tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: Writers

The Sea and Doc Fitz

There’s a stretch of land in northern Chile that embodies the word barren. For hundreds of miles the world is an arcing horizon without a single sprout of green. The hills are subtle. The sky and the earth look like they’re in a contest with forever. It is a landscape the evokes emotion. It stops the tongue from wagging and galvanizes a kind of soulful inventory that might cause one to think of past deeds and future changes. I stepped off the bus to stretch and look for a snack in the kiosko, and I looked out over the massive Atacama Desert. I remembered reading that scientists believed that during one particularly long period, 1500-something till 1971, the central part of this desert had no rainfall. Four hundred years is a long time to wait for water. But as a man, a human being, there is an inexplicable feeling I get from places like that. I am only me. Just this boney, blinking sack of blood. I am the engine of my mind and my heartbeats are limited, I am prone to think on things like the immensity of this crusty desert. On the bus to Antofagasta, I tumbled backwards in my memories. I remembered other things that were vast like that desert. I finally fixed on the big mama of all things vast. The Ocean.

If you’re a slow-grinder like me, Physics is a thing you believe exists, but it’s kinda like the sun: it affects you, but you’ll never, ever, ever touch it. So instead I read anecdotal stories by the smart people, and I understand more about the internal workings of the universe. Something I read once talked about how every motion, no matter how small, starts a ripple  on the surface of reality that goes on and on. This might be stressful to some, but it makes me feel good about movement. It makes me feel significant against the backdrop of infinity. I’m glad Physics is not something I need to check on, like boiling water for my coffee, ’cause we’d all be screwed. I forget that shit all the time. But I will use a word from physics to begin this story. In fact, I’ll bring the word to life by giving it flesh and blood. Gravity. And gravity to me, on this particularly dark night, had a name, Doc Fitz.

This is about Doc Fitz and the ocean. This is about men, like me, who were focused on survival in a very real way. No matter how tough you are, no matter how hard your fist, the ocean will soften you. She does not wait, she begins at the shore and never relents. The ocean isn’t cruel, but I can see how she might be mistaken for something malevolent. I remember it was February. It was my first week in Reconnaissance Company. Whatever romance there had been with becoming a Recon Marine had been dissolved in the briny Pacific. I worked non-stop to keep my inner fire from being snuffed as I could see no end to days that were lined up in front of me. Cold days. Gaunt days.

I had been charged with the security of the boxes of MRE’s stacked in a tight square just outside of the GP(General Purpose) tent.( MRE=meal ready to eat. And that is a truth and a generalization. A person can eat an MRE, but so can a person eat a box of rocks.) I was there because I was new. I had arrived just a few days too late to be in with the fellas that were in the throes of the dreadful initial training referred to as RIP. (Recon Indoctrination Training) And so I was watching what was to come. This is what I had to look forward to. And with each man that came, shaking and quaking and stuttering out the words, “I quit,” I had to check my desire to be.

These fellas were not sissy-boys. They were studs, all of them. And from the mud cliffs over the sea, with the foggy hinterlands of Pendleton behind me, I could hear them counting off numbers in the dark. And the waves rolled in and brought the cold. And the Recon men sang out in broken unison. And the dark filled my soul right to the top.

“Did you bring your PT gear.” Doc Fitz was looking at me. He was filling his camouflage uniform the way a tiger fills it’s skin. Doc had a beard like mine, black and immediate, but that’s where our similarities ended. Doc Fitz was big enough to eat a bowl of men like me as a snack before coffee. He looked like he might be smiling, which worried me since I wasn’t really all that funny. Later I realized that Doc Fitz always looked like he was smiling, and maybe he was, but it was the kind of smile that is disconcerting. I think Doc Fitz smiled because he had the foreknowledge that as long as man existed, so would pain and the endurance of pain. To Doc, these things were warm and fuzzy. I’m sure he was born on a cold, dark night. My views on pain and suffering have changed. You know that saying, “pain is weakness leaving the body?” Bullshit. Pain is pain. Weakness is weakness. To endure is to desire and all that jabber in between is people trying to make sense of it.

With my PT gear (shorts, t-shirt and running shoes) on, I was able to kill two birds with one stone. I not only could guard the MRE’s in the rain, but I could also do all manners of calisthenics. This matched up perfectly with the powers that be and the boredom that inevitably comes from waiting for the fellas to come back from thrashing about in the surf zone. There were at least 4 other instructors besides Doc Fitz so they took turns running the boys ragged day and night. In case you wondered why the MRE’s needed guarding, especially since no one with any sense would ever want to eat one, well, me too. This is something I learned from the beginning, if you ain’t busy, the Marine Corps can find a job for you.

