By: Raymond Greiner
Ivaloo Johnson was 15years old living in a high hollow in the Virginia highlands, the only child of Arlie and Isabelle Johnson. Arlie and Isabelle homesteaded this land in 1805. Then both died in the winter of 1823 from unknown causes. Ivaloo’s parents were extraordinary, building their cabin using hewn logs, doing the labor themselves. Ivaloo buried her parents side by side near the cabin and carved their names and date of death on wooden crosses she fashioned herself. She did not know their dates of birth and living so isolated had yet to tell anyone of their deaths. The nearest neighbor was 20 miles distance. Ivaloo was a tall, thin girl, appearing older than 15. 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 shot, astounding her father at her natural knack 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, thinking. “What is to become of me? Will I die alone at a young age? Can I obtain enough food to survive?” Although thin, Ivaloo was solid sinew from the physical work this homestead required. She was as tough as any man with a will of iron inherited from her parents.
As spring 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 associated with personal survival.
Ivaloo had a deep love for animals and as she and her father killed for food her heart felt guilt and only was able to perform this hunting task knowing it was a necessity to live. She felt connection to animals, a spiritual bond. She decided to attempt obtaining food without relying on killing animals.
Repetitive dreams revealed a nightly message: “Build a fire in the woods.” Each night this same message appeared. It was disturbingly haunting and worried Ivaloo. Her first thoughts were this is happening because I am alone and miss my parents so much. The mind wanders in unusual ways when loneliness dominates.
One evening as darkness descended Ivaloo ventured a few hundred yards into the surrounding woods and built a campfire. She felt compelled to do this inspired by her ongoing dream. She sat on a log, feeling the fire’s warmth, penetrating the chill of the early spring night. This fire offered comfort as flames spiraled upward into darkness. Her mother told her that many of us have spirit guides and these guides may at times communicate through dreams. Ivaloo thought: “Could this be my spirit guide speaking?”
Nothing of significance occurred that night, but the joy she felt sitting on that log next to her fire was unusual, emitting a feeling of companionship. Ivaloo was overcome by a calming tranquility, a joyful feel. She let the fire burn down and returned to her cabin deciding to have another fire the next evening. Ivaloo was energized and her loneliness less intense.
During the days routine she continually thought about her campfire, anticipating the time to enjoy her fire again. She gathered firewood at sunset to build her fire. 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, lying down and continuing to stare. It was peculiar, causing wonder and questions why these foxes would do such a thing. She smiled to herself; they were so beautiful and perfect with ears straight up. Foxes are the keenest and most intelligent of the forest animals. The foxes remained for over an hour, and then one got up and yawned. The other also stood and Ivaloo felt emotional warmth, an attachment. Then the foxes ran into the dark forest.
The next day she thought constantly about her experience with the foxes. Could not make sense of this unusual encounter. Her entire life she felt a powerful love of animals, and often observing them for hours, mesmerized at their harmonious function. Her thoughts: “This event had a telepathic feel. Were they seeking her companionship?”
The next evening as Ivaloo sat next to her fire the foxes again 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 close behind. Ivaloo was overcome with joy as the foxes established a new den under her cabin’s porch. Ivaloo now has true companions. The four foxes followed Ivaloo wherever she went and each night these friends enjoyed the reverence of their campfire. There was an element of divinity to these nightly fires.
Ivaloo harnessed 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 foxed. The minister said he would visit to say prayers at the gravesites, and also wanted to see the foxes. She traded ginseng and May apple root with the storekeeper in exchange for a few basic supplies. On the return to her cabin she stopped and slept for a while then continued on. It was a moonlit night and the old mule knew its way home. Ivaloo felt fulfilled knowing she had proven herself to be self-sufficient, had a home of comfort and four beautiful, loving companions. Her life was complete, had purposeful meaning as she connected with the Earth in a manner seldom experienced. The enigma of life progresses to a higher consciousness when detached from human social interferences. The static of humanity in mass blocks spiritual awareness found within solitude and the presence of nature. This opposes human instinct to gravitate toward grouping, offering social interaction and a sense security. One cannot feel the meditative powers of solitude while surrounded by the buzz of human social order. Ivaloo had no choice; she was placed in her position by circumstance.
Each day the fox parents would hunt and return to their den with food for their kits. Ivaloo continued her homestead chores as the kits followed her every step. This routine continued all summer and by fall the kits were full size and began accompanying 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, continuing to live with her at her homestead strengthened her spirit. Nightly campfires were now a ritual.
Ivaloo lived until age 75. Her foxes remained attached until her death in 1883. The homestead now was now 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 was still intact and a park naturalist took an interest in the cabin presenting a proposal to restore the cabin maintaining it as a visitor attraction. The naturalist was taken by the occupation of the cabin with foxes and researched the cabin’s history discovering Ivaloo’s story. It had become a legendary place among locals. Many felt it may be haunted because each early spring a campfire is seen on the hillside near the cabin and it was known that nobody was in the vicinity when this campfire appears. The next 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 15 after her parents died and her intense bond with foxes. A sign posted over the doorway stated: “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 solidly in place and many celebrate her legacy. A mysterious campfire continued to appear each spring on the hillside near the cabin.