My grandparents had a couple volumes of the Foxfire series on their bookshelf, and I was captivated by them from a young age. I remember thumbing through Foxfire 2 again and again, amazed at the knowledge captured in those pages that seemed so outside of my own experience. Spinning wool into yarn, wild plants as food and medicine, and a spring-pole lathe, of all things! Who ever heard of that? And this knowledge seemed alive, because it was often conveyed through direct quotes from the skilled individuals who still practiced those arts. Rather than a dry historical treatise, this information had vitality. There was magic here, and I was entranced.
Fast forward an odd number of decades, when I found myself sitting in the 1790s timber-frame shop where I work with one Joshua Klein, brainstorming about future article ideas for Mortise & Tenon Magazine. The 50th anniversary of the first Foxfire book was just around the corner, and I very much wanted to write that story. It felt personal, like coming full circle. Those books had planted a seed in my mind that never stopped growing, and I jumped at the chance to share it with our readers.
So, my family and I headed south. I enjoy driving, rather than flying, cross-country, because it allows changes in the landscape and environment to flow by perceptibly – you can still experience “place” from a human-eye view, though at an accelerated pace. We witnessed springtime advancing as we drove, and the ancient Appalachians rose up to meet us.
I spent some time in Great Smoky Mountains National Park as a kid, and those memories of log cabins and flowing mountain streams lined with laurel glued themselves naturally to the Foxfire lore I read about. And rightfully so – the contacts interviewed in the books made the mountains their home. Some of the old homesteads in the area perch on impossibly steep hillsides, accessible only by winding dirt paths.
The culmination of our trip south was The Foxfire Museum in Mountain City, Georgia. Ascending the side of a mountain, this collection of relocated cabins and structures contains artifacts, photographs, and recorded audio gathered in the Foxfire project. But more importantly, artisans continue to demonstrate those old skills (weaving, blacksmithing, woodworking, gardening) to visitors wandering through the grounds. Foxfire isn’t simply history recorded for posterity – these lifeways are still vital, active, and relevant today.
You can check out my article on the Foxfire phenomenon in Issue Eleven.