...and other affairs of plain living
August 28, 2010 3:02 PM   Subscribe

From the Wikipedia article:
Founded by Eliot Wigginton in the 1960s, Foxfire has published Foxfire Magazine continuously since 1966, and the highly popular Foxfire books since 1972. Both the magazine and books are based on the stories and life of elders and students, featuring advice and personal stories about subjects as wide-ranging as hog dressing, faith healing, blacksmithing, and Appalachian history.

The magazine eventually evolved into a constructivist educational philosophy based on letting students discover the meaning and real-world relationship of information for themselves, instead of stressing rote memorization. Parallels are drawn with the philosopher John Dewey's experiential education process.

Last summer, my uncle in rural Missouri introduced me to the aforementioned 12-volume magazine anthology series. I (happily) wasted a weekend reading about traditional mountain skills, e.g. such as making one's own fiddle, homesteading, and preserving fruit. Turns out that the first three volumes of the anthology series were put online last year:

Volumes One, Two, and Three are online.

For obvious reasons, they've also become quite popular with the Libertarian survivalist set.
posted by hanoixan (30 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
I was reading Foxfire when it came out in the '60's, fascinating stuff. Thanks for the memory jog!
posted by HuronBob at 3:06 PM on August 28, 2010

Volumes One, Two, and Three are online.

Excellent! I will bookmark this for the apocalypse.

posted by Devils Rancher at 3:11 PM on August 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

I loved the Foxfire series as a child, and have the full book collection as an adult.

Foxfire (The Foxfire Fund, Inc.) is a not-for-profit, educational and literary organization based in Rabun County, Georgia.

Sounds like a nice, worthy group. What a shame that Indercio Reyes chooses to make their items free, so that Foxfire doesn't make as much money from their work product.
posted by Houstonian at 3:19 PM on August 28, 2010

I wasn't under the impression that these were put online in an illegal manner. They've been on scribd.com for over a year now, and I'm assuming the Foxfire Fund folks knew about it. But, if they didn't, they do now. I just sent them an email.
posted by hanoixan at 3:37 PM on August 28, 2010

Excellent! I will bookmark this save to my diesel-powered laptop for the apocalypse.
posted by benzenedream at 3:48 PM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

My mom had the first three Foxfire books* when I was a kid and I think that poring over them with my brother affected our personalities pretty significantly. They are so delightful. A treasure. But also: oh, the loss. Reading the Foxfire books is like watching Natl. Geographic specials about nearly extinct animals, but the extinct animal is these people and skills.

*I have them now.
posted by dirtdirt at 3:49 PM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


yes, let us investigate woodcraft. Let us grow our own foods. After all, the human spirit resides in all manner of such wholesome activities.
Yet every tendency of modern society, the links that bind us, lead us to an even more remote vantage point; the activities of a past are held tighter and tighter, even as they disappear--are crushed.

How many 14 acre wooded plots remain? The libertarian suggestion of freedom rings hollow. Nature is subdivided and destroyed in endless variety. The satyrs and nymphs have been led to a most gruesome slaughter. There is no "freedom" here. There is no salvation in the historical myth of a nation. All the answers lie in the future. Let us cry tears now, and clutch our belongings closer, piles of rags, and wait.

The future is looking up: From every mountain top, packet-switched impulse. Whitman's ringing axes have been silenced, the forest no longer echoes with the cheerful sound of industry. Instead, a digital groan, a breathless aum resounds. Actual movement is incidental. The past is a flicker, a form or shape of possible futures denied. Mechanism, the patterns of industry and state, is growing stronger.

Come one, come all, to lead the purely symbolic life. If you can carve a fiddle, do so. Play it along the broken streets and gutters. Play it along the forgotten river banks and basements. Broken toothed / Pant legged. Take it to the end of your life, broken chattering teeth, sucking wind from the medical tube. Play that goddamn fiddle. Play it like each note is a dagger in the heart of greed.
posted by kuatto at 3:53 PM on August 28, 2010 [13 favorites]

Heh, I remember those books, my parents had (probably still have) most of them. In 1979, when I was about 10 and my brother was about 7, my parents up and moved the family to 40 acres in backwoods Arkansas, built a log cabin (not a kit, cut the trees themselves, skinned them, etc. just like in those books. Total cost for the 18x24 foot cabin was about $2000, most of it in the tin for the roof.), and we lived there with no electricity and no running water for a couple years before running out of money and then out of Arkansas, back to civilization. I lived some of the stuff in those books. Wouldn't trade the experience for anything, but wouldn't necessarily want to do it again.
posted by smcameron at 4:06 PM on August 28, 2010 [4 favorites]

they were so well designed, eps those earth toned early covers
posted by PinkMoose at 4:10 PM on August 28, 2010

How many 14 acre wooded plots remain?

