To See the Universe in a Brussel Sprout

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
— William Blake, from The Age of Innocence

When we need to refresh our lives, we often head to a locale brimming with natural beauty and serenity. We seek transcendent experiences that take us out of our nose-to-the-grindstone focus, where we are able to feel our affinity to a larger whole. We go to the mountains for an uplifting experience…spend a day at the ocean to be pacified by the eternal ebb and flow of the waves…float out on quiet water in a canoe or kayak to feel suspended between heaven and earth.

Some people go on an African safari for the excitement of communing with some of our wilder relatives in the animal kingdom. Like many gardeners, I commune with plants. Even so, not every gardener finds ecstasy in a none-too-popular vegetable.

On a summer afternoon I set out from my home, traipsing through the fields of a neighboring farm. That day I set an intention to be fully in the moment — usually a difficult feat for me. I walked slowly, paying close attention to my steps, my breath, my being there. I practiced a way of seeing my surroundings with soft focus, so that even though my eyes were focused on the path ahead, I opened my peripheral vision to be aware of a much wider scene. As I approached a field of Brussels sprouts with this openness, suddenly all the plants glowed from within — leaves and sprouts luminous green, ribs a sinuous neon violet. The plants were exquisitely lovely in form, with the tiny cabbage heads tucked into the nodes of the cupped leaves that spiraled up the stems, like babes in mothers’ encircling arms.

The rows of vegetables continued their light show as I walked by. Next, I encountered a glowing field of broccoli. These beings, too, revealed their inner fire to me.

Returning home over a small bridge, I looked into the stream and saw to infinity. In the dark water, and reflected there, I viewed layer after layer of rippling beauty: watery plants, delicate reflections of trees, clouds slipping across a deep cobalt sky. This prosaic description does not do justice to the intensity of the scene. I can only say that a whole universe unfolded before me in all its complexity as well as unity.

Since that day, I have held the vision that the world is much more than it appears to us with our normally opaque vision. Some say we have been given protective blinders to keep us from seeing more radiance than our undeveloped nervous systems can handle all at once. Or have we simply lost (or misplaced?) our ability to join the dance of life that takes place all around us?

In any case, this event supported my belief that we belong to a dynamic, interconnected energy structure — the web of life — and that each life form deserves our close attention and deep respect. I will be — we all will be — rewarded beyond measure by holding such awareness as we step lightly on our home planet.

Dori Smith, M.Ed., is an ecological landscape designer who writes and teaches about our complex relationship with nature. Contact her at Gardens for Life, Acton, MA, or 978-835-5568. Also check out