And now I will return to the Galax wood

Mar. 02, 2013 @ 03:32 PM

It was nine years ago this week that I decided to scratch a little itch that I had been feeling for several years. To start scratching this itch, I walked into my local newspaper office one Friday afternoon and asked to see the paper’s editor. After introducing myself I advised him that his paper needed an outdoors section. To my surprise, he advised that he had been thinking that very same thing. After talking a few minutes about what I had in mind, he asked if I could bring him a sample to look over Monday. 

After getting back home I began hitting the keyboard of my computer. This seemed to take up most of the entire weekend. It was truly a labor of love. Come Monday morning, there were several pages full of everything outdoors. While I was happy with all the variety, my proudest part was a couple of main articles that I had written. To my delight, at the end of the week the paper published an entire page titled “Outdoors.” For each and every week over the next nine years, I had the privilege of bringing a variety of outdoor news, information and stories to the papers readers. As time went by, other area papers joined the list that ran the outdoors material I was preparing. Many readers have shared thoughts, questions and comments with me by email as a result of the outdoors section over the years since. 

Writing about our states great outdoor opportunities allowed me to meet a lot of truly wonderful people, see a lot of new places and experience a new look at many outdoor activities. One of those outings a few years back, took me all the way down east to Orange County. Here I met several very special people that would end up changing my life for the better. In so doing, I was also introduced to a truly special organization as well, North Carolina Handicapped Sportsmen Inc. In the years since, I have found myself spending time with several disabled sportsmen and sport women. I discovered a true blessing by helping those that were disabled; enjoy the hunting and fishing sports. It seemed that those that were the most severe with their disability actually complained the least. My readers got to meet many of these special men, women and children through some of the stories I shared of their outings. A man reader once advised that a story I did about one handicapped young man’s deer hunt had brought tears to his eyes. For a writer, I felt that it was as good a compliment as I could ever get. Over time, I found that my most loyal readers were middle-aged women that neither hunted nor fished. It seemed that it brought back memories of when they did some fishing as a little girl or memories of their dad hunting and bringing back squirrels or some other game. In other words, it brought back memories of a more simple time in their lives and the lives of others.

While writing the so called main articles of the outdoors section over the past nine years did scratch a writing itch I had along with allowing myself to revisit on occasion some of the memories of my younger days, it did not allow me to scratch deep enough. To do this, I would need to devote more time, patience and computer time toward returning to the galax woods. For those that are not familiar with the term “galax woods,” let’s look at what exactly a galax is first.    

To start with, the galax, scientific name, “Galax urceolata,” is an evergreen herbaceous perennial plant. This small ground plant that only averages a few inches tall grows throughout the Appalachian Mountain range from Massachusetts to Alabama according to Wikipedia. Looking like a small heart shaped lily pad that flattens out at the top of the plant at the end of a single pencil lead stem; it boasts a dark green color until later winter when it takes on more of a brownish color. The leaves and stems of the galax have been used in floral arrangements for several generations throughout the Appalachian Mountain areas of the southeast.  While no one may actually know when it first got started as a so called money crop plant, it seemed to peak during the fifties and sixties. In fact, Galax Virginia got its name from this hardy little plant. The industry surrounding its usage and importance to its gatherers commonly known as pickers goes back many years. The development of the motor vehicle and its ability to deliver goods over much greater distances and less time than the horse and buggy could is without a doubt what helped create the galax industry. In the ’40s and ’50s, the galax was the main stay for making money and even a livelihood for many Appalachian Mountain folks and communities. This was where I came from in the shadow region of Mt. Mitchell in Yancey County and what basically sustained the entire community. 

My earliest memories are those of life in the galax woods back in the ’50s and early ’60s. Since my dad was the local evergreen dealer, it meant that he was one of the most popular people for miles around since almost every family picked galax at least some time during the year. With miles and miles of uninhabited forest lands in all directions, it was pretty easy to go into the woods with a burlap sack or two and pull galax plants. With forest floors often covered with large thick patches of the plants, pickers both young and old would get down on hands and knees in an attempt to fill their sacks. Good pickers like my grandfather could pick six or seven thousand leaves in a good day. After returning home, these would be dumped into the middle of the living room floor. All family members including grandchildren like myself would sit on the floor around the pile and pack the leaves up in neat little bundles of 25. Forty of these bundles would make 1,000 leaves. At the end of the week, the local dealer would pick them up and pay the picker a total of 20 pennies. 

This time period and the life that revolved around these so called galax woods is what I have always wanted to write about the most. Since I am not getting any younger and have had the benefit of practicing some writing skills over the past nine years, I have decided that it is now time to return to the galax woods. To accomplish this, I will be devoting less time to the outdoors section and more time hopefully to writing the memories I cherish of a life growing up in the ’50s and ’60 during a time and place I call “The Galax Woods.”

Tony Robinson can be reached at