The Foxfire Book: Hog Dressing, Log Cabin Building, Mountain Crafts and Foods, Planting by the Signs, Snake Lore, Hunting Tales, Faith Healing, Moonshining, and Other Affairs of Plain Living


The power of story.  The incredible worth that each of us possess in our own small existence within a huge universe.  Even though some may say that there is nothing new under the sun; each of us has a unique garden of life experiences that make up a compelling and inspiring picture.  I thought my own story was quite unimpressive and probably did not matter much to anyone but myself; but I have realized it matters a great deal.  It matters to my family, my friends, and my colleagues.   I have also seen the sharing quite necessary for loving and learning as I counsel others.  And now—through technology—it is impacting the world at large.  Yours matters, too.  Your story—my story—contains inspiration, encouragement, and instruction for someone that needs to know.  Our stories can bring hope.  Our stories can definitely pass on knowledge and education.  Our stories teach others of lessons learned, possibly keeping them from making the same mistakes.  Our stories can teach a multitude of very necessary life truths, simply because much knowledge and wisdom is gained from every life experience.  And because knowledge is power, our stories must be told.

Consider the value of just one person passing down their knowledge and experiences to future generations.  I have a neighbor named Mary.  Her family has owned and lived off the land for generations here in our small farming community.  When we decided to join the homestead family, we purchased in a simple, quiet farming town.  I found out quickly that our property joined hers and I am deeply grateful it did!  I ran into Mary walking one day not long after we moved in and our friendship began with her story.  This was five years ago.  I cannot tell you the wealth of homesteading, gardening, and animal care instruction I have learned from this woman telling me the tales of her own life learnings.

Stop and ponder your own family story right now.  All that drama makes up who you are—the crazy mixture of both positive and negative, good and bad.  Your individual life is a unique journey and your family has a unique place in history.  A while back, my husband and I were given a book that displayed our family ancestry back to the early 1800’s.  It wasn’t just a list of names, but a book filled with stories of where the families came from, where they settled and what they did in life.  It was fascinating to say the least!  This historical journey of my own family filled my heart and mind with gratitude as well as a sense of belonging and security.  My own generational history accomplished much, and passed down its own contribution to Mother Earth.  We must believe that each of our experiences and discoveries passed down to the next generation continues the uniqueness of different families that make up our entire shared existence as a whole.  We all need to remember.  We all need to share our lives with others.

This is why I am strongly compelled to write about the great Foxfire series of books I have been reading and re-reading over the past few years.   When I began this series, I was totally engrossed in the many different tales as well as the fascinating truths about life that were jumping off the page at me.  I would laugh at all the old folklore and fables told from people who really believed them.  The book was a recital of experiences from those who loved, and lived off, the land, depending upon their little piece of earth for their very existence.  And then I felt a sense of sorrow.  Why?  Because sometimes I don’t see the valuable exchange of information between generations like is seen in this incredible work.  I personally struggled for a while, trying to wed the beauty of real life being told to how my own family gains important knowledge today.  To me, Foxfire was screaming that everyone’s story needs to be told.  I struggled from the lost art of conversation today.  Finally, I was able to conclude that this does go on today but in a totally different form.  Today, we hear people’s stories more through reading—a good book, a good website, blogging, and tweeting all help us to find each other’s life experiences and learn from them.  And obviously, even the stories from the Foxfire series will be known today from reading them.

This article will talk of the original and first book written, simply called The Foxfire Book.  The author is Eliot Wigginton, who is known as a writer, folklorist, and true historian.  He found himself as a new high-school teacher in a troubled classroom that held no hope.  He realized that he would either have to find another place to teach or would have to find another way to reach the students.  He chose the latter and Foxfire was born.  A quote from the introduction of the book, where you will find his own story and the beginning of Foxfire, speaks a lesson to homesteaders: “Those who cannot remember the past not only relive it; they tend to impose it, mistakes and all, on others.”

Foxfire began as a magazine written by Wigginton’s high school students.  It was his way of trying to reach and “save” his own students.  He accomplished this sweet redemption and much more with the original Foxfire book as well as 11 others.  The writings centered on the local stories obtained from the students’ interviews.  Soon both the writers and the readers began to discover the colorful and valuable life of the Appalachian Mountain dwellers.  These people were simple farmers who lived their entire life in unity with their land.  They were all rural landowners who both loved and lived the true homestead lifestyle that we long for and work for today.

“Foxfire” is an interesting word.  The high school students chose this as the title of their writing adventure, most likely because they found themselves on a journey from boredom and hopelessness to fiery freedom.  This fire grew into a blaze that is now known around the world in a series of twelve books.  The dictionary defines the actual word as “the bioluminescence created by some species of fungi present in decaying wood.”  It is also called “fairy fire”.  The light from foxfire shines both dim and bright.  It acts as an attracter of some insects but also warns some animals that it is poisonous.  Thus, Foxfire demotes light from decay, revealing appeal, purpose, and even warning to others.

