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I Think That I Shall Never See . . .

by Stephen Tortora-Lee on July 29, 2009

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An interesting social interactivity experiment is happening in the Bronx right now.

Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone? Well, thanks to the folks behind this Tree Museum, we don’t have to pave paradise, we can discover it in the Bronx where it’s free (they don’t even charge people a dollar and a half just to see ‘em).

Events of the last 100 years have been distilled in stories by people in the community and connected through interweaving matrices of local ecology, the internet, social commentary and interactive mobile technology. It winds through the first divided lane highway system in the US and highlights green technology past and present.

What is the common theme and focus that would lead you to spend an hour or two walking through the Bronx listening to your cell phone to find the significance of where you are and what you’re looking at?

The answer to that lies near the center of the walk in around marker number 42 in the Joyce Kilmer Park, dedicated to that great American poet, in an enscription of his most famous poem:

I think that I shall never see

Tree in Joyce Kilmer Park

Tree in Joyce Kilmer Park

A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Welcome to the Tree museum, a somewhat temporary exhibit by Katie Holten, and a wonderful walk through the Bronx – or maybe two or three since it took me 5 hours just to cover about half its distance since the Tree museum is spread out throughout the entirety of the Grand Concourse, reaching from 138th Street to 209th Street. Since the B, D, and 4 lines are all interwoven into the Grand Concourse, it is easy to jump into the exhibits throughout. And though all the markers are keyed to specific trees planted along the route, the commentary from the speakers pertains to everything from ecological nices of trees, to great people of the past, to the neighborhoods where it was cool to “be seen” in the 20′s to commentary on the Yankees (since the old and new Yankee stadiums are within a couple blocks of the route and an important fixture in the Bronx). You can see pictures and the route of all the “exhibits” here and find out the story of a few trees here or via the phone number ( 718-408-2501 or find out more about how the stories were collected and official guides and press reviews here).

There is much more to the tree museum besides a common ground of people in the Bronx appreciating trees in their city, and the Grand Concourse, a beautiful parkway built to efficiently move traffic all while being elegant and beautiful. The fact that it was taken from so many people’s personal reflections about each stop along the route truely engrains the spirit of a neighborhood in cyberspace. I hope they are able to continue this exhibit beyond the October deadline. If not, it’s all the more motivation for you to see it while it lasts.

Since much of the exhibit is virtual I would definitely suggest picking up a guide to the tree museum from the Bronx Museum of Art or Wave Hill Public Gardens since the pamphlets along the way had run out when I was walking the route Saturday afternoon. Here are some highlights from my journey through the Tree Museum:

Many thanks to Katie Holten, The Bronx Museum of Arts, Wave Hill Public Gardens and Cultural Center, and also the many many people in the Bronx and the rest of New York who helped put this beautiful project together.

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