My hunting stories have a beginning. This is it. Most of my life I have lived on the edge of the Apalachicola National Forest's 581,837 acres which spread across Franklin, Leon, Liberty and Wakulla Counties but had never gone into its inner sanctum. That is until several years ago, prior to us being married, when Kenny took me to the site of the Presnell family’s hunting camp in Liberty County, Florida for the first time.
It was a hot sunny day as we headed toward the camp which had been closed up for the summer. We drove down lonely roads stretching over Liberty County through rows of planted pines. We then came to a dusty two-rut shady lane that appeared to go nowhere.
As we approached a tangled mess of twisted vines woven around a locked gate, Kenny searched his pockets for the gate key. No luck. We wouldn’t be seeing the camp that day I thought. I welcomed the excuse for not becoming a tasty meal for the hungry mosquitoes and yellow flies that hovered outside my truck window eager to gnaw on my flesh and bones. The fact that we were locked out seemed like reason enough to me for not getting out of the truck.
The next thing I knew, Kenny yelled, “Come on,” as I watched him scale over the gate. What else could I do but follow him? Being the city girl I was, I wasn’t sure of my chances of survival out there in the wild by myself. I had heard tales of a crazy-eyed man getting lost in a place called "Tate's Hell" for days on end, starving, running for his life from the ravishing paws of hungry animals.
My primal instinct was to stay with the hunter and not become the hunted. In my haste to catch up with Kenny, due to my perceived fear of becoming dinner for not-so “Gentle Ben,” I stumbled and fell out the truck door. After picking myself up off the forest floor, I stood before a galvanized 4-foot tall gate. I realized the challenge before me. I’m not a tall person. I took a deep breath, first one leg, then the other. I awkwardly climbed up the gate rails while fighting briars and spiders and spitting gnats out of my mouth. After what seemed like a trek across the perilous jungles of the Amazon, I made it over. Before me was yet another two-rut lane leading to what again seemed like nowhere.
Finally, hidden and nestled at the end of the lane was the camp site. There was an old house trailer. A rusty tin roof covered the concrete block porch and stretched across the front of the trailer and over a lean-to boat shed. Rows of deer antlers were nailed to the porch facings and hinted at the history of this old dwelling.
“Welcome to The Hilton,” said Kenny. He went on to explain that The Hilton had replaced their first hunt camp house fondly remembered as Old Blue, a tiny tin-can of a trailer held together by layers of blue paint. Kenny said he was running around in diapers during Old Blue’s hey-day.
I took it all in. The Hilton was flanked on the right by rows of chain-link dog pens, homes for walker hounds during deer hunting season. Over to the left was the wood shed. Across the way I saw another aging camp site with a trailer and cook shack. I was told that it belonged to old-timer and hunting pal Clarence McCoy (RIP). Statuesque old pine trees and palmetto bushes painted the camp site with varying shades of green. Puffy cotton-ball clouds dotted a crystal-blue sky. I heard the occasional cry from a hawk or crow intermingled with mockingbirds singing their song of summer as the sound of chirping crickets hummed through my ears. Even the trees sang as the breeze whistled through them. The lingering smell of dry wood from burn barrels and pine floated through the air along with a hint of sweet honeysuckle. The whole place had an earthy, woodsy look and feel to it. No frills. There was a sense of time standing still. I felt a peace and calm that seemed to unexpectedly draw me in.
Up until that point in time, I had seen the Apalachicola Forest as only a cut through to Florida’s panhandle beaches of Carrabelle or St. George’s Island, places I had gone to when I was a child with my family. Now there appeared to be another world emerging from the forest before my eyes, holding a history and culture of hunting that I knew nothing about. But even then, I was not aware of the natural treasures that it held nor did I foresee the adventures it had in store for me.
Until next time……………………brenda