At some point, in those hours before dawn when the birds haven’t started singing yet, I walked the 20 steps between the boxes and the edge of the bluff that overlooked the melee down below. The ocean was roaring and a red light was blinking in the inordinate blackness beyond the surf. I could just make out the dim chem-lights attached to the boys that were on their pre-dawn swim. A mile out and a mile back. In all the world, I’ll never forget that feeling. It was a foreignness mixed with deep understanding. Each man swimming. The shape of the world and the vastness of the thoughts that came with it. The darkness of the water, which is different than any other darkness, and the lurking unknown beneath. (there is a change in a person once they have ventured alone and into the ocean at night. there is a vulnerability imbibed through the willingness to swim out beyond the security of terra firma. there are equal parts submission and connection. man alone is naked in the sea, beyond all control save that of the simple self, and even that is in constant question.) I stood looking out for a while and then I turned back to the boxes of bad food I was guarding. Doc Fitz was there in the dark, right there, where he lived. “Are you thinking it over, Crabtree?” The question was simple, so was my answer.

“Yes.”

And then he said something that fit. “It sure is real, ain’t it?”

a touch more seasoning

i’ve had little to write about lately. or maybe there’s plenty to write about but i don’t know how to do it. i think i might start this way quite often. i suppose there’s little things here and there, and if i was a better writer i’d be able to do something with them. like make something out of nothing, the way jesus and houdini did, but i ain’t and i don’t. i’ve wanted to write about the people i’ve seen. some of the waves i’ve been involved with. the owls in eamon’s trees. i’ve even wanted to write about my glitchy shoulder that turned out to be my glitchy neck, but i knew that would lead to whining and self pity and, while i really do love to carry on about myself in a cry-baby kind of way, it’s just not tolerable to read. i save that shit for conversation when i can just blame it on my runaway mouth.

i also wonder if my lack of writing stems straight from some kind of genetic deficiency. some old fashioned folks might call it laziness but i don’t like the sound of that, and i certainly don’t want to blame that on my mom and dad. i just think there’s something wrong with my thyroid. maybe even my thromboid. i’m sure it’s something. you know, one of those things i never knew existed nor do i know exactly where it functions from within my body. i would know more but i haven’t found any lumps, although i rarely check for those. checking for lumps of any kind makes me paranoid. if i do happen across one, i pray for it’s twin on the other side and will settle for almost anything in a general proximity. can you tell i don’t love doctors? or maybe i should say, i don’t like doctors who are checking me over. i don’t mind them if they’re walking down the street.

i love the seasons. there’s this set of prints by alphonse mucha that i think are called the seasons of man, and if they ain’t called that, they should be.  mucha mostly drew and painted lovely women with long, flowing hair, but in the seasons of man, he threw some fellas in the mix. granted there is still an emphasis on women but there are four male figures. the first is a child being held, the second is a youth being taught, the third (my fav) is a strapping dude having his hair braided, and last is an old grey beard teaching a group of ladies. seasons. for me they match up to my age. i loved spring as a kid. then summer became my favorite, but kind of a spring-summer mash up due to all the fishing and romping that would be done in the summertime sun and the beautiful, starlit colorado mountain nights. fall is creeping in. i notice how much i love the turning leaves. there is a wistfulness in the fall along with the clearest of skies. autumn winds are full of melancholy and the colors seem to match. i look to my tribe and see what they’re doing.  nick and elizabeth gear up for the harvest. hunter feels the heat relent in the forge and swings the hammer with an easier pace. eamon moves the stones under clear skies above san francisco. johnny paddles out. foster mulches his trees. turecki checks the landscape, inner and outer.  my kid brother, josh, takes his family for a jaunt in the aspens where the calling phones can’t follow along with the frantic questions of his workers. the fall is alright. and if it fits where i am in life, so be it.

i like how the word works in several meanings that cross over one another. if i refer to some fisherman as “seasoned,” it means he’s been out many a season and the marks of the weather are worn on his face; the nautical miles traveled,  show in his gate. if you season a meal, you give it more taste. that’s what living a full life does, it adds color and taste. wrinkles are a part of the process. wrinkles and limps and gimpy parts. grey in the beard. scars and hair in the strangest of places. twinkling eyes and slow grins. mis-grown toe nails and age spots. all these roll in like the tide, and ah my good friend, even the pretty ones deal. the fall is a rendering. an evening. it is a sweet reminder that winter is coming and, while beautiful and essential, it spells the end.  of course there’s always next year, but with life and it’s seasons, we come around once. sure, there are assurances on many fronts about eternity or a possible return as a nifty, rebuilt version of oneself, but i’m down to simply not be anymore. i love the thought that, in the end, we change shape. whether you get incinerated or buried in the dirt, eventually you become dust or ash or both. and to think of dust and the way it is particular in nature, it reminds me that we are infused into the world. kinda like the cinnamon that’s spinning in my coffee, i’ll swirl into the cosmos in pieces. as for my soul, i’m sure it will find it’s color and blend right on in…probably in the early morning greys and blues.

here we are. and we’re sitting in the world. and time is passing. and we are here. after this, the other.

