THE GRASS AND TREES are pushing out into the warm,.early summer air, the sap is rising and the leaves are unfurling, anxious to get on with their summer's work. Like the trees and the grass, we humans also have a spring awakening, generally signalled by a swelling of the mails with garden catalogues, and a decided increase in the monthly bill from the hardware store. Somtimes it seems that the whole world is out frantically digging and turning anxious to relieve itself of that primal urge to grow something. Not so. There is also a large minority who get no pleasure from nature's way, whose symptoms manifest themselves by the urge to build.
For this demented minority there is the Foxfire series of books. Interviews with self-sufficient southern mountain people conducted by schoolchildren and edited by their teacher, the first book was published in 1972. In the early years the books concerned themselves with simple country pleasures such as hog-dressing, whiskey manufacture (illicit) and log cabin construction. As the years have passed, the "recipes" have become more complex. In Foxfire 5 we have attained postgraduate levels: we learn how to construct a Kentucky rifle with little more than iron ore and our bare hands. We have come a long way from Foxfire 1-4, with their butter churns and sorghum mills.
There seems to be a compulsion to leave no stone unturned in Foxfire 5 , and it becomes a complete primer on the manufacture of the famous Kentucky long rifle. After we have selected the site for our blast furnace (near water for power to operate the bellows, limestone for flux and a large tract of forest for charcoal to fire the furnace), we are given instructions on how to manufacture the charcoal and limestone, how to build and operate the blast furnace. Then, on to the blooming mill, where we will turn the cast iron from the blast furnace into wrought iron; next to the foundry, where we shape and form the rifle barrel. The hard part now complete, we line bore and rifle the barrel, make the trigger and lock mechanisms and fit it all together, thus gaining new insight into that old saw "lock, stock and barrel."
Foxfire 5 seems to be well aware that having our new rifle is not enough. What good is a gun if we don't know how to use it? No problem. Complete instructions follow. What can be learned by reading is here, right down to how to skin and cook the bear we have just shot with the help of Foxfire 5 trained bear dogs.
There are a few excursions into other topics in Foxfire 5 , including interviews with characters of the mountains, holdouts from a dead civilization - self-sufficient, proud and competent. This era passed only recently there; it has been gone for the rest of us for quite some time. Few people approach life in the same spirit as the old bear hunter in Foxfire 5 , "I'm telling you they's a lot of sport in it, and they's a lot of hard work in it too."
The original purpose of these books seemed to be to educate students, readers and teacher. The purpose seems to have grown over the years, become more archival, and now records methods and techniques of doing things that are close to being forgotten. As such they are valuable to future generations, while still immensly enjoyable dream starters for us today. Foxfire 5 is no less readable for the fact that most of us have neither room nor time to build a blast furnace, nor the inclination to manufacture a Kentucky rifle. I am sure few read Foxfire 1 for instructions on how to build a log cabin, or Foxfire 3 to learn how to build abutter churn. Practicality should never be a criterion of dreams. CAPTION: Illustration, From "Foxfire 5"