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By Raymond Greiner
*Editor's Note: Originally published at Yard Journal Magazine.
Ivaloo Johnson was fifteen years old, and lived in a high hollow in the Virginia Highlands the only child of Arlie and Isabelle Johnson. Arlie and Isabelle homesteaded this land in 1800. Then both died in the winter of 1820 from unknown causes. Ivaloo’s parents were extraordinary, and built their hewn log cabin. Ivaloo buried her parents side by side near the cabin and carved their names and dates of death on wooden crosses she fashioned herself. She did not know their dates of birth, and living isolated had yet to tell anyone of their deaths. The nearest neighbor was twenty miles distance. Ivaloo was tall and slender appearing older than fifteen. Her parents were gardeners, and Arlie hunted game for food. Arlie and Isabelle taught Ivaloo all they knew during her formative years. She learned gardening and became an expert marksman astonishing her father by her natural ability for shooting. Ivaloo was now alone, and feeling anxiety. She loved her parents deeply and their absence seemed surreal as if they remained with her. The silent solitude caused worry and she thought. “What’s to become of me? Will I die alone at a young age? Can I find enough food to survive?” Although thin, Ivaloo was solid sinew from the homestead’s physical work. She was as tough as any man, with an iron will inherited from her parents.
As the spring sun warmed the soil Ivaloo spaded and hoed the garden plot preparing for seed. She had an ample supply of canned foods remaining from winter. Each day was consumed with work attached to personal survival.
Ivaloo had a deep love for animals, and as she killed for food her heart was laden with guilt and only able to perform this task feeling it was a necessity. She felt spiritually bonded to animals. She decided to make an attempt at sustenance without killing animals.
Repetitive dreams revealed a nightly message: “Build a fire in the woods”. Each night this message reappeared. This disturbed Ivaloo, and related its occurrence to the thought; “I’m alone and miss my parents.” The mind wanders in a curious manner during solitude.
One evening, as darkness descended Ivaloo ventured a few hundred feet into the surrounding woods and built a campfire. She felt compelled to do this, inspired by her nightly dream. She sat on a log feeling the warmth of the fire penetrating the chill of the early spring night. This fire offered comfort, as flames spiraled into darkness. Her mother explained many of us have spirit guides, and these guides often communicate through dreams. Ivaloo pondered. “Could this be the voice of my spirit guide?”
Nothing significant occurred that night, but the joy she felt as she sat on the log next to her fire was mysterious and emanated a sense of companionship. A calm, tranquil feel overwhelmed Ivaloo. She let the fire burn down then returned to her cabin and decided to build another fire the next evening. Ivaloo was energized, and loneliness diminished.
During daily routines she thought about her campfire in anticipation of the time to enjoy her fire again. She gathered firewood at sunset. As she sat near the fire she was startled by a slight noise just beyond the fire’s light. Then a pair of foxes appeared, sitting next to the fire staring at Ivaloo. These foxes remained. It was peculiar, causing wonder, with question why these foxes would do this. She smiled to herself; they were so beautiful and perfect, with ears straight up. Foxes are the keenest and most intelligent of forest animals. The foxes remained for over an hour, and then one stood and yawned. The other also stood and Ivaloo felt emotional warmth and attachment. Then the pair ran into the dark forest.
The next day her thoughts continued related her experience with the foxes. This was an unusual encounter. Her entire life she felt a powerful love for animals often observing them for hours mesmerized by their symbiotic function. Ivaloo thought; “This event had a telepathic feel. Were they seeking companionship?”
The next evening as Ivaloo sat next to her fire the foxes appeared each carrying a kit. They placed their kits near the fire and the two kits began to play. These were the most adorable animals she had ever seen. Her heart was filled with immense happiness watching these two. The foxes remained for a while then each parent picked up a kit and went off into the forest.
The next day the foxes came to the cabin with kits following. Ivaloo was overcome with joy as the foxes established their new den under her cabin’s porch. Ivaloo now had the best companions. The four foxes followed Ivaloo wherever she went and each night these friends enjoyed the reverence of their campfire. Theses campfires offered a spiritual presence.
Ivaloo harnessed Daisy the mule and took the wagon to the small town to explain to the town’s minister about her parent’s death, also to describe her experience with the foxes. The minister said he would visit and say a prayer at her parent’s gravesite, and also interested to see the foxes. She traded ginseng and May apple root with the storekeeper in exchange for a few basic supplies. On her return home she stopped and slept for a while then continued on. It was a moonlit night and Daisy knew her way home. Ivaloo felt fulfilled, knowing she had proven herself self-sufficient; she had a home of comfort, and four beautiful, loving companions. Her life was complete, with purpose and meaning as she connected naturally with Earth’s gifts. The enigma of life establishes higher consciousness when detached from social complexities. The static of mass human presence hinders meaningful awareness, which is more profoundly displayed within solitude when attached to nature. This opposes collective human social instinct to gravitate toward grouping seeking social bonding. Meditative power escalates within solitude, as the mind recedes to stillness. Ivaloo had no choice; her position was created by circumstance.
Each day the fox parents would hunt and return to their den with food for their kits. Ivaloo continued her homestead chores and the kits followed her every step. This routine continued all summer, and by fall the kits were large enough to accompany their parents on hunts.
Years passed, and generations of foxes continued using Ivaloo’s porch as their den. Ivaloo was saddened when one of her foxes would die or disappear. It was difficult, but those remaining lifted her spirit. Nightly campfires became firmly established rituals.
Ivaloo remained at her homestead with her foxes until her death at age 80. The homestead now was a barren place, but foxes continued to den at Ivaloo’s cabin. Many years passed and the land Ivaloo’s homestead occupied became a National Park. The cabin remained intact and park managers took an interest in the cabin presenting a proposal to restore the cabin maintaining it as a visitor’s attraction. The park’s naturalist was fascinated by the occupation of the cabin with foxes and researched the cabin’s history discovering Ivaloo’s story. Ivaloo’s cabin was legendary among locals. Many felt it may be haunted, because each early spring a campfire is seen on the hillside near the cabin and it is known nobody is in the vicinity when these campfires appear. The morning after the campfire burns down fox tracks can be seen surrounding the area of the fire.
The National Park Service installed a bronze placard explaining Ivaloo’s life taking over the homestead at age fifteen after her parents died and explaining her intense bond with foxes. A sign posted over the doorway states: “Ivaloo’s Cabin the home of Ivaloo Johnson and many foxes.” It became the most popular exhibit in the park. People came from great distances to visit Ivaloo’s cabin. Foxes remained, becoming accustomed to visitors. As visitors approached, foxes could be seen peering out between the cabin’s steps. The spirit of Ivaloo was intact, and her legacy is celebrated. The mysterious campfire continued to appear each spring on the hillside near the cabin.