What? I have one. There are many out here. I'm not arguing against your general premise, but it's actually the [possiby excessive] time spent online that makes you forget that there's actually a HUGE world offline as well. Full of trees. And other stuff. No one's forgotten our riverbanks, we hang out on them every day.

I have all the Foxfire books [and The Salt Book which is a great Maine version] and while I'm curious about the legality of the scribd versions, I really do feel like they're books that people should not only read but take to heart. Not everyone has to make their own banjo, but you can learn a lot about cooking from scratch and getting into some semblance of harmony with nature. Don't get me wrong, I also enjoy my symbolic life an awful lot too, but both are real and both have value.
posted by jessamyn at 4:42 PM on August 28, 2010 [18 favorites]

For obvious reasons, they've also become quite popular with the Libertarian survivalist set.

Well, they do like to dress hogs. In the latest Italian Reason, there was a just fabulous photo spread of this season's camo haute couture.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:50 PM on August 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

For 14-acre plots see also: Siberia. There's about a hundred million 14-acre wooded plots if you're having trouble finding them elsewhere.
posted by XMLicious at 4:53 PM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I loved reading those as a kid. Where else would you get instructions on moonshining?
posted by sfred at 5:19 PM on August 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Great books, shame about Eliot.
posted by scruss at 5:27 PM on August 28, 2010

scruss: "Great books, shame about Eliot."

Yeah, that was deeply disappointing. He came to UGA in '91 to speak to my (future) wife's Ed class on something or other, and I tagged along just to hear the lecture. Afterward, he signed my copy of FF1. "Thanks for being a fan of our work" and so on. This had to be right before all that shit came out.
posted by jquinby at 6:02 PM on August 28, 2010

Why fourteen acres, specifically?
posted by adipocere at 6:08 PM on August 28, 2010

I've been to Rabun County, and have met several folks who went though the Foxfire program--one was my (first) wife's maid of honor, and we attended her wedding, in turn, in Rabun County (the rehearsal dinner was at the nicest restaurant around--Pizza Hut). It really did transform a lot of those kids, opening them up to new possibilities. My ex's maid of honor scored a full-ride college scholarship. and remained loyal to her hometown, returning to the area to serve as a Medicaid caseworker.

Interesting, too, is that Deliverance was filmed in Rabun County.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:08 PM on August 28, 2010

14 acre lots? Where I'm from, when people go for a hike on the 'back 40,' they're not just using an expression.

When we used to go to the family farm downstate, my grandparents had all the Foxfire books. I read them all. What I remember most is my total inability to craft an acceptable-looking cornhusk doll. Every year, I was determined to make a cornhusk doll, and every year, I would screw it up.

It was one of my first great lessons in failure.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 7:10 PM on August 28, 2010

We have most of the Foxfire books in my tiny library, and many of them still check out pretty regularly here in rural Wyoming, where lots of people have a few acres and some have a ton, although only rarely are said acres wooded.

My grandmother always refers to Firefox as Foxfire, which I find charming.
posted by newrambler at 7:13 PM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sounds kinda like the old Harrowsmith, which had that granola Whole Earth Catalog vibe.
posted by ovvl at 7:31 PM on August 28, 2010

My partner grew up in Rabun County, and he and much of his family appeared in or worked on Foxfire back in the 60s and 70s. In fact, his grandfather's still (complete with a how-to) appears in an early issue. Foxfire now has a small office, a museum and teaching space on the mountain. They also hold an annual Foxfire Days event, a small festival dedicated to mountaineering, folk craft and tradition. I grew up a city boy, but I gotta say I had the time of my life at Foxfire Days... clogging, whittling, and crafts I don't even have names for.
posted by VuMastr at 7:37 PM on August 28, 2010

