The rap on my door woke me from my afternoon doze.
I’d left Tallahassee that morning bound for the ranger station at Crawfordville on the edge of Apalachicola National Forest. The rangers said I could park anywhere in the forest. Only two campgrounds with facilities required a fee. They provided me with dozens of pieces of paper about the forest, and I purchased the ten-dollar map detailing forest roads, campsites, and hiking trails.
I left the ranger station and southed past Crawfordville’s three stoplights and curved along the edge of the forest, looking for a sign marking the entrance. I found none, so I picked a likely right turn and veered in. Within a block I was surrounded by a thick growth of skinny pines. And I mean skinny. Eight inches wide where they came out of the ground, they tapered to three inches as they speared eighty feet into the air.
Soon the paving became white hard-packed sand that slowed me to ten miles per hour. I absorbed the rich array of greens, thick along the base of the brown pine punctuation marks. It had been a year since a primeval forest had inhaled me so completely
Although I noted several one-vehicle parking spots, I coasted onward like a schooner in a failing breeze, toward a spot designated on the map as Pope Still Hunt Camp and described as ten spaces, no facilities except portable toilets during hunting season.
Hours later I came upon the camp and pulled into a driveway between the trees that opened into a grassy, sandy plaza that was twice the size of a tennis court.
I circled around the edge of the clearing away from the one tent and reined in the Jolly Swag. Pleased that I could see no activity at the tent, I gave myself a few minutes for the lie-down I was entitled to after that three or four hours of earnest laziness.
A few minutes was all I was given before the knock on the door. The raps, hearty but short of official, raised me spring-loaded from my settee. I opened the door.
“Ya want some books?” the man asked, holding up a couple of Grishams.
An offer of books in the back country is the boondocker’s equivalent of a casserole. Etiquette requires acceptance even if the meal is dog-eared trashy Harlequins.
“Where ya from?” he asked as he placed the books in my hand.
“I came in from Tallahassee this morning.” I said. “First time in the forest. Seems real nice, and this spot is great.” Then added, “am I crowding you here?”
“No, you’re fine. You can barely even see my rig through the trees.”
I looked and through 200 feet of vegetation could see only the corner of the cab-over bunk of a class C motorhome.
I looked back at the man. His face was as kindly as his manner. He was over six feet tall. He wore a gray sweater. Thin, white whiskers hung to his chest. Twelve inches of clumpy straw-colored hair cascaded from the edge of his baseball cap to his shoulders. Around his neck was a lanyard with s keys and a bright orange whistle.
“AL is my name,” I offered.
“Bullwinkle,” he answered with a toothless smile.
“I‘d like to hear the tale that hangs on that name.” I said.