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.

back when then was now

there was a time when i just believed. if my dad said i could do it, i believed him and i tried like i believed. handstands and unicycles and wrestling moves and races and backflips off the high dive, they all fell into the category of trying because my dad said it was possible. of course, i landed on the back of my head a few times; it’s part of the game, you know what i mean. i’m less like that now, way less. i still believe in stuff that seems impossible, and i even kinda know that it won’t work out, but i believe because i don’t like the alternative. maybe that’s what my old man was going for anyway; it certainly wasn’t that he thought the unicycle would land me a solid job someday. (although i did try to get into the circus when i was 14. the carnies putting up the tent in the mall parking lot called me over from atop my 10 foot unicycle and asked me what i was doing. “wondering about a job,” was my answer. the thick bearded dude with the eastern block accent told me that you can’t just run away and join the circus anymore. “come back when you’re 18,” he yelled as i rode off with a red face.)

once my dad wanted me to go to where he spent his early childhood, redrock, oklahoma. he told my ma we were going on a trip. neither ma nor i knew what dad was planning,  that he had worked it out so i would ride my own motorcycle down there from colorado. to top it all off, my older sister, malia, was on the docket to go as well. the facts came out all at once and my ma gave in with a look that said, “if something happens to my kids….” my dad was a confident fella. we were going. i was 15. i didn’t yet have a license and that didn’t seem to sway ol’ chuck in the least, “it’ll be fine, tobe, you and your sister will just follow me.”

we left early in the morning. it was summertime. interstate 25 south and then east into kansa. dodge city then south. i rode a honda 354 motorcycle and my sister was on a honda 750. even my kid brother, cory made the trip on the back of my pa’s old bmw 750. it was quite a group. as we dropped into oklahoma, i realized that it was a whole different world. the humidity made the air feel like i was sitting in a warm bathtub. i was in a dream state. i was 15 and i was on the rode! the truth is, that trip sent me off and i have never really stopped. in some ways, i never came back from oklahoma. poncha city, enid, eucha, redrock, tulsa, disney and on up the neosho river to the grand lake o’ the cherokees. we were in kin-folk country. i met my great uncle edgar, who coulda been my gramp crabtree’s twin. same kinda man, same look. he was a choctaw indian and spoke clear and simple in a way that called out from the woods like a cicada song. great aunt ellen was as sweet as the smell of the lilacs growing wild along the fence. my brother and i swam daily in the cow pond and left with a solid case of giardia, straight out of a cow’s hind end, i’m sure.

in redrock, we stopped where my dad used to swim in a pond out behind the garage my grand dad owned. the pond was still there some 40 years later. a rope hung from the tree where the kids still swung out and dropped in. my dad said, “look at that rope, it must have been replace a dozen times since i swung on it.” i wasn’t so sure, it looked like it had been there since time began. i remember seeing my dad as he looked into his past, his eyes, green looking glasses that kind of shined from the inside out. i think back at his face, and i can feel his blood in my blood. for as much as i thought i’d be different, i see quite a few similarities between us. funny how we end up like our parents in so many tricky ways.

on that trip i saw one of my cousins drag an alligator gar out of the water with fishing gear that looked like it was made for sharks. as that dinosaur of a fish flopped and snapped in the mud i could see the older ways written on the ruddy face of my kin. at night, down at the bottom of the field where the fence ran along the forest and off into the edge of forever, i saw the lightning bugs blink on and off with a silence that tugged at my need to be laid up against all things wild. barn kitties bred like, well, like barn kitties. dogs ran up the dirt roads with their hind ends swinging wide and wonky like trailers out of alignment. oklahoma has a jungle feel. oklahoma is old country and it hides it’s old ways in the deep, black mud back among the big-leafed trees. oklahoma brought out my pa, it brought him out and fired him solid as a hickory stump.

and along them pocketed roads with the big dips and all along the fences and the endless power lines and then that once (was it on that trip or another? i don’t know.) when ol’ chuck and i stopped and dipped in a creek and a snapping turtle grabbed at his achilles tendon and he howled and we charged, naked, from the ditch. and under heavy summer skies with black clouds that threw down lightning in sheets and rain in buckets. and diners with women in gingham dresses serving coffee and chicken fried steak and the women winking at me, just a kid, and my dad with the eyes that knew what was in front of me.  we adults all know and fear what the future holds for the little ones. we know that life will come and get the young ones. and they’ll grow and be hurt and tossed and some will fall far from the load. they will fall out in the wicked thicket and there’ll be no getting them back. some will make it. some won’t. i see the tendency to lose the care for the humans once they’re old enough to know better. i do it. but i fear for the little ones before they become the ones we don’t care about anymore. if you have a heart, you must care for the kids, you simply must. every forgotten prisoner was a child under the stars.  every person, no matter how dark their deed, was born under some wondrous moon. we all needed help when we got here.