The students could not have chosen a better name because this is exactly what the Foxfire series is all about.  It is not only the story of their own light received that took them out of their decaying existence, but of many other real-life stories that reveal basic purposes of living, and even provide warning in life lessons.  As I read the interviews of so many people, revealing their own story and way of life, I was reminded that even one person’s story provides purpose and power that can affect others.

A city-girl turned homesteader, as I pondered what I was reading, I was transitioned from a concrete, fast-paced, consuming lifestyle to that of a true homesteader, with totally different life views and goals.  Looking back, I realize that it was a necessary read as I was making my transition.  The entertaining stories made me laugh out loud and I needed that after a day of hard work out in the hot sun.  The simple and satisfying living demonstrated in the stories kept my attention and became my own heartbeat.  And the most rewarding for me were the many hidden nuggets of truth, knowledge, and ideas related to living off the land that traveled from the pages into my own open mind.  It was just what I needed for my own journey into homesteading.  After reading some of Grandma’s home remedies (for anything and everything), her soap-making tips, butter churning or fruit preserving techniques; or Grandpa’s hog raising as well as barn raising, his hunting escapades as well as his detailed techniques of animal care, I began to believe that I could do anything necessary to make my homesteading dream a reality.   Today I still pick up one of the books on occasion and read a story or two, because Foxfire just keeps pulling you into its own homesteading history.

Should you take time to read The Foxfire Book and then continue on in the eleven other books?  I would say a resounding, “Yes!”  You will be provided with a very important piece of American history that is fading away in some ways, yet is rebounding through the homesteading revival today.  By reading, you will receive foundational information and tips that may need to be known and used as we face our own uncertain economy.  In fact, as I read the first book, I was taught that my homesteading efforts were still way too dependent upon a quick purchase at the store.  I needed to get back to even more basic, simple, self-sufficient means.  Foxfire provides this on many different levels because it contains the simple life skills necessary to survive.  Learn all there is to know about hog raisin’ and killin’.  Try the fried pumpkin squash blossom on page 168 or a quilt pattern from page 146.  Learn about trees in the “Wood” chapter or cure what ails you in the “Home Remedies” chapter.  Be fascinated by the “Planting by the Signs” chapter or learn to build a log cabin from scratch.

I would also describe Foxfire as quite entertaining in its own unique way.  The book is presented as conversational interviews that the students obtained as they visited each homestead.  They were recorded on tape recorders and then written as close to the original conversation as possible.  The dialect of mountain language is beautiful within its own self, as well as very entertaining.  Foxfire will make you laugh as each person’s character comes alive within their story.  The many hunting tales and “Snake Lore” truths will definitely give you comedy relief!  Want to build your very own moonshine still?  It’s in the book, complete with a glossary of moonshine terms and tools.   One of the most beautiful parts of the book is the pictures.  If you don’t care to read, just look at the pictures as they tell their own story.

My conclusion of this review is best stated in a few very important life principles that each and every generation should believe in and cling to.  Foxfire reveals these principles:

1.    An older person has wisdom, whether we think so or not.  They have lived a lifetime of experiences and they have something to offer.  We should listen to them.  We should listen a lot.

2.    Someone’s story, their own learned experiences, can give me a more balanced perspective.   I like this saying:  “Good people bring you happiness, Bad people bring you experience, Worst people bring you a lesson learned, and Best people bring you sweet memories.”  We need them all (and their stories) to balance out our life.  This is the talk of Foxfire.

3.    Reading stories from the past keeps us grounded and brings our purpose back to foundational truths.  And we need to be brought back to the basics time and time again.  Isn’t this what Homesteading is about?

4.    We gain more than knowledge and information from others’ stories, we gain entertainment!  Just read a good story from Foxfire or have your grandmother tell you one of her tales—after the laughter, you will not only feel more relaxed, but smarter.  Laughter is good medicine for us all.

5.    We must slow down our lives, learn to listen and ponder the when, where, and why.  The Foxfire mountaineers remind us to slow down and enjoy the journey.  We must learn not only to simplify, but to enjoy every little thing in our today, because one day we will look back and realize that all those little things were really the big things.  Enjoy each moment of every day, because you are exchanging a day of your life for it.

6.    Never stop learning.  Make everything and everyone your teacher.  Get out of your own box and bring others—lots of them—into your learning.  One of the best ways to learn real-life principles is from the best source of all: other people.

Simply put, Foxfire is totally worth the read.  And somehow, the “Fairy Fire” pulls you in and lights your soul for the true and real way to live: the Homestead Life.



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