NEW PORT RICHEY — The late afternoon sun filters through the cypress trees and backlights sheets of moss draped from the bare branches. Bass Lake looks like forgotten Florida in this light, solemn and serene, its surface the color of dark glass.
Artist Roxanne Harmon stands on the dock and peers into the water; hundreds of fish swim just below the surface; waiting for her husband, Dennis, to scatter their daily feeding of bread and oatmeal.
"This is the prettiest time of day," says Roxanne, 46. "This is my paradise; close to everything, yet we can see osprey, egrets, cranes and hawks. Everything you can imagine."
Roxanne and Dennis, 47, an electrical inspector for Pasco County, bought the modest house on a busy street off Ridge Road seven years ago for $80,000. It needed a lot of work, inside and out, but they were swayed by the surprising, if not stunning, backyard view: "We walked inside, took one look out the window and said, 'Ah, this is it,' " Roxanne recalls.
Over time they coaxed the house back to life and made it their own, painting the exterior cantaloupe, avocado and plum; landscaping the front yard; expanding and redesigning the kitchen; and creating a laundry room.
Roxanne, who is a professional muralist and faux painter who owns her company, Murals and More, says she is inspired every day by what she sees from her kitchen window.
Also a serious scuba diver — she and Dennis take two international dive trips and make 60 dives a year, spending many weekends diving in natural springs around Florida — Roxanne's paintings of those trips quilt the walls of the 1,600-square-foot house.
One depicts the underwater Santa Rosa Wall near Cozumel. ("See how the divers are insignificant compared to the beauty of the reef," she points out.) Others capture scenes around Jamaica, including one of the view from Rick's Cafe in Montego Bay.
Photos of the murals she paints for clients fill three large portfolios, and her love of nature is evident in the way she depicts scenes of lakes and birds; beach and palms; the way vegetation grows from a sand dune, the way a marshy inlet hints at the promise of the gulf beyond.
One room feels as if the viewer is swimming underwater along with schools of colorful fish. Another scene, painted at a waterfront house in west Pasco, mimics the real view out the windows. She paints exactly what her clients ask, which sometimes means including grandchildren in a mural or, recently, mermaids with glitter paint for a little girl's room.
"I like to have my clients give me input, tell me what they want because it's theirs," says Roxanne, who began painting as a child growing up in Pasco County.
And that's her secret: really listening to what people want and giving it to them. More often than not, she's painting scenes from Florida (her mural of Vanishing Pasco — one of her first — adorns the walls of the Hudson library).
She gets a lot of requests for Tuscan and Mediterranean scenes, as well as for faux finishes and children's rooms. Her home also serves as a sort of gallery of her faux finishing techniques, including a unique, tactile, three-dimensional stenciling of leaves and vines over the dining room chandelier.
The technique involves stenciling coupled with a drywall compound. "I can even make bricks seem as if they're 'popping out' from the wall," she explains.
Her jobs take her all over four counties: Pasco, Hernando, Hillsborough and Pinellas. She doesn't advertise because her word-of-mouth business keeps her booked months in advance.
She doesn't even own a cell phone.
"I would never get any work done otherwise," she says. "Because I don't have a cell phone, I can tell my clients: 'I'm yours for the time I'm at your house.' "
The Harmons have one son, who is 28 and living on his own. They share the house with an 18-pound black cat named Scooter they adopted as a kitten.
"He was so small he fit in the palm of my hand," Roxanne recalls. In October, the Harmons, who met while students at Hudson High School and married at 16, will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary.
They are clearly still in love and in-synch, happy to be with one another after all these years. He still calls her sweetie. She still glows from his compliments about her artistic talent.
She is equally proud of him, displaying his hundreds of beautiful underwater dive photos in a digital frame that changes photos in an eye blink.
"I have my stuff all over the house; I wanted him to have his stuff around, too," she says.
Roxanne defines the secret to their incredibly happy marriage as this: "You can either decide to grow with someone or grow apart."
And, she adds, "We really have fun together."
Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.