tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: trees

The Ones under the Sun

I see you all standing there together, under the sun. I’m sure you talk among yourselves, maybe about  the olden days, maybe about the stars, or about that one year when the rains never stopped.

I saw you back in the days when I didn’t know why I loved you. Back when I walked between you and dreamed. And now, now that I know why I love you, I try to hear what you’re saying. I try and understand your language and I listen for your jokes and your songs. I check on your babies as they grow up.

I try to be like you, but mostly it’s me being in love with the metaphor of it. I’m sometimes kinda like you, but really, my goddamn mouth is too loud. My patience is not so great, it is not like all of you. I have trouble with my opinions and my ego, unlike you. You and your amazing grace,  in your stillness, in your wild dances when the storms rip and the fires burn.

But, you know. Yeah, you do know that you help me dream. Maybe it’s because I follow you around and sit in your shadows while you stand there together, under the sun. You must know that I am amazed by you, even those of you who are misshapen or forgotten, I love you as well.

And you, old cottonwood, remember when I made that spot in your upper terrace, outside the schoolyard? Remember how my Ma knew to come looking there and would call up through the branches, “Tobias, are you there?” I am there now, these years later, up in your branches in my memory. I remember the way to get up there, the steps and bends and holes along that upward spiral.

And you, big blue spruce on the edge of the property by the road, I wonder if that pallet is still in your branches? Remember when I stayed hidden in your evergreen bows, above angry drivers, snowball pelted and red-faced?

And you, black walnut tree, with your leathery fruit. Remember how I liked to jump from your long, sprawling arms, one to the next? I was more lost than ever in my dreams that were tangled and unsure and hidden from everyone, but you knew them, didn’t you. You knew that I daydreamed that there was some vestige of Tarzan in my thumping heart. You saw my pretend life.

And there are all the rest of you, lining the ridges and hiding the streams. There are all of you in the parks in New York City and San Francisco. And I recognize the Older Ones, the bristlecones up on the Whites, standing for thousands of years, long enough to watch the stones change shape under the wind, long enough to see races of men come and go. And the cedars, you are something different aren’t you? With your toes laced in ferns and mushrooms and your atmosphere and cloak and your voice that calls in the beasts in their final hours. And redwoods and firs and elders and larchs and madrones and dogwoods and aspens and maples and oaks and peppers and joshuas and junipers and pinions and lengas and poplars and cyprus’ and the many many of you all, I love you. Lucky us, that we live on a planet that needs you. We humans need you. And for the humans that never say it, I will say it for them. I see you standing there, quiet, under the sun.

swinging bigger sticks

Perspective, I guess, is a view from a certain angle and a certain distance. That’s my definition of it anyway. I’m sure ol’man Webster would write something more thorough and complete, but he’s long dead and I’m not so I’ll go with my definition. A change in perspective might change the thoughts we have about the things we know. From ground level, for instance, a squirrel in the trees is just that – a squirrel, in the trees. But from the third story window, thirty feet from the ground, the trees create a passage in every direction for those little acrobats. It’s worth watching. From where I sit, I know one of the thoroughfares that the squirrels use, even the moss is smashed down on the limbs most traveled. Claws, palms and snapping tails. Jumping gaps and snatching slippery branches without any worry at all. Some folks don’t like squirrels all that much but I see their handiwork, here, thirty feet up. Good job, squirrels.


I change my angles and my distances on the reg. It’s good for me. I see friends in their homes and in the world. I sit on couches and in the woods.  I change the perspective in my drawings so that I can stay interested, otherwise it’s all the same, the word mundane comes to mind. The same goes for writing, I try to change in order to be able to stomach what I feel like I must say. I’m semi-successful in sustaining my own interest, I can’t speak for the folks that read what I write. Quite often I feel the need for a disclaimer. Sorry folks, for something better said, look somewhere else. But that sounds pitiful and so I’ll finish like a dutiful little practitioner, and let the chips fall where they may.


