This section is from the "The New Student's Reference Work Volume 5: How And Why Stories" by Elinor Atkinson.
Who says there is no use in going to the forests again until spring? What a funny mistake! It's worth while going if only for the pictures in black and white. Many people, who know a great deal about art, like black and white pictures best. They like drawings in crayon, charcoal and ink; prints from etched plates, and fine photographs. The woods, in winter, against gray skies and snowy earth, are delicate etchings. The boy with a kodak, then, is lucky. He can make a whole album of pictures.
Every tree has a character of its own, just as every person has. Don't you know the members of your family and many friends by the way they stand and sit, and carry their heads, and swing their arms when walking? You don't always need to see their faces. You can learn to know trees in that way, too. Their character seems to come out more sharply when they have no soft, colored drapery of leaves to hide them.
The oak tree looks as if its shape was wrought of iron. No two oaks are alike, but all look as if hammered out on some giant forge. Its stout trunk, covered with deeply furrowed black bark, is rooted like a rock. Often it is buttressed, or braced, by great ridges that slope away to outstanding roots. It supports a great weight of thick limbs, irregular and crooked. Clear up to the knotted twigs, and tough brown leaves that often hang on all winter, the oak has a stubborn look. It dares the winter winds to do their worst. And it looks so old, so wise, such a scarred hero of a thousand fights. The old Norse sea kings and the brave English once worshiped the oak tree. It gave them ship timbers that could stand the strain of wind and waves. Many ancient peoples thought dryads, or wood spirits, lived in oak trees.
The elm tree was believed to bless and protect a church or household. There have been many wonder stories written about the elm. It's black trunk, with the bark in deep, vertical ridges, often springs forty feet in the air, straight as a pine, before it branches. Then, from the top, the long limbs sweep, like plumes from a vase. A double row of them makes a high arch across a very wide street. It was often planted for a lucky birth tree when a baby was born. The baby grew up before the elm did, but the tree lived long after he was gone. His children and grandchildren played under it while it was still a young tree. Elms and oaks often live for two or three hundred years and get their names into history. (See Elm.)
Isn't it wonderful that trees keep a record of their birthdays? Every year's growth is a thin layer of green that, as it hardens into wood, is plainly marked in a ring. The rings are bound together with rays like wheel spokes. When lumber is sawed and polished, the ring and ray marks come out in wavy lines, in delicate pencilings, in curls and "eyes," and color bands, very true to type in nearly all trees. So, in a chair or floor or door casing, you can learn to know the different woods. Grown people know many of these woods in houses and furniture. They know just what each kind of tree is good for.
The Indians knew a great deal about woods, although they could not cut down trees. "Give me of your bark, oh birch tree," sang Hiawatha. He wanted the white, unbroken bark of the big, paper birch tree to cover his canoe with. " Give me of your wood, oh ash tree," he sang. He used the tough saplings of the white ash for the frame of his canoe and for his hunting bow. He knew the best firewoods, too. He knew that a hard beech log would hold fire all night, that birch splinters made the best kindling, that pine-knots blazed up for story telling, that wild apple wood glowed with rosy flames like its own pink blossoms.