I park my car in front of the Masonic Temple, and between there and the bistro I encounter two young boys doing their best to kick pigeons on the sidewalk, a half-dozen street performers, and a man screaming violently at passersby.
In spite of all of this, it’s the enormous falcon that draws a crowd.
Peter Kipp of the Quest Foundation has set up a table in the alcove in front of the Mast General Store. Kipp says he brings his birds out in public to raise awareness of Quest’s environmental work. In front of him is a large, full tip jar. On his gloved fist is a Peregrin Falcon named Zelda.
The crowd presses close, but not too close. Zelda raises her wings as I raise my camera. Kipp assures everyone she’s docile, but in a city that presents itself so audaciously, where incoherent yelling barely merits a glance, nothing is docile. Still, he has firm grip on her tethers. Zelda eyes the camera with one giant, yellow aperture, then swivels her head and eyes it with the other.
Another falcon named Seymour is sitting hooded on a post nearby. Against the background of merchandise and stuffed animals in the Mast’s shop window, he almost blends in.
At the Vance Monument they’ve removed the bronze turkey. Tourists pose with the pig, easily the most popular of Asheville’s metal statues. The sun is low, and its fading golden light reflects from the BB&T onto the Kress building in a blinding pattern, like Zelda’s feathers.
On Haywood, another man is yelling, this time at an older man in a neck brace. “I want my money,” says the first man. He’s dressed for camping and wears a stuffed backpack. People walk by with their eyes averted. “You’re just lucky we’re downtown and I can’t do anything about it.”
It occurs to me to raise my camera, but the yelling man is very serious. Perhaps his inner restraints would hold if he saw me taking his picture. Perhaps not. In any event, I already have pictures of a giant, predatory bird. No need to take such a risk.
And, conversely, there will always be people yelling on the street. So I shoot photos of birds and, like everyone else, look away.
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Other dispatches from the Asheville Argus:
Eyes on the Street
The Public Space
Collected Street Portraits
The Day it All Started
Fog on the Top Deck
Introducing the Asheville Argus