21: My Little Town

21: My Little Town

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

My Little Town

Kindness is the golden chain by which society is bound together.

~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

While most college towns are crazy, mixed-up, wonderful places, Arcata, California is probably a little more crazy and mixed-up and wonderful than most. Arcata is the home of Humboldt State University, a throwback to the 1960s, and a haven for students, professors, hippies, artists, musicians, cannabis farmers and dreamy-eyed mystics. A lot of “senior citizens” live here, too. It’s commonplace to see elderly women sporting belly button jewelry, pierced tongues, and eyebrow rings, and old men with a matrix of tattoos and gray Rasta hair. Arcata welcomes everyone.

People who visit Arcata come back again and again. Either that or they stay for good. The town has a way of drawing you in and making you feel good about life. It’s something a person can’t explain, like a climber getting a hit of oxygen at altitude, or a duckling that’s fixed on a dog because it thinks the dog is its mother. It’s called imprinting.

There’s never a dull moment in Arcata. The place teems with an infinite array of hacky-sackers, Frisbee-flingers, bongo-beaters, skateboarders, earth mothers, and alcohol-modified transients. Most of them hang out at the Co-op or on the plaza, next to their brightly colored busses and chicken shack pick-ups, while their dogs run around in loose orbit. A bronze statue of President William McKinley stands in the center of everything, and an intonation-challenged guitar player often sits nearby, singing a folksy ballad that makes little, if any, sense.

Some folks call this place Sillyville. Others call it Haight-Ashbury North. I like to call it home. For me, real happiness boils down to one simple thing: the town where I live.

Arcata is a town with a big heart. It’s always been a good place for folks down on their luck to find a job, or at least a handout. People who live here can’t stand to see anyone go homeless or hungry. Everyone is out to help their fellow man and save the planet. There are movements to save the toadstool, feed the snail darter, and help the hairy-eared spotted owl. Arcata residents install solar panels on their roofs, brew their own biodiesel, and hang rainbow flags outside their front doors. At various places in town you will find Food for People (the food bank of Humboldt County), a hemp and beans farmers’ market (where veggies and hugs are exchanged in equal volume), and the annual Arcata Bay Oyster Festival (where lots of shucking and even a little jiving takes place). You will also find such strange and diverse celebrations as Anti-Valentine’s Day, Stop Road Rage Week, Future Sea Level Rise Awareness Month, Unicycle to Work, Kill Your TV, and, my personal favorite, Free Your Breasts Day.

The citizens of Arcata don’t make their living through stock futures, tanning beds, or exploitation of third world workers. They do not wear Prada suits or expensive designer eyeglasses. Nor do they drive Hummers, wear fur, or turn their thermostats up past sixty-eight degrees in the winter. Citizens in this town live on vegan diets, petition to de-pave their streets, build homeless shelters, and drive their bicycles back and forth to the tofu store.

Arcata folks are green to the core. They recycle everything from gray water, plastic, and aluminum, to glass, cardboard, food scraps and fingernail clippings. They natural birth at home, eat vegan quinoa salads, drink ginseng tea, and make their own soap. They pick litter off nearby beaches without being asked to, march for peace, and celebrate equality and diversity in its many forms. Arcata residents have been called everything from heathens to hippies to lily-livered environmentalists. They consider such names to be supreme compliments.

You might say it doesn’t matter if places like Arcata still exist. After all, embracing peace, love, and diversity in a town of fewer than ten thousand souls is just a small step in the right direction, not a full-blown manifesto. But for those of us who live here, life is about love and brotherhood, and the tickle you get in your spirit when you discover that good people still exist.

It’s a feeling that leaves a lasting impression on all those who visit this town. Not because it teaches them something new. But because it teaches them something they might have forgotten: If you want to change the world, you have to start somewhere.

~Timothy Martin

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