Foxfire is a novel by Joyce Carol Oates.
Firefox is movie starring Clint Eastwood.
posted by ovvl at 7:37 PM on August 28, 2010

Foxfire changed my life - and all I did was read the books. Also deeply disappointed, though unsurprised, by the charges. The quality of the books and the initiative represented by the program, though, remain, and are in fact so seminal that they can never be extricated from the history of American public folklore. That's a good thing, since all the students and informants worked hard to create a powerfully good project. There are many articles in the books about topics which could no longer be accurately described by a firsthand witness.
posted by Miko at 8:11 PM on August 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

My father-in-law was into the back-to-nature "mountain man" revival stuff back around the Bicentennial, and has a full collection of Foxfire books which he's let me borrow. The first time I read them, I skipped through and only looked at the parts that addressed what I thought of as folklore - the stories, not so much the how-tos - but I've come to appreciate that knowing how things were actually physically done is really quite important to an understanding of history.

Also, if there's ever a zombie apocalypse and we have to rebuild society, having those books will probably help.
posted by titus n. owl at 8:13 PM on August 28, 2010


Does the folk-craft aspect of Foxfire Days possibly include instruction on how to make cornhusk dolls? I am not kidding.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 8:52 PM on August 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

I too am ahuge fan of the Foxfire books and snag them when I can because the knowlege in them is worth having. I read at first more for the 'how to' then for folklore and history.
The Back to the Land stuff back in the '60's was largely unsuccesful because people in the U.S. Are mostly too far from the land.
This certainly is true of myself and one kid. I am pretty good with animals but, plants do not do well under my care. So come the Zombie Appocalypse, I will have to have a few sheep and some chickens and I will have to make mead to sell to the neighbors.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:21 PM on August 28, 2010

The books are fun to read, but I think their real value was more in the archival sense -- of capturing and describing skills and experiences that were once everyday but were disappearing -- than in the didactic, how-to sense. Those skills are disappearing because they are no longer as valuable as they once were; if they were still valuable we wouldn't need Foxfire books to try and save them.

That said, the books were a nice part of my childhood, and as someone above said, their cover design has held up really well.
posted by Forktine at 11:47 PM on August 28, 2010

which had that granola Whole Earth Catalog vibe.

This is only part of the story. The Venn diagram of the Whole Earth catalog is the overlap of two circles labeled "granola" and "DIY CNC plasma cutters". (I don't think mere mortals were actually DIYing CNC plasma cutters when Whole Earth came out, but if a new edition came out today, I'm sure CNC and image recognition software would be in there.) Given my unfashionably long hair, hippyish attitude, career in research science and tool set that weighs more than my car, I can honestly say that it was probably the most influential book in my life.

Which leads me to say this - all that how too stuff in Foxfire - yeah, some of it is just history now. But I've seen people spend a big pile of money and then spend hours and hours doing something with a power tool that back in the day they'd have done in fifteen minutes with a cheap hand tool they made out of an old dead hand saw that wasn't worth sharpening any more.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:29 AM on August 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

> But I've seen people spend a big pile of money and then spend hours and hours doing something with a power tool that back in the
> day they'd have done in fifteen minutes with a cheap hand tool they made out of an old dead hand saw that wasn't worth
> sharpening any more.

From a decade or so spent doing medieval body armor for one of those historical reenactment gangs I can tell you that armoring isn't one of the jobs where back-in-the-day methods are better. Drilling a few hundred rivet holes in 16-gauge sheet steel, gimme an electric drill every time. OTOH, for forming custom compound curves in said sheet steel there isn't much that beats an anvil and a ball-pein hammer. OT-other-OH, when your piece gets work-hardened an acetylene torch is a lot better for spot annealing than a coal-fired forge. Oh, and just starting with 4' x 10' of sheet steel, instead of an ingot of iron...

> Why fourteen acres, specifically?
> posted by adipocere at 9:08 PM on August 28 [+] [!]

I'm holding out for a hundred acres. And a Bear of Very Little Brain.
posted by jfuller at 12:51 PM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I made corn husk dolls in elementary school. I think there might still be a couple hanging around my parents' house.
posted by sciencegeek at 1:13 PM on September 1, 2010

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