so it was that my pa looked at me, in my teens, and the wrinkles that formed along the sides of his eyes showed the hope and the fear of all my tomorrows. and so it is that i’m here in the now that was hanging way out there in my future, back when then was my now. i love the old man. he’s a damn good dude. my path is different than his. i’ve no children that are of my blood, but i have lots of kids that i love. i remember my grandpa telling me that i had the heart of his ancestors regardless of the percentage of indian blood in my veins. that makes me feel different about my bloodline. i’ll give what i know to the kids that want it, and in that way, i’ll pass along whatever it is that i am to younger, more sparkly minds.

the sweetest things are simple. it doesn’t matter the billions of bucks you might be made of, you can be a complete loss. it doesn’t matter how great you look if your insides forgot how to love. there are old roads in oklahoma that curve and turn and hum with something lovely. steinbeck felt it. it’s simple and old. the songbirds sing it. the rising suns color it in. the indigo nights still carry the thoughts of some dreaming child that will grow and become someone. and on and on. we fill in the blanks. and when we’re gone, our now will become then.

one word at a time

i haven’t been able to write lately. oh, i write, but it’s all pithy blather and i throw it out. that delete button is handy. i do believe that in order to understand how to say things, one must practice even when it seems useless. and then sometimes you just gotta go and do other things. there will always be things to say and there will always be the words that say them the best, i’m the little idiot running wildly with a butterfly net trying to catch and deliver meaning, maybe with some semblance of intelligence as well as a good old fashioned helping of soul. it’s possible, i know, i just have my ups and downs. lotsa downs.

so it figures that when i awoke this morning and decided to draw some stuff, i had no sooner sat down with pen and paper that i began to feel the need to write some thoughts. writing is such a jealous lover. and fickle. she will wait until interest is bent in some other valid fashion and she will walk out all arrayed in beautiful style, words flashing like sparkles in a fountain. ideas and wonder moving like the shadows of trout in some colorado mountain stream. she is beguiling and breathtaking. there is much to be felt and transferred but there is nary a promise. i will say this, when she wants to dance, you’d best dance or she will leave and you’ll be left with vague memories of beautiful things that might have been.

i jumped on my bike. 5:21a.m. it’s raining this morning in santa cruz. i criss-cross puddles on the way to buy cream for my coffee. i am thinking of words. and words and words. these symbols of sounds that send thoughts to other minds.  they whirl in many forms and are used and misused for good and bad. there are somewhere around 7,000 languages. think about all the words! an italian fella named roberto, whose story is as broad and spectacular as his mind, swims in the ocean at china beach. we spoke after a swim one day when the sun was just barely warm enough to stay undressed and wait, like turtles, for the heat. he told me a bit about his life. i was asking about the language of his birth. in a non-bragging way he finally admitted to knowing 5 languages. i learned spanish when i was 33 and i still speak with less fluidity than the average 5 year old that was born into it.  language is wonderful. words are brilliant. think about it, allow yourself the freedom to imagine; there is this thought in your mind, some bright and shining thing that you would like to share. so,  you create the way to say things that will turn this thought into a shape that will be discernible to another mind. there is care to be taken. proper craftsmanship is not a requirement, obviously, but a thought well-crafted will hold up better under scrutiny. for an example of what the shoddy use of language will get you, think about how many times you’ve been misunderstood in a phone text. when care is taken, less words need be spoken and, in turn, there is better communication. in other words, we are better understood when we think about what we say.

i read that by the year 2100 between 70% and 90% of all the languages spoken at the beginning of this century will be extinct. words are dying. when they aren’t used, they just go away. all those native expressions that said it from the level of the earth will be lost forever. they become the past. skeletons of the thoughts of the ancient ones. i don’t like it. not at all.

my gramps used to speak choctaw. he would say mentay elientempa, ysiki soma…i don’t know how to spell it, nor do i know exactly what it meant, but when he said it, and when he pointed those words at me, i squealed and ran to him and he hugged me. he said the names of animals in his native tongue. it was pure magic. i was my light. he shone his language of the past into my heart and i became a part of his tribe. i cried for the birds and the sky. i ran with sharp sticks. i was convinced that, one day, i would ride off on a pony into the mountains where the cities dropped back and the drums of the tribes would guide me in. and fires and stars. and dances in the sweet grasses and skins stretched and painted with all manner of symbols. and caves and trees and feathers and the old way to love. the light from my grampa’s words still heat my heart. i feel the fire from his ways burning in me even now. it will never go out…not if i can help it. i give it to the kids, to the ones that hear me. the rubys the rowans the leithians the lochlans the masons the tuckers the hudsons the bellas the santi’s the m’sos the josh’s the cannons the olivias the luc’s the seidels…and i could go on.  some will respond and carry the old fire and, with it, the wonders of the earth.

