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Monday, July 27th, 2009

Time Event
History of a Fox


Childhood in Everdwell – The Fox as roamer

In 1981, Euphemie Amy Latchford was born in what some would call a hippy commune, others, an ecovillage, located almost an hour out of Ashville, North Carolina. Her parents, Glenn and Irene, founded the community in 1976, calling it Everdwell, and basing it on ecological principles people were beginning to call “permaculture”. With their friends and followers, they built their homes and communal structures using straw, cob, earth-plaster, and lumber from their own land. They unrolled organic gardens about themselves and formed their own lake, according themselves to the sun and seasons. Three-hundred-and-twenty acres of green, largely unmolested land became Fanny’s creche, school, and playground, and the other members of the growing community—or, Dwellers, as they called themselves—were her aunts and uncles, sharing in the task of raising her, along with the other children.

Her parents were at the center of all building, growing, maintenance, and teaching duties of the village, and, by dint of their wisdom and skill, they were treated as leaders for the other Dwellers, but in certain areas they showed true passion. For her father, it was blacksmithing and woodworking, while her mother shined in pottery; her fencing talent was a thing of local legend, as well. Naturally, Euphemie breathed and bathed in this culture of artisanship and manual labor, though she never applied herself to any one set of skills. She was equally pleased to go with her father in the hills and plink at clay targets with a rifle, as to practice with her mother’s bow and arrows, as to tend to the garden, as to care for the chickens and pigs, as to help with construction in ways children could help. It was clear at an early age that she was good at whatever she set her mind to, if only she’d set her mind to something.

They sometimes called her Effie, sometimes Fanny, sometimes Fox, for she roamed the acres whenever she got the chance, wandering alone along the creeks and crevices, playing around the small caves and abandoned mines scattered here and there throughout the property. The adults whispered that she was a flighty girl, head in the clouds, too often exploring when she should be helping out or, at least, playing with the other children. “In Everdwell,” they said, “community is everything. If we don’t work closely together in the spirit of collectivity, if we don’t sacrifice to one another every day, everything falls apart. It isn’t like the cities, where mutual apathy and greed serves as the only glue. Someone needs to bring that fox back into the fold.” These words, “apathy”, “collectivity”, “sacrifice”, she heard them every day in the town hall meetings and the gossip. Every five-year old in the village knew what these words meant. She began to feel that the words were directed at her, especially once she began to entrain her little sister in her explorations.

In truth, Euphemie was perceptive. She didn’t talk so much, which allowed her to notice things, things she seemed too young to notice. She saw the way the adults, and even the adolescents, paid lip service to humility, togetherness, and work ethic, while simultaneously seeking the greatest share of praise, gathering into unspoken factions along ideological lines, politicking for their own projects to take center stage, and letting other projects wither on the vine, sometimes quite literally. She was privy to the secret scheming between the First Dwellers and the Followers, as the latter group of relative newcomers tried to incorporate new ideas and philosophies to the village, while the former group, led covertly by her parents, fought to keep the reins and champion their original goals even as they openly encouraged the nurturing of fresh ideas for the community. Euphemie was too young to fully realize that this gap between civic rhetoric and reality was a form of intellectual dishonesty, but she could sense something was wrong. Unfortunately, she was also too young and sheltered to understand that outside of Everdwell, in the “real world”, which the Dwellers called the “Cities” or “Out There,” this disconnect between lofty ideals and politics, this dishonesty, was far more insidious and destructive.

But what bothered her most about living in Everdwell was the lack of privacy and solitude. Take a small, remote mountain town, shrink it, concentrate it until every front porch touches every other front porch, until everything is shared and every day involves brushing elbows with the same four dozen people around the circular lodge, around the fire, around the spit and the stew pot: that was the intimacy of Everdwell. A particularly private child, Euphemie squirmed under the smothering attention, chafed at the endless expectations of the village, finding respite and solace in the many undeveloped acres of Everdwell, her personal hinterlands, where none could spy on her nor offhandedly pull her into helping mend a fence or weed a garden or paint a sign or teach the littlest ones, or any other of the myriad tasks she was old enough to be entrusted with.

Often visitors would come, people who paid to take classes in sustainable living, or art, or to take part in the solstices and moon dances, or there were interns who came to live and work, usually because they were homeless. And Euphemie would see them and muse to herself about what it would be like to be a stranger, someone nobody truly knows, a girl with a whole past and a life and parents, but people could only talk about the parts of her life she chose to share with them while she worked and ate, or while she rested by the lake and marveled at the solar-pumped waterfall, which was really just a trickle, but to visitors it was like magic. What it would be like to have an unfamiliar face that is bright and fresh, until the sojourning girl moves on to another city, and her face fades in the mind, becoming indistinct and always needing to be recreated, reimagined, the faded features borrowed from other faces to fill in the gaps, until the image that remains is a blurry mosaic, or just a blur.

Growing up - Indelicate

It was easier to be a tomboy. Being in such close proximity to the same people year after year meant that the smallest change in shape or behavior sent out ripples of gossip; people noticed, boys noticed, the ones she’d shared bathtubs with when they were toddlers, the ones she knew far too well to want to like in that way—the ones who knew her far too well. Toby, for instance, who told her she was so-so but also sort of pretty sometimes. He said that more and more. It made being friends with him odd. So it was easier to dress in her brother’s hand-me-down canvas pants and let the hair fall as it would and wrestle and stick-fight. She grew out of it, eventually, but it served its purpose until confidence caught up with puberty, and she started wearing skirts and looking more-or-less feminine.

