A Friday story.
About five years ago the City of Inverness was preparing plans for the new Depot District, including significant upgrades to Liberty Park and Wallace Brooks Park.
The latter was of utmost importance as my then-driveway began along the outer edge of Wallace Brooks and emptied into the front yard a short distance away.
Loved that driveway. An extension to Dampier Street and easy access to all the good stuff in Inverness.
That driveway isn’t there today. In its place is the Inverness Boathouse, which the city built and rents to the ROCCS rowing club.
The new driveway, which opened in the latter part of 2019, cuts an entirely different path. The house with an address on Dampier was suddenly accessible only by a private road off the main highway.
It’s a long drive, about a quarter mile, that twists through the woods. Sounds romantic and mystical, and we saw many deer along that route, but as driveways go, it’s a loser. Bumpy from tree roots, dusty as an Inverness Villages 4 street in April, and it floods in heavy rain. I parked several nights at Wallace Brooks to avoid getting stuck.
That new driveway had zero redeeming value.
I met the guy in today’s photo.
That’s Paul Hertensen and he’s a reader of this blog. That means he’s already mad at me because I haven’t said anything about the turtles.
Take a breath, Paul. I’ll get there.
When the new driveway plowed through virgin woods it opened us up to two-legged neighbors for the first time. Paul made himself known right away. Sort of a gruff, in-your-face guy but also one who would show up any time for any reason.
He quickly intimidated the heck out of me (still does) but his demeanor changed as we got to know one another. Paul’s what I call a man’s man. He does manly stuff with hammers and screwdrivers and contraptions that Paul himself invented.
Paul showed me the basics of painting and together we spruced up the front of the house. I did exactly what he told me to do. Any idea I had, he had a better one.
That’s why we’re friends. I have no basic survival skills and he’s an expert in them all.
He’s a Vietnam veteran in his 70s. Paul has harrowing stories of hand-to-hand jungle combat. He’s seen and done things that belong in an R-rated movie.
Yet today he has children and grandchildren. He’s married to a lovely woman. Beneath this gruff exterior is one of the kindest men I’ve ever met.
And now the turtles.
Paul is an entrepreneur and inventor. He’s allegedly “retired” from professional life but with his PTSD, he likes to keep busy. He’s one of those guys always on the run.
He is also an artist and it's amazing. He has a trademark for “Broken Prop Art.” Like a lot of artists, he sees things the rest of us don’t see.
Paul had an idea about the Inverness cooter. Similar to the Painted Horse Trail in Ocala, Paul’s vision is beautifully painted aluminum turtles in Inverness.
He sees much more than just a few nicely painted turtles here and there. It’s all a part of the city’s recent direction toward more murals downtown. More art.
In May, Paul started the non-profit Inverness Arts and Culture Alliance. He commissioned a pair of artists to paint mini murals on the outer shells of these turtles, and they are stunning.
Art isn’t my thing so if I tried to explain further, I’d probably screw it up. Look for Paul and the turtles this weekend at the Inverness Festival of the Arts on the Courthouse Square.
“It’s not about me,” he says while trying to inch his way out of the photo.
I hear that a lot. People offering incredible personal service and then saying it’s for others. But it is about the person giving as well. Not for glory’s sake, but for perspective.
Paul’s an ordinary guy doing an extraordinary thing for his community. Citrus County has a thousand Pauls, probably more. Folks who wake up and wonder what they can do that day for their neighbors. For some, it’s a hot meal. Others contribute financially to many causes. And some have visions about beautifying their city with painted turtles.
I’ve had a weird, rough, pinball-game type of week, the fourth or fifth in a row. Doesn’t feel too good and I need to get out of it. Spending time with Paul and his turtles or Broken Prop Art provides me calm and hope.
I guess that’s the idea.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.