could it possibly be that simple? probably not. but it’s a start. i think that when kids are officially starting to grow up is when they stop saying what they think. ever been called wrinkly? or fat? or weird? kids’ll call that shit out. at some point they realize that there are things that hurt and things that could be left out in order to be in a better space. some of it’s tact and some of it’s manipulation. so much to sort through in order to be accepted and understood. the world is at the mercy of the humans it has spawned. in order to make change, we must choose our words wisely. we must be mindful in order to offset ignorance.

i’ll end with a reference to a book written by rick bass. it’s a novella called the sky, the stars, the wilderness. there is a part in the book where an old man has a stroke and looses his speech. his love is the birds. he retains the ability to do bird calls through whistling  and so he sits on the porch and whistles all day. his calls become so ornate that he’s able to call in even the rarest of birds. at some point, he shapes a word through his whistling. his grand daughter hears it and begs him for more. he forms more words. he speaks to her and tells her all the things he had wanted to say after his stroke stole his tongue; his words more beautiful than ever in his life because they are part and parcel, words from a birdsong. they speak for days. it wasn’t long before he died.

all had been said, through the song of a bird.

ah man, them scrawny legs

through a window that sits on the north side of the 238 i can see the plum trees in bloom. i can see a little mountain full of doug firs with a smattering of cedars. cars go by. the steller’s jays, with there naughty minds full of ulterior motives, are in the trees mimicking the red-shouldered hawks. i  can feel the spring coming on. it’s kind of an autumn in reverse, but not quite. i can only feel the excitement of spring through nostalgia. easy now, i’m not saying i don’t feel the lovely gravities of spring, i just don’t have that buzzing craziness that i had as a 13 year boy. that is gone forever in my life, 13 only comes once (thank the sweet baby jesus) and i can remember and i have to  shake my head…yikes!

across the street some kids are walking. they are in that age range. the, i-have-no-idea-what-i-am-but-i-must-pretend-that-i-do-because-i’m-trying-desperately-to-be-something, age range that i remember far too well. there is a skinny-legged boy and a skinny-legged girl and they are lagging back from the group. the boy has his hands in his pockets and he is buzzing and whirring with hormones and ideas and fears. the girl is sweetly ahead of him. she is out in front both physically and geographically. she is more at ease with a kinda short skirt and her ridiculous knock-knees clacking together now and then. i half expect them to sprout goat ears and fairy wings and disappear in the ferns of some magic glen that must exist somewhere; maybe it only exists in my imagination but, still, that is somewhere, right?. and there, in that world, there is less to worry over because it is free of the trappings that consume us.  less has been revealed when we are young and silly. naivety is allowed. there is room for you to be exactly what you are and the future moves out in every direction. once we begin to decide what we are, we can’t help but create misconceptions about ourselves. i’m sure i’m not exactly what i think i am. the people who know me and love me could probably give a more accurate description of what i truly am. hopefully they would hide some of the bad stuff…thank goodness no one is locked away in a quiet room frantically writing my biography. the thought makes my stomach turn.  give me some time, please! i have so many more elaborate lies to conjure up so that i might seem more dashing and interesting, less of a stumbling hack.

but man, i sure do look and see those kids with their scrawny legs and smile. they will go through this day and sit in class and flirt and do stupid things. they will laugh and be so wonderfully human. perfectly naive.  i don’t know them at all but i remember the time when i dreaded the silliest things (like math class) and found endless bliss in a smile from vickie stratton who sat two rows over and one row up. us grown-ups could use a little dose of simple bliss that doesn’t come from a bottle that doctor so-and-so says we need in order to avoid depression.

i don’t think i’ll read the paper today. i don’t think i’ll even check my emails. i might just let this feeling follow me out to the farm where nick and elizabeth are planting carrots and beets. maybe i’ll go feed frito and slim, the two donkeys, and maybe they’ll bray like they did yesterday. i always laugh when a donkey brays…it’s just really funny. lips back, belly pumping, eyes wide and nothing held back. they bray, i laugh. yeah, that’s what i’m gonna do.

here’s to braying donkeys and scrawny-legged kids…and spring.

the good, the bad

from a letter to katherine, who already knows all this but who i write to anyway to make myself feel better:

alas, all good things will pass.

so will the bad things…

 

and you will think of them both.

the good: dressed in blue and lavender and sea-foam green.

the bad: naked and painted for war.

