The Tree & I // Relating Consciously to Nature

Artist Nicolás Dumit Estévez and Ecological Project Manger John Butler lead a contemplative walk through Van Cortlandt Park exploring the deep connection between people and nature. Reflection by Nicolás & JOhn.

May 21st, 2019, Van Cortlandt Park


The sound of car horns and the rumble of 1 train on the elevated platform above began our walk on May 21st, as we departed the 242nd street subways station towards Van Cortlandt Park. We walked north, then into the park to the southern end of the parade ground, the largest field in New York City, and paused. Nicolás instructed us to silence our phones and be present in the moment, leading us in a breathing exercise. We looked out over the parade ground to find our place with nature at that moment, focusing our eyes in silence on the different shades and textures of green that made up the grasses, plants and trees around us. After a period of silence, John told us a bit about the types of trees surrounding us in the park. We continued our journey across the fields, following Nicolás‘ instruction to walk purposefully and gently, as if our feet were kissing the ground.

For our next stop, we came to a large ash tree that sits on the edge of the parade ground. Here the group was guided to interact with the tree and feel its presence, asking a silent question to the tree and caressing the bark. This tree is one of the noted “Great Trees” of New York City, hundreds of years old, and is considered a wolf tree. This means that the tree grew in an open environment and its branches spread outward. Group participants asked about Emerald Ash Borer, which seems to be destined to doom the ash trees of New York. The loss of the ash trees could have a significant impact on the ecology of New York; they play an important role in water cycling and decomposition in the forest.

The group followed a path down to the wet meadow, in what was once a formal garden. Participants were instructed to pick one tree each, present that tree with a conundrum from their lives, and ask the tree for its wisdom. Journals were supplied to aid in the process of silent reflection.


We ended our walk at Tibbetts Brook, where much of John’s work in the park is focused. John shared the vision for daylighting the brook, the major green infrastructure project that CALL is advocating for through our work in the Bronx. Nicolás reflected on the intersection of art, nature, healing, and the importance of water to all things that live.

Can humans engage in a relationship with nature that enters into a co-regulating exchange promoting, connection, health, and healing for both parties? Can this type of interaction stimulate an egalitarian re-weaving of the fabric of life? Towards the end of the walk, as John reflected on Tibbetts Brook, he spoke movingly of the brook as living being he interacts with on a daily basis, who knows his secrets, and whose secrets he knows. John directly correlated this understanding to be an outgrowth of the walking the park with Nicolás, and seeing the familiar landscape through his lens. John is not alone; the Tree & I left leaders and participants alike with a connection to the natural world that will have a lasting impact.

CALL will soon be releasing our first self-guided audio tour, drawn from the content of this experience. Stay tuned for release date details!

Liza CuccoComment