What do you think of when you hear the word, “foxfire?” Some confuse it for the web browser Firefox, others of the book series on Appalachian traditions and life, and others just roll their eyes assuming it’s some sort of science fiction thing. Yet, you will be hard pressed to find people, especially city people, who can tell you the answer to, “what is foxfire?”
Foxfire, also known as “fairy fire,” or “ghost light” is a biolumnescent fungus that exists in decaying wood, and is present in parts all over the world. It often ‘activates’ when the wood has been stepped on or agitated, causing it to break open, but there have been accounts of people who have walked up on entire trees glowing, undisturbed.
If you are taking a walk through the woods at night, always TURN OFF YOUR FLASHLIGHT. Breathe as your eyes adjust, and then make sure to look for the faint blue-green glow of foxfire as you step through brush and rotting trees.
I personally have never seen foxfire West of Alexandria, TN at the start of the Cumberland Plateau, but I would be willing to bet that you could find it at one of the Warner Parks if the light pollution is not too strong now.
California is home to the Winchester Mystery House. In a shocking example of high-brow mental illness, Sara Winchester (Winchester Guns); obsessed with “evil” spirits that were chasing her, believed that as long as she continued construction on her home that the “evil” could never get her. The results were a 160 room home with doors to nowhere, a staircase that goes down seven steps then up eleven, a seance room, secret passageways, and her eventual (surprisingly natural) death.
But in the Tennessee, land of porches, there is an impressive example of the same type of mania, but with far less money. And where money is weak, religion is strong; leading Minister Horace Burgess to construct what is now known as the Minister’s Tree House after God told him to. Yes, the Lord himself spoke to Minister Burgess and told him that as long as he kept building the structure, that he would never run out of materials. God kept his promise, and the Minster carried on until 2012 when The State Fire Marshal ordered that building operations halt and the Minister was forced to abandon his life’s work. Despite petitions from people in the town, the tree house sadly remains ‘closed’ still today.
Under the Divine Duty of Minister Burgess, the tree house reached 97 feet tall, with 80 rooms, all supported by large white oak trees. Between Cookeville and Knoxville, off of I-40 East, on Beehive Lane you can still bear witness to the spectacle; just don’t get caught.