they’ll spend some time with you, like they do with me. taking heartbeats with them when they go. they will leave signs of having been. if you have a heart (and i suppose we all do have a heart, the little engine of our life, thrusting in our chests, being all faithful and shit) you will know they have come to visit.

the good you will try to talk into staying. you will lock the doors. you will put out your fine china. you will serve the best coffee and you will put sea salt on the kale. you will offer your bed and make a fire. you will bring out the bourbon in a tumbler. and good will leave through the window while you are smiling in the bathroom mirror at your good fortune.

the bad will come in uninvited, you will find him standing in the living room. you will say you are busy and don’t have time to talk. you will open every door and window and you will say you are out of bread. you will hide in the kitchen and listen to your breath. you will try to sleep and you will cry into your hands. the bad can endure, he has hulking shoulders and can run for days. the bad will leave when you no longer have the energy to see him. he will get small, like a person on the hill a long ways away and then he will be gone. you will see where he lived when you look again in the mirror.

we are here, together.

all of us.

and apart.

 

living furiously or (i think i might smell pretty bad)

sometimes (most of the time) i stink. don’t go and pass heavy judgement on me right yet, i’m not filthy. i just like to play and i play most of the time and so i smell like a human that has been playing. sometimes it’s a little too tart and i know it and i try to get to a shower and knock the smell down a bit with soap and water. i don’t perfume up and get all snazzy afterwards…i just wash and that’s gotta be good enough. i have some friends, mostly guys, that stink as well (hunter, you know who i’m talking about) and i don’t mind their smell. the truth is, i like humans to smell like humans. i know, i know, when it gets too much it’s no good. i mean, i don’t wanna run people off. it’s hard enough for me to gain someone’s interest without handicapping myself with a body odor violation. i just don’t think we humans should be quite so finicky. our temperaments are so damn sensitive. at the very least we should not mind a little sniff of one another.

one christmas i came home from a fairly long foray out of the country. i’d been climbing and living out of a bag for about a year. i went home to see mama and the fam. i hadn’t really thought about it but i knew i’d been wearing the same pair of pants for a long time (yes, i washed them…no, i didn’t have two pairs. hey, i was living cheap, don’t judge!) and i only had a couple shirts. everything kinda smelled like a forest animal, lets say a river otter. my sister, adana, has a very sensitive sniffer and she pulled my kid brother to the side and asked him if he thought i knew that i smelled. i hadn’t quite made the shower for crying out loud! once i had cleaned up my brother, who is my dearest of friends, told me what my sister had said. we had a good laugh and i told her i’d be more careful with my stinkiness in the future.

i’m a little off track here. i’m really not that interested in writing a bunch of stories about myself; besides being a little egocentric it’s kinda boring…like, i’ve already told most of them (my stories) and in order to make them better i’d have to lie and that’s just stupid. also my friends, most of whom are the only ones reading this shit, would call me out.  and they already have enough ammunition without me lying a lick. so, umm, i’ll move on.

what i wanted to talk about was some of my favorite stinky friends. i don’t care that they stink because i know why they are that way. it is because they know how to live. they just plain rip! they don’t burn their days waiting for the big once-in-a-lifetime to come along. they live every day because it is once in a lifetime. they are cave dwellers and tree climbers. they are wave seekers and river walkers. they are lantern jawed blacksmiths who drink coffee that would float a horseshoe. they are dirt diggers and goat breeders. they are tiny sprites that wait for rides from one backcountry hideout to the next. they are squinty-eyed, desert fire keepers. they are seed carriers and flower eaters. they are wild dancers that have the music already built into their hearts. they are barefooted, long-distance runners who would be a draw at any public showing. they are the people on the cusp of what is accepted because what is accepted is, for the most part, a weird pile of words that someone made the status quo. i’m not talking about laws, i’m talking about the way we think we need to look and act. must we really be anything outside of the awesome animals we are? honestly, do we need smell like a chemically enhanced petunia? do we need to be the skinniest waif among the skinny waifs in the beauty magazine?

i’m not trying to be all hard core. if we have bad teeth and they can be fixed in order to make our lives better, then let’s fix ’em. i just don’t think every single tooth needs to be perfect and as white as a supernova. i like gaps in teeth (yes, nick, even your’s) and i like bent noses. i like girls that are happy with their shape, a set of fake boobs is not needed…it’s just not. i’m sure there’s a bunch of frat boys that would call me an idiot. obviously i’m stating an opinion, it’s just me being honest. folks, we’re pretty cool as is! i love the wrinkles around the eyes of a beautiful woman. there is grace in age. the idea that youthfulness is the only form of beauty is absurd. you think i’m wrong? go to the redwoods. go visit the ancient bristlecone pines. go walk in the fall across the appalacians. look into the eyes of an old-timer, look past the red veins and the wrinkles, look into the windows that hold the light of the soul. you’ll see the longest of roads, and personally, i find that extraordinarily wonderful.

