Paul Jackson died recently at the age of 87. You probably never heard of him, which I’m sure was fine with Paul.

I met Paul and his late wife, Mary, sometime in the mid 1980s. I looked out the window of my seasonal cottage in Chilmark and saw a rail thin man in a tattered baseball cap with a large feather in it. He was erecting a birdhouse mounted on a tall post on a small hillside above my driveway. He had not asked permission or introduced himself. He barely acknowledged me when I walked outside to inspect. I later learned he had done this dozens and dozens of times all over the Island, a one-man campaign to restore bluebirds to the Vineyard.

He was gnarled and leathery, with pointed features exaggerated by his thin frame. He wore an old leather belt with a large safety pin stuck through it, and a small sheath knife. We talked. Paul and Mary became our once-a-week landscapers. Later they moved with us to a new house in a different part of Chilmark. We were together for 30 years, through Mary’s death and Paul’s “retirement” at about age 75. When I left the Vineyard after 45 years, I stopped at Paul’s house on the way to my last ferry. He was out working on his garden.

Paul Jackson was a 19th century man trapped in the 20th/21st century on an Island he knew better than almost anyone, but which he no longer understood.

When we met I had just started a vegetable garden, at first not knowing that Paul was surely the finest gardener on Martha’s Vineyard. It was all-consuming, but it wasn’t a hobby. Together with fish he caught and deer he hunted, it was what they lived on: fresh, frozen and preserved, augmented by fruit trees he had grafted and juice he canned from the apples he grew. He never went to a restaurant. Didn’t trust the food, He never bought food from the supermarket. Didn’t trust it either. Paul was a curmudgeon, at least superficially.

He wanted to take over my vegetable garden, not comprehending that it wasn’t only about yield. He became my mentor. I was a terrible student. By his measure, I was a failure at everything I did. Never large enough or bountiful enough. Planted too late or too early. Too many weeds.

Organic long before its time, Paul knew what would work naturally on the Vineyard and what wouldn’t. He won almost every ribbon he tried for at the annual agricultural fair and resented it when he didn’t.

At some recent point he was “discovered” as a Vineyard character. He gave a public lecture at the old Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury and showed albums of his prize crops. It was all about the soil and nurturing it with literally tons of cow and horse manure which he collected and shared with me, year after year. My soil never equaled his in Edgartown. After he retired to spend full-time in his garden in Edgartown, where every square foot was planted — my new neighbor in Chilmark sued me demanding I dismantle my 20-year-old garden fence because it intruded on his “viewshed.” I never told Paul. It would have broken his heart.

Paul Jackson may be among the very last of his generation. He hated change and worked hard to preserve the life he had built around him. I will always feel privileged he considered me a friend.

Lawrence Lasser lives in Brookline and Waldoboro, Me.