased structure and yet i am never without shelter. sure, i could be resourceful, as i often am, and make my spot in out in the world; but the point is, i am most at home when i am with the ones that love me back. i have slept at the foot of many beds. i am the dog come in from the cold. i smell like woodsmoke and wool. my heart lies, in truth, down in the hollow where the cedars grow tall.

and if you’ll believe me, you’ll see that my home is bigger than anything money can buy. the corners of my home lie wherever the love of my people allow me to be. i love to live with all my might. my heart beats so that i can laugh and sing with my tribe. this is how i am able to be here, in this strange and changing world…my people are my home.

eat your heart out, donald trump. with empty pockets, i am rich.

i am witness

there is a plaza about a mile from here. there are little tiendas and vendor stands lining the walkways and there are park benches to sit. yesterday i had finished some business and sat to wait for my ride. two little mexican girls, sisters for sure, were playing in the bushes behind their mom. they were in their school girl outfits, one was about 8 and the other 6. as they crawled around in the dirt and their mother sat and read, they glanced at me, the younger one wrinkled her nose. i was reading as well as watching. the youngest was picking up a cigarette butt and holding it close to her lips and pretending to smoke with mock pleasure, the older was in a fit of hysterical laughter. over and over, the little show went on. finally the mother asked what they were doing and, as if trained, they chimed, “nothing…” in perfect unison. they both looked at me and i wrinkled my nose.

it was summer time, i was in a squad bay in southern california, it was friday afternoon with the boys of recon. we had libo for the weekend and some were already tuning up for the endurance type drinking that allowed them bragging rights over other units. i was packing some things up for a trip to san diego…surfing was the plan. one of the boys nicknamed “pig” came out of the showers naked with a bucket. he came to me, i’m a bit of a hack zoologist and have always geeked out with animal books and nomenclature, he had a tiny animal in the bucket. “what do ya think?”

“it’s a shrew, pig.”

“that’s what i thought. it’s so little.”

“yeah, man, that thing is tiny. (it was no bigger than a dime)”

suddenly it jumped straight up into our faces, it cleared the rim of the bucket by inches and was bouncing between naked marines and drinking marines and wrestling marines and marines who were just trying to leave to go surfing. it ran through all those jumping, yelling men and was under the door and into it’s gigantic world. i thought about the little shrew later. i wonder if it went back and told it’s tribe about a race of giants that smell terrible and carry around cages that are difficult to jump out of. i wondered about how fast it’s tiny heart was beating as he bounded toward freedom…back to his ken.

years ago is saw a fisherman chop the wing off of a pelican that was grabbing bait fish from his bucket. i really did want to board his boat and chop his arm off. i realize that we are animals. i know we compete for food…but i sometimes like pelicans more than people. i have seen many one winged pelicans since and they always make me sad.  i am more than aware of the brutality of survival. i’ve seen a pelican eat a pigeon and that seemed brutal. my problem with humans is that we think we are too important in the scheme of things. we aren’t. the world would do fine without us.

but we are here. and what to do about it?

there seems to be a lack of connection. walk down the sidewalk and watch how many times approaching people look at their phone when there is a possibility of interacting. we are desensitized and spiraling off. it is hardly different than the fisherman who hacks the wing off a bird; he is desensitized to the value of a thing he is tired of competing against. we are responsible for our headspace. it’s not up to anyone else to figure it out. we are all overwhelmed with posturing and posing. perhaps we can, for once, stop polishing our precious carcasses and do some internal tune-ups. i know i must.

it’s not like i’m trying to jump up on a soap-box here. i’ve been tossed from bars for being an idiot. i’ve hurt people i love with intentionally barbed words. i’ve lied to evade and i’ve lied to imply…hell, i’ve lied just to lie. i certainly ain’t no Dalai lama (although he’d say i am the buddha…and i’d believe him). i just worry some for the little ones. i worry for the shrews and the pelicans. and sometimes, late in the night, i worry for whatever reason about myself.

and then today and the now of it. them rolling waves and their constant song. the blue of the sky and the blue of the sea and the meeting in the distance. the spinning world and it’s lovely secrets. they are all there for the having and the seeking. they are there to be witnessed.

writing is dying

i spend a decent amount of time in caves. i sleep there to remember. i spent more than a month in a little cave in patagonia in southern argentina several years ago, that was the year i lost track of my days and missed christmas. caves are one of our oldest forms of shelter; they are probably where we worked out the riddle of fire. i know it’s where i work out riddles like, “why didn’t she stay with me”, and, “how will i ever afford that”, and, “where did i put that spoon”. people wrote on cave walls. i’ve laid on my back and looked at pictures that were a form of writing. there’s one cave down there with drawings painted onto the wall of animals that are extinct running next to men with sticks…someone told me that drawing is 8,000 years old.

stories that are told. stories that are written.

i write. i still write into a book that has a binding and real pages. i also write here, on this screen and i tap letters out and push “save” and “publish”.  the other day i was trying to write, which usually includes a whole lot of brow furrowing and chin scratching, and one of my friends asked me what i was doing. i’m writing, i said. for what? he said. it’s a blog, i said. then the response…oh yeah, the response:

isn’t a blog for people who need attention? hey, look at me! look at me!

i closed up shop. it’s difficult as it is to write anything worth reading. i wrote one of my friends and told her about it all. she’s a writer, one of my favorite authors, and her advice was pure and sound. you see, i wrote words to her and she wrote words back. my words explained my insecurities and she understood them. she wrote words back and they encouraged me and helped me feel better.

words that are written. words that are understood.

i listened to an old author (she was 90 something years old) being interviewed on the radio. she had just finished her final novel and the book was considered her best ever. i don’t remember who was interviewing her, it might have been terry gross, but the author was asked if she would write another book. her response was, “darlin’, i just wrote the book of my life. if i ever write again, it will be in stone with a hammer and a chisel.” she believed in writing! she was writing way before Lol’s and Omg’s and Lmao’s. she wrote before turning a page meant pushing a button or dragging a finger across a screen; turning a page meant reaching up with your hand and using your fingers to pinch the corner of a sheet of paper and turning it and, wa-la! a new page! she wrote and she wrote slow, long hand. i love that.

i have been drawing pictures my entire life. my granny encouraged me to do it and i still listen to her advice. i like drawing on paper. i like the erasure marks and the sketch lines. i like imperfection and it’s a good thing because i am imperfect…sure as hell. i have decided to continue to write (hold your applause, please) even if it’s already been written better by someone else. i will write like i draw, with erasure marks and mumbling and bad grammar. it didn’t stop the writers in the caves and so i follow in their honor.

and blazing suns and crescent moons and barking dogs will have a voice and it will be my pen. long live the hearts that tell the stories.