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Foxfire or A Gift In The Dark

Updated on May 27, 2009
Allegheny National Forest
Allegheny National Forest

A gift in the dark.

Imagine walking in the Allegheny mountains of Pennsylvania. You are in the National Forest. It is the summer of 1986 . You are at a Rainbow Family of the Living Light National Gathering, where thousands of people gather in the cathedral of nature to live and form a community. Some say that it is the largest non-organization of non-members in the world. There are no leaders, and no organization. To be honest, the Rainbow Family means different things to different people. I think it's safe to say that it is about intentional community building, non-violence, and alternative lifestyles. It is believed that Peace and Love are a great thing, and there isn't enough of that in this world. Many of the traditions are based on Native American traditions, and have a strong orientation to take care of the Earth. The Gathering takes place in the National Forests yearly to pray for peace on this planet. It takes all of the colors to make up the rainbow. This is probably where the gay and lesbian community picked up the rainbow symbol, as they are but one of the colors. You will find people of every religion, from every economic background, from all points of the earth. From Bums and vagabonds to Doctors, lawyers, Federal Circuit Court Judges, Cooks, Janitors, Bus Drivers…..Well, you get the picture.

Night Forest by BlackFairyWitch
Night Forest by BlackFairyWitch

 The mountains are lush and wet.  You turn up a path that leads from the meadow in the valley, up the mountain.  You hear that there will be a party in “Bus Village”.  You have been living in the forest for 3 weeks.  You think it would be a new experience to see how the bus people lived.  As you disappear under the canopy of trees, the sun is setting.  This does not bother you.  You have a flashlight and though have never been on this trail, you are familiar with forests and mountains. 


After the sky has darkened, as it will quickly in the mountains, your light gives out.  So you figure that others will be along on the trail and you can hitch a ride on their light.  No one comes.  You wait.  Still no one.  Your eyes have adjusted to the darkness, you worry about missing the path, but can probably avoid running face first into trees.  So you resume your assent.

Light in the Dark B&W
Light in the Dark B&W
edamamepress by Amanda Gordon Miller.  See related link to Etsy below.
edamamepress by Amanda Gordon Miller. See related link to Etsy below.


 What you hope to be halfway up the mountain, you are excited to see that the moon has come out.  You can see some of its light filtered through the trees shining in patterns on the ground just ahead.  As you get closer, you look up, searching for the break in the canopy that has allowed this small patch of moonlight to reach the ground. 

Tree Canopy Silhouette--Original Framed Papercut from edamamepress by Amanda Gordon Miller.  See related link to Etsy below.
Tree Canopy Silhouette--Original Framed Papercut from edamamepress by Amanda Gordon Miller. See related link to Etsy below.

You look up, but see nothing except varying shades of darkness. You don’t quite understand. Logic insists that you should be able to see the moon if it is shining directly on the ground. So you circle around while looking up. Still shades of darkness reign in the heavens. You are determined to find the source of this light. So you place your hand over the closest patch of light. Strangely it does not cast a shadow.


You reach down on the ground and feel damp forest.  Soft, fibrous, moist and crumbly.   As you roll this glow between your fingers,  it dissimilates in size and spreads into finer pieces.  Your mind is racing with the mystery.  This does not make sense.  You fumble in your pocket for a disposable lighter.  You flick your Bic.  The sudden brightness of flame wreaks havoc on your fully dilated pupils for just a moment.  The burst of white light recedes and you see the forest floor.  Nothing man made, nothing unusual.  But as you study the scene before you, you do notice an unusually large spray of wood on top of the usual mixture of leaves, moss, dirt and foliage.  You let up on the lighter.   As your eyes become accustomed to the darkness once more, the light patterns seem to follow the spray of wood littering the ground.  You light the lighter once more.  You notice a tree stump.  It looks as if someone kicked it, spraying out chunks of wood around it.  It looks unusually pale for something so decayed.  You think that it should look darker, not so fresh if it were indeed so soft and decayed that it would crumble so easily.  You pick up a chunk bigger than your hand before you extinguish your lighter.  Your mind races.  You are holding a softly glowing chunk of wood.  You break off a piece.  It is glowing in the middle the same as it does on the outside.  It is magic.

Toxic logo vinyl sticker
Toxic logo vinyl sticker


 Your mind races to come up with an explanation.  Three mile island was in south east Pennsylvania.  There was no factory for miles and miles around to dump toxic waste.  Perhaps someone had dumped some chemicals on the tree stump to cause it to decompose quicker.  But why?  Why would someone do this to only one tree, half way up a mountain, in a remote area of the national forest? 


