Illustration with Tania Erlij featured.

Tania Erlij volunteers as a guide for students visiting the Arnold Arboretum on a field trip. She asks them to examine the texture of trees, using it as a tool of discovery.

Illustrations by Steven Salido Fisher

Arts & Culture

‘Gathering Historias’ at the Arboretum

long read

Divinity School student’s project reveals deep-rooted connections to nature and community

Steven Salido Fisher is doing sacred work simply by listening to people as they share the stories in their hearts.

The Harvard Divinity School (HDS) student is building on a mission to give people in the local Hispanic community an elevated voice about the natural environment. His project, “Gathering Historias” is documenting, in their native language, their experiences with nature including the historic green space of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University.   

“Many people I have talked to really see their time outdoors, in the natural environment, as a time of restoration, in a place of sanctuary, and even talk about people they love through times shared outdoors” Fisher, a former student chaplain at Massachusetts General Hospital, said. “‘Gathering Historias’ shares those narratives about the changing social and cultural meaning of an outdoor experience within an increasingly-diverse Boston area.” 

Fisher has bicultural roots helping him understand social resilience and belonging. Born in Lake Forest, Ill., he grew up in both Chicago and Mexico City, where his parents originate. The integrated experiences from his childhood helped actualize “Gathering Historias.” These virtual stories share, in podcast format, the personal interactions and recreational activities community members have in the environment, utilizing nature as a way to create a spiritual connection to the outdoors, and to others. Telling their stories in Spanish invites people to recognize their own voices being heard and enter into the story in a way that most other content doesn’t allow, Fisher said. 

“There’s a level of personality that’s accessed when someone speaks in their native language, you can capture the emotions and there is a real impact on listeners,” he said. “If you don’t speak Spanish, you may not be able to understand what they are saying, but the laughing, the gasping, the tone, or even the slowing down during the narrative — you’re really drawn in.”  

Wendy Estrada, a contributor to “Gathering Historias, said speaking with Fisher revived many memories of her roots, her family, her travels, and she hopes the project will inspire her children to do things outdoors 

“I could have spent so many hours talking to Steven about my experiences. When I was younger, without access to technology, we explored more of the woods and lakes, I wanted to pull out all my [photo] albums and look through them,” the Brookline resident said. “With our busy lives, we don’t realize that nature gives us so much peace.” 

Fisher is also a children’s book illustrator and focuses his drawings on the relationship between children and nature. He chose the Arboretum to do the work through the HDS Field Education Program. This opportunity, allowing students to utilize a setting matching their educational goals, connected his own work illustrating social and botanical life to the Arboretum’s mission of fostering “greater understanding, appreciation, and stewardship of the Earth’s botanical diversity and its essential value to humankind.” His drawings, which accompany the narratives, will help illustrate the importance of intimacy, growth, nature, and stewardship.  

Illustration of Hannah.
Illustration of Wendy.

Hannah Lopez remembers her grandmother, who taught her about gardening, surrounded by tomatoes grown her home garden. While dreaming, Wendy Estrada hears a nocturnal symphony of crickets, toads, frogs, birds, and monkeys that lived outside of her former home in Panama City.

Ana Maria Caballero, the nature education specialist at the Arboretum, said in addition to Fisher’s talent creating fresh and whimsical artwork with hints of Mexican traditions, he is incredibly focused and driven. He immersed himself in the fabric of the Public Programs department to get a better understanding of people and nature.  

He is a great listener, very interested in hearing people’s stories and finding connections between himself, the storyteller and greater humanity,” she said. “This initiative fits in nicely with the Public Program department’s drive to create relevancy for a wider audience, with programming that better reflects the concerns and aspirations of visitors to the Arnold Arboretum.” 

