Foxfire or A Gift In The Dark
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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 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
Find you fungus in the dark with this super deal
Inspired by Define Darkness by Hawkesdream
- Define Darkness?
"Just pause a moment and think of what we would all miss if the world was constantly in daylight.".... When we hear someone ask us to, 'Define Darkness' our first instinct is to think of all the bad stuff that goes on around us,
Additional Information and Art links
- Additional information on foxfire
- HowStuffWorks "Bioluminescent Animals"
Bioluminescent animals take on many forms and can be found all over the Earth. Learn about bioluminescent animals and find out where foxfire can be found.
- Toxic Logo Sticker
- Light in the Dark B&W
- Night Forest by BlackFairyWitch picture
- Art to the Extreme by Nicole: ETSY ARTIST FEATURE #7: Edamamepress
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