Speaking of perspective, I walked for coffee this morning at about 6:30. There were four gray-haired men at a table inside the door. One of them was holding court, as is often the case with conversation, one person tends to feel that his/her opinion holds the most value. I heard him say something about needing to go at them swinging a bigger stick. I could tell it was a proverbial stick, not literal.  He said something about giving them jobs, that poor people wanted to be told what to do, “the ones that don’t are what we call bums.” Then he said, and I must paraphrase, that the people standing up for poor people often don’t really know what they’re doing to the economy. He also said that most people don’t even know a poor person, and added, “I don’t. Do any of you?” His entourage nodded and bobbed in unison.  I was adding half and half to my Americano and I glanced up. Through the window, on the rainy Portland sidewalk, not a foot away from this wisdom-laden speaker, was a homeless fella nursing a hot cup of coffee given to him by the folks in the coffee shop. The wise guy couldn’t see the homeless guy through a clear window from a foot away. I felt like introducing the two but I didn’t want the old homeless fella to waste his time with mr. I-got-all-the-answers. My guess is, he’d act a little different if he was forced to sleep under a bridge or two because of something that made him odd. We’re all just a turn of a corner away from being lost in the shuffle. Sometimes we don’t know the full extent of the choices we make and sometimes, full extent is burly, man. Sometimes full extent is devastating and irreversible. I left, having heard aplenty, and looked at the ol’ fella on the outside-looking-inward. He had an easy smile that creased his eyes and stayed for a second even when he let it go. I nodded. He nodded and showed me some solid gaps in his dental plan. I marched up the the street. It was raining harder. A squirrel bounded across the street in front of a bus and went round and round up a sprouting maple tree. I watched it jump from a limb to a gutter to a chimney to a wire. The wire ran against another tree and the little fox squirrel transitioned easily, then up to another level of branches, 40 feet up, a quick distance check, launch and landing, a larger limb and then another and across the street where he had just come from to dodge the bus. Good job, little guy, good job at life.

tripping up

every now and again i’ll stumble over absolutely nothing. i look back for the culprit and the sidewalk is smooth and crackless. the habit is to then look around and see if anyone has seen me trip over nothing. what i don’t want to see is someone laughing at my weird gaff in concentration, because, you know, i learned to walk a long time ago and i should have it down by now. i don’t know exactly when it happens, but somewhere, sometime in our growing up we start being self conscious over making mistakes. adults aren’t supposed to fall down. they aren’t supposed to blunder their words. mistakes can be forgiven with a shrug when we’re all kids, but don’t go tripping and falling once you’re older, don’t even think about it.

i got this theory that the reason adults end up hurting themselves in their older age is because we forget how to recover from our tumbles. we do less and less that might put us in a position to mess up, and then we forget how to fall. along with my theory is my practice. i spend a good bit of time doing things that most grown-ups don’t do; things adults have left behind in the moving memory pictures of their youth. i fall a lot. mistakes? oh hell yes. this morning’s routine includes a puffy ankle and some black toes from a skateboard crash two days ago. i had all the geek-gear on but the flopping on pavement will still twist you up, even if you’re covered in protective plastic. i don’t love my hurt foot but i sure do love how i got it, right up to the point before i turned just a little too hard and lost my board. it’s a part of the game i guess.

playmates are rare. i mean the good ones. the fun ones. the real ones. like markus jolliff, he’s a great playmate. he will always play. last year we intersected in san francisco, each of us on his own journey. i had been climbing trees in golden gate park every day for a week. a tree a day. i saw two giants that had enormous branches that intersected near the top. the one tree was limbless from the ground up to about 35 feet. the other tree was climbable but spooky. both trees had  huge limbs the size of most trees. i asked markus if he wanted to climb it with me. with little more than a curly smile answered with a yep. markus and i have been climbing buddies for over 10 years, we mostly climb on rocks, but he’s solid and strong and loves to laugh. it was quiet as we climbed. the world pinches off when you leave the ground and your safety lies in the choices you make with your hands and feet. gravity is there, watching. at the top of the tree, after the crossing over from the giant cedar into the giant cyprus, we poked our heads through the thick canopy. it didn’t look like we were a hundred plus feet from the dirt path below us. it looked like we were in a well groomed yard on some grand estate.  there were some ravens up there and they had to fly around us for a while to figure it out. they know what’s up and they have memories good enough to know when something is not usual. that’s how it was, the ravens chortling back and forth, landing and gawking at the sight of the two-leggeds high in the world above the world. ocean to the west. bay to the north. markus and his forever-smile forming the words, yeah man.

there’s a sleepiness in the tree tops. i know why the upper regions feel so magical, it’s because dreams happen up there. up there where the songbirds roost and dream their multi-color thoughts. up where the squirrels leap and snooze and flick their tricky tails. and, in the darker spots, the owls, the daytime deep-dreamers who carry quiet souls too and fro between our fixed and cartoned reality and the wonderful otherness of maybes and mysteries, they sit and wait the turn of the world when they will slip out and fly,  soundless, on downy wings. and in the jungles near the equator, high in those limbs are the worn spots where the monkeys rest. there are nests where the sloths pull down their long-lashed lids and think slow in mossy greens. and where a tree might hold 100,000 different species of beetles. yeah, trees are dream makers. they pull life from the ground and carry it to the sky. they are roots and bark and leaf and sap. they’ll connect you if you let ’em. especially if you’ll climb ’em. them ringed and swaying wonders. the elders and the alders. the cedars and the elms. the oaks and maples and rowans and lengas and ponderosas and spruces and ashes and madrones, lovely and waiting till we do our thing; they write their messages against the sky as they sway and lean and hum with the wind.

