Story and Photographs By Joan Herrmann

Whereiwander… the season of autumnal beauty is beginning in the North Country, and I am anxious as always to photograph it. The trees are my focal point right now, as they are in every season of the year. I have had an affinity with trees since I was big enough to climb one and sit among its branches. I grew up in Rochester, New York. Our home was situated on the corner of Oakland Street and Linden Street. Scarlet Oaks (Quercus coccinea) and White Oaks (Quercus alba) grew along Oakland, and Largeleaf Linden trees (Tilia platyphyllos) grew along Linden. We also had a lovely Sour Cherry tree (Prunus cerasus) that was located in the middle of our side yard.

Our home was located just a few blocks from Highland Park, known for its magnificent collection of Lilac Trees. The park was designed by Landscape Architect Fredrick Law Olmstead, the designer of Central Park in New York City. Highland Park was my playground for most of the year. It was the closest area that had wonderful hills and numerous areas for exploring flora and fauna. This was the beginning of my becoming a naturalist. The park was also home to the Lamberton Conservatory, which houses different exhibits of seasonal floral displays five times a year.

To be able to share the significance and importance of trees in our daily lives with children and adults while hiking or through my column has and still is one of my greatest joys. I am reminded of a time when I was able to share the importance of dead trees with a group of third-grade students. We stopped in along a field, and I called their attention to a rather large tree. I asked them to raise their hands and tell me one thing that they noticed about this particular tree. After a few seconds, a hand was raised, and the child said, “It’s dead.” I observed a few smirks and heard a few giggles. I then asked how he knew it was dead. Another child answered, “Because there are no leaves on it.” Both answers were correct. Then I asked them if the tree still had a purpose and why it was still standing. They were now beginning to observe that the tree was still very important to many creatures. It was a habitat for mammals, birds, and insects. One of its branches even had a nest on it, and several of the holes within the tree might provide nests for birds or squirrels. We all agreed that the tree still provided food and shelter for numerous species and that even though it was dead, it still had a purpose.

After our hike and lunch, the students and I spent more time discussing trees’ importance in our daily lives. From the moment we get out of bed in the morning and continually throughout the day, trees play a role in every facet of our lives. In addition to providing us with shelter and food, so many of our daily needs are all satisfied because of trees. Some of our means of transportation, such as ships, rowboats, guide boats, paddles and oars, canoes, and kayaks, are or have been made of trees. Our means of communication with one another have benefitted from trees, paper and pencils, newspapers, books, cards, and even smoke signals. Trees have also played an important role in our enjoyment of sports—baseball bats, hockey sticks, golf clubs, skis, snowshoes, sleds, and hiking sticks. Trees provide us heat in wood-burning stoves and campfires. They assist us with daily chores, like the many tools that have wooden handles, brooms, wheelbarrows, and ladders. A multitude of musical instruments are made of wood, such as violins, guitars, flutes, clarinets, pianos, and many more. There are also many medicinal items, such as tongue depressors, crutches, splints, and even some medications that are made from wood.

Take a moment and look around the room you are in; you may be surprised at just how many items within that room are made of wood. I was when I did just that. In the kitchen, the cabinets, knobs and handles, wooden spoons, rolling pins, cutting boards, toothpicks, knife handles, drying racks, wooden bowls, and chopsticks are all made of wood. In our living room, the bentwood rocking chairs, the frames of photos and paintings, and the hand-carved wooden birds that were made by a local woodcarver. In our bedroom, the bed frames and dressers and nightstand. In the bathroom, the facial tissue, toilet paper, more cabinets, and even the sink handles are all made from wood.

In North America, there are at least eighty-five species of cavity-dwelling birds. These tree cavities protect the nestlings from both predators and weather conditions. The cavity nesters are among the first birds to lay their eggs each spring, and their nestlings are the first to leave the nest (fledge). Many birds can create their own cavities within a tree, and since their brood leaves the cavity fairly soon within the nesting season, other birds that are unable to create a cavity will claim ownership as soon as it is empty. I enjoyed watching as a Pileated Woodpecker brood left their nesting cavity; that a Wood Duck was watching, too, and was ready to claim the cavity to lay her eggs.

Many insects also depend on trees, especially numerous species of butterflies and moths that use trees as a host plant. The adults will lay their egg or eggs on a specific tree, and the emerging larvae or larvae will hatch and begin eating the leaves of the tree. The Luna moth has several kinds of host trees which include Birch, Hickory and Walnut. The Viceroy butterfly (which is a Monarch butterfly mimic) prefers the Willow, Aspen, and Poplar as a host tree. Both Hornets and Yellowjacket wasps are dependent on trees, and it takes hundreds of workers chewing bits of wood from rotting logs or weathered wood to masticate the fibers combined with their saliva to create the beautiful nests that we see hanging from trees. The color variations within these nests are created due to different colorings from each type of wood. Hope to perhaps see you enjoying the autumn foliage… where you wander.

Joan Herrmann has taught and done programs for Schools, Garden Clubs, Libraries, and Nature Centers for about 38 years as a Professional Nature Photographer, Naturalist, and Outdoor Educator. After moving from the Rochester area in 1995, she began her Photography business, Essence of Nature, and became a co-owner of The Artworks in Old Forge, New York. As a docent at Munson, Williams, Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, New York, she has been educating children and adults for nineteen years.

In 2007, she began working with the Black River Outdoor Educational Program (BROEP). In 2013 and 2014, she did a week-long summer program at BROEP with Mohawk Valley Community College (MVCC).

Using her love of nature and photography, she created a Flora/Fauna outdoor educational program teaching students (ages 6 to 14) the joys of nature and creative photography skills.

Joan’s love of nature has been a lifelong study of Birds, Wildflowers, Mosses, Ferns, Trees, Amphibians, Reptiles, Grasses, Insects, Spiders, Tracks, Scat, and Galls. She has assisted in cataloging all trails used by the hiking Coaches and photographed and identified seasonal Flora.

Since October 2016, she has written a bi-monthly nature column with Adirondack Express Newspaper. In October 2019, she began a bi-monthly column with the My Little Falls newspaper. You may reach her at