Before long, someone came up the path with a lantern shining brightly.  I must have looked quite the sight by this point.  I hailed him and explained that I had found some glow in the dark wood.  He became quite animated an explained that he had heard about it from some friends, but had never seen any before.  He told me that it was called foxfire and that it was caused by a fungus that decomposes wood.  He excitedly turned out his lantern and made many comments like “ewwww, and Ahhhh”  and “How marvelous”.  He asked me if he could take a piece.  I laughed hard for a minute before realizing my manors.  It struck me as so strange that he would ask permission.  It was just there.  It was not mine, but I suppose he was being polite as I may have claimed it as my find.  He was glowing (excuse the pun) with excitement as he gathered up some choice pieces.  He asked if I might like to hitch a ride on his light.  I declined as I thought it would be so nice to stay and show others this magical fungus.  He thanked me profusely as he headed up the trail.


  As more people came up the trail, I would ask them to turn out their lights to if they wanted to see something really neat.  The first few people who wandered up the path got looks of wonderment on their faces.  They unquestioningly turned out their lights to be rewarded with a magical display of nature not known to many people.   Then one person started looking around wildly and screamed and ran up the path.  I realized that the situation did look rather strange.  Here was some long haired guy, on an out of the way path in the middle of the forest asking to her to turn her light off.  I probably would have been suspicious if I would have been in her shoes.   I decided not to wait around and freak out any more people. 


That short experience told me a lot about human nature and even my place in it.  So I gathered up a generous amount of glowing wood, and headed up the trail.  I handed it out like candy, telling people what it was and letting them turn out the light on their own terms.  I loved walking away hearing Oooh’s and Ahhh’s and Wow’s.  It was a blissful experience handing out so much magic.   It felt great making so many people happy and causing so much wonderment  at the majesty of nature. 

This was my first encounter with Foxfire. It is a fungi that grows on wood.

It uses Bioluminescence. Bio- Life. Luminescence- light.

(A rather appropriate find at a gathering of the Rainbow Family of the Living Light)


About Foxfire

Foxfire is also known by several other names including “will-o'-the-wisp" , "faerie fire” and “cold fire”.

There are many types of glowing fungus. Many are external fungi that grow off of wood, like the shelf shaped bracket fungi. There are also glowing mushrooms. The foxfire that I had found was not an external fungus. It had permeated the wood itself. Though most findings of foxfire tend to be anywhere from vivid blue to deep green. The foxfire from my find was very pale greenish yellow. There have been findings of yellow and pink foxfire as well.

Bioluminescence is the opposite of photosynthesis. In the process of photosynthesis, an organism captures light and carbon-dioxide to make organic materials with the by-product of releasing oxygen. Bioluminescence is , the breaking down of organic material using oxygen, with the by-product of releasing CO2 and light.

There are many organisms that use bioluminescence. One of the most widely known is the firefly, or “lightning bug”. Glow worms also use the process. A majority of life forms that use it are deep sea creatures. To this day there is not much information on them due the loss of their bioluminescence because of the conditions of capture and experimentation.


Foxfire (bioluminescence)

  • Foxfire is the term for the bioluminescence created in the right conditions by a few species of fungi that decay wood.
  • The luminescence is often attributed to members of the genus Armillaria, the Honey mushroom, though others are reported, and as many as 40 individual species have been identified.
  • On the suggestion of Benjamin Franklin it was used for light in the Turtle, an early submarine.
  • In the novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, the characters of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer use foxfire as a source of light in order to dig a tunnel.

Bioluminescence - fireflies

Rainbow Gathering (not the Pennsylvania Gathering)

Get Your Fungus on Today

Bushnell 2.5x42 Night Vision Monocular
Bushnell 2.5x42 Night Vision Monocular

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Always look at the bottom of the page.

As Forest would say, the bottom of a hub is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you might get!


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    • Petstrel profile image

      Petstrel 7 years ago from Slovenia

      Beautiful! I just love it ;)

    • Shealy Healy profile image

      Shealy Healy 8 years ago from USA

      Beautiful photos. I love to hike. You are an open and free spirit living not to far from my stomping grounds. It is easy to be free and magical in nature.


    • oldness49 profile image

      oldness49 8 years ago from

      your hub is Beautiful!

    • Paper Moon profile image

      Paper Moon 9 years ago from In the clouds

      TruBlu75- That just made my day! It is memorable isn't it.

