Grabbing the wheels of his titanium chair, Brent Herman pushes himself across the grass to his vegetable garden.
Rows of carrots, onions, lettuce and other vegetables grow in a rectangular wooden box held off the ground by square posts that allow him to scoot his chair in underneath.
Herman made the box and plants, weeds, waters and harvests the vegetables, not letting the injury in 2008 that left him paralyzed from about the waist on down prevent him from living as full a life as possible.
You can visit Herman and his wife, Judy, on Saturday, July 9, when their yard will be one of 10 gardens in Princeton, Iowa, open for tours as a fundraiser for the upkeep of the Princeton Community Center.
As with all yards, their property contains features that walk participants may want to consider for their own spaces. A 50-foot Anamosa limestone retaining wall that they built across the frontage, for example, defines the lawn by providing a border. (It also serves as a base for sandbags, should they need to protect their house during times of Mississippi River flooding.) Flower beds edged in stone on either end of the wall create a symmetrical, bookend effect. A raised bed of herbs along the side of the house, including tarragon, dill, rosemary and thyme, provides seasonings that Judy dries by using a hydrator.
But far and away the most significant lesson one can pick up at the Hermans' yard is how to deal with adversity and the power of choosing a positive attitude.
Herman's injury occurred Jan. 31, 2008, as the result of a too-aggressive chiropractic adjustment, he said. He knew he was in pain, but it wasn't until he went to the hospital later that day and was admitted for surgery — eight hours, as it turned out — that he found out what happened.
In short, the pressure of the adjustment broke a blood vessel in his spine. The blood clotted, putting pressure on nerves and his spinal cord. Eventually, the spinal cord just "shut off," he said. Despite months of physical and occupational therapy, he is paralyzed below the T10 thoracic/chest vertebrae. "I am a parapelegic," he says simply.
"I just adapted to it," he says when asked if he went through a period of anger or grieving over his loss.
While visiting the yard, participants might also take note of the couple's house. Herman's mother owned a smallish concrete block house on this site that, after she passed away, and after he was injured, the couple acquired and re-made into a spacious home. A settlement they received in a lawsuit over the injury helped them pay for the work and adjustments for handicapped accessibility.
The home's most outstanding feature is the abundant use of Anamosa limestone wainscoting all around the exterior. Intermixed with the pale limestone are accents of Idaho flagstone, a reddish brown stone. Both of these stones also are used for the floor-to-ceiling fireplace inside the house, as well as outside.
"It's just like a puzzle," Herman says of piecing the stones together.
Also impossible to miss is their view of the Mississippi River. Their property extends all the way to the water's edge, with nothing but green trees on the other side. Given that, their yard would be beautiful even if it were covered with weeds.
Only one hitch: Canada geese like the waterfront, too, and they leave behind large droppings. If Herman rolls down to this area, the droppings get stuck in his wheels. In an attempt to thwart the geese, Herman has planted a privet hedge totally encasing their property along the river's edge. When the shrubs fill in, they will create a wall that he expects will keep the geese out.