Story and Photographs by Joan Herrmann

Whereiwander… today, with the temperatures in the single digits, it’s only as far as my comfortable chair in the living room. Before sitting down I need to start a fire in the wood-burning stove. There is plenty of wood stacked up near the stove, so I will not have to go outside to retrieve some. After the kindling has ignited I begin to add larger pieces of wood to the fire. I say a silent prayer in thanks to the trees that have now become the logs burning to give us this warmth. I momentarily reflect on a hike that I led a few years ago, with a group of third-grade students, at Potato Hill Farm. We stopped and I called the children’s attention to a rather large tree in the field. I asked them to raise their hands and then tell me one thing about that tree. After a few seconds a hand went up and a boy said: “It’s Dead”. I saw a few smirks and heard a few giggles. My next question was “how do you know that it is dead?” Another child raised her hand and she answered, “because there aren’t any leaves on it”. Both questions were answered correctly. Again I questioned them, why do you think the tree is still standing, and is this tree still important? Now they began to think and reflect on the questions. Another hand raised and then the answers were thoughtful. From another child came the answers of the roots are still keeping it standing and yes, it is important because it is still a habitat for some animals. They began to notice a nest on one of the branches and holes in the tree that could also be a nesting place. “Does the tree still provide food”? Yes, indeed it provides food for and nest cavities for many beetles, and woodpeckers can then eat the beetles. We decided that tree was now providing food for both insects and birds. We spent almost thirty minutes in front of the “dead tree” discussing its purposes when it was alive and also now that it was dead.

As the wood stove began to provide the much-desired warmth I glanced around the living room and really began to reflect on how much trees actually do provide for us humans and for all living creatures. The structure of the chair that I was sitting on was made of wood. Within the first few minutes, after getting out of bed in the morning, and throughout our entire day trees have made our life much easier and are truly important. Consider the tissues which we used to cleanse ourselves in the bathroom, the aspirin that we take to relieve minor pains, the hot coffee or tea that we drink each morning. There might be a wooden bowl that holds the fruit that we consume for breakfast. The utensils which we might see in the kitchen, for example, a rolling pin, wooden spoons, chopsticks and many, many more are all made of wood. The food we need for a balanced diet, citrus fruits, bananas, apples, etc all grow on trees. Trees provide food for most insects, birds, and mammals. Bears, turkeys, and deer may not be able to survive our winters, without trees like the Beechnut tree, which provide a source of food for these three animals and many others. Trees also provide shelter for us, our homes are mostly made of wood, and the forest is home to numerous critters. Trees give us greater access to water, by way of docks, and boats like canoes, kayaks, long boats, guide boats, and paddles. Fishing may be easier from a boat, fishing poles can be made of wood, and the creels are wooden. Wood helps to keep us safe for example, steps, railings, guard rails, and also gives us boundaries, such as wooden picket fences and other larger barricades. Forts were made of wood and so are tree houses.

Wood provides us with instruments to entertain us, such as pianos, organs, guitars, banjos, flutes, violins, violas, and many, many more. Many games are or were made of wood. Checkers, Chess pieces, pickup sticks, the handles of a jump rope, the tree and swing hanging from it, I am sure you can think of many games that were and still are made from wood. When we first began school as children we probably had a large wooden pencil to practice writing the alphabet or numbers. Today children are adept at using computers and mobile phones, but pencils and paper still are very important. Many of you are artists and still rely on or prefer wooden products. For example, the wooden frames to hold your photographs or paintings. The palette to hold your paint may be made of wood. Many tools are made with wooden handles including my favorite gardening tools and my winter shovel handle. The medium used by numerous artists may be wood. We have several hand-carved wooden birds that were beautifully crafted by a local woodcarver and a few of my favorite wooden pieces are “Wood Spirits” that were artfully done by a friend and member of the Artworks formerly in Old Forge, New York.

Canes, walking sticks, and crutches may all be made of wood. And then there are some of the most important wooden items which include our beds, tables, and chairs, dressers, highboys, desks, cabinets, cupboards, walls, floors, ceilings, porches, and gazebos. Of course, I am not forgetting forms of communication in the way of cards, letters, envelopes, pencils, pens with wooden barrels, and books. Many of us use emails and electronic gadgets to communicate, but I and perhaps you have huge libraries of books. Sometimes the books are our preferred means of educating ourselves. At one time smoke signals were a form of communicating, in many countries drums are a means of communication. Wooden weapons such as a bow and arrow and the stock of a gun were needed to provide food for our families.

Trees have always had special meaning to me. As a child, I spent my summers on Conesus Lake, south of Rochester, at a home that was built by my great grandfather. But, if you needed to find me, look first in the woods. On a hot summer day, it provides shade and for you and for the cross-country skiers or snowshoers the woods also provide warmth from chilling winds. And how many of you have sat around a campfire and maybe roasted marshmallows for S’mores. Now look around and see if you can count ten items in front of you that are made from a tree… and give thanks.

As a Professional Nature Photographer, Naturalist, and Outdoor Educator, Joan Herrmann has been teaching and doing programs for Schools, Garden Clubs, Libraries, and Nature Centers, about 38 years. After moving from the Rochester area in 1995 she began her Photography business, Essence of Nature, and also 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) and in 2013 and 2014 did a week-long summer program at BROEP in conjunction with Mohawk Valley Community College (MVCC). Using her love of both 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 the cataloging of all trails used by the hiking Coaches and photographed and identified seasonal Flora.

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