    • profile image

      TruBlu75 9 years ago

      I live in the appalachian mountains of Kentucky. When I was a kid I used to help my Dad cut fire wood. On one occasion we stayed a little too long and it got dark on us. To my amazement our pile of fire wood was glowing. My father had never seen this before so He asked his father about it. I must say that my grandfather had only went to the 7th grade but was also the wisest man I've ever known. He laughed and said " yeah, y'all musta run into a patch of that foxfire". He hadn't seen it in years so we took him up the hill to show it off. lol This memory stuck with me and just today I did a yahoo search to see what exactly that was and I found your story here...very entertaining . Thanks

    • Paper Moon profile image

      Paper Moon 9 years ago from In the clouds

      Lgali- I am honored that you think so. :D

    • Lgali profile image

      Lgali 9 years ago

      another excellent hub

    • Paper Moon profile image

      Paper Moon 9 years ago from In the clouds

      I am glad that we can still find magic in the world. Gives us a little hope. :)

    • Jewels profile image

      Jewels 9 years ago from Australia

      Fireflies are confirmation that magic exists. They make me feel like a child who saw her first butterfly.

    • Paper Moon profile image

      Paper Moon 9 years ago from In the clouds

      It is so hard to escape the sounds of the "civilized" world in america. My family has a little spot in Colorado. Used to be quiet most of the day, and at night you could hear the stream 1/4 mile away. Now all night long you hear traffic up and down the pass. :(

    • profile image

      ColdWarBaby 9 years ago

      I grew up in Connecticut. I remember very vividly the fascination I felt for two things on warm New England summer nights; thousands of fireflies competing with untold billions of stars when the skies where clear.

      Over the forty or so years I spent there, I watched with dismay as both the stars and the fireflies disappeared. The insects completely and the stars to the point that sometimes so few were visible you could actually count them.

      I haven't seen a firefly in many years. Not in Connecticut, Florida or New Mexico.

      Even here in Rio Rancho, at a slight elevation, the night skies are sadly devoid of stars.

      In Connecticut, Kent to be exact, I was serenaded to sleep every summer night by a symphony of crickets and frogs. I miss it and have for years.

      Anywhere I stay a night now, all I can hear is the omnipresent background rumble of humanity punctuated by an occasional unmuffled vehicle, airliner, barking dog, sub-sonic bass from some passing car or some other counterpoint to the ceaseless drone of "civilization".

    • Paper Moon profile image

      Paper Moon 9 years ago from In the clouds

      How verry exciting. You will have to let me know how they turn out! :D

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 9 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      I have just spotted some of these white toadstools in the woods, can't wait til dark!

    • Paper Moon profile image

      Paper Moon 9 years ago from In the clouds

      Jama- As a kid in the early 70's we used to smash them to get the glow stuff on us. As I got a little older I felt bad about this. I try to make up for it the best I can by teaching my kids to respect life. Except for that mosquito on the wall. THERE HE IS, GET HIM! (SMACK)

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 9 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      I'd never heard of foxfire until this hub, but was relieved that it  wasn't radioactive waste! 

      btw, I hate to say it, but I'm guilty of reducing the fire fly population by one.  Accidentally.  One summer evening at dusk, I saw something crawling up the wall in the living room.  As soon as I smacked it with a shoe, I was immediately sorry, because "glow" splattered all over the wall and my kids started screaming "You killed a firefly! You killed a firefly!".  Well, its tail light didn't blink even once before I smacked it, so I didn't *know* it was a firefly until too late. I still feel guilty all these years later.

    • Paper Moon profile image

      Paper Moon 9 years ago from In the clouds

      My mind used to be full of trivial bs. But it's ok now, like most things, I have forgoten it. Thx for the comment.

    • R. Blue profile image

      R. Blue 9 years ago from Right here

      Great info.....another piece of trivia just when I thought my brain could hold no more!!!

    • Paper Moon profile image

      Paper Moon 9 years ago from In the clouds

      Thank you for your congrats.  I was truly surprised and honored. 

      I just found the newsletter in my junkmail box like 10 min ago!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 9 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Congratulations on your HubNugget placement! Great Hub.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 9 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Watching fireflies and trying to capture them when we were kids in the countryside of Wisconsin.....ah, memories! I've never seen the foxfire however. Must be a wondrous sight. Loved the music attached to the firefly video. Great hub. Thumbs up!

    • Paper Moon profile image

      Paper Moon 9 years ago from In the clouds

      Yes, I too got freeked out by the possibility of radioactive waste or something. My mind was really racing to try to explain it. What wonders natrue holds that most people are still un-aware of.

