Just setting at my favorite table at Firestorm Café and Books contemplating what must be the shortest photojournalistic gig in history. My tenure with Mountain Xpress is probably coming to an end. I figure this week they’ll tell me they don’t need me or JourneyAsheville anymore. Why?
I blew an assignment. Every Friday at noon, I meet with news editor at the Xpress along with the staff photographer and whatever reporter gets hogtied into joining us. They all let me know what gigs are coming up each week and what they need shots of. I want to please them, so while my brain is thinking about that next cup of coffee, I try to pay attention so I can get the right shots.
Earth Day was coming up, and I nodded and wrote it on my ever present little slip of paper so I wouldn’t forget. The editor wanted a shot of something that summed up the story of Earth Day – one image that would capture the meaning of the day.
I shrugged, nodded and headed out the door. Simple gig, I thought. Just find out where they’re planting the symbolic tree that will save the world from climate change and I can take the rest of Saturday off.
The morning of Earth Day was rainy, cold and windy, so I covered up the gear and headed out. Even with bad weather threatening, this shoot would be simple. About the time I got to Pack Square, the skies started clearing up. Taking this as an omen that it would be “walk in the park,” I started looking for the spot where the requisite tree planting would happen.
I ran into several vendors that were setting up their tents and asked where the Earth Day Tree Planting was to be held. They shrugged, said they had no idea and went back to putting their portable stores up. After roaming around a spell and asking everyone from the cop assigned to maintain crowd control to the guy putting up the port-a-potties to the guy making balloon animals, I finally found the co-coordinator of the event – a guy named Nick.
I introduced myself and told him my assignment was to get just one shot of Earth Day that would capture the purpose of the event and waited for him to tell me where the tree planting would take place. He looked at me like I had just told him Toubob Krewe couldn’t sing tonight and I was the replacement. Then he shrugged and said there wasn’t a tree planting or any such ceremony scheduled.
When I told him I didn’t see what face painting, music, beer and a martial-arts demonstration had to do with saving the planet, and what was Asheville doing to help protect the earth today, he pointed to three cardboard containers marked compost, landfill and recycle. I knew he was wrong … There had to be a tree planting somewhere, so like Santiago in The Alchemist, I set off on my quest.
Across the street there was a bike rodeo for kids. Up by Vance Monument there were two vendors selling trinkets. Halfway down Pack Square there were kids breaking boards with their feet. There was face painting, beer selling and beer spilling, free pedometers, couples on the ground talking….everything but a tree planting.
Finally realizing that Earth Day in Asheville was more about celebration than saving the earth — even in a token way such as a tree planting — I dialed in my camera and started to document the way that I saw the event happening.
So that’s why I’m sitting here at my favorite table at Firestorm Café and Books reviewing the shots I got Saturday — jugglers, painters, funnel cakes, musicians — and contemplating what will probably be the shortest photojournalist gig in history. I couldn’t fulfill a simple request:
“Bring us back a photo that shows the purpose of Earth Day.”