People described Euphemie as capable, adventurous, friendly, given to sudden and sometimes strangely-timed bouts of humor, as well as equally unlooked-for displays of generosity. But they also pointed out her impatient streak, her blunt and tactless language, which was known to hurt people’s feelings or get her into hot water, and the aloofness she showed towards other people’s suffering. This last quality was attributed to her tomboy reputation: like many rough young boys, she simply wasn’t very tender. If one of the little ones got a splinter in her palm, or someone hammered his thumb instead of a nail, she didn’t come running to their rescue. “It only hurts for a little. Take a break or something,” she might say, and go on with her own work, or wander off.

Were someone to point out this insensitivity to her, Euphemie would probably deny it. And yet, she prided herself on being less squeamish than most people about animal pain and slaughtering. Hunting was not a prominent feature of Everdwell life (in fact, many members decried the practice), but she shot some small game, and she had put an animal or two down when keeping them alive would have been crueler. As far as she was concerned, there was no need to be morbid or dramatic about it. Pets are pets; food is food. Making too big a deal of it was being dainty, and Euphemie disdained daintiness.

Trips outside Everdwell – The upright beast

Sometimes she left Everdwell. Her brother Byron, her half-brother, really, took her on trips outside the village. He was older than her by more than a decade, and ever since he was fifteen, he’d decided to live Out There, with relatives, or by himself. He took her to visit Raleigh—which she would do with The Dwellers often enough, but those trips always involved Dweller business in one way or another. With her brother, trips to the cities were a treat, and, besides, he didn’t ask cloying questions, and they didn’t know each other very well, which she preferred. He took her camping too, usually to hunt for his beloved Bigfoot, though his hunting was really an excuse to rant and wonder about cryptids in the deep, dark woods while boiling a pot of water over the fire. He once showed her a distribution map of Bigfoot sightings by state and province in the US and Canada, and pointed out the anomalous concentration of sightings in Ohio that almost matched the numbers of the West Coast. They drove to Shawnee State Forest and set up camp, intending to stay for a week, without responsibilities beyond relaxing, hiking, and keeping their eyes and ears open for whatever lurked among the 60,000 acres of wilderness.

Early on the third morning, Euphemie woke up to Byron tearing down their tent and packing furiously. He wouldn’t explain what was wrong, why they had to leave without warning, several times shushing her up to listen for some presence she couldn’t detect in the trees around them. They abandoned half their belongings and all their trash at the site and hiked at chest-burning speed back to the car, and on the ride back, Byron insisted he’d seen it, he’d seen the upright beast. Euphemie mentioned tentatively that it could have been a black bear standing erect, a sight her father had described in fascinating detail before. After the fury of his retort, she did not insist, but kept her doubts to herself. He continued to go camping, but not with her. It was strictly city trips for Euphemie, now.

Turning Point

The Abandoned Mines

Then came the incident that precipitated her permanent departure from the village of her birth. For she had a sister, five years her junior, named Emily. Even as a little child, Emily was outgoing, gregarious, as generous with her thoughts and feelings as with her time. Everyone knew she was the promised daughter of the original First Dwellers, Glenn and Irene, the girl who would grow to lead the village into a fruitful future. This irked the adolescent Euphemie somewhat, but Emily more than made up for it by being a close friend, a kind sister, and, perhaps most important of all, a compatriot in Euphemie’s cherished excursions into the little-traversed margins of the land. Over the years, their time spent away from the communal center, walking over fallen logs and along streams and into natural caves changed from being “playing”, to “exploring”, to “hiking”, but it remained a way to escape from the tiny world of the village, into the invisible world not quite outside, but almost. It let Euphemie feel that when she wandered back to the circular lodge, or was summoned there by the bell to dinner or a meeting, she had truly, if briefly, left.

There are abandoned mines beneath Everdwell. A finger of the Camlocke coal mine, 35 miles long and 5 to 10 miles wide, reaches into the Everdwell property from the southwest, but the only entrance she found to it had been sealed, as she would later learn, for a century. At the opposite end of the property, 300 acres away, lies the Phoenix goldmine. Tonight, records indicate that it is at least 620 feet deep in some places, and about 800 feet across. Euphemie knew of one relatively shallow shaft to the mine with a rusted iron ladder, and one day, while wandering alone, she worked up the courage to descend it with an electric torch until the daylight overhead shrunk to a small blue robin’s egg high above, liable to roll away at any instant. The last few rungs of the ladder had rusted off, and she didn’t dare risk hopping down to the landing below, for fear of being unable to get back on the ladder, but with her flashlight she glimpsed graffiti and beer bottles. The thought that people, strangers, came here and might be there now, aware of her intrusion, sent her into a panicked climb back up the rickety, crumbling ladder to the sun-washed surface. And yet, she eventually returned to the shaft, never climbing down it again, but lurking around, waiting. For what?

Euphemie never let her sister follow her to the gold mine. She’d shoo her with promises and threats, lie that there was a den of red wolves that way. In a sense, it wasn’t really a lie: there was a den there, but of people, not wolves. She began to notice figures loitering around the old shaft, coming and going, sometimes just lurking like she did as she spied on them. They drank and smoked cigarettes and smoked the skunky marijuana some of the interns brought with them. Sometimes, she spotted the interns themselves climbing into or out of the shaft, but most of the people were strangers, trespassers from the outside, one or two of them incredibly creepy and dirty looking, as far as she could tell from her vantage point among the trees. Once, during a downpour, she thought she saw her father in a raincoat and hat, walking away from the mine, though he never mentioned it.

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