Sightless man gardens by touch

Published 5:00 am Monday, June 15, 2009

It’s not how beautiful a vegetable looks that tells RobertWilson whether it’s ready to be harvested, it’s how it feels.

Wilson is blind.

His lack of sight did not prevent the 77-year-old Wilson fromplanting 31 different vegetables, legumes, fruit and herbs in anearly one-acre garden behind his home on Holmesville Road inJayess.

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“You can look at any two rows and tell a blind man made them,”he said, “but everything I ate today came out of this garden excepta little bit of meat. We buy very little outside of thegarden.”

Wilson’s loss of vision is caused by macular degeneration. He istotally blind in one eye with extremely limited vision in theother. Macular degeneration causes deterioration of the macula, thepaper-thin tissue at the back of the eye where light sensitivecells send visual signals to the brain, which interprets thesignals as vision.

“There’s nothing they can do for me,” he said. “It will continueto get worse.”

What will come will come, Wilson said, but he’s not going tochange his routine because of it.

His day normally begins before dawn. As the first rays ofsunshine break over the horizon, Wilson is sitting in a chair nextto the garden quietly waiting. By the time the veil of darkness hasbeen lifted, he is crawling on hands and knees leaving behind tuftsof choking grass and other weeds.

“I can’t bend over,” he said. “Every inch of every row I’vecrawled to prune.”

Wilson will spend no less than four hours a day on the groundduring this critical stage of growth.

“Now I’ve done my part and it’s in the good Lord’s hands,” hesaid.

Wilson was born and raised in the Carmel community of LawrenceCounty, but left in 1965. He traveled to more than 36 states in hisfield of industrial construction and had a garden in 12 ofthem.

“Anywhere I put down roots long enough, I would make a garden,”he said. “It’s a way of life for me. Even when I couldn’t have agarden I would plant things. As a supervisor, I would know a moundof dirt wouldn’t be used for months and I would toss mustard seedon it. They never could figure out where those were coming from. Ijust like to see stuff grow.”

He returned to Lawrence County permanently in 2005 and purchasedthe home where he lives now. A garden was one of his firstimprovements.

Wilson said he dislikes store-bought vegetables because of thepreservatives and other chemicals. He likes his plants organic andfresh from the garden.

“It just tastes better. Clean,” he said.

It’s all done by feel, he said. He has spent his life gardeningand has that experience to guide him through the crooked rows.

“You learn to know the difference between a pea, bean, tomatostem or anything like that from a weed or grass.

“The only thing bothers me about that is I don’t know thedifference between the feel of a dead snake or a live snake, but Ithink I would learn that real quick,” Wilson said.

Wilson said he feels the generations following him haveforgotten the importance and pride of gardening and producing one’sown food, but he hopes that will be the silver lining of thepresent economic slump.

“The way the economy is, I feel if a blind man can do it thereare plenty of others who can find the time,” he said.