    • druneric profile image

      Donna Runeric 9 years ago from Ohio

      Oh, what a wonderful article! You really had me frightened momentarily because I was afraid you HAD found radioactivity. I was so releived when you said it was Foxfire.

    • Paper Moon profile image

      Paper Moon 9 years ago from In the clouds

      If only, if only....

    • profile image

      urimidden 9 years ago

      Now, if we could just get that rainbow to seriously bend over DC.

      Cool hub.

    • Paper Moon profile image

      Paper Moon 9 years ago from In the clouds

      It is so cool that you have seen foxfire.  Many people have also seen glowing mushrooms.   Rainbow Gatherings have taken place out west as well.  Oregon, Cali and even Nevada.  I did make it to the Nevada gathering.  The high desert was a harsh environment to camp in for 3 weeks.  My favorite part was meeting huge rattle snakes every night. NOT!

    • GeneriqueMedia profile image

      GeneriqueMedia 9 years ago from Earth

      Excellent Hub! Can't really see any pointers I should dole either this is perfect or I'm just slow. ;)

      Sounds like an east coast version of Burning Man...but better, 'cause its in the forest and not the desert.

      Foxfire I've seen before...and I miss lightening bugs. Thanks for reminding me of these awesome natural things that I don't get to see out in Cali.



    • Paper Moon profile image

      Paper Moon 9 years ago from In the clouds

      Ripplemaker- I am glad that you learned something from this. Thank you for your congrats on the hubnuggets. There are some amazing ones this round. I hope everyone gets a chance to read them all.

      k@ri- Thank you for your comment. Nature still holds so many suprises.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 9 years ago from Ohio

      Wonderful story! It's amazing and wondrous what nature can do!

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 9 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Hi Paper Moon, I am learning something new today. Thank you for this enlightening hub! :-)

      Congratulations for being a hubnuggets nominee!  Be sure to invite people to go and vote and join the HUBNUGGET fun.  :-)  

      To vote click here:

      May nature bring forth the wonder and awe within us and make us appreciate life more and more. Much love and light!

    • Paper Moon profile image

      Paper Moon 9 years ago from In the clouds

      I am so pleased that you liked it. I will be watching to see what I write about next as well. LOL. I am excited to dig into your hubs.

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 9 years ago from United States

      Very impressive and informative. I'll be watching to see what you write about next.

    • Frieda Babbley profile image

      Frieda Babbley 9 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

      I can't imagine your Aphrodite would have done such a thing.

      By the way, last summer there were lots of fireflies. My kids played with lots of them in the yard. They'd cup them in their hands and watch them and ask questions about them, make observations to eachother. It's fun watching a bunch of kids trying to figure out something like fireflies. Ah the memories.

    • Paper Moon profile image

      Paper Moon 9 years ago from In the clouds

      Sula - thx for stopping in. Glad you enjoyed.

      Ah er.. Frieda- uh.. no. I had been to 9 of them but the last one I attended was in 1994. My wife put an end to those...(just kidding)

      Sharrie- I was amazed to find a relation between the glowing wood and fireflies. It is sad that they are disappearing. Same as the Monarch butterflies. When I was a child, there were so many of both. So magical and majestic.

    • sharrie69 profile image

      sharrie69 9 years ago from Trinidad (an island in the Caribbean)

      Wow! Very cool, would have loved to have seen that.

      Liked the firefly video too. Read somewhere recently that firefly populations are diminishing world wide. Soon there may not be any left as our light pollution is messing with their mating rituals and causing the population to drop. Sad to think that our grand kids may not have the wonder of a summer night lit by fireflies.

    • Frieda Babbley profile image

      Frieda Babbley 9 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

      Way cool. I've heard of foxfire, but have never seen it and knew nothing of its wonderment.

      Handed out like candy, lol. And that poor woman. I would have been freaked out too. Cool videos, by the way. Were you at that gathering?

    • SoulaBee profile image

      SoulaBee 9 years ago from United States

      Great way to combine two topics into one. They meld very well. I loved the story. Made a magical setting for the foxfire. Thanks. I enjoyed reading this.

    • Paper Moon profile image

      Paper Moon 9 years ago from In the clouds

      CC.R. -Nature can be a trip. Lol

      Hawkesdream- you posed the question, it reminded me of this experience, which I have not thought of in a very long time. Thankyou.

    • Hawkesdream profile image

      Hawkesdream 9 years ago from Cornwall

      Inspiration on the hub, so pleased to have seen this, left me at peace.

    • profile image

      C. C. Riter 9 years ago

      Ahhh, the wonders of nature. kewl


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