There is a rude smell in the air right now. I don’t know if it is coming from the animals next door, or if the septic tank is backed up. Either way, it’s not pretty. The warm winds are howling. It’s difficult to keep any of the trees and plants hydrated. That’s not really true. It’s only that you notice the plants and trees that are suffering. The ones doing fine—the grasses, established trees, wild legumes and flowers—you take those for granted. They do fine with nothing.

That’s what I’m trying to ease into. Up here on this farm I’m coming to learn a lot about plants. I grew up in a garden, so it isn’t completely foreign to me. Plants require a few things: soil, some sunlight, and water. To grow a given plant, all you have to do is balance those basic elements. It’s easier than it sounds. You can’t buy a plant without it saying somewhere on it what the sun requirements are. Water is trickier. Of course, there are always finicky plants that require a particular type of food or soil. Most plants don’t grow well with their roots constantly exposed to water, but others like to have their feet wet.

I guess somewhere along the line I realized that people aren’t as different from plants as some of us might like to believe. An important component to quality of life is finding that place that suits you, and wherein you can thrive. This varies considerably from one person to the next. Like the different types of plants, some people can do well almost anywhere you stick them, but others require much more particular elements to grow and to be healthy.

I think we tend to have a one-size fits all mentality, and I think those of us who can thrive within the existing conditions can, on occasion, lack empathy for those who struggle more. That ‘pull yourself up by your boot straps’ mentality makes it so we don’t have to consider the conditions, or the individual characteristics, within each of us. Someone who is screwing up is lazy, or stupid, or a loser. That’s the end of the argument; no need to go any further and ask why that is so. Chalk it up to genetics, upbringing, the state of the union or the water; who cares? Turn your nose up and move along; we’ve all got very important work to complete.

I’ve seen a lot of anger lately directed at the homeless population here in Chico, and it makes me sad. First, all homeless people seem to get lumped into one big demographic, as if they don’t come from wildly different backgrounds, and as if they are a homogeneous group. But second, you know, I thought in this country we were supposed to have self-determination. That means we aren’t all going to choose to have two cars and two kids and live in a nice house in the suburbs. It means some of us aren’t going to live in a house at all. There’s no reason I can think of to look down on that choice.

Bob Howard has been living, working, and writing in Northern Califonria since he moved to Chico in early 2000. In January 2011, he and his wife Trish relocated to Los Molinos, 30 minutes north of Chico, where they are the proud proprietors of the Double Happiness Farm. There they grow organic food, ornamental plants and trees, and generally work to enjoy the beauty of this great region.