For the first article in this series, go to: Bullwinkle – First encounter.
“So tell me how you came to be Bullwinkle.”
“My father was a colonel in the Air Force,” he began. “He flew cargo planes in and out of Alaska. Although I was only seven years old, sometimes he took me with him.”
“Your father took a seven-year-old up in an Air Force cargo plane?”
“He out-ranked everyone on that base. No one cared about giving him any guff. One day we were coming into the landing strip and a moose was crossing the field.”
“ ‘There’s Bullwinkle,’ ” I shouted. “It was too late to go around. Dad could do nothing but touch down and hope. We plowed into the animal and killed it, wrecking the landing gear.”
“ ‘You killed Bullwinkle,’ ” I said as I my eyes filled with tears.
“We got out of the plane walked over to look at the twisted landing gear. Then he looked at the carcass and said, “ ‘Lucky, that’s not Bullwinkle. That’s his lazy cousin, Louie the Loafer.’
“I told the story of how I thought we’d killed Bullwinkle to everyone on the base and pretty soon the name stuck to me. And I’ve been Bullwinkle ever since.”
“So what is your name?”
“I go by Bullwinkle.”
“Uh huh,” I said to let him know I got it.
“How long have you been in the forest?”
“Four years, all year round?”
“Sometimes I leave for a few months,” he said. “I go up to the craft fairs in Missouri. I sell some carvings.”
“You make a living from that?”
“No, it’s pocket change.”
“How do you get by?”
“I had a little money when I quit working,” he said. “and a little pension from when I was a POW, and my Social Security kicked in this year. It doesn’t cost anything to live in the forest if you don’t drive much.”
“And you’ve been at this life for four years?
“No, no, fifteen years ago I had a heart attack. I weighed 350 pounds, drank a lot, and ate business lunches. I was committing suicide a day at a time until the heart attack.
“I was in the hospital for three weeks and had a lot of time to think about things. I never went back to my office. I had a piece of land near Tucson I deeded to my kids. I got what little money I had together and bought a 25-year-old motorhome and been on the road ever since.”
“What do your kids think about your life?” I asked. “Are you in touch with them?”
“I have a daughter I talk to once in a while. The rest of them don’t want much to do with me.”
“Why is that?
“It’s kind of personal.” He grew quiet and looked off into the distance.
When I run into someone’s boundaries, I treat it like a fence. Some fences are serious, business-like structures, tall stockades with barbed wire, watchtowers, and armed guards. I sensed this one was not well maintained. A boundary consisting of a few rotting boards tacked to weathered posts, each leaning in different directions, the No Trespassing signs fading into illegibility, and the gate hanging by one rusty hinge. I thought I might return another time.
As the earth rotated away from the sun, its rays wove their way between the pines with ever more difficulty. The light waned at the forest floor, and the colors began to run together.
I left Bullwinkle to the faraway place he’d gone.
To be concluded.