Fisher’s work at the Arboretum is in line with his work in the Field Education Program at HDS, where he is a master of divinity degree candidate (M.Div.). Every year, the School sends approximately 80 to 100 HDS students out to work as chaplains, instructors, and more in parishes, educational institutions, community-based social justice agencies, hospitals, and prisons. The aim is to help students cultivate their theological imagination within a structured learning experience and use the experience to explore their calls to ministry and develop technical skills. 

Depending on the job, field education can send students across the country, and in summertime, across the world. M.Div. candidates must complete at least 700 hours of field education work before they graduate, said Emily Click, assistant dean for ministry studies and field education at HDS. 

“We craft opportunities for our students to engage their gifts in the needs of particular individuals, communities, and organizations. We enable students to discover the ways in which their curiosity, intellect, and kindness can be offered compassionately to people in need,” she said. “In the case of Steven, his field education is a perfect example of the ways in which our students’ imaginations are honored and kindled by the opportunities they see in a field education program that offers not just traditional ministry settings, but places for them to design their own learning.” 

The setting at the Arboretum also helped Fisher underscore the value of time. Established in 1872 and a National Historic Landmark, the Arboretum occupies 281-acres of naturalized landscape containing a living collection of trees, shrubs, and woody vines from around the world, consciously preserved for research and cherished by the public. In a similar light, he hopes “Gathering Historias” will live on beyond the moment and the conversations will remain in people’s minds, preserved and cherished from generation to generation.  

“I’ve worked in many places — hospitals, universities, the Red Cross, but it’s really astounding and beautiful to see the deep attention to time at the Arboretum, and the beautiful intention to cultivate life within an intergenerational framework,” he said. “It’s not necessarily explicit people can walk by a tree in the Arboretum and sense that it has something beyond their own life span. I hope ‘Gathering Historias’ lives on in the sense that life continues beyond the stories themselves.” 


Steven Salido Fisher, host: You’re listening to Gathering Historias, an initiative of the Arnold Arboretum.

[Music: “En las andadas by Sílvia Tomàs Trio]

Christopher Montero: These species these trees, these plants, these birds are significant for me because this is part of my immediate reality now

Fisher: I’m Steven Salido Fisher and I record the diverse stories of Latina and Latino people in Greater Boston. I want to celebrate their experiences in nature and capture the spirit of our presence when it comes to the world’s environment. In this story we hear from Chris. A teacher naturalist who has worked all over the world, Chris now works here at Boston at the Mass. Audubon Society. We spoke together at Jamaica Plain here at the Visitor’s Center at the Arnold Arboretum.

Chris: Hello. My name is Christopher Montero. I go by Chris Montero. I’m originally from Costa Rica and a new transplant to Massachusetts. I’ve been living in the United States for about 15 years. My background is biology but I’m also an artist. I work as a teacher naturalist for the Mass Audubon Boston Nature Center, and very excited about being part of this community now.
My mom was a single mom and we lived with my grandparents until I was around three or four. I spent grandma had this one of these yards that is very common in Latin America that you see they have fruit trees, it’s a tiny yard, but they were fruit trees and they were lizards and cats of the neighbor would come and my grandma would feed the cats and she had parakeets and parrots. I spent hours and as a toddler basically just playing and catching lizards, turtle pets and my whole life I had reptiles and different creatures. I love snakes, big snake fan. A big influence with my grandpa. I think grandpa was very supportive in my interest for nature and he would give me books about wildlife.

He would take me fishing. He would show me constellations he would tell me stories about the Amazonian forest and to me as a kid that was very very powerful because it was from him from whom I heard about anacondas, piranhas, and all these type of things so. It clearly created a big mark on me. That’s why I think eventually followed my career in wildlife. When I work with students, there are so many good moments, but the general is like, sometimes to me, and I will say this sometimes for me, it’s more important to learn taxonomy of birds, for instance, or plants, to have a life-changing experience, a connection with nature, a way to see nature differently and to see the bigger picture how I am part of nature. I had really beautiful experiences like being a fan of snakes, for instance of reptiles. A lot of people have a lot of preconceived ideas and fears about snakes.
I had the honor of work with students that are ophidiophobic. They are terrified a snakes just inside. They cannot even see any pictures. My grandma was like that. La probe abuela

