By Kimberly Mayer
In “Head to Toe”( https://alittleelbowroom.com/2021/06/18/head-to-toe/) I wrote on discovering Birkenstocks in my sixties, while everyone around me had discovered them in The 60’s. I was in Encinitas, California with my daughter and son-in-law, so it’s only fitting that they circle back in this piece. Apparently I’m not done with Encinitas yet.
Just a couple blocks down the Pacific Coast Highway from the Birkenstock store sits the campus of Self-Realization Fellowship in Encinitas. What is that? you might ask. Tunisian-like white structures punctuated in azure blue, topped with lotus blossom domes in gold leaf, it’s weirdly beautiful in an easterly way. Twenty-seven acres include an Ashram Center and Retreat, The Hermitage, and Meditation Gardens, overlooking and stretching down to Swami’s Beach.
The Fellowship was founded in 1920 by Paramahansa Yogananda to spread understanding of the spiritual wisdom of India in the West. It was in the bookstore of the fellowship that I began going through Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi and noticed a chapter devoted to Luther Burbank. Why, I know of that man, I thought. A renowned plant breeder and horticulturist, a pioneer in agricultural science.
Paramahansa Yogananda’s autobiography, it turns out, is dedicated to Burbank. They were dear friends, the Yogi and the plant breeder. In his day, Luther Burbank practiced Kriya Yoga devoutly, and Paramahansa Yogananda called Burbank “my American saint.”
This is when one thing leads to another. I purchased the Autobiograpy of a Yogi and when home, dusted off my copy of A Gardener Touched with Genius: The Life of Luther Burbank, by Peter Dreyer. Indeed, the two men figure in each other’s book. In his autobiography Paramahansa Yogananda tells the story of walking alongside Luther Burbank through his garden in Santa Rosa, California when Burbank informed him, “The secret of plant breeding, apart from scientific knowledge, is love.”
We halted near a bed of edible cacti.
“While I was conducting experiments to make ‘spineless cacti,’ I often talked to the plants to create a vibration of love. ‘You have nothing to fear,’ I would tell them.’ You don’t need your defensive thorns. I will protect you. Gradually the useful plant of the desert emerged in a thornless variety.”
I was charmed at this miracle. “Please, dear Luther, give me a few cactus leaves to plant in my garden…”
I too received a cactus arm, a descendent of Luther Burbank’s cacti, while visiting the Self-Realization Fellowship in Encinitas. It may have been silly for me to accept, residing as I do in the San Juan Islands—where only Brittle Prickly Pear Cactus makes a rare appearance on dry rocky banks. No, I had another idea for the arm.
Living alongside Balboa Park in San Diego are my daughter and son-in-law. Having landscaped their Spanish contemporary home primarily with cactus, agave, and roses, they’ve demonstrated how well the cactus grows there. Furthermore, on my visit I counted forty-two robust houseplants in their home, many of whom are succulents. And that wasn’t counting all the potted and hanging plants in a large courtyard.
Add to that now, the cactus arm I left with my son in law.
My daughter is the first to say that her husband is the plant genius. The Augmented and Virtual Reality Capability Lead at the largest consulting company in the world, but better known as “plant daddy” to his wife and family. The cactus arm is in good hands.