Carving a masterpiece from Irma's mess

On The Road: Turning Irma damage into masterpieces

Two months ago, when all of the west coast of Florida seemed bumper-to-bumper on I-75, Todd Plumlee knew Hurricane Irma could be costly.

“As we looked back, my wife definitely had a tear in her eye wondering if we were going to lose everything,” he said.

The evacuation wasn’t far – just over the Indian Rocks Bridge to higher ground – but the uncertainty couldn’t be measured. For a man with so much to lose, it was hard to say goodbye. In just a few short weeks he would be taking over as President of his family’s realty business from his mother, Patty. Pushing 80, it was time for her to retire.

The only thing she requested he keep was her beloved trees in the company parking lot.

“These trees have been a big part of my mom’s love of this property and in fact, I had to promise her that as long as I was in charge we wouldn’t get rid of them,” said Todd.

That’s why Irma was so terrifying. The towering oak trees, rare for Indian Rocks Beach, threatened to crush everything his family had worked for if the winds got really high. Fall south, no problem. Fall east, and the main office would probably be rubble.

Luckily, only one tree fell and it missed the building.

“It just landed in this big open space,” he said, motioning to the empty parking.

The resulting mess included a snapped oak tree with the clean break about 12-feet off the ground. They guess lightning was the culprit. The remaining tree stump was ugly and unwelcoming. Then, the new company president had an idea.

“Someone from their marketing team called me,” said Keith Carroll.

The south Florida woodcarver got the call to come survey the opportunity. The trees were so special to Patty that Todd couldn’t just grind the stump. He decided to transform the wood that was left firmly planted in the ground into something beautiful through Carroll’s chainsaw.

“I like to do sculptures and things that people appreciate and take what is damaged and turn it into art,” said Carroll, who began wood carving in 1989.

In a few short days, Carroll had carved a 6-foot dolphin that seems to fly up out of the ground. The bark of the tree had been flaked away revealing a multitude of cracks in the tree. Those cracks gave dimension and character to the dolphin statue Todd affectionately named “Patty”.

“We love it,” he said.

The dolphin carving, which will soon include a plaque at the base dedicated to the victims of Hurricane Irma, is a beautiful reminder of how the family’s business was spared from the storm. What could have been never happened. Now, there is a 6-foot eye-catching animal in its place.

“I think a lot of people come by here just to admire it,” said Carroll. “It’s a good piece.”

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