Foxfire, The Greatest Gift

As I've written many times here before, the kindness and generosity that I have been shown from my online friends never ceases to open my heart ever wider and leave me feeling gratitude on a scale I have never experienced before, not just for the gifts but for the interconnected world I am a part of and the serendipitous and synchronous connections that I have been blessed to make.

A year or so ago I googled "Appalachian wisdom" or something like that. I have always felt an affinity with the lore of that land and the people who reside there. My kinfolk on my dad's side come from North Carolina, and England some generations before that. They perfectly fit the profile of the emigrants who first settled the Appalachian region, and I am sure that somewhere deep down this is why I respond so primally to Appalachian music, herbal knowledge, and general folkways.

So anyway, what came up when I googled that was Foxfire. I perused their website and realized that all the old time learnin' I sought had been ingeniously sought out, thoroughly recorded, and beautifully presented by this group, which was started as a magazine in 1966 by some high school English students who wished to record the old ways of their elderly Appalachian neighbors before they passed on.

Over the years the project expanded and it is going strong to this day. I very much recommend checking out their website. The magazine articles, composed by different students over the years, have all been gathered and made into a series of twelve books, containing all of the homesteading, earth centered, folkloric yet practical, do-it-yourself knowledge a body could ask for.

(The name Foxfire, speaking of synchronous connections [my daughter's name is Mycelia], is "a name commonly applied to several species of bioluminescent fungi that grow on rotting wood in damp forests (like the Southern Appalachians) during the warmer months. These fungi typically produce a dim blue-green glow that can be seen only in dark, starlit areas, away from any artificial lights or moonlight. Other names associated with these glowing fungi include 'faerie fire' and 'will o' the wisp.'")

My local library had some of the their books, so I checked one out and was totally fascinated by every word of it. Then for my birthday this year the lovely Milla sent me an original edition copy of one of the books.

(From Milla. The library's copies looked much like this one. Making me even more blown away to see the beautiful new editions, complete with that rough sort of cover texture that I love so much on books!)

Then came my correspondence with Julie from The Cuckoo's Nest (and BTW yes! I will post the second blog with photos from the inside of the boutique soon!). We discovered our mutual love of bluegrass music and natural living, and she asked me if I had seen the Foxfire books. I, of course, responded very enthusiastically that I had seen a few and loved them. Then after the blog was posted she asked me for my mailing address and let me know that the entire Foxfire set- all twelve books- would be arriving on my doorstep soon from Mountain City, Georgia.

Well, they arrived today. And I am blown away. Such an incredible resource. Such a wealth of knowledge. So many beautiful and inspiring stories and people. And SUCH a thoughtful and meaningful gift!

Thank you Julie. Thank you thank you thank you from the bottom of my heart.

And it gets even better. Today I received another package from Julie as well, this one coming from her home at Northwest Alpacas just outside of Portland. Nine gorgeous, luxurious, exquisitely hand made Pima cotton and alpaca fur dresses made twenty years ago based on The Cuckoo's Nest designs from the 1970s. You guys are going to DIE. I hope to photograph them and get them into the shop in the next week or two.

Oh, and here are the topics covered in these books, since it's hard to read here. I have put a * next to the chapters I have read and loved and a ^ next to the ones I am most looking forward to reading! And who knows which ones will capture my interest or be relevant to me in the future...

Hog Dressing

Log Cabin Building

Mountain Crafts and Food^

Planting By The Signs*

Snake Lore

Hunting Tales^

Faith Healing^


Ghost Stories^

Spring Wild Plant Foods*

Spinning and Weaving^


Burial Customs***

Corn Shuckin's

Wagon Making

Animal Care^

Banjos and Dulcimers^

Hide Tanning

Summer and Fall Wild Plant Foods^

Butter Churns^


Fiddle Making***


Horse Trading

Sassafras Tea^ (<-- the original root beer)

Berry Buckets^




Flintlock Rifles

Bear Hunting


100 Toys & Games^

Gourd Banjos and Song Bows^

Wooden Locks

A Water-Powered Sawmill

Ministers and Church Members

Revivals and Baptisms^

Shaped-Note and Gospel Singing^

Faith Healing and Camp Meetings^

Foot Washing^

Snake Handling*

Southern Folk Pottery From Pug Mills^

Ash Glazes^

Groundhog Kilns To Face Jugs (?)



Mule Swapping and Chicken Fighting

General Stores^

The Jud Nelson Wagon

A Praying Rock

A Catawban Indian Potter

Haint Tales (?)


Home Cures^

The Log Cabin Revisited

Railroad Lore^


Depression Era Appalachia^



Snake Canes

Gourd Art

The Old Homeplace^

Wild Plant Uses^

Preserving And Cooking Food^

Hunting Stories


Square Dancing^


Cherokee Traditions^

Summer Camps^

World War Veterans^


Intriguing, yes? And remember, these are all based on interviews with old timers who still practice these crafts, and who remember their place in Appalachian culture before mainstream American life infiltrated their families and ways of living. Fascinating.

(PS- Some of my favorite Appalachian media include the documentary The True Meaning of Pictures, the Smithsonian Folkways Classic Mountain Songs, The Yo-Yo Ma Appalachian Journey CD (especially the song "Hard Times Come Again No More" with James Taylor and the lullaby sung by Alison Krauss), the Appalachian Folklore, Stories, and Info website, and the incredible novel Cold Mountain. Aaaand pretty much all bluegrass music and all that it has inspired. Do you have any resources to share with me?)