It was a masterpiece of poor planning that found me still in Maine the first week of November 2013. Winter slapped me upside my head, and I headed south with too many promises to keep. It took me six weeks to get to Crawfordville, Florida, on the edge of Apalachicola National Forest. I rolled in on six miles of paved road and a couple of miles of unpaved washboard that did a shake, rattle, and roll number on the Jolly Swag if I let the spedo creep above ten miles per hour.
It was dusk when I found the secret cove I had discovered 18 months ago, a spot designated as Pope Still on the forest map. First thing I saw was a deer hanging by his hind legs from an iron crosstree structure. The rope went up and over a horizontal beam and down at a steep angle to the bumper of a pickup truck. I had arrived during hunting season.
I eased my way through the path paved with pine needles to a clearing I remembered a hundred yards away, and packed it in for the night. I could see four trailers in the area beyond the pickup truck. The hunters sat around their campfire well into the night and were gone in the morning.
This was not going to be the peaceful retreat it was a year-and-a-half before when the population was three. Besides me there was Bob and Bull.
Bob sat behind the wheel of his station wagon reading paperbacks. He moved the van a few feet every hour or so to dodge the sun. We exchanged but a couple of words in the week or more I was there.
Bullwinkle, a Nam vet who chose this patch of forest as the arena to confront his personal demons–his personal hidey-hole. Over the course of a few days, Bull shared a number of stories with me. Then one day, he was simply gone.
I devoted three blogs to the man.
I reread them and recalled how his story had touched me and dozens of people who follow this blog.
Pope Still as a hunt camp held little of the oasis flavor of my previous stop. I drove into town, stopped at the library, and found a spot to set up my laptop and check on a few days of email.
I was deeply into the hypnosis of the computer screen, when a deep voice boomed throughout the library. “Who owns that motorhome outside?”
I turned to see a big guy with a foot of whiskers and an orange whistle hanging on his chest.
“Bull,” I said with a vigor that forgot this was a library.
He turned and looked at me.
“Do you remember me? “ I asked.
His faced rounded to accommodate a toothless smile, and he nodded.
“I remember.” Then he added. “You going to be here a while? I’m here for a meeting.”
“I’ll stick around until you’re finished,” I said.
Email was long finished, and I’d been back to the Jolly Swag for a snack and a nap. Two hours had gone by, but Bull’s rig was still parked next to mine.
Finally, he came out of the meeting.
“That was my PTSD group a volunteer therapist runs it once a month. I think it does some good.”
“I went out to Pope Still looking for you last night.”
“I don’t go out there much. I park the rig at my church. I do nighttime security for them, and they let me plug in.”
“The church you took me to for supper when I was here?”
“Probably the same one.”
“How’s your health?” I asked.
“ ’Bout the same.”
We ran out of small talk quickly. I wanted to get a few miles of Panhandle done before dark.
“Let me get a couple of pictures of you before I go.”
He hasn’t changed much, has he?
I don’t exactly know when or even if I’ll get back to Crawfordville again. But there is a part of me that would like to know that Bull is doing OK. I’m thinking that if I head east on a southern route, I ought to see if I can get supper at his church.