I recently received a phone call from a man in town responding to an article that appeared in a local paper about our four-acre vegetable garden at Sunrise Ranch. He asked, quite politely, whether we had any “organic fertilizer” for sale or knew where some could be bought. I told him that we were blessed with a large barnyard on the Ranch and have for years used various animal manure from our own stock, as well as large amounts from farms in neighbouring valleys. Then I said, “You could probably just drive out of town and most farmers would be glad to let you clean out their barnyard, if not for free, than at a minimal cost.” He coughed a bit into the phone and repeated that he was looking for “organic fertilizer.” It was at this point that I realized what he was after. Some sort of prepackaged organic fertilizer that he could spread on his garden without soiling his clothes or dirtying his hands—no smell, no mess.

Nowadays, many people are putting a lot of thought into their relationship to the environment, including the vegetable kingdom. But to how many is this an intellectual understanding motivated by sheer self-centredness? “I’m faced with possible starvation, so I’d better see if I can make new friends with the plants so that I don’t die.” How many people take steps to cultivate their own feeling perception? To actually begin to experience a sense of oneness with the many life forms growing around them? I’m not talking about the medicinal uses of various fruits and vegetables that would benefit us, but the actual experience of being a part of your garden—growing and breathing with it.

Who will remove their gloves, put their hands in the manure and take the oath of responsibility? Many people ask, “Do you plant by the moon?” Well, the moon is one factor that might be considered, but there are many others. I plant once I’ve considered all the factors that come to my awareness in the moment. But the point is that it’s the clarity and purity of my feeling perception that motivates the final decision—not the moon, not some garden encyclopedia, not what the neighbour down the valley did last year. I am the gardener. I am responsible for making the right decisions and offering a loving care and enfoldment to all the life forms for which I am responsible.

Each January 1st we celebrate what’s called the New Year. And yet, come spring, most gardeners don their gloves and do the same thing as the year before, though it really is a new year. The climate has changed slightly, different weather cycles are moving, the soil has changed. Here again, you don’t need to buy a soil test kit to measure the difference. You can feel it between your fingers.

To me, gardening is a total experience, a constant discovery of the intricate beauty of life’s design. Many times I’ve laid down amid the towering corn stalks on a warm summer evening, sensing the strength of life; or walked in the mid-afternoon through the freshly irrigated rows of peas, the mud squishing through my toes, reminding me of its gentleness and beauty. And then the privilege of bending over and weeding long rows of beans, able to bless each plant individually with all the love of which I am capable.

Then the coming of harvest time is not looked upon as the final triumph of man over Nature, but as the culmination of a magic season. As I pick each fruit, I know that it really has been a new year and my consciousness is a new consciousness. And because those beautiful plants, large and small, have become part of me, I know that their gift of life has ascended into a fuller, richer expression.

Peter Kafka is a past manager of the four-acre organic vegetable garden on Sunrise Ranch, northwest of Loveland, Colorado. He has recently served as a national park ranger in the state of Hawaii.

image: Pink Sherbet Photography via Compfight CC