when i go visit my friend hunter, i do trade work. i tattoo his big ol’ hairy, stinky carcass and he lets me work in his forge. he’s a blacksmith. his name is Hunter Dahlberg  but i call him heavy d. he’s all long armed and raw-boned with a thick beard and a knack for drinking good whiskey and strong coffee. he lets me crash upstairs in the library and at night i pick and choose books from his iron clad bookshelves. he’s as classic and as smelly and as real as they come here on planet earth. not all that long ago, when i was suffering from a bad case of brokenheartedness, he came to san francisco to see me. lo and behold, old Heavy D was in the same state i was. it seemed as if we were shipwrecked sailors, each from our own separate catastrophes, and we saw one another floating among the flotsam. we got on our bicycles and road from the panhandle down through golden gate park to the sea. it was raining a little and we peddled fast and jumped curbs and swerved in and out and laughed at each other because our hearts needed to be bound up and held together. hunter is a savage. sometimes, when the rest of the world is sleeping, hunter is squinting into a fiery forge and waiting for the metal to glow just right so that he can snatch it up and swing his hammer and make it sing that furious sounding song. and that is just how he lives…furiously.

give me that…just that, and that’d be real good. give me a furious life.

can i talk about mothers?

may i? can i say some things about mothers? the question is rhetorical because i am going to say some things. if you don’t want to hear, tune out.  and if you don’t have time, then maybe read something else that is shorter, because i have quite a bit to say.

first of all, my mom. Alyce, with a “y”. she brought me here. she raised me. she fed me from her breast when i was little more than a light out of the void. i haven’t lived a day on this earth without being loved, not one day. not one second. my mother. i’m not talking about mothers because it is some day designated for us to all appreciate them. i’m talking about existence here. we would not BE without mothers; not me, not you…none of us. and my mother is special to me because i carry her DNA. when i feel, my mother feels; i’m quite sure of it. i have heard her say that she has failed and that she didn’t raise me right. i saw her cry when i was kicked out of school, when i got a tattoo, when i lied about drinking alcohol, when i told her i didn’t pray to jesus. i have broken my mother’s heart many times, and yet she loves me like the day i was born. my mother. yes, she shines and i know it and i would charge hell with a bucket of water for her. hey mom, i love you.

so there’s this thing i notice. since i’m a fella, i see things from a male perspective. i know what i love about women and it has less to do with the bed (and i love that part) than it has to do with the power they exude. i can say for sure that i never matured as a man until i learned to have women as my true friends; this excludes ulterior motives which are a part of being a man. it’s easy to want, what’s difficult is to recognize that desire and move past it, to find the important stuff beyond it.

i’m still talking about moms here. don’t let me lose you. when i swim in the ocean, and i do, i like to swim down deep. i love to dive down and hold my breath for as long as i can. when diving on a breath-hold there are moments where the whole world changes, the realness sinks in. there is no air except what is being carried in your lungs. you are swimming away from the source of breath and into that blue space below. there is a heartbeat and it is your own. there is a focusing in on the moment and the thoughts pinch down to the very essence of life. it is so godamn pure and honest. it is how i imagine a mother must feel in her soul as she gives birth; that pinching down to the moment.

now and then i see a mother with her children and i see the chaos of the world surrounding them. the children are usually playing, wonderfully oblivious. the mother can see what i see but through eyes that i do not have (i’ve not given breath to a child, nor have i carried them in my womb, nor have i worried that they might not live as they leave my body). the mother knows that the world is a dangerous place for her babies. in these moments i have looked at the mother, i have looked at her eyes and her steady hand, and i have been stayed. awestruck at the power as she dives down deep, finding her way through the blue.

i know a woman named Caroline. she is one of these women. she creates sculptures and drawings and paintings and words and children. she is one of the talented ones that i kneel to. i look at what she does and i smile and find my place somewhere in the audience. what amazes me is that she has those eyes; the eyes that are clear while the world leaps and lunges at her children. she holds her kids and shows them the way and the love that lifts the world and then she allows them the freedom that is needed to become something. she is Caroline.

there is Chris. she bore rowan. she is the woman that married ethan. i haven’t met a family that is similar. i have known them since rowan was very young, i think 3 years old. i’m in some of their old  family videos being a fool (so easy for me). Chris has loved me through all my recklessness. she has seen me crash and burn to the ground numerous times. even in the midst of my groanings, i have seen her love her boys. she loves her man and she loves her son…that is all she needs. it’s simple when you think about it.  life is sweet to Chris because her love rebounds off her family. she is a savage mom and she gets what she gives. she has rolled into her 40’s  and is beautiful and lean and strong. she is a perfect roll model for her men. her arms flex, her eyes squint, her plants grow and life lays out in front of her like a desert road.

