Travels with Foxfire: Stories of People, Passions, and Practices from Southern Appalachia by Foxfire Fund Inc Phil Hudgins and Foxfire Student Jessica Phillips

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They thrived by making do, and when change came, they drew on their basic wit and common sense to adapt rather than simply surrender to it.

I’ve never had the pleasure of reading Foxifire books, but when I saw this for grabs on Netgalley, I had to read it. I am fascinated by all things Appalachia, it’s such a shame that their culture is changing so much, as all things must. What better way to preserve the history and stories than in a collection of interviews? Several of the people have since passed away but not without leaving an indelible impression. Stories of bootlegging, hunting, water dowsing, and ‘where the music dwells.’ I have a particular fondness for the section on arts and herbs in the story of Eve Miranda, Medicine Woman. It’s an art form understating herbs, plants, root knowledge and all its healing properties. What a wonderful inheritance to pass down the family line, and there is something endearing about a woman who shares the knowledge she has gathered. I would read a book just about her. Following her tale is the Hayes Boys story, the gatherers of wild ginseng. Maybe not everyone finds plants to be adventurous but they can be!

There is humor in the interview with “Privologist” Mary Frazier Long. Having grown up in Southern Appalachia¬† she lived in a time where she had to use the outhouses. The funniest tidbit to me is,¬†‘You knew not to go see certain people at certain times, ” Long recalled “because that’s when they were in the outhouse. You could look out and see when they were going.”¬† I think the majority of us have grown up with indoor plumbing, so it is a curious thing to imagine.

Music too is deeply rooted in the heart of Appalachia. I admittedly never knew so many songs were taken from classic ballads and folk songs from the Appalachian Mountains and made popular by artists like Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. I did, however, love to sing a song with my cousin by The Kingston Trio titled “Tom Dooley” and knew it was a ballad based on the murder of Laura Foster. Why were we singing it in the 90’s? Likely found the record in my grandmother’s stash. Gospel, Bluegrass, there is a heavy influence coming from the Appalachian Mountains most people don’t realize.

Yes, many of the folks in the interviews are now elders, the remaining witnesses of a time that is slipping from our fingers. A rich source of history, folklore, and knowledge that isn’t easily obtained. They are the sort of folks you’d love to spend an evening with as they regale you with tales from their lives. Some of that living has been hard scrabble or dangerous. If you’re curious about mountain living, this is for you.

It’s an enjoyable collection, which has made me curious about the Foxfire books as it became a way of sharing food recipes, traditions, and life on the mountains. It’s a wonderful way to preserve history and reminisce, with the start of the collection aptly titled “The Way It Was.”

Publication Date: August 18, 2018

Knopf Doubleday Publishing

Anchor

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