Fern Feather

16 04 2022
Fern, 2014, at Tree Frog Farm (photos: Asam Ahmad)

Fern Feather was a flowerboy when we met in 2014, a flowergirl, a sparkle of fairy dust, a glowing presence in a dark world, an aesthete, a bit of a scamp, a loving soul, a live soul, until April 12, 2022, when someone put an end to all that. No in memoriam should start with murder, but how do you keep something like that to the side, especially when the contrast between living and dying is so sharp, so shocking? Fern was 22 when we met, would have been 30 on April 22. He, she, they, Fern had come out as trans this past March but wasn’t too concerned about pronouns, friends have said, maybe because Fern in full defied all categoriesno more or less a month ago than when s/he came to Kopkind quite unexpectedly, to fill a breach when we needed a cook in an emergency. In flew Fern, saronged and wearing a light shirt, bangles; be-ringed fingers deftly arranging rainbow platters of heirloom tomatoes, gracefully gesturing toward each dish, which s/he always introduced with a flourish.

What a whirl of a time. There was Fern organizing the campers in the preparation of dinnermentors Scot Nakagawa chopping cilantro, Peter Linebaugh lazily stirring brownie batter … There was Fern ambling across the back field gathering wild flowers …

Asam Ahmad, who was a camper in 2014 and took all the photographs in this post, remembers Fern as having “a kind of exuberance and openness to the world that was so unafraid yet simultaneously kind of terrifying.” Fern told wild stories, of hitchhiking through the US and Latin America. Fern, beautiful adventurer. A few days before the murder, Fern picked up a hitchhiker, a “good guy,” a “special friend,” s/he told a real friend, according to police reports. Fern and the hitchhiker spent some time together, and then one morning the hitchhiker called another real friend to say he had killed Fern. Fern had gone “crazy” and attacked him after a sexual advance, the man said; “I wasn’t gay,” he told police. Past tense. We don’t know much more, except that there was no sign of a struggle; the self-confessed killer, a 43-year-old transient who had previously stabbed someone and previously spent time in a psych ward, was not injured, and was found sitting in a car at the scene of the crime when police arrived, as Fern lay dead on the ground from a stab wound to the chest, with two dogs grieving.

Vermont is not associated with violent death, and consistently has one of the lowest murder rates in the country. “In Vermont, we’ve seen primarily males killing other males as a result of an argument or some kind of emotional provocation between them,” Penny Shtull, a professor of criminology at Norwich University, told the press at the close of 2021, a year when state police investigated a total of nine homicides. But this is not the first ever killing of a trans or nonconforming person in the Green Mountain State, either, and nationally 2021 was the most gruesome year on record. The Human Rights Campaign lists Fern as the eleventh trans or nonconforming person in the country to be killed in 2022.

Fern Feather … such a perfect name. Fern loved the birds of the air, the green of the field and all its bounty, all things marvelous, common and strange. S/he floated among them. In the numerous expressions of grief that have circulated, a friend recalled meeting Fern at a bonfire. “You’re too pretty to be standing alone,” Fern had said. Letting anyone stand alone wasn’t Fern’s style.

Queer people in Vermont have been gathering in Fern’s memory, and will continue to do so. We join in gratitude for Fern’s life, and in sorrow.