NORTH FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — To say a river runs through Robert Lee Taylor's life wouldn't be doing the Caloosahatchee's role justice: The man eats, sleeps and breathes that waterway, which rolls just underneath his living room window.
Taylor's North Fort Myers mobile home perches just feet from its grassy bank, close enough to hear afternoon breezes riffling its amber surface. Moored nearby is his boat, the Bonnie Jean, in which the Chrysler retiree prowls the river for monster tarpon — at least on days when he's not photographing, painting or creating computer slideshows of it.
Self-taught in acrylics, many of Taylor's realistic canvases depict nature and wild creatures: sunrises, birds of prey, game fish — many of which he's painted in and around the Caloosahatchee.
His latest project, a 12-foot tall mural on the front of his house, depicts — what else? — a river scene. Into it, he's woven images and moments of his past 13 years at the Upriver RV Resort, where the Maryland-born Taylor and wife Bonnie moved after he retired from Chrysler as an inspector.
Since then, he's logged hundreds of hours on the river, many of them in the Bonnie Jean, meticulously customized into a tarpon hunting machine, rigged with a special top, rod mounts and video camera docking station. It was from this boat that he and four buddies caught a giant tarpon they're sure would have qualified for a world record, "except that all five of us handled it," Taylor says.
There are no tarpon visible in his mural yet, but in the two weeks he's been working on it, Taylor, 76, has painted plenty of birds. A great egret floats toward a nest in the center. There's the pair of roseate spoonbills that sometimes breakfast in Taylor's front yard. Tucked into a corner is a peacock that once wandered into the park. And perched in a tall pine is a bald eagle — one of the famous pair dubbed Ozzie and Harriet that nests a few miles to the west.
Taylor knows the birds well — "Every morning, I get up and turn on the eagle's nest," he says, referring to the popular online Eagle Cam. "One morning, I watched one of them come right here, pick a mullet up, then eight minutes later, the eagle landed in the nest with that mullet."
Of course, the bird had to be in the painting, to the delight of his neighbor, Pam Herget.
"He's just so talented," says Herget, who's bought three of Taylor's paintings. "And he knows so much about the area — if you have a question about anything around here, just ask Captain Bob."
Taylor says he never tires of watching and learning about the river and its environs.
"Yes, it's a beautiful river — the river is what drew me here — but I really never knew how beautiful until I got into art. Most people can look and they just see a wide-perspective thing, but if you focus, there's a lot of beauty — absolute beauty — on this river.
"It's phenomenal what you can see."
Information from: The (Fort Myers, Fla.) News-Press, http://www.news-press.com