along with all the understood danger that comes from climbing to the top of some big ol’ tree is another feeling. i do feel an urgency to not make a mistake. it’s not a place to trip or make a bumbling move. the other feeling is an unmistakeable sense of safety and wellbeing. it’s a feeling of being above the madness below. after all, up there, i’m safe from any cord that might charge my computer. i’m safe from the mean looks that make me wonder what i did wrong. the shouting masses aren’t all around me, they are below. even honking horns seem sad and far away. sometimes, when i’m extra fortunate, i’ll look down and see a hawk slip below me, when i see the dappled light of the sun on the plumage of his back in flight i’m reminded that i’m living this life in a different fashion.

we are all here, each looking through the lens of our own experience. it’s up to us to change the angle and understand a new perspective. the more we move and change our point of view, the more our mind understands differences. understanding differences cuts down on meanness. it’d be good if we weren’t as mean. the next time i trip over nothing, i’ll do my best to remember what i’ve written here and i’ll try and laugh, maybe if someone’s watching they’ll laugh too.  that’d be alright.

a poem: a mammal soul

i’m allowed,

because there are roots under trees,

to try and speak my heart.

there is a pinching,

between forever past and forever future,

that is now.

i have this mind,

because there are trees above roots,

and inside, a mammal soul.


(and i can take little credit for being here, i am, as we all are, a child of this blue-green world. it is up to me, and you, to realize the preciousness of our situation. let your ego sleep for a second, let the world see your gentle soul)

the floor sleeper

i sleep on the floor, it is my preference. maybe it’s because the floor seems like the ground, and i like the ground. i have my reasons for liking it; some hold water, some don’t. sometimes it’s difficult when i’m staying at someone’s house, they think i’m just being polite, so they say things like, “oh, you’ll love this bed. it’s my favorite” or “don’t be silly, no one sleeps on the floor when there’s a perfectly good bed and besides, i just changed the sheets.” i had a bed when i was a kid but once i moved out i never bought another. i make a pallet on the floor. i sleep outside a lot. when i lay down and i’m near the ground, things are better; the stars are more brilliant. when storms come, believe me, i know it. as i’ve gotten older i’m more aware of the necessity to practice staying close to the earth. i believe this awareness will continue to grow until, one day, i’m planted.

a friend and i once talked about buy the plot of land somewhere in the woods where we would be buried. the conversation continued and evolved into having a place where people could be buried, but not traditionally. they would be buried so that they would fertilize nature. under the roots of trees, no clothes and no coffins, re-immersion into the stream of things. i want that. ball me up and stuff me in the roots of a cedar tree, thank you very much! put me back. the worms know what to do. oh we had a fun conversation, and it really wasn’t morbid.

but i think i’m a long way from death. i feel like there is so much life to live…and yet, i remember thinking that 45 years old was an eternity. guess what? yeah, that’s right, eternity happened. so really, it’ll be here way sooner than i think. so i guess if i’m ever gonna start ballet, i should at least start taking some lessons.

i found someones bones once. i was in the mountains near huascaran, a burly peak in peru, i was walking across boulders as big as busses and where the sun shined down through the boulders, 20 feet below, i could a white bone. it would be a nasty fall into that space and it took me a bit to work my way down. the body was small and upside down. the head was nothing but a shell and the teeth had washed away. in the sand, where the head was positioned, it was easy to see that the years of water running down from the mountain had deteriorated the skull. the rest of the body was less touched by the run-off and the bones were white and very fragile. i pushed on one of the ribs and it cracked in half. my guess was that it was a campesino who had been wandering out and had fallen. someone never came home. when i went to sleep that night, out on the ground, i felt the wind and the movements of the world deep below me. the earth has guts too…they move and rumble and moan. i woke several time that night and i felt it was from something within…maybe me, maybe things deeper than me.

when i spend lots of time alone (and i do like to do this and, although i’m not a loner, i believe we should all do some quiet inner seeking. it’s a good thing.)  in a quiet place, i eventually begin to see things out of the corner of my eye. it doesn’t always happen. i’m not a person prone to believe in ghosts and i do love science, but i’ve definitely seen things that i had to shrug my shoulders about.  and why not? there is plenty we will never know. i prefer to defer to mystery. those whispering voices that are in the quaking leaves. that flash of movement in the canyon. waking from an afternoon nap in the aspens and feeling almost certain that someone called my name.

dreams? maybe. and what is the difference between dreams and reality anyway? who are those made up beings that are characters in my dreams?

thank goodness these questions cannot be answered. if you know the answer, don’t tell me. i would rather wonder.

i read once about a fella that grew old. he had adopted a boy of a different race and taught him an older, deeper way of living. he taught him that the stones could talk and that the mountains cried when they were disrespected. he prayed to the sun and the moon and the rivers and trees. his last words were to the boy-turned-man and they were simply to remember the path he had shown him. the best of it was that the old man walked off and was never found. i like to think he went and laid himself against the ground and gave himself back.

oh to be like him.