[English: My poor grandmother] where like she was terrified of snakes and she had this grandson that was always chasing snakes. Perhaps one of the most amazing memories is when I have had students that are like, oh, man, I’m not touching that thing. I’m like, hold it well. I had students that had been on the fast lane, we’re in an expedition is two-three weeks. I had a student in Belize. I remember she’s from India, and she had a very unpleasant experience in early childhood with a cobra. Anyway, long story short at the end of that traveling expedition she dared to touch a harmless snake obviously and held a snake in her hands.
She was so moved about it, is not only again the connecting moment with a snake and overcoming that fear that had been with her, she was a teenager, but her whole life that she gave me this mala, this rosary. She gave it to me like, not really, this means so much to me. I still have it. It was, like 10, 12 years ago so that was really cool. Yes, and I’m not expecting again, children in urban areas to have the possibility to become biology or naturalists always, but as long as you care as long as you remember. I think it’s very important because going back to this historic time that we are in, our civilization has grown apart separating humans from nature. This place [Arnold Arboretum and Mass Audubon Nature Center] offer that opportunity to reconnect with nature. That this is our neighborhood. This is my region. I live now in the Northeast where it’s no longer the Pacific Northwest.
Well this is my home now. These species, these trees, these plants, these birds are significant for me because this is part of my immediate reality now and my reality is even bigger, I think about the East Coast or North America now, but guess what: I have roots in Latin America and I keep opening my lens to a bigger perspective. This is our home. This is where we make our stand as a species. I know I’m meandering around but I think is important this place it reminds us that we’re not supposed to be that far away from nature.

[Music: instrumental guitar]

Fisher: Our thanks to Chris who spoke with us and shared his story. This was produced by me, Steven Salido Fisher, and supported through the Arnold Arboretum, Harvard Divinity School, and the good folks over at the Lamont Library Media Lab.

What is it about a story that makes it sacred? Fisher said two specific HDS courses have prompted him to closely examine that question: The Lotus Sutra: Engaging a Buddhist Scripture with Yehan Numata Senior Lecturer on Buddhist Literatures Charles Hallisey, and Orthodoxy and Heresy in Ancient Christianity with Hollis Professor of Divinity Karen King. Through studying some unconventional contexts of history and what stories are or are not being told, Fisher learned the importance of people recognizing themselves in a story, and how to interpret the story in a way that is life-giving. 

“From a Latino, Latina, Latinx perspective, our stories don’t get told very often. And I really want these stories to be on the table when we think about ecological justice, environmentalism, and how we plan for the future,” he said. “This is another key aspect of ministry, essentially having an angle of advocacy and justice in the work that we do, so we ensure that people’s stories got told and we become a conduit for those stories and essentially a megaphone in some ways. 

Fisher chose to complete his master’s work at HDS because of its culture that he said feels supportive, freeing and life-giving, something he does not take for granted. 

“I really get a deep sense of permission from the Divinity School to explore what it means to be a minister in today’s world. Although I’m not working in a church for example, nobody questions that I see a place like the Arboretum as my church,” he said. “I can learn about myself and really learn about the kind of life I want to live.” 

In a sense, Fisher is gathering his own historias. He chose the word “gathering” in the title for the project associating it with other words such as “nourishment,” and “cultivation” which speaks to the purpose of the project. But its bilingual title was chosen with intention. 

The bilingual title speaks to a lot of Latinos here living in the U.S. now, whether they were born here or in other parts of Latin America,” he said. “It reflects that our community is varied and complex for not just Spanish speakers, for not just English speakers, but we often straddle different identities. And our stories can capture that.”

For questions or more information about “Gathering Historias” and Fisher’s work, please contact him at

— Michael Naughton, Harvard Divinity School Communications, contributed to this article.