there is Farah. she married my kid brother. i loved her from the beginning. i have never entered her house without feeling welcome. (i should interject that i am a hot mess much of the time…if i’m not smelling like a dog and looking like the road i’ve traveled, then i’m something worse) she has brought two strong boys into this world, tucker and mason. they will carry me when i’m old. her husband, joshua, has always been the better version of me. i cannot carry the torch he holds…it’s just impossible. so i give way and love the lives that i’m allowed to be so close to. i know it sounds like i’m gushing, but come on, i know the skin i live in and i’m being honest here. what’s better than salt of the earth? look into the eyes of my brother’s wife. my brother is my blood, and he’s married to a woman named Farrah.

there is Malia. she almost died. she has been a single mom for a good portion of her life. she dove into alcohol and spent years swimming away from shore. Malia and i have always been close; we are friends and then there’s that whole brother and sister thing. one night my brother called me, he told me she had wrecked and the doctors didn’t think she’d make it. i said i’d come. the hospital–home of strained faces and worried brows and clenched fists and teary eyes.. and time and time and tears and struggle and broken limbs and pelvis’s and ribs and hearts and then anger and hope and prayer,  seizures and pills and wheelchairs and letters and sweat and doctors and Mary Oliver and Andrew Bird and love and love and love has brought my sister back. she is bad-ass. i love her. she loves me. she is a mother made from steel.

there is that mama i saw on the street in lima, peru. the child on her back and the one in the gutter. she was spinning wool and making sweaters. her face was tough and clear, like she knew something bigger than the world around her. there is patience in that kind of struggle because the alternative is to give your babies over to oblivion.  she looked way stronger than me…she had a white hat on and her eyes were very black when she looked at me.

there are a million mamas in the past. there are mothers who gave up. there are ones that did not love their babies. there are bad mamas. but i believe in the power of the mothers. they are the engine of mankind. i picture some place full of souls that are waiting for their bodies to be formed in the belly of a woman. there is a kind of joining and the world gains another little human that makes thoughts and conjures dreams, just like the ones of us who’ve been here for a while, thinking and dreaming. the closest we humans ever come to being god is when a mother brings a baby in from the big swirling soup of the universe.

i am not disillusioned about mankind. i don’t know if we will make it in the long run, i have my doubts. i am, at times, disgusted with my own ability to disconnect, so you can imagine how i feel when i turn a critical eye toward the masses.  all the two-leggeds running around finding our escapes from reality; our pills and liquor and fits of anger. we will smoke our cigarettes with amazing diligence and then calmly toss the butts into the streams and oceans without so much as a second thought. i can find all kinds of things to rant about but that’s not going to fix things. instead, i’ll find the things about us that i like. i turn my thoughts to Mom. i think about the Mothers and there is a kind of redemption to us being here. and after we have come and gone from this planet, whether it’s tomorrow or in a 100,000 years, the Moms will have been the soul of our existence.

a little “once upon a time”

from a letter not too very long ago…

it may just be the way things are. you know that saying? i heard it a lot from older men when i was a younger man. now i say it. when i think about it, it seems to be kinda taoist. so maybe there is some natural tao in every old man, in every man growing old…and i guess that includes every man. the younger you are the less you want to pay attention to the someone with shaky old hands. chasing all those dreams with muscles bulging out from under a too tight t-shirt is just so much more attractive. but the now is always now and youth is a shooting star.

do you have time for a once upon a time? i’ll keep it short. i caught a memory this morning. from nowhere, it bubbled to the surface and i closed my eyes and let it reel past while the clock flipped and showed 5:42 a.m.  there was this time when i was 15 and my dad and i road all night to the town where he was born. we each road a motorcycle and neither of us wore helmets (they weren’t required back then in the states we road in…so, of course, if they aren’t required…). i didn’t have my drivers license yet, my dad wasn’t worried over stuff like that. he worried over things like whether my heart was given to jesus, after that everything was negotiable. but yeah, we pulled into a little town called redrock in the heart of oklahoma. it was so old. down a road, half paved, and on and on. a sign said “big dip” and there was one. a left and several miles put us in front of an old house with chickens and several dogs, the woods beyond hummed with the early morning sounds that can only be found in oklahoma. the old pond. everything wrapped in pre-dawn blue. it was cool. there was a light on in the kitchen and i saw a woman. my dad said that it was his old aunt. an old indian man stepped out on the porch and his hair was white and he had on suspenders and horn rimmed glasses. uncle edgar. i stayed for a week with them and it was the only time i would ever see any of them. they are long dead and i imaging the house still sits at the end of that road…for sure it does in that blue morning memory that